Sourdough Bread Stuffing

One thing I love about hosting and cooking the entire Thanksgiving menu is that I can choose what dishes I want on my table. Traditionally, we have had stuffing that was cooked inside the turkey and came out (in my opinion) soggy, colorless, and boring – it was definitely not my favorite Thanksgiving side dish. Since I have cooked my own Thanksgiving dinner and had complete control over the menu for the past few years, I have been making a new Sourdough Bread Stuffing that’s packed with flavor, has a nice crispy texture on top, and has definitely become a favorite on the menu.

Perhaps it’s the Californian in me, but I love sourdough bread. It adds so much more flavor to the stuffing than regular white bread. Fresh thyme and sage make this taste like an expensive, gourmet dish. And since the stuffing is baked in a casserole dish instead of inside a bird, it gets a golden-brown crisp on top that gives the dish a nice texture.

I was excited to share this new tradition with my family when they came out to visit for Thanksgiving this year. Of course, my mom thought I was insane for changing a Thanksgiving tradition, but I insisted on making my sourdough stuffing anyway. My brothers, however, couldn’t be more delighted. It was the first time I remember seeing them get seconds of stuffing at Thanksgiving! And sure enough, I converted my mom into an outside-the-bird-stuffing lover, too.

The sourdough bread is what makes this dish so special!

The sourdough bread is what makes this dish so special!

What you’ll need:
1 pound loaf sourdough bread
8 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
10 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped from the stems
12 fresh sage leaves, chopped
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley leaves

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Cut or tear the bread into 1-inch cubes and spread it evenly on a baking sheet. I recommend cutting instead of tearing the bread, because tearing sourdough bread can also tear apart your fingers. Toast the bread in the oven until completely dry and beginning to crisp and brown, or for about 20 minutes.

These don't have to be perfect cubes, just cut them roughly. I think it makes the dish a little more rustic anyway!

These don’t have to be perfect cubes, just cut them roughly. I think it makes the dish a little more rustic anyway!

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter and add your onion and thyme. Stir frequently until the onion has turned clear, or about 5 minutes. Add the sage and remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. After the butter has melted, add the chicken broth and celery and stir to combine.

Transfer the toasted bread to a large mixing bowl. Pour the chicken broth mixture over the bread crumbs and toss to combine until the bread cubes absorb the liquid. Pour the mixture into your baking dish and sprinkle with parsley.

This is one dish that will make your house smell AMAZING while cooking.

This is one dish that will make your house smell amazing while it’s cooking.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is golden-brown. Remove from the oven and allow the stuffing to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

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Sandy’s Sweet Potatoes in Orange Cups

Every Thanksgiving, there is one dish I look forward to more than anything else because I only get it once a year on Thanksgiving Day: Aunt Sandy’s sweet potatoes in orange cups. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to travel back to California for Thanksgiving for the past few years so I haven’t been able to enjoy the dish from Aunt Sandy herself. So, I begged her for the recipe so I could make them myself.

I love these sweet potatoes because they’re different than the traditional heaps of sugary, one-note sweet potato casserole. These come in little individual servings inside hollowed out orange peels, which is not only convenient but also gives the sweet potatoes a little citrusy kick. I love the citrus in these because it cuts the over-the-top sweetness. Don’t worry, I still add marshmallows and this could still pass as a dessert. But the orange adds another layer of flavor to an otherwise simply sweet dish.

This delicious side dish comes in individual servings and tastes like candy. Yum!

This delicious side dish comes in individual servings and tastes like candy. Yum!

What you’ll need:
8 sweet potatoes
1 stick of butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
12 oranges
4 eggs, beaten

What you’ll need to do:

Start by boiling the sweet potatoes in their jackets in a large pot of water for about 45 minutes. Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork to check tenderness.

While the potatoes boil, cut your oranges in half, juice them, and then scoop out the flesh. This is by far the most time-consuming part of the job – luckily I had my Mom here to help me this year! Be very careful of scooping out the flesh because you don’t want to tear the orange cups. Save the juice because you’ll need it later. Arrange the hollowed out orange cups in a casserole dish.

When the sweet potatoes are soft, peel the skin from them and mash. Add the butter and mix with an electric mixer. Add the eggs. Next, add the sugar and spices. Add 1/4 cup orange juice from your reserves to the mixture – the rest of the fresh-squeezed orange juice is a treat for the chef! Mix the potato mixture thoroughly.

Scoop the sweet potato mixture into the orange cups. Cook for 40 minutes on 350 degrees.

You can even make these ahead of time and freeze them!

You can even make these ahead of time and freeze them!

When you have about 10 minutes left in cooking, top the sweet potatoes with marshmallows and pop them back in the oven.

Enjoy!

Pumpkin Pie

I love Fall because it gives me the excuse to eat pumpkin everything. There’s pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice Ghirardelli chocolates, and – the greatest of all – pumpkin pie.

This year I was ambitious with my pumpkin pie because I made it from a fresh pumpkin. Normally I use canned pumpkin, but a trip to a pumpkin farm earlier this Fall inspired me. I was surprised at how easy it was! It’s a little more time consuming than simply opening a can, but it was well worth the extra effort. Not only did I get delicious pumpkin meat for my pie, but I also roasted the pumpkin seeds. Needless to say, there was no leftover pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving!

I admit, I usually use a lot more whipped cream than this but it didn't make for a pretty picture. Yum!

I admit, I usually use a lot more whipped cream than this but it didn’t make for a pretty picture. Yum!

What you’ll need:
1 small fresh sweet sugar pie pumpkin OR 1 can pumpkin
2 eggs slightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional).
1 unbaked pie shell

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Spray a pie pan with cooking spray and lay out your pie shell. I like to press the chopped pecans into the crust!

I love the surprise nuttiness of the pecans!

I love the surprise crunchiness of the pecans!

If you use fresh pumpkin, start by carving out all the pumpkin meat. I cut my pumpkin into small strips and then cut off the outer shell. I then cut the pumpkin meat into cubes and put it in a large pot of water with a steaming basket. Put about a cup of water in a large pot on your stove with the pumpkin meat in the steaming basket and turn the heat on high. Cover and steam your pumpkin for about 15 minutes or until tender.

Steaming the pumpkin is better than boiling because it helps the pumpkin retain its flavor.

Steaming the pumpkin is better than boiling because it helps the pumpkin retain its flavor.

When your pumpkin is tender, put it in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Measure out 1 cup of the pumpkin puree for the pie. Freeze the rest for another recipe later.

Freezing the leftovers is great for future pumpkin bread or muffins!

Freezing the leftovers is great for future pumpkin bread or muffins!

Mix all ingredients together and pour into the unbaked pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350 degrees. If you use fresh pumpkin, bake for an additional hour. If you use canned pumpkin, bake for 45 minutes.

Be careful of spilling, the pie batter is very thin when you put it in the oven.

Be careful of spilling, the pie batter is very thin when you put it in the oven.

Cool and serve with whipped cream.

Delicious. I almost can't wait for it to cool before I have a slice.

Delicious. I almost can’t wait for it to cool before I have a slice.

Enjoy!

Aunt Gwen’s Pecan Pie

There are a few perks to growing up in a great big Southern family. Growing up, I learned Southern hospitality, manners, traditions, and – most importantly – