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?
Then tired of that work, Ina went back to cooking and began flipping houses, earning her the money she needed to buy a specialy foods shop in the Hamptons, named The Barefoot Contessa. Ina kept the name of the store even though she had never seen the movie the store was named after. The store was a huge success, expanding for decades, until once again, Ina felt the need for a change and sold the business. She studied the stock market, created an online business and then began publishing cookbooks which were very popular because of their pictures and coffee-table book format. In 2002, she was approached by Food Network to have her own show. How special is that?
While Ina Garten is very successful in her cooking shows, publishing efforts and The Barefoot Contessa Pantry line, she is also a political activist, active in community projects and many charity functions with her well-to-do friends. So it created a huge scandal when a 6-year old boy with acute lymphoblastic leukemia requested a cooking session with her through the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Ina refused him twice!
The boy’s mother wrote in a blog that she tried to encourage her son to pick a different wish but he held fast. He spent many of his days in bed watching Ina Garten’s show and it was all he wanted and questioned “why doesn’t she want to meet me?” Ina was doing a book tour but she was also quoted as saying that she always says yes to any requests from the East Hampton Historical Society. How bad a move was that?
The public criticism got so bad that the boy’s mother wrote a blog post called “Please Stop the Madness,” asking people to stop the mudslinging. The boy has come up with a 2nd wish – to swim with dolphins – and apparently, he has no ill feelings towards Ina and says he still loves watching her on TV. In March 2011, Ina’s spokespeople said that she would plan to arrange for the boy to meet her and spend some time with her at the Food Network studios but the Make-a-Wish Foundation said they were concentrating on his 2nd wish. I have to admit that after hearing this story, I lost a lot of respect for Ina Garten. Can you blame me for that?
Still, if you want to watch a cooking show that will teach you how to make classic foods in a simple yet elegant way, The Barefoot Contessa might be the show for you. My oppositional nature led me to veganize one of Ina’s simplest, most down-to-earth recipes: chicken salad. And not fancy curried chicken salad or Chinese chicken salad. Just plain old chicken salad. Plus, whenever I go to the natural foods store that has a deli counter, I always want their “unchicken” salad so I figured I should have my own recipe. How smart is that?
My Tofu “Chicken” and Broccoli Salad is delicious. You can make it with or without the broccoli; I just like adding extra veggies to everything. It would be delicious on a sandwich – my favorite way to have it is with lettuce, tomato, and tempeh bacon on toasted bread – or as I had it here, atop a simple salad. Ina’s recipe calls for “good” olive oil and “good mayonnaise” but mine calls for “better” ingredients because mine are cruelty-free, healthier and vegan. What could be more perfect than that? Enjoy!
Tofu “Chicken” and Broccoli Salad
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)
First we have some steaming to do. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with a steamer basket on top of it. When the water is at a rolling boil, steam the block of tofu for 3 minutes. Remove the tofu from the steamer basket and let it cool down so you can handle it. In the meantime, steam the broccoli florets, if you are using them. Let them steam for about 4 minutes, drain them into a colander and let the cold water run over them to stop the cooking process. (Alternately, you can use an ice bath). Set the broccoli aside until ready to use. How easy was that?
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.
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I agree. There is nothing more negative than denying a dying child even a hint of acknowledgement.
Wow, I just stumbled upon three posts here, and I have to say, the negativity really overshadows the food.
Quotation marks around key words is equally as annoying as ending everything with a question. And her personal choice to not visit with the sick kid-so what!
You meanie…for making my stomach hurt…I am totally with you – as much as I enjoy a lot of her simple recipes(I have tried and enjoyed her roasted brussel sprouts repeatedly), I go wtf at all the goodness her recipes call for 😀 I am like, I am cheap and I have very average olive oil – now teach me to cook 😀
Thanks! I appreciate your quick feedback! And I found you on Pinterest, too. ~ Belynda
Belynda – I am planning to post recipes for mayo, sour cream, etc. I’m lazy so I just buy it. But in the meantime, you can blend (or use a processor) 1 cup of canola oil, 1/2 cup non-dairy milk (soy is thickest and creamiest), salt to your liking and like 1/4 tsp. mustard. Slowly add up to 1 1/2 tsp. of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar until the mixture thickens to your liking. That might work in a pinch when you don’t want to make the 40 mile trip…or order mayo online at veganstore.com
We are going vegan, and I have enjoyed many of your recipes on this new journey. I am really looking forward to trying this recipe, & I will be checking out Pinterest to see if I can repin your recipes. I have tried to make vegan mayonnaise without success, so I will have to make the 40 mile trip to the big city very soon. When we ate meat, my husband enjoyed a chicken, apple & walnut salad, and I hope to use this recipe to help me recreate that, too. ~ Belynda
Karen – ha ha!
Christina – how do I do that? Actually, I always pin the pictures with the link on Pinterest so if you follow me there, you could repin it, right?
Oooooh Sis, you kill me in the best way – LOLOL!!! OMG, I ADORE YOU – I actually had to get rid of the “questions” at the end of the paragraph when I made this recipe into my own document, HOW ANNOYING ARE THEY???!!! ;D That was, of course, AFTER I laughed my arse off, hahaha!! Sounds SO delish, shall make STAT! 🙂
This totally cracked me up, I like watching Ina but completely agree about her constant rhetorical questions. 🙂
Now I have a question for you…is there any chance you can set up your blog to let me “Pin” the recipes? I keep most of my recipes on my Pinterest Board these days and you always have recipes I would like to try! Thanks!