Tag Archives: inspiration

Ending One Chapter, Starting Another

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Recently (finally), I graduated from culinary school.  It’s amazing! My love of cooking has definitely taken me down a path I could not have predicted.  Of course the obvious (and often asked) question is: “what’s next?”

In short, to cook. As much as possible and as for as many people as possible.  I’m not a simple girl by any means, but my desires are pretty straightforward.

“So how was culinary school?” Well, that’s the question I get second–most often, tied with “what do you like to cook?” Just to get the latter out of the way, I like to cook anything and everything.  Explaining school is a little more lengthy of an answer.

my first day of culinary school

The first year seemed long, with classes covering the basics and lots of academic classes.  Everyone was feeling each other out and sizing up the competition; cooking will always be known as a competitive field, but some are comparing themselves to others while others only compete with themselves.  It can be an interesting mental game; definitely easy to get caught up in everything or anything that is going on around you.  It was here I learned my first lesson: the only person I should be worrying about doing better than is the person I was yesterday.  Cooking is self improvement; there is nothing more satisfying than creating something beautiful that you can eat.  I learned that it is so important not to lose sight of why I cook: to bring others joy, and hopefully (in the words of Daenerys Targaryen) “to leave the world better than when we found it. ”

I’m with her.

Things really changed for me during my summer externship. I was working in fine dining, and really learning how far I could push myself.  I learned how to taste for specific flavors and find balance in food; I was also exposed to new restaurants and the lifestyle of a cook in the big city. I learned my second lesson during this time: No cook was made in a day. Every day I tried to perfect my knife cuts, to work faster, season better, to anticipate what was needed of me. I couldn’t see much change on the day-to-day basis, but when it was all over, I couldn’t believe how much I had learned and grew in such a short period.  While I was exhausted at the end of it, I was more dedicated than ever to learning as much as I could about my craft.

Then our second year started, and I swear, I blinked my eyes and graduation time was almost upon me. Classes changed every three weeks, the academic classes dried up, and all of a sudden it was game time: cooking every day, cooking in the restaurants on campus for the public, and learning the more advanced principals the school had to offer.  I was working two jobs, going to school, and visiting my friends almost every weekend in Boston.  It all moved by so quickly, and I wish I could have paused it, especially at certain moments, to examine each second of my life with more understanding.  But that’s impossible, so I still had to learn the hardest lesson of all; one I am still struggling with  and I think most people do: Life moves by fast.  Focus on what is important to you and try not to let the rest enter your mind.  Stress is the most common emotion that eats at  me, and I had a lot of it during school.  It wasn’t always pretty, but I got through it all, with jobs intact, all my fingers, and friends that would still talk to me.  Best of all I got another diploma to hang on my wall, a psyical product of my achievement, to give me strength when mine own is faltering.

Graduation day- feeling very accompllished

Graduation day- feeling very accomplished

I left my life in Boston to come home to New York and pursue a dream of mine– a hobby that developed into a passion with became my life’s work, and I never looked back.  I was inspired along the way– by friends and family who supported me, my teachers and chefs who guided me, my fellow culinary students that worked with me, fought with me, and ultimately made me stronger– thank you all. My future scares me, but in a good way.  I hope those around me are hungry– I know I sure am.

-L

 

My Top 10 in New York City

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This summer, differing from my normal intentions of plenty of beach time and music, I spent my summer working hard during an internship, a taste of what my life is to become in the coming years post culinary school. I was lucky enough to land an internship at Gramercy Tavern, a New York institution as far as classic American fare is concerned. I was incredibly lucky to work there, and learned an incredible amount and was inspired every day, something for which I am very grateful.

I used my time in New York as wisely as I could, and tried to eat out as much and as often as I could, so I could get a feel for what the scene is like in New York.  I complied this list out of the places I’ve eaten in New York- my favorite 10- as a suggestion for those looking for places to eat during the colder and slower winter season, or even to save for the (thankfully) upcoming spring season. There are some standby spots and some newer places, so try and enjoy!

