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Baked Fontina
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Baked Fontina

Brace yourselves for possibly the easiest appetizer you’ll ever come across.  I’d say this recipe is even easier than putting together a cheese platter because there is no agonizing over what cheeses to buy – wait…am I the only on who agonizes over things like this?  Anyway, for this baked fontina, you’ll cube some Italian fontina, chop some garlic and herbs, put everything in a cast iron pan, and pop it under the broiler for 6 minutes.  That’s it!  The result is a baked fondue of cheesy goodness that you can scoop up with hunks of bread, toasted sliced bread, or even crackers or Wheat Thins.  The garlic and herbs permeate throughout the cheese when it bakes and every bite has a blast of herby flavor.  It’s heaven…melted cheese heaven.

Baked Fontina

I made this for a Christmas Day appetizer last year, have made it a couple times since (a halved recipe in an 8″ cast iron pan), and I’ll be making it again for a Thanksgiving appetizer this year; it’s always a huge hit wherever I bring it.  Whether you’re hosting turkey day and want to work this into your menu or you plan to bring this to someone’s house, cube the cheese and chop the garlic and herbs in advance and keep them in airtight containers until you’re ready to bake.  Bring your cast iron pan with you (doesn’t everyone travel with kitchen equipment?) just in case your host doesn’t have one for you to use.  Since the recipe only needs 6 minutes under the broiler, you can even take the turkey out of the oven for a few minutes (cover it tightly with foil) and slip the pan in to bake.  Hot appetizers really don’t get any easier than this one and I can already anticipate how quickly this baked fontina will go on the appetizer table this year.

Baked Fontina

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 6 minutes

Total Time: 11 minutes

Yield: 10-12 appetizer servings

Be sure you use Italian fontina in this recipe. Danish fontina will not melt properly. If you absolutely can't find Italian fontina, brie (with the rind removed) will also work great here.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lbs Italian fontina, rind removed and cubed into 1-inch pieces
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Adjust top rack of the oven so that it sits about 5 inches under the broiler unit. Preheat broiler.
  2. Spread cheese out in the bottom of a 12-inch cast iron pan. Drizzle olive oil over the cheese. Mix together the garlic and herbs in a small bowl and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the cheese. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the top of the cheese.
  3. Bake for 6 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and melted through. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and set it on a heatproof surface - the pan will be hot! Serve immediately.

Source

source: adapted from How Easy is That? by Ina Garten

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Lobster Corn Chowder
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The season of sun, sand, and swimming may have past already – heck, it’s long gone here with light snow in the forecast tonight – but there is nothing saying that you still can’t find decent lobster in the seafood markets or even your own grocery store this time of year.  Here in New England, the Maine lobster season typically runs through December (though we can typically find lobster year-round) and California is in the midst of its spiny lobster season right now (which opens in early October and runs through mid-March).  And while prices this time of year can never rival the $8.99/lb you’ll find mid-summer in those ramshackle side-of-the-road lobster stands on the coastline roads of Maine or the Cape, I see no issue with foregoing a few dinners out to splurge on some lobster.

And since it is the season of soup, how about using some of that precious lobster in this lobster corn chowder?  Go ahead, make yourself feel like a New Englander – lobster in your chowder will do that to you.  You’ll make a quick stock with the picked lobster shells and in about 1 hour, you’ll have lobster corn chowder – it’s really that easy!  If you can’t find fresh lobster, see if you can find frozen (sometimes you can even find cooked frozen lobster which is a real gem!) and if fresh corn is out of the question for this time of year, use frozen corn (about 1 1/2 cups) and stir in a couple tablespoons of flour into potato-onion-celery-corn mixture before you add the stock to the pot to help thicken the soup.

This chowder is definitely in the top 5 of our favorite soups and I think what I love so much about it (aside from the lobster of course) is the sherry that rounds out the chowder so beautifully.  It adds this extra level of flavor and warmth that you can’t get from salt and it almost makes the soup feel silky.  I know many soup days are ahead of us as we head into winter and I suggest you add this chowder to your list of must-makes.

East Hampton Clam Chowder
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ehclamchowder

When the winter sets in, it seems like all I want to do it cook soup.  Most soup recipes tend to be quick enough for a weeknight meal even if you work full-time like I do and there are usually plenty of leftovers, which we end up bringing for our lunches during the week.  Kyle works on commercial/industrial construction sites and since these sites are almost always unheated (and un-air conditioned in the summer!) during the construction process, there’s nothing he loves more than a hot bowl of homemade soup for lunch in the winter (believe it or not, he has a microwave in his office!).

This clam chowder, in particular, is one of his favorite soups.  And who doesn’t love New England clam chowder?  Though the title of this recipe is East Hampton Clam Chowder, I see very little difference between the two – I think Ina wanted a title close to home. :)   In spite of the title, the soup still gives you a hearty and thick base filled with potatoes, carrots, and of course plenty of clams.  The recipe calls for fresh chowder clams but if fresh clams aren’t available near you or you want to save some time, see if you can find fresh clams in their juice that are frozen. Whole Foods definitely sells them like this because that’s what I used for this recipe.  But if worse comes to worse, use canned clams.  Regardless of what clams you use, it’s a sure winner of a recipe for us!

Classic Chicken Noodle Soup
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Some meals seem so ordinary that I’ve never considered making them.  Not that I cook way outside the box but take chicken noodle soup, for example.  It’s one of the most basic soups, one of the most traditional, and probably the most well-known to be consumed when you’re sick.  I’ve always thought of it as just “eh” and that sentiment probably comes from the fact that I was fed this soup mostly from a can as a kid.  Actually, I always thought it was kind of an annoying soup to eat with all those little noodles slurping around everywhere, impossible to get on your spoon. So I never considered making it.  And then my feelings changed when I ended up with 6 quarts of stock and 6 cups of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving.

Sure, I could have found a million other things to use the stock for but I firmly decided to make my own chicken [turkey] noodle soup and try to change my mediocre beliefs about this classic soup.  And in 25 minutes, using another promised Barefoot Contessa soup recipe, I had hot soup ready to eat.  I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make.  I couldn’t believe how amazing it was.  It was all the things I had been missing from this canned soup as a kid: flavor, texture, richness, comfort.  And the best part about it was that there were leftovers. Again, leftovers of leftovers but these leftovers are really the best kind.  You can only eat so much leftover turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes but when you have leftovers of a completely different meal made from that orginal turkey, that’s a whole other story. And lucky for me, I’ve got more shredded turkey and stock frozen so this soup will be making an appearance again soon on one of the those inevitably frigid New England nights.

Onion and Fennel Soup Gratin
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The cold weather is definitely upon us here in the Northeast and there’s nothing better than a good bowl of hot soup to warm the soul.  In the next couple of weeks I’ve got some great soup recipes to share with you and maybe not so ironically enough, they all come from Ina Garten.  I’ve been a big fan of Ina’s soups for a while now and it was actually her recipes that made me so comfortable making soup.  Believe it or not, I once thought it was difficult!

Onion and Fennel Soup Gratin comes from Ina’s new[ish] cookbook, How Easy Is That? and was one of the Barefoot Bloggers’ November recipes.  I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve never eaten any kind of onion soup before so I definitely was on board for this recipe.  And the timing of my making it perfectly coincided with my cousin’s (the soup maven) visit a couple of weekends ago.   She’s a connoisseur of onion soup and this one has her (and my!) stamp of approval.  While the recipe does take almost 2 hours to make from start to finish, the technique is basic.  It’s a full-bodied broth-based soup that’s loaded with wine, Cognac, and sherry (they all cook down beautifully) and the addition of toasted bread and melted Gruyere easily puts it in the dinner or heavy lunch categories.  As the title indicates, fennel is a main ingredient but I honestly think you could make the soup without it sans any ill effects on the flavor.  I think you should set some time aside soon to make this one!

How about some of my other favorite Barefoot Contessa soup recipes?

French Toast Bread Pudding
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~~~If you don’t already know, the voting has opened for Round 7 of Project Food Blog…have you checked out the video I made for the Barefoot Contessa’s Pumpkin Mousse Parfaits? I had a ton of fun making it and even though I was petrified of doing something like this, I’m so happy to be able to share another Smells Like Home milestone with you.  I hope you’ll consider casting your vote to help me move to Round 8!~~~

When it comes to new breakfast recipes, I’m game.  Totally game.  And if it involves french toast, I’m always looking for a new (and better?) recipe.  Pancakes were my family’s usual Sunday morning breakfast so french toast was a big treat, and my dad had the knack for making it just the way I loved it: a pat of butter on the french toast while still on the griddle and a good sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar.  Then…a drizzle of pancake syrup (yes, my parents still serve pancake syrup and I love it when I’m there) once on the plate.  There was something about that combination that always made my heart soar when I heard that french toast was up for breakfast.

So you could imagine my excitement when I saw that French Toast Bread Pudding was the first recipe up for the Barefoot Bloggers to make as we blog our way through Ina Garten’s newest book, How Easy Is That?  You may remember, however, my childhood aversion to bread pudding that I talked about when I blogged about Croissant Bread Pudding last year…well this aversion is gone.  I’m a reformed bread pudding lover now and this recipe certainly didn’t disappoint.  I added a bit of crumbled (5 oz cooked) breakfast sausage and some maple extract to the bread pudding prior to cooking it and both Kyle and I loved the end result.  I baked it last Sunday morning while Kyle was riding the tractor sucking up leaves in the yard and it was the perfect breakfast, paired with a hot cup of coffee, to warm him up from an autumnal early morning chill.  Aren’t weekend breakfasts great?

Pumpkin Mousse Parfaits
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Welcome to Project Food Blog Challenge #7! Back in August, when the challenges were announced and I saw that a video was one of them, I literally lol’d because I was happy that I’d never have do this challenge.  I truly didn’t think I’d get to this challenge.  I’m floored that I’m still in this competition and I thank each and every one of you for voting and supporting me.  I also want to thank you for the support you’ve been showing the other bloggers in Project Food Blog.  Our readers have been the driving force behind this competition and personally speaking, you have instilled in me a level of confidence about blogging that I never would have achieved had it not been for these challenges.  I’ve pushed myself further than I ever dreamed I would as a blogger and this video is a testament to that.

For the Video 411 challenge, the peeps at FoodBuzz asked us to: “Channel your inner Julia Child and put one of your favorite recipes on film.” The original challenge said to choose a favorite from our blog’s archive but it was later changed to allow us to choose a new recipe…and that’s what I did.  For the past few years, I’ve been dying to make Ina Garten’s Pumpkin Mousse Parfaits and I took this opportunity to make them for the first time on camera for all of you to see.

This video isn’t fancy.  It isn’t flashy.  But it’s me.  It’s true to who I am and how I work in the kitchen. And it’s recipe-driven, just as Smells Like Home is.  Kyle and I aren’t filmmakers and in fact, this was the first time we had used the video function on my camera.  The editing was done by two college undergrads, one of whom edited the reality-TV-style videos for the research project I coordinate at work.  They worked on it between classes and their part-time jobs.  I’m proud to say this is my video and I’m thrilled with how it turned out, considering the butterflies that swarmed my stomach before Kyle and I started filming.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do…

As I mentioned in the video, this is the perfect recipe for your Thanksgiving dessert if you’re looking to get away from regular ol’ pumpkin pie.  The longer the mousse blends with the gingersnaps (they can refrigerated for up to 3 days before serving!), the more the cookies take on a cake-like texture so you actually feel like you’re eating gingerbread cake between the pumpkin mousse layers.  This no-cook dessert screams fall and the holidays and if I had any say about what kind of pumpkin dessert would be served at my Thanksgiving dinner this year (which I don’t because my mother-in-law always makes a pumpkin pie which I’m not allowed to compete with), these parfaits would be on my menu.  I think you should put them on yours!

Q&A with the Barefoot Contessa!
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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!!

~~~~~

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.

~~~~~

Where to find the recipes mentioned in this interview:

~~~~~

Ina Garten’s Ultimate Grilled Cheese
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Does grilled cheese ever get old?  Not in this house!

And evidently, not for the Barefoot Contessa either since the Ultimate Grilled Cheese is one of the recipes from her upcoming new book, How Easy Is That?

I’m still swooning over this simple sandwich on steroids. It’s Bread + Cheese + Butter x 10.  Plus some bacon and mayo.  No joke, this was a fabulous sandwich.  How could it not be with a line-up like that one? Though I suppose it isn’t a sandwich for lightweights.  You have to be all or nothing.  Do this sandwich justice.  And if your conscience nags you about eating this, you can always eat two meals of fruit for the day.  Like I did.  ‘Cause lots of fruit totally negates the butter, cheese, and bacon.  Totally.

When you make this…and you will want to…head over to Ezra Pound Cake and thank Rebecca for choosing this recipe for the Barefoot Bloggers to make this month.  She didn’t have much to go off of because she doesn’t have a copy of the book yet but went on a hunch after seeing the recipe mentioned on the Amazon.com write-up of How Easy Is That? I love her hunches.

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
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Let me start this post off with my excitement of what this Thursday will bring.  It’s my Q&A day with Ina Garten!! I still need your help with a few questions to ask her – I’ll be sure to credit you in my write-up should I choose one of your questions.  I know from your comments that a lot of you are big fans so tell me what you’d ask her if you had the chance to chat with her. I need to hear back from you in the comments of this post by 5pm Eastern Wednesday August 18th…so fire away!

And now for this week’s new Ina recipe from How Easy Is That?…

Weeknight meals don’t get any easier than this spaghetti with garlic and olive oil dish!  The dish itself is one that I’ve been eating for most of my life which I talked about a few years ago, but the recipe is a new one for me.  And when I came across this classic in How Easy Is That?, I knew it was one that would soon make an appearance for dinner.  Ina doesn’t call for the roasted shrimp in the recipe but the spaghetti really needs some protein and since we’ve been roasting a lot of shrimp around here (more recipes soon), I decided to throw some in.  My parents traditionally served aglio e olio, as we simply called it (and pronounced it as ahhlyuh-oy-yuh), with Italian sausages or pork chops but you could serve just about any type of protein such as chicken or clams.

We both really enjoyed this meal though I probably would have loved it more if it had been hot when I ate it.  The life of a food blogger.  For such simple ingredients, the flavors really stood out and I was happy to see how this recipe didn’t include any butter, as my parents’ traditional recipe does.  You can bet we’ll be eating this again and I hope you’ll give it a try too!

Herbed Ricotta Bruschettas
6

When I decided to post a weekly recipe from Ina Garten’s upcoming new book, How Easy Is That?, I didn’t think it would be so difficult to choose recipes.  They all look so great…and that seems to be the problem.  I always have this problem choosing what to make first when it comes to new cookbooks.  These Herbed Ricotta Bruschettas just popped out of the book at me last weekend when I was making my weekly menu and it’s most likely happened this way because I wasn’t looking for any particular kind of recipe.  And sometimes, these kinds of recipes just work out the best!

The recipe itself couldn’t be any easier to put together.  Stir ricotta cheese with some herbs, grill or toast some bread and well, you’ve got your bruschettas.  It’s really that simple to turn just a few basic ingredients into such an elegant appetizer or a quick summer lunch.  This is essentially the premise of How Easy Is That? We all know how fabulous Ina Garten recipes are, and my nearly 100 posts of her recipes show that, but this book focuses on using really basic ingredients that you most likely already have in your pantry or fridge to create the wonderful recipes that you can only expect from Ina.  Before receiving this book, I had already made Greek Panzanella, Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms, and Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons, three of the best recipes I’ve ever made.  Coming up in the next week, you’ll see Roasted Shrimp Salad and Ultimate Grilled Cheese – two very innocent-sounding recipes but I can assure you, they are not innocent or regular.  Other recipes in the book I’m dying to try as the weather starts to cool down include ones like Jeffrey’s Roast Chicken, Tuscan White Beans, and Steakhouse Steaks with Roquefort Chive Sauce. Can you see why it’s so difficult for me to choose?

