Trust Ina Garten to help you “Make it Ahead” – A Cookbook Review

“I didn’t just want to write recipes that were okay when they’re made ahead, I wanted to write recipes that were actually better if they’re made ahead” – Ina Garten

Thinking of picking up a copy of the Barefoot Contessa’s latest Make it Ahead? Look no further! We test countless recipes daily and experimenting using Ina’s book was a really fun project. Laden with beautiful food photography, each recipe contains little side notes about how exactly the recipe fits the bill of “make it ahead”. The book is also riddled with notes about safely storing food, how to freeze items, and also a section geared towards the biggest foodie day of the year: Thanksgiving. The book is written in true Ina fashion, with a focus on fresh, simple ingredients for a fancy dish, be it breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert or cocktail hour!

Reading a Barefoot Contessa cookbook is truly a treat. Ina includes little heartfelt stories about how the book came to life and her love of food is apparent with every turn of the page. She is a truly a masterful host and she shares her entertaining tips and tricks. One can only hope of one day wistfully being invited to her beautiful East Hampton home for dinner!

While Make it Ahead gets our stamp of approval, we also noticed a few points about the book that may not be so ideal. Ina includes salads as part of the “make it ahead” philosophy, which to us doesn’t really seem practical. Yes, you can prep every single item ahead of time for a salad, but if that were the case, wouldn’t every dish be “make it ahead”? Ina also writes about her perfect thanksgiving, where she completes two schedules, with every side you can imagine. Through close inspection, we realize it was only possible because she used two ovens. Come on Ina – most of us do not have the luxury of cooking a Thanksgiving feast in a gourmet kitchen equipped with two ovens!

We love Ina though, and cannot find too much fault in this amazing cookbook! The recipes are mouth watering and Ina makes everything look so easy. We especially enjoyed the “Vegetables” section and created many of the side dishes for Thanksgiving, such as “Pear and Parsnip Gratin” and “Make-Ahead Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes”. Make it Ahead has a cozy spot in our Kitchen nook, nestled in with all of the rest of our Barefoot Cookbooks.

We’ve included one of our favourite recipes from the book below:

Tres Leches Cake with Berries

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” -Julia Child

Ina describes this pudding-like cake as “unassuming” and that it is! Such a simple and easy to prepare cake, yet rich and fancy enough to serve to even your fussiest of guests! Enjoy plain or with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Serve alongside a fresh brewed pot of coffee and your all set.

Something between a pudding and a cake…

Taken from Make It Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Serves 9-12

1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup plus 5 tbsp sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 (12-oz)can evaporated milk
1 (14-oz sweetened condensed milk)
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
8 cups mixed berries for serving
Sifted confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl and set aside.  Place the eggs, 1 cup of granulated sugar, and the vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed for 10 minutes (really!) until light yellow and fluffy  Reduce the speed to low and slowly add half the flour mixture, then the milk, and finally the remaining flour mixture.  Mix well.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 25 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.  Set aside to cool for 30 minutes.

In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup, whisk together the heavy cream, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, almond extract, and vanilla seeds.  Using a bamboo skewer, poke holes all over the cooled cake and slowly pour the cream mixture over the cake, allowing it to be absorbed completely before continuing to pour on more of the mixture.  Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

To serve, toss the fruit with the 5 tablespoons of sugar.  Dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar, cut into squares, and place on dessert plates.  Surround the cake with the fruit, put a dollop of whipped cream on top, and serve.

Make it ahead tip: Prepare the cake completely and refrigerate for up to 5 days.  Serve with the berries and whipped cream. 

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