Fabulous food is a family tradition for Meme Inge. Now, at the age of 27, she has set up shop in New Orleans where she has her own popular, fun food blog, Living Well Kitchen, and is busily putting her creative, healthy twist on the Southern fare she grew up enjoying in the Port City. MB food writer, Sallye Irvine, caught up with Meme in this recent interview.
Tell me how this blogging business began for you?
I started my blog, Living Well Kitchen, in 2011 after finishing graduate school. I initially started it because I wanted an easy way to share my kitchen creations with friends instead of constantly emailing recipes. Then people started subscribing to it — I honestly still can’t believe anyone actually reads it! Most of my readers are females that range from college students to empty nesters. A lot of them are moms or singles who are looking for a quick dinner recipe, a healthier dessert option or an easy entertaining dish.
How has it evolved and what has been the response?
Surprisingly great! I set a goal to have 25 views per day in my first three months. Now, I get over 2, 000 views per day. Compared to other blogs that receive 2, 000 views in 20 minutes, that may not seem like a big deal, but it’s huge to me!
Is blogging a full-time job or do you have another career?
Blogging is not my full-time job, but I spend enough time on it for it to be! I am a registered dietitian by trade, so my blog can be considered a healthy food blog. I do receive a lot of new clients from it, ranging from all over the country. It is the perfect companion to my “real job” in that I get to talk about what I love, food and nutrition, and share my knowledge with others.
What is the best and worst part about blogging?
Oh, there are so many things I love about it. Waking up every morning is exciting because I get to use my imagination and creativity. I could, and often do, spend hours waxing poetic about vegetables, and people actually read it. How crazy is that?! One drawback is that it is quite a serious time commitment for something that started as a hobby. One recipe post takes an average of 10 hours to create; that involves brainstorming, cooking, recording every detail about the recipe, writing the recipe and the post, editing the post, food styling, photography and editing photos — and that’s just for the actual post! There is also website maintenance, responding to readers, promoting content and everything in between. I absolutely love it, though, and the benefits outweigh the cons to the infinite degree.
How, and when, did you become interested in nutrition?
My mom (Dr. Kathleen Kennedy) went to medical school when I was in grade school, and I’ve always been a math and science girl. I discovered I don’t have a strong enough stomach to handle the gory situations you encounter as a doctor or nurse, but I do have the stomach for delicious food. I decided in high school that I wanted to work in food and nutrition and have never looked back.
How has your childhood in Mobile played a part in your passion for what you do?
No matter how busy my parents were, we almost always had a home-cooked family dinner. It might not have been glamorous, and it was likely leftovers, but it left a positive impact on me. Cooking was, and still is, a big part of my family life. Add to that all the glorious food we have access to on the Gulf Coast, and you have a recipe for deliciousness. I am a huge seafood lover; I remember eating flounder for breakfast that I had gigged earlier that morning in a jubilee. My family ate locally before it was the cool thing to do. Now, it just comes naturally to me. After taking a bite of a fresh, ripe peach in the summer, I’d rather eat dirt than eat an out-of-season piece of fruit. That holds true for so many things — okra, tomatoes, corn. I think that’s one of the beauties of growing up in the South.
What are your favorite things to cook and eat?
My favorite things to cook are are healthier versions of unhealthy classics. My pimento cheese is the perfect example (see below). The first time I made it, I took it out to the wharf with some chips and crudités. No one had a clue that there was no mayonnaise in it. I didn’t divulge my secret until after the entire container was gone, less than an hour later. My favorite things to eat are desserts. I have a mean sweet tooth, and it gives me great pleasure to create a dessert recipe that doesn’t make me feel bad about eating it.
What do you see in the future?
My ultimate goal is to write a cookbook with my grandmother, Nan, who just happens to be my main inspiration for cooking. (Meme’s maternal grandmother, Sarah Davis, aka “Nan, ” is locally renowned for her cooking and entertaining prowess on both sides of the Bay and beyond.) We currently have something in the works that makes me giddy with excitement! I’d also like to start adding videos to my blog. People want to see the cooking process — what bread dough looks like in between dumping all the ingredients into a bowl and pulling out the lovely loaf from the oven. That in-between time is where people get confused, discouraged and lose the joy of cooking.
