recipes and musings from the twenty-something kitchen

Kickin’ Chicken Panini with Cilantro Aioli

kickin chicken panini 1

The Scoop:

Here’s the thing about life changes… big ones… the stressful ones… like moving, starting a new job, etc.  They give people a chance to see, well, a different side of one another.  Sometimes for the best.  Sometimes for the worst.  Good or bad, big changes most definitely teach us a little more about the people we already thought we knew pretty well.  Case in point: my recent move / my spatular and I.

Things he learned about me while helping me move:

  1. I do not handle change well.
  2. I am totally incapable of asking for help.
  3. I can be unreasonable and stubborn.
  4. I can fit more into a day than some people can into a week.
  5. When I’m crying about dinner plans and pedicures, I’m probably not really crying about about dinner plans and pedicures.

Things I learned about him while moving:

  1. He is way better under pressure than I am.
  2. He puts up with my antics surprisingly well.
  3. He gets cranky when he’s hungry [and not like, oh let me eat a granola bar and then I’ll feel better.  We’re talking about needing an actual meal.  Someone get this boy a cheesesteak!].

As I mentioned in last week’s post post about community, I decided to make three copy-cat recipes from my local take out spot.  I already made you my favorite fiesta salad and today I’m posting a play on my spatular’s favorite choice, the Kickin’ Chicken Panini.

The original Kickin Chicken sandwich is actually cold and served on The Couch Tomato’s fabulous homemade bread.  Since I’m not in the business of bread baking, I decided to make my at-home version panini style, which is typically my favorite way to eat a sandwich.

I started with oven roasted chicken breasts leftover from when I roasted a whole chicken this style, but you could also individually roasted or grill them; or even slice the breasts off a grocery store rotisserie bird.  I definitely recommend using white meat on this sandwich, though.  Next it’s all about the toppings which create one incredible flavor profile.  The spicy melted cheese is perfected balanced out by the creamy avocado, and the tomatoes are just so good this time  of year, that how could we not use them.  But the real kicker is this cilantro ailoi.  Its only three ingredients but, whoa, does it ever pack a lot of flavor!  I pulse mine in the food processor just long enough that it blends together, but still leaving big specks of cilantro that incorporate into every single bite.

Basically, what I’m trying to tell you is, this sandwich needs to be in your life.

kickin chicken 3

The Goods:


Cilantro Aioli:

  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise

Sandwiches (makes 2):

  • 4 slices hearty bread [I used sourdough]
  • 1 chicken breast, roasted or grilled, and thickly sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 4 slices pepperjack cheese
  • 1 avocado. sliced
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach
  • 2 Tbs butter or butter substitute


  • Panini Press

kickin chicken 5

The Deets:

To make the aioli, combine the cilantro, pressed garlic, and mayonnaise in a food processor or blender and process until almost smooth.

Start by spreading 1/2 Tbs of butter substitute on each slice of bread.  To assemble each sandwich, start with a slice of bread, butter side down.  Top it with 1 piece of pepper jack cheese, half of the sliced chicken, tomato and avocado slices, 1/4 cup of spinach, another piece of pepper jack cheese, and the remaining slice of bread, butter side up.  Transfer the sandwich to the panini press for 7 minutes or until the outside is crispy and the center is warm and melted.  Serve immediately.

kickin chicken 2

The Inspiration:

This is a panini version of my spatular’s favorite sandwich at my local take out joint.

kickin chicken 4

I might just eat this for breakfast today.



La Fiesta Salad


La Fiesta Salad 1

The Scoop:

Last time I moved, four years ago, I promised myself the next time I did it I would hire movers.

I did not hire movers.

And I regretted every second of it.

Moving week went a little something like this:

Carry lots of furniture.  Have an anxiety attack when my brand new couches barely made it up my stairs.  Sit through two nights of MBA class.  Go to a wedding.  Throw an all day House Cooling Party / Bike Race Brunch [link to last year’s bike race brunch because I forgot to take pictures this year!]. Work, carry things, work, carry things, forget to eat, work, carry things, eat take out, work, carry things.  Discover a zillion mystery bruises on my body from all that said  carrying.  Have a super dramatic meltdown about not having time for a pedicure [except as in the case of most women, the thing I was melting down about wasn’t actually what I was melting down about].  Clean my old apartment.  Carry more things.  Finally get  that pedicure.  Order a ton of sushi and drink copious amounts of wine while packing for vacation.  Leave for vacation with all my stuff in my new apartment, but none of it unpacked.

