Thanksgiving: The Feast

The Feast.

Thanksgiving is a cook’s Super Bowl. It’s an opportunity to break out all the favorite dishes and go nuts. Rather than a typical meal with one or two side dishes, Thanksgiving calls for at least five – and that doesn’t include dessert. It’s also an opportunity to cheat a little on the healthier options I usually cook and add a little butter. Besides, there is nothing more relaxing to me than cooking all day.

I’ve had the opportunity to cook Thanksgiving dinner for a couple years now, but this year was my best yet. My whole family flew out to Chicago to celebrate and SeaJetCook in action (get it?!). This year, my lineup included a beautiful turkey with gravy, sourdough bread stuffing, a tangy cranberry pear sauce, sweet potatoes in orange cups, a skinny scalloped potato gratin, steamed green beans, fluffy biscuits, and two kinds of pie: the obligatory pecan and pumpkin.

I’m going to do this series of posts a little differently than normal. This post won’t actually include any recipes. Instead, it’ll be a play-by-play of how I organized the day. Don’t worry, I’ll include links to all the recipes, too. But the most daunting part of planning Thanksgiving is figuring out how to make everything by yourself in one oven. So here’s my game plan. Enjoy, everyone!

A Few Days Before the Big Day

Get all your groceries, including the turkey. You can also get all your veggies and keep them in the crisper in the fridge. Only potatoes and onions need to stay out on the counter.

I generally like getting  a fresh turkey instead of frozen. But if you do buy frozen, put it in your refrigerator to defrost over the next few days – it generally takes 24 hours for every 5lbs to defrost. If you’re in a hurry to defrost, you can put the turkey in a big pot of cold water (like my chicken recipe). It takes about 30 minutes for every pound to defrost in water.

The Night Before the Big Day

Double check that you have all your ingredients for the next day. There’s nothing worse than running to the grocery store on Thanksgiving Day while juggling 5 side dishes because you forgot something.

Clean the turkey. Remove everything from the cavity (giblets, neck, and plastic bag) and discard. Place the turkey in the sink and thoroughly rinse the inside cavity and skin with cool water. This helps remove any bacteria within the cavity or on the skin.

Brine the turkey in a large pot. This takes about an hour to prepare the brine, so don’t do it too late! Store in the refrigerator overnight. I’m all about brining these days. It’s makes the turkey perfectly moist and seasoned. Brine the turkey no matter how you cook it!

The Morning of the Big Day

8:00 A.M. Wake up and make a good breakfast for the family. Our tradition is Pillsbury cinnamon rolls.

