15 Cooking Tips We've Learned From Ina Garten
Nobody embodies the true nature of being a hostess with the mostess more than the iconic Ina Garten. The Barefoot Contessa herself has become a household name, known for her warm and welcoming approach to making every meal a cause for celebration.
Following along with Ina Garten makes cooking feel enjoyable, even for the most novice home chefs. Here are a few of the tips and tricks she lives by to help keep home cooking fun.
When in doubt, keep it simple.
While she was on tour promoting her book, Barefoot Contessa Parties!, Ina gave an interview to BookSense.com reminding everyone that a meal doesn’t have to be over-the-top to complex to be satisfying and delicious. In fact, when it comes to home cooking, just the opposite can be true.
“I think my experience with the store has taught me that, while people like really interesting meals when they go to restaurants, they really prefer very simple food at home,” she says.
Don’t deviate from the recipe as it is written.
We’ve all been there—you don’t have any scallions, so you throw in a little chopped onion and hope no one will notice the difference. Or maybe you scale back on the amount of pepper a recipe calls for because you aren’t sure if it will come out too spicy.
Take this as a directive from Garten directly to you: Stop doing that. According to an interview with Epicurious, Garten is a stickler for following a recipe exactly.
“I measure everything, because I always think that if I've spent so much time making sure this recipe was exactly the way I want it, why would I want to throw things into a pot? I'm really a scientist,” she says.
When it comes time for a taste test, close your eyes.
Shutting off one of our senses allows others to be heightened. If you close your eyes when you do a final test of your dish, it can help you determine if the flavor profile you are looking for is really there.
“When you’re cooking, stop at the end and taste the dish—really taste it. Does it have depth of flavor? Can you taste the lemon in the lemon capellini with your eyes closed?” Ina Garten says in her book, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.
And, if the answer is no, don’t be afraid to adjust your seasonings and taste it again!
Under-salting food is tantamount to committing a crime.
While over-salted food is a concern, in her book Cook Like a Pro, Ina Garten insists that most home chefs are at way more risk of not adding enough salt when cooking, leaving their dishes flavorless.
“Salt is a really important component of my recipes and part of what makes my cooking taste great,” she says.
Pay attention to natural produce cycles when planning your menus.
Food always tastes best when it is harvested during its preferred season. This is especially true for fresh fruits and veggies. Anyone who has ever had a tomato sandwich in August versus December knows that a winter tomato just doesn't have the same juicy flavor as its summer counterpart.
It all boils down to a respect for the food you are eating and the process by which it gets to your plate.
“Buy things in season, and then only do what you need to do to make [food] taste as good as it can taste,” Garten says to Epicurious.
Don’t let food preparation get in the way of enjoying time with your guests.
Whether it be for a dinner party, or a backyard barbeque, the purpose of having friends and family come together for a meal is spent time together. The food served should enhance that togetherness, not get in the way of it.
So, when planning out your menu in advance, be sure to steer clear of any dishes that require too much maintenance and will keep you away from your guests.
“I threw a big Sunday brunch for a crowd of 20 that I hardly knew, and determined to make a fresh omelet for each guest! I knew immediately what I had done wrong," says Garten in her conversation with BookSense.com. "A party isn't about food, it's about people. I spent all my time in the kitchen, and from the living room—no talking, no laughter!"
Season your food throughout the process, not just at the end.
Too often, new chefs have the tendency to save all of the seasonings until the end of the recipe, after the food has already been cooked. But, as Ina Garten explained in an interview with Redbook, that approach leaves many dishes lacking in flavor.
“That means salting it a little at a time throughout the entire cooking process, not just at the end. It enhances the flavor of whatever you're cooking and makes food taste seasoned—not salty,” she says.
Never underestimate the power of a good cup of coffee.
Usually, Garten is the maverick of her household’s kitchen, but making coffee is the one culinary area where she lets her husband Jeffrey take the reins.
Watch her Instagram post dedicated to Jeffery’s “secret” process for all of the coffee (and relationship) inspiration you need.
When it comes to meal preparation, make it ahead or don’t make it at all.
After publishing her book, Make It Ahead, Garten became a devoted believer in the power of preparing food in advance before any party, freeing you up to enjoy time with your guests.
This approach can trickle down into meal prepping outside of the party season as well. It can cut down on a lot of weekday stress if you use the weekend to prepare meals in advance.
“Now I make a menu for a dinner and look at it and say, can I make this entire dinner ahead? If I can’t, I start substituting dishes that I can,” Garten says to TODAY.
Always let meat rest before carving it.
While it can be tempting to cut into a nice, juicy steak as soon as it comes off of the grill, Ina Garten insists that this is one instance where it really is worth it to wait. About five minutes should do the trick.
“This resting period allows the juices to be absorbed back into the meat, which makes it so much more flavorful than if you'd served it right off the grill or right out of the oven,” she says in Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.
Know when homemade just isn’t worth the effort.
A homemade meal just can’t be beat. But for some kitchen staples, the work of getting the home-cooked version ready just isn’t worth the reward. In these circumstances, store-bought is a great alternative!
For Garten, store-bought vanilla ice cream and loaves of bread are two of the three things she always keeps on hand in her freezer, according to an interview with Food & Wine. While she could make these things herself, the pre-made versions cut down on time, effort and stress. (In case you were wondering, the third store-bought thing Ina always has in her freezer is vodka.)
So, you can decide for yourself which homemade foods just aren’t worth the hassle, and opt for the store-bought instead.
To keep wine chilled, you need more than just ice.
An ice bucket is an iconic accompaniment to any bottle of champagne or white wine. But just because it is traditional doesn’t mean it is the most effective.
Thanks to a helpful little video from her Instagram page, Garten is sparking joy in wine lovers everywhere with the tip that a combination of ice and water helps to get colder faster and keep it chilled for longer.
Make the most out of your leftovers.
Leftovers are great, especially when you have an already-paid-for meal and it can help reduce food waste by eating them. However, we all know that, sometimes, leftovers can just feel boring. Not anymore!
Ina Garten approaches leftovers with an enthusiasm that transforms them into two separate meals. Say goodbye to repetition and hello to her “repurposing” hack. Instead of eating the same thing again, use the leftovers as an ingredient to a new meal. In an example that she shared with PureWow, Garten turns her Tomato & Eggplant Soup into a sauce for her Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Eggplant. "No one will even know they’re eating leftovers,” says Garten.
Don’t make cutting vegetables harder than it needs to be.
For cauliflower, rather than cutting it from the top-down, Garten suggests flipping the head to cut from the stem-side first. This way, the cauliflower stays neatly on your cutting board and doesn’t fly all over the kitchen floor.
Only splurge when you think it is worth it.
Everyone likes to have fancy, new ingredients when they are trying out a new recipe, but not every culinary experiment needs to break the bank. In fact, most recipes can be done on a budget.
When you do decide to splurge, make sure you know what you are getting out of it. Don’t be afraid to shop around and ask a professional for assistance in making the choice.
“I always say to use the highest-quality vinegars and olive oils in your price range," says Garten on Ask Ina. "It doesn't have to be the most expensive bottle on the shelf to be ‘good,’ and you can always ask for recommendations from someone at your local grocery store or specialty food store."