How Easy Is That?
In late summer last year I was contacted by Clarkson Potter and asked if I’d like to review any of several cookbooks that were due to be released in the fall. I chose just one, Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips. I did not pay for this cookbook. To read my policy on gifts please see my Review Policy page.
My cookbook arrived in late fall, which turned out to be much busier than I had expected so it took me some time to really take a good look at the book. There was one recipe I made right away but I wanted to have a more complete overview before I wrote this post.
But let me take a step back. The name of this book made me pause just a little. While “how easy is that?” is a catch-phrase you’ll hear often if you watch Ina on her TV shows, the thought that she’d titled a cookbook with that phrase made me a little sad. It seemed she might be trying to compete with Rachel Ray and her 30-minute meals, which are meant to show people how easy cooking can be. While I’m glad to see that Rachel has brought many people to the kitchen, there is no comparison of her skills to Ina’s. I do not own one Rachel Ray cookbook (or any other item she hawks) and never watch her shows but I do have five other Ina Garten cookbooks and even enjoy watching her reruns.
Rachel’s methods are a little too quick and dirty for me. Often she does more “assembly” than cooking. Which is okay but not my style. On the other hand, Ina’s recipes are generally pretty direct, often with just a few steps and/or ingredients, yet are truly cooking or baking. That’s not to say that there are times she doesn’t “assemble” or times when following her recipes might take a little time. Her recipes are so well written however, that they are easy to follow. Whenever I use one of her recipes I get exactly what I expected and always get tons of compliments from guests. If I have one complaint about Ina’s recipes it’s that she often seems to be feeding a crowd! One of her scone recipes that I use on a regular basis yields so many large scones that I always cut it in half, unless I’m doing one of my ladies’ brunches for 15 to 20 people.
When the cookbook was released in the fall the one recipe that Ina demonstrated and everyone covered was Herbed Ricotta Brushettas. I’d been planning to try making ricotta from a recipe I’d recently ripped from a magazine but instead jumped on Ina’s version. The recipe is super simple and makes a deliciously smooth and slightly tangy cheese. Instead of adding the herbs, I make just the plain ricotta and then use it many different ways: in filled pasta, lasagne, on crackers topped with a variety of things and sometimes with herbs added to it as the recipe suggests. I’ve made this recipe so many times that I’ve lost count! The benefit to not adding the herbs, at least not right away or to all of it, is that the plain ricotta has a pretty long shelf-life. I think I had one batch that lasted about a month. You want to be very careful though and toss it at any sign of mold or if you are not sure it’s still safe.
A little side note here. Technically this recipe – and many others called ricotta – are not truly ricotta. Ricotta means “re-cooked”. When some other cheese is made and the curds have been separated from the whey, the whey is allowed to sit at room temperature for a day or so and then it is re-cooked forming a very fine curd. This curd is strained from the remaining whey and becomes “real” ricotta.
I like this new cookbook and am happy to see that Ina has continued with more sophisticated, party-pleasing recipes no matter what the title. She always includes lots of little tips in her books. She has expanded that idea in this book and includes both the individual recipe tips and some pages with more general tips and tricks. My only disappointment with this book is that there is not a single breakfast/brunch recipe although several of the lunch recipes could work for brunch.
I’ve made a couple of things from the book now and thought I’d share the recipe for Stilton and Walnut Crackers with you.
These crackers come together in a jiffy, need to be refrigerated for a little bit or can be held in the refrigerator for 4 days or frozen for longer periods making them the perfect make-ahead party appetizer. They can be baked a couple of days in advance – in fact I think they are a little better on day 2 or 3 as the flavors soften and meld a bit. They are perfect with wine and would also complement many cocktails. I’ve also been thinking they would be good with certain soups – I’ll be trying out that theory soon.
Stilton and Walnut Crackers
- 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 8 ounces Stilton, crumbled, at room temperature (you’ll need 10 – 12 ounces with the rind)
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp cold water
- 1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water
- 1/2 cup walnuts finely chopped
I used my food processor to chop the nuts but you’ll want to watch carefully to ensure they do not become a paste.
With an electric mixer cream the butter and Stilton until thoroughly combined and smooth, about 3 minutes. With your mixer on low add the flour, salt and pepper and continue beating until the mixture is in large crumbles, about 1 minute. Add 1 Tbsp cold water and mix until the dough comes together.
Dump the dough onto a floured board and roll into a 12-inch log. Make sure the dough is compact all the way through. It’s stiff and it’s easy to leave an air pocket in the middle if you are not careful.
Evenly spread the walnuts on a cutting board in about a 12″x8″ rectangle. Brush the roll with the egg wash and then roll back and forth through the walnuts until the roll is covered and all the nuts are attached to the roll. Wrap the roll in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 days. The roll can also be frozen at this point. If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before continuing.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a sheet pan with parchment.
Cut the log into 3/8″ slices with a sharp knife and arrange the slices on the sheet pan. Bake for 20 – 22 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on the pan and serve at room temperature.
Makes 25 – 30 crackers.