  • While the cinnamon rolls are cooking, start preparing the pumpkin for pie. Cut the pumpkin from the skin and steam for about 15 minutes. If you want to use canned pumpkin, skip this step.
9:00 A.M.Start making the pumpkin and pecan pies – this takes about 15 minutes. Make sure both are ready to go in the oven at the same time.
  • Start with the pumpkin pie. It takes 15 minutes on 425 degrees before you turn down the head to 350.
  • When you turn the heat down to 350, pop the pecan pie in. Both pies cook at 350 for an hour.
  • While the pies cook, peel and prepare the potatoes for the skinny scalloped potato gratin. Have the gratin ready to go in the oven as soon as the pies are done.
  • If you have extra time, skip ahead and start getting the sweet potatoes ready – these take a long time!
9:30 A.M.The pies should done. Take them out of the oven and set them aside to cool. Crank the temperature back up to 425 degrees and bake the Skinny Scalloped Potato Gratin for 45 minutes.
10:30 A.M.(with a little time buffer) Your gratin should be done, and the sweet potatoes and the stuffing should be prepared. Turn the temperature on the oven back down to 350 degrees. Put the sweet potatoes and the stuffing in the oven for 40 minutes.
  • Do some dishes, then go relax! You deserve it!
11:20 A.M.Pull the sweet potatoes and stuffing out of the oven and set aside to cool. Get the turkey out of the fridge and start getting it ready for the oven.
  • Place the turkey on a roasting pan and season with garlic salt, Italian seasoning, and melted butter.
  • Chop up some leftover veggies and fill the cavity of the turkey (I used 4 stalks of celery and 2 small onions). This adds flavor and moisture to the turkey, even if you’re not going to be eating those veggies.
11:30 A.M.Put the turkey in the oven at 325 degrees. Here’s a timetable for roasting the turkey from the USDA:
  • 8 to 12 lbs: 2 3/4 to 3 hrs
  • 12 to 14 lbs: 3 to 3 3/4 hrs
  • 14 to 18 lbs: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hrs
  • 18 to 20 lbs: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hrs
  • 20 to 24 lbs: 4 1/2 to 5 hrs
  • Cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
The Afternoon of the Big Day
11:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M.Relax! Play board games with the family. Have a glass (or two) of wine. Put your feet up. Every couple hours check on the turkey and baste with more melted butter.
3:30 P.M.Check the turkey. If it’s done, take it out of the oven and let it rest so the juices can redistribute in the meat.
  • Turn the temperature up to 350 degrees and pop in some Pillsbury rolls. I know I cheated a little bit here, but those are so delicious and easy! They take 15 minutes to make. I don’t have a recipe for this one, so don’t forget them at the store.
  • While the rolls cook, get the gravy and the cranberry sauce on the stove. Both are easy to make and only take about 15 minutes.
  • After the gravy and cranberry sauce are simmering on the stove, prepare your green beans.
4:00 P.M.FEAST! Break open a couple bottles of wine, set the table, and dig in.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and can use my guide for next year. Until then, enjoy all the components by themselves! Turkeys are on sale now, so I already bought a couple small ones and stuck them in my freezer. Sometimes in January I’ll pull one of them out and have a feast, part two.

The Feast on my plate!

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Mediterranean Quinoa Salad Bowl

To date, Chicken, Pesto, and Spinach Quinoa is by far my most popular recipe. So I wanted to do another little spin on that bowl, this time with a Mediterranean twist. And instead of making a pasta bowl or a rice bowl like in the aforementioned recipe, I swap in still-incredibly-tasty-but-much-healthier quinoa. This dish is high on protein and fiber with all the flavors of the Mediterranean, so skip the line and cost at your local lunch place and make it yourself. Plus, it makes great leftovers!

This one is a big hit!

What you’ll need:

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
4 chicken breasts or 8 chicken tenders
2 cups spinach, chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2  red pepper, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
10 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tbsp basil
1 tbsp parsley
1 tbsp oregano
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

**Don’t be afraid of the ingredients list. You should already have the quinoa, chicken, olive oil, and herbs in your kitchen staples, and the herbs can be either dry or chopped fresh. The red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard are almost always in my kitchen anyway because they last forever and you can use them in other recipes. So all you really need to pick up is the spinach, tomatoes, pepper, shallot, olives, and cheese – that’s less than half the ingredient list!

What you’ll need to do:

Start cooking the chicken so that it’ll be done by the time the rest of your ingredients are assembled. For instructions on how to cook the chicken, check out my post “Let’s Talk Chicken.”

Right after you start the chicken, get the quinoa on the stove. Combine the water and the quinoa in a small pot over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, cover and turn the heat down to low. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes. For more detailed instructions and pictures, check out “Quick and Easy Quinoa.”

While the chicken and quinoa cook, chop all your veggies into similarly sized, smallish pieces. As you chop, throw them into a large salad bowl to get them out of the way.

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something relaxing about chopping veggies. It helps me unwind at the end of the day.

In a separate container or bowl, mix together your red wine vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard. Set aside.

When the chicken is done, cut it into small, bite-sized pieces and add to the large bowl. After the quinoa is done, add it to the large bowl with the veggies, chicken, feta cheese, and herbs (by this time, all your ingredients are in the bowl except the dressing). Lastly, toss all the ingredients with the vinegar, oil, and mustard dressing.

Enjoy!

Yum!

Hawaiian Pineapple Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Hawaii may seem far away, but this dessert is just an hour from your table. This pineapple cake is the perfect summer dessert, transporting you from wherever you are to the beautiful beaches of the North Shore. It’s special because the cake itself is a little denser, but with every bite you take you get the crunch of walnuts and the chewiness of pineapple chunks. Those little nuggets of pineapple pop with flavor in your mouth, and the cream cheese frosting balances their sweetness.

