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

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Back in college, my friends and I would take trips to Mazatlan, Mexico.  To say that weChicken Tortilla 7 had a little fun is a bit of an understatement.  We baked in the sun, talked to other college students from all across the U.S. and went to clubs I wouldn’t be caught dead in now.  At the time, it was the best thing ever!

Believe it or not, one of the highlights I remember was a chicken tortilla soup served at a tiny corner restaurant.  I feel like we went there almost every day for lunch.  They would serve the soup with all the fixings on the side – avocado, crispy tortilla strips, cheese, etc.  Once it was loaded up with the fixings, it was heaven in my mouth.  The salty soup combined with the creamy cheese and crunch tortilla strips made my day.

Since 2002, I have been on the hunt for a recipe that did this soup justice.  What I couldn’t put my finger on was what the broth was made of; chicken broth, onion broth, or something I had no clue about?  The other thing that made it amazing was the crumbly cheese that melted just enough but still kept in tact when dropped into the soup.  It wasn’t feta or goat cheese, but had a consistency similar to those if you mixed the two together.

After over 10 years of searching, I’m convinced I finally found a recipe that brings me back to those days.  Once again, Food and Wine Magazine came through.  I now know the broth is a chicken stock & tomato puree and the cheese is crumbled queso fresco found in the Mexican section at the grocery store.  Duh.  I can’t get over how similar this soup is to what we ordered in Mexico over 10 years ago.  Now if I got some blue hair extensions and put on my backless shirt with hot pink shorts, I might think I was in Mexico while slurping on this soup.  Oh the memories 🙂

Recipe Source: Food & Wine Magazine
Recipe by: Rene Ortiz

What you need:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved
  • 4 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • Canola oil, for frying
  • 6 corn tortillas, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, diced
  • 4 cups shredded chicken, from one 2 1/4-pound rotisserie chicken
  • Crumbled queso fresco, dried chile, avocado and cilantro leaves, for garnish

What you do:

  • In a saucepan, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic and a generous pinch of salt and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened and starting to brown, 8 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, chipotle chiles and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are very soft, 30 minutes.
    Roma Tomatoes

    Roma Tomatoes



  • Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat 1/4 inch of canola oil. Add half of the tortilla strips and fry over moderate heat, stirring, until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the strips to paper towels. Season with salt. Repeat with the remaining strips.

    Tortilla Strips and Queso Fresco

    Tortilla Strips and Queso Fresco

  • Carefully ladle half of the soup into a blender and add half of the butter. Puree until smooth. Pour the pureed soup into a large saucepan. Repeat with the remaining soup and butter.Chicken Tortilla 4
  • Stir in the shredded chicken and gently reheat the soup. Season with salt.
  • Serve the soup in bowls, garnishing with queso fresco, chile, avocado, cilantro and tortilla strips.

I love Chicken and Dumplings!!

Recipe: Chicken and Dumplings
By: Mike Lata

What’s my inspiration:IMG_0898

Today is my six-year wedding anniversary and I think I am the luckiest girl in the world.  I have an amazing, loving and hard-working husband (he even does my laundry!).  On our anniversary, we have a tradition unlike any other.  You guessed it, watching The Masters.  Actually, that is my husbands tradition.  I on the other hand, spend my time cooking a nice anniversary dinner while making unsolicited comments about the outfits worn by the golfers and laughing at what seem to be inappropriate comments made by the announcers (yes, like a 15 year old boy).  Makes it more fun for me.

This gem of a recipe was found on the great ipad app Epicurious.  Prepping the meal is a bit tedious since you hand make the dumplings and need to peel and chop the vegetables.  However, I promise it’s worth it.  The dumplings are light, fluffy and fun to eat.  The sauce has a fresh, savory flavor.  I have made this a couple of times and personally feel there aren’t enough dumplings to go with all the chicken and gravy.  Now, I make either a double batch of dumplings or buy a roll of biscuits and have leftover chicken and gravy over that.  So dang yummy.

What you need for Chicken and Dumplings

  • 1 pound ricotta
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour plus more
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 1 1/4 cups finely grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

Chicken and gravy:

  • 10 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 celery stalks, cut crosswise into 1/4″-thick slices
  • 1 carrot, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 1 parsnip, peeled, cut into 1/4″-thick rounds
  • 1 leek, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4″-thick slices
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • Shaved Parmesan

Make the gnocchi! 

  • Gently mix ricotta, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, egg, Parmesan, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl just to blend (do not overwork).
  • Form dough into a ball (it will be sticky); wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
  • Place dough on a lightly floured work surface.
  • Divide dough into 4 equal portions and cover with a clean kitchen towel.
  • Using your hands, roll 1 portion into a 1/2″-diameter rope; cut crosswise into 1/2″-thick pieces.
  • Lightly dust gnocchi with flour and transfer to prepared baking sheet.
  • Repeat with remaining portions of dough.
  • Cover gnocchi with a kitchen towel and chill until ready to cook.
  • DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 months ahead. Freeze on sheets, then store, frozen, in an airtight container.

