Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast?
By now, I’ve hosted enough holiday gatherings to know that feeding a large crowd for an important celebration is no time for experimentation in the kitchen. I’ve come to rely upon no-fail recipes that offer that special occasion feeling and enough butter to let you know it’s not an ordinary Tuesday.
When it really counts, there is but one woman I need by my side. Her ability to handle a crowd with grace and deliver dishes that please is unmatched. She has no idea who I am, but she’s spent a number of holidays in our midst by inspiring show-stopping feasts. Known as the Barefoot Contessa after her East Hampton specialty food shop (which was closed permanently in 2004), Ina Garten based her first cookbook on popular dishes from the store. The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook was one of the first cookbooks I bought after I got married. I was pleasantly surprised to find that every recipe I tried was met with universal glee. Wow, I thought. Here is a home cook – she’s not had any culinary training! – who knows how to deliver a crowd-pleaser seemingly effortlessly. Ina went on to write six more books. I have them all. It is no wonder this woman has sold more than 6 million cookbooks (as of 2008 – by now it’s surely closer to 7 or beyond!).
As I began to plan my holiday menu – a task I relish – the requests started to roll in. Remarkably, every dish mentioned was Ina’s. Even my sister-in-law in California asked me for the whole beef tenderloin recipe I’ve made the last few years. She wanted to make it for her family this year, too. Of course, it’s Ina’s recipe.
On Christmas Eve, we enjoyed the filet of beef (without the gorgonzola sauce) from Barefoot Contessa Parties!, which has become our “roast beast” of choice; the portobello mushroom lasagna from Barefoot Contessa at Home; and the roasted plum tomatoes from Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics. The following morning, Ina joined us yet again with the stunning breakfast bread pudding you see pictured above. Variations of this recipe exist in her books, but this casserole-style delight exists only online. Here, I’ve given it a modest makeover.
And yes, that is indeed my 3-year-old pictured above enjoying his second portion of the pudding off a real china plate while using a plastic toddler fork (at his own insistence). If you’re reading this now and you enjoy cooking, you are quite probably already well-acquainted with Ina. Perhaps she’s a fixture at your holiday table as well. Though I’m continually trying out new ideas in the kitchen, holidays are held to a different standard. I can say with certainty that Ina’s earned a permanent spot at our table.