Earthy Couscous Salad

Earthy Couscous Salad

Have you ever watched House Hunters or Fixer Upper or any other house hunting/home renovation show? (Of course you have, let’s be honest.) My favorite thing about these shows, aside from the interior design and my overrated love of shiplap, is the way that these home owners/house hunters walk into this process with a seemingly impossible laundry list of must-haves, and somehow, end up with everything that they wanted.

And yesterday, that’s exactly how I felt about lunch.

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Kielbasa Hash.

Kielbasa Hash.

If you asked me, I’d tell you that we don’t have a dishwasher. If you asked Skyler, he’d point to me and say, “We sure do!” But the fact remains that we are dishwasher-less. While I certainly don’t mind cleaning our dishes by hand, to minimize the daily mess in our kitchen, I’ve recently been seeking out recipes that will allow me to make flavorful meals, while using as few pots and pans as possible.

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Sweet Christmas Treats: Ginger Cookies.

Sweet Christmas Treats: Ginger Cookies.

When I think about Christmas cookies, I think of the magnificent and decorative almond-flavored cookie-press cookies my great-grandmother used to make. Shaped like trees or candy canes, in one color or many, they were tradition. Every Christmas. Cookie-press cookies. It was like clockwork. Admittedly, I’ve tried a few times over the years to recreate her infamous treats, but to no avail. I just can’t seem to mimic her recipe.

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Easy Like A Sunday Morning: Pecan Sandies.

Easy Like A Sunday Morning: Pecan Sandies.

Since we’ve moved into our new home two months ago, we’ve rarely had a moment to sit down and soak in this feeling of being homeowners. Together, we’ve traveled to Philadelphia, Nashville, Maryland and Las Vegas. Separately, we’ve covered 1500 miles across the state of Texas, and some time in State College. We’ve been busy, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, being busy is something I love – I’m happy to see as much of this world as I can. But as someone who is innately and extraordinarily introverted, I need some time to be relaxed and unwind. Some time to be home.

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From the time I was little, I’ve enjoyed being in the kitchen. I remember making cookies in various holiday shapes and dousing them in a sickeningly sweet icing. The first dish I ever really mastered was a simple salmon dinner, and I made it as often as I could. During every family gathering my family has ever held in Maryland, I’ve been recruited to add my special touch to the overflowing pot of mashed potatoes on the stove. Just a few years ago, I made one heck of a blueberry pie, and I still daydream about it sometimes.

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So, when I found myself with a few plan-free hours, and after all of my cookware had finally been unpacked, I headed into the kitchen, armed with a recipe for homemade pecan sandies. (At least Facebook was good for something during this tumultuous and drama-filled election week, right?)

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Ingredients: 2 c. flour / 2 sticks salted butter, room temperature / 1 egg / 1/2 c. sugar / 2 tsp. vanilla / 1 tsp. salt / 1 tsp. baking soda / 1 c. pecans, chopped (plus a few whole to top each cookie)

Directions: Preheat oven to 350˚F, and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. / Mix together sugar, egg, butter and vanilla until creamy. / Separately, combine flour, salt and baking soda. / Slowly add dry ingredients to wet mixture until combined. / Fold chopped pecans into batter. / Scoop dough onto cookie sheet, topping with a whole pecan. / Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden. / Serve immediately with a cup of piping hot coffee. If that’s your thing.

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The Food Diaries: Alaskan Salmon Quinoa Salad.

The Food Diaries: Alaskan Salmon Quinoa Salad.

Yesterday, after a long two weeks enjoying the beautiful landscapes of Alaska by both land and sea, Skyler’s parents returned home from their vacation. They stopped by our new house for a visit, and they came bearing souvenirs. Knowing how much I love to cook, Tena brought me a can of a can of Alaskan salmon. Deep Sea Alaskan Sockeye Red Salmon, to be exact.

