10 Tips from Ina Garten That Improved the Quality of My Life
I now refuse to cut corn kernels off the cob without a kitchen towel.
My apartment shelves are decorated with an inappropriate number of cookbooks, but I find myself regularly using just a few of them. One author whose recipes I turn to on a near-daily basis, for both spiritual comfort and cooking inspiration, is Ina Garten.
In addition to her rigorously tested recipes that span all skill and energy levels, I cherish the nuggets of wisdom that Garten has shared with the world over the years—on her show The Barefoot Contessa, on her perfect Instagram, and in her books. Once, I was lucky enough to receive a tip from Garten herself at an event in New York City, and that tip was: freeze your bread in chunks. (More on that in a bit.)
So, to spread the wealth, here are some of the greatest tips I've learned from Garten over the course of my cooking, eating, and drinking journey.
1. Freeze your bread in chunks
At a breakfast event in New York, Garten shared her secret for freezing bread, something I'd never really pulled off successfully (the loaf would always be ravaged by freezer burn or develop a strange texture). To maintain the bread's flavor and structural integrity, she told me that she freezes it in chunks! She said she cuts her loaves into giant wedges and wraps them tightly before putting them in the freezer, leaving her with the perfect portion to warm up later.
2. Speaking of freezers, fill yours with chicken broth
Garten keeps her freezer packed with essentials (there's always vodka in there, for example), but there's one item in particular that I now fill my freezer with religiously: chicken stock. When Garten told us she keeps stocks in her freezer, it changed everything for me. I'm only ever cooking for one, so I would always be opening cans or boxes of stock that I couldn't finish before needing to chuck it. Same goes for when I took the time to make a beautiful stock and couldn't use it all up fast enough. I love having homemade stock in my freezer for quick pan-sauces. I've found there's no better feeling than avoiding opening a whole can of stock when you only need a splash.
3. Use a kitchen towel when cutting corn on the cob
For years I resented corn for what it did to my kitchen: whenever I tried to cut it, kernels would bounce off the cutting board and into every single crevice, hiding on the floor for days and sometimes weeks. But Garten's hack for cutting corn has single-handedly repaired my relationship with the vegetable. "If you put a kitchen towel on the cutting board and cut it into the kitchen towel, it doesn’t bounce all over the kitchen," she told us in a 2019 interview. I have never looked back.
4. Make two cakes at one time
If you're going through all the trouble to make a cake, why not make two and freeze one of them, or give the extra to a friend who could use a little extra love? Garten says she always doubles her country cake with strawberries and whipped cream recipe so she can save the second for another time, and I have adopted that practice.
5. Memorize the proportions to this vinaigrette
While I'm very much a fan of dressing salad the cool and casual way—dousing the greens in various items and tasting leaves to see if I need to add more fat, acid, or seasoning—I also appreciated when Garten dropped her 4-ingredient vinaigrette on her Instagram a while back. It's so simple that two of those ingredients are salt and pepper. I have since memorized the olive oil to lemon ratio that she shared: 1/2 cup of oil to 1/4 cup of lemon juice (plus one teaspoon kosher salt and half a teaspoon black pepper).
I feel like a square measuring the ingredients out, but they really are the perfect proportions. And I've found the vinaigrette itself makes a great base for all sorts of add-ons, including herbs, finely diced shallots, and/or a dollop of mustard.
6. 'Don’t make something you’ve never made before for company'
Not that I'll be hosting company anytime soon, but in the Before Times, anytime I had people over for dinner, I'd make several dishes I'd never tried before, in a desperate bid to be impressive. Rather than needlessly add stress and high stakes to a leisure event, I now make the classics I've loved forever, which end up being more impressive anyway.
"Part of being a pro is making something over and over again until you feel confident that you can make it well," Garten told Food & Wine in 2019. "Inevitably, the ingredients are different, the oven temperature is off, the chicken you got isn’t the right size. Things happen. The more you make recipes over and over, the more confident you are."
7. Listen to Shania Twain while cooking
You simply must try it. My food has improved so much since Garten dropped her Shania-filled cooking playlist, which I now regularly blast while making dinner.
8. And memorize these giant Cosmopolitan proportions while you're at it
A photo of Garten drinking out of a giant Martini glass went viral recently after she demo'd how to make Cosmopolitans on her Instagram. To start, she grabs a massive pitcher. “I like to make a lot of Cosmos,” she says. “You never know who’s going to stop by. Wait a minute—nobody’s stopping by.”
Having made her informal recipe at home, I can confirm that the proportions are golden, whether or not you choose to drink it all in one sitting (please don't). It's two cups of good vodka, one cup of Cointreau or triple sec (any kind of orange liqueur), one cup of cranberry juice cocktail, and a half cup of freshly squeezed lime juice. Then you shake in a very, very large cocktail shaker with a ton of ice and strain into the aforementioned Martini glass, big or small.
9. Always get the smallest chicken
This fact may seem obvious to many, but for a good portion of my life it was not obvious to me that the smaller the chicken, the more flavorful the meat (at least 9 times out of 10.) I had been poisoned by the American "more is more" mentality, but since hearing Garten advise that birds more than 5 lbs. don't roast as easily, I started always picking the smallest, and I've never looked back. (To be fair, I'm never feeding large crowds, and I know this is a privilege.)
10. Store-bought is fine
"You don't have to do everything from scratch," Garten once said. "Nobody wants to make puff pastry!" It's true. I do not want to make puff pastry. And giving myself the grace to take shortcuts when it makes sense (puff pastry) has been an enormously valuable practice on my cooking journey.