It was Summer 2015, and I was ready to dive into a ‘healthy’ Pinterest version of chicken Alfredo with a creamy cauliflower sauce. One bite and it was clear, this would be added to the ever-growing pile of recipe fails. I was frustrated, lost in the abyss of online recipes, not knowing whether any of them would be a winner or even edible. And, I was wasting time and money in the process.
While cleaning the dishes that night, a thought popped into my head: I should cook my way through Ina Garten's recipes — my own little "Julie & Julia” experiment. I’d limit my recipes to Ina’s (then) 9 books, and I'd NEVER have to waste time on another flawed recipe. Ina wouldn't let me down.
At the time, I wasn’t super familiar with Ina's Barefoot Contessa recipes. I was a huge fan of the Barefoot Contessa show but that love hadn’t translated into making many of her recipes. Actually, I had only made three: Gazpacho, Roasted Potato Leek Soup, and Baked Shrimp Scampi (still one of my favorites!)
I joked with friends that I should call myself ‘Store Bought Is Fine.’ Fans of the Barefoot Contessa show know that while Ina prefers to make things (like chicken stock) from scratch, she’ll often say “store bought is fine if you can't.” I'd be the store-bought version of Ina -- not the real deal, but someone at home making it work.
After encouragement from a friend, I took to Photoshop and recreated the "Julie & Julia" poster swapping in Ina and myself. I started the @StoreBoughtIsFine Instagram account with the tweaked image -- noting that I hoped Meryl Streep was available to play us in the movie version.
Since that day 18 months ago, I've made and posted 292 Ina recipes, and I’m having a fabulous time doing so. I've found an absolutely amazing community through Instagram. They share advice and provide support through my successes and failures — all while bonding over our mutual love of all things Ina. And the icing on the cake, now I get to partner with Cassandra's Kitchen as a brand ambassador!
I'm definitely getting an education throughout this cooking project. Believe me, there's been a lot of lessons from learning not to stress while hosting brunch to finally trusting Ina's baking times (even when the cookies don't look like they're done.)
Of course having Ina's huge kitchen, more time, and a little more money wouldn't hurt. But I've been able to make Ina's recipes work for me. At times I’ve given up on finding morel mushrooms in Harlem, skipped the caviar (silly budget), and I've resorted to storing kitchen equipment under my bed.
I’ve come across people with the misconception that Ina's recipes are difficult or time consuming – and while there are recipes that take a while (trust me, they’re always worth the wait), I've found that Ina's recipes are easily adaptable and always delicious. In my opinion, Ina isn't about rigidly sticking to a recipe and stressing out, she focuses on enjoying the process and sharing delicious food with friends and family.
I like to quote Ina from Barefoot Contessa Parties!, “I can’t say enough about assembling food rather than cooking. I keep telling myself that my friends won’t have more fun if I spend two days making a dacquoise for dessert than if I find a delicious pound cake at a bakery and serve it with store-bought lemon curd and fresh raspberries.”
Below is one of my favorite Ina recipes, Herbed Baked Eggs (Barefoot in Paris). It’s a simple dish that is an absolute crowd-pleaser – I love making it when friends crash at my apartment.
With nearly 600 recipes to go, I’d like to invite you to join me on Instagram as I continue this journey.
Herb Baked Eggs
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
6 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toasted French bread or brioche, for serving
Preheat the broiler for 5 minutes and place the oven rack 6 inches below the heat.
Combine the garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and Parmesan and set aside. Carefully crack 3 eggs into each of 2 small bowls or teacups (you won't be baking them in these) without breaking the yolks. (It's very important to have all the eggs ready to go before you start cooking.)
Place 2 individual gratin dishes on a baking sheet. Place 1 tablespoon of cream and 1/2 tablespoon of butter in each dish and place under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Quickly, but carefully, pour 3 eggs into each gratin dish and sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place back under the broiler for 5 to 6 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are almost cooked. (Rotate the baking sheet once if they aren't cooking evenly.) The eggs will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven. Allow to set for 60 seconds and serve hot with toasted bread.