Oh yea, did I mention at the end of all this I was leaving on vacation?

It’s the one thing that made it all ok!

Well, vacation and the take out food that I survived on all week.

Take out food.  Ohhhh yes, take out food and I became great friends that week.  There are plenty of places to get great take out around  the city, but my neighborhood go-to is definitely The Couch Tomato.  They have tons of great options, but 9 times out of 10 I find myself ordering the La Fiesta Salad, so when I finally got some free time, I decided to re-create it at home!

This salad is basically summer on a plate.  Crunchy romaine gets topped with fresh tomatoes, creamy avocados, roasted chicken, shredded cheese and that to-die-for mango salsa that we made last week.  The quick and simple ‘homemade’ chipotle ranch dressing just happens to be the perfect accompaniment to give the salad just a little extra kick.  Although I never plan to stop ordering this salad from Couch Tomato, I’m super psyched to have mastered the at-home version as well!

La Fiesta Salad 2


The Goods:

INGREDIENTS [makes two salads]:


  • 1 heart of romaine, chopped
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/3 cup mango salsa
  • 1 chicken breast [grilled or roasted], sliced
  • 1/4 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

Chipotle Ranch Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup ranch dressing
  • 1 tsp – 1 Tbs adobo sauce [from a can of chipotles in adobo]

The Deets:

To make the dressing, whisk together your favorite ranch dressing and 1 tsp – 1 Tbs of adobo sauce.  I used 1 Tbs, but it had a serious kick, so if you don’t like spicy, you’ll want to dial it back.

To assemble the salad, lay a bed of chopped romaine on two plates.  Top each plate of lettuce with half of the diced tomato, half the mango salsa, half an avocado, and the chicken.  Sprinkle each salad with 2 Tbs of shredded cheese and drizzle with chipotle ranch dressing.

My local take-out joint also tops their La Fiesta salad with crushed tortilla chips which is a great addition to add a little crunch.

La Fiesta Salad 3

The Inspiration:

The Couch Tomato’s La Fiesta Salad.

La Fiesta Salad 4

Next time, I’m actually hiring movers.




Mango Salsa [and thoughts on community]

mango salsa 3

The Scoop:

As I keep mentioning,  the last few months have been an absolute whirlwind around here.  For lots of reason, which I’m excited to keep telling you about, but the number one reason was my big move.  [And by big move, I mean my move right around the corner.]

When Roommate and I made the decision to move out of the apartment we’ve shared for the last few years and get our own places, the first choice I had to make was where I wanted to live.  I knew for sure that I wanted to stay within the city limits, but flip flopped back and forth quite a bit as to exactly what neighborhood I wanted to try.  In the end, I decided to stay put and keep my roots planted in the little corner of the city that I’ve called home for the last four years.  I found the perfect 1 bedroom apartment just around the corner from my previous space and ever since making the decision to stay a “manayunker,” it’s  felt like the universe has reaffirmed my decision time and time again: A couple stories in the news about how this once ‘post-college stopover’ is transforming to a haven for Millenials looking to settle down; a hot new restaurant opening; some killer parties; you get the picture.  And it seems that all of this affirmation I’ve been receiving comes back to the same word: community.  Community.  The reason I decided to stay.

The idea of living in community  has become increasingly important to me with each passing year.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but growing up in a small town, the value of community became deeply ingrained in me.  I come from the kind of place where people don’t board their pets before going on vacation, they just give their house keys to a neighbor to care for the dog.  I’m from a world where it seems like everyone goes to church on Sunday and youth group on Wednesday night.  I’m from a place where we all go to high school sporting events on Friday nights and small town parades on Saturday morning.  I was raised with an appreciation for community, as it’s something that comes easily and naturally in small town life.  City life is a little bit trickier.  Community is something you have to seek; it doesn’t fall into your lap the way it does in a ten stoplight town.  City life requires you to be intentional about community, to be cognizant to not get lost in the shuffle, or swept up in a world of busyness that prevents us from making true connections.  And here, in my little neighborhood, I’ve been able to find that kind of community.

