By Liza Hamm
December 03, 2012 12:00 PM

Food Network favorite Ina Garten teaches fans how to dazzle dinner guests with simple, savory meals. But the woman best known as the Barefoot Contessa is not a fan of cooking for a party of one. “For myself? I find some tomatoes in the garden, grab some mozzarella from the fridge and make a salad. I don’t think I’ve ever turned on the oven just for me,” says Garten. “It’s the process of cooking for others that gives me pleasure.”

Which is why Garten, 64, looks forward to Fridays most. That’s when her husband, Jeffrey, 66-a business professor at Yale School of Management during the week-reunites with his wife of 44 years in their East Hampton, N.Y., home over sidecars and the roast chicken Garten often extols as Jeffrey’s favorite meal. “Jeffrey spends four hours driving back and forth from New Haven for me. And I cook for him,” says Garten, who was a nuclear budget analyst in the White House under Presidents Ford and Carter before trading the capital for the kitchen. “Our weekends are sacrosanct. We’ll go for a long walk, then go to Montauk for lunch. Generally there’s a nap involved too.”

For the rest of the week, Garten is mostly business. She starts every morning with coffee and oatmeal, and then “I talk myself into getting on the elliptical machine, sometimes more successfully than others,” she says. After a long day of filming her show or developing recipes in the test kitchen located in a barn on her two-acre property, “I read, do the crossword puzzle or answer questions on Facebook.” (One typical viewer quandary: Is it okay to make cookies in October and freeze them for Christmas? “No! Make the dough, freeze it and bake them at Christmas,” she says.)

Throughout the day she stays in touch with Jeffrey. “We text. We talk. We e-mail,” says Garten. But she never solicits his opinion on her recipes. “Jeffrey likes everything!” she says. “He’s a bad judge.” But an ideal partner. “Every household needs somebody who cooks,” says Garten, “and somebody who really appreciates it.”