One book stood out to me above all the rest - The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, by Ina Garten (Published by Clarkson Potter). I was drawn to this book like a moth to a flame. The photography, the recipes, the writing style - but mostly the author herself. I admired her seemingly carefree and perfect life in the Hamptons. I loved the way she described food and how and why we should use certain ingredients, cook's tools and methods.
Since that time Ina has grown her foodie empire. She has had several cookbooks published, has two shows on the Food Network and has a line of mixes and baking/cooking supplies that are sold in retail stores. I try to catch her show at least once a week and she's always teaching me something new about best practices in the kitchen. She is not, as far as I know, a professionally trained chef and her recipes aren't all that difficult. They are just good. If I'm having people to dinner and I want the menu to shine I always consult her cookbooks first or one of her latest recipes that I've seen her prepare on her television show. Ina preaches over and over again the importance of using the best quality ingredients that you can afford or find. This simple advice has advanced my cooking immensely.
My friend Sara and I are so enamored of Ina that we are sometimes questioned by people that over hear us with "Who is your friend Ina?" We discuss her show a lot. Ina's husband Jeffrey frequently makes appearances on her shows and Sara and I sometimes include anecdotes about him in our conversations, further confusing our friends. "Did you see what Ina made last night?" or "Wasn't it cute how Jeffrey was going on and on about Ina's roast chicken?" These are some typical points of conversation between us. I am certain that we sound like lunatics.
Last week I invited Sara over for a girl's night in and, of course, I cooked her a meal I had seen prepared the week before on Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. The entire menu can be found here. Sara is pescatarian and when I saw Ina prepare Red Snapper in a mustard sauce I knew I had to make it for her. The fingerling potatoes and broccoli were the perfect supporting players for the fish. We enjoyed every bite and I enjoyed it again the next day when I got to eat the leftovers.
Ina has legion's of fans, this is just my small effort to bring attention to someone who has made a difference in my quality of life without ever having met me. I hope anyone reading this will be compelled to pick up one of her cookbooks or check out her shows on the Food Network. Maybe she'll ignite in you the same thing she ignited in me - the desire be a great hostess and to cook beautiful and delicious things for family and friends.