I have kept a tradition with two neighbor families of making potluck dinners every other month for over two years now. E has been friends with most of them them for almost two decades now – which is scary but comforting at the same time. Even though we have learned to split responsibilities and dishes for these gatherings, the hosting family often ends up working on a dish or two while we are all hanging out or playing with the girls. That’s why we try to cook as many items as we can beforehand – to be able to enjoy each other’s company more those Sunday afternoons. I’m very excited to have received a copy of Ina Garten’s newest tome, Make It Ahead. It will definitely be put to use for our neighbor dinners, and beyond that.
Ina Garten has been a mainstay in the Food Network programming since 2002. This longevity stems from her straightforward, delicious recipes that focus on good quality ingredients. I respect all she has been able to achieve, being a self-taught cook: have her own gourmet foods store in the Hamptons, host several successful Food Network shows, and author bestselling cookbooks.
Make it Ahead
Make It Ahead is divided into seven recipe chapters, divided by course. An eight chapter combines some of the eighty six recipes in the book into cohesive menus by theme.
- Cocktails and snacks
- Starters (salads, soups and appetizers)
- Vegetables/side dishes
- Breakfast Items
Each recipe includes a brief headnote, tips on the margin, and most importantly, the instructions for finishing or reheating the made ahead dishes. Almost all of them include pictures, photographed by Quentin Bacon.
Prepping Ahead, Cooking Ahead
The recipes in Make It Ahead are written in the order that steps need to be completed. Only in the sidebar blurbs readers can verify at which point they can stop the process, and how the prepped or assembled dish is stored or reheated. There were some cases, for instance, where all the make ahead steps were chopping up vegetables to be roasted later, or pre-cooking an ingredient. Ditto with desserts: most desserts are already make-ahead projects, like the luscious tres leches cake with berries.
Where the book shines is in the section on lunch dishes. Ham and leek empanadas in puff pastry are great alternatives to sandwiches for weekend lunch or brunch and can be frozen for up to three months. Quinoa tabbouleh and paella salads are very packable, but more importantly, flavorful dishes that will turn heads in the break room at work.
Some of the recipes I have tried from the book include the roasted cauliflower snowflakes (with panko and parmesan cheese), the peas and pancetta, and the filet of beef with Béarnaise mayonnaise. The directions were simple and I was very pleased with the results. I can’t wait to continue cooking through the book. On my radar next? The baked farro and butternut squash casserole, rosemary rack of lamb with easy tzatziki (I really like Ina’s lamb recipes), and the dark chocolate terrine with orange sauce.
Getting Better at Making Things Ahead
In the introduction to the book and in the beginning of all chapters, Ina provides tips on how to prepare for entertaining, how to make the most out of the freezer and the refrigerator as ‘make it ahead’ tools. She also showcases figures like Dorothy Lee, the editor in chief of the Ladies Home Journal and designer/retailer Lee Bailey, who made cooking for company seem effortless.
Great Food 360˚ Rating
Make It Ahead by Ina Garten is filled with delicious, well written recipes that will simplify weekday and special occasion meals for home cooks of all skill levels. (4/5 stars)