Basil Pesto in Jars

Sometimes you just can’t keep up with Basil’s speedy growth habits and you have to keep harvesting it it will go to seed before you know it. So what is one to do with all the summer’s sweet basil? The answer is Pesto!

At the end of each growing season I actually feel a loss when the Basil decides it has had enough producing and cashes it in for the year! But during the summer months we get to enjoy its prolific leaves in abundance. However, you need to keep an eye on your basil and keep it from going to seed. Once that happens, the leaves become bitter and are no longer good to use in recipes.The best part about making homemade Pesto is that it makes a lot and it freezes remarkably well, giving you the opportunity to enjoy its herbaceous flavor for months to come. I make sure to grow plenty of fresh genovese style basil so that I can make enough pesto to last through the winter.There are many, many pesto recipes out there which I originally found quite interesting because pesto only requires a handful of ingredients- how many variations could there be? Well, over time, I have learned that pesto is personal! You can take the exact same ingredients as someone else and the result can be astonishingly different. The freshness, the kind of basil, the quality, and the quantities all come together and produce a similar, yet notably different result. You have to make it yours, and make it just the way you like it.

I have tried many recipes over time and I continually come back to Ina Garten’s pesto recipe as my base, and then I tweak it to my taste.  I usually use less oil than the Contessa calls for, and occasionally I substitute the pignoli nuts for walnuts. The most important thing is to taste for seasoning and be sure to use the best quality ingredients that you can.

  • When tasting, keep in mind that your flavors will marry after sitting together after being blended, and that parmesan cheese is naturally salty so keep that in mind when adjusting your seasonings.
  • After transferring the pesto to your storage containers of choice, top with a thin layer of olive oil, cover and store until ready to use. This will keep it from spoiling and keep the color bright green.

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All salt is not created equal. The type of salt you cook with will absolutely impact your finished meal. If a recipe calls for 1 tbs kosher salt, which is what “better quality” recipes would assume you would be cooking with, and you use 1 tbs iodine salt then your final dish is likely to be way much more salty than the recipe intended. I only cook with Mortons Course Kosher Salt. Ever. That is why I can recommend it with confidence. Whatever you choose to cook with, be mindful and remember you can always put the salt in, but you can’t take the salt out! Buy Now

Basil Pesto
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
5 mins
Total Time
15 mins

Use pesto as a sandwich spread, on pasta or toss with vegetables. Pesto has endless uses, freezes well in small portions and makes a great gift. 

Cuisine: Italian
  • .5 cup pignoli or walnuts (It's very important to make sure to use fresh nuts)
  • 2-3 tbsp chopped fresh garlic (Amount depends on intensity of the garlic & your taste preference)
  • 5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed down lightly
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1.5 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup good quality, fresh grated parmesan cheese
  1. Add the nuts and garlic into a food processor using the blade attachment. Process fro about 15 seconds.

  2. Add the basil, salt and pepper. 

  3. With the processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil through the feed tube and blend until the pesto is pureed well. 

  4. Add the parmesan and puree for about one minute.

  5. Use immediately or portion into air tight containers filling almost to the top. Add a thin layer of olive oil to the top to seal out any extra air and then secure with lid and freeze. 

Roasted Parmesan Broccoli

You can steam them, sauté them, grill them, but my favorite thing to do with almost all vegetables is roast them! After I discovered Ina Garten’s Roasted Brussel Sprout recipe, which led me to Giada De Laurentis’s Roasted Fennel with Parmesan recipe, I soon discovered that I could roast just about any vegetable.

I also discovered that I preferred eating vegetables this way. And what’s more? Nothing could be easier than tossing your favorite vegetable on a baking pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper and walking away.The recipe is just about the same for almost all vegetables. Toss vegetables in olive oil, salt, pepper, and my favorite addition- red chili flakes. Bake at 425 for about 10-15 minuets.  Flip.  Continue roasting for about another 10 min. The type of vegetable you use and how you prefer your vegetables cooked will determine timing.

When you are ready to serve, try topping with some parmesan or a squeeze of fresh lemon. Whatever vegetable you prefer, give roasting your veggies a try!I promise, you won’t steam another head of cauliflower ever again!

Here are some the recipes I started with that helped me become the happy roaster that I am today!

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are arguably the most popular side dish for everything from steak to fried chicken to turkey dinner. Everyone loves mashed potatoes! Except the cook. Ask any cook and they will tell you how stressful it is to make the potatoes and get them to the table hot, and the mess it leaves in the wake. However, even with the stress and mess, you still have to make the mashed potatoes. So I went on a mission for make-ahead mashed potatoes.

I tried multiple recipes and techniques. What I discovered is that there are two really great ways to make mashed potatoes in advance.Make your favorite mashed potato recipe. If you don’t have a good recipe, try mine.  If you are serving them the same day you make them you can make them up to about 2.5 hours in advance and put them right in the crockpot on “warm” and they will stay wonderfully. Stir occasionally, and if you see them starting to dry out simply add  touch more milk, cream or chicken broth.

