a balanced plate with room for dessert


Couscous Salad

It’s recipe swap time again! This month’s theme was Summer Salads and I got a couscous salad recipe from Nicole over at Cookies on Friday.

I was super excited to get this recipe because I love couscous. Specifically, pearl couscous. There’s just something really amusing about the shape and size of it to me. Unfortunately, the only place that I could find it before was at Trader Joe’s two hours away from home. Whenever I was in Madison, I would stock up on couscous.

Now, Trader Joe’s is a lovely 20 minute drive across town for me. I no longer have to be that crazy lady in the checkout line with 8 boxes of couscous in my arms.

If you can’t find pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous) you can use normal couscous instead! Nicole also noted that you can use whatever combination of mayonnaise and yogurt that you would like. I opted to use less mayo and subbed in a Greek yogurt instead of using a plain yogurt or sour cream, but feel free to use what you have on hand!

Couscous Salad |

Couscous Salad
recipe adapted from Cookies on Friday via All Recipes

1/4 cup low fat mayonnaise
3/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
2 teaspoon ground cumin
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/3 cups pearl couscous
1 3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup toasted and sliced almonds
1 – 15 ounce can garbanzo beans/chickpeas, drained and rinsed

  1. To prepare the dressing: combine the mayonnaise, yogurt, cumin, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add couscous and cook until lightly browned, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Slowly add in the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cover. Let simmer for 12 minutes or until liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat.
  3. In a large bowl, combine couscous, onion, bell pepper, parsley, raisins, almonds, and chickpeas. Toss to combine. Stir in dressing until evenly incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Thanks to Taste of Home Cooking for organizing! Make sure to check out the other recipe swap posts!




Hot Italian Sausage & Pepper Hash

It finally feels like summer to me. I’m taking a week off work  to explore some great things out west with my family. Mike, my dad, step-mom, brother and I are trekking out there to do some serious exploring.

trip out west

We’re doing a little bit of everything, from Vegas to Grand Canyon North & South Rim, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon with a bunch of stuff in between. I’m super excited since it’s going to be my first time ’round those parts 🙂

Downside(s)? The heat. I melt in the Wisconsin summer. I will surely die in the heat of Vegas (100°F? Why does this temperature even exist?) and surrounding areas. I’m also a little worried about my workouts. I’m bringing my running gear and I bought a travel yoga mat to help me stay on track. My plan is to run 3 times and do yoga 3 times while we’re out there. My regular routine, essentially. Hopefully I can stick to it!

We’re leaving for the airport in a few short hours and I still have a huge list of things to finish up (like the apple crisp in the oven). I’m running off to do some last minute packing now, but I’ll leave you with a super simple and super delicious recipe – enjoy!

Hot Italian Sausage & Pepper Hash |

Hot Italian Sausage and Pepper Hash 

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large onions, quartered and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-19 ounce package hot Italian sausage links, casings removed
3 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
10 mini bell peppers or 3 large bell peppers, sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
6 large eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook onions, stirring frequently, until caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add in garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, place sausage in a medium pan over medium-high heat and brown, chopping up links into crumbles with a wooden spoon or a spatula. Cook until browned and drain off excess fat.
  4. Stir sausage into onions and add in potatoes. Season with salt and pepper  to taste. Cook for 10 minutes. Pour potatoes and sausage mixture into a large baking sheet and sprinkle sliced peppers on top. Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through.
  5. In the last few minutes of baking, heat olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Cook eggs until desired doneness is reached. Scoop hash into bowls and top with an egg. Serve immediately.

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Sweet & Sour Meatballs with Peppers

There are some days where I just don’t have the time (or energy) to cook an elaborate meal. I’ve come to love quick, easy dinners that I can throw together in a half hour.

There are some sweet & sour meatball recipes that use only 3 ingredients: frozen meatballs, grape jelly, and chili sauce. I couldn’t even bring myself to consider making it. Instead, I opted to make meatballs from scratch (easy!) and sauce from scratch (easier!). Sure, it took a little longer to whip together than the 3 ingredient meatballs, but it’s well worth it to me! The meatballs are super tender and I love the sauce. I also love the fact that I can pour a healthy dose of Sriracha on top.

