Food & Drink

Cooking Like Ina Garten Left Me Exhausted — And Broke

Even if she doesn’t know it, Ina Garten has always been my culinary mentor.

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.

“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.

Step 1: Bake something lovely for breakfast.

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.)

Step 2 Make any one of her perfect chicken recipes.

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.)

Step 3 Simply, whip up a soufflé or a frittata.

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...)

Step 4 Make many floral arrangements (because Ina would never leave a table bare).

Calla Lillies And 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)

Step 5 Assemble something easy for a dinner party.

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.)

Step 6 Shake up some homemade cocktails for your friends!

Aperol Spritzers These spritzers were sublimely refreshing and easy to craft as an aperitif.

Cost: $30

(Note: Alcohol is also expensive.)

Step 7 Roast and toast a nice seasonal veggie brew-sketa.

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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By: Elizabeth Buxton