You can see the chunks of pineapple and walnuts while the cream cheese frosting oozes over the cake. Delicious.

What you’ll need:

  • For the cake:
    • 2 cups minus 4 tablespoons flour
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 20 ounce can crushed pineapple in light syrup
    • 2 cups sugar (I used Splenda)
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • For the frosting:
    • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature (use full-fat)
    • 1/2 cup butter at room temperature (no margarine, real butter)
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
    • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine your flour, baking powder, and salt.

**Tip: If you have a sifter, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. I don’t have a sifter, so I used a whisk instead. The sifter works better, but your cake will still taste great even if you don’t have one.

Mix in the pineapple (syrup included), sugar, vanilla, eggs with an electric mixer. This won’t be perfectly smooth because of the pineapple, but you want to make sure it’s well combined. Add the walnuts.

Pour the batter into a greased 13 x 9-inch pan. Bake for 40 minutes.

There’s the batter in the pan, ready to go in the oven.

While the cake is baking, blend the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth. It’s really important to use an electric mixer here, I’ve found that good ol’ elbow grease just doesn’t work for frosting (I learned this after many, many failed attempt at making frosting by hand). Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Stir in the walnuts.

See the consistency of the frosting? Perfect! But remember it will melt a little on the hot cake.

Remove the cake from the oven. Use the toothpick test to check if it’s done. Or, instead of using a toothpick, use a fork. Once the cake is done, poke the cake all over with a fork (you want to make holes for the frosting to seep into!).

Here’s the done cake. You can see that it hasn’t risen too much, which is normal. You can also see all those holes I’ve poked with a fork.

Frost immediately and serve.

The full cake has been frosted, and you can smell the pineapple, cream cheese, and butter. It makes me salivate just looking at it!

**I must give credit where credit is due. This recipe was derived from a recipe book my dad gave me, called Treasures of Love: Secret Recipes and Gifts from the Heart. It’s a delicious collection of recipes by the Safari Sisters, who compiled this book to benefit children in Africa.

Mango Salsa over Mahi Mahi, and a 50th post thank you

To celebrate my 50th post on SeaJetCook, I wanted to post one of my favorite dishes of all time: Mango Salsa over Mahi Mahi. There are so many reasons why this is my favorite. The mango brings me back to one of my favorite places in the world: the beach in Hawaii. The cilantro in the salsa reminds me of growing up in Southern California, my home. Fish is one of my favorite foods ever, and mahi mahi in particular tops the list. It’s spicy, sweet, light, and fresh. The crunchiness of the salsa perfectly balances the delicate flakiness of the fish. The deliciousness of this meal is to die for (no pun intended, keep reading), and I just lucked out that it’s incredibly healthy, too.

Maybe this is a little morbid, and maybe it’s a bit of an over-share, but my family and I have often discussed what we would want our last meals to be. More specifically, what our death row meals would be. It’s weird, I know. But if you throw away the weirdness, what it really boils down to is what our favorite meals are. I know Clinton’s would be teriyaki steak and chicken with a zesty salad and giant scoop of white rice. My dad’s would be a bone-in filet with a baked potato, sautéed mushrooms, and beets. Mom’s would be the same (which is why they’re meant for each other). Throw a big helping of steamed broccoli and creamy, garlicky mashed potatoes with mango salsa-topped mahi mahi, and you have mine. So here’s my recipe, I hope you all enjoy this dish as much as I do!

It’s spicy, sweet, fresh, and simply delicious. The fact that it’s healthy is just an awesome afterthought.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 filets of mahi mahi
  • Mango salsa (makes enough for leftovers):
    • 2 ripe mangos
    • 1 medium onion
    • 2 Serrano chiles (or 1 if you don’t want it to be too spicy)
    • 1 cucumber
    • 1 cup chopped cilantro
    • 6 tbsp lemon juice

What you’ll need to do:

Though I generally like to multitask when cooking, I like to make the mango salsa before I even start cooking the fish. It gives the salsa time to let the flavors marry and letting me focus all my attention on one element of the dish.

Start by peeling your mango. Once it’s peeled, cut off the very bottom to make a flat surface or base, making easier to cut around the pit. Use a paring knife to cut off the flesh of the mango around the pit. Chop the mango into small- to medium-sized chunks. Add to a medium-sized bowl.

Cutting a base on your mango makes them easier to cut. After you cut off the big fleshy sides of the mango, they’re easy to chop into small, salsa-perfect pieces.

Peel your cucumber and chop into chunks, making them about the same size as your mangoes, and add to the bowl. Finely chop your onions.

The chiles are going to give you the heat in your salsa. Start by cutting them in half and removing all the ribs and seeds to control the heat (the spiciest parts). Then mince into very small pieces and add to your bowl.

Chop your cilantro with both the leaves and stems – I like to leave the stems in because I think they have a ton of flavor that you miss when you add only the leaves.

Add the lemon juice to your bowl, and thoroughly combine. Set aside.

This is delicious with fish, chicken, pork, or simply with tortilla chips as an appetizer. It’s a fun twist on a traditional favorite.

**Tip: I purposefully make extra servings of the mango salsa because it’s also delicious to simply serve with tortilla chips as a dip. You can also use it to top chicken or pork.

Set a pan over medium-high heat on your stove, and spray with cooking spray. Cook your mahi mahi in the pan for about 4-5 minutes on each side.

Top your mahi mahi with mango salsa and enjoy!

**As I’ve written my 50th post on the 5 month anniversary of SeaJetCook’s launch, I would like to thank all of my readers. I started this blog as a small passion project. It was a way to write down some of my recipes so I wouldn’t forget them, and I hoped to inspire a few hesitant cooks to get in the kitchen and give cooking a try. So far, SeaJetCook has reached thousands of readers in 27 countries, which simply astounds me. While I set out hoping to inspire you, it’s you that has inspired me to keep creating and keep writing. So again, thank you. And bon appetit!

Spring Peas with Dates and Walnuts

First, can I just say “Yum?!” This is super delicious, surprisingly healthy, and a constant special occasion request of Clinton’s. I made this most recently for Easter, but it’d be great for any holiday meal or any time you want to really wow a dinner party. The three different types of peas have such a fresh pop of flavor, the dates add a bit of sweetness, and a hint of cayenne pepper adds a bit of a kick that takes this side to the next level.

This super tasty, surprisingly healthy side dish is always a crowd pleaser.

What you’ll need:
10 ounce bag of frozen peas, thawed
1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed
1/2 pound snow peas, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chopped dates (fresh or dried work fine)
Pinch of cayenne pepper

What you’ll need to do:

The most important part of making this dish happen is the prep. Since there’s a lot of moving parts once you get going, having everything thawed, trimmed, and chopped before you begin will make the whole process go a lot more smoothly. Just make sure that as you prep each ingredient, you keep everything segregated because they each go in at different times in the process.

Start by thawing your peas. If it’s a steamable bag of frozen peas (like the kind I’m so fond of), cook slightly less than the package recommends. Or, just leave them in the refrigerator all day. You don’t want them to be too cooked, but you don’t want them to be frozen either.

Then get to work on trimming your peas. For both the sugar snap peas and the snow peas, cut off both ends of the peas (just a little bit!). Set the sugar snap peas aside, and then slice the snow peas very thinly. You can either go horizontally or vertically across the peas – I thick slicing vertically is prettier.

This is bout how much you want to take off the ends of your sugar snap peas.

Lastly, dice your shallot into medium-fine pieces. Chop your walnuts (or buy them already chopped) and chop your dates.

Now it’s time to cook. Simultaneously, get a large pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil heating over medium heat, a medium pot of salted water boiling on your stove, and a large bowl of ice water ready on your counter. After your pan is heated and your water is boiling, we’re going to get both shallot cooking in the pan and the peas cooking in the pot all at the same time. This is why it’s so important to prep first!