Make the chicken and gravy!

  • Bring broth to a boil in a large saucepan.
  • Add chicken; reduce heat to low, cover, and gently simmer until chicken is tender and cooked through, 20-30 minutes.
  • Remove chicken; let cool slightly and shred into bite-size pieces.
    Gnocchi; Chicken and dumplings
  • Bring broth to a boil and cook until reduced to 8 cups, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour until smooth and cook, whisking constantly, until roux is pale beige in color, about 15 minutes (do not brown).
  • Scrape roux into simmering broth; whisk until thickened and broth coats the back of a spoon.
  • Reduce heat to low and add vegetables.
  • Cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add shredded chicken and herbs.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Chill, uncovered, until cold; cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before serving.

Finish the dish!

  • Cook gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until gnocchi float to the surface, about 2 minutes (slightly longer if frozen).
  • Using a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to bowls, dividing equally.
  • Ladle chicken and vegetables with gravy over.
  • Season with pepper and top with Parmesan.

Easy weekday shrimp

Well…I feel like a total blogger slacker. It’s been a month since my last post! While I’d like to blame it on being extremely busy, that isn’t totally the case. I have had a bachelorette party, a wedding and a dog show (Burton got a 5 point major!!) since my last post. But, I have also had plenty of time to relax. I blame my need for relaxing days on old man winter. He has been brutal! I haven’t even been able to enjoy snowboarding or other outside activities, too frigid for this chick.

I have found time to do a TON of cooking though. I know…cooking + relaxing = chubby. Well, not exactly. Remember, eat portions in moderation and you can enjoy better food!

I pulled together this simple shrimp recipe tonight and served it with baked sweet potatoes. While it wasn’t the “best shrimp ever”, it was simple and tasty enough for a week night. So I’d say, give it a try!

What you need:
1 pound shell on shrimp
1 stick butter, melted
2 lemons, sliced into thin rounds
Mrs. Dash salt free table blend
Salt and Pepper to taste

What you do:

Pour melted butter in you oven safe pan
Lay sliced lemons over butter
Lay shrimp on top
Season generously with Mrs. Dash. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cook for 15 minutes at 350



Cashew Chicken with Brown Rice

What’s my inspiration?Cashew Chicken
I LOVE all things Asian food related.  What’s not to love – fresh vegetables, sweet & spicy meat and it’s usually healthy.  My heaven.  I found this tasty take out inspired dish while surfing Pinterest one wild Saturday night at the cabin.  The original pin came from Eclectic Recipes who based this dish off of Martha Stewart recipe.  I just added some red & green pepper so the meal was a bit more well-rounded.  Let me tell you what, it was fast & easy and taught me that even this meat & potato girl could make an Asian inspired dish (something I have no skill at).  Now that I have cashew chicken under my belt, who knows, maybe Pad Thai and Spring rolls next.  Watch out!
  • Next time around, I would use less hoisin sauce then suggested below, it was a little sweet.
  • I added some Sriracha to give the dish a kick and it made a WORLD of difference.  Took away some of the sweetness.


What you need:
  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 bell pepper, diced (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
  • 8 green onions, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 3/4 water or chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • kosher salt and pepper
  • Sriracha – if desired
  • Serve with white or brown rice

What you do:

  • Cook rice according to package directions. 
  • Preheat large skillet or wok over low heat.
  • Add olive oil, garlic and cashews to skillet. Saute over low heat until garlic becomes golden, but don’t let the garlic brown, or it will become bitter.
    Cashews & Garlic 
  • Add peppers and any other vegetables you want
  • Salt and pepper chicken. Add chicken to skillet and cook until chicken is no longer pink. 
    Adding Chicken 
  • Add cornstarch to a small bowl with the water and mix well. 
  • Add cornstarch and water to chicken. Then add hoisin sauce and vinegar.
  • Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes, until sauce has thickened. 
  • Season with Sriracha sauce if desired.
  • Just before serving, add green onions and serve with rice.

Seafood Jambalaya Over Rice

Source: Melissa’s Kitchen

What’s my inspiration:
It’s no secret that my husband and I love seafood.  I will eat it any way I can get it and Jambalaya is one of my personal favorites.   You can make it with any combination of seafood you like and add as much spice as you want.  And, I can make this meal using only 1 dish…SCORE!  Less clean up only adds to the joy of cooking.

