An Evening With Ina Garten and Count Basie

The other evening I had the honor of attending Ina Garten’s talk at Count Basie Theater’s Appetite event. The Barefoot Contessa herself was just as charming as she is when you watch her show. I am a fan of her recipes and cookbooks and often times I do watch her show, usually mesmerized by the beautiful dishes and warm atmosphere that she portrays.

Count Basie AppetiteIn preparation for the event, I had my brother, also my date, watch a few episodes of The Barefoot Contessa on The Food Network. He enjoyed it, mainly because we were switching between Barefoot Contessa and Futurama. However, I think he enjoyed the event even more. Ina Garten was so pleasurable to listen to and we both took away more than a few ideas for some dishes.

It All Began…

Promoting her newest cookbook, FoolProof, Garten also spoke about her past, how she got where she is, how much she loves Paris (and Jeffrey), and also how she has made her life work, always knowing when to say no to improve her work/life balance. Most importantly, Garten was able to become who she is today because she always followed what interested her. Once a nuclear energy budget analyst for the Federal government under the Carter and Ford administrations (WOW!), she realized that she needed to follow her dreams. She had taught herself how to cook with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and realized that she wanted to be in the culinary world.

One morning she found an advertisement for a bakery in the Hamptons, named Barefoot Contessa. She called Jeffrey who said to go for it! After some discussion, she bought the gourmet food store, kept the name with the intention to change it after 6 months, and took ownership the day before Memorial Day weekend. She had no idea what she was getting into.

Ina Garten At closing time on Friday, the entire store was completely sold out. She had no idea what to do since she still had the rest of the weekend to be open! Jeffrey landed up buying out a local bakery for two days until they figured out how to make delicious muffins. You could say it was the beginning of the beginning! Now, 35 years later, Garten is a household name. I actually received her  Parties! cookbook along with all the ingredients for one of the recipes from my cousin-in-law at my bridal shower. She’s the go to person for how to throw an elegant and relaxed dinner party.

“You don’t need a lot of equipment to make a good dinner. The simpler the kitchen, the easier it is to cook. All you need is a good set of knives, sheet pans, and an oven thermometer.”

~ Ina Garten 

After word started getting around of her success at Barefoot Contessa (she kept the name after she realized that it’s all about elegant food – which is exactly how she wanted to present her food), the Food Network kept calling and Garten kept saying no, until finally she said yes. Eight cookbooks later, a hit show, and countless fans, Garten has continued to impress with her passion for cooking delicious food and throwing elegant yet simple parties. (I know I’ve channeled her when I hosted my first Christmas Eve dinner!)

Apparently she even channels herself, especially when celebrity chefs including Bobby Flay and Michael Symon stop by for dinner (they feasted on a goat cheese and zucchini tart, a grilled salmon salad with raspberry vinaigrette and a tomato salad with sautéed corn – I will do my best to recreate these recipes). Not only does she host celebrity chefs at home, but she also hosted Chef Williams, aka one of the founders of Williams Sonoma. What do you cook for a chef that created the culinary store? The kitchen clambake. “I figured everyone always makes him a fancy dinner so I wanted a casual one!” exclaims Garten. (However, she did forget to serve the lobster which were staying warm in the oven – see even the Barefoot Contessa herself makes party blunders!)

Garten’s Bites of Information 

As for some kitchen and cooking tips as well as some suggestions, this is what Garten had to say:

  • Always use kosher salt except when finishing (then use sea salt). She uses Diamond Krystal Kosher salt and Fleur de Sel sea salt as a finisher. If you’ve never tried it, line up all the salts in the kitchen and taste them all. Then you’ll know the difference in flavor and texture.
  • Don’t be stingy with herbs and know that dishes need salt or an edge to make them stand out. Try adding vinegar, lemon juice or zest to a dish to really bring out the flavors.
  • Plan out your dinners. In Foolproof, her latest cookbook, she gives a detailed plan of when to do various steps such as turn on the stove, put the beef in the oven, etc. so that you’re not forgetting anything or stressing when company arrives.
  • If you’re unsure of how to cook, take three simple recipes such as roasted chicken and learn them well, then experiment and go from there.
  • Be inspired by France. They really care about what they eat and the quality of their ingredients. Everything has so much flavor and it’s important to admire our food.

There were also a few recipes Garten mentioned during her talk including Million Dollar chicken. She didn’t give the exact recipe, but enough clues to allow me to attempt my own recreation. And of course, once perfected I will share with you!  You’re not going to want to miss it!



Gearing Up for the FoodBank’s Culinary Classic

Now that we’re in the month of September, it’s really time to gear up for the highly anticipated Culinary Classic benefiting The Food Bank on Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Last time I gave you a tiny overview about the event and what The FoodBank does with the funds they receive (it’s a lot!)

On Monday, September 23rd, The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties will host the 22nd Culinary Classic from 5-9pm at The Mill in Spring Lake Heights, NJ. New this year is wine and beer pairings. Delicious!

David BurkeWell since my last post (sorry for taking so long), celebrity chef David Burke is ready to host an event packed with even more restaurants that will tantalize your tastebuds. Let’s take a look at some of these phenomenal local restaurants that will be offering samples of their food.

A Short List of Restaurants You’ll Be Tasting 

Black Trumpet – Chef and owner Mark Mikolajczyk will offer tastings that will no dissapoint from his award-winning and highly acclaimed Zagat rated restaurant. If you dine at the Black Trumpet, you’ll most likely feast on high quality seafood or freshly made pasta – we’ll see what he brings to the table on the 18th!

Branches – Known for its tasty catering menus, Branches in Long Branch has wowed event guests for over 10 years. I’m sure they’ll be pulling all the stops to impress the foodies this month.

Brandl – Featuring innovative American cuisine, Chef Chris Brandl has been serving his signature crab cakes since 2002 (he later opens Jakes Crab Shack due to the crab cakes popularity). Dishes are distinctive including wild boar chops and Hawaiian spearfish “Nairagi.”

Chef Mike's ABGChef Mike’s ABG – Chef Mike is anything but ordinary and his food follows suit. “Bringing sexy food back” to the Jersey Shore, Chef Mike uses local and sustainable ingredients in his innovative dishes including his original Onion Crusted Chilean Sea Bass. Flavors highlight an Asian twist on the best quality seafood in the state.

Chocolate Carousel – Step into this family owned and operated sweet shop anyday and you’ll find over 40 flavors of freshly baked cupcakes ready for you to enjoy. I’m hoping they bring some to the Old Mill – yes I’m a chocoholic!

Danny’s Grill & Wine Bar – A local favorite that offers some of the best sushi around, Danny’s will be sure to bring some of their famed food for all of us to try. Even though they’re a Steelers bar, I’ll let that slide because of their sliders…

I’ll be sure to keep you interested by highlighting more restaurants leading up to the big event. For now, be sure to reserve your tickets at Culinary Classic. It’s not very often that we get to eat great food while supporting an organization that makes sure our neighbors eat well too.