If you are making them to serve more than 2 hours in advance, such as one or two days in advance, you can make the complete recipe and store them right in the crock pot, cool, cover them so saran wrap is resting on top of the potatoes to reduce air exposure and then top with the lid. Refrigerate until about 2.5 – 3 hours before serving time. Remove the saran wrap and place crockpot on “low.” Once the potatoes loosen up and become creamy again, stir occasionally. If too dry, just add small amounts of milk, creme or chicken broth until you achieve the consistency you are looking for. They will stay well for up to 3 hours after they are hot. They will stay even longer, but that is the point where I see them start to dry out so I like to keep it under 3.When you are making mashed potatoes and only need to make them a few hours in advance rather than a day or so, another great way to keep them hot is to use a double boiler. A double boiler is simply a pot with just enough water in the bottom to almost touch the bottom of the glass bowl you will set inside the pot. Bring the water to a simmer and control your heat to keep the water at a very low simmer. Insert your bowl of potatoes and cover.  This method will keep the potatoes hot for up to two hours, but I like to try and keep it to 1.5 hours or less. Be careful when removing the bowl- it will get very hot!

  • Using a potato ricer to make mashed potatoes will ensure fluffy potatoes.
  • Russet potatoes are best for classic mashed potatoes.
  • Combining butter and cream in a small saucepan to heat (do not boil) before adding to your mash makes a HUGE difference and much better mashed potatoes.
  • For easy clean up, tear a brown paper bag in half, peel potatoes onto it, and roll up when done!

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I have made mash many ways including with my Kitchen Aid, hand mixer, and a hand masher. Once I discovered that a potato ricer produces light, fluffy mashed potatoes every time, I stopped with all the other equipment. I find it’s 100% worth the extra effort. I LOVE mine.  I can recommend this product with confidence to anyone who is also looking to make this style mashed potato.Buy Now

Mashed Potatoes
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
25 mins
Total Time
45 mins

The secret to great, fluffy mashed potatoes is using a potato ricer and warming your butter and cream before adding them to the potatoes

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: potato
  • 4-5 lbs russet potatoes
  • 1.5 cups half & half (organic if possible)
  • 6 tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp white pepper Black pepper is fine, but white is preferred for appearance.
  1. Peel the potatoes, slice in half, and place into a large pot and cover completely with water. Bring to a boil. 

  2. Lower the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife. (Check at 15 minutes and then at 5 minute intervals.) 

  3. Drain and mash the potatoes using a potato ricer. 

  4. While mashing, heat the half-and-half and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts.

  5. Slowly mix in the cream sauce, salt and pepper until well incorporated and creamy. Taste for seasoning. 

Recipe Notes

Try adding in parsley, chives or parmesan cheese to bring it up a notch. 

The amount of ingredients is something that is not a perfect science. Much depends on the type of potatoes you are using, how creamy you like your potatoes, how salty, etc. You need to add ingredients in slowly and taste several time to get it just how YOU like it! Remember, you can always put the salt (and butter) in but you can't take it out! So be mindful. 

potato au gratin

Growing up, the Potato Au Gratin we had at the dinner table did not look like the version I make today! It came from a box and I think if we had eaten it in the dark, they would have glowed orange! And although they may have been glowing orange and made of powdered cheese and dehydrated potatoes, I still loved them.

I see those boxed potatoes in the market to this day and I am always tempted to buy them, but I stopped eating those boxed potatoes a long time ago.  I just can’t bring myself to do it. (I feel like Ina would be too disappointed in me.)

I decided it was time to make the real, grown up version, of Potatoe Au Gratin. I read many recipes and watched several videos. I tested several recipes and had many failed attempts. There were versions that were watery, versions of undercooked potatoes,  potatoes cooked perfectly but lacking flavor, and the worst of all, the version that resulted in a dish of mushy potatoes sitting in cream. As frustrated as I was, I persevered on my quest for perfect Potatoes Au Gratin. 

I found success thanks to a base recipe by Chef Tyler Florence. The dish is savory, satisfying and also quite elegant. Potatoe Au Gratin is the perfect side dish to serve with a bistro steak or with roasted chicken. It’s become one of my favorite recipes, especially for when an indulgent special occasion side dish is called for.  