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Sockeyes are the second most abundant salmon in Alaska, and are known for their rich flavor and striking red fish. And, as an add perk, they’re perfect for cooking a multitude of ways. Originally, I though salmon cakes. But as the day wore on, I wanted to do something different – something I’ve never had. I wanted to have a little fun. So, I did a little bit of research, found a recipe for inspiration, and picked up a few ingredients at the grocery store. And I was off.

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Ingredients: Quinoa / 1 can of salmon, drained / red onion, diced / 1-2 hot pepper / 4 cups of spinach / lemon, halved / olive oil / salt + pepper

Directions: Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Feel free to use any kind you’d like. This quinoa/brown rice blend looked delicious, so that’s what I grabbed. / Heat olive oil in a pan until hot. Then, add red onion and pepper. Again, use what you’d like. I’m a wuss, so I chose a relatively non-spicy pepper, and I only used half an onion. Saute until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. / Then, add in spinach and cook until wilted. / Add onion, pepper and spinach mixture to the quinoa, and toss to combine. / Add salt and pepper to taste. / Spritz with lemon, and enjoy! Hot or cold – the perfect side dish to any meal!

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Okay, so it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but is sure was delicious! Thanks Tena!

Cantaloupe and Sweet Ricotta Pizza.

Cantaloupe and Sweet Ricotta Pizza.

Labor Day weekend. The inevitable three-day end to summer. It’s a sad adieu to the warm, long days of sunshine and BBQs and happiness, but on the other hand, it’s a welcome entrance to the cool, crisp days of fall, where the evenings are filled with ciders and sweaters and pumpkin-carving and the darkened colors of leaves on the ground. I’m not sure I could really choose which I love more: summer or fall.

Regardless, Labor Day weekend is the last hoorah, a weekend to celebrate the working citizens of America with a day off. Which means picnics. And usually, lots of them. (Unless you’re me this year, who has next to zero plans to leave the house until Tuesday morning when I have to go back to work. Hey, I’ve had an exhausting week. Six flights in five days? Are you kidding?) So, in celebration of Labor Day — even though I’m not even leaving my living room — I decided to make a perfect picnic pizza.

The first time I tasted a pizza made with cantaloupe was a few years ago in DC, when I was out to brunch at this amazing restaurant (whose name I can’t remember). I took my first bite and followed it up with a sip of mimosa, and I looked across the table at John. We immediately agreed that this was a pizza we needed to recreate at home. So, every few months or so since that day, we’ll be in the kitchen, cooking something that isn’t cantaloupe pizza, and we’ll swear that it’s on our list. We promise – we absolutely will make that pizza. Eventually.

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Yesterday morning, I woke up slowly. I made some coffee and hunkered down in the quietness of my empty house. John and his girlfriend are vacationing in Mexico and my other roommates were gone for the day. So I had the house to myself. I love my roommates, I really do, but there is something magical about having the house to myself and being able to do whatever I’d like to do without having to speak to a single soul. (And also, I can walk around without pants on. Win!) So, yesterday morning, coffee in hand, I decided it was finally time. I was going to attempt my hand at making Cantaloupe and Sweet Ricotta Pizza.

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Ingredients: Pizza dough (I made mine from scratch, but feel free to use whatever kind you’d like!) / 1 c. ricotta cheese / 2 tablespoons thick, raw honey (Mine came homegrown from a small family garden in the Lower 9th Ward!) / Sliced cantaloupe / Arugula / Salt / Optional: Prosciutto and pine nuts

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Directions: Spread the pizza dough across a lightly greased sheet. / Combine the honey, ricotta cheese and pinch of salt. / Top the dough with the honey and cheese mixture. / Add arugula and cantaloupe to taste. (And prosciutto and pine nuts if you’d like!) / Bake at 450˚F for 12-15 minutes, or until the crust has cooked through. / Enjoy… with a Labor Day mimosa! 

Mere’s Whole30 Shrimp Zucchini Pasta.

