It will come as no surprise that I read. A lot. In fact, I love the tee-shirt I’ve seen on Facebook that says, “A day without reading is like . . . Only kidding. I have no idea.”
I read a wide range of genres from lots of different authors. Sometimes I read like I’m taking medicine. I’m working on a topic and I need to know more. Most of the time, however, the reading is for pure pleasure.
Picking a book to review for this column is more challenging than for my other three blogs (see below). Because this blog focuses sometimes on mystery writing, and sometimes on food issues with recipes, and sometimes combines those two, what’s a blogger to review? Cook book? Mystery book? Culinary mystery book?
Ta da! I chose celebrity chef, the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten’s latest offering: Make it Ahead. The premise really fits my modus operandi, so I had to have this book. DH once said, “You put dinner on the table faster than anyone I know.” Compliment, right?
There’s a method to that. I “make it ahead” a lot. I am also a believer in mise en place, the French phrase that means get everything you need out and measured before you start cooking. It goes faster, easier, and you don’t forget an ingredient. I also pre-cook, make dry mixes to add wet stuff to, and other such make it ahead techniques.
Also, just so you know, I write a food column for a small town newspaper each month. The name? The Quick Cook. You can see some of my columns by checking out The Pinewood News. My column, The Quick Cook, appears on page 7 of the issues it appears in. Recipes and cooking tips are the focus.
But back to this post, Garten is regarded as one of the celebrity chefs for us little people. She knows we’re not always serving 12 people a six-course meal. She knows that most of us don’t spend all day in the kitchen. She honors that we need to prepare family meals fast but that are nutritious and delicious. By the same token, you can find plenty of recipes in one of her nine cookbooks that are company-worthy. She’s your gal for a practical cook by your side.
And if you are planning a party, be sure to read her practical “10 Make-Ahead Tips for Parties” beginning with a week ahead up to a few hours ahead. She even tells you to make sure the dishwasher is empty before the party!
This particular cookbook focuses on entertaining without breaking your spirit or energy, so while the principles can apply to family cooking, this really is the cookbook for stress-free entertaining. The food chapters are: cocktails, to start, lunch, dinner, vegetables, dessert, breakfast, and make-ahead menus.
The recipes are gourmet without being hard to pull off. Clear directions for recipes that look like they took days make you look like the entertaining genius she wants you to be. I also love that she includes breakfast. For me, that is the most challenging meal for entertaining. You have guests who stayed overnight, and now they’re up and ready for you to feed them. She has some great make-ahead recipes for that scenario.
For fun, her first recipe is for whole wheat peanut butter dog biscuits. You gotta love someone who thinks of the family fur friend, right? I’ve shared here before the recipe for dog cookies that our pets have loved. But, I’d give this one a try!
Ina also has recipes for interesting food like homemade ricotta cheese (very easy!) so you don’t have to pay those high prices ever again and can have ricotta anytime the urge to make lasagna hits.
Here’s her recipe (rewritten for brevity):
Homemade Ricotta (makes 2 cups)
4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar
Line a sieve with two layers of dampened cheesecloth. Place over a bowl that allows the sieve to sit suspended.
In a stainless steel (or enameled) pan, bring milk, cream, and salt to a full rolling boil over medium heat. Stir occasionally.
Turn off heat and add vinegar. Let mixture stand one minute so mixture curdles.
Pour into sieve. Periodically discard the liquid in the bowl.
Let drain for 20-25 minutes. Longer drainage means thicker ricotta.
Transfer ricotta from sieve to a different bowl. Use immediately or cover with plastic and refrigerate.
This is delicious with fruit, granola, or in my family-famous veggie lasagna! Mangia!
In case you’re interested, my other blogs and some pen names are:
Romance Righter—relationships, personalities
Write Away—craft and the business end of writing
Caroline Adams—historical fiction and biographies
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