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There are certain people we rely on to deliver consistently great recipes, time and time again. Sure, we love to draw culinary insight from the chefs at the helm of five-star restaurants or swanky city bistros. But some of our favorite culinary personalities started right where you are: In the home kitchen. Now you might see their faces on your TV screen or smiling from the shelves of the cookbook section at your favorite bookstore. But the spirit of their relaxed, easy-to-follow recipes remains the same.
Ina Garten is one of those people. We’ve looked up to her for years as one of our most trusted culinary icons. The Barefoot Contessa originally gained popularity for making simple, everyday recipes with great ingredients, and over the years, she’s maintained her for-the-people attitude. If Ina Garten can roast a chicken, you can, too.
A few of Ina Garten’s signature recipes, such as the infamous Chicken Marbella and Beatty’s Chocolate Cake, are staples in our culinary repertoire. Perhaps even more valuable than the recipes, though, are the gems of knowledge that Garten imparts along the way. She is full of tips and tricks to help you succeed in the kitchen, shaping you into the best home cook you can be. Here are some of the best cooking tips we’ve learned from Ina Garten that we will always carry with us.
1. Start With Great Equipment
“You don’t need a lot of equipment, but you do need good equipment,” notes Ina Garten in an interview with Food & Wine. “I’d rather have three really sharp knives, than one hundred specialty knives that are dull….Simple, really good equipment that you can have forever is really the best.”
On her website, Garten has an equipment registry, featuring some of her favorite kitchen tools that you can shop for yourself. One of our favorites from this list is a miraculous $4 potato peeler, which also gets a ringing endorsement from fellow Food Network personality, Giada De Laurentiis.
2. Use High-Quality Ingredients
In many of Garten’s recipes, you’ll simply find instructions to use “good olive oil” or “good cocoa powder.” Garten believes that using high-quality ingredients elevates even the simplest dish into something special, and we couldn’t agree more.
3. Make Your Own Vinaigrette
Vinaigrette is one of the simplest things to make in the kitchen. Not only does it take little to no time to whip up, but homemade vinaigrette seriously elevates any salad. “It’s faster to make it than to go to the store and buy a bottle of dressing. And it’s so much better,” Garten says on PBS News Hour.
In an Instagram post, Garten shared her fool-proof recipe for a simple vinaigrette: a half cup of oil to a fourth cup of lemon juice, plus one teaspoon kosher salt and half a teaspoon black pepper.
4. Freeze Bread in Chunks
If you’ve ever tried to defrost just one slice of a frozen loaf of bread, chances are you’ve had some trouble. That’s where this piece of kitchen magic comes in: Ina Garten recommends freezing your bread in wedges, making it much easier to reheat enough for just a small portion.
“Garten cuts her loaves into giant wedges before wrapping them tightly and storing them in the freezer,” writes Maria Yagoda for Food & Wine. “Rather than freezing individual slices (which would get too icy) or the whole loaf (which is too big to finish in one sitting, and you’d have to re-freeze), freezing the bread in wedges leaves you with the perfect portion to warm up in the oven later.”
Yagoda also shares that there are three things that Garten believes one should always keep in the freezer: bread, ice cream, and vodka.
5. Pick the Smallest Chicken
When it comes to chicken, bigger does not always mean better. On an episode of Cook Like a Pro, Garten reveals that smaller chickens are often more tender. “[If they weigh more than] five pounds, they don’t tend to roast as easily,” Garten notes.
And let’s put the time-tested debate to rest: Garten says there is no need to wash a chicken before cooking, which can result in further spreading harmful bacteria.
6. Make It Again. And Again. And Again
When asked what her advice would be for cooks who want to take their home cooking to the next level, Garten shared a piece of wisdom that we cherish to this day.
“Don’t make something you’ve never made before for company. Part of being a pro is making something over and over again until you feel confident that you can make it well,” Garten says. “The more you make recipes over and over, the more confident you are.”
7. Don’t Get too Fancy
Your home kitchen is not a restaurant, and it’s not supposed to be. Garten believes that there are certain dishes that just aren’t worth the effort of recreating at home.
“There are things that just take too much time, like Bouillabaisse. It takes a long time to make a classic Bouillabaisse or a duck confit. I love to order them in restaurants. If I spent two days making dinner for my guests, and they eat it in two hours, they can’t possibly appreciate it enough,” says Garten.
Take it from Ina: Don’t overthink it. “I like to make really simple, absolutely delicious food that takes a couple hours to make, and I’m not crying and exhausted and sweating.”
8. Leverage the Stove Space
Entertaining can be stressful, but not when you design the menu to utilize all of your resources. Garten recommends thinking through a cooking plan that minimizes stress and incorporates some make-ahead elements.
“Whenever I’m planning a dinner menu, I always pick something I can make in advance, something you can put in the oven and forget about it, something that goes on top of the stove, and something that’s served at the room temperature, so four things don’t have to be hot at the same time.”
9. Make It Ahead of Time—but Finish It the Day of
Garten employs a savvy strategy whenever making cakes or cupcakes ahead of time: Do most of the work beforehand, then save the finishing touches for the day of.
“Most cakes refrigerate very well, but not the icing or ganache. You can make the cupcakes, wrap them tightly, and refrigerate them for a few days,” Garten writes on Barefoot Contessa, in response to a question about her Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes. “The day you want to serve them, bring the cupcakes to room temperature, dip them in ganache, allow them to dry, and serve.”
10. Always Cook With a Cosmo in Hand
Cooking is supposed to be fun, and we can’t think of anyone who has hammered this point home better than Ina Garten, queen of happy hour. Why not pour yourself a glass of sangria to enjoy while chopping vegetables, or whip up a giant cosmopolitan just for the heck of it? Thank you, Ina, for reminding us that cooking is way more fun with a cocktail in hand.