I know this review is long overdue. I’ve had this book for a while now. But I’ve had bronchitis twice, the flu, and then a sinus infection, and I wanted to give this the proper attention. (Are you sick of hearing about me being sick? I’m sick of talking about it. Let’s move on, then.)

I went through this book, page by page, as soon as I got my hands on it. I’m a big, huge fan of Ina Garten because her recipes are fool-proof. Some are more involved than others but the emphasis, in her latest book “Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?” is on “her easiest recipes ever.”

Garten’s road to culinary celebrity was not the typical one. Once a White House nuclear policy analyst, she loved to entertain. Eventually, she left her career to purchase gourmet food shop the Barefoot Contessa. It was the right fit. She went on to release cookbooks, self-branded products, television shows. But the fact that she has no formal training, and that instead she relied on her own intuition, and feedback from her customers to develop her craft shines through and through in her work.

Right off the bat she will tell you this book is about saving you time, but that “these aren’t recipes with three ingredients that you can throw together in five minutes before dinner.” These are tried-tested-tested-tested-and-true recipes you will turn to time and time again because they worked the first time, they worked the second time, and you know they will work any time after that. (Read to the bottom for recipes from the book, courtesy the good people at Random House Canada).

Some recent cookbooks from Food Network stars have felt repetitive and predictable, clearly an effort to wring every last dollar from their celebrity status. Not so with this one. This is a cookbook I will hold on to for decades, I know, because I’ve already turned to it so many times. It’s provided me with some new favourites I’ve worked into my weekly rotation. But it also has staple recipes for old favourites like pesto. And that’s part of the reason I haven’t reviewed it yet — it was on my kitchen counter for weeks, getting splattered by oil.

Quick and dirty review of recipes I’ve tried:

 

Old-fashioned banana cake: This cake was moist and tasty, as cakes with overripe bananas usually are, especially when they are smeared with cream cheese frosting. But I wasn’t completely wowed by it. Anyone should be able to whip this up, and I guess I was looking for something that was a bit more of a challenge, and that I couldn’t buy at a good bakery just around the corner.

Roasted vegetable frittata: I have made this countless times, at least once a week. It’s one of five dishes I can count on my son to eat, and I roast my vegetables the night before, so it literally takes me minutes to assemble this and put it in the oven. Served with a baguette, I have a quick, nutritious weeknight meal.

Weeknight Bolognese: I was skeptical about this one because the recipe doesn’t require you to simmer this meat sauce for ages like other recipes do. Nonetheless, it all came together beautifully and there was tons left over for dinner the next day too.

Roasted shrimp with feta: When my husband saw dinner consisted of diced fennel, shrimp, and feta, I will tell you he was not impressed. He’s weary of shellfish at the best of times. But it took just one bite to convert him. My sister and I, on the other hand, thought the combination was genius and we were sold from the get-go. I would make this again, next time to guests. It’s a show-stopper and you can assemble it earlier in the day and throw it in the oven just before you need to serve it.

So should you buy this book? If you have people over for dinner, ever, yes. If you are looking for a new recipe for a weeknight meal, yes. If you love looking at colour photographs of elaborate spreads, yes. If you enjoy reading tips for effortless entertaining, yes. Buy it.

Excerpts from Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?’

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast

Serves 6 to 8

Why do we only serve turkey on Thanksgiving? A whole turkey breast roasted with fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme is a great weeknight dinner and the leftovers make delicious sandwiches the next day. Roasting the turkey at 325 degrees and allowing it to rest for fifteen minutes ensures that it will be very moist.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole bone-in turkey breast (6½ to 7 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • ¾ cup dry white wine

Directions:

 Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the turkey breast on a rack in a roasting pan, skin side up.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, mustard, rosemary, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper. Rub the mixture evenly all over the skin of the turkey breast. (You can also loosen the skin and smear half of the paste underneath, directly on the meat.) Pour the wine into the bottom of the roasting pan.

Roast the turkey for 1½ to 1 ¾ hours, until the skin is golden brown and an instant-read meat thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest and meatiest area of the breast. Check the breast after an hour or so; if the skin is overbrowning, cover it loosely with aluminum foil.

When the turkey is done, remove from the oven, cover the pan with aluminum foil, and allow the turkey to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Slice and serve warm with the pan juices.

Rich Celery Root Purée

Serves 6 to 8

This is the essence of simplicity, celery root enriched with chicken stock and cream so that all you taste is that fresh celery root flavor. I serve this with a simple roast pork and a bottle of full-bodied Chardonnay; I’m in heaven. You can easily make this a day in advance and reheat it before dinner.

Ingredients:

  • 5 pounds celery root (2 large)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Peel the celery roots with a large chef’s knife and cut each one in half. With the cut side down, cut it in 1/2-inch dice, removing any brown spots. Be careful—keep your fingers out of the way of the knife!

Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the celery root and saute for 3 minutes, stirring to coat with the butter. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, cream, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once, until the celery root is very tender.

In batches, transfer the mixture to a food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree until smooth. Return the puree to the pot and reheat gently over low heat. Check the seasonings—it should be very highly seasoned—and serve hot.

Easy Cranberry & Apple Cake

Serves 6 to 8

This recipe is inspired by a cranberry pie from Sarah Chase’s book Cold Weather Cooking. My friend Barbara Liberman calls it “easy cake”—I call it delicious.

It’s even better served warm with vanilla ice cream.

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over for stems
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest (2 oranges)
  • ¼ freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 11⁄8 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the cranberries, apple, brown sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. With the mixer on medium, add 1 cup of the granulated sugar, the butter, vanilla, and sour cream and beat just until combined. On low speed, slowly add the flour and salt.

Pour the fruit mixture evenly into a 10-inch glass pie plate. Pour the batter over the fruit, covering it completely. Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar and 1⁄8 teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle it over the batter. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean and the fruit is bubbling around the edges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Excerpted from Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That? by Ina Garten Copyright © 2010 by Ina Garten. Photographs Copyright © 2010 by Quentin Bacon. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved.