Basil Pesto

FullSizeRenderBasil is bountiful at farmer’s markets this time of year, so what can you do with this most fragrant of herbs? Pesto is a versatile sauce, and making it yourself fills your kitchen to the brim with fresh summertime smells. We love this recipe (from an older Better Homes & Gardens cookbook) stirred up over a a pound of prepared pasta, with cubes of grilled chicken, and cherry tomatoes. Delish!!! I love wide, flat noodles with pesto. Trader Joe’s lemon pepper pappardelle pasta works really well (pictured here), but you can use anything your little heart desires—penne, spaghetti, linguini, farfella (aka: bow tie pasta) or those little cup shaped ones I can’t remember the name of. I draw the line at lasagna noodles, though. That would just be silly, people.

This is also great slathered on a tortilla and sprinkled with grated parmesan, and then baked in a 375° oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until edges or tortillas are crisp. Cut like a pizza and serve with your meal. (If you use corn tortillas, this could be a gluten-free snack.) Or spread on think chunks of sourdough bread and top with fresh mozz and a slice of tomato, then broil in the oven for a few minutes. These make fabulous appetizers. 

I’ve also done a mixture of half real mayonnaise, and half prepared pesto for a sandwich spread. You want to wake up your boring old lunch, this will do it! So is that enough ideas to get you going?

IMG_1038I’m super excited because my basil is actually doing great in my mini herb garden this year. In the past, it’s grown rather sparse in my pots, but my plant is going gang-busters right now—it’s yielded enough to make 3 jars already! But when I’ve not had basil right out my back door, I’ve bought bunches from the farmer’s market, and spent a morning making multiple recipes of pesto, putting each batch in an 8-ounce container (pint jars work great). Then I use one batch fresh for dinner or appetizers, and freeze the others for use all year long. There is nothing like a batch of pesto over pasta in the dead of winter—it’s a reminder that spring will come again.

Makes 8 ounces

1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves (washed and rinsed)
½ cup fresh parsley springs (without stems), or 1/4 cup dried parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup slivered almonds*
1 large clove garlic, quartered
¼ teaspoon salt

In a blender or food processor, combine basil, parsley, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, almonds, garlic, and salt. Cover and blend or process with several on-off turns until paste forms. Stop machine to scrape down sides as needed.

If not using immediately, store in airtight container and refrigerate up to a week, or freeze for 6-12 months.

*NOTE: I used to make this with pine nuts—the traditional nut for this recipe—but they are crazy bonkers expensive, so I use almonds now and they work just as well. Pine nuts also have a tendency to go rancid if not refrigerated, and I’ve wasted those little gold nuggets unintentionally. So I quit buying them and stick with almonds.

Best Blueberry Muffins Ever

IMG_1025Saturday breakfast, Sunday brunch, or anytime you’re in a blueberry muffin kinda mood, these are simply the best. You can use either fresh or frozen blueberries, but I’ve made them more often with frozen fruit as those are cheaper year round. Plus, if you keep a supply of berries in the freezer, you’re always ready to whip up these easy treats.

These are so popular in our house that they’ve become the “it’s your birthday” breakfast muffin, as well as the Father’s Day or Mother’s Day staple (if I want to make them for myself), too. I scribbled the recipe on scratch paper after seeing it in a magazine years ago, and don’t recall which one—probably Better Homes & Gardens or Family Fun. The key to their fabulosity is the nutmeg sugar topping. I once forgot to add that before baking, and we were all like, “What’s wrong with the muffins today? Where’s the magic?” So don’t be tempted to skip that last-second sprinkle before tossing them in the oven. It really does make these the best blueberry muffins ever.

Makes 12-18 muffins

½ cup butter (1 stick), softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2½ cups fresh blueberries or 12 ounces (1½ cups) frozen blueberries


1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 ° Fahrenheit. In large mixing bowl fitted with paddle, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and continue to cream mixture. Add in vanilla and cream again.

In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to the creamed butter and sugar mixture until all ingredients are incorporated. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in blueberries by hand.

Combine sugar and nutmeg in a small bowl. Put papers in a muffin tin. Fill each paper with batter. Sprinkle each muffin with about 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until light golden brown on top. Remove muffins from tin and cool on rack for about 10-15 minutes. (Or eat immediately and burn your mouth on scalding hot blueberries—it’s your call.)