Any thoughts on those places? Suggestions for other places I MUST try?? I am SO willing to hear all about it in the comments.

 

Riverpark

Tom Colicchio’s East River hub has stellar views- and incredible food to boot. It was seasonal, fresh, and eclectic;  I loved the Burrata with tomatoes (classic, I know, but still delicious).  I had my first experience trying corn ice cream here, and throughly enjoyed it.  I can see what all the hype was about last summer (and probably this one as well).  Riverpark is also home to one of the smallest but most adorable farms, or outdoor large gardens– which supplements the restaurant.  Talk about local, and definitely a feat in any city, but especially New York City.

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450 E. 29th street

(212) 729-9790

 

 Upland

California–Inspired and incredibly chic, Upland has dishes with bold flavors inspired by the seasons. The decor is awesome, I spotted a few celebs while at the bar (if you’re into that sorta thing), but it still felt causal enough that I could roll through in jeans. The Beef tartare is a must, as well as the crispy duck wings. The pasta estrella was to die for, with chicken livers and sherry.

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345 Park Ave South

(212) 686-1006

 

Buvette

Probably the most adorable place I’ve eaten at in New York.  A tiny hole in the wall, food is prepared and served right at the counter, and menus are printed daily on small little booklets.  An outdoor patio also is available when the season is right, but watching the bustle behind the counter and their incredible practice of putting together dishes right in front of you was a treat.  A little slice of Paris in the big city; the sister restaurant is actually located in the city of lights (or romance? Not sure what the kids are calling Paris these days).  The menu is simple, homey French, done very well. Brunch is sublime. The wine, of course, is French and excellent.

Breakfast done right at Buvette

Breakfast done right at Buvette

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42 Grove Street

 

Virginia’s

Cozy and upscale, the food was so good here my group ordered the menu twice.  Although the menu has changed since I’ve been, their attention to detail and flavor profiles would get me in the door again.  Try the toast, which changes frequently but was a memorable moment when I went.

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647 East 11th street

(212) 658-0182

 

Burke & Wills

Australian themed restaurant in New York, which is awesome, as I’ve had a little obsession with Australia since visiting last summer.  Housed in an absolutely gorgeous space with windowed roof, intimate feeling and lovely decor that harkens of Australia, the food was awesome as well.  The kangaroo loin was delicious, as was the roo burger.  Opt for the cheese plate to finish, then head upstairs to their private cocktail bar with one of the most knowledgeable barkeeps in Manhattan.

Octopus and Kangaroo at Burke and Wills

Octopus and Kangaroo at Burke and Wills

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226  West 79th Street

(646) 823-9251

 

Momofuku Noodle Bar

The ultimate in tasty, David Chang’s ode to ramen is always busy for a reason.  They don’t take reservations, but if you can grab a seat, try the steamed buns with various fillings and don’t skip the Momofuku Ramen, in all of its porky glory. My only regret was not trying their fried chicken, which needs an advance order of at least 48 hours.  Now I know.

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171 1st Avenue

(212) 777-7773

 

Root +Bone

Tasty southern fare done right, by two Top Chef alums.  Adorable decor. The biscuits are wonderful, as are the dishes that come to mind when you think of southern food: the shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, and strawberry shortcake are all incredible choices. Comfort food at its best.

Incredible biscuits and the grilled peach salad at Root and Bone

Incredible biscuits and the grilled peach salad at Root and Bone

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200 East 3rd Street

(646) 682-7076

The Finch

This newcomer is the brainchild of Gabe McMackin, an alum of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Gramercy Tavern.  Although being open for less than a year at the time, the spot won their first Michelin star last year, quite a feat for any well-known establishment, but a testament to the incredible food being pumped out of the open kitchen.  The atmosphere is open and beautiful, and the food is thoughtful yet innovative.  Smoked egg yolks, a component of one of their summer dishes last year, are an incredible thing, and introduced to be at this establishment.  It is always refreshing to see avant-garde cooking styles, flavors, and techniques, while still maintaining the natural beauty of the ingredients. A must see for any New Yorker, and especially those in Brooklyn looking for a new and invigorating spot.