Starting with the shallot, throw the shallot in your pan and cook until soft (about 2 minutes). Add the walnuts, dates, and cayenne pepper and cook until the walnuts are toasted (about 1 more minute). After this is done, turn off the heat. Because you’re doing everything simultaneously, the peas will be done and it’s time to add them to the pan.

The amount of flavor in the combination is out of this world. It feels so luxurious and indulgent without adding a ton of fat, sugar, or carbs like you'd find in a typical holiday side.

Now about those peas… While your shallot is cooking, your water should be boiling. Add the snap peas and cook until green (about 2 minutes, or right after you add the walnuts, dates, and cayenne pepper to your pan). Then, add your snow peas for about 30 seconds. Immediately turn off the heat, drain your peas, and plunge them into your bowl of ice water. This shocks the peas and helps them keep their green color and crispy texture. After they’ve cooled, drain.

Your shallot, walnut, date, and cayenne mixture should be coming a finish at about the same time as your peas (remember, those thawed peas have been sitting there ready to go, so we really haven’t had anything to do with them yet). If your timing is a little off, no big deal at all. This isn’t supposed to be a hot dish, so your shallot, walnut, date, and cayenne mixture can sit in the pan (with the heat off) for as long as you need to catch up. In any case, when both mixture are ready, add all your peas (including the thawed peas) to the large pan with the shallot, walnuts, dates, and cayenne. Add the last tablespoon of olive oil and mix together.

Serve slightly warm from the pan or at room temperature. And while this dish requires a bit of a balancing act, it only takes about 30 minutes to make. Yum, yum, yum…

Bunny Butt Cake

Too cute for Easter!

I don’t make special cakes very often. As a matter of fact, I don’t even bake very often. But when I saw this Bunny Butt Cake idea, it was too cute to pass up this Easter. And it’s amazing how easy it was to do! I cheated by using cake mix and a can of frosting so I could let the cuteness do all the talking. Needless to say, it was a smash hit.

Basically, the Bunny Butt Cake is a round cake baked in a bowl, three cupcakes (two feet, one tail), a jumbo marshmallow cut in half to make the heels of the feet, taffy to make the pads of the feet, and coconut to make the fur and grass. Not too crazy, right? Here’s the step-by-step.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 box of cake mix (I used vanilla, but thought carrot or strawberry would be fun)
  • 1 can of frosting (white frosting is best so you can dye it pink, I used vanilla)
  • 1 jumbo marshmallow (for the tops of the bunny heels)
  • 3 cups coconut, or one bag (for the bunny fur and grass)
  • Strawberry taffy (for the pads of the bunny feet)
  • Tools you’ll need:
    • 1 1/2-quart oven-safe bowl (like this one)
    • Cupcake pan
    • Construction paper (for the ears)
    • Food coloring

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat your oven to 325. Grease your 1 1/2-quart bowl and cupcake pans (or use cupcake wrappers in the cupcake pans).

Make your cake batter like normal – to make it easier (and to make less dishes), I just made the batter in the oven-safe bowl. Pour out enough batter to fill three cupcake cups 2/3 full. Bake the cupcakes for 17-21 minutes, and bake the cake for 47-53 minutes. Use the toothpick test to check if they’re done (stick a toothpick in the middle of your cake/cupcakes, if it comes out clean you’re done; if it comes out wet, stick the bowl/pan back in for a couple more minutes and then recheck).

Cool your cake and cupcakes for about 10 minutes in the bowl/pan. Remove the cake by flipping upside down on your serving dish (use a plastic spatula to help get the cake out if need be), and remove the cupcakes from the pan. Cool completely for about 1 hour before frosting.

Here's the start of your bunny. You can see the shape from the bowl here as well as basically how the cupcakes will be positioned.

Spoon frosting into a bowl and use red food coloring to make desired pink color (about 3 drops). Spread 1/3 frosting over the cake, and then adhere the cupcakes to the cake to make the feet and tail. Then, cut your jumbo marshmallow in half and place on top of the two cupcakes to make the heels of the feet. Spread thin layer of frosting over the whole cake (including feet and tail) to seal in the crumbs. Freeze for 30-45 minutes to set the frosting.

This shows how the cupcakes will be adhered to the cake, as well as how the marshmallows will be positioned as the heels. At this point, it's time to frost the whole thing. Before you know it the whole shape will come together.

Spread remaining frosting over cake. Sprinkle with two cups of coconut and press gently to adhere. Shake remaining coconut in a sealed plastic baggie with 3 drops of green food coloring until evenly tinted. Surround bunny with your coconut grass.

Here's the basic bunny frosted! See the picture at the very top for the overall look.

Use your fingers and hands to roll small pieces of taffy into balls, and then press into two large ovals and six small circles for the pads of the feet – you may need frosting to help them adhere to the feet. Cut ears out of construction paper and tuck a small bit under the cake and use a small dab of frosting to help them stand straight up.

And there’s your bunny! Even though Easter has passed this year, your bunny would be perfect for any Spring-themed party, birthday, or great to make next year. Whatever the occasion, he’ll be the hit of a party.

Mom’s Sticky Buns with Butterscotch and Pecans

Every year for Easter, my mom makes these sticky buns that my brothers and I look forward to more than any Easter basket or egg hunt. They’re ooey and gooey, dripping with butterscotch and pecans. The rolls themselves are soft and chewy, making every forkful utterly indulgent.

And they’re very easy to make! Aside from being a delicious treat, my mom likes to make this for the holidays because a bulk of the work is done the night before. This way, all she has do to is pop them in the oven in the morning so she can enjoy us kids opening our Easter baskets without laboring in the kitchen.

This is my favorite family recipe of all time, and I look forward to these every year.

What you’ll need:
1 15 ounce pack uncooked frozen dinner rolls (or about 15 rolls), make sure they’re not the already cooked “bake in 6 minutes” kind
1 box butterscotch pudding, not instant (if you can’t find butterscotch, vanilla is also tasty)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 cups chopped pecans

What you’ll need to do:

Grease a 10-12 cup bundt pan. Arrange balls of dough in pan, evenly spreading them around the pan. Then, sprinkle the pudding mix and then the brown sugar. Pour melted butter over the top of the mixture and then sprinkle with nuts.

It seems like the pan is not filled nearly enough, but these rolls rise and incredible amount by morning.

Lastly, cover it with a towel and let it rise overnight. I generally allow for about 10 hours.

When you wake up in the morning, the dough will be nice and risen.

This is what you'll wake up to in the morning before it's baked. It's amazing how much the dough rises!

Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Flip onto a serving dish and enjoy! My family always eats this as our Easter treat, but it would be great on any other holiday morning.

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes

I admit, I’m a tiny bit of a beer snob, so I love it whenever I get a chance to use beer in my cooking – not to mention, it’s a great excuse to enjoy a beer on the side while I cook! Guinness already has chocolate and coffee notes, so it pairs perfectly in a chocolate cupcake. These are rich, deep, decadent goodies that are great for beer-snobs and chocolate-snobs alike.

What’s also awesome, these are easy enough to make to satisfy a craving whenever it hits. Even though baked goods are probably my favorite thing in the world to eat, I’m notoriously impatient when it comes to the actually-doing-it-and-baking part. These don’t require any complicated baking technique, and I make it even easier by buying my frosting in a jar (gasp!) and just jazzing it up to fit the occasion.

That hint of Guinness really gives these cupcakes a fun twist!

What you’ll need:
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch fine salt
1 bottle room-temperature Guinness (any stout will do, though)
1 stick butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1-8 ounce tub of sour cream
1-16 ounce jar of cream cheese frosting

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the Guinness, melted butter, and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then, mix in the sour cream until thoroughly combined and smooth (I used my electric hand mixer, but if you don’t have one handy then use a whisk).

The carbonation in the beer makes these cupcakes particularly light and fluffy.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, adding about 1/3 of the mixture at a time.

Line your cupcake pan, and then fill the cupcake wrappers until they’re about 3/4 full.

I generally use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to fill my cupcake pans to keep the amounts even, but you can use more or less if needed.

