Cooking Like Ina Garten Left Me Exhausted — & Broke

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This story was originally published on December 26, 2016.
Even if she doesn't know it, Ina Garten has always been my culinary mentor. As a young adult, living in a big city and working a full-time job, with bills to pay and a mouth to feed (my own), I seem to always find myself in a classic conundrum: My romantic dreams of candlelit dinners and chic get-togethers complete with homemade appetizers tend to outweigh my resources. So when the opportunity to cook like Garten for a week arose at work, I jumped into it with the unrestrained excitement of a puppy.
Ina is elegant, Ina is effortlessly gourmet, Ina has a very cute husband named Jeffrey and two identically shingled houses in the Hamptons with well-stocked kitchens for cooking and gardens for picking. Ina is food goals — and I longed to exude her demure culinary confidence, if only for a mere few days.
But, here's the thing: I love the idea of embodying the culinary essence of Ina Garten — in the same way I love the idea of getting a dog. A dog would have the power to make me feel more adult, established, fulfilled. But in the increasingly harsh light of reality, it turns out that dogs require a lot of work: time, TLC, space, and (perhaps most importantly) money. Because dogs are fucking expensive. And I was worried that this, in turn, is how I would come to feel about the the Barefoot Contessa.
Despite my reservations, I donned a smartly oversized blue button-down, broke out my best small-Brooklyn-apartment "linens" and "china," and got down to menu-planning-and-floral-arranging business. Click through to see what happened as I advanced through the 15 steps of becoming a millennial Ina.
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 1:
Bake something lovely for breakfast.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Raspberry Corn Muffins
Starting off my week with freshly baked corn muffins and the "good" jam felt luxurious and comforting all at once — I highly recommend it as a cure-all for the Sunday scaries.

Cost: $15

(Note: Ina's instructions for "good raspberry preserves" translates to more expensive than my usual Smuckers.)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 2
Make any one of her perfect chicken recipes.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Crispy Mustard Roasted Chicken
The Contessa loves herself some chicken — and so for my first dinner, I did as an Ina-impersonator was born to do and threw together this crispy chicken dish in a lovely dijon sauce.

Cost: $20

(Note: It looks like a hot mess, but tasted simply divine.)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 3
Simply, whip up a soufflé or a frittata.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Potato Basil Frittata
Don't get me wrong, I was thoroughly enjoying my gourmet eats thus far — but Ina fatigue was already beginning to set in. So I opted for a frittata over a soufflé. Because eggs are affordable, and worrying about getting a soufflé to rise while also thinking about the tablescape proved to be untenable.

Cost: $18

(Note: Eggs may be affordable, but fancy cheese is expensive...)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 4
Make many floral arrangements (because Ina would never leave a table bare).
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Calla Lillies & Irises A La Trader Joe's
Flowers are not a necessity — they are a very much a luxury. A luxury that put quite a few holes in my usual weekly grocery budget. Despite the fact that they will not become a regular part of my budget anytime soon, flowers bring little splashes of happiness to small city apartments.

Cost: $20 (Hydrangeas and Snap Dragons were also purchased)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 5
Assemble something easy for a dinner party.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Easy Cheese Platter
Yes, Ina's cheese plater was easy to assemble — but no, no it was not cheap. But because I consider cheese boards both an appetizer AND main course (Ina and I will have to agree to disagree on that one), I had zero qualms about eating the leftovers as brunch the next day.

Cost: $25.91

(Note: See note on Step 3 re: cheese being expensive.)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 6
Shake up some homemade cocktails for your friends!
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Aperol Spritzers
These spritzers were sublimely refreshing and easy to craft as an aperitif.

Cost: $30

(Note: Alcohol is also expensive.)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 7
Roast and toast a nice seasonal veggie brew-sketa.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Butternut Squash & Ricotta Bruschetta
A hearty bruschetta can be dinner in a pinch. This recipe was delightfully easy to make and surprisingly affordable — way more on par with my usual spending. I'm definitely with you on the toast front, Ina.

