You buy the ingredients, maybe spending a little more than you should – but the recipe looks great and you’re having friends over you want to impress. Back home in your kitchen you start cooking following the recipe step-by-step. It should be perfect but it’s not. There’s too much liquid in the cake batter, not enough flavor in the soup and despite the amount of time cited for cooking the duck, it’s done and getting dry in half the time. In other words, the meal is a mess. That’s one reason why Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa of Food Network fame and accomplished cookbook author, has always been one of my favorites. And so I was glad when my friend cookbook publicist Carrie Bachman who represented Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust (Clarkson Potter $35), sent me a copy and set up a phone interview so I could chat with Garten about the book. That was back in 2013 and Garten now has added even more cookbooks to her list including the recently released Modern Comfort Food, but I still rely upon Foolproof to ensure that my time and groceries don’t go to waste.
“People look at a recipe and think if you just follow it, it’ll come out perfectly every time,” says Garten, who interestingly, majored in economics in college. “But every time you make something, the ingredients are a little different or you have another way you want to try it. So it’s a lot like driving a car; you have to make small adjustments along the way.”
That’s why Garten often tests each of her recipes 25 times and also has an assistant try them as well. She wants those who watch her shows or buy her cookbooks to always a meal they’re proud to serve and, even better, enjoy eating. Indeed, Garten wants her recipes to be foolproof.
Foolproof was her eighth cookbook and anyone who owns one or more of her Contessa books such as Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home and Cook Like a Pro, is used to the style – sleek pages, vivid photographs (150 in this book), and flavorful and creative recipes written in a clear easy-to-follow prose. As on her TV shows, Garten doesn’t just present recipes perfect for recreating successfully at home, she also shares how to plan a menu, coordinating food times so everything is done at once as well as notes on where a recipe can go wrong and how to make a dish in advance.
“I want recipes that I know will come out perfectly every time,” says Garten. “Cooking is hard, it takes a lot of ingredients, you go shopping, you cook, you clean up. a lot of ingredients, you go shopping, you cook, you clean up. You can get free recipes anywhere, so why should anyone want to buy a cookbook? What makes it worthwhile and worth the price? It’s the level of confidence in the writer. One of the things I’ve always strived for is recipes that work every time. You feel confident that this recipe is good, but also that you trust it.”
Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- 1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half through the core
- 4 ounces pancetta, sliced ¼ inch thick
- ¼ cup good olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon syrupy balsamic vinegar (see note)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the Brussels sprouts on a sheet pan, including some of the loose leaves, which get crispy when they’re roasted. Cut the pancetta into ½-inch dice and add to the pan. Add the olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and toss with your hands. Spread out the mixture in a single layer.
Roast the Brussels sprouts for 20 to 30 minutes, until they’re tender and nicely browned and the pancetta is cooked. Toss once during roasting. Remove from the oven, drizzle immediately with the balsamic vinegar, and toss again. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.
You can buy aged balsamic vinegar that’s syrupy—and very expensive—or you can boil good balsamic vinegar until reduced to half its volume and it will become syrupy as well.
Ultimate Pumpkin Pie with Rum Whipped Cream
Serves 8 to 10
“Pumpkin pie can be boring and dense so I set out to make a better pumpkin pie,” writes Garten in her introduction to this recipe and we are totally behind that having eaten way too many boring and tasteless pumpkin pies. “Pumpkin has a distinct squash flavor that you want to enhance without overpowering it. I’ve filled the prebaked crust with a lightly spiced pumpkin mixture that tastes more like a mousse than a dense custard. Dark rum and grated orange zest are my secret ingredients.”
- 1 unbaked Perfect Pie Crust (recipe follows)
- Dried beans, for blind baking
- 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pie filling)
- ½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
- 3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons dark rum, such as Mount Gay
- Rum Whipped Cream (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Line an 11-inch pie pan with the unbaked pie crust and place it on a sheet pan. Line the crust with parchment paper. Fill the paper threequarters full with the beans and bake the crust for 15 minutes, until the edges start to brown. Remove the beans and paper (save the beans for another time), prick the crust all over with the tines of a fork, and bake for another 5 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt, orange zest, eggs, cream, milk, and rum. Pour the filling into the baked pie shell.
Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until the filling is just set in the middle and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool completely. Serve with the rum whipped cream.
Rum Whipped Cream
Serves 8 to 10
A dollop of mascarpone or crème fraîche in whipped cream stabilizes it so you can make it in advance and store it in the fridge without it separating.
- 1 cup cold heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon mascarpone or crème fraîche
- 1 tablespoon good dark rum, such as Mount Gay
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Place the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the sugar, mascarpone, rum, and vanilla and beat on medium-high until it forms soft peaks. Serve with the pumpkin pie.
NOTE: If you overwhip the cream and it looks curdled, just add a little more cream and whip it until it forms soft peaks.
Perfect Pie Crust
Makes two ( 9- to 11-inch ) crusts
There are a few tricks to making perfect pie crust. First, the butter, shortening, and water need to be ice cold. When you roll out the dough, you want to see bits of butter throughout. Second, allow the dough to relax in the fridge for at least thirty minutes before rolling it out. And third, don’t stretch the dough at all when you ease it into the pan. Perfect pie crust every time!
- 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) very cold unsalted butter
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¹⁄³ cup very cold vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
- ½ cup ice water
Cut the butter in –inch dice and return it to the refrigerator while you prepare the flour mixture. Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and shortening. Pulse 8 to 12 times, until the butter is the size of peas. With the machine running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse the machine until the dough begins to form a ball. Dump out onto a floured board and roll into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Cut the dough in half. Roll each piece on a well-floured board into a circle at least 1 inch larger than the pie pan, rolling from the center to the edge, turning and flouring the dough so it doesn’t stick to the board. (You should see bits of butter in the dough.) Fold the dough in half, ease it into the pie pan without stretching at all, and unfold to fit the pan. With a small sharp paring knife, cut the dough 1 inch larger around than the pan. Fold the edge under and crimp the edge with either your fingers or the tines of a fork.
NOTE: I store the shortening in the refrigerator so it’s always cold. You can store the prepared pie crust in the fridge for up to a day.
Sticky Toffee Date Cake with Bourbon Glaze
Makes one 9 -inch cake
For the cake
- ¾ pound dates, pitted and chopped
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¹⁄³ cup granulated sugar
- 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1½ tablespoons baking powder
For the sauce
- 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons good bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Sweetened whipped cream, for serving (see note)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 x 2-inch round cake pan.
Place the dates in a deep saucepan with 1: cups of water. Bring to boil, stirring a little to break up the dates. Allow to simmer for 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the baking soda (it will bubble up!). Set aside.
Meanwhile, in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, scraping down the bowl. (The mixture may look curdled.) Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer still on low, slowly add it to the batter. With the mixer on low, add the hot date mixture in two batches to the batter, scraping down the bowl. The batter will be runny but don’t worry! Stir in the baking powder, which will also bubble up. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Meanwhile, combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the bourbon and vanilla and pour into a 2-cup heat-proof glass measuring cup. Set aside. As soon as the cake is done, poke holes all over it with a toothpick. Pour three-quarters of the sauce evenly over the cake while still warm and allow it to soak in for 30 minutes. Turn the cake out bottom side up onto a flat serving plate and pour the remaining sauce on top. Cool completely.
Serve at room temperature with sweetened whipped cream.