Suburban sisters chronicle 'Barefoot Contessa' cooking journey

  • Actress and St. Charles native Monica West, right, and her sister Adrienne Hoffer have made a pledge to cook their way through two of "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's cookbooks.

    Actress and St. Charles native Monica West, right, and her sister Adrienne Hoffer have made a pledge to cook their way through two of "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's cookbooks. photos by Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Sisters Monica West and sister Adrienne Hoffer, who grew up in St. Charles, are spending Fridays this summer cooking their way through "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's cookbook "How Easy is That?"

    Sisters Monica West and sister Adrienne Hoffer, who grew up in St. Charles, are spending Fridays this summer cooking their way through "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's cookbook "How Easy is That?" Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Sisters Adrienne Hoffer, left, and Monica West share a love of cooking -- and Food Network star Ina Garten.

    Sisters Adrienne Hoffer, left, and Monica West share a love of cooking -- and Food Network star Ina Garten. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Watermelon & Arugula Salad is one recipe prepared by Monica West and her sister Adrienne Hoffer as they cook their way through "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's cookbook "How Easy is That?"

    Watermelon & Arugula Salad is one recipe prepared by Monica West and her sister Adrienne Hoffer as they cook their way through "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's cookbook "How Easy is That?" Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Chicken with shallots is one of the dishes sisters Monica West and Adrienne Hoffer have mastered as they cook their way through "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's cookbook "How Easy is That?"

    Chicken with shallots is one of the dishes sisters Monica West and Adrienne Hoffer have mastered as they cook their way through "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's cookbook "How Easy is That?" Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Chicken with Shallots, Watermelon & Arugula Salad and Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake come together for a luncheon meal made by sisters Monica West and Adrienne Hoffer. They're cooking their way through "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's cookbook "How Easy is That?"

    Chicken with Shallots, Watermelon & Arugula Salad and Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake come together for a luncheon meal made by sisters Monica West and Adrienne Hoffer. They're cooking their way through "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's cookbook "How Easy is That?" Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Ina Garten's cookbooks have inspired two sisters to take on a cooking challenge.

    Ina Garten's cookbooks have inspired two sisters to take on a cooking challenge.

 
 
Updated 7/29/2015 11:40 AM

Actress and St. Charles native Monica West and her younger sister, Adrienne Hoffer, have spent much of their adult lives living hundreds of miles apart as they worked to establish their respective careers on the stage and in the classroom.

But it's a shared love of cooking and the act's connection to their St. Charles childhood that bridged that distance in recent months, with the sisters recently taking up a challenge -- cooking their way through two of "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten's cookbooks -- both when they're together or apart.

 

"I think it happened because we knew we would have this summer together. And we kind of threw around some ideas. We love eating, we love cooking and love Ina," West said during an interview with both sisters after they'd cooked -- and consumed -- an afternoon lunch together.

"We figured, why don't we cook some things together that aren't our usual go-tos," Hoffer seconded.

Akin to the movie "Julie and Julia," where a young New Yorker aspires to cook each of the recipes in chef Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in a year's time, the sisters aim to make their way through Garten's "How Easy is That?" and "Foolproof" cookbooks.

This summer, Monica, who is starring in Lookingglass Theatre's "Moby Dick" in Chicago, and Adrienne, an administrator in Glenview District 34, have been spending Friday afternoons cooking together.

One recent lunch, which they cooked for an enthusiastic neighbor, included salad with homemade buttermilk ranch dressing, onion and fennel soup gratin and red berry trifle for dessert.

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The sisters say the menu was inspired by the Townhouse Bookstore Cafe -- a favorite suburban lunch spot from their childhood known for fresh-from-scratch soups.

Along with Garten's tips for keeping things simple in the kitchen (such as rolling bibb lettuce in a paper towel to remove excess moisture after washing), West and Hoffer say they're also focused on creating a relaxing atmosphere for their guests, building off skills they learned watching parents Jerry and Sue West entertain growing up, and from various jobs West worked in restaurants in New York City as she established her acting career.

"When people come to your home or your restaurant you want them to feel at ease immediately," West said. "Even if it's going to be an hour and a half wait, you have to try to make them feel comfortable, giving them a glass of prosecco or an appetizer to numb their hunger."

The sisters have begun documenting their kitchen journeys on Instagram, through their feed @2sisterswhocook.

Come fall -- West is planning a move to San Francisco after the show's close -- they plan to utilize technology and social media to continue to progress through the cookbooks together, comparing pictures of their finished products.

"When you're cooking alone, cooking recipes that can take a long time, you can feel overwhelmed," Hoffer said. "It's nice to have reinforcement from someone that you're headed in the right direction."

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