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smoked egg yolk, puree of “green things”, and pasta

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212 Greene Avenue

(718) 218-4444

Mialino

What an incredible restaurant.  If you enjoy pasta and Italian cuisine (and who doesn’t?) then this is the place for you.  But I wouldn’t expect Chicken Parmesan.  Mialino does beautiful rustic Italian, what I imagine people in Italy actually eat.  They are inspired by classic Roman cuisine, and claim to be a “modern trattoria.” While I’m not sure if this is the case, I can be sure of the food.  A truly incredible meal, I had cheeses, cured meats, tomato salad and grape bruchetta, and of course pasta.  homemade and beautiful, this is how I want every pasta meal to be.  Malfatti with duck ragu was to die for, as well as garganelli with a tomato and olive sauce.  I would highly recommend this spot to anyone looking for an incredible environment and even better food.

Incredible pasta and, salads, and cured meats

Incredible pasta, salads, and cured meats

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2 Lexington Avenue

Inside Gramercy Park Hotel

(212) 777-2410

Gramercy Tavern

I will always love this place.  There is a reason why this restaurant has been a New York institution for over 20 years.  Having worked there (more on that later), I can say that every person in the kitchen– from the Chefs to the prep cooks– cares about the integrity of ingredients.  It is inspiring as a young chef to be exposed to such talent, and it is clear on the plate, whether of not you have culinary experience. I included so many photos because I couldn’t choose which was my favorite– this place was responsible for one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.  House–cured meats, homemade pastas, and beautifully composed salads are just a taste of what is going on there.  The menu is constantly changing due to seasonality, so these photos are out of date, but the attention to detail in not only the flavors but the presentation will remain the same.  While it is pricey, sometimes it is understandable to spend a great deal if you are receiving an incredible experience.  Sit in the tavern if you cannot make a reservation or would like a more relaxed experience, or sit in the dining room for more special occasions.  Either way, make your way here and prepare to be blown away.

One of the best meals in recent memory

One of the best meals in recent memory

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42 E 20th Street

(212) 477-0777

Seven Days in Sydney

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A few weeks ago, I landed from a week long trip in Sydney, Australia.  I’ve been peeling from the intense sun and desperate to go back ever since.  It was a whirlwind trip, one that included all the major sights of the city, plus some underground spots and local watering holes introduced to me by those living in Sydney. Classic combo.

So where do I begin? I guess at day one…

I landed in Sydney on Christmas morning.  A lovely and new way to spend the holiday. Christmas can make me a bit awkward, as I’m not always sure (or financially stable enough) about giving the best gifts.  I decided to avoid all that this year.  As soon as I got to Sydney, my friend, whom I was visiting and staying with, wanted to start the day by heading to the beach.  I was not opposed, especially coming from the frigid tundra that is New York right now into mid–summer a world away.

Kinda Hard to say no to this.

Kinda hard to say no to this.

After I was sufficiently thawed out, we headed to dinner at the home of another expat, a coworker of my friend Sierra (of Magic Bar fame), who now lives and works in Sydney. There was quite a spread at dinner, so much food we stuffed ourselves and barely scratched the surface of the amount of food. The most memorable was the cheese plate by far, however. There was baked Camembert, a veiny blue, a sharp cheddar, Brie, and all the fixings. I have never seen a cheese plate this intense outside of a restaurant.

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After rolling ourselves to bed, Sierra and I spent my second day in another beach in Darling Harbour, a quaint and lovely beachside part of Sydney.

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That evening I tried a duck taco with hoisin sauce and a scallion pancake in place of a traditional taco shell. I had come to Sydney with no expectations of food, but after only a few days of sampling the local fare I knew I would have no problem exploring the local food scene.

