Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review: Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?

Summary: In Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That? Ina proves once again that it doesn’t take complicated techniques, special equipment, or stops at more than one grocery store to make wonderful dishes for your family and friends. Her newest must-have cookbook is all about saving time and avoiding stress while having fun in the kitchen.

These are not recipes with three ingredients thrown together in five minutes; instead home cooks will find fantastic Barefoot Contessa recipes that are easy to make but still have all that deep, delicious flavor Ina is known for—and that makes a meal so satisfying. Think Pink Grapefruit Margaritas served with Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs—two classics with a twist. For lunch, Ina makes everyone’s favorite Ultimate Grilled Cheese sandwich and Snap Peas with Pancetta. For dinner, try Jeffrey’s Roast Chicken (tried and true!); Steakhouse Steaks, which come out perfectly every time and—with Ina’s easy tip—couldn’t be simpler; or an Easy Parmesan “Risotto” that you throw in the oven instead of stirring endlessly on the stovetop. Finally, Ina’s desserts never disappoint—from Red Velvet Cupcakes to Chocolate Pudding Cream Tart.

To top it all off, Ina also shares her best tips for making cooking really easy. She leaves bowls of lemons and limes on the counter not only because they look great but because they also remind her that a squeeze of lemon in a dish brightens the flavors. She shows us the equipment that makes a difference to her—like sharp knives, the right zester, an extra bowl for her electric mixer—and that can help you in your kitchen, too.

Filled with 225 gorgeous full-color photographs,
Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That? is the perfect kitchen companion for busy home cooks who still want fabulous flavor. -- Potter

BAREFOOT CONTESSA HOW EASY IS THAT? FABULOUS RECIPES & EASY TIPS is the first Barefoot Contessa cookbook that I've ever owned...but it probably won't be the last. Many of my friends have oohed and aahed over her cookbooks for years now, and I finally decided to take the plunge and buy one for my own collection. It seems like a lot of my favorite recipes that my friends make are Barefoot Contessa ones, and since this cookbook had the term "easy" in the title, I figured it was a good starting point. I think I made a smart decision!

I wasn't always sure that I was going to appreciate this cookbook though. The cookbook begins with the following sections -- Cocktails, Starters and Lunch; and I have to admit that I wasn't exactly thrilled with many of them. You husband and I don't do condiments and many of the recipes included mayonnaise and mustard. I flipped right past those recipes and I was starting to feel a little sick about my $35 purchase. However, once I got to the Dinner, Vegetables, and Desserts sections, I was sold! I found quite a few recipes that I want to try.

If you are like me and love cookbooks with gorgeous photographs, then HOW EASY IS THAT? is definitely one that you need to check out. I can't get over how beautiful this cookbook is. Don't get me wrong, the recipes do look good, but I think the pictures are what really makes me want to try them. I have to warn you though. Don't pick up this cookbook when you are hungry!

It probably goes without saying that I like that the recipes all seem to be very simple. Not only are the instructions pretty easy, but the ingredients are relatively common and most are fresh too. There are some chicken, beef and salmon recipes that look great, and some aren't even loaded with tons of fat and calories! There are also some great sides like Creamy Parmesan Polenta, Tuscan White Beans, and Potato Basil Puree that are right up my alley. However, I found that the dessert section of the cookbook is my favorite! The Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp, the Fresh Peach Cake and the Red Velvet Cupcakes are "must-trys," but I decided to start with the Easy Cranberry & Apple Cake. Unfortunately, it was December 31st and fresh cranberries are "out-of-season." My husband found out the hard way when he went to four different grocery stores!

So I decided to make the Old-Fashioned Banana Cake instead. My in-laws were coming and I liked that the cake wasn't too huge -- I certainly don't need many leftovers after my Christmas binging.The recipe was relatively simple to make and I had most of the ingredients on hand including some ripe bananas. It turned out really well and was a hit. I thought the orange zest was a nice addition and it actually set apart this banana cake from other ones that I have made.

Old-Fashioned Banana Cake
Serves 8

3 very ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Cream Cheese Frosting 
Walnut Halves for Decorating

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x2-inch round cake pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the bananas, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on low speed until combined. With the mixer still on low, add the oil, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix until smooth.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Stir in the chopped walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, turn out onto a cooling rack, and cool completely.

Spread the frosting thickly on the top of the cake and decorate with walnut halves.

Cream Cheese Frosting

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (1/2 pound)

Mix the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low speed until just combined. Don't whip! Add the sugar and mix until smooth.

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Beth Kephart said...

My brother-in-law, here for four days over Christmas and a gourmet cook, kept raving about the Contessa before, during, and after the meals that I was cooking. I think I need this one!

bermudaonion said...

I really enjoy The Barefoot Contessa's show, so I bet I'd love this cookbook too! I'm so impressed that your husband went to 4 different grocery stores for you!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Every once in a while, packaged stuff by the Barefoot Contessa goes on sale and I try it out, and it's always great! I'm sure though it would be cheaper to get the cookbook and make the stuff from scratch!

Beth F said...

I have about 5 of her cookbooks -- I lover her style and attitude.

Poor Booking Dad -- I always buy extra bags of cranberries at Thanksgiving and toss them in the freezer.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Ooh Tuscan white beans are sounding wonderful right about now. :)

Veens said...

Well, I definitely think "easy" always sells a cookbook for me :) :)

I hope to get this one someday!

Kate said...

I agree with Veens!

Great review! I've never tried any of her cookbooks, but now I might look into a few. Thanks!