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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

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