Make new friends, but keep the old.

I invited some dear friends and former coworkers over this week. These ladies helped me through one of the darkest stages of my career, at a place where we each experienced all manner of hell and persecution. I know that everyone has had an unpleasant job of some sort before — but whatever you’re picturing, quadruple it. To survive the day-to-day, we leaned on each other and cooked, ate, laughed and commiserated together. We all shared a love of food and fellowship, which led to plenty of potluck lunches and flurries of emails and conversations about recipes. I found many of the food blogs I read today through their recommendations: Pioneer Woman, David Leibovitz, Brown Eyed Baker, Smitten Kitchen, Orangette. Even though we don’t see each other every day anymore, like soldiers who fight on the battlefield, I will be bonded to these women for life.

It’s been several months since we had quality time together, so everyone came to my home to catch up with wine, heavy hors d’oeuvres and stories about ridiculous work escapades. Their visit served as a good excuse to pull out a few dishes already in my repertoire but also to experiment with some new ones. For appetizers, it was bruschetta three ways: fig-mozzarella-prosciutto, classic tomato (my good, ole standby) and smashed pea with mint.

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Cooking Spree: Lemon Garlic Chicken with Parsley Rice

It won’t surprise many of you that most of my food inspiration comes from television. I do enjoy a good food blog, and I peruse many a food section in magazines. But nothing captures my attention quite like watching a meal come together in action. Especially when it’s prepared by Ina, Giada, Nigella or Tyler.

If I’m not watching something in particular or if I’m just puttering around the house on the weekend, chances are my TV is on and tuned to the (new-ish) Cooking Channel. It’s the comforting background soundtrack to my life at home. Cooking Channel skews to a bit younger demographic, focuses on organic and artisinal cooking and highlights more global cuisine than its sister channel, the Food Network. I just couldn’t watch one more cupcake challenge, cake decorating competition or “meal” prepared by Sandra Lee. She just opens four cans … that’s not my kind of cooking.

I discovered or was inspired to create many of my favorite recipes — see beef stew or Shepherd’s Pie — from TV cooking shows. And I recently found another winner:  lemon chicken with parsley rice. It’s very nearly a pantry meal, since I had lemons, garlic, frozen chicken and even remnants of a bottle of white wine already on hand. It has also been a nice, light escape from the Italian feast leftovers currently overloading my fridge. Keep reading »