Potato Au Gratin
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: French
Keyword: potato
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme plus more to finish
  • 2 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • unsalted butter
  • 2 pounds russet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan plus more for topping
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a saucepan, heat up the cream gently with the bay leaves, thyme, garlic, nutmeg and some salt and pepper.
  3. While the cream is heating, butter a casserole dish.
  4. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bay leaves and thyme from the cream.
  5. Coat the bottom of the dish with a small amount of cream. Pour the remaining heated cream into a large bowl with the potato slices. Mix gently to coat the potatoes. Then select an approach for assembling.
  6. Option 1: Rustic approach. Sprinkle the Parmesan & Cheddar over the potatoes. Season with a dash of salt and pepper. Mix to gently incorporate. Spoon the potatoes into the prepared dish. Level out the potatoes for uniform cooking time. Pour the remaining cream at the bottom of the bowl over the top. Top with more Parmesan and fresh thyme leaves. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, but poke holes in the foil for the steam to escape. Bake for about 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  7. Option 2: Controlled approach. Create a base layer of potatoes slightly overlapping in the prepared casserole dish. Season lightly with salt & pepper. Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan & Cheddar cheese. (Do not cover potatoes completely with cheese or it will be oily! Just a gentle sprinkle of cheese on each layer will do.) Spoon a bit of cream over potatoes using your judgement on portioning for each layer. Repeat (about 4 layers?) layering potatoes, seasoning, cheeses and cream, ending with pouring any remaining cream over the top. Top with more Parmesan and fresh thyme leaves. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, but poke holes in the foil for the steam to escape. Bake for about 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Recipe Notes

This can be made in one casserole dish or in individual gratin dishes. 

White beans with shrimp, brussel sprouts and bacon in a bowl

When I first got married, I didn’t have much experince in the kitchen outside the Italian-American household I grew up in. So when I cooked, I tended to cook what I knew how to make. This meant lots of meatballs, and lots of pasta! One day my new hubster said to me, “You know babe, I would really love to eat something other than pasta.” I felt like I was punched in the gut! Who doesn’t like macaroni and ‘gravy?’ That’s when I realized that I really didn’t know how to cook.

I threw myself into reading recipe books and started to really experiment in the kitchen. In retrospect, that confession by Brett is what led me to discover my passion for being in the kitchen.

Long after I learned how to do more as a cook than cover everyone in gravy, (that’s red sauce to the rest of you) there was this one night when I really wanted my macaroni fix.  So I decided to try a new recipe and decided on Michael Chiarello’s Tuscan Cannelloni Beans. As I was cooking, I realized I preparing a sauce that would go very well over a pasta.  Inspired by this, I started using cannellini beans in place of pasta for many of my favorite sauces.

The great thing about working with these beans is their soft, subtle texture adds a natural creaminess to a dish and also acts as a natural thickner. Cannellinis absorb flavors very well, especially complimenting garlic, tomatoes, wines and broths.

I’ve really come to enjoy making a great bean dish and it’s all thanks to learning how to step out of my culinary comfort zone. Making connections in the kitchen is always exciting, and the learning never stops. It’s what I love most about cooking.

Pulled pork

My sister doesn’t cook as often as I do so when she said she had a recipe I should try, I knew it must be both easy and delicious, so it was time to get cooking. I made it once, and I was hooked! It is now one of my most popular recipes amongst my friends and feasters, and puts a smile on my guests faces every time!The best thing about this recipe is you only need three basic ingredients- pork shoulder, root beer and your favorite BBQ sauce. When it comes to BBQ sauce, I like to keep it simple and classic with Sweet Baby Ray’s original BBQ sauce! But BBQ is a matter of preference and whether you make your own, prefer Carolina style or Texas inspired, you really can’t go wrong.I highly recommend you plan to keep busy outside your house while this is cooking because I promise you- the smell is simply tantalizing after just a few hours!When I have planned far enough in advance, I typically whip up a spice rub of brown sugar, ancho chili powder, kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme and a pinch of cayenne. You can use any pre-made rub but I just make my own.  I put the rub on, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and let it sit for up to 24 hours. (Be sure to put it on a plate or in a pan because it could get messy and leak once the rub starts to break down and do its thing.)Over the years, I have served this up a few ways, but my feasters (AKA neighbors & friends!) all agree, on potato rolls with tangy coleslaw is the way to go.

Pulled Pork
Cook Time
6 hrs
Course: entree
Cuisine: American
Keyword: pork
Author: Christina Collins
  • any size pork shoulder (be sure it will fit in your crock pot!)
  • 1-2 cans root beer
  • 4 tbsp homemade or your favorite bbq dry spice rub (optional but recommended)
  • 1 bottle of your favorite bbq sauce (I like Sweet Baby Rays original bbq sauce)
  • Potato buns optional if making sandwiches.
  1. If using a dry rub, rub meat all over, Wrap in plastic. Place onto a sheet pan (to catch leaks!) and place into refrigerator overnight. 

  2. Uncover and discard plastic wrap and place the meat into the slow cooker. 

  3. Pour enough root beer into the slow cooker until the meat is just covered. Turn onto low and cook for 6-8 hours or until meat shreds easily with a fork. 

  4. Drain the root beer. Discard the bones and excess fat. Shred the meat and return to the slow cooker. 

  5. Gently fold in just enough BBQ sauce to lightly coat the meat. Server immediately or keep on the warm setting for up to an hour. 

  6. Serve with buns, coleslaw and extra bbq sauce on the side.