What Happened When I "Cooked For Jeffrey" — For One

Photo: Courtesy of Clarkson Potter.
Ina Garten is the first person who made me want to learn how to cook. I remember watching an episode of Barefoot Contessa in middle school where she made a goat cheese pizza with arugula. I hated goat cheese (still do), but I wanted to make it so bad. I wanted to live inside her world; if that meant learning to love goat cheese, so be it.

If I lived the Barefoot Contessa life, I could just grab some herbs from my gorgeous garden for a centerpiece. I would have a giant kitchen with plenty of prep space. I could ask my gay friends to pick up artisanal popcorn on their way over for dinner, instead of having them just show up with a bag of ice that’s already frozen into a brick. And, of course, I would have a Jeffrey of my own.

The internet’s love of Ina’s husband, Jeffrey Garten, stems largely from an episode of 30 Rock where Liz Lemon declares that she wants a love like theirs: spending time apart, but coming together on the weekends. (In real-life and on the show, Jeffrey Garten frequently travels for work.) Whether or not your dream relationship includes extended work trips, there’s plenty more to envy about the Gartens' relationship. If you’re wondering how I know that, it’s not just from drone footage I took illegally of their house in the Hamptons. (Kidding, I promise!) It’s from glimpses of their life from Ina Garten’s newest book, Cooking For Jeffrey. In it, Ina shares some of their favorite recipes, as well as stories from their life together.

For starters, the Gartens met while Ina was still in high school. Jeffrey was smitten after seeing her on campus visiting her older brother. Their early marriage included picturesque European camping trips, where Ina first learned the joy of a simple, well-cooked roasted chicken and gooey cheese. Oh, and it was Jeffrey who encouraged Ina to pursue her love of food. In the foreword, she even says Jeffrey was the first feminist she ever met. Swoon.

Of course, I had to get my hands on her newest cookbook and try it out for myself. The only problem? I don’t have a Jeffrey to cook for. I don’t even have a halfway decent Tinder match who will hold the place of a Jeffrey. I’m about as single as that last donut on the conference room table that everyone is too polite to take.

But I’m a modern woman. So I decided to cook the recipes for Jeffrey for just me. Here's what happened.
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Photo: Courtesy of Marshall Bright.
First up, a Friday-night dinner date for one. After work, I went to Whole Foods, a place that normally makes me feel twitchy with anxiety. I know that outside of NYC, there are Whole Foods that aren’t the food equivalent of a Black Friday TV sale every day of the year, but somehow, nearly every Whole Foods in Manhattan has the unique ability to feel like everyone is stockpiling for a snowstorm every Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately, going to Whole Foods at 7 p.m. on a Friday often means I am also starving. I don’t think Ina would recommend also buying mac 'n' cheese from the hot bar and eating it on the 1 train while listening to a true-crime podcast, but I fully recommend it (#lifehack).

When I got home, I didn’t just start playing a true-crime documentary on Netflix while cooking (I am a woman of few interests, apparently). Instead, I channeled what I think the Ina Garten I’ve invented in my mind would do: threw on an apron, played some Etta James, and cooked up some rigatoni with sausage and fennel while sipping white wine.

The recipe in question was meant to be divided in six shallow serving dishes; since I ate alone, I served myself in one dish and immediately put away the rest. It was decadent and comforting all at once and, since it was practically a one-pot meal, I wasn’t left with a mountain of dishes to tackle solo, either.
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Photo: Courtesy of Marshall Bright.
Next, I moved on to Ina’s roast chicken with radishes. It had all the hallmarks of a classic Barefoot Contessa recipe: simple and elegant, with a twist. The roast chicken is elevated by the fact that it is nestled among heirloom radishes. But not having the patience to track those down, I went with standard precut radishes from Trader Joe’s. Much less picturesque.

After its hour-and-a-half of roasting, the chicken was still hot and I had a birthday party to go to in Brooklyn. I covered the chicken and put it (I hoped) far enough away from the cat. After getting home at 1 a.m., it turns out roast chicken is great drunk food. Ina, forgive me, but I pried the chicken straight off the carcass and ate it standing up. I may or may not have peeled off most of the tasty, crispy skin and just eaten that alone, too. No wonder I’m single.