Sometimes its the little things,  like when I walk into Starbucks and Rita Marie already knows I want a grande Pike with room for milk.  Or that when my friends and I meet up for happy hour margaritas, Anthony is the first one to greet us, and he doesn’t even have to ask before putting in our order of nachos.  Its  that when I show up to Pub Quiz on Thursday night, Shawn doesn’t bother checking my ID at the door because I’ve been there so many times.  And that the server at Tavern is surprised when I order anything other than the Crab Grilled Cheese.  I like that they know my voice at Greg’s when I call to place my breakfast order, and that they greet me by name when I come to pick it up.  It’s my morning hello from the local barber as he opens up shop and seeing the same friendly faces each day on my evening run.  I adore living in a neighborhood that has a free [yes, free] community pool, and that that’s the place where I met some of my closest friends.  I love that I know my neighbors.  I mean, really know them.  I find comfort in the fact that if I ever lock myself out, lose power, or need help carrying something, I’ve got a long list of pals waiting to  help.  I love that my church is only 10 minutes away and that every single time my neighborhood has flooded, I’ve received a phone call from someone in my congregation asking if I need any help.  I found a world that feels like  a small town, plopped in the heart of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.  I found my own little community.

I think we were created with a spirit that craves community.  [I know I was!] A spirit that desires to engage with others, and to share lives and experiences, and to let our moments overlap.  Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s perfectly possible to create new community, people do it every day.  I think it’s possible to stay a part of an old community, and begin forging a new one.  I know that as life continues to unfold,  the day will come when I have to begin searching for that new community.  But that day is not today.  Today is the day that I get to be grateful for the community that has found me, and welcomed me, and grown around me.  The community that continues to grow, and continues to shape me.

This is a long post, so we’ll keep today’s recipe short.  In celebration of my neighborhood, I’ve made three copy-cat recipes from my favorite local take-out spot, The Couch Tomato.  Today we’re going to start with my take on their mango salsa.  It’s a lot a bit sweet, a little bit spicy, and just tangy enough from that squeeze of lime juice.  Mango salsa is perfect when scooped on a salty tortilla chip, but I also love it piled on a salad, or as a topping for fish tacos.  The options are totally endless

mango salsa 1

The Goods:


  • 1 mango, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 c red pepper, diced
  • 1/4 c green onion [the dark green part], sliced thinly
  • 1/4 c cilantro, minced
  • juice of 1 lime

The Deets:

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, top with lime juice and gently toss.  I recommend taking a nibble of the jalapeno before thowing it all in, just to check how spicy it is.  The first time I made this, it barely had any kick, but the second time, whoa!  Just adjust the amount of pepper based on your personal preferences.

The Inspiration:

The Couch Tomato

mango salsa 2

Check back over the next few days for some more stories from my move and move of my favorite Couch Tomato recipes!



Cherry Pie For 2

cherry pie 1

The Scoop:

I’ve been eating a lot of cherries lately.  So. Many. Cherries.  Just buying them by the pound [only when they’re on sale because I can’t afford to spend $13 on a bag of fruit], and eating them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, you name it.  I sit there watching reruns of The Office [any number of things really], methodically popping those sweet little treats into my mouth, one at a time, and spitting their pit back into my bowl.  Pop. Suck. Spit. Plink. Repeat.  I did this for the first time in front of my spatular last Sunday while we were eating lunch after church and he nearly puked.  Apparently spitting cherry pits into a bowl while another person is trying to enjoy their grilled cheese sandwich isn’t very lady like…  I guess that means I should stop eating cherries at my desk at work as well.  Pop. Suck.  Spit.  Plink. Repeat.  Oh, sorry co-workers.  Am I grossing you out?  Is it completely unprofessional to eat cherries as a mid-day snack while responding to backed up emails?  My bad.

So now that I’m super self-conscious about eating cherries, what the heck should I do with them all?  Ummmm, easy decision.  Make a pie.  Sweet cherries aren’t even the kind of cherry you’re technically supposed to make a pie with, but I decided to give it a try and I’m officially obsessed.  Oh, and since I’m only one person and I live alone and I am trying to show some level of restraint with my dessert consumption this summer, I made a Cherry Pie For 2.  The other reason I made the mini pie is because I do not in any way have the patience to pit the number of cherries required to make a full size pie.  No. Thank.  You.  So Cherry Pie For 2 it is!

Since this is a dessert for two recipe, I decided to keep the ingredient list short and the steps as basic as possible.  Fruit pie is typically not a weeknight baking project, but this recipe is totally doable.  The crust only takes minutes to make, in fact, the most time consuming part is pitting the cherries.  The only additions to the cherries is some sugar for sweetening, corn starch for thickening, and a little lemon zest for an unexpected zip.  It only takes 45 minutes in the oven [just enough time to eat dinner and clean up] and the pie comes out oozing with sweet syrupy cherries.  I made this apple pie for two last fall and this is its summer counterpart.  Total perfection if you ask me!