Bake for 12 minutes until risen and domed in the middle. I always use the toothpick test to make sure they’re done. If the toothpick comes out clean, your cupcakes are good to go. If the toothpick comes out wet, stick your cupcakes back in for a couple minutes and then check again with another toothpick.

Dump the cooked cupcakes out of the pans after only a few minutes. Otherwise, they'll keep cooking in the hot pans.

Once your cupcakes are done, turn out and let them cool completely before frosting.

Speaking of frosting… I know I went the easy way out with frosting this time, but that’s okay! To jazz it up, I add food coloring to make it special. With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, I make it a bright green. Then go nuts with sprinkles, toppings (chocolate chips mixed in with the frosting would also be super tasty), or whatever sounds good to you!

Festive for St. Patrick's Day!

Sweet Potato and Turkey Chili Shepherd’s Pie

St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. I’m not sure if it’s because of my Irish heritage, if it’s because the city I live in gets so swept up in the holiday (they dye the river green, for goodness sake), or if it’s because I finally have an excuse to eat potatoes and drink beer all day without judgment. Either way, I always go all out. And St. Patrick’s Day wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day without some delicious shepherd’s pie.

This shepherd’s pie, however, is a little nontraditional. It’s actually a slightly healthier spin on the more conventional shepherd’s pie, which is loaded with white potatoes and lamb. Instead, I use the nutrient-loaded sweet potatoes and lean ground turkey. Not only that, but the depth of flavor in this dish is unbelievable. It’s spicy, sweet, creamy, crunchy, cheesy, and with a hint of citrus. It’s to die for.

Potatoes, chili, and cheese? It's comfort food in a pan.

What you’ll need:
4 large sweet potatoes
1 orange to zest
4 tablespoons margarine
1 cup sour cream (or you can use Greek yogurt)
2 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
1 large onion
1-2 chili peppers (depending on how spicy you like it) – I used 1 jalapeno
1 red bell pepper
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1 small 5 ounce can of tomato paste
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups shredded sharp yellow Chedder
Salt and pepper to taste

Get all your ingredients ready to go, because once you start you won't have much downtime with this dish!

What you’ll need to do:

Start by putting a large pot of water on the stove to boil and preheating your oven to 400 degrees. Then, peel your sweet potatoes and cut them into manageable cubes so they’ll cook faster (about 2 inches in diameter will do just fine). Once they’re cubed, get them in the pot of boiling water.

While the potatoes cook, put your ground turkey in a very large pan sprayed with cooking spray over high heat and break apart with a wooden spoon. Seriously, use the biggest pan you have or you’ll run out of room – I resorted to using my wok. While the turkey cooks, peal and chop your onions. Once your turkey is cooked through, add the chopped onions and turn over with the wooden spoon to mix.

While the turkey and onions are cooking, start chopping your peppers. Add your chopped peppers and the garlic to the turkey and onion. Then, stir in your spices – the chili powder, paprika, cumin, and coriander. Remember, when measuring your spices, one palmful equals one tablespoon! Lastly, add your chicken broth and tomato paste, and let it simmer on the stove until your potatoes are done (around 10 minutes or so).

This chili would be good even by itself. But paired with the creamy potatoes, it's phenomenal.

By now, your potatoes should be tender when poked with a fork (that’s how I know they’re done). Drain, and return to the hot pot or a large bowl to mix. Because I always love an excuse to play with kitchen gadgets, I use my electric hand mixer to mix the potatoes, margarine, sour cream, and orange zest (ooh! I get to use the zester too!).

If you don't have an electric mixer, good ol' elbow grease can do the trick, too. I like to leave my potatoes a little chunky for pops of sweet potato.

Prepare a 9×13″ pan by spraying with cooking spray. Then, smooth your potatoes on the bottom of the pan first. Follow by layering on the chili, and then top with the cheese.

I can barely wait to dig into this cheesy, potato-y wonderfulness.

Your shepherd’s pie is almost done! The last step is to pop the pan in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese bubbles. After that’s done, all that’s left is to scoop a giant heap onto your plate and dig in!

I must give credit to Rachael Ray, who inspired my version of this dish. So in her words, YUM-O!