Tag Archives: Ina Garten

Bohemian goes Barefoot, Pt. 2: He Cooks

So where was I? Ah yes, I’d gone out to Arlington in the middle of a workday, waited 2 hours in the warm and muggy rain and got shuffled past Ina Garten as she swiftly signed 2 books for me and a friend. Was it worth it? … *eh, I still say it was but I’m working harder and harder each day to say that. But I met her, I have proof and that’s that.

When I got home, I started going through the book looking for something easy to make. I haven’t made a recipe from a cookbook in a long while, choosing to go the internet route far too often. It isn’t that I don’t like cookbooks, but before having some books on my iPad of late, I just don’t have them at the office when I’m thinking of what to grab from the store and cook that night or that weekend. And while a certain Food Network hostess can go on all she likes about a 30-minute meal, I’m sure that’s a lot easier to accomplish when you have a staff that heads out to the store for you, cutting out that 1-2 hour post-work chore. But her recipe for weeknight bolognese seemed like an easy enough shopping trip and I was able to pick up the ingredients while taking a midday break to the store to get ingredients for mulled cider for an office potluck.

weeknight bolognese (serves 4 to 5)

  • 2 tbsp “good olive oil” plus extra to cook the pasta
  • 1 lb lean ground sirloin
  • 4 tsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 14 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 14 cups dry red wine, divided
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 34 lb dried pasta, such as orecchiette or small shells
  • 14 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 14 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 14 cup heavy cream
  • 12 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.

While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.

Easy enough, right? So simple that I figured it would be easy to grab everything at the store, drop it off at home and get back to the office in no time. I wrote a quick list of ingredients, even took a picture of the page in the book with my iPhone. I even found the oreccheitte pasta at the store, which I took great pleasure in over-pronouncing as if I were yet another Food Network hostess fond of deep v-neck shirts. I strode through the store with the confidence of someone that’s got his act together. I had my list, my cart full of groceries and I was all set.

Fast forward to the next evening and everything was proceeding apace. I didn’t do a mise en place due to the low number of ingredients and my carried-over confidence. I had the meat browning in the pan, added the spices and when it came time to add the tomatoes, I tossed in the can of tomatoes, looked at the recipe and reached for the tomato paste… which I had completely neglected to buy.

Um… oops?

Not one to panic, I turned down the heat and went to the internet for that Google search that almost every home cook has had to use at one time or another: Substitutions. Tomato paste isn’t one of those things that’s easy to substitute, but after reading all the suggestions I settled on reducing/thickening a bit of ketchup in a small saucepan. A small setback with a rather elaborate–some might say unnecessary–fix, but I pressed on.

Crisis averted, the rest of the recipe was simple. It’s just heat, add and stir. Compared to a usual bolognese ragu that includes at least beef, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste and broth this was nothing major and very easy to turn out in under an hour. As Ina would say, “How easy is that?” And I was clearly so into the relaxed and easy vibe of this recipe that I wasn’t paying attention when I opened the box of pasta. There was something on TV and I was talking and before I knew it, all of my “little ears” were flying all over the kitchen and onto the floor.

Cue the kitchen freakout.

No, seriously, hysterical laughter, screams of “You have GOT to be kidding me”, frantic searches of the cabinets for a suitable replacement pasta… all to no result. While my friend was able to clean up the floor for me, I headed out to CVS thinking that I’d just have to settle for spaghetti and cope. It happened to be an unseasonably warm day for late October so I could walk outside and across the street in my Ina-inspired black button down shirt, some shorts and my chucks. I wasn’t hopeful, but I spied some familiar blue boxes–no, not Kraft–above the words “New Item” and managed to snag some Barilla penne pasta!

Crisis averted once more, peace of mind regained, pasta tossed with sauce and then cheese and a glass of red wine thrown for good measure. And then another glass just because.

How Easy Is That? is a good cookbook with emphasis on the easy. Not every recipe will feel simple to the average cook, but there’s nothing in here that anyone wouldn’t be able to make with a bit of preparation and a little bit of patience… hopefully at least a bit more than I had last week.

In Praise of Nigella

Even though it’s unlikely, I have said that if Nigella Lawson were to do a book signing stop in DC this year, it would make 2010–cancer aside–the best year ever. Since Sara Moulton was dumped from Food Network and they’ve gone in new directions, the only shows that are my mainstays are Barefoot Contessa and whichever Nigella series they carry at the time. The other shows are background noise and none of the food personalities really seem to enjoy cooking as much as Sara, Ina or Nigella do.

