South San Francisco
This past November, just in time for Thanksgiving and the holiday season, Food Network celebrity Ina Garten made a visit to Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto to promote her new book, "Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, Recipes You Can Trust."
Garten's media team graciously sent this reporter a copy of "Foolproof" for a write up for the Peninsula Progress. The 272-page book, which went on sale on Oct 30 as of this week, has reached the top of the hardcover advice and miscellaneous list of the New York Times. Reviews have been praising, like the one in the Washington Post and yes, this reporter would agree, the simplicity of Garten's recipes are alluring. She even has a recipe for home-made mayonnaise with a hint of basil that changes one's outlook to say, "now, why didn't I think of that?" The important thing to remember as Garten points out is make sure the eggs, oil, etc. are at room temperature before mixing.
As star of the Food Network cooking show The Barefoot Contessa, for the past 10 years Garten has been delighting audiences with her simple yet elegant recipes. Garten named the show after the name of her shop in East Hampton, New York, which she purchased in 1978. The original owner named it in honor of the film "The Barefoot Contessa" and its star Ava Garner. The name seemed to fit well with Garten's down-to-earth yet gentle savvy approach to cooking and so she kept it.
Interestingly, in taking over the shop, Garten followed her intuition, leaving a job at the White House, preparing budget and policy reports for then President Ford and then the Carter Administration.
Garten would cook at home as a way to relieve stress from the job and this gave her the inspiration to follow in the path of cooking. With initially no formal training Garten navigated her way to culinary prominence. She got to Paris to discover the basics of French cuisine, falling in love with it like so many do, and kept researching and testing recipes from various cookbooks like the ground breaking "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," by Julia Child. Emphasizing fresh ingredients and no skimping on quality, Garten's endeavor grew. With her shop's success she sold the business and embarked on creating the Barefoot Contessa web site. That then led to The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook in 1999, which then lead to the Emmy-Award-winning cable-TV show.
"Foolproof" is one seven other best-selling cookbooks. In another rave review of "Foolproof" The Oregonian surmised that one reason for Garten's popularity is, "she keeps things simple yet stylish, and makes entertaining less intimidating." The full-color book with photos and easy-to-read print provides a full array of everything someone would need to plan a dinner party. From appetizers and mixed drinks, to side dishes, the main course and yes, included is dessert too! Garten also provides her "10 Foolproof Tips." I will only share one of them with you. "Follow the recipe precisely" and "buy the right ingredients." Well, actually that's two of the 10. If you want to find out about all 10 and many other bits of sound advice, then get the book.
For this reporter when a cook or chef can make ordinary dishes seem extraordinary just by adding a little something different or extra, then that is something special. For example, think about vegetables for a moment. And, specifically brussels sprouts, those small little buds of cabbage that have a bitterness to them. Yet, Garten has obtained a way of making them that she says was inspired by the Wayfare Tavern here in San Francisco. Yet this reporter speculates that Garten adds her own touch to the dish which transforms these usually boring vegetables into a welcomed side dish to any dinner table. Here is that simple recipe from the book for a vegetable dish that certainly will impress guests for holiday dinner.
Balsamic-roasted Brussels sprouts
1-1/2 pound of Brussels sprouts trimmed and cut in half, through the middle.
4 ounces of pancetta or "Italian Bacon," sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper.
1 tablespoon of aged balsamic vinegar
Set oven to 400 degrees. Place cut Brussels sprouts on baking sheet. cut-dice the pancetta and add to the sprouts on the baking sheet. Add olive oil, salt and pepper and then mix-toss with your hands. Spread out the mixture on the baking sheet in a single layer.
Roast the sprouts in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are tender and nicely browned and the pancetta is fully cooked. Toss mixture at least once during roasting in oven. Remove from oven and immediately drizzle with balsamic vinegar and toss again. Season to taste and serve hot.
Oh and perhaps with the basil-Parmesan mayo this brussels sprouts dish will make taste buds soar asking for more.
For more information about The Barefoot Contessa, this recipe and all her cookbooks visit her website.