Herbed Ricotta Bruschettas

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 2 minutes

Total Time: 12 minutes

Yield: 8-10 light lunch/dinner servings or 18+ appetizer servings

This bruschetta makes a great appetizer or light lunch/dinner served with a salad or grilled vegetables on the side.

Ingredients

  • 16 oz ricotta cheese (fresh, whole milk or part-skim only)
  • 3 tbsp minced scallions, white and green parts (2 scallions)
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh dill
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh chives
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 loaf French, ciabatta, or sourdough bread, sliced into ½-inch pieces
  • Good olive oil
  • 1 whole garlic clove, cut in half

Instructions

  1. Prepare a charcoal grill with hot coals or turn a gas grill to medium-high heat.
  2. Combine the ricotta, scallions, dill, chives, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and set aside. Cut the bread in half and cut each half into 6 thick slices to make 12 slices total.
  3. When the grill is hot, brush the bread with olive oil and grill on each side for 1 ½ to 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the grill and rub each slice of bread with the cut side of the garlic clove. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and spread the herbed ricotta. Serve 2 warm slices per person with a green salad on the side.

Source

source: How Easy Is That? by Ina Garten

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Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti
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Welcome to the very first recipe I’m posting from Ina Garten’s upcoming new cookbook, How Easy Is That? !  Be sure you check back in the next 2 weeks for two more very new and very fabulous Ina recipes in anticipation of my interview with her on August 19th (new date).

Or better yet…Follow Me @smellslikehome … or take a trip over to Smells Like Home’s Facebook page for all of the newest updates and fun chitchat.

So the verdict on these Spicy Turkey Meatballs?  We’re still raving about them now over a week since we made them.  Hands down, we loved them and Kyle (the one who worked as a cook at an Italian restaurant) said with full conviction that these were the best meatballs he’s ever had.  And to reveal something else, we made them will all ground turkey and without any ground pork.  To make up for the loss of the traditional ground pork flavor, I added about 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel and 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed.  This always seems to do the trick when trying to make the gobble taste like an oink.  The original recipe is below and if you’re wondering, yes, I have permission to post it.

We couldn’t have been happier with our first choice from How Easy Is That? and I’m thrilled to dig into the next one! My sincere thanks goes out to Ina and her cookbook publicist, Carrie Bachman for extending the opportunity to me to test run this book.  I hope to do these recipes justice!

I Heart My Chunky Hubby [Cupcakes]
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Be forewarned that I’ll be in cupcake mode here for the next 6 weeks!  See, I’m attending Cupcake Camp New Haven on September 18th as a baker and I need to cut my list of about 300 choices of cupcakes down to just 4.  It won’t be an easy task (sigh) but I know the students working in my office for the summer will appreciate helping me narrow the choices down.

We started off the journey to cupcakedom with these Chunky Hubby cupcakes.  Remember the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Chubby Hubby flavor? Peanut butter-filled-chocolate-covered-pretzels…yum!  Well this cupcake is a deconstructed version of Chubby Hubby plus B&J’s Chunky Monkey flavor which adds banana to the mix.  Double yum!  I upped the ante and roasted the bananas before adding them to the cupcake batter and subbed in a some brown sugar for some of the white sugar.  The results of this already fantastic-sounding cupcake was truly a delight with the roasted banana and brown sugar. So you’ve got the roasted bananas, the obvious pretzel on top, some peanut butter frosting (which, if you haven’t tried this recipe yet, it’s a must), and a hidden surprise of chocolate ganache that fills the cupcake.  Does life get any better than this?!