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On the third day we ate at a small cafe called Ampersand, which was a bookstore and library in addition to being a cafe. I had an incredibly filling breakfast wrap with poached eggs, thick cut bacon, and arugula (or rocket, as it’s called in Oz).

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We walked along the beaches in the afternoon, covering about five miles, with beautiful views of various beaches along the coast and beautiful cliffs where you can see how the sea has beat away at the rock over the course of time.

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That night, I spent a few hours in the kitchen at Gazebo, a Mod Oz cuisine restaurant in the Kings Cross neighborhood of Sydney. The opportunity was favor to me by my host, who is a bartender at the same establishment. After learning a few things about gastronomy, we had a chance to sample the food. I thought I was full the first night I got to Australia. I didn’t know what full was. Each dish was beautiful, well executed, and the flavors were thoughtful and complex. It was inspiring, and reaffirmed my love for gorgeous fine dining food.

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I explored the city the next day, hitting all the touristy spots, and of course, the beautiful opera house and harbor.

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My final days in Australia were spent seeing some things native to Australia. We headed to the Sydney Zoo where we saw koalas and kangaroos hanging out like it was no big thing.

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I also got very close to a giraffe and giggled like a schoolgirl. Generally we monkeyed around the zoo for a few hours (dad jokes are my specialty ).

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After we saw all the animals, we hung out at a small little cove beach that Sierra knew about. It was quiet and the water was clear, so I was happy.

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On my penultimate day, we headed to the Blue Mountains of Australia. This was probably my favorite day in Australia. A two hour drive outside the city took us to paradise in the mountains. Gorgeous views, waterfalls, and a blue haze over the mountains as far as the eye can see. Apparently the blue haze is from evaporating eucalyptus oil. Hiking the area was a nice escape from the city, and the view was far from boring.

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When we got back into the city that night, Sierra took me to Eau De Vie, and incredible cocktail bar in the city. I’ve never seen a place like this. They were using liquid nitrogen to freeze the whip cream that topped their espresso martinis:

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Then there was this. This cocktail had a portion that was cooled with liquid nitrogen and placed on a wooden board. The board, which was quite long, was lit on the other side to burning, and the glass was turned upside down over the smoke to capture the aroma and flavor of the cool liquid on the other side of the board. If you’re ever in Sydney, go here. It was an experience just to watch them make the drinks.

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The drinks, of course, were divine. Sierra had a dark rum drink topped with a sugar cone, and I had a strawberry gin concoction that I had to pace myself to enjoy. It was incredible.

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My final full day in Sydney was spent where I began: the beach. I enjoyed a kangaroo burger overlooking Bondi beach and strolled in the city in the afternoon. That night, we watched the fireworks to celebrate the new year off the harbor and toasted to a week well spent.

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This trip was lovely. Some warmth and time spent with a very close friend in a world away is another experience to check off my bucket list. While I’ll be living extra frugally to counter my lavish trip, it was worth it. Adventure and memories trump saving a few dollars every time.
-L

My Stage at Menton

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I’ve been gone a week, I know. It’s been a crazy week guys. I’ve been looking to get another cooking job and was lucky enough to find out that Menton, one of Boston’s best restaurants, is looking for a line cook. The restaurant is fine-dining french, and the Chef de Cuisine is Kristen Kish, who won Top Chef last year. She’s crazy talented and focused, and runs a smooth kitchen. Talk about intimidating. I’d love to be in her shoes someday.

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Dream big, right? I said what the hell and applied.
So here’s the crazy part: Kish emails me back the next day and asks me to come in for a stage (pronounced stAgsh, like a fancy person would say). A stage is kinda like an interview, where you come in and work in the kitchen for a day or two and see if you’d be a good fit. It’s like a scary interview. You can talk yourself up all you want, but if the proof isn’t in the pudding, the potential employer will know before they ever hire you. Pressure is on.