Name Margaret Erwin Inge
Parents Crawford Inge and Kathleen Turner Kennedy
High School UMS-Wright
College B.S. in Food and Nutrition from University of Alabama, Masters in Clinical Nutrition from University of Alabama at Birmingham
Hobbies Exploring New Orleans, exercising, being on the water, reading
Go-to weeknight dinner Stir-fry or roasted veggies and sautéed chicken or fish
Cooking rituals I typically listen to oldies and dance around my kitchen.
Favorite calorie splurges A warm chocolate chip cookie or peach cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream on top
Best butter substitutes There’s nothing like butter so I just use less, or depending on the situation, I’ll use a little olive oil or coconut oil. Nut butter is another good substitute.
Kitchen tool every home cook should own A good knife – nothing is worse than trying to prepare your food with a dull knife.
Best thing about Mobile The access to all the amazing food: fruits, veggies, seafood!
Favorite local restaurant Can I say my grandmother Nan’s kitchen? Her food is pretty hard to beat, but if I am going out to dinner, then I’d pick Felix’s Fish Camp.
Go-to local cookbooks “Recipe Jubilee” and “Bay Tables” from the Junior League of Mobile
On New Orleans
Best thing about New Orleans There are so many things to do: festivals, restaurants, nightlife, parks, water, the list goes on.
Favorite local restaurant This is tough! But my top five in no particular order are Coquette, Clancy’s, Bistro Daisy, Red Fish Grille and Galatoire’s.
Go-to local cookbooks “Cooking Up a Storm” and “The Plantation Cookbook”
Cherry Lime Smoothie
This is one of my favorite post-workout treats! These smoothies are an easy way to increase your cherry intake while also taking in other powerful components of a healthy diet like veggies (spinach) and lean protein (Greek yogurt). Cherries are potent little fruits, with inflammation-fighting abilities; they fight cancer and disease and can help alleviate the pain of arthritis and gout. Coconut water helps enhance the sweetness while bumping the potassium content up even higher.
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 cups fresh spinach
2 cups frozen pitted cherries
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut water (or regular water)
juice from 1 lime
1. Add all ingredients into a blender, and blend until completely smooth. Serve smoothie immediately. Serves 2.
Nutrition Facts (per 12-ounce smoothie using coconut water)
163 calories, 1.1g fat (0g saturated), 33.4g carbohydrates, 4.7g fiber, 9.9g protein (gluten, tree nut, peanut, soy and egg free)
Zucchini Bread Protein Pancakes
Protein pancakes are some of the most popular recipes from my blog. I’ve done all different flavors, ranging from carrot cake to bacon to birthday cake flavored. Since zucchini is prevalent in summer, I decided that they’d be a great new addition to the family. And, oh, how delicious these are!
1 1/4 cup oats*
1 cup cottage cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup shredded zucchini (about 1 small zucchini)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
maple syrup (to top, if desired)
butter (to top, if desired)
1. In the bowl of a food processor, add oats, cottage cheese and eggs. Blend until completely smooth. Add remaining ingredients and blend until incorporated.
2. Heat a nonstick griddle or skillet over medium heat. Cook pancakes until tiny bubbles form over the surface of the pancake batter, about 2 to 4 minutes. Flip pancake and cook until done, another 2 to 4 minutes.
3. Top with a little real maple syrup and/or butter, if desired. Serves 4, makes 8 pancakes.
* Use old-fashioned oats or quick oats. Do not use instant or steel cut oats. Use certified gluten-free oats, if neccesary.
Nutrition Facts (per 2 pancakes)
225 calories, 8.4g fat (2.4g saturated), 21g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 16.7g protein (gluten, tree nut, peanut and soy free)
Banana Almond Muffins
No need for added sugar. Ripe bananas lend their natural sweetness to these yummy treats that are great for breakfast, snack or dessert. They’re high in fiber and protein, are gluten free, and can be made dairy free if you use coconut oil.
2 cups almond flour
2 tablespoons flax meal or chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
2 bananas, mashed
1/4 cup coconut oil or butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin tin, or line with foil liners.
2. Whisk together almond flour, flax or chia, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together mashed bananas and oil or butter until well combined. Stir in eggs, vanilla extract and almond extract.
4. Stir banana mixture into dry ingredients. Mix until well combined.
5. Transfer the batter to the prepared muffin tin. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool. Refrigerate or serve room temperature. Keep covered for up to 4 days. Makes 12 muffins.
Nutrition Facts (per muffin)
188 calories, 15.3g fat (3.6g saturated), 8.6g carbohydrates, 2.9g fiber, 6.6g protein (gluten, dairy, soy and peanut free)
White Cheddar Jalapeño Pimento Cheese
The beloved Southern staple gets a bold, slimmed down makeover.
1 (16-ounce) block reduced-fat white cheddar cheese
3/4 cup 2 percent low-fat cottage cheese
1 tablespoon milk, if needed
1 jalapeño, minced
3 tablespoons grated onion
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (7-ounce) jar diced pimentos, drained
1. Grate the cheese into a large bowl.
2. Meanwhile, blend cottage cheese in a food processor or blender until smooth, adding the milk if needed.
3. Stir blended cottage cheese into grated cheese.
4. Stir in jalapeño, grated onion and cayenne pepper. Fold in pimentos. Cover, and refrigerate at least an hour or overnight. Keeps in the refrigerator for about
5 to 7 days. Makes 4 cups.
Nutrition Facts (per 1/4 cup)
82 calories, 4.8g fat (3.1g saturated), 2g carbohydrates, 0.2g ﬁber, 9.4g protein (gluten, egg, soy, tree nut and peanut free)
Bacon bits make this trimmer version of traditional potato salad seem like a splurge. It is best served the day of or day after to prevent the bacon from getting soggy and the salad from getting too watery.
4 slices center-cut bacon, chopped, reserve bacon grease
1 pound red potatoes, unpeeled and chopped into bite sized pieces
1/3 cup 2 percent low-fat cottage cheese
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon bacon grease, optional
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 green onions, chopped
1. Put chopped bacon in a large, cold skillet. Heat over medium, and cook until crispy. Transfer to paper towels to drain, and set aside. Reserve 1 teaspoon of bacon grease.
2. Meanwhile, add potatoes to a large pot, and ﬁll with cold water. Bring to a boil, and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well, put on paper towels, and let cool.
3. Put cottage cheese, Dijon mustard, white vinegar, garlic, reserved bacon grease (optional) and salt into bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until smooth.
4. Transfer to a glass or plastic bowl and add green onions and cooled potatoes. Toss to coat completely. Cover, and let sit for at least 1 hour. Keep in refrigerator until ready to eat. Stir in bacon pieces just before serving. Makes approximately 3 cups. Serves 6.
Nutrition Facts (per 1/2 cup)
95 calories, 2.5g fat (1.1g saturated), 13.8g carbohydrates, 1.3g ﬁber, 4.4g protein (gluten, egg, soy, tree nut and peanut free)
Avocado Crabmeat Salad
This tasty summer salad is a glorious flavor combo: Gulf South meets south-of- the-border. It is healthy and heavenly! It is best served within a day after making because avocado can potentially turn an undesirable, darker color.
2 ripe avocadoes
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup diced green onions
1 teaspoon minced or grated garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (may substitute black pepper)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound crabmeat, preferably jumbo lump
1. Mash the avocadoes in a bowl, and stir in lemon juice.
2. Add in red bell pepper, green onions, garlic, salt, white pepper and cayenne pepper. Stir until well combined.
3. Gently fold in crabmeat so as to not break up the lumps. Serve in lettuce wraps or with crudités or whole grain crackers. Makes approximately 4 cups. Serves 8 – 10.
Nutrition Facts (per 1/2 cup serving)
155 calories, 8.1g fat (1.1g saturated), 6.4g carbohydrates, 3.9g ﬁber, 14.6g protein (gluten, dairy, soy, peanut, tree nut and egg free)
Spicy Beef Lettuce Wraps
I love using the slow cooker in the summer because it doesn’t heat up your kitchen. Plus, beef is packed with protein and tons of vitamins and minerals.
1 jalapeño, minced
2 onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup cold coffee
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (2-pound) beef roast (chuck or round)
lettuce leaves, for serving
shredded carrots, as topping (optional)
chopped tomatoes, as topping (optional)
diced avocado, as topping (optional)
1. In a slow cooker, combine jalapeño, onions, garlic, coffee, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke. Rub salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper over beef roast. Put the roast in the slow cooker, cover, and cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 7 to 8 hours.
2. Remove beef from slow cooker, shred, and return back to slow cooker.
3. Serve shredded beef and sauce in lettuce cups with optional toppings, as desired. Makes 5 cups beef. Serves 8 – 10.
Nutrition Facts (per 1/2 cup)
215 calories, 11.8g fat (4.8g saturated), 5.3g carbohydrates, 0.9g fiber, 24.2g protein (dairy, egg, peanut, tree nut free and gluten free, if using gluten free soy sauce)
Roasted Veggie Pasta Salad
This cool, colorful, vegetarian side is a great make-ahead dish.
