The “V” Word begins the 2nd half of VeganMoFo, the month of delicious vegan food, with its theme “If TV Celebrity Chefs Went Vegan.” Today’s chef was selected, not because there was any recipe I just had to veganize, but because I just wanted an excuse to write about her. Our guest chef today is Ina Garten, known as The Barefoot Contessa.
Off the bat I will admit that I do not particularly like Ina Garten. I find her pretentious, annoying and elitist. Cooking in her giant kitchen, going out to her enormous garden to snip herbs, showing off her expensive surroundings in the Hamptons, making dishes to share with her rich neighbors and celebrity friends, it feels like I’m watching a culinary version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Particularly irritating is Ina’s constant reminders to viewers to use “good” olive oil, “good” wine, “good” herbs, “good” vanilla, etc. Don’t buy the cheap stuff. If you aren’t going to buy the most expensive ingredients, why bother cooking at all? Her recipes are even written up that way!!!
Also annoying to me is how Ina constantly ends her speech with questions: “How easy is that?” “What could be better?” “How good does that look?” “Isn’t that just perfect?” It’s become a trademark of hers and even the title of one of her cookbooks. How original is that?
To be fair, I sometimes watch The Barefoot Contessa because she has some good recipes and Ina Garten explains how to make them in a style that is easy to understand and follow. Tom and I particularly like the episodes that involve her husband Jeffrey who comes home for the weekends and his traditional Friday night chicken dinner. How special is that?
After watching Ina’s story of Chefography, I was actually very impressed by her (I love to know people’s back-stories; again the shrink in me is always there). Born in Brooklyn, Ina met Jeffrey at age 15 and then quit college to marry him. While Jeffrey was serving in the military, Ina did a lot of things to keep busy: she started cooking, entertaining and she even got a pilot’s license. After his tour, they traveled to Paris for a 4-month camping trip and it was there Ina’s love for cooking and weekly entertaining blossomed. How romantic is that?
The couple then moved to Washington D.C. with Jeffrey working in the State Department and Ina returning to school while working as an aide in the White House. She worked her way up the ladder eventually becoming a nuclear budget analyst for the Ford and Carter administrations. How impressive is that?
1 block extra-firm “good” tofu, pressed and drained
1 tsp. “good” extra-virgin olive oil or cooking spray
2 stalks of “good” celery, chopped
½ cup “good” fresh parsley, chopped
4 Tbs. “good” vegan mayonnaise
2 Tbs. “good” Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. “good” unsweetened dill relish
½ tsp. “good” celery seed
½ tsp. “good” dried oregano
½ tsp. “good” garlic powder
¼ tsp. “good” mustard powder
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
2 heads of “good” broccoli, cut into small florets (optional)
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Cut the block of tofu into very small cubes. Add them to the skillet, flipping them often. You want them to cook just a bit so they get firmer but only slightly browned. We want to keep the white color. When they are done, transfer the tofu cubes into a large bowl. How good does that tofu look?
Add the celery, parsley, mayo, Dijon and relish to the bowl. Add the spices and mix well until all the tofu is covered and the spices are well-distributed. If you are using the broccoli, add the florets to the bowl and mix them in too. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve in sandwiches or atop salads. How perfect is that?
The “V” Word: Say it. Eat it. Live it.