(Based on me and my sisters, and our interest and comfort-level in the kitchen)
Judy—I hate to cook, but I’ll make this one!
Susan—I’m fine with cooking and will tackle something a little more challenging.
Cheryl—I love to cook and bake and seek out food challenges

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cherry Cookies

IMG_0972Once when trying to describe his favorite cookies, my youngest son dubbed these tasty morsels “The Good Cookies”—so now that’s the official title of this recipe at our house. Dried cherries are great because they add a tartness that’s a nice compliment to the sweet chocolate. But they are a tad expensive, so I often substitute craisins for the dried cherries. No one complains. The addition of a cup and a half of oatmeal adds some substance, while not turning them into straight-up oatmeal cookies. Another tip? If you toast—and cool (so they don’t melt the butter)—the pecans before stirring in, it takes these up another notch.

What got me searching for this recipe was a cookie Taste of Scandinavia bakery used to make called the Rocky Road. It was chock full of nuts and dried fruits and chocolate chunks. My son Mitch and I used to grab of couple from the bakery in St. Anthony while waiting for his brother Justin to be done with painting classes. When the bakery at that location changed hands and quit making our faves, we went through withdrawal. I found a white chocolate, macadamia nut, and cherry cookie recipe on that sounded close to what we craved, so I subbed in semi-sweet chocolate and pecans, and a star was born. (That recipe is no longer posted, or I would credit the author!)

Makes 2 ½ dozen cookies

1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup rolled oats
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup dried cherries or craisins (dried cranberries)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In large mixer bowl, cream butter with beater attachment on electric mixer. Slowly add dark brown sugar, then white sugar, and cream ingredients until fluffy. Add eggs and cream ingredients. Add vanilla and cream ingredients again.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt with a spoon. Slowly add this flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar mixture until all ingredients are combined. Slowly add rolled oats and stir on low to combine. Remove bowl from mixer, and stir in chocolate chips, nuts, and dried cherries or craisins with a wooden spoon.

Drop by large spoonfuls on to baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cookies cool for 10 minutes before removing from baking sheet. Store cookies in an airtight container.

Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

IMG_0968Pretty much everyone has a recipe similar to this chewy peanut butter cookie, just like everyone has a favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies. But I’ve had numerous people tell me mine are especially grand. I once brought these to work, and after her first bite a fellow employee said, “I bet lots of men wanted to marry YOU…” For the record, I’ve only had one marriage proposal, but I’ve had tons of requests for my cookie recipes. I think it’s the addition of the Reese’s peanut butter chips that takes these cookies from good to great.

But I have to admit I wasn’t always such a rock star with this recipe. At the ripe old age of 11 or 12, I wanted to treat my family to a batch of PB Cookies. Once I got to the dough-rolling stage, I felt like something was amiss. “Mom, this dough feels kinda like Play-Doh. Is it supposed to feel like that?” It also looked a little different than I remembered—more sparkly than usual. One pan came out of the oven, and we broke off chunks to test, and promptly spit them out. They tasted like Play-Doh, too!!! What went wrong? My mother and I went back through the ingredients one at a time, and she asked me if I’d put in this and that, and then quizzed me on the amounts. When she got to salt, she said, “Half a teaspoon salt?” and I froze. I’d put in half a CUP of salt. We laughed as we pitched that whole inedible batch in the garbage, and I remember that crazy mistake every single time I make these cookies. As I carefully measure the salt.

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

1 cup shortening (not butter or butter-flavored shortening)
1 cup Skippy’s super chunky peanut butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 of 10 oz. bag of Reese’s peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. In large mixer bowl, cream shortening and peanut butter. Add white sugar, then dark brown sugar, and cream ingredients until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, and cream. Add vanilla and cream ingredients again.

In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and powder, and salt. Gradually add to creamed mixture and stir until combined. Dough should not be overly-sticky to the touch (too little flour), but also should not be crumbly. (If dough is crumbly, that means you have too much flour in your dough and cookies will be tough, not soft and chewy.) Stir Reese’s peanut butter chips into dough with wooden spoon until chips are incorporated.

Roll tablespoons of dough into balls and place on baking sheet, 12 to sheet. Using tines of fork, make cross-cross pattern on top of cookies, pressing to flatten slightly. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges of cookies are lightly golden brown. Let cool at least 5 minutes before removing to wire rack or container. Store in air-tight container.

Herb Roasted Potatoes

FullSizeRenderRoasting potatoes or any other vegetable is super easy, and the roasting brings out the natural sugars, taking them up a notch or two in flavor intensity. The only trick is figuring out how much time each veggie needs in the oven. As a rule, most need about 30 minutes in a 375 degree oven, but the more delicate vegetables like asparagus or green beans only need about 15-20 minutes. Julienned carrots and parsnips need about 20-25. This is the kind of thing you can throw in the oven for that quick meal on a weeknight, or add to a barbecue to round out the menu.