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped bell peppers
2 cups chopped broccoli
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
2 cups chopped yellow squash
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons minced garlic
8 ounces whole grain pasta (Meme uses 100-percent whole-wheat penne.)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with foil (for easy clean up).
2. Toss chopped onion, bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes and squash together with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
3. Transfer to baking sheets and roast for 20 minutes.
4. Stir in garlic, and roast another 10 to 15 minutes, until veggies are lightly golden. Let cool.
5. Meanwhile, bring about 6 cups of water to a boil. Add pasta, stir, and reduce heat to a low boil. Cook until pasta is just barely cooked (approximately 8 minutes); do not overcook. Drain and set aside to cool.
6. Once cooled, toss together in a plastic or glass bowl with balsamic vinegar, fresh basil, salt and remaining olive oil. Add more salt or vinegar if needed. Makes approximately 8 cups. Serves 8 – 10.
Nutrition Facts (per 3/4 cup serving)
158 calories, 4.8g fat (0.6g saturated), 26.9g carbohydrates, 3.5g fiber, 3.3g protein (egg, dairy, soy, tree nut, peanut free and can be gluten free — use gluten-free pasta)
Berry Peach Sangria
This splendid sangria is a festive, fruity libation. It’s perfect for a party poolside or on the patio, porch or wharf.
1 (750-milliliter) bottle white wine (A slightly fruity wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, is best.)
1/4 cup orange liqueur (such as Triple Sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier)
2 peaches, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced
1 cup blackberries
8 strawberries, sliced
2 cups club soda
1. Combine wine, orange liqueur, peach slices, lemon slices, lime slices, blackberries, and strawberry slices in a large pitcher. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
2. Top with club soda. Stir well and serve. Makes
approximately 6 cups. Serves 8.
Nutrition Facts (per 3/4 cup with fruit serving)
134 calories, 0.2g fat (0g saturated), 13.4g carbohydrates, 2.3g fiber, 0.8g protein (gluten, dairy, egg, soy, tree nut and peanut free)
No-Bake Cheesecake Bars
These creamy, frosty bars make a cool, sweet treat for summer. They are terrific for entertaining because you can make them in advance. Keep covered in the freezer until ready to eat, then cut and serve. They are best served straight from the freezer.
3/4 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (not instant or steel cut)
2/3 cup dates (about 8 pitted dates)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dates (about 4 pitted dates)
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, reduced-fat or full-fat (not fat-free), softened
1/2 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
blueberries, for garnish (optional)
lemon zest, for garnish (optional)
To prepare the crust
1. Put almonds in a bowl, and cover with hot water. Put dates in a bowl, and cover with hot water. Let sit
for at least 15 minutes and up to 12 hours.
2. Line 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper, waxed paper or foil. Set aside.
3. Drain water from almonds. Put almonds in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until chopped, but not until they turn into butter (about 45 to 90 seconds, depending on your food processor). Add oats, and process until incorporated (about 20 seconds).
4. Drain dates, and reserve water. Add dates to the food processor, and process until incorporated (about 30 seconds).
5. Add vanilla extract, salt and 3 tablespoons of the reserved date soaking water. Process until the mixture starts to lump together to form a ball. You might need to add an extra teaspoon or 2 of the reserved date soaking liquid to help the mixture come together. You want it to hold together, but not be wet. (Add extra liquid slowly to prevent a soggy crust.)
6. Press the crust mixture into the prepared baking dish, and place in the freezer to set while preparing the filling, or for at least 15 minutes.
To prepare the filling
1. Add the dates to the clean bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth, stopping periodically to scrape the sides. (May take about 1 – 3 minutes.)
2. Add the cream cheese, yogurt, honey, lemon juice, vanilla extract and salt.Process until completely combined and there are no lumps.
3. Pour the cheesecake mixture over the frozen crust and spread in an even layer. Cover lightly with parchment, wax paper or plastic wrap. Freeze until set, at least 8 hours. Remove from freezer when ready to eat, and cut into bars. Top with berries and lemon zest, if desired. Makes 1 dozen bars.
Nutrition Facts (per bar)
172 calories, 8.1g fat (2.7g saturated), 21.6g carbohydrates, 2.1g ﬁber, 5g protein (gluten, egg, soy and peanut free)
text by SALLYE IRVINE • photos by JACKSON HILL and meme inge