As a side note, I don’t know how roasted heirloom radishes taste, but Trader Joe’s radishes just taste like hot radish. I can’t say I’m a fan.
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Photo: Courtesy of Clarkson Potter.
At this point in the experiment, it’s dawning on me that these aren’t just recipes for Jeffrey, they’re for the Gartens' army of friends. That is why I found myself methodically slicing pounds and pounds of tubers for Ina’s root vegetable gratin. The end result is something you’d want to put on your Thanksgiving table, not serve up for a casual weeknight meal. I had created an adult mac 'n' cheese of gruyere, fennel, potatoes, onions, and celery root. Even in this ungodly warm fall, it felt like the perfect seasonal dish.

But I felt defeated. There was no one to share it with, so after a few scoops of the rich concoction, I put it away. Maybe it was time to give up and buy a copy of Microwave Cooking For One.
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Photo: Courtesy of Marshall Bright.
Next, dessert.

There’s a reason I don’t normally make a cake for myself. I’m much more likely to eat a fistful of chocolate chips straight from the bag and call it a day. I wasn’t excited when I started to tackle Ina's Devil's Food, but I found the process completely transportive. I’ve made my fair share of desserts, but this isn’t just any layer cake. As Ina herself says, it’s a “showstopper.” This is a cake you clear your calendar to make.

I felt like I was a magician: each step worked exactly as it was supposed to. My meringue for the icing made stiff peaks! The cake’s layers baked perfectly! But I wasn’t looking to pull a Bruce Bogtrotter from Matilda and eat the entire thing solo. I declared defeat and brought it into the office to share with my coworkers. Because Cooking For Jeffrey isn’t just about making food for your soulmate — it’s about making food for the people you love. After all, I doubt Ina and Jeffrey are downing all six servings of that rigatoni or polishing off a roast chicken together.

At the risk of sounding a little too kumbaya, I don’t need to worry about tackling a mountain of pasta, potatoes, or cake on my own, because I have plenty of friends who will help me — even if they gently mock your attempt at icing the cake you were so proud to have made.

And Jeffrey or not, that’s more than a girl can ever ask for.
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Photo: Courtesy of Clarkson Potter.
I still had one more recipe to try — Ina’s Dark Rum Southsides. I like a stiff drink at the end of a long day, but more often than not, I’ll just go with beer or wine. Cocktails that require things like muddling or 40 turns of a cocktail spoon and do not make it into my at-home repertoire. But with a few squeezes of lime and twirls of a spoon, I felt like a bona fide mixologist.

Since there was no one to cheers with, I cheered myself. It was a nice reminder that, even alone, I can still find a reason to get a little fancy and celebrate. Even if I'm just home alone listening to true-crime podcasts.

If you want to cook for Jeffrey for one — or more — check out three of our favorite recipes, ahead.
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Photo: Courtesy of Clarkson Potter.
Dark Rum Southsides
Makes 4 drinks

Ingredients
12 large mint leaves, plus 4 large sprigs
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
1⁄2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 limes)
1⁄2 cup simple syrup (see note)
1 cup dark rum, such as Mount Gay
1 cup ice, plus extra for serving
1 1⁄2 cups sparkling water, chilled
1⁄8 tsp kosher salt

Instructions
1. For the simple syrup, put 1 cup of sugar and 1⁄ 2 cup water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook until the sugar dissolves. Cool.

2. Put the mint leaves and 2 of the lime wedges in a large cocktail shaker and muddle them with a muddler or a long-handled wooden spoon.

3. Add the lime juice, simple syrup, rum, and ice and stir 40 times with a long-handled swiveling cocktail spoon or the end of a wooden spoon. Add the sparkling water and salt and stir well.

4. For each drink, fill a low cocktail glass half full with ice, add a mint sprig and a wedge of lime, and pour over the cocktail mixture. Stir and serve ice-cold.

