On a chilly Friday last month, the Food Network star and cookbook author, was busy testing new recipes. A lemon-poppy seed cake cooled and a Provencal fish stew simmered in her East Hampton, N.Y., barn/kitchen. The smells seemed to transfer via phone line.
Garten said she was expecting some visitors to whom she planned to serve her latest experiments. In the winter, stews and soups, like beef bourguignon or winter minestrone, are perfect for feeding a crowd. She said a salad and coconut cake from a local shop can round out the menu.
Garten doesn't shy away from supplementing menus with ready-made items. The key for any cook, she added, is to be aware of what local goods are fresh and readily available. Near her home, there's a chicken farm, an apple orchard and a great bakery.
"Get to know what's good," she advised. "Use that as part of (your) menu. It's easier for you, and it supports the local community."
For someone who has 30 years in the food business, Garten knows that simple can be better. Even though she loves having dinner parties, her ideal group would include about six close friends.
"I find entertaining really
stressful," she said. But, she added, if she takes a few minutes to think ahead and get organized before preparing a meal, she's less exhausted and able to enjoy her company.
A few high-quality kitchen essentials, including pots, half-sheet pans and sharp knives, can also make cooking and baking a breeze. One of Garten's go-to tools is a rasp, which she uses to zest lemons or grate seasonings.
She shares some of her tips and tricks during book tour appearances. On Feb. 20, she'll visit York's Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center. The evening will include a conversation with David Albright, executive chef of York's The Left Bank Restaurant and Bar, and some audience questions.
Garten said she prefers impromptu discussion as opposed to canned inquiries. Common questions she gets involve the contents of her fridge and her husband, Jeffrey. (He's real, by the way - not a TV prop.)
"It really gives me a lot of insight into problems people find, what people like and what they worry about," she said of the chats.
For as long as she can remember, Garten has been interested in what goes on in the kitchen.
When she was younger, she said that was her mother's domain.
"We always want to do the thing we're not allowed to do," Garten observed with a laugh.
With her calm command of her own kitchen, most people might be surprised to learn that cooking wasn't Garten's first career.
When she hit 30, she came to a crossroads. She knew she needed a change from her job with the White House's Office of Management and Budget.
"It was scary," Garten admitted. "I had no training. I thought making brownies in the store would be like making brownies for friends. It's completely different. You have to make money on those brownies."
She drew from her years of entertaining and studying business to help the store become a success.
Then, about 18 years ago, Garten switched career paths again. She sold the store and spent a year planning her next move. She thought she might give Real Estate a try, but decided to write a cookbook instead.
"The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook," published in 1999, became a hit and led to several other cookbooks and Garten's Food Network show, which shares the name of her store. Her latest cookbook "Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust" was released last fall.
"I'm really a scientist at heart and, to me, everything is a science experiment," she said. Sometimes, things go awry and end up in the trash. But the next night, another version might end up on the dinner table.
In addition to handcrafting recipes, she found that she loved the process of selecting photos and color schemes. Her inspirations include Julia Child, longtime New York Times food editor and critic Craig Claiborne and specialty food stores, which Garten says have a wealth of fresh recipe ideas.
Speaking of recipes, Garten said she had to get back to dinner party prep. The aromas from her kitchen seemed to linger long after the call ended.
If you go
Spend An Evening with Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York.
Garten will chat with David Albright, executive chef of The Left Bank Restaurant and Bar, and take questions from audience members.
Tickets cost $53, $58 and $63.
For details and tickets, call 717-846-1111 or visit mystrandcapitol.org.
"Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust" (2012)
"Barefoot Contessa, How Easy Is That?: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips" (2010)
"Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients" (2008)
"Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again" (2006)
"Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home" (2004)
"Barefoot Contessa Family Style: Easy Ideas and Recipes That Make Everyone Feel Like Family" (2002)
"Barefoot Contessa Parties! Ideas and Recipes for Easy Parties That Are Really Fun" (2001)
"The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" (1999)
Ina Garten: www.barefootcontessa.com
"Barefoot Contessa" Food Network show: www.foodnetwork.com
February food calendar:
Tonight: Local chefs serve three courses and attendees get to judge each plate during the Chef Challenge at YorKitchen in Central Market, 34 W. Philadelphia St., York. The event is sold out. The next Chef Challenge will be in April. For details and tickets, visit yorkitchen.com.
Through Feb. 28: Hershey hosts Chocolate-Covered February. There are several chocolate-themed events and dinners throughout the month. For details, visit www.chocolatecoveredfebruary.com.
Friday: Pull up a seat at the 11th annual A Taste of York City at 6 p.m. at the Valencia Ballroom, 142 N. George St., York. The night will feature a showcase of downtown dinner options as well as a cocktail reception and auctions to benefit the city's special events fund. Tickets are $54. The event has sold out in the past. For details and tickets, call 717-849-2217 or visit yorkcity.org/atasteofyorkcity.
Saturday: Hang out with Liquid Hero during Hike, Vittles & Hops at Shank's Mare Outfitters, 2092 Long Level Road, Lower Windsor Township. The event features a hike, lunch and beer tastings 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The fee is $32 for Shank's Mare members and $36 for nonmembers. For details, call 717-252-1616 or visit www.shanksmare.com.
Tuesday: The York County Heritage Trust Auxiliary will serve free fastnachts, coffee, tea and hot chocolate at the Historical Society Museum, 250 E. Market St., York, as a thank you to the community for its support.
Feb. 14 and beyond: For Valentine's Day date ideas and local dinners, visit www.yorkblog.com/flipside/valentines.
Feb. 20: An Evening with Ina Garten at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center.
Feb. 23 to March 2: York Restaurant Week
Feb. 23 to 24: Maple Sugaring Weekend events run 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 23 and noon to 4 p.m. Feb. 24 at Richard M. Nixon County Park in Springfield Township. Learn about history and methods of maple sugaring and sample maple syrup. For details, visit yorkcountypa.gov.
Feb. 28: The York Saint Patrick's Day Parade Committee will host its There's Guinness In It! fundraiser 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Central Market, 34 W. Philadelphia St., York. A dozen area restaurants and caterers will create menu items containing Guinness for guests to sample. Tickets are $25. For details, call 717-578-0146 or visit www.YorkSaintPatricksDayParade.org.