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Tuesday, September 30 2014

Ina Garten is a best-selling cookbook author, an Emmy-winning television host and the doyenne of casual elegance. But on a recent afternoon, the so-called "Barefoot Contessa" star looked around her East Hampton, New York, kitchen and realized that she had produced piles of cherry biscotti and tubs of rum-raisin ice cream — but no dinner.

The lifestyle maven then did what millions of Americans do in such a pinch: she called the nearest restaurant.

"On a day that I've been cooking all day, it's very nice to call up and do take-out from them," said Garten, whose ninth cookbook is released in late October and who is already at work on the next. "There's pasta with tomatoes that's on the menu. It's wonderful."

It's that laid-back, I'm-like-you approach that has secured Garten legions of fans who pre-order her books the day they're announced and call her by her first name, just like Martha or Oprah. Whether helping neighbors throw potluck dinners in a farm field, hosting cocktails for the historical society on her terrace or roaming through California's wine country in a Mini Cooper, Garten approaches the task as an adventure that can benefit from her sensibilities.

Hers is a casual approach to home cooking and entertaining, but do not take it for sloppy or indifferent. Even when preparing the do-it-early meals that are the focus of her new book, "Make Ahead Meals," she's exacting.

"I was always interested in science," Garten, who began her career as a nuclear policy analyst in the Ford and Carter White Houses, said in a recent telephone interview.

Then, "out of the blue," she bought a Hamptons specialty food store, the now-shuttered Barefoot Contessa. She now spends her time writing cookbooks, filming her popular Food Network program and living a life her fans envy.

But she's a stickler for details, toiling over recipes until she's confident they're as good as they're going to get in the hands of a home cook. Especially the meals that she prepares ahead of time and then stores in the refrigerator or freezer until she has guests to entertain.

"I find it very scientific," she said of her method of testing recipes — sometimes as many as 25 times before settling on the ratios. "But in the end you end up with cherry biscotti."

Garten is perfectly aware that hers is an aspirational life. Not everyone buys a neighbor's Hamptons home, tears it down and builds a barn to film a television series in, after all.

"There's no such thing as too indulgent. What would be too indulgent?" she deadpans.

During the first episode of the 21st season of her Food Network show, Garten made dog biscuits with producers Rob Marshall ("Chicago," ''Into the Woods") and his partner John DeLuca ("Nine," ''Memoirs of a Geisha") before having cocktails. In another episode, she and food mogul Eli Zabar have a butter tasting to see which is best.

But she also confesses that it looks easier than it actually is.

"I always feel like when people arrive for dinner, you want them to feel like, 'Oh, I just whipped it up in the few minutes before you got there,'" she says with a chuckle. "Of course, any cook knows that it never happens that way."

But in her new book, "Make It Ahead," Garten offers a guide to that feeling.

"There's always a way around it so you're actually doing the last-minute cooking just before it's served," she said.

It's what she's been doing for decades, but now has collected her recipes in one book. But there are limits, she adds.

"People want to make Christmas cookies and bake them in July and then freeze them and defrost them in December, which you clearly can't do," Garten said. "But there's a way to make 90 percent of it ahead of time and then just bake it off before you serve them. This I know how to do."

And if it doesn't work out, there's always take-out.


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Posted by: AT 12:19 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, September 23 2014
New House Gift. What To Send For Housewarming.

Do you have a friend or family member who just moved into a new house? Want to give them a gift, but you're unsure of what to send? What's better than a meal gift for the homeowner?

We have the best new home gifts with a unique twist. Everyone wants, loves and eats food. It nutritious and it can save someone a lot of time one evening when the family members are worn out from moving. 

You could send them some wine, but that will only get them drunk. Then someone is going to start making stupid decisions. Or start them on a downward spiral into alcoholism. This could ultimately cause a divorce, and then son-in-law that you hate so much gets the new home awarded to him by a judge.

Don't enable the worst case senerio, and play it safe by ordering a meal gift as your new housewarming tradition.

Posted by: AT 10:16 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, September 16 2014

Everyone is getting back to normal routines now that school is back in session, and the summer has come to a close. For most families with kids, getting back into that daily grind includes dinners at night. You are tired and the kids are cranky. Some days it seems like it would just be easier to pick up some fast food, or make a call to local delivery restaurant. However, those are unhealthy and pulls a lot of money from your wallet.

If you are smart. Preplan your dinners on Sunday morning for the entire week. Go to the grocery store the same day. Then prep all of your meals that afternoon. Get the kids involved too. There's no reason those ankle biters can't help out too. If your meals are pre-prepared ahead of time, then when you get home from work, your meals should only take 10 -20 minutes. You will be happy you put the effort into pre-prep, and the meals will be healthier for your kids.

Posted by: AT 09:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, September 12 2014

So, you're not a great cook. Your significant other cringes at the thought of you cooking a meal whether it's breakfast lunch or dinner. I'm not the best cook. Fortunately my spouse is. When I need to pick up the slack on my end and pitch-in for mealtime; I order dinner online to have healthy gourmet-style meals ready to go at a moments notice. 

