What is a Curessa?
The Curessa is my nickname/ honorary title. My husband is an Episcopal priest. In the church where we met and married, he was an associate rector, otherwise known as a Curate. Our dear friend thought that I needed a complementary title, and thus The Curessa was born. Since then, the Curate has graduated to becoming the Rector of a parish, but I couldn’t part with my beloved nickname. “Rectorina” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
What is the Contessa-Curessa Project?
Inspired by the Julie-Julia project, in which a young woman worked through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year in her tiny New York City apartment kitchen, I wanted a similar task. I’m a recovering lawyer and the stay-at-home mother of two young children. My days at home, while lovely and joyous, were taking on a Groundhog-Day-esque quality: make the beds, do the laundry, empty the dishwasher, change the diaper, lather, rinse, repeat. I love to cook, and I love a challenge. So, I will attempt to make every recipe in Ina Garten‘s Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. Unlike Julie of the Julie-Julia project, I’m claiming no deadline or time limit on the project. I am going to attempt cooking as seasonally/locally as possible, as much as one can do that in Minnesota. At the time I started this blog, we were just finishing up our first season with a crop share (otherwise known as Community Supported Agriculture or CSA), and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of cooking with seasonal produce. I love cooking, and as far as hobbies go, it’s a pretty useful endeavor. My family needs to eat anyway, and I already have a great deal of kitchen equipment, so the cost outlay isn’t going to be huge. I will try to photograph as many recipes as possible to enrich the experience, but I can’t promise that I’ll always have the camera ready when I’ve got four burners going on the stove.
Why Ina Garten? Why now?
I have over 150 cookbooks, which I love to read, and use, and even peruse at bedtime to become inspired. Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa series are the cookbooks that have never disappointed me. Even though I love spending time in the kitchen, there’s nothing worse than wasting a lot of time (and energy, and ingredients) on something that doesn’t turn out as well as you’d like, and Ina Garten’s recipes have provided the most consistent, good results without being intimidating. Are they always healthy? Of course not! But they taste good, and they use ingredients that I’m able to find in my grocery store. I also love that Ina isn’t flashy or gimmicky. Sure, she has a gorgeous house in the Hamptons, but her style and the food she prepares are classic and not at all trendy. Last but not least, and I can’t believe I’m admitting this about a person I’ve only known through the television screen and cookbooks, I feel like I can relate to Ina Garten. She loves her husband and her friends, and she seems to truly enjoy feeding people. She throws parties that aren’t overly stuffy. She is hugely successful, but she maintains a sense of balance in her life. I used to practice law, and she used to work for the federal government (not unlike Julie Powell and Julia Child, by the way). Besides, she can’t stand cilantro, and neither can I. If that doesn’t seal the deal, I don’t know what would! (I’m still going to have to contend with raw onions, blue cheese, soft-shell crabs, swordfish, curry, coconut, pears, and feeding a picky kid on the side.)
I’m starting this project now because our CSA share is coming to an end for the season, and I’m looking for inspiration to plan our weekly menu. I love cooking in the fall, when the oven warms up the house, and apples and pumpkins are in season. It seems as good of a time as any to start a project like this, with a Minnesota winter looming ahead.
I’m not a professional chef, or a professional food photographer. I just love food, and I love feeding my family. I think it will be a fun challenge. I know that there are thousands of other food blogs out there, and I love reading about what other people are cooking. I’m doing this for fun. If I can inspire someone else to cook a delicious dinner for their family tonight, then that’s just an extra bonus. I heard an interview recently on Minnesota Public Radio on Kerri Miller’s Midmorning program. She was interviewing Jim Shepard, an author who was talking about writing and creative processes. In the interview, he made the very good point that it would be absurd to approach a child in a sandbox making a sand castle to ask: “Don’t you know that other people have already made sand castles?” (The interview aired on 9/22/09, listen around 16:40).
How did you learn to cook?
I didn’t grow up using a lot of recipes. My dad taught me to cook, and he’s more of an intuitive cook, not measuring much, and adding things until the food looked, or smelled, or tasted just right. It’s like playing music by ear, instead of learning to read the notes on a page. Luckily, making the transition to following a recipe isn’t all that difficult. Often, I end up improvising a recipe, based on the ingredients we have on hand, or what sounds good at the time. When I was growing up, we lived about 5 miles from the nearest grocery store. Even though my dad owned the store and went there every day, we still might get stuck at home without a particular ingredient, and we’d have to make do with what we had, to avoid having the started effort (and already-used ingredients) going to waste.
Do you have a favorite recipe?
That’s kind of like asking a mother if she has a favorite child, don’t you think? The reason I picked the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks for this project is that I have had great results with all of her recipes. There are some recipes that get repeated at our house more often than others, of course, mostly due to their ease of use and popularity of ingredients. I’ve made the roasted and sauteed vegetables more times than I can count. I’ve found that if I don’t like a vegetable raw or steamed, I will like it roasted (e.g., kohlrabi). But frequency does not always equal favoritism, I promise.
Why don’t you publish the recipes?
The recipes are copyrighted, so while I will mention ingredients and publish pictures of my work in action, I respect Ina Garten’s intellectual property and will not publish it on the blog. I highly encourage anyone who is interested in the recipes to purchase the cookbooks. They’re not incredibly expensive, and they are beautiful and useful books. I will publish the title of the cookbook and page number for reference.
Why don’t you rate the recipes?
As much as I’d love the job, I’d be a horrible food critic, because I’d probably give everything the highest rating, and that would just be boring. I will do my best to explain my experience of the food and any changes I’ve made to the recipes, but I’m just much too wishy-washy to rate anything.