What We're Cooking Now

What We're Cooking Now - My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Barefoot Contessa - Foolproof again?

We love Ina Garten.  We own most of her cookbooks.  We pretty much always enjoy her recipes.  But most importantly, the Barefoot Contessa's recipes tend to be reliable.  The instructions are straightforward, they use readily available ingredients and, even if you don't like the taste of the final product for whatever personal reason, someone in your house or at your dinner table will.  Guaranteed.

Barefoot Contessa Foolproof is another perfectly Ina gem, filled with recipes she hopes you'll love so much you'll make them over and over again.  She includes 10 foolproof tips for cooking, one of which we think is golden:  follow the recipe precisely the first time and then, after that, you can modify it to your taste.  That is perfect advice because, honestly, I do reduce the fat and salt in almost every Barefoot Contessa recipe, to make them fit with our family's tastes.  She also includes 12 foolproof tips for table setting at the back of the book which are beautiful and many of which we intend to try.  Food is an experience as well as a taste.

All of that said, we did not find every recipe in Foolproof to be one that we'd be sure to make over and over again.  Most were quite tasty.  Few were unique.  I suspect we are a tough crowd.  We crave a bit more adventure perhaps.

From Foolproof, Julie and I tested seven recipes from the Cocktails, Dinner and Vegetables chapters of the book.  They were:

Dukes Cosmopolitan (p27)

This is a cosmo with lemon instead of lime juice.  Other than that, there's nothing particularly interesting about it.  And it's the second time Ina has included a Cosmo recipe in one of her cookbooks, so I assume she's a fan.  If you don't already have a recipe, this works, but I think I prefer the Pomegranate Cosmo from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.

Israeli Couscous & Tuna Salad (p 101)

This salad is a complete winner in Julie's household.  It is easy to make and packed with flavour.  She likes how well it keeps for lunches throughout the week and is easily modified depending upon the ingredients on hand.  She makes it regularly and she and her husband enjoy it every time they eat it.

BC Barbecue Sauce (p142)

This recipe has A LOT of ingredients.  Once set out, though, assembling the ingredients is not too much work.  The cooking sauce smells very good.  Given that it will only keep for weeks in the refrigerator, we wish we hadn't had to make 1 1/2 quarts.  And is the taste special for all those ingredients?  Not particularly.  This is a solid basic BBQ sauce.  If we were to make it again, we'd doctor it up to add something unique.

Osso Bucco (p 145)

This recipe makes a lovely and hearty meal that is special enough for guests yet simple to prepare.  Julie likes that it has very few steps and a brief list of ingredients which are usually found in her refrigerator.  The sauce is delicious and could easily be adapted to short ribs.

Penne alla vecchia bettola (p 158)

As a devoted fan of penne alla vodka, Julie really enjoyed this slightly different version.  Ina Garten describes the dish as a version of the traditional vodka sauce with “so much more flavor” and we couldn’t agree more.  The sauce is deep, rich and utterly luscious.  It requires a lengthier cooking time than most pasta sauces (1 ½ hours) but the oven does most of the work so you can sit back relax and read a book while wait for this delicious sauce to be ready to enjoy.

Spinach with Feta and Pine Nuts (p 181)

This recipe is easy, fast and very tasty.  Two comments though:  (1)  it is much too salty and we recommend reducing the recommended 1 1/2 tsp salt to 1/2 tsp; and (2) it must be served immediately.  This gem will not wait!  Debra's whole family loved it the first time.  The second time, she tossed it with penne pasta.  It worked that way too.

Crispy English Potatoes (p 185)

Ina acknowledges that this is a classic English way to prepare potatoes, so many of you will have tried them this way already.  The pancetta was a nice addition which changed the classic a bit and added a covering of fat to the pan before the potatoes were added.  Overall, this recipe was extremely tasty, but it did not really resemble the picture.  The potatoes in the picture appear to be new potatoes, while the recipe called for yukon gold.  Once cut up, the yukon gold, particularly the pieces without skin, did not hold together after the vigorous post-boil shaking.  Did not detract one bit from the delicious taste though, just did not look as anticipated.

Crusty Basmati Rice (p 195)

Debra's family loved the taste of this rice dish, and Debra liked the novel and easy method of cooking.  The soft grains of rice were perfectly cooked.  However, no one in Debra's family thought the crunchy rice bits made sense. They made it seem somehow like some of the rice was uncooked.  The 1/4 cup of butter is also a deterrent to our making this dish again, but if you don't mind some crunch and you love butter, this is a definite recipe for you.

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