Posted by: AT 12:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, September 04 2014

I remember when I first heard of fried turkey, on the Food Network all I could think of doing was replicating it myself. But the way it was demonstrated on TV, just wasn't doable in apartment living, with it's outdoor requirement and 'hazmat' like preparations. The taste of fried turkey eluded me for many years until one day in November of 2010, close to Thanksgiving. That year, I bought two small turkeys rather than a big one. The first one I cooked for the holiday, laboriously. It was a pain. Handling red hot turkey to separate the pieces on my apartment sized counter, and then putting it back in the oven, all so I could take pieces out as they were perfectly cooked. I thought to myself that there had to be a better way. So for the second turkey I cut it in to pieces. Now we usually buy whole chickens and end up piecing them out so butchering poultry was nothing new. I decided to try it on a larger bird and it's just as easy. After cooking turkey pieced apart, I wish I would figured this out a long time ago. Here's why:

Turkey in Separated Pieces Can Be Fried Just Like Chicken

Frying pieced turkey is just like frying pieced chicken, with a few minor adjustments. Bottom line is you don't have to create elaborate frying contraptions or do it outside. Fry each piece of turkey like just as you would fry chicken. I recommend brining the turkey pieces and frying the pieces alone, without a coating or batter. Frying turkey pieces so the skin has a delicate crispness and the meat is done thoroughly requires two stages of heat. You want to start at 325F degrees. The first cooking period will have a consistent heat that will not burn the skin and will make up most of the cooking duration. Depending on how fast your oil recovers from the drop in temperature you'll cook the pieces anywhere from 7 to 10 minutes per side, depending on the piece - use judgement and safe handling technique. For the second stage of cooking, raise the heat to 375 and fry until golden brown. Turkey skin is thicker than chicken skin and to get it crispy, the two stages of heat is key. Also, use an oil that can tolerate high heat, such as peanut oil.

Comes out Better Fried in Pieces

I had the opportunity to try fried turkey in a restaurant setting, a year later in Brooklyn and I was underwhelmed to say the least. My fried turkey, at home was far crisper, juicier and far more flavorful than the fried turkey I had, which was fried whole and didn't taste too different from roasted turkey from the oven. They also didn't brine or attempt to flavor it at all.

Piece Your Own Turkey

So unlike chicken I usually only see either ground turkey, or turkey breasts available so if you want to fry turkey on your range, you need to learn how to cut it yourself.

Note that it is crucial, for your health when doing any kind of frying to use a kitchen range hood. While this can be done in an apartment setting, it's important to have adequate ventilation. Inhaling airborne particulate from frying at high heat is harmful to your health.

Posted by: AT 09:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, September 02 2014

A food critic is a pretty sweet gig if you can get it. But there are literally legions of wannabe food critics out there all tweeting and posting their experiences to their social media followers. So how do you separate yourself from all the noise?

Here are a few important tips:

Any serious food critic worth their salt will first and foremost visit the establishment to experience the food on offer and only then write about his or her experience for the benefit of prospective readers rather than going out with the intention of reviewing the place unless you are getting paid to do this. In that respect the food critic should be highly knowledgeable about the food in question and be able to understand the process that went into producing the food, the ingredients and whether they are locally sourced or fresh.

Get up close and personal with the particular industry you are interested in writing about and study every aspect of it in detail from the history of the particular style of food right through to its production and the ingredients that go into it. Visit as many food establishments as possible and write about them even if the review is only going to be published on your Facebook profile or tweeted about. Eventually people will take notice of you and start following you on social media if you consistently write in-depth and valuable reviews.

It helps if you have a background in writing although it is not necessary to have a degree in journalism or in English or any other language although it helps greatly if you have a strong grasp of language. What is more important is to have an intimate understanding of the industry in question and a passion for what you are writing about. Although you will be expected to stay on top of trends and to be familiar with new food concepts and industry speak.

Get as much writing experience as you can by submitting articles to newspapers, writing articles for websites, guest blogging and generally getting your name out there as much as possible. Any reviews you write not only add to your experience but can be presented to a prospective employers further down the track.

Always ask the owner before you whip out a camera or iPhone and start taking photos. With the popularity of Instagram, Foodgawker, Pinterest, Yummly and other foodie photography sites and the profusion of wannabe food critics many places have put blanket bans on photography inside their premises. This is understandable so always make sure they are okay with it before you start snapping away.

If you really want to stand out from the crowd don't just write about what an amazing experience YOU had at whatever place you just visited but really describe it in detail to your readers using descriptive (but not flowery) writing. No-one really cares about some unknown food critic who comes across with an air of arrogance or self entitlement. They want to know what is in it for them and what THEY should expected if they visit said establishment.

And lastly, don't become a food bore! Keep yourself from slipping into self-indulgence by keeping your food reviews interesting and relevant and always writing with the reader in mind.


Posted by: AT 09:38 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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