I met Meredith when I was in 7th grade. I was the new kid in town, experiencing public school for the first time. Fast forward 13 years (through high school, college, the beginning of adulthood, and all of the wild adventures in between), and here we are. She’s the kind of friend that I see only a few times a year, but it’s so easy to pick up right where we left off. She’s a fiercely talented woman, and she’s loyal to her core. She’s a bright ray of sunshine on any gloomy day, and I’m so thankful to know her. (Fun fact: She once took to her own blog to celebrate 30 of her friends in 30 days. I was fortunate enough to be one of them, and I reread the words she wrote every time I need a reminder of who it is that I am and want to be.)

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been following Meredith’s Whole30 journey on Instagram. The Whole30 program is essentially a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system by removing sugar, alcohol, grains, most legumes, carrageenan, MSG or sulfites from your diet for 30 days. From the research I’ve done this morning, the concept seems like less of a fad diet and more about healthy living (and eating). So yesterday evening when I saw Mere’s photo of her Whole30 dinner, I asked if she’d write about it. Thankfully – because she totally rocks – she agreed.

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Follow her food-filled Whole30 journey on Instagram @MeredithJanel or #MeresWhole365!


Hey y’all! Meredith here. I’m just a good-time-seeking, adventure-loving foodie, who began this “eat good and good-for-me food” thing a few months ago. That also means I haven’t had wine in over two months, so please forgive me if I seem crankier or more cynical than usual. Wine is my love language, after all.

I live in a small town north of Pittsburgh, and my job doesn’t create much room for consistency. In fact, it creates the opposite of consistency. That’s where Whole30 came in! My first year in role was one of the most chaotic years of my life. I had like 3 friends in town (and one of them was french fries), and trying to get a grasp on paying every institution in the country back for my Bachelors/Masters programs created a less than ideal situation for self care. I finally decided that in a job that I have so little control over, what I cook and what I eat could totally be in my control. It’s changed my life… and not in the same way yoga pants did.

Something important to know about me: Making food for my friends and family is one of my top five favorite things (right under drinking wine, and right above avoiding anything that requires hand-eye coordination). So as I began this take-control-of-my-health thing, taste was a must. A non-negotiable. I’m convinced the best way to get people to eat healthy is to have them try good, fresh, unprocessed foods, and the rest will fall into place.

That’s how this recipe came into play. It’s Shrimp Zucchini Pasta. Due to my unnatural love for Italian food (as I am German and Irish), creating something that even looked like pasta is a gigantic win for me!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 10-12 shrimp
  • 1 zucchini
  • 2 tsp (4 cloves) chopped fresh garlic
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • Optional: Artichoke hearts and mushrooms

Here’s what to do:

  • Get yourself a Zoodle or Veggetti. (I happen to have one of each, because my dear friends celebrate me by buying kitchen gadgets.)
  • Cook the shrimp over medium heat and set aside.
  • Use your Zoodle to create thin pasta strands from your zucchini.
  • Heat your EVOO in a large skillet. Add zucchini noodles, garlic, basil, and any optional, flavorful, Whole30-approved additions you’d like.
  • Cook for about 5-7 minutes, then add your shrimp back in. Toss well.
  • Let everything blend real nice.
  • That’s it! ENJOY!

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Seriously, it only takes about 20 minutes. The longest part of your dinner making will be telling your neighbors they can’t join you once they catch a whiff of its gloriousness (1. Because you wanted to binge watch Breaking Bad tonight; 2. Because you’re gonna eat it all).

With love and olive oil,
Mere J

California Cafe’s Chinese Chicken Salad.

California Cafe’s Chinese Chicken Salad.

Before Carlisle was a cool town littered with foodie-esque restaurants, there was the California Café, a small French restaurant built inside of an old firehouse on Pomfret Street. It was where my mom took me for lunch on days she’d let me play hooky from school, and it’s where my very first boyfriend took me on our very first date. In all the years that I went there to eat, I always got one of two things: one of their decadent, perfectly crusted slices of quiche, or their exorbitantly flavorful Chinese Chicken Salad.

