Ina Garten is a Culinary Queen, benevolently directing her subjects from her kitchen to ours. But before all of that, she was just a girl, standing in front of Jeffrey, trying to get in to 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 in 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 a particularly wonderful 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. I love her and Jeffrey’s story! Ina had privilege and she had support, and she is who she is because she took her ideas about cooking and her recipes and she hustled to get them 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 damned hard.
All of this personal history is great but, the recipes, already! There are just so many great dishes in this book. They’re what I would call fancy casual, and some call for expensive ingredients, but they’re not difficult to make. There is a beautiful photo accompanying each recipe, which gives you a nice idea of what you’re going for. The main thing is, this book will have you making delicious things. The recipes are tried and true, tested many times over, and overall just super reliable.
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.
Equipment and Ingredients
Mostly basic equipment. Some of the recipes call for expensive ingredients and/or ingredients you have to find online, but you can usually get by shopping at HEB.
Are these recipes difficult?
No. Ina’s food is all pretty simple. These recipes are for people who want to make delicious food that’s a little bit fancy but not complex. There is one recipe that really got me, though, for chicken stock—it calls for three whole 5 pound chickens! I’ve read the recipe multiple times, thinking I must have missed it, but there’s no mention of pulling the chickens out and shredding the chicken to use or freeze. Are there people who want to use up 3 whole chickens just to make 6 quarts of stock? Bonkers.
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 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!
Is this food delicious?
Yes, of course. This lady did not get where she is making subpar food. Ina’s recipes might not always be the lowest in calories (lookin’ at you, Apple pie bars), but they are delicious.
Is it Family Friendly?
Yes! Most of these dishes have pretty mild flavors, and even if your kids are picky, you can still find things for them. There are also a lot of recipes that kids can help make if you’re in a chaotic good kind of mood.
Tone of the Book
It’s is focused on cooking as a way to bring people together. It’s about making things easy, so you can enjoy yourself and chat before dinner. It also just tells fun stories from Ina’s life. Isn’t this fabulous, as Ina might say.
So functional. Most of the time, the recipes are on one spread, so not too much flipping back and forth. The layout of this book is great—the font is big; the headnotes are short but informative; various tips, including how to make elements of a dish ahead of time are found in a bright colored font on the side of the page. The design makes it really easy to find your place in a recipe while cooking.
Is there practical advice for home cooks?
This question seems ridiculous for an Ina Garten book. Of course, yes! The whole thing is advice for home cooks! The focus on making recipes ahead of time is especially useful.
Healthiness of recipes/ adaptability to dietary needs
There are a lot of vegetables, but it’s not focused on health in particular. Ina does not shy away from cream or butter, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t recommend this book to a vegetarian, nor to anyone on a gluten free, low calorie, or other special diet.
Who wants this book? Is it a good gift?
It’s great if you like a simple, upscale bistro type meal. I see this being most useful for someone who cooks either for a family or family of friends on the regular, or frequently invites guests over for meals.
TLDR: Cooking for Jeffrey by Ina Garten is one of Ina’s many highly useful and easy to use cookbooks. The recipes make delicious food and they’re not complicated, though some of the ingredients are expensive. In my opinion, every good cookbook collection needs at least one of Ina’s books, and this is a very nice choice.
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!
If you love this book and want MORE Ina Garten in your life, here are a couple of her other books to check out: