Garden Fresh Basil Pesto

Do you remember when I planted my 1st garden?  I doubted my green thumb, big Basil Planttime.  However, thanks to the Miracle Grow Soil and some good sun and rain, my 1st garden is thriving.  In fact, I have fresh basil coming out of my ears!  I’ve been making 1 million caprese salads but wasn’t sure what else to do with it.  In comes the pesto.

I haven’t been a huge fan of pesto in the past but I love basil so I wasn’t sure why.  I think it is likely because a traditional basil is made with pine nuts.  I’m not a huge fan.  So, I figured I would substitute almonds for the pine nuts and see how I liked it.

I started with a small batch and loved it!  I plan to make a boat load more and freeze the sauce in small enough portions (ice-cube trays perhaps?) that I can take one out at a time and use them for dinners during the week.

This time around I served it over a store-bought (gasp) gnocchi along side salmon and a caprese salad.  It was divine!

Salmon dinner

What you need:

  • 1 cup basil leaves (loose)
  • ½ cup Toasted Almonds (I used slivers)
  • ¾ cup EVOO (you can use more or less depending on how thick you want the pesto)
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice (do this to taste)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

What you do:

  • Lightly toast the almonds in a pan or oven
    Toasted Almonds
  • Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Add more oil if you want the pesto thinner.

  • Serve over any sort of pasta you like or even over fish!
    PestoGnocchi with Pesto

Heirloom tomato caprese salad

What’s my inspiration?

There is a tiny stand at the VFW in Forest Lake, MN.  The ladies at the stand are absolutely hilarious.  I mainly go there for the incredible heirloom tomatoes, but they also have corn, cucumber, jalapeno, onion, garlic and lots of other garden fresh goodness.  Oh, and they have jokes.  The ladies who run the stand have their own farm and are so passionate about their food, specifically the tomatoes.  Before I went there for the first time last year, I thought heirloom tomatoes looked nasty. I mean come on, they are black, orange, green and every color in between.  It looked more like you should use them for a tomato fight.  We were enlightened by these women who let us taste the tomatoes and turned sceptics into fans.  They are super meaty (aka minimal seeds), very flavorful and come with stories.  Yes, stories.  They all have history behind how they came to be (seeds from other farmers which are crossed with their tomato seeds, etc.).  Some of them have been around for decades!  I had no idea.

My favorite way to eat them is in a simple caprese salad.  Some of the heirlooms have such unique color which gives this classic salad a little twist.  And since they are so delicious, I like to present them in a much fancier way, sliced and layers with fresh mozzarella cheese.

If  you have the chance to pick some of these up, please do so.  You won’t regret it.

What is an heirloom tomatoes?  Learn more here on the ever so reliable Wikipedia.

What you need:

  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes – thick slices
  • Large ball fresh mozzarella cheese – thick slices
  • Fresh basil – Julienne
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

What you do:

  • Simply layer tomato and mozzarella alternating until gone
  • Sprinkle basil over everything
  • Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette and a little EVOO
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste

Melissa’s Greek Pasta Salad

What’s my inspiration?
Don’t you sometimes just want a fresh, light pasta salad for lunch or dinner (oh, and easy)?  Forget all that heavy mayo people usually slather into these potluck classics.  Use some light dressing over wheat noodles, fresh vegetables and top with a little cheese.  A delish salad that won’t weigh you down with that heavy mayo.  This is one I just threw together with some leftover stuff I had in the fridge and it was yumtastic.  Don’t have the vegetables listed below?   Add whatever the heck you do have (cauliflower, cucumbers, etc.).  Oh, wait, you dont’ have greek vinaigrette?  No problem!  Sub some italian dressing and it’ all the same.  For a little extra goodness for your belly, use wheat pasta noodles instead of white the white crap 🙂  Enjoy!
What you  need:
  • Wheat penne or spiral noodles
  • 1 stalk broccoli – cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 pint Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
  • 1 Red Pepper – diced
  • 2-3 green onions – diced
  • 1 package crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/8 – 1/4 cup Greek vinaigrette
What you do:
  • Cook wheat pasta noodles until desired doneness, drain and let cool
  • Combine noodles, vegetables, feta cheese
  • Drizzle with greek vinaigrette until the pasta to your liking
  • Enjoy with some grilled bread if you wish!

Mixed Roasted Potatoes

What’s my inspiration?

Who doesn’t love potatos?  You can bake, fry, saute, mash, dice, hash, basically, do whatever the heck you want to them and they still rock.  My favorite?  A big ass bowl of mashed potatoes smothered with gravy or topped with sour cream & lots of pepper.  Yum.  But my favorite preparation of potatoes has nothing to do with this recipe.  

A while back, someone mentioned to me that they combine multiple types of potatos into 1 dish (I think it was my boss).  Anyhow, I did just that and it turned out incredibley.  It was pretty to look at and fun to eat (plus, nothing wrong with a little variety in your side dish).  Anyhow, give these babies a go and tell me what you think.  Easy-peasy, delish and nutrish.  Who knows, I might mash them all together next time.  

P.S. Wondering how I cut my potatoes so fancy like?  Waffle fry style?  A few years back, Chris got really excited at the MN Sate Fair and totally fell for the in-person “infomercial” when they were selling the the lovely orange slicing tool in my picture.  I thought we were watching the presentation & making fun of it thinking ‘who the heck falls for this stuff?”.  Before I knew it, Chris threw his hand in the air and screamed “I’ll take one!!!” And believe it or not, it was all for the low-low price of $29.99.  End of story.  Now I can make waffle fries…thanks honey. 

