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The blurb in this book states: “ For more than twenty years, Barefoot Contessa, the acclaimed speciality food store, has been cooking and baking extraordinary dishes for enthusiastic customers in the Hamptons.” This book then, is based on the most popular recipes from this food store and is not, as I had thought, based on the television series of the same name. In the latter, I found Ira Gartner’s recipes to be sufficiently exciting and innovative to want to find them again in such a book. However, this book was published in 1999 and would have been before her TV series had started but this distinction was not clear when ordering it.
Most of the recipes are just too simple, and could be found anywhere else and even are ones which one would already have in one’s own cooking repertoire. For example a chicken is simply cooked with lemon juice , olive oil and thyme. And do we really need to know that for “roasted carrots” we just have to add a touch of garlic and dill. An orange yoghurt needs – well some orange zest in it Tomato soup: not much of a surprise there either – cherry tomatoes plus tinned ones, with a couple of herbs added. A recipe for a potato salad can be found in any cookbook. Parmesan croutons: one doesn’t need a whole page to tell us that you need, bread, olive oil, salt and parmesan cheese! There are two whole pages on a fruit platter, one of them with an illustration and the other with the “recipe”. A fruit platter tells its own story – you just need to choose a variety of fruit, and one doesn’t need any guidance to do that. There is a beautiful photo illustrating this, which would have contributed to the book being the price it is, illustrations appearing on virtually every page of the book.
These are just a few examples among many, and one is left asking oneself "so what’s new?”. Her TV series showed much more exciting dishes which were also rather more complicated – a soufflé being one of them, which I had hoped to find in this book, along with a few others which I found innovative and unusual.
All these recipes then are ones which the eponymous food store would have provided and thus by the very nature of it being a “food store” meant the recipes had to be relatively easy to produce with a need for the either being cooked very rapidly for a customer, or pre-prepared. No one is going to find any of these recipes particularly new and it is certainly over-priced for telling us a lot of things with which we are already familiar. Having said that, for a first-time cook the book could, nevertheless, be useful.
I have not entirely given up on Ira Gartner, and might even order her “Cooking for Jeffrey” cookbook. I should imagine that this book would provide recipes for just two to four people, instead of the large numbers (i.e. 8-10) that most of the recipes cater for in this volume, but above all, hopefully will contain recipes from her TV series, which, to use her favourite word, sound really "deelicius".
These recipes are incredibly basic. Most of the savory recipes rely on salt, pepper and garlic. The sweet recipes rely on sugar and a LOT of butter. There is a Szechuan noodle recipe that uses spaghetti and sherry (hah!). There is another dish that is just a bunch of roasted vegetables stacked on top of each other. I would say this is a WASP cookbook suited for people who have never traveled the world, and are terrified of all the flavors out there. I’m regretting this purchase after hearing people rave about it.
I received this book as a Christmas present from my husband, as I love watching the Barefoot Contessa on TV. The recipes are easy to follow and the book has lovely photographs with each recipe. As always her recipes are great. Only comment it the index, it is not that easy to find specific recipes..