Did you hear that the Barefoot Contessa’s new cookbook, How Easy is That? was released last week?? It’s beautiful! And those who already own it can certainly confirm this. If you don’t own it yet…what are you waiting for?!?

Back in July, I was asked to do a Q & A session with Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, about her upcoming (now released) new book.  Holy nerves, Batman!!  Ina’s cookbook publicist sent me an early [paperback, almost fully edited] copy of How Easy is That? and I was instantly in love.  While all of the photos were still in black and white in this copy (and we all know what photos do for a cookbook), the recipes completely stood out on their own.  Below a list of what I’ve made already.  Those with a star are ones the Barefoot Bloggers have also made.

If you already have the book, tell me about what you’ve made from it or what you’re looking forward to making in the comments below.  My pal, Josie, just posted about the Baked Fontina – doesn’t that sound amazing?

So, it’s been a couple of months since I spoke with Ina Garten but let me tell you, I’m still so excited about this Q & A!  Ina was just as warm and soft spoken as she appears to be on TV.  We all know about the calming effect she has on Barefoot Contessa and her calm comes across on the phone just as much.  She’s funny, thoughtful, and extremely passionate about what she does.  When we talked recipes, she talked me through them as if she were cooking them right in front of me.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no journalist and because there wasn’t a transcript of the call, some of this is paraphrased, though most of it is word-for-word; it was impossible for me to type out every word during the interview and be able to think and talk at the same time.  The interview, in general, was more like a conversation, unlike a traditional question-answer-question type of interview. And since I only had 25 minutes, we were only able to talk about the content of 7 of my 14 questions…I was just having too much fun chatting to get through all of my questions!

And before you read on, I have to tell you about a testament to the kind of person Ina is.  We spoke on my birthday in August.  It just happened that way (at least I think it did).  I think I may have mentioned my birthday was the 19th when the Q & A was originally scheduled for the 18th and the date was subsequently changed to the 19th (but not by my request).  Well happy birthday is right because as the call was coming to a close, Ina said, “I hear it’s your birthday today – Happy Birthday!” Well.  I nearly keeled over.  Holy moly – the Barefoot Contessa wished me a happy birthday!  Talk about making a girl’s year!

My many, many thanks go out to Carrie Bachman, Ina’s cookbook publicist, and to Ina Garten herself, for affording me this incredible opportunity.  You are both incredible women and I hope I have done this Q & A the justice it deserves. Here’s the Q & A!!

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1. I’ve watched your Chefography on Food Network and know you were writing nuclear policy at the White House before you purchased Barefoot Contessa…but what was the spark that led you to want to make such a change?

I didn’t love nuclear energy policy.  But I did love cooking and entertaining and I started to think that maybe I should be doing something else.  I don’t mind working hard if I’m working for something I love. I was writing policy papers for the President and they ended up never being needed.  In the food business I have an idea in the morning… I test it…and I have something at the end of the day.

2. Growing up on Long Island, I have a fondness for what the East End offers as compared to other [often very crowded] parts of the Island.  What is it that you love most about living on the East End?

I love the history of it.  It’s very grounded, rich with farms…and rich in history in East Hampton.  There’s a home nearby that’s been owned by the same family since 1640.  There is a gravitas, which I love. I love the ocean; I love walking along the ocean in the morning.  There are just 12 weekends out of the year where it’s very busy.  The rest of the year, it’s just regular people living here.

3. What is the #1 kitchen gadget or appliance that you couldn’t live without?

Sharp knives and half sheet pans.  I have stacks of sheet pans.  They make clean-up so easy. I don’t use aluminum foil on them when I roast food, I leave the dirty pans in the sink overnight with soap suds.

4. I think your fans have a magical view of what life is like for you in East Hampton so I thought I’d give you a scenario to work out  …. You’re running errands in town…the farm stand, Loaves and Fishes, a stop-by Frank’s house…you know, a typical day…when Jeffrey calls and says he’s bringing some work associates in from the City for dinner at your house.  They’re just about to get on the LIE and you’ve got about 2hrs to throw something together. What does your go-to last minute dinner party menu look like?

To this scenario, Ina laughed.  She said that the errands do sound like her typical day but that Jeffrey would never do something like this.  Regardless, she pulled this menu together with ease.  Here’s what she had to say…

The menu? Well that’s easy.  First take a deep breath. I’d start with Pink Grapefruit Margaritas, and pull out some salted cashews from the pantry. For dinner, Steakhouse Steaks sautéed in a cast iron pan, and Scalloped Tomatoes on the side. For dessert…what’s good in the market?  Italian Plum Tart or if you don’t have any time – Affogato Sundaes. You can have a fabulous meal with dessert in under 30 minutes.

5. I’ve read the introduction and chapter intros in How Easy is That? but for someone who hasn’t read it, can you describe your inspiration this book?

The busier we get, the more I want easier recipes to make without losing out on great ingredients.  I’ll take a recipe and make it easier. I wanted to include ingredients that are available in the grocery store and each recipe has a shortcut to use (like using beef stock for beef barley stew).  The book includes easy techniques to throw ingredients in the oven instead of standing over the stove (like Easy Parmesan “Risotto”) and easy menus to get everything on the table at the same time.  You want to be able to make something the day before, like Icebox Cake. I have lots of ovens – in the barn and one standard [Viking] oven in the kitchen but I don’t ever use the extra ovens in the barn when I’m not filming.  Planning ahead to have something in the oven and something on the stove top is the key to entertaining.

6. Do you have a favorite recipe from How Easy Is That?

Scalloped Tomatoes is one of them.  The Mussels & Basil Bread Crumbs – the key is to have all the ingredients prepared and it only takes 5 minutes to pull together.  Greek Panzanella is another one.

7. Writing new recipes is possibly one of the most difficult things a home cook (regardless of ability level) can do. Can you take me through the process of creating a new recipe?

An enormous amount of time goes into each. Each recipe has classic flavors and it’s about how to put them together. I write down the details of recipes and test them over and over – sometimes 10 or sometimes 25 times.  I just want to make sure they come out right every time.  When I think I’ve got it, I give the recipe to my assistant, Barbara, to test.  She’ll test it and sometimes come back and tell me that something didn’t work, that it would be easier to make it a different way. Barbara’s feedback allows me to change the recipe so that everyone is able to make it.

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Where to find the recipes mentioned in this interview:

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