What you need:

  • 2 Idaho Potatoes
  • 2 Sweet Potatoes
  •  2-4 Red Potatoes (depending on size)
  • 1 large white or yellow onion
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • EVOO
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Feta Cheese (Optional)

What you do:

  • Slice or dice potatoes (depending no how you like them best)
  • Slice Onion
  • Chop Garlic (Or you can just use the pre-chopped garlic in a jar)
  • Combine potatoes, onions and garlic in a tin foil pan
  • Drizzle with EVOO and season with salt and pepper
  • Cook on grill or in oven at 375 untill cooked through
  • If desired, sprinkle crumbled feta cheese on the top and serve (This sounds strange, but I experimented with it and it’s adds a unique, yummy flavor to the potatoes)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Pecans and Avocado

Source: Food & Wine Magazine by Jean-Georges Vongerichten

What’s my inspiration?
I really enjoy eating vegetables, cooked, raw, whatever.  And the more fun and creative you can get with the preparation, the more exciting they are to eat.  I about died when I saw this recipe, brussels sprouts, pecans and avocado?  I mean how can you go wrong.  The best part is there are only 6 ingredients plus salt & pepper.  Truly divine, easy preparation and impressive.  The brussels sprouts paired with avocado give this dish a creamy bite.  And the crunchy toasted pecans on top?  I mean….wow.  I also learned something by making this.  Boiling the brussels sprouts in water prior to roasting them keep them moist and keep them from drying out in the oven.  Give these a go, you won’t be disappointed.  (Next time, I might throw some bacon in for extra deliciousness!)

Like brussels sprouts?  Try my bacon brussels sprouts recipe too!

What you need?

  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 2 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Hass avocado, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

What you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the pecans in a pie plate and bake for 5 minutes, until toasted. Let cool, then coarsely chop. (I sometimes just toast them in a pan on the stovetop – much quicker!)

    Toasted Pecans and Thyme

  • Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the brussels sprouts and cook until bright green, about 2-3 minutes. Drain, cut in half and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Toss the brussels sprouts with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and turn them cut sides down on a large rimmed baking sheet. 
  • Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, until nicely browned on the bottom; turn the baking sheet halfway through roasting.
  • In a large bowl, toss the brussels sprouts with the pecans, avocado and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with the vinegar and serve.

Grilled asparagus and diced pancetta

What’s my inspiration:

Let’s be honest.  Don’t you just want a great meal sometimes without all the hassle?  I know I do.  Because of this (or maybe temporary laziness), I find ways to make the same thing in a more quick and easy way.  Do you love Prosciutto wrapped Asparagus but don’t want to spend the time wrapping up those pretty green  sticks of goodness?  Guess what, you don’t have to!  With this little trick, even the lazy cook can put together a fabulous side dish.  But don’t tell anyone, because even thought it’s simple…it still looks like a dolled up & impressive side dish.

Don’t mind my terrible picture of the finished product.  It was dark out and I have a piece of crap camera!!

What you need:

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 packaged diced pancetta
  • EVOO
  • Pepper


  • Usually I suggest pepper AND salt to season a dish.  But with the pancetta being as sodium packed as it is, skip the salt.

What you do:

  • Heat Grill or Oven to 375
  • Cut of ends of asparagus and dice into 2-3 inch pieces
  • Combine asparagus & pancetta in a grill pan or on a cookie sheet, drizzle with EVOO and season with pepper
  • Cook about 20 minutes or until pancetta is sizzling and asparagus is heated through but still crisp

Eggplant Parmesan

What’s my inspiration?


A big purple eggplant and a girls night…hehe!  Plus, the guys were away in Mille Lacs for a Bachelor party, so that gives us girls the chance to cook something amazing.  My husband will eat almost anything (I’m lucky), but some of these boys are picky, picky, picky!  I’m sure eggplant isn’t on their list of new food items they are dying to try.  But my girls love to try new things and this was our chance.

Now this vegetable may look intimidating, but with a good recipe, they are quite delicious.   I have made this dish before and it was good, but we made a few tweaks this time around and now it’s right on.  Even though this is a vegetarian dish, it is very hearty and almost tastes as though there is meat in it.

We served it with Jeannes amazing spicy turkey meatballs and some grilled chile cheddar bread from Great Harvest Bread Company.

So don’t be scared by this lovely purple vegi, I promise you will enjoy this dish.

What you need:

Me & Jeanne

  • 1 large eggplant – sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
  • 1/2 cup flour
    3-4 eggs
  • 1 box Panko Bread Crumbs – Italian Style
  • Canola Oil – for frying
  • 1 jar Marinara Sauce (Try Rao’s, its AMAZING!)
  • 1 -2 large balls of fresh mozzarella – sliced
  • 1/4 cup Fresh Basil – julienned
What you do:
  • Prep all ingredients – slice eggplant and mozzarella, julienne basil
  • Put flour, egg and panko in 3 separate, shallow dishes
  • Bread eggplant one by one – coat in flour, dip in egg and coat in panko.  Set aside on plate
  • Heat oil until shimmering
  • Fry eggplant in oil until browned on both sides (about 2-3 minutes / side).  Do not burn or  over cook.  You will need to do this step in batches.

    Erin = amazing eggplant fryer

  • In 9×13 oven safe dish, layer eggplant, slices of mozzarella cheese, basil and sauce.  Repeat layers until all ingredients are used (Layer just like you are making a lasagna).

    Eggplant, Motz & Basil

    Ready for oven!

  • Cover with tin foil and bake in 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and sauce is hot.
  • Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes. Cut and enjoy!

    Eggplant Parm & Meatballs