PS: Did everyone have a good Fourth of July?  Mine was incredible which made going back to work and school this week seem like a cruel form of torture.  #firstworldproblems
PPS: Speaking of hashtags, I hashtagged the picture above: #philly #friends #forthofjuly after a couple drinks and, well, apparently Bud Light Lime makes me forget how to spell first grade words and instragram doesn’t let you fix your hashtags and facebook doesn’t let you edit your instragrams so basically everyone in my social media world thinks I don’t know how to spell FOURTH.  #great

cherry pie 2The Goods:



  • 6 Tbs flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • pinch of salt 2
  • tsp ice water
  • 1 egg white


  • heaping cup of cherries, pitted and halved
  • 3 Tbs sugar
  • 1  Tbs corn startch
  • 1/4 tsp lemon zest


cherry pie collage

The Deets:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the curst, combine the flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl and whisk together with a fork.  Add the cold butter in small cubes, and use your fingers to work it into the flour until the largest pieces are the size of small peas.  Add the cold water and stir with a spatula until a loose ball forms.  Gently use your hands to kneed the dough a couple of times until a smooth ball forms.  Pull off 1/3 of the dough and wrap it in plastic wrap, then wrap the remaining dough in a second sheet of plastic wrap.  Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour.

While the dough is chilling, pit the cherries and slice them in half.  You’ll need a heaping cup full of pitted, sliced cherries.  Srinkle the cherries with the sugar, corn starch, and lemon zest, and use a spoon to gently mix them until they are evenly coated.  Some of the dry ingredients will sink to the bottom of the bowl, which is totally fine.

After an hour, remove the dough from the plastic wrap and lay the larger ball on a lightly floured surface.  Roll it until  thin, lifting the dough and turning it or flipping it every few rolls to keep  it from sticking.  Add more  flour  as needed.  Gently place the dough round into the springfrom pan, and press  it down into  the bottoms and edges.  Scoop the cherry filling into the pie crust, leaving the remaining sugar and corn starch in the bottom of the bowl [not in the pie].

Lay the smaller ball of dough on a lightly floured  surface and roll it  into a thin round, following the same technique described above.  Place the dough on top of the pie, and use your fingers to gently tuck the edges down into the springform pan.  Use a knife to cut a small ‘x’ in the top of the pie.  If you are feeling ambitious like me, use a knife to cut  the dough into 8 small strips, and weave them together  into a lattice pattern [I explain how to do that here].  Use a spatuala to lift the lattice off the counter and place it on top of the pie, using your fingers to gently tuck the edges into the springform pan.  Lightly brush the top of the pie with egg white.

Set the springform pan on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly.  Allow the pie to cool  for five minutes before gently releasing it from the springform pan.  Serve with ice cream and share with a friend!

cherry pie 3

The Inspiration:

Original Recipe

cherry pie 5

drooling on my keyboard…



Roasted Strawberries and Cream Layer Cake

strawberry layer cake 4

The Scoop:

When I last left you, it was Memorial Day weekend and now it’s the day before 4th of July.  I won’t even go into the blah blah blah of what a time warp June was, but I’m sure you all know.  Since we last chatted I went to a wedding, threw a giant house cooling party with Roommate, moved ALL of my stuff [how the heck does one person have SO. MUCH. STUFF.] to my new apartment, had a few mini meltdowns in the process [see: SO. MUCH. STUFF], started my summer MBA class, went on vacation, began training for my next marathon, went to a concert, and finally finally [almost] finished finding a new place for all my so-much-stuff.

I did an extremely limited amount of cooking over the last month, and even less baking, but a few special occasions called for me to dig out the cake pans and turn on the oven.  The biggest occasion being my friend Sarah’s wedding.  I made this layered strawberry short cake for her office shower a few days before the big day.  Sarah has always been a lover of berry desserts so I knew this recipe would be perfect for her.  It also turns out to be a perfect dessert for the Forth of July.  Is there anything more American than strawberry shortcake?  I think not!  Except maybe apple pie.  Or barbecues.  But besides that, this takes the cake [shortcake.  get it?  see what I did there?]

strawberry layer  cake 2

If you are looking for a more standard [yet still super delicious] shortcake recipe, try this my mom’s recipe that I posted last year.  If you are looking to fancy it up a bit, then by all means this is the way to go.  I roasted the strawberries in the oven to draw out all of their natural juices and sweetness.  I let them cool in the refrigerator then used them to fill layers of fluffy white cake.  I used by favorite enhance a cake mix recipe because I was in a pinch for time, but I think it worked perfectly here.  For frosting I turned to simple whipped cream.  All the ingredients of a classic shortcake recipe, redesigned to into a towering beauty of a dessert.