Roasted potatoes are a great substitute for fries or potato chips, and are so much better for you than either of those options. You can use just about any seasoning you want on them. I try to use something salty, an herb, and something savory. I don’t measure the seasonings—just sprinkle them on top until there’s a generous coating. Here’s one of my favorite mixes for potatoes.

On another note, I’ve had requests for an “ease” rating on my postings. I joked with some friends that I should have a Judy, Susan, or Cheryl gauge, named for me and my two sisters. Judy hates to cook and only does the easiest of recipes, Susan kinda likes to cook, and will do more moderate recipes. I’m game to try anything, and love a more challenging recipe (yes, even those with yeast!) I mentioned this to Judy, as there was potential insult in the idea, but she loved it. She says we all take ourselves too seriously, and need to lighten up. She’s happy to lend her name to the cause. 

Using the above rating, this is a “Judy” recipe—so easy, even Judy could make it!

Serves 2-4

3-4 red potatoes
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
Garlic salt
Dill weed
Smoked Spanish paprika*

Preheat oven to 375 ° Fahrenheit. Scrub potatoes, but don’t peel. Remove eyes. Chop potatoes into 1 inch pieces and put into medium bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with seasonings. Toss potatoes in oil and seasonings to distribute evenly. Add more seasonings if necessary. Prep baking sheet by rubbing with olive oil, and spoon potatoes onto baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until edges of potatoes are golden brown and can be easily pierced with a fork. Serve.

*NOTE: You can use regular paprika, but there is something awesome in the smokiness of the smoked Spanish paprika. I get it at Penzy’s on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, MN, but you can order it online, too. Get a bottle and a bag, then you can refill your bottle from the less-expensive bag, as you discover all the ways you can add this earthy spice to your dishes! (Sprinkle on grilled meats, add to casseroles…you name it.)

Better-Than-Take-Out Pizza Dough

IMG_0927You can make—and bake!—pizza made from this dough in the time it takes to order and pick up a pizza. I’ve been using this recipe to make personal pan pizzas for about 15 years now, and it’s always warmly welcomed by family and guests. This summer, my husband and I have used this dough to make and bake a couple pizzas in the Big Green Egg, and those are definitely killer. (Greek pizza pictured here—full recipe to come.) I’m posting this not only because it’s so easy and tasty, but because my scrawled pen and paper recipe is worn and tattered beyond legibility. My daughter-in-law Jess wanted to make this dough once, but she couldn’t make heads or tails of the faded chicken scratching on the recipe once she found it. So before this family fave is lost for all eternity, I’ll post it. And run a hard copy for back up. Cause that’s how I roll.

Oh, and where did I find this super simple gem? It was featured in a Family Fun magazine in the 90’s. It uses yeast, but really people, it’s nothing to be afraid of. Embrace the yeast! It’s your friend! This dough is no more difficult than mixing up a batch of Play-Doh. Only this, you can eat.

Makes 8 personal pan pizzas, or two 12-inch pizzas

1 cup warm tap water
2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast (or 1 package, if using individual packets)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
olive oil
corn meal

Preheat oven to 425° Fahrenheit. Rinse large mixing bowl with hot water to warm it. (Especially important in winter to take the chill off the bowl, which could reduce water temp and keep yeast from rising properly.) Add warm water to bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top of water. Let stand 5 minutes, or until yeast is dissolved (water will be cloudy and/or foamy).

Stir in olive oil, salt, and 1 cup of the flour with large wooden spoon. Add remaining 1 1/2 cup flour and stir until dough begins to cling to spoon, and most of flour is incorporated into loose ball.

Sprinkle butcher block or large cutting board with flour. Drop dough down onto board, and knead by bringing outside edges in and punching them into the center of ball. Sprinkle flour on top when dough gets sticky. Repeat until dough is smooth and elastic. Pour 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium bowl and rotate to coat. Drop kneaded dough into oiled bowl, and then flip dough, so that whole ball is coated in oil. Cover with damp towel, and place in sink. Fill sink about a quarter or third with very warm water. Let dough rise for 30 minutes.

Punch dough down and toss onto floured board. Divide into 8 pieces for personal pan pizzas, or 2 pieces for a couple of 12-inch pizzas.

