Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Barefoot Contessa Back To Basics Cookbook Review

I love watching Barefoot Contessa on UKTV Food and the Food Network. Her relationship with her husband Jeffrey makes me smile, they are still so gushing about each other after all the years they have been together. I laughed so much at this week's 30 Rock episode when Liz Lemon said she wanted Ina Garten's life - "I'm like that woman on the Food Network whose husband only comes home on the weekends, and spends the rest of the time eating and drinking with her gay friends."! The Barefoot Contessa summed up in one sentence!

I've wanted a few of her books for quite a while but they're fairly expensive, though they seem to be coming down in price on Amazon now. I have managed to find a couple at the library however so they'll have to do for now. Plus she has a new book coming out later this year. Exciting! I hope there's a TV series to accompany it.
I chose to try out Ina's Back to Basics book. This was her most recent cookbook, released in 2009. The book's tagline is 'fabulous flavour from simple ingredients'. I'd agree with that though the ingredients aren't necessarily that simple in parts of the UK.

The book is split into 7 chapters including cocktail hour, soup, dinner and dessert. Nice and simple categories. There are some lovely photos of her kitchen extension (!) and address and phone numbers of everyone who helped build/decorate it. I wonder if she got some freebies??

She talks about using seasonal produce and how certain ingredients like salt and parmesans can be the key to a great dish. There are also dos and don'ts throughout the book to help people cooking for guests, such as 10 no-cook things to serve with drinks and how to set a table like a pro. Rather than seeming too Stepford Wives they are quite nice tips like sitting down at your made-up table to check if you will be able to easily see your guests on the opposite side.

The photography is gorgeous and there is at least one picture for each recipe. Completely mouthwatering.

My first dish was the Tuscan Lemon chicken. I used chicken thighs rather than a whole flattened chicken. The list of ingredients was only short so that was definitely a win and it was easy to prepare.

There are some nice tips included with the recipes, such as how to butterfly a whole chicken or information about some included ingredients. This dish was cooked on a grill in her book but in cold England it was cooked in our oven and it was lovely. The chicken was really moist and the skin was crispy. Lemon and chicken are always heavenly. Very nice indeed and indeed a good basic recipe.

My second dish was her Mustard-Roasted Fish. It looks very white and bland but it was really delicious and a great dish to make when you're in a hurry as the sauce takes no time to prepare and the fish bakes for around 12 minutes. Red snapper was suggested, I used tilapia. The mustard didn't overpower the sweet fish and the capers added a great zing. Will try to make sure I always have the ingredients in for this dish when I want something quick and yummy to eat. I used half-fat creme fraiche too so it's not too fattening. Another good basic.

I think it's quite an aspirational cookbook, though everything is feasable. Everything looks lovely but there's no way that I could afford to cook everything from it. No doubt some of the ingredients would be more readily available in the US and therefore cheaper but unfortunately soft-shell crab aren't so easy to come by to make sandwiches (though I will be using the accompanying remoulade recipe for other things). And the quantites in the book are quite astounding! I always joke about how much food she makes in her programmes, it's like she's feeding 10 people when she's only cooking for 2! She must have 3 extra fridges for all the leftovers she must have! But wow, her recipe for Bay Scallop Gratins calls for a pound of fresh scallops to feed 3 people!! Eeks! And 3 pounds of pork tenderloin for 6 people!

So ignoring the huge quantites and the accompanying huge food bill I do really like the book. Not as down to earth as Bill Granger's basic cookbook but definitely lovely to look through and there are enough recipes I'd want to make to justify buying it. I was meant to make East Sticky Buns this weekend but my car's M.O.T took over my life for a couple of days so they're back on my cooking wishlist. As is the Italian Wedding Soup and White Pizzas. But they'll have to wait as I'm off to London for plays, shopping and cake!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds good, thanks for sharing. I'm tempted to get it even for the setting table like a pro part since ideal for hubbie when we're entertaining ;-)