Reprinted from Cooking for Jeffrey. Copyright © 2016 by Ina Garten. Photographs by Quentin Bacon. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
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Photo: Courtesy of Clarkson Potter.
Roast Chicken With Radishes
Serves 3

Ingredients
1 (4 to 4 1/2-lb) roasting chicken, such as Bell & Evans
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, quartered
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/2 lbs radishes, preferably mixed heirloom, trimmed and scrubbed
3 tbsps unsalted butter, melted

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the chicken, breast side up, in a roasting pan or ceramic baking dish just large enough to hold the chicken and radishes. Sprinkle the cavity liberally with salt and pepper.

2. Put the lemon and thyme in the cavity. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wings under the body. Cut any larger radishes in half so they are all about the same size and place around the chicken.

3. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Brush the chicken and radishes all-over with the melted butter and sprinkle them both liberally with salt and pepper.

4. Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and thigh. Cover the pan or baking dish with aluminum foil and allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Carve the chicken and serve with the radishes and pan juices.

5. To make ahead: Assemble the entire dish, cover, and refrigerate for up to a day. Brush with butter and roast before serving.

Reprinted from Cooking for Jeffrey. Copyright © 2016 by Ina Garten. Photographs by Quentin Bacon. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
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Photo: Courtesy of Clarkson Potter.
Devil’s Food Cake
Makes one 9-inch 4-layer cake; serves 12 to 16

Ingredients
3⁄4 lb (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1⁄4 cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
4 tsps pure vanilla extract
3⁄4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3⁄4 cup hot brewed coffee or espresso
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 1⁄2 tsps kosher salt
1 cup sour cream
Coffee Meringue Buttercream (recipe follows)
Chocolate espresso beans (for decoration)

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 x 2-inch round cake pans, line them with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pans. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. On low speed, add the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and beat until well-mixed, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Whisk the cocoa powder and hot coffee together in a small bowl. With the mixer on low, add it into the batter.

3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture to the batter, then all of the sour cream, then the remaining flour mixture, mixing each addition until combined. With a rubber spatula, fold the batter until it is well mixed.

4. Divide the batter equally between the two prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, turn out onto a baking rack, and cool completely.

5. To frost the cakes, slice them in half horizontally with a long, thin knife. Place the bottom of the first cake, cut side up, on a flat serving plate and spread a thin layer of buttercream on the top only (not the sides) with a palette knife. Place the top of the first cake, cut side down, on top and thinly frost the top only. Next, place the top layer of the second cake on top, cut side up, and thinly frost. Finally, place the bottom layer of the second cake, bottom side up (so the top of the cake is flat). Frost the top and sides of the cake.

6. Heat a palette knife or frosting spatula in hot water, shake off any excess water, and use it to smooth the buttercream on the sides and the top of the cake. Continue heating the palette knife and shaking off the excess water, until the buttercream is smooth. (A revolving cake stand will make it easier.) If there is extra buttercream, fill a pastry bag with it to decorate. Garnish with the chocolate espresso beans.

Coffee Meringue Buttercream
frosts one 9-inch 4-layer cake

Ingredients
2 cups sugar
6 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1⁄4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of kosher salt
1 1⁄2 pounds (6 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1⁄4 cup coffee liqueur, such as Kahlúa
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Instructions
1. Combine the sugar and 2⁄3 cup of water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the sugar dissolves, uncover the pan and place a candy thermometer in the syrup. Cook over high heat until the thermometer registers exactly 240 degrees. (Don’t stir!)

2. Meanwhile, place the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until they form stiff peaks.

3. Carefully pour the syrup into a 2-cup glass measuring cup. With the mixer still on high, very slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites in a thin, steady stream. Leave the mixer on high for about 1 hour (Trust me!), until the mixture is completely at room temperature. (If the mixture isn’t absolutely at room temperature, the butter will melt and deflate the egg whites!)

4. With the mixer on medium, add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time. If the butter starts to melt, stop and wait for the mixture to cool. With the mixer on low, add the coffee liqueur and vanilla. Do not refrigerate; frost the cake while the buttercream is at room temperature.

Reprinted from Cooking for Jeffrey. Copyright © 2016 by Ina Garten. Photographs by Quentin Bacon. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
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