I’ll start by saying this: I’m not athletic, nor do I particularly like working out. But after graduating from college, I discovered a motivating factor that got me to the gym: Barefoot Contessa. I don’t have a TV at home, so I’ve been timing my gym workouts for the past five years with episodes of my favorite cooking show.
After all those years and all those episodes (which I’ve seen multiple times), I’ve learned some surprising but practical tips from the inimitable Ina. While I originally went to the gym to lose a few pounds, I ended up gaining a whole lot of knowledge from Barefoot Contessa.
Now, I’ve learned a lot from Ina Garten over the years about food and entertaining in general — keep things simple (with the volume turned up a notch), use good-quality ingredients, shop local when you can, make items ahead of time — but these are the more nitty-gritty tips I’ve gleaned over the course of watching Barefoot Contessa for so many years; the little hidden nuggets of wisdom that weave their way into her narrative as she effortlessly pulls a roast chicken out of the oven or frosts a three-layer cake.
1. Add coffee to chocolate.
This is a recurring tip mentioned throughout many Barefoot Contessa episodes. Whenever Ina is making a chocolate ganache or cake, she adds some freshly brewed coffee or instant coffee powder (or both!) to enhance the flavor of the chocolate.
2. Use a sharp knife to “mash” guacamole.
Before seeing this tip, I used to mash my guacamole with a fork, eliminating almost all the chunks. Now, though, I’ve seen the light: Ina uses a sharp knife to cut through all the guacamole ingredients until everything is combined but still chunky in texture.
3. Add fruit liqueur to fruit.
Similar to the coffee-chocolate trick, Ina adds a splash of various fruit liqueurs to enhance the flavors of fruit dishes. Crème de cassis — a blackcurrant liqueur — is added to the filling of a plum crunch, framboise — a raspberry liqueur — is used in everything from raspberry sauce to a berry trifle, and limoncello — an Italian lemon liqueur — is used in a light fruit salad.
4. Use a saucer to cut tarts out of puff pastry.
Ina is a woman after my own heart, in that she doesn’t like to use unitasker kitchen tools. Instead of buying a tart pan that she’ll only use every once in a while, she traces a sharp knife around a six-inch saucer — placed over a sheet of puff pastry — to cut out circles of puff pastry for tomato-goat cheese tarts.
5. Keep vanilla beans intact when making vanilla extract.
Where many recipes for homemade vanilla extract call for splitting the vanilla bean first, Ina tells you to just drop the whole beans in the jar, pour vodka over them, and wait for the magic to happen. The best part? Pulling out the vanilla beans after they’ve sufficiently infused (or marinated, as she says) and squeezing out those beautiful seeds to use in everything from vanilla ice cream to vanilla sugar.
6. Roast your shrimp.
There’s an episode of Barefoot Contessa, where Ina is making lemon pasta with shrimp, that completely changed the way I cook shrimp. Instead of standing over a pan while the shrimp cook on the stovetop, I now just roast them in the oven. Ina tosses peeled and deveined shrimp on a baking sheet with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasts them for six to eight minutes at 400°F. No fussing over whether or not the shrimp are ready to be flipped — just throw them in the oven and they’ll come out perfectly cooked every time.
7. Grate cheese in the food processor.
Before seeing this tip, I used to buy containers of pre-grated Parmesan cheese at the grocery store; I was too lazy to grate it myself on a box grater. But on multiple episodes of Barefoot Contessa, Ina makes mention of the fact that you lose a lot of flavor when you buy pre-grated cheese; it’s at its best when you grate a hunk of cheese right before you plan to eat it. Her quick solution? The food processor. She cuts off the rind, cuts the cheese into chunks, and grinds it right in the food processor. To borrow her signature line: “How easy is that?”
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