The only part that beats the fact that it is so simple to make is that this made a LOT of food. That means that Mike and I were able to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a couple days 😉 If you’re cooking for a small group, you may want to cut the recipe in half.

Sweet & Sour Meatballs |

Sweet & Sour Meatballs with Peppers
adapted from All Recipes

for the meatballs:
2 pounds 90% lean ground beef
2 eggs
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped or grated onion
1-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

for the sauce:
2 – 20 ounce cans pineapple chunks, drained and juice reserved
1 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
1 large onion, chopped
2 red or yellow bell peppers, sliced

white or brown rice, for serving

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. To make the meatballs: combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix by hand until just combined, being careful not to overmix. Shape into 1 – 1 1/2 inch balls and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Pour reserved pineapple juice into a large pot over medium heat. Whisk in water, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, corn starch, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened.
  4. Stir in pineapple chunks, onion, bell peppers, and meatballs into the sauce. Gently stir to combine and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through.
  5. Serve immediately with rice.

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Baked Beef and Bean Burritos with Creamy Poblano Sauce

baked beef & bean burritos with creamy poblano sauce |

I love burritos. I especially love the as-big-as-your-face abominations from Qdoba and Chipotle. If I spend a day with my college friends, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find us at either a Qdoba or Chipotle at some point during the day. After all, we can’t live on beer and whiskey alone. But apparently beer, whiskey, and burritos = well rounded diet.

Some habits die hard. It’s been 3 years since we graduated, but our drinking and eating patterns during our weekends together are essentially the same. The only difference is now instead of drinking Milwaukee’s Best Light, we drink something a little classier like Miller High Life ;).

Anyway, back to the burritos. Up until now, I’ve never had a baked burrito. Baking these until they developed a perfectly crunchy outside brought the burrito to a whole new level. I ate one and died of happiness. So I ate another. I instantly regretted it, but it was just so… good. So learn from my mistake – eat only one. They are very, very filling.

baked beef & bean burritos with creamy poblano sauce |

Beef and Bean Baked Burritos with Creamy Poblano Sauce
adapted from Elly Says Opa

for the burritos:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, diced
1 pound 93% lean ground beef
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn kernels
1/4 cup beef broth
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 1/4 teaspoon Mexican chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
8 large whole wheat tortillas
olive oil cooking spray

for the creamy poblano sauce:
1 poblano pepper, roasted and chopped (see step 2)
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper, to taste
3/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. To roast the poblano for the sauce: place inside a medium baking dish. Bake in preheated oven and turn every 6 – 8 minutes until skin is blistered on all sides, about 25 minutes total. Place in a clean kitchen towel and wrap up. Let cool slightly and rub the skin off the pepper with the towel. Remove the stem, seeds, and ribs.
  3. To make the burritos: heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until they begin to soften, about 3 – 5 minutes. Add in ground beef and cook and stir to break up the meat. Cook until well browned. Add in garlic and tomato paste and stir well to combine.
  4. Add in black beans, beef broth, cumin , oregano, chili powder, cayenne, brown sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  5. To assemble the burritos: place 2 – 4 tablespoons of cheese at the end of a tortilla and spoon in some of the beef mixture over the cheese. Fold the left and right sides of the tortilla in and then roll the tortilla up, starting from the end closest to you. Place seam-side down on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Spray tops of burritos with cooking spray. Bake in preheated oven until lightly browned and crispy, about 25 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, make the sauce: melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in chopped roasted poblano and jalapenos. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to combine. Cook, stirring frequently, until flour is lightly browned, about 1 – 2 minutes. Whisk in chicken broth, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Let cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in Greek yogurt and cilantro. Serve over baked burritos.


Zha Jiang Mien

I’m not really sure what happened. I grew up living, breathing, speaking, and eating Chinese. Now here I am at 25, barely able to string together a sentence in Mandarin. My Chinese cooking is even more pathetic. I’ve tried countless times to watch and learn from my mom. The Wonder Woman who can throw together 6 dishes with ease, and in under an hour, too. It’s impressive (and kind of scary).