I’m going to tell y’all up front: after being invited back for a second stage, I didn’t get the gig. It was my first stage ever, guys, and I’ve only been cooking professionally for 5 months. It was an honor enough to be called back for a second stage, one I was told was shared with very few people who have tried out for the job. The passion is there, but I need to fine-tune my skills a bit. I was a touch disappointed, but more happy that is experience even happened. I learned more than I thought I could in two days, got to meet chefs with some serious talent, got to meet one of my idols, and had some amazing food. Not a bad consolation prize, I think.

So lets talk about that.
Ms. Kish was so incredibly nice. I thought she would be scary, but she acted just like she did on TV, down to earth, sweet, and soft-spoken. Shes not afraid to speak her mind, though. She commands respect from her staff in a way I’ve never seen before. When she calls an order during service, the kitchen stops while she reads the order, then everyone says “oui chef” in unison before getting back to work. It was awesome.
Have I said anything about the kitchen yet? It was incredible. So clean and well organized and beautiful.

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The day begins with the chefs prepping the food for the evening in the downstairs kitchen, which is huge and shares the space with two other restaurants (all three are owned by chef Barbara Lynch, Kish’s mentor). During the day, two meetings are had with the entire back of house staff, to make sure everyone is doing okay with their stations and provide feedback.
When it’s time for service, everything runs smooth. It’s hard to describe everything, but it was kinda like watching a music show. When everything works well together, it’s beautiful. Each station makes their separate components, then Kish plates everything with a pair of tweezers. It was nuts. It also really inspired me and reaffirmed that this is the career I want. I don’t get this awe-struck over just anything, ya know.
I also got to try the food, which was worth it in it’s own. Every dish was beautiful, and incredibly tasty. By the way, by “try” the food I mean she gave me and another stage I was working with each a six-course tasting menu. It was unreal. I’m still dreaming about this food. Still.

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We started with a plate of canapés. Tartare, pumpkin-filled puffs, and carrot macarons were on the menu.

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Then we moved on to a raw hamachi dish with blood orange vinaigrette, frisée and fried scallions, and a beet salad with beef younger and Yorkshire pudding.

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Then I had the red snapper with roasted cauliflower, grapes, and lobster. One of my favorites. The sear on that snapper will stay on my mind for years.

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Then we moved on to the foie gras with enoki mushrooms. Probably my favorite of the night. So rich and decedent, and the mushrooms were perfect.

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THEN (yes, there’s more) We shared the rabbit dish with mustard sauce and cabbage and the buffalo short rib with a consume, which is a broth packed with flavor. Oh. Man. Both so incredible, the flavor combinations and richness. I could taste everything but together, it all sang.

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Finally, we finished with dessert. Tiny banana bread cakes with brown butter popcorn and espresso foam. By this time I didn’t know if I could hold it all in and help clean the kitchen with the rest of the staff. I somehow managed to pull it together.

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After the kitchen was closed and the last customer had left, Kish had a final meeting with her staff. It was incredible to watch how in tune everyone was, and how they really worked as a team. The whole experience really gave me something to strive for, and the people I met were awesome. I guess this post is more like a long thank you letter to that experience. I feel, now more than ever, that this is my calling in life. Now, time to make my dreams happen!
-L

Welcome 2014!

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It’s been a while, guys. It’s been a crazy new year.  I hope it’s been awesome for everyone, and I’m back now, and have plenty more food–related fun to share.

For New Years, The Russian and I traveled to Maine for some serious R&R.  We rented a small cabin in the middle of nowhere..

Pictured here.

Pictured here.

(middle of nowhere pictured here)

(middle of nowhere pictured here)

..and enjoyed the sounds of the crackling fire.

Pictured here.

Pictured here.

The cabin we stayed at (thanks, Airbnb!) was on the property of a farm, and I was able to buy farm fresh meats, eggs, and maple syrup.