The feminist cooking blog To Serve Woman has a guest post today extolling the virtues of Nigella and I absolutely agree:

Nigella stands out from these for the following reasons:

  1. She’s beautiful.
  2. She’s not as skinny as a twig.
  3. She takes an almost orgasmic pleasure in food.
  4. She uses stock cubes.
  5. She advocates the use of frozen peas.
  6. She doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a supermarket chain.
  7. She makes cooking risotto look almost worthwhile (why anyone should want to stand around stirring a pot continuously for about half an hour to produce a generally tasteless yet savoury version of a rice pudding, has always been beyond me).
  8. She comes down to the kitchen at midnight and wolfs down huge slices of chocolate cake.
  9. She has a body that looks as though she comes down to the kitchen at midnight and wolfs down huge slices of chocolate cake (although not on a daily basis).

Those last two points are what won me over. Not that it ever speaks to excess, but there’s nothing wrong with a midnight snack! If you’re a Nigella lover, check out the full article and the rest of their blog.

Bohemian goes Barefoot, Pt. 1: They Meet

I’m sure you’ve been in suspense this entire time about whether I met Ina Garten and if she made me one of her fabulous friends up in the Hamptons. Have I left my life in DC behind to go from dazzling urbanite to scintillating suburbanite? Well the short answer is no and the long answer is noooooo.

I did get to “meet” her, more or less, but getting to that point is a tale in the telling. I haven’t been to too many book signing events in my time, but between the atmosphere and the signing itself, this could easily turn one off of them. Not that I wasn’t elated to meet her, but after standing around for 2 hours in the rain, one could have hoped for a bit more.

With the signing on a weekday afternoon, none of my friends were able to take time off and make it but I was able to talk a co-worker into going with me and she drove us, so no negotiating metro to get there. What I didn’t realize was just how popular the signing would be, even though I barely heard about it myself only finding out through a friend that heard it on the radio. It “started” at noon, and we got there around 12:30p. By that time, the store was full of people waiting and the line stretched outside the store, around Pentagon Row and nearly “ended” back at the store! On the advice of others waiting in line, we went into the store to buy our books and then got in line. When we made our purchases, there was a very short stack of cookbooks that the employee said “That’s the last batch and when they’re gone, they’re gone!”

Now, when we left the office, it was just a cloudy day, rain was forecast for the evening, but nothing else. When we got out of the store, the bottom dropped out. We quickly walked around the shopping center to get in line and my co-worker went back to the car to get our umbrellas. And then came the waiting… We struck up conversations with others in line, I shared my umbrella with a very nice guy and as the line moved, we inched forward… and kept checking the time. I know that she’s popular, but I don’t think any of us expect to stand in line for nearly 2 hours, outside, in the rain, without much organization or information. Eventually Sur La Table employees brought us out plastic bags in which to hold our books and tried to give us a heads-up as best they could. It started to feel like an amusement park, “From this point there will be a 45 minute wait,” except there were no Fastpasses! I did my best to maintain a positive attitude, tweeting and sending photos, but at some point the phrase “I survived cancer for this?!” did go through my head.

Finally after what seemed like hours–and actually was hours, we made it inside the store. The line still stretched around the interior of the place, but it still felt like progress… and then we saw the signing rules: no personalized autographs and no posing for photos. The guy I’d shared my umbrella with immediately said “Are you kidding me?!” and there was a four-letter word uttered by someone behind us in line. Now if I’d known these rules before paying full price for the book and getting in a 2-hour line…in the rain, I might have reconsidered it all, but that sign wasn’t near the books or the cash register. By the time we saw it, we felt so close that it seemed ok to stick it out, even if we were being shuffled past her as if we were on an assembly line.

A few feet from the door to the room, an employee advised us how to arrange our books for an easier–read faster–signing, and then at the doorway another employee reminded us that she couldn’t pose for photographs, but that we could give our camera to an employee who’d take a picture of us while she signed our books. Still not the best arrangement, but I took a deep breath, worked on my best smile and convinced myself that if I was ever going to become one of her gays, now was the time. As mentioned, that didn’t happen, but she was very nice for all of the 45 or so seconds I got to “talk” to her. Thankfully I had two books for her to sign, so I got a little bit of extra time and I mean a “little bit” and then a security guard shuffled me along, barely giving me time to put my cameras away.

And that was it, really. Aside from a few photos I snapped through the window or while waiting in line, it wasn’t exactly a great “foodie” experience. When compared to meeting Sara Moulton at Hill’s Kitchen, this one pales in comparison. Admittedly, it was a smaller crowd and Sara scheduled a cooking demo and Q&A, and while I didn’t expect all that, I was hoping that I could at least get a “To: _____” in my book, not just her quickly scrawled autograph. Still, I did get to see one of my food idols, even if I couldn’t really say more than a sentence to her, so I suppose that counts for something. Next time, however, I will call ahead to find out if the store or publishing company has any rules or restrictions on the signing. Caveat emptor and all that, right?

As much as the signing felt like a comedy of errors, trying to make a recipe from her book turned into just as much of one, too. But that’s for Part 2!