I remember one of the first recipes I ever made for my husband. It was zucchini pizza, from one of Rachael Ray’s many “dinner in thirty minutes” cookbooks. It turned out well, and I think I made it once a week for a month. She’s big into stir fry and meats with veggies and sauces, so that summer I also learned how to make compotes, reductions and “stoups,” as she references them. The great thing about Rachael Ray? She gives you complete meals in 45 minutes to an hour (thirty minutes is totally ambitious. She doesn’t account for all the chopping you’re doing!). She’s great for the beginner cook. You just pull out a recipe and you’ve got an entire dinner made. I got really good at making homemade mac and cheese, veggie/bean stew and even started changing and adding ingredients to adjust for taste. There are definitely some recipes I still use, years later, but my cooking has changed over the years, and so have my family’s needs. Eventually, Rachael Ray just wasn’t enough.
A few years went by, and my husband and I started having children. And these Rachael Ray meals, that were once perfect for two, were not working for a family of four and then five. They took too long to cook (too many minutes of active cooking), and most of the time, the cooking required standing over a hot stove to saute, make a sauce, or continue adding ingredients. This kind of cooking is not happening with two or three little kids running around. I needed things I could put in the oven, or the slow cooker, and I also needed meals I could create for all the entertaining we started doing.
My mom sent me some Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, and even though I was initially really intimidated, once I tried out a few recipes, I was hooked. Her recipes are a little more complicated than the Rachael Ray I was used to, but only in terms of prep work. I was really scared of making recipes that required a full cut of meat. Many of Rachael Ray recipes have cut up chicken or ground beef, so it was really in my comfort zone. Roast chickens, pot roasts and pork loin was very scary to me! But I tried a few, and they weren’t that hard!
Something I love about the Barefoot Contessa is that she walks you through every step of the meal. From when to start cooking to how to manage more than one hot dish at a time (something I really struggled with!), I could really look toward the cookbook for more than just a recipe. This spring, I made this spring pea/pancetta salad for a dinner we hosted, and it was crunchy and very light, with a very refreshing glaze. Amazing.
Photo Credit: Hero on Earth
And since I’m in love with dessert, I have to include it in every big meal I host. I’m a huge Martha Stewart fan when it comes to desserts, but Ina Garten comes in with a close second. And the thing with her recipes is that they don’t take forever. You really have to commit to a Martha Stewart dessert. You’re going to be in the kitchen for hours with homemade glazes, icings, and some serious, time consuming steps! But the day I made this snap pea salad I also made this mocha icebox cake…with store bought cookies, as the recipe suggests! It was amazing, it took 20 minutes to make (and a few hours to freeze), and the crowd loved it. And it’s so beautiful too. In my opinion, a dessert should be a showstopper and delicious, and this one delivers.
Photo Credit: Project Pastry Love
My Rachael Ray cookbooks are still in my cabinet. The pages are falling out because I used them so much. But now, my Ina Garten cookbooks have a few tattered pages, too. Occasionally, I’ll use an online recipe, but there’s just something traditional and fun about using an actual cookbook. I love it. I love seeing the flour stains and wrinkled pages, a sign my family loved this food and it’s become a symbol of love in my home.