Friday, January 21, 2011

Off the Shelf: Barefoot Contessa’s How Easy is That

We are so delighted to have Sarah Bailey return with a guest post today!
Please join us in welcoming her!
_________________________________________


(Sarah) If you want to make Hors d’oeuvres that would impress some dinner guests without acting like a slave to the stove, you might appreciate How Easy is That? (Barefoot Contessa).
 
Ina Garten’s latest cookbook, which sits at number one on The New York Times bestseller list for hardcover advice, offers a beautiful picture for every recipe and cuts ingredients to the bare essentials. The colorful book with pictures for every recipe helps those who lack the imagination of knowing how to make a sophisticated yet nearly effortless dish.
 
However, the mediocre reviews on Amazon suggest that the Barefoot Contessa has executed better cookbooks in the past. One reviewer, for instance, complains that some of the recipes (think red velvet cupcakes) are pretty easy to find on the Internet.
 
Since my husband prefers less creamy dishes and ingredients he can easily identify, the many of the sections—cocktails, starters, lunch and even desserts—offered little benefit to me. As delicious as they sound, I can’t convince him to take a bite of “savory coeur à la crème,” “rum raisin tiramisù,” or “roasted eggplant companata.”
 
The finest section of the book premieres with the dinner section, where Garten makes divine dishes—provençal lamb, roasted shrimp with feta, and panko-crusted salmon—look like a piece of cake. A cook with an herb garden could especially appreciate the recipes as she blends fresh herbs throughout the dishes.

Sprinkled throughout the book, she includes 68 easy tips to help smooth out the cooking process. However, if you work in a small kitchen space, some of the tips are somewhat impractical. I don’t have room for a second dishwasher, since we don’t even have one dishwasher to begin with. Or, for instance, she suggests you have Le Creuset dutch ovens, All Clad sauté pans, and an extra bowl for a food processor and your Kitchenaid mixer, which might lean on the pricey side or take up too much room for some cooks.
 
She also recommends a Cooks Illustrated subscription, but I prefer to cut down on the paper and get the website subscription (where you get excellent video demonstrations and a rich archive of recipes). On the other hand, I wholeheartedly agree with her recommendation to own or save up for a large stockpot, thermometers, a box grater, and a cooking scale.
 
The book doesn’t just showcase recipes; it also includes tips for entertaining. In describing how she sets the table, she balances elegance with simplicity. “We’ve all seen some pretty over-the-top settings with a million crystal glasses, ceramic dishes filled with candy, lots of flowers, candles napkin rings, place cards, and chargers. Frankly, I’ve never known that kind of party to be more fun; in fact, it’s usually just the opposite—it’s more intimidating!” Instead, she recommends a one-color theme appropriate for the season.
 
I tested the cookbook, serving the “weeknight bolognese,” “garlic-roasted cauliflower,” and the “easy cranberry & apple cake.”



Weeknight Bolognese
Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?  Ina Garten
serves 4-5
 
2 Tb. good olive oil, plus extra to cook pasta
1 pound lean ground sirloin
4 tsp. minced garlic (4 cloves)
1 Tb. dried oregano
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 ¼ c. dry red wine, divided
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 Tb. tomato paste
Kosher salt & black pepper
¾ pound dried pasta, such as orecchiette or small shells
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ c. chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
¼ c. heavy cream
½ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
 
Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a large (12 inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5-7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tbs salt, and 1 ½ tsp pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
 
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.
 
While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining ¼ cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and ½ cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.



Garlic Roasted Cauliflower
(How Easy is That?)
Serves 6

1 head of garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into large florets
4 1/2 Tb. olive oil, divided
kosher salt, ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
3 Tb. pine nuts
2 Tb. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add the garlic cloves. Boil for 15 seconds. Drain, pee, and cut off any brown parts. Cut the largest cloves in half lengthwise.
 
On a sheet pan, toss the cauliflower with the garlic, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 tsp pepper. Spread the mixture out in a single layer and roast for 20-25 minutes, tossing twice, until the cauliflower is tender and the garlic is lightly browned.
 
Scrape the cauliflower into a large bowl with the garlic and pan juices. Add the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, the parsley pine nuts, and lemon juice. Sprinkle with another ½ teaspoon of salt, toss well, and serve hot or warm.



Easy Cranberry & Apple Cake
(How Easy is That?)
Serves 6-8

12 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over for stems
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced
½ c. light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 Tb. grated orange zest (2 oranges)
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
11⁄8 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 c. plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
¼ c. sour cream
1 c. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the cranberries, apple, brown sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. With the mixer on medium, add 1 cup of the granulated sugar, the butter, vanilla, and sour cream and beat just until combined. On low speed, slowly add the flour and salt.

Pour the fruit mixture evenly into a 10-inch glass pie plate. Pour the batter over the fruit, covering it completely. Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar and 1⁄8 teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle it over the batter. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean and the fruit is bubbling around the edges. Serve warm or at room temperature.