Greek Panzanella + A Surprise Announcement
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Ina Garten is acquiring somewhat of a reputation for panzanella recipes.  Rest assured, a good one.  I mean, she’s got the original Panzanella from Parties!, a grilled version that I watched her make recently that looks like it’s right up my alley, and this Greek version.  Oh this Greek version.  The one I’m still dreaming about.

Admittedly, I’ve become obsessed with feta cheese in the past few months and I’ve been enjoying it in everything from salads, to roasted veggies, to pizza toppings.  So Ina’s Greek version of panzanella seemed natural exciting mouthwatering to me while I was working out the second Barefoot Bloggers recipe for this month.  And as usual, Ina didn’t let me down.  The panzanella base is the same as the original version but the addition of feta and a delightfully tangy vinaigrette are what really make this dish.  And the toasted bread.  Good lord, don’t forget about the toasted bread!  It took all my strength to hold myself to just one serving of this but the good thing is, it’s so easy to make that it will be reappearing on my menu soon enough.

And now for the surprise announcement!

Ina Garten’s cookbook publicist contacted me earlier this month to tell me that Ina would like for me to do a Q&A session with her in preparation of the release of her new cookbook Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That? which is set to be released on October 26th. How COOL is that?!? My cooking idol!  The date is set for August 18th (which is an awesome early birthday gift for me since my bday is the 19th!) but I don’t have any more details right now other than the date. I of course, will share them once they are finalized.

In the time leading up to this special event, I want to hear from you.  I want to know what you’d ask Ina if you had the chance.  But hold your questions for now.  I’ll be posting weekly starting next week with new recipes from How Easy is That? (since I’ve got an advanced copy in my hot little hands) to share with you and will ask you for your questions in those posts.

So, to make sure you don’t miss these upcoming posts, you may want to connect with me via the new buttons I’ve added in the sidebar: Twitter, Smells Like Home’s Facebook page, and RSS feedJust sayin’

Summer Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons
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I realize it’s been 90+ degrees here for what seems like weeks on end.  And I realize that we haven’t turned off the air conditioning in probably close to 3 weeks.  But I couldn’t help but turn on the oven this weekend.   I missed making these Scalloped Tomatoes last month for Barefoot Bloggers and I wanted to make sure that I catch up on my missed recipes before a very special event takes place next month…which I’ll share with you as it approaches.  Yes, I’m going to leave you hanging like that.

So these Scalloped Tomatoes are unassuming.  And frankly, the name is a little odd too.  Of course you can slice tomatoes really thin but I’ve never heard of scalloping them before.  And this recipe doesn’t really do that in the traditional sense either.  But it’s one that you can whip up in 10 minutes and throw in the oven and by the time you’ve finished running around the house cleaning up, you’ve got an incredible lunch waiting for you.  Seriously incredible.  This is where the unassuming part comes in.  The simple and delicious summer tomatoes almost caramelize in the oven and blend so amazingly with the toasted croutons that you’ll almost forget that you cooked summer tomatoes (gasp!) in the middle of July (double gasp!).   And if you’re wondering about “what do I serve with it” question, I’ll say that you won’t need anything.  Kyle even commented “you don’t even miss not having meat in this dish” so it’s definitely a meal in itself. I’d advise that you not wait until the fall weather approaches before you make these tomatoes – you’ll miss tomato season and will most definitely regret not using them here.

Many, many thanks to Josie of Pink Parsley Catering for choosing this incredible dish to celebrate summer tomatoes!  The other recipe for June was Sour Cream Coffee Cake, as chosen by Gwenn of Cooking in Pajamas, which we’ve made many times in the past and while we love love love it, we didn’t have an occasion to make it again recently.