CRW_7752It was incredible, as I have never had farm fresh products like this before.  I needed to make something simple to showcase the beautiful meat, so I decided to make some tasty pork burgers. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

Ground pork [$5]

Buns [$3]

Cole Slaw mix [$2]

Milk [$1.50]

Mayo [$2]

Apples [.50 cents]

BBQ sauce [$3]

Directions:

Form the pork into patties and season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  I put the patties in a pan with some leftover compound butter I had made the night before, so there was a lemony flavor and some parsley on the patties.  I also threw some garlic cloves in the pan also to just lend some flavor to the meat. These items are not necessary, but they add some flavor.

It really makes a difference, folks.

It really makes a difference, folks.

While the patties are cooking (they take about 5 or 6 minutes per side for a 1/2 lb patty), I made some simple cole slaw by taking about a 1/4 cup each of mayo and milk and a dash of vinegar and whisking it with the mix and some julienned apple.

To make the burgers, I topped each with some BBQ sauce and some of the slaw. The crunch of the slaw with the juicy burger is a good flavor combo, and the BBQ adds just enough smokiness.

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Sorry this isn’t the best picture, but you get the idea.

-L

 

Hiking Day and Roasted Chicken

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CRW_7608Right before it got to frigid to even think about going outside, The Russian and I went for a hike at Noanet peak in Dover. You can see all the way to Boston from the top of the peak, and the climb is beautiful.

It's there, in the background.

It’s there, in the background.

It was nice to get out of the city, even for a few hours, and enjoy nature. I also got to flex my photography skills, as I studied photography in my youth.

I tried to get artsy and stuff.

I tried to get artsy and stuff.

Even puppy had a good time, maybe even too much of a good time once he found the mud.

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When we got to the top of the peak, we had some steak sandwiches I made, and I’ll post the recipe tomorrow.

They were delicious.

They were delicious.

When we got home, however, I made some easy roasted chicken to end the day. The simple chicken with gravy, potatoes and green beans was the perfect end to a really relaxing day, and it’s easy enough to make any night.

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Ingredients:

Chicken breasts [$4]

1 bag potatoes [$2]

green beans [$3]

chicken stock [$2]

chicken gravy mix [$1]

Any spices or garlic that you have on hand

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400.

Salt and pepper the chicken, then place in a roasting pan with chicken stock (about half a cup), white wine if you have any, a squeeze of lemon juice, rosemary and thyme sprigs (if you have any), garlic, and butter. Roast for about 40 minutes or until juicy and cooked through.

For the potatoes, chop and add olive oil, rosemary, garlic powder, and any other spices you would like like red pepper flake, etc. Roast for about 40 minutes as well.

To make flavorful gravy, follow the package instructions but I like to use the broth the chicken has cooked in after I take it out of the oven instead of water. Strain the broth to take out any solids before serving for a nice, smooth gravy. The roasted stock with the garlic and rosemary and thyme adds a great flavor that pairs perfectly with the chicken.

For the green beans, I just sauteed them in oil with sliced garlic, salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Make this easy dinner any weeknight and enjoy!

-L

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An Ode to a Happy Life

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Guys, just wanted to write a quick blog post introducing my newest pet, Ser Barristan Selmy (named after the Game of Thrones character).  He’s a seven month old puppy that just fell into The Russian and my hands.

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The Russian and I are very happy (though not very rested) new parents to the pooch, who is joining Ajax into our family.

ajax2The hedgehog is obviously very nervous about his new younger brother, but I have no doubt they will be fast friends.  I also am so excited about my new job as a line cook at The Regal Beagle, and I am finally starting to feel a little more comfortable there.  Only time will tell if I can make it there.

So where’s the food today? Well, it’s not here.  While my life does revolve a lot around food my life isn’t totally about food. I have a wonderful family, and I just wanted to share.  Without family and friends, cooking would not be as fun for me. Cooking is love to me, and there is nothing better than sharing that love with those you love (that’s a lot of love). It’s always good to keep that in mind and then it can be easy to live a healthy life. Happy cooking!

-L