"I make him lunch, I make him dinner and he's home all the time," the Food Network star tells PEOPLE in the latest issue

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Ina Garten and her husband Jeffrey have been married for over 50 years, but like many couples, they've spent more time together in the past seven months than ever before thanks to coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing measures.

"I feel like I prepared my whole life to be quarantined, or working towards a place where we could be quarantined," the Food Network star, 72, tells PEOPLE in the latest issue, on newsstands now. "Jeffrey writes and he teaches remotely, and I think [he] is going to look back on these days as the good old days. I make him lunch, I make him dinner and he's home all the time."

Jeffrey, Dean Emeritus at the Yale School of Management, usually commutes to the New Haven, Conn. campus from their home in East Hampton, N.Y., and the pair often spend the entire week apart. Ina says they haven't been together this much since they lived in Washington, D.C. in the '70s, when she worked as a nuclear budget analyst in the Jimmy Carter administration before pursuing a career in food.

Credit: Ina Garten/Instagram

″When I started [my specialty food store] Barefoot Contessa in 1978, I was living in the Hamptons, and there's nothing he can do here,″ she says. ″So he was always commuting from New York or he was commuting from Washington when he was in the government, or he was commuting from Kenya when he was working with the government of Kenya. He would always leave on Monday and come back on Friday and I stayed in one place.″

″I always wondered what it was going to be like when he retired," Ina adds. "And when this happened, I thought, oh, I guess that's what's it's going to be like. I have to say, it's great. I miss my friends and I miss dinner parties in the kitchen with six people, but being able to see people socially distant goes a long way. We can get through this."

Credit: Ina Garten/Instagram

During a year in which cooks everywhere have had to prepare more meals at home, Ina has been helping her fans by dishing out her expertise and encouragement every step of the way. Though her recipes are known for meticulous attention to detail and “good” ingredients, she had to learn to relax the rules when they were stuck at home.

“At the beginning, we didn’t know if we could go out and shop, so I would have to think, ‘What do I have in the house?’” she says. “It was an interesting experience for me because I hadn’t had to make breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day in years.”

What came from that were daily recipes posted to her Instagram, from practical meals using affordable pantry staples like beans, lentils and ramen noodles to a giant cosmopolitan cocktail (made with 2 cups of vodka!) that hilariously tapped into the nationwide mood. “It gave me a focus when we didn’t have one and connected me with people who were really struggling,” she says of her posts. “I think people liked that I kept it upbeat, even though we were all anxious.”

In her latest cookbook, Modern Comfort Food, on shelves Oct. 6, Garten continues to put fans at ease with classic dishes given a new twist, like her smashed burgers with caramelized onions. “I think what makes comfort food is a remembered flavor, and then I update it by adding more intense flavors,” she says. “During times of stress, there’s just something about a hamburger and a Coke that makes us feel better.”

Get her foolproof recipe for smashed burgers with caramelized onions from the new book below!


Smashed Burgers With Caramelized Onions

3½ Tbsp. canola or grape-seed oil, divided

4 cups (¼-in.-thick) sliced red onions (from 2 onions)

1 tsp. granulated sugar

1 Tbsp. good red wine vinegar

1½ tsp. dry mustard powder (such as Colman’s)

1½ tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1¼ lbs. ground beef with 20% fat

4 oz. Gruyère cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)

4 sandwich potato rolls

Ketchup, for serving

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium. Add onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and starting to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add sugar; reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are browned and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Add vinegar, and cook 30 seconds to deglaze the pan.

2. Stir together dry mustard powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Place ground beef in a medium bowl, and sprinkle with dry mustard mixture. With your fingers, lightly work the mixture into beef, and shape into 4 (1-inch-thick) patties. Place patties on a plate, and freeze exactly 15 minutes.

3. Heat a large (12-inch) cast-iron skillet over medium high, and add remaining 1½ tablespoons oil. From the freezer, place burgers directly into hot skillet. With a large metal spatula, firmly press each burger into skillet. Cook burgers 2 ½ to 3 minutes, without disturbing, so bottoms get browned and crusty. Flip burgers; top evenly with onions, and then sprinkle evenly with Gruyère. Place a lid on skillet, and cook burgers until cheese is melted and burgers are medium-rare, 1½ to 2 minutes. Place 1 burger on each roll, and serve hot with ketchup on the side.

Serves: 4

Active time: 25 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes