Courtesy Bmore Media – Chef shuffles and personnel shake-ups are a normal, everyday part of the frenetic restaurant world. But it’s a phenomenon worth noting when the executive chef of a well-respected, popular local establishment leaves his post and his replacement decides to take things in a totally new culinary direction.
I’d always been told that making risotto is a bear. All that stirring, stirring, stirring. Blah, blah, blah. How do you know when it’s done?? But thanks to the wonderful folks at America’s Test Kitchen, I’ve found that it’s not that hard. Risotto actually is your friend.
It would be easy for Alice Waters, the celebrity-chef owner of Chez Panisse and godmother to the organic/local food movement, to spend her days sniffing over heirloom eggplants and other organic delicacies at Berkeley farmers markets. Just like it would’ve been easy for Jennifer Crisp to continue her career as a chef in California, home of the country’s most discerning foodies. But “easy” isn’t necessarily what these women are interested in — which is why you’ll find both of them with their hands in the dirt this week, helping expand one struggling Baltimore City school’s nascent garden program.
This post is super duper basic. I want to know what tools you need in your kitchen. Everyone has tools that he or she uses all the time and would be lost without. I taught a cooking class at a friend’s house recently and left my favorite spatula behind – you would have thought I’d left my dog there – I missed it so much! Yes, it’s probably weird that I have a favorite spatula.Here are some of my faves – a few of them are things I really didn’t know existed until I really started cooking so much these last few years (the silicone pie crust thing rules). To say that I can’t live without these things is a bit dramatic, but they do make my life a whole lot easier!
You pretty much either love ’em or hate ’em. I used to be completely wigged out by them. I think that having a job cleaning them at a seafood shop might have scarred me a bit. (Thanks, Billy.) My mom has loved them forever. Me, I’ve got texture issues – biting into a soft, yet crunchy LEG of a crab?
Um, no. (Then, fast-forward two years…)
While I can still get strawberries and rhubarb, I’m making this! My chickens will be happy – they love strawberry hulls more than anything…
I love having parties. It’s so much fun to get people together to share great food and drink. It doesn’t have to be fancy. For me, it’s about the people, not just what’s on the plate. Whether it’s a barbeque, dinner party or holiday soiree, I’m in. So, years ago when I saw Ina Garten’s book, Parties, I snatched it right up.
In the cookbook, she describes a terrible party she gave early on – a sort of cautionary tale of what not to do. She tried to do too much and everything just fell apart. Not many people would put their mistakes out there for the world to see, so naturally I liked her right away.
She gives great advice for folks who might be new to cooking or intimidated by entertaining. For example, she recommends buying some simple hors d’ouvres like tapenade, pate, cheeses, nuts, olives, etc. Don’t make things that are too complicated and prepare as much as you can ahead of time. You should be with your guests having fun, not working in the kitchen while they’re noshing. After cooking from the Parties book, I began buying the rest of her cookbooks over the next few years.
My best friend of 30 years is an architect in Paris and she often works with American clients who have homes there. She told me she was designing an apartment for Ina and her husband Jeffrey. I must admit, I was thrilled. Like, silly giddy, actually. When she came home for the holidays, she took my Parties book back to Paris and had Ina sign it for me. Oh, how I love my bestie.
Fast forward a few years: I took an amazing trip to London and Paris for my 40th birthday – the trip of a lifetime for sure. Before I left London for Paris, my friend called to say that Ina was going to be there at the same time as me and that we might have lunch with her. Deep breaths. This is sort of like one of my five brothers grabbing a beer with one of theRavens…seriously. After my friend set up lunch, I’m sure she was hoping to God that I didn’t flip out and completely mortify her. I had to be on my best behavior.
As I walked with my best friend, in my favorite city, about to meet someone I admire immensely…I felt so, so lucky. How did I get here? What would we have in common? What could we talk about? Would she be as nice as she seems on television? Would it be awkward or fun or what?
It was perfect. Ina is incredibly warm, funny, engaging and full of life. We talked about food, music, travel, wine, flowers, parties, Paris, etc. I told her that I was really getting into cooking at 40 and that she’d been very, very helpful to me. She seemed pleased and kind of touched, actually. I also had the pleasure of meeting her husband, Jeffrey. He’s quite friendly and genuine. As we sat in their lovely, yet simple, Paris living room, he asked about my work and life in Baltimore. Seriously nice people.
I have no idea what we ate at lunch, but remember that we had chilled red wine. Don’t you just love Paris…wine with lunch. Wish the US would embrace that concept. As we neared the end of our visit, I felt a little silly asking her to sign favorite of her cookbooks, the first one – The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook – but she was so nice about it. We chatted some more and said our goodbyes.
Best day ever. Ever.
To me, Ina makes everything she does look un-scary. You think, “I could do that.” And then you actually do. I made roast chicken for the first time after I saw on her show. Grilled a pizza on the grill for the first time after I saw it on her show. Bought my first Le Creuset dutch oven after I saw it on her show. Yes, I’m a nerd, but I know what I like. Of course, I do use other cookbooks, but I tend to look in my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks first. For the most part, her recipes are not super complicated, with very few ingredients you can’t find at an area grocery store. I like that.
Here are some of my favorite Ina recipes.