I used mini 6 inch cake pans to make a tall, slender, four layer cake… for extra fanciness.  If you are going for extra simplicity, just make two standard 9 inch layers and fill them with lots of juicy berries.  The cake will be totally charming either way.

strawberry layer cake 1

The Goods:



  • 1 boxed white cake mix (and the ingredients called for on the back)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2  cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla


  • 2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1/4 cup sugar


  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

strawberry layer cake 3

The Deets:

Use my enhance a boxed cake recipe to prepare two 9 inch or four 6 inch cake layers.  If you have a favorite white layer cake recipe, go ahead and use that!

For the filling, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Hull and quarter two pints of strawberries.  Lay them in a single layer on a large baking sheet covered with foil and sprinkle them with 1/4 cup of sugar.  Roast the berries for 20 minutes, stirring them gently after 10 minutes.  They should be very soft and have released many of their juices by the time you remove them from the oven.  Allow the berries to cool  to room temperature on the tray, then transfer them and their juices to a covered container to cool completely in the refrigerator.

To assemble the cake, spread a thick layer of cooled berries on top of each cake layer, gently stacking the next cake on top.  After the cake is assembled, combine the 2 cups of  whipping cream and  the 1/4  cup of powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fit with the whisk attachment.  Whip the cream on high speed until thick and very stiff peaks have formed.  Spread the whipped cream over the entire cake and refrigerate until ready to serve.

The Inspiration:

The cake is from my Enhance A Cake Mix recipe, and the Roasted Berries come from Ina Garten.

If you’re looking for another basic strawberry shortcake recipe, then look no further, and for my favorite 4th of July recipe, click here.

strawberry layer cake 6

It’s summer, alight.



I’m Back!

Welcome back!  And more importantly, welcome to my new kitchen!

kitchen  1
Thanks for stopping by after my month long hiatus.  I moved to a new apartment and, instead of just throwing junk up here on the blog to fill the space, I decided to take a little break to get settled into my new place before developing any new content.

So much has happened over the last month that I can’t wait to tell you all about!  Keep checking back for a regular feed of recipes and stories, but before we get into all of that, let me take you on a little tour….

kitchen 2

kitchen 3

kitchen 4

It feels good to be home <3



Creamy Fruit Salad

creamy fruit salad 2

The Scoop:

Can you answer me one question?  How the heck has another memorial day weekend come  and gone?  What the what?  Talk about a holy time warp, I feel like I was just locked inside dreading yet another snow day and now it’s the unofficial start of summer.  What the what?

Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t complaining.  I li-i-i-ive for summatime.  Long days.  Warm weather.  Camp fires.  Short shorts.  BBQ’s, picnics, and days at the shore.  In my best ever MDW, I managed to do all of the above.  In typical Meg Jones fashion, I jam packed the weekend, trying to suck every last bit of enjoyment out of it.  To maximize the fun, I also decided to minimize the work.  Instead of volunteering to bake or cook for any of the festivities I decided to keep it simple and just bring fruit salad.  I mean, everyone loves fruit salad, right?  Summertime in a bowl.

This is my new favorite fruit salad though, lightly dressed with a sweet and tangy sauce.  The sour cream/brown sugar combo might sound a little strange, but trust me when I say it is addicting!  The dressing perfectly complements the fruit, adding a creamy element to the salad, while still letting the flavors of those summertime fruits shine.  So if you are looking for a quick and easy dish to tote around with you all weekend [or all summer] I think I’ve got you covered!

creamy fruit salad 1

The Goods:

  • 10 cups assorted fruit, cut into bit sized pieces
  • 8 oz light sour cream
  • 3 Tbs brown sugar

The Deets:

Cut fruit into bit sized pieces and combine in a large bowl.  In a medium sized bowl, whisk together sour cream and brown sugar.  Pour the sauce over the fruit and gently toss with a spatula until evenly coated.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine greek yogurt would work just as well as the sour cream.

creamy fruit salad 3

The Inspiration:

Original Recipe

creamy fruit salad 4

I know I say this every year but… let’s make this the best summer ever!




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