Cost: $14.75 (for 4-6 servings)

(Note: I paired my bruschetta with Ina's Balsamic-Glazed Brussels Sprouts, and it was fantastic.)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 8
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Maple-Oatmeal Scones
What is the key to flakey scone consistency? Pea-sized bits of very cold butter — incorporated to perfection with a standing mixer. What does my tiny kitchen not have room for? A standing mixer.

Cost: $20

(Note: Breaking cold bits of butter apart with you bare hands is messy AF — but kind of worth it?)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 9
Arrange your white china and old hotel silver.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
My "White China & Old Hotel Silver"
Arranging my fine "china," antique "silver" dishes, and "crystal" was actually quite a therapeutic activity — it left my little kitchen feeling centered and my wallet full(ish).

Cost: $0

(Note: Ina's organization tips are also a good excuse for dusting the otherwise untouched areas of an apartment.)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 10
Make a simple starter unexpected.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Warm Olives
Who knew there could be more to cocktail olives than dumping them from plastic container to bowl and calling it an appetizer? Leave it to Ina to create one of the most addictive food mashups I've tasted to date: salty vinegary olives with brown sugary sweet cinnamon glaze.

Cost: $10

(Note: Although more expensive than my usual jar — warm olives, I can't quit you.)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 11
Make a warm pot pie on a cold evening.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Chicken Pot Pie
Even with my cheating purchase of a frozen TJ's pie crust (sorry Ina, but not everyone has time to make homemade pie crust on a whim), this dish took some major TLC and time. But my low energy be damned, it tasted like the purest form of creamy comfort.

Cost: $20

(Note: $20 might sound like a lot for dinner at home, but these leftovers lasted me for days, and days, and days.)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 12
Bake a batch of cookies for your sweetheart.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Mini Linzer Cookies
I baked a batch of Ina's Linzer cookies for my sweetheart (a.k.a. my roommates) — and they were buttery deliciousness. But again, a crumbly pain in the ass to make in our tiny kitchen with our completely unpredictable oven. Maybe next time Ina will let me come over to her place to bake.

Cost: $0

(Note: Used leftover raspberry jam and baking supplies from corn muffins and scones. The Barefoot Contessa would be proud!)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 13
Use bowls to organize ingredients into kitchen decor.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Kitchen Organization
Ina recommends organizing your cooking materials in advance — and so I did. It was a welcomed, costless, and painless activity.

Cost: $0

(Note: If serving no other purpose, ingredients in bowls is always a nice still life shot.)
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Photo: Via @inagarten.
Step 14
Bake a tart.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Tomato Tart
A tart is so Ina — this one made for a hearty last supper with the addition of some sausage and an arugula side salad with a dash of balsamic and "good" EVOO. Instead of purchasing puffed pastry, I used a leftover TJ's frozen pie crust to pinch some pennies. Deep down, I wondered if just maybe, Ina would've done the same after a long week toiling in the kitchen.

Cost: $18

(Note: I do not enjoy shredding mass amounts of cheese.)
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Step 15
I stood at the end of my journey channeling the Barefoot Contessa, my blue button-down shirt a little more worn for the wear. Although I was even more broke and exhausted than I had been one week prior, I couldn't help but feel a bit wiser.

Just as occasionally dog-sitting for friends can serve as a budget-friendly fix for my currently impractical need for a furry critter — I have come to realize that a little Ina magic every once in a while (even if it means splurging on hydrangeas), can do the same trick.

And so from now on, whenever my romantic food dreams come a-knocking, I will put on my blue button-down, organize my "hotel silvers," and whip up a chicken pot pie. But for my budget's sake, I'm cutting myself off at once a week...max.

Cost: Priceless(ish).
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appearance by Brennan Full ; produced by Jacki Huntington; appearance by Jacki Huntington.
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