Unfortunately for me, she seems to invent most of her recipes or just has them stored in the depths of her brain. I tried to recreate a dish that I grew up with, zha jian mien, a sort of Chinese bolognese. This is my take on the classic Chinese dish. I’m not sure it even tastes close to what it’s supposed to, but Mike and I enjoyed it very much!

zha jiang mien

Zha Jiang Mein (Chinese Bolognese)

1 pound Chinese noodles (I used Shan Dong noodles)
1 pound ground pork
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon hot soybean paste
2 tablespoons black bean sauce
1 pound extra firm or baked tofu, cubed
1 cup frozen peas
1 medium seedless cucumber, julienned
Black vinegar or rice wine vinegar, optional

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. 
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook for 3 – 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent and pork is cooked through.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and add in hoisin sauce, soy sauce, black bean sauce, and soybean paste. Stir until well combined.
  4. Gently mix in tofu and frozen peas. Cook until heated through, stirring frequently.
  5. Portion out 1 1/2 cups of noodles into bowls and top with 1/2 cup of meat sauce. Garnish with cucumber and a splash of vinegar, if desired.


Mushroom & Feta Tart

This was so fun to make! I’m convinced that this is pretty impossible to mess up. After I had assembled the tarts, they looked like the work of a 2 year old. I was a bit horrified and slightly disappointed. I thought I had completely ruined a dish that was filled with delicious, tangy feta and beloved CSA mushrooms.

Then, they miraculously transformed in the oven into beautiful, perfectly puffed tarts. It’s magic, folks.

I did learn a lesson from my past week-ish of cooking – do not bake so many things during the summer! It is hot and uncomfortable, and it will inevitably lead to me being a crank. I’ll keep this important tidbit in mind as I plan out next week’s menu. Mike picks up our second CSA box this afternoon and I can’t wait to get my hands on it to see what goodies we have!

Now, on to the main event – the recipe!

Mushroom & Feta Tart
slightly adapted from Kitchen Wench

1 pound white button mushrooms
6 ounces feta cheese
6 ounces ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2 sheets puff pastry
chopped chives, optional

  1.  Preheat oven to 400°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the feta cheese, ricotta cheese, egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat and add onion and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent and golden.
  4. Add onion and garlic to cheese mixture and stir well to combine.
  5. Lay out one sheet of puff pastry on each baking sheet. Spoon half of the mixture onto each sheet and spread out, leaving a 1 inch border around the edge.
  6. Evenly distribute mushrooms on top of the cheese mixture, then fold the edges up and brush with some olive oil.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed up and golden brown.
  8. Serve warm with a sprinkle of chives on top.


Large Chinese Scallion Pancake

Today’s recipe is for the Blogger’s Choice Recipe Swap I participated in with a handful of wonderful and talented food bloggers. I received Eva Bakes for my blog and after looking through all her recipes, I finally settled on the da bing, or large Chinese scallion pancake.

I’ve had many scallion pancakes over the years, but I’ve never had one this… big. I decided to give it a try and I’m so glad I did! I served this with low sodium soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and a black bean chili sauce.

Large Chinese Scallion Pancake
recipe slightly adapted from Eva Bakes 

2 cups milk
5 cups all purpose flour
1 packet of yeast (not the instant kind)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 bunch of scallions, chopped

  1. Warm the milk in the microwave so that it’s no longer cold. Do not scald or boil the milk.
  2. Add sugar to the milk and stir. Then add the yeast and let it proof for about 5 minutes.  You should see the top get foamy.
  3. Add the milk mixture to the flour and mix until just incorporated. Set it aside and let it rise for about 10 minutes.
  4. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 1 cm thick. Then, using a brush, coat the top of the dough with some oil. Sprinkle the surface with salt and chopped scallions.
  5. Roll, jelly-roll style into a long rope. Coil the rope into a circle and flatten/roll out with a rolling pin. Cover with a damp towel and let the dough rise for another 2 hours. Your da bing should end up being about 10 inches in diameter and at least 1 inch thick.
  6. Lightly oil a large nonstick skillet or pan. On LOW heat (do not turn this to medium or high heat!), slowly pan fry the dough. Once the bottom starts to get crispy and the dough looks done on one side (about 10 minutes later), flip the pancake over and brown the other side. This pan-frying step should take about 20 minutes total – 10 minutes on each side. Remember to go low and slow!
  7. Once done, the top and bottom of the pancake should be crispy and the inside should be fully cooked. Cut into pie-sliced wedges and serve.