Every author would like to channel Ina Garten’s success. On the strength of pre-sales alone, her latest cookbook, “Cooking for Jeffrey,” was the No. 2 seller in Amazon’s cookbook category for weeks.
Jeffrey is Garten’s husband of 40 years, a frequent and always smiling character in her books, and a frequent guest on her television show, “The Barefoot Contessa,” a title adopted from the name of the gourmet specialty food store she owned for almost 20 years.
“My sweet husband, Jeffrey, has been my most constant and appreciative audience,” Garten says in the book. “My whole career has been about cooking for him.” The book reads like a love letter, with headnotes often in context of an experience she shared with him. It’s about time, then, that his favorites are spotlighted, right?
Garten has been the home cook’s hero since the first Barefoot Contessa cookbook was published in 1999. She published another nine after that, and “Barefoot in Washington” is set to hit the shelves soon. What’s the draw?
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She’s a normal cook, her readers know what to expect and her food is consistently delicious. She isn’t obsessed with the latest fad or being a copycat. There is no sous vide, no paleo and no foam. “I never look at what other people are doing,” Garten says. “The basis for my recipes is good home cooking, and that is very different from restaurant food. I make my recipes simple to prepare, using commonly used ingredients (although I might ask for truffle butter for something very special), and they don’t take a sink-full of pots and all day to make. I make food that Jeffrey and I like to eat.”
That is what resonates loud and clear with her readers. An oft-paid compliment goes something like this: “I made your so-and-so and everybody loved it, everybody wanted to have the recipe.”
Our tested recipes reflect the tenor of the book.
If you have a big, black cast iron skillet (and you should) and a kitchen timer, you can nail this skillet-roasted lemon chicken.
Every recipe in the cookbook is accompanied by a full color photograph and serving suggestions. There are hints, make-ahead suggestions, and an easy-to-see, easy-to-read typeface.
Jeffrey Garten is one lucky guy.
Skillet-roasted lemon chicken
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Have the butcher butterfly the chicken if you’ve never done it. Sprinkle the chicken with minced fresh rosemary, if you like the flavor, before allowing it to rest. When the lemon slices are roasted and caramelized, you can eat them right along with the chicken. To prep in advance, assemble the chicken in the pan and refrigerate for a few hours before roasting; but bring it out from the refrigerator for 30 minutes before roasting.
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
Kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 lemon, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 yellow onion, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 (4-pound) chicken, backbone removed and chicken butterflied
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
Juice of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place thyme, fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper in a mini food processor and process until roughly ground. (A mortar and pestle works, too). Pour olive oil into a small glass measuring cup, stir in herb mixture, and set aside.
Distribute lemon slices in the bottom of a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and distribute the onion and garlic on top. Place chicken, skin side down on top of the onion and brush with about half the oil-and-herb mixture. Then turn the chicken skin side up, pat it dry with paper towels (very important), and brush it all over with the rest of the oil-and-herb mixture.
Roast chicken for 30 minutes. Pour wine into the pan (but not on the chicken) and roast another 10 to 15 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155 to 160 degrees.
Remove chicken from the oven, sprinkle it with lemon juice, cover skillet tightly with foil, and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut chicken into pieces, sprinkle with salt, and serve hot with the pan juices, cooked lemon and onion.
MAPLE-ROASTED CARROT SALAD
This gorgeous salad combines sweet caramelized carrots, peppery arugula, creamy goat cheese and salty Spanish Marcona almonds. Toasted sliced almonds, even pecans, are OK to sub in a pinch. If you want the salad to hold on a buffet table, use romaine instead of arugula, a quick wilter.
2 pounds carrots, preferably ones with leafy tops (they are fresher)
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
Kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup real maple syrup
2/3 cups dried cranberries
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges)
3 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, grated
6 ounces baby arugula
6 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2/3 cup roasted, salted Marcona almonds
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Trim tops, and scrub carrots. If the carrots are more than 1-inch in diameter, cut them in half lengthwise. Cut carrots in large diagonal slices 1-inch-wide by 2-inch-long (they will shrink when they roasted) and place in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Toss well and transfer to two sheet pans. (If you use just one pan, they’ll steam instead of roasting.) Roast for 20 minutes, tossing once, until carrots are tender.
Transfer all the carrots to one of the sheet pans. Add maple syrup, toss, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes until the carrot edges are caramelized. Toss with a metal spatula and set aside for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine cranberries and orange juice in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine vinegar, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of oil.
To assemble the salad: Place arugula in a large bowl. Add carrots, cranberries (with their liquid), goat cheese, almonds and vinaigrette. Toss with large spoons, sprinkle with salt and transfer to a large platter. Serve at room temperature.
Makes about 6 servings.
HERBED GOAT CHEESE
Company coming? This is a super appetizer to serve with drinks. Put the jar on a board and add piles of shelled walnuts or pecans, apple slices, baguette slices and crackers. Have small plates and napkins nearby. Done deal.
2 (6-ounce) creamy goat cheese disks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Minced fresh dill
Julienned fresh basil leaves
Crushed red pepper flakes
Good olive oil
Baguette slices (preferably toasted) or crackers for serving
Find a small, wide-mouth canning jar, old-fashioned glass or small glass vase (3 1/2 inches in diameter by 4 inches high), just large enough to hold the two goat cheeses on top of each other with a little room to spare.
Cut each cheese in half horizontally, making 2 rounds from each. (A piece of dental floss pulled through the cheese makes this easy.)
Place half of the first disk flat in the jar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then with 1/2 teaspoon dill, 1 teaspoon basil and a few red pepper flakes and drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Place another disk of cheese on top and repeat the seasonings, herbs and oil. Continue with the remaining cheese discs. piling one on top of the other with oil and seasonings in between.
When all the disks are stacked and seasoned, drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil on top. Cover and set aside at room temperature for an hour or refrigerate for up to 48 hours. Serve at room temperature with bread or crackers.
Makes about 8 servings.
These are so easy to make. I keep extra toasts in an open brown mini-shopping bag hung from my pot-rack. Here’s what you do.
Rub a baguette all over with the water that clings to your hands after you rinse and shake them. Place the baguette in a 375-degree oven for a few minutes to crisp the crust.
Remove the bread, but leave the oven on. When cool enough to handle, cut the baguette into slices about 1/4-inch thick. Brush both sides of the slices with good olive oil, arrange them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, mix coarse sugar, ground pepper, and a good pinch each of dry thyme, oregano and paprika. Distribute the mix (by the pinches) over the bread rounds.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until toasted. Allow to dry further on the rack. Store in a paper bag. Serve with hummus or spreadable cheeses, and pretend the broken ones are croutons and toss in salad.