I was so sad the day that my mom told me they were permanently closing their doors in 2011. Would I really never be able to have their quiche or Chinese Chicken Salad again? I know it may seem strange, but it felt as though some of my most wonderful memories would disappear with the restaurant. That’s the thing when you love food: you so closely correlate them to memories and occasions and most importantly, people. You never have one without the other. Most of the time, it’s the best thing about food. But other times, it’s physically heart-wrenching. (As an example, I will spend the rest of my life trying to replicate my great-grandmother’s recipe for her Christmas cookie pressed cookies. If I ever get it right, it’ll be like she was right there with me in the kitchen all along.)

So, when my mom told me she had gotten her hands on the recipe for my favorite salad – the original recipe from the family who passed it along to the owners of the California Café – I felt a sense of relief, and a welcome excitement for all the things I knew it would remind me of.

I’ve had the recipe since May, but it wasn’t until today that I decided to tackle this dish in my own kitchen. Armed with a lengthy list of ingredients, both regular and slightly obscure, I hit the grocery store.

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Ingredients: 1 Package Vermicelli / ½ Cup Shredded Cucumber / 1-2 Cups Cooked + Shredded Chicken / 1 Tablespoon Minced Scallions / Hot & Sour Dressing Ingredients: 4 Tablespoons Chunky Peanut Butter / 2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce / 4 Teaspoons Vinegar / 1 Tablespoon Hot Red Pepper Oil* / 1 Teaspoon Cayenne* / ½ Teaspoon Black Pepper / 1 Teaspoon Sugar / 1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil / 2 Teaspoon Peanut Oil / 1 Teaspoon Minced Fresh Ginger / 1 Tablespoon Minced Scallions / 1 Tablespoon White Wine or Vermouth / 1 Teaspoon Hot Mustard / 1-2 Cups Chicken Broth

*Using these suggested quantities will give you an extraaaaa spicy dish. Adjust according to your taste preference, or enjoy your dinner with a glass of milk to wash out the fire occurring on your taste buds. Can’t say I didn’t warn ya. (I learned the hard way.)

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Directions: Cook the vermicelli according to the directions on the package. / Combine all ingredients necessary for the Hot & Sour Dressing, and cook over low heat. / Marinade the shredded chicken in some of the Hot & Sour Dressing for as long or as little as you’d like. / Layer the vermicelli, shredded cucumber and chicken onto your plate. / Top with Hot & Sour Dressing and minced scallions. / Serve warm or cold – California Café served it cold, I ate it warm – with a cool glass of Riesling. / Enjoy. And then call your mom to reminisce.

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Baked Gnocchi With Basil, Prosciutto & Cream Sauce.

Baked Gnocchi With Basil, Prosciutto & Cream Sauce.

Comfort foods come in all shape and sizes. A hearty beef stew or chili. Meatloaf or your grandma’s classic casserole. But last weekend, I had the good fortune of adding a new meal to the comfort food list: Baked Gnocchi with Basil, Prosciutto & Cream Sauce.

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Ingredients: 3 pounds cooked gnocchi / 2 cups heavy cream / 4 tablespoons butter / Salt + white pepper / 1/4 cup chopped basil / 1/4 pound prosciutto / 1/2 Pecorino Romano cheese / (Other suggested additions: Spinach, peas, bacon, etc.)

Directions: Preheat oven to 350. / Warm cream and butter over medium heat until butter is melted. / Remove from heat, and add salt, pepper, basil and half of the cheese. / Lightly butter a 9×13 pan (or small, individual casserole pans), and add gnocchi. / Chop the prosciutto, and add to the gnocchi. / Pour cream sauce into the pan, and top with remaining cheese. / Bake for 25-30 minutes. / Pair with a crisp Pinot Grigio, and enjoy.

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