14 Brilliant Tips from Ina Garten’s Brand-New Cookbook

published Nov 1, 2022
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Ina Garten's Go-To Dinners: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Credit: Amazon

It’s that time of the year again — you know, when Ina Garten comes out with yet another amazing cookbook. Ina’s most recent cookbook, Go-To Dinners, is available on shelves now, and it’s all about taking back control of your dinner routine once and for all, without all of the stress. 

In the book, Ina explains how the pandemic has played a role in how we think about dinner and special gatherings with friends and family. We’ve realized, through quite a stressful time, how very special being able to have people over for a meal really is. 

Go-To Dinners encourages home cooks to truly rethink how they do dinner — first by reshaping what exactly defines a good, reliable dinner. Dishes you might associate with brunch, like Easy Eggs in Purgatory, work just fine for a filling and satisfying evening meal.

Ina also emphasizes that you don’t have to miss out on flavor or give up channeling your creativity just because you opt for a dish that’s on the easier side. Recipes like Overnight Mac and Cheese, Beatty’s Chocolate Cupcakes, and Blueberry Ricotta Breakfast Cake are all fun yet flavor-packed takes on dishes we already know and love. 

And as with any cookbook from Ina, Go-To Dinners is studded with plenty of insightful pro tips from the accomplished home cook herself. You’ll find advice for prepping produce and constructing meals way ahead of time, simple ways to reinvent leftovers in a not-so boring way (what Ina refers to as “Two-Fers”), and much more. 

Get your copy of Go-To Dinners today, but first read on for some of the best tips, tricks, and hacks we’ve dug up so far from the book, all centered around making dinner and entertaining friends and family easier and more pleasurable.

Our Favorite Tips from Go-To Dinners

1. Serve party guests a “getting to know you” cocktail.

Aside from perhaps an enthusiastic “Hello!” and a warm smile, there isn’t a better way — in my opinion — to be welcomed to a dinner party than with a fresh cocktail. Take a cue from Ina and greet guests (especially new ones) with a crowd-pleasing “getting to know you” cocktail. “There’s something about offering a guest a special drink that says, ‘We’re having a party!’ and ‘I’m happy to see you,'” she writes. Her current go-to is a watermelon Cosmo. 

2. Freeze baguette slices for easy, last-minute appetizers.

Ina often talks about the benefits of having a well-stocked freezer, and in the book she suggests keeping a sliced baguette or other small, thin loaf in the freezer that you can pull out, toast, and use for a simple-yet-delicious appetizer. Just top the slices with your favorite cheeses, spreads, and whatever else you like!

3. Freeze soup ahead but hold off on adding pasta until it’s time to serve.

Having soup in the freezer can make dinnertime so much easier. But because pasta can suffer if it’s cooked ahead, frozen, and reheated, Ina recommends leaving the pasta out of the soup, then boiling the pasta separately and adding it to the soup just before serving. Read our article on the best way to freeze soup for more advice. 

4. Use finely ground meat for super-moist meatballs.

In her recipe for veal meatballs — which includes ground veal and ground pork, as well sweet Italian sausage — Ina recommends using finely ground meat, which she says makes for more moist meatballs than coarsely ground meat. If the meat you buy is coarsely ground, Ina says to pulse it in a food processor fitted with a steel blade until it’s finely ground.

5. You can, in fact, make risotto in the oven!

Risotto has a reputation for being one of those dinners that’s super luxurious and fancy, but comes with a cost — and that cost is the traditional but time-consuming process of slowly cooking it over the stovetop. Ina’s solution? Cook it in a large pot in the oven, as is the case with her One-Pot Oven Risotto. This way, you can use your stove for other things or simply do something else you enjoy.

6. “Hasselbacking” kielbasa is a good idea.

Kielbasa is always a good way to mix up how you get your protein in for dinner — especially if you like a nice, smoky flavor. In her book, Ina includes a recipe for Hasselback Kielbasa, an idea she credits to New York Times food columnist Sam Sifton. In fact, we tried out Hasselback Kielbasa ourselves and were quite pleased with the results.

7. For custardy scrambled eggs, turn off the heat just before they’re cooked through. 

In her recipe for Scrambled Eggs Cacio e Pepe, Ina adds butter to a cold pan, then turns it to medium heat to allow the butter to almost melt. She then adds the eggs to the pan just before the butter is fully melted, and then turns the heat off just before the eggs are completely cooked. This gentle technique makes for super-soft, custardy eggs.

8. Dip your vegetable peeler in water every so often while peeling.

In her recipe for Asparagus Cacio e Pepe, Ina recommends dipping your peeler in water from time to time. Try this trick no matter what you’re peeling to keep your peeler running smoothly. (See the fastest, easiest way to peel carrots.) 

9. You can use a sheet pan as a lid for a pot or pan.

If you have lots of pots and pans yet can never seem to find their corresponding lids, you’ll appreciate this tip. Grab a small- or medium-sized sheet pan and use it as a lid for a large pot or sauté pan. Voilà!

10. Use multiple sheet pans when roasting vegetables if necessary. 

Roasting a huge batch of vegetables is an easy way to get them super crispy and a little bit charred (in a good way) without having to constantly stir or toss them on the stovetop. But to make sure your veggies roast instead of steam, you need to be sure they are spread out nicely on the pan. If there’s not enough room on one pan, it’s better to reach for a second pan than to cram all of them onto one pan, as Ina notes in her recipe for Roasted Vegetables with Jammy Eggs.

11. You can freeze cupcakes … with the frosting on, too.

One of Ina’s many popular recipes is Beatty’s Chocolate Cake (it’s our former Recipe Director favorite!), a recipe from her friend Michael Grim’s grandmother, which was first published in Barefoot Contessa at Home. In Go-To Dinners, Garten slightly reinvents the recipe by making it in cupcake form. To store the the cupcakes in the freezer, Garten says to first place the prepared cupcakes in the fridge to firm up the icing, wrap them in plastic wrap, and then place them in the freezer.

12. Add potato cooking water to your potato salads.

Whether you prefer a nice, creamy potato salad as the ultimate summer side dish, or simply enjoy potato salad all year-round, try this trick from Go-To Dinners, which Ina learned from Julia Child: Similar to cooking pasta, add some of the potato-cooking water to the dressing for the salad. This makes for a super-creamy potato salad.

13. Grate cold butter on a box grater over parchment paper for easy transferring.

When you need butter in small pieces for making something like pie dough, Ina recommends grating sticks of super-cold butter on the large holes of a box grater over parchment paper. Grating is easier than cutting the butter, and because practically nothing sticks to parchment, it’s easier to transfer than if you grated over a plate or cutting board.

14. Add this trio of ingredients for a perfect pound cake.

Homemade pound cake is one of those delicious desserts that you might forget you can actually make at home. And, according to Ina, the key to a perfect poundcake is adding a trio of ingredients: Cognac, Armagnac, or another brandy; lemon zest; and vanilla extract stirred together, before going into the batter. “Perfecting this recipe has been like a science project for me; once I added Cognac and lemon zest to the vanilla, I found I had achieved the ideal balance of flavors,” she says in the headnote for her Vanilla Pound Cake recipe.