Have you ever read a cookbook and just chuckled. A happy, joyful laugh. Make It Ahead is full of wonderful food and endless smiles and laughter.

My first smile came in the introduction. This is Ina’s 9th book and this one has a very definite purpose. When it comes to entertaining, doing everything on “party” day can be stressful. Why not, Ina asks, do as much as possible ahead of time. These recipes are ones you can make a day or more ahead of your party, then easily assemble at mealtime.

Here’s the smile part. Ina remembers her Barefoot Contessa food store that served hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of dishes over the years. Dishes that went home with happy customers to be consumed in an hour, later that day, or the next day or even the one after that. Ina concedes that she’s been in the “make it ahead” business for decades. You have to grin at that “gee, it’s been going on all along” moment. A recognition that has waited until Book #9!

With all those Barefoot Contessa meals, with all her books and television shows, Ina has a most comprehensive perspective. In this book, the focus is on “do-ability” and ease of entertaining. But she retains her multi-focus attention: here flavor and presentation retain all their importance. And underlying it all is the fun that comes from recipes with class and style.

Look in tomorrow’s post for the one recipe that itself makes this book worth buying: Roast Chicken with Bread and Arugula Salad. It’s an awesome, one-dish meal that will make you fall in love with chicken all over again.

The recipes in this book are written as if you were going to eat them the same day. But, you ask, isn’t this about make it ahead? Yes, it is. But Ina understands that once you make one of these dishes, you are going to be oh so tempted to devour it on the spot. So, in side notes, Ina indicates how far ahead you can make a dish, how to store it, and how to bring it back to top-notch status for your meal. She does not say anything about dealing with that “I’ll just eat it now temptation.” You are on your own, I’m afraid.

The book has seven principal chapters, from cocktails through dessert and breakfast. Here are the chapters with representative and most excellent recipes:


Summer Rose Sangria with fruit, pomegranate juice and both brandy and Grand Marnier

Jalapenos Margaritas with freshly made jalapeno tequila

Cranberry Martinis starting with fresh cranberries

To Start:

Caesar Salad with Blue Cheese and Bacon featuring Ina’s wonderful Caesar dressing

Spanish Tapas Peppers stuffed with olives

Cauliflower and Celery Root Soup


Ham and Leek Empanadas with puff pastry

Quinoa Tabbouleh with Feta

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Tart


Roast Chicken with Bread and Arugula Salad, a must do for you

Slow Roasted Spiced Pork

Moroccan Lamb Tagine, another signature dish

Easy Coquilles Saint Jacques with emphasis on the easy for the home cook


Spinach and Ricotta Noodle Pudding to bring veggie richness to your table

Crusty Baked Potatoes with Whipped Feta, for your potato fanatics

Make Ahead Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes, because fanatics are never satisfied

Baked Polenta with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese, an option for the fanatics

Leek and Artichoke Bread Pudding, a dish you should consider for Thanksgiving


Skillet Brownies, big brownies baked and served in cast iron skillet

Fresh Apple Spice Cake, best served with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce

Chocolate Cake with Mocha Frosting, worth a peek for the frosting alone

Make Ahead Zabaglione with Amaretti, cleverly enjoy zabaglione without the last minute rush


Sour Cream Corn Bread, the best of a great Southern tradition

Overnight Belgian Waffles, yeasted, thick and ready for syrup

Maple Vanilla Cream of Wheat, for those who have never, ever tried it

When you read Make It Ahead, the question is not: will I find something to make. The question is how to I organize all these things. What will work best with what other dishes if I want to make an entire meal? Ah, you need to buy the book and go to Page 263. Here you will find eight menus for full meals: breakfast, brunch, lunches, holiday dinners, July 4th, and your next anniversary.

Ina has left nothing out in Make It Ahead. It’s all here for you to do, one day, one party at a time. The writing features Ina's trademark clarity and, very importantly, you know these recipes have been tested, honed and perfected. Just follow the recipes, and, like Yellow Brick Road, you are on your way to Oz. You remember Oz? Lots and lots of big parties with people dressed up like lions and scarecrows.

Do the chicken. Consider that Leek and Artichoke Bread Pudding and, for gosh’s sake, find some excuse for the Mocha Frosting.