Ina Garten is a Culinary Queen. But before she was a queen, she was just a girl, standing in front of Jeffrey, trying to get into a cocktail bar. So the story goes in Cooking for Jeffrey, Ina’s one millionth (*ahem* 10th) cookbook. So enjoyable to hear her origin story, which begins, according to her, with her mother not wanting her messing around in the kitchen. She looks at us readers conspiratorially and says: “I secretly think that my mother considered the kitchen her personal space, and she wasn’t crazy about me making a mess or rearranging her pots and pans.” Little did she know! Or maybe she would have been like Jacques Pepin’s family, even when he was a famous chef still complaining that, really, he used too many dishes while cooking his feasts!
Ina takes us, in the introduction, through what she considers the highlights of her own cooking history—getting married and working her way through The New York Times Cookbook; buying a specialty food store in the Hamptons in 1978; writing her first cookbook twenty years later; making Thanksgiving dinner and serving it at her Dad’s assisted living home in the last year of his life. In stories peppered throughout, we get her and Jeffrey’s meet-cute; a European camping adventure for the young married couple, discovering the joy of amazing ingredients; getting more complex with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and then getting simpler after an inspiring and uncomplicated dinner of roasted filet of beef at a friend’s house; and so on.
This is a logical, cohesive story. It reads as part fantasy to be honest, in that tidy, nostalgic way we have of looking back, weaving all the elements of our lives in to something that makes sense. At the same time, it’s very affecting and I love her and Jeffrey’s story! Ina had a lot of advantages in her life and she had wonderful support, and she took her hustled to get her ideas about cooking and her recipes out there. You don’t have an ever-expanding specialty foods store for 20 years, then write 12 cookbooks and 3 columns, and also make 18 years of television without working really hard. She’s amazing. So, on to the cookbook! Delicious recipes, gorgeous design, and simple food. Can’t recommend it highly enough.
I made: Parmesan and chipotle popcorn (p. 38), Maple roasted carrot salad (p. 46), Camembert & prosciutto tartines (p. 51), Butternut squash & ricotta bruschettas (p. 57), Homemade ricotta (p. 58), Skillet-roasted lemon chicken (p. 90), Brisket with onions and leeks (p. 96), Roasted vegetable paella (p. 101), Filet mignon with mustard & mushrooms (p. 104), Roasted Italian meatballs (p. 110), Roasted ratatouille with polenta (p. 128), Creamy parmesan polenta (p. 140), Sautéed shredded brussels sprouts (p. 160), Herbed goat cheese (p. 178), Cherry pistachio biscotti (p. 182), Irish Guinness brown bread (p. 186), English oat crackers (p. 189), Vanilla rum panna cotta with salted caramel (p. 198), Apple pie bars (p. 214), Chocolate crème brûlée (p. 231).
Would make again: Maple roasted carrot salad (p. 46), Camembert & prosciutto tartines (p. 51), Butternut squash & ricotta bruschettas (p. 57), Homemade ricotta (p. 58), Skillet-roasted lemon chicken (p. 90), Brisket with onions and leeks (p. 96), Roasted vegetable paella (p. 101), Filet mignon with mustard & mushrooms (p. 104), Roasted Italian meatballs (p. 110), Roasted ratatouille with polenta (p. 128), Creamy parmesan polenta (p. 140), Sautéed shredded brussels sprouts (p. 160), Herbed goat cheese (p. 178), Cherry pistachio biscotti (p. 182), English oat crackers (p. 189), Vanilla rum panna cotta with salted caramel (p. 198), Apple pie bars (p. 214), Chocolate crème brûlée (p. 231).
Standout Star Recipe: Cherry pistachio biscotti (p. 182). This biscotti was so delicious and so easy. It keeps for a week, and you can use any favorite mix-ins (other dried fruits and nuts or chocolate chips) in place of the dried cherries and pistachios.
With a quick salad or maybe a pureed vegetable soup, the Camembert & prosciutto tartines (p. 51) could be just about the easiest light meal you’ve ever made, and they are just unassailably delicious, basically more sophisticated grilled cheese.
The mains and sides are delicious, but an extra shout-out to Ina’s desserts is the right thing to do. Just make any of them, they’re worth it.
Tips and Advice
- The Skillet-roasted lemon chicken (p. 90) is great, but I think could be even better if you put the butterflied bird on a sheet pan the day before sprinkled all over with the tablespoon of salt (as in Salt Fat Acid Heat). Leave it in the fridge uncovered overnight and pull it out an hour before cooking to come to room temperature. Pat dry with paper towels and then continue with the rest of her recipe (minus the salt) just before you put it in the oven.
- Make the ricotta! (p. 58) Actually making a fresh delicious cheese at home is so cool—it would be a great weekend project to do with kids, and it really is very simple. Here are some more ideas from Ina for what to do with it: Breakfast ricotta with berries and maple syrup; Heirloom tomatoes with herbed ricotta; Lemon ricotta pancakes with figs; Limoncello ricotta cheesecake; Eggplant gratin; Turkey lasagna.
- Full episodes of Barefoot Contessa are up on YouTube. I love a cooking show that actually teaches you how to cook!
- Though I would always advocate for a book if you really want to dive deep and grow with your cooking, you can find these recipes online. So, if you want to make the biscotti, for instance, but don’t want to spend money on the book, no problem!
- In Conclusion:
Find Cooking for Jeffrey, published in the U.S. by Clarkson Potter Publishers, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House (whew! A winding path we’re on), wherever you buy books, or order it from Amazon! Or, support independent bookstores by buying it on Bookshop!
If you love this book and want MORE Ina Garten in your life, here are a couple of her other books to check out: