This week we’re up to #39 on Gourmet’s list of the 50 Women Game Changers in the world of food: Ina Garten—White House nuclear policy analyst turned food phenomenon. Ina ran the Barefoot Contessa, a Hamptons New York gourmet specialty shop, is the author of seven cookbooks, and has hosted her own series of Food Network shows since 2002. Thanks to Mary from One Perfect Bite for organizing a group of us cooking and blogging our way through this list, one dish at a time. Check back every Friday for another story and recipe from the list.
I have to say right up front that I am a little biased…Ina Garten is by far my favorite game changer. She’s like Martha without the ego, Julia without ‘the voice’ and the crazy techniques, Nigella without the suggestive spoon licking, Rachel without the hyper-chatter, and Paula without the gooey this and gooey that. She’s kinda perfect. In a good way.
I could have chosen a million different dishes to make in honor of Ina, but I chose Beef Bourguignon because it represents a lot of what she’s all about. I would classify Ina’s style as simple, classic American comfort food, influenced by a passion for French life and cuisine. She and her husband Jeffrey made a four month sojourn to France early in their marriage that inspired a lifelong love of all things French. Throughout her career Ina has explored French cooking and has infused a French attitude towards food into her classic American dishes. Here she’s taken the venerable Beef Bourguignon, a dish that Julia Child taught us to make in excruciating detail, and simplified it… made it more friendly.
Her recipes are so well loved that they have a tendency to morph into family favorites and become so entrenched in our kitchens that we claim them as our own…her Parmesan Chicken has become one of ‘my’ signature dishes, the way so many recipes from the Joy of Cooking or Fannie Farmer have been been assimilated into our food culture over the generations. Part of the reason for this is that Ina’s recipes are almost always foolproof. You can count on them.
For me, anyway, the appeal of Ina’s cooking style is that it’s not overly ‘branded’; it’s not regional, ready in 30 minutes, diet-friendly or swimming in butter. From coconut cupcakes and lemon curd to lentil soup, it’s real food for real people, and whatever Ina is cooking is always exactly what I feel like eating.
But Ina’s franchise is as much about a lifestyle as it is about recipes. It’s the dreamy Hamptons New York world of cute little butcher shops, cheese mongers and creative florists whom Ina calls upon to help her craft parties, gatherings, or even just a special dinner for two. It’s a world where you walk outside your kitchen door into a sprawling herb garden, your adoring husband (and biggest fan) is always arriving home from work or a business trip just in time for his favorite perfectly roasted chicken, and neighbors pop over eager to barter something amazing in exchange for a batch of your brownies.
And somehow Ina manages to convey all this without a hint of superiority or entitlement. Maybe it’s her self-effacing giggle, that adorable upturned nose, or the swing of her impossibly shiny bob. She’s your dear friend next door, the aunt you always wanted, your best inner self.
- 1 tablespoon good olive oil
- 8 ounces dry cured center cut applewood smoked bacon, diced
- 2 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
- 2 yellow onions, sliced
- 2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
- 1/2 cup Cognac
- 1 (750 ml.) bottle good dry red wine such as Cote du Rhone or Pinot Noir
- 1 can (2 cups) beef broth
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, divided
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (use a gluten free flour or thickener if desired)
- 1 pound frozen whole onions
- 1 pound fresh mushrooms stems discarded, caps thickly sliced
- Set oven to 250F
- Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.
- Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.
- Toss the carrots, and onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol. Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.
- Combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. Saute the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.
Notes: I was too chicken to ignite the cognac, I just let it evaporate ‘naturally’. I also added the carrots along with the mushrooms towards the end of the cooking process instead of in the beginning with the onions. I really don’t like mushy carrots. I skipped the bacon (I was out) and used half the bottle of wine. It all turned out wonderfully.
Did I mention that I love Ina?