I have made Jambalaya several times before.  Each time was good, but something was missing and it wasn’t quite right.  The recipes I used in the past had you cook the rice in with all the other ingredients.  It tasted great for the first serving, but by the time you went back for 2nds, the rice had absorbed way to much water and was a nasty, mushy mess.  This time around, I cooked the rice separately and served it with the Jambalaya. I can’t take full credit for this.  It was actually my husbands idea to make it this way.  So, we Googled a couple different recipes and ended up combining  a few ideas and creating our own Minnesota made Jambalaya.  It was A-MAZING!!!  As per usual, I made way too much for 2 people so next time around I’ll use 1/2 as much stuff or just have people over.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


What you need:

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 andouille sausage links (raw & meat removed from casing)
  • 1 yellow onion (diced)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic (diced)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning (or to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne (omit if you don’t like much spice)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 green bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 red bell pepper (diced)
  • 2 – 16oz cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 – 16 oz cans water
  • 2 – 16 oz cans light red beans
  • 1 – 16 oz can corn
  • 15-20 raw jumbo shrimp (remove tail)
  • 1 pound dense fish (catfish, halibut, swordfish, etc)
  • 1 pound mussels (omit if you don’t like)
  • 4 cups rice (uncooked)


  • When feeding only 2 people, just reduce the amount of andouille, seafood and rice by ½.
  • Rice: I use instant brown rice.  The brown rice seems to hold its texture a little better than white rice.  But if you don’t like brown rice, just use white.

What you do:

  • Heat vegetable oil heated in large cast iron pot
  • Add onion, garlic, and sausage – sauté for about 3 minutes
  • Add Worcestershire, Creole, Cayenne (if desired), pepper and tomato paste – mix until combined
  • Add all peppers
  • Sauté all ingredients until onions and peppers are just softened (About 5-7 minutes)
  • Add tomatoes and 2 -16 oz cans of water
  • Let it come to a boil, then add beans and corn
  • Bring back to a boil – taste and add additional spices if needed
  • Add shrimp and fish – simmer for 15 minutes
  • Add mussels – simmer for 5 minutes or until mussels open
  • Serve over rice

Steak and sautéed shrimp with grilled asparagus and hollandaise

Source: Melissa’s Kitchen

What’s my inspiration?

Unlike a lot of women, I am not one to obsess or get all worked up over Valentines Day.  ‘Over-rated’ and ‘blah’ are the first words that come to mind.  Regardless of how I feel about this holiday, I do use it as yet another excuse for amazing food.  However, this year I did absolutely no pre-planning for the meal.  We had flown home the night before from Utah, and I had very little food in the house.  I was just going to make plain old enchiladas, which was all the ingredients I had on hand.  But, I just couldn’t do it.  Even though I am not a fan of this Hallmark holiday, my hubby still deserved a nice meal (and so did I!)  I ended up stopping at the grocery store on the way home from work with no plan in mind.  Last minute, unplanned shopping is SO not my forte.  I indecisively wandered around the store and just grabbed what was on sale and looked fresh.  I ended up making steak and shrimp (I know…classically romantic ingredients but that wasn’t my intent).  I did put my own little twist on the preparation which made it quick and easy.  I mean…it was a Monday AND a work night for crying out loud.  I had to simplify it.  I wasn’t going to slave away in the kitchen all night during the week.  My twist on this classic dish was to cook the mushrooms, onion, garlic and shrimp in the same pan verse separately.  I know…HUGE twist huh 🙂  But, I have to say  it turned out to be a solid move.  The ingredients took on the flavors of each other and tasted amazing!  The grilled asparagus with hollandaise wasn’t too shabby either.  And yes, I did enlist my hubbies help to grill the steak and asparagus outside.  It was a balmy 40 degree February day in MN, but still not warm enough for ME to grill.

What you need: (Serves 2)

Steak & Marinade:

  • 16 oz steak (any kind you like)
  • 1 can Coke
  • 1 oz Captain Morgan
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Shrimp Mixture:

  • ½ pound raw shrimp – de-veined and de-shelled
  • EVOO
  • 4 tbls butter
  • 1 small onion – sliced
  • 1 package mushrooms – sliced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic


  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus – ends cut off
  • 1 package hollandaise sauce (McCormick – Make according to package direction but use milk not water! It tastes much better.)

What you do:

**These are instructions for making the entire meal all at once!  Which, is obviously something you do when making a full meal verse 1 item.  Timing is everything.

  • Prep work: Marinate steak in refridgerator 1-24 hours in coke, Captain Morgan and Worcestershire sauce
  • Prep work: de-vein and de-shell shrimp (I usually just buy it this way). Set aside.
  • Prep Work: slice onion, mushrooms and garlic. Set aside.
  • Pre-heat grill to 350
    • Grill steak until desired temperature (remove from heat and let rest 2-3 minutes before slicing)
    • Grill asparagus on top rack until tender.  Do not over-cook or they get stringy.
  • While steak and asparagus are on grill:
    • Start making hollandaise sauce according to package directions.  Keep on low heat until rest of food is cooked.
    • Coat large fry pan in EVOO and add butter.  Melt butter over medium-high heat.
    • Add onions, mushrooms and garlic to EVOO and butter mixture.  Cook until mushrooms and onions are soft.
    • Add shrimp into mixture and cook until pink through.
  • Assemble the meal:
    • Slice steak against the grain and pile on plates.  Pour Shrimp mixture over the steak.
    • Pile asparagus on the plate and drizzle hollandaise over it.