To make personal pan pizzas:

Lightly oil 3 baking sheets, and sprinkle with a light dusting of cornmeal. Form dough pieces into balls by binging outside edges in to center a couple times. Roll a ball out flat with rolling pin, about 8 inches in diameter. Place up to 3 crusts on a baking sheet, zig zagging to fit. Top with purchased marinara sauce, spreading to within 1 inch of edges. Add other toppings such as grated mozzarella cheese, chopped green peppers, onions, olives, mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, etc. Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes, with pans on top, middle and bottom racks. Rotate pans half way through baking – top to bottom, bottom to middle, and middle to top. Move to wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Serve.

To make two 12-inch pizzas:

Lightly oil 2 round baking sheets, and sprinkle with a light dusting of cornmeal. Form each dough piece into a ball by binging outside edges in to center a couple times. Roll a ball out flat with rolling pin, about 12 inches in diameter. Move dough to prepared pans. Top with purchased marinara sauce, spreading to within 1 inch of edges. Add other toppings as desired. Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes, rotating pans in oven halfway through baking. Slice and serve.

P.S. Changed the name of this recipe from Easier-than-take-out to Better-than-take-out, after reading my friend Peggy’s hilarious synopsis of her attempt at this dough in the comments below. In the end, she loved it! So it’s worth trying to get this one right.


IMG_0959With my fresh mini herb garden pots going wild, I’ve been looking for ways to use the abundance of mint threatening to take over the deck. The Good Earth restaurant makes a fabulous tabbouleh, and after ordering it recently, I thought it looked easy enough to duplicate at home. I tried Ina Garten’s recipe found on, and I liked her process, but found the recipe had too little bulghur in ratio to the herbs and tomatoes, too much pepper, waaaaaaay too much salt (even with using only 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt instead of the kosher salt she recommended*), and far too many scallions. Then I looked at Ellie Krieger’s recipe, and ended up using my own amounts based on the two recipes. Ina puts the dressing into the bulghur wheat while it’s soaking, and Ellie pours in on after the fact. I tried it Ina’s way, and it seemed to have great flavor, with my adjustments to amounts below. I’m sure it would work fine to add the dressing after soaking the wheat, too.

I know this traditional Lebanese dish usually has more herbs and less bulghur than you see here, but we preferred a little more of the ancient grain to temper all the mint and parsley. And my son Justin said that 1 cup mint was over-the-top, and I needed to back off a bit. I liked it, but I love mint so much I want to marry it, so take that into consideration.

This is a versatile dish. It can be served as an appetizer along with toasted pita triangles and spicy hummus, and some sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and Kalamata olives. Or it can be a salad or side to a meal. Shred or cube some grilled chicken into the bowl, and it’s a meal. The ease of the dish, plus the fresh herbs, make it perfect for warm weather, no matter which part it plays in your meal.

*NOTE: I did some research on kosher salt/sea salt/table salt, and found that you need more kosher or sea salt than table salt if substituting one for the other in a recipe. See this handy conversion chart for your own reference.

Serves 6-8

1 1/2 cups bulghur wheat
2 1/4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2–1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (1 bunch)
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (1 bunch)
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and medium-diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2–3 tablespoons mined red onion
2–3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the bulghur in a large bowl, pour in the boiling water, and add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and lemon zest. Stir, then allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour. (You can also just pour the boiling water over the bulghur, and add the dressing ingredients later.)

Add the mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, chives, and the pepper; mix well. Season with salt, if necessary; cover and refrigerate. Flavor improves if the tabbouleh is made a few hours ahead of serving time.

Oatmeal Carmelitas

FullSizeRenderOats and caramel and chocolate—oh my! This recipe was entered in the Pillsbury Bake-Off by Minnesotan Erlyce Larson in 1967, and won hands down. One bite of these gooey taste treats, and you’ll agree whole-heartedly with the judges decision. My friend Lois brought these to a gathering at our house, and they were the hit of the dessert table. (I consumed more than my fair share, so that’s why there are so few left on the plate in the photo. Sadly, this image doesn’t do them justice.) My mother makes a similar Caramel Candy Bar (posted a few weeks ago). Mom’s recipe is to die for, but her recipe requires laboriously unwrapping dozens of caramel candies to make the luscious middle layer, while this recipe uses a short-cut—a jar of caramel ice cream topping. Next time you’re planning a party, invite Lois. And ask her to bring these heavenly bars. Mmmmmm.


2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups margarine or butter, softened


1 (12.5 ounce) jar (1 cup) caramel ice cream topping
3 tablespoons all-purpose or unbleached flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 13″ x 9″ pan. In large bowl, combine all crust ingredients; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine caramel topping and 3 tablespoons flour; blend well.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until filling is set. Cut into bars.