TODAY   |  December 11, 2012

At home with Ina Garten: Preparing for the holidays

TODAY’s Erica Hill pays a visit to the home of the Barefoot Contessa to get a tour of her kitchen, talk about her recently released eighth book, “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof,” and get a glimpse of how she prepares to entertain family and friends during the holiday season.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back now at 8:37. we're always happy to have ina garten , the barefoot contessa , stop by and cook for us. but what's it like to watch her cook in her kitchen? erica hill found out.

>> i was happy to take it on. she has these great recipes that can make everyone feel like a great cook at home. she has a new book " barefoot contessa foolproof." recently she invited me to take a look at her simple, laid-back style. you walk in, it feels warm and inviting and smells like home.

>> and a cocktail just to get everybody in the mood.

>> reporter: light on flash but filled with warmth. from the moment you arrive. how important is it to set your mood?

>> it's nice when you walk in the door to have great music playing. the first person feels like they've arrived to the party. they don't feel like did i come on the wrong night?

>> you're not half dressed.

>> exactly. there's a reason why the dinner party is called entertaining. it's supposed to feel like theater.

>> friends are always welcome. yes, those are her real friends on the show. she often plans her menu around their favorites, keeping it personal and heartfelt.

>> is it good?

>> cheers.

>> my first rule is i invite people i love. cooking is hard. and putting on a dinner party is not so easy.

>> reporter: it's also not very formal. at least not here. chances are if you're lucky enough to be invited for dinner, you'll find yourself in a very familiar place.

>> this is the kitchen in my house. small smaller than you thought it was, right?

>> it is smaller. definitely seems familiar.

>> we used to film here for years and it was very tight. a small kitchen works really well, almost better than a big kitchen.

>> reporter: many nights she'll have six people around this table.

>> i like to serve at the table in the kitchen. then i can cook and serve it and i never have to leave the party. i find having dinner in the kitchen makes people feel like they've come home.

>> reporter: feeling at home myself, i had to ask, what's in the fridge?

>> this is shocking. i have fruit, i have eggs. i always have champagne.

>> that's good.

>> everybody needs champagne, don't they?

>> reporter: i like your thinking.

>> chicken stock , always have some kind of chicken stock .

>> reporter: homemade chicken stock .

>> the secret ingredient to so many things. i pretty much shop for each thing if i'm having a dinner party .

>> reporter: of course, there are nights when ina garten is the guest not the host but even then she can't help but whip up something to bring along, pecan sandys.

>> treats they can serve after dinner, cookies or something even better like granola that they can have for the next day for breakfast.

>> reporter: what's your favorite gift to receive?

>> jewels. no, just kidding.

>> reporter: wouldn't turn that one down.

>> i think we all give the things that we like ourselves, cookies or something you can serve with hor d'oeuvres.

>> truth is about cooks is that they love when someone else cooks. they don't even care what it is, just so you don't have to decide the menu, you don't have to make it.

>> reporter: as much as she loves her slice of heaven along long island, she and her husband, jeffrey, also call paris a part-time home. it's their favorite spot to ring in the new year with, what else, a cozy, warm meal and good friends.

>> and i always make something really simple like pasta with white truffles or capellini.

>> do you make resolutions?

>> i think you do until you're 20 and then you decide you're never going to do them anyway. why make yourself unhappy?

>> it was a great peek into her slice of life . she sent back treats with the sea salt caramel she likes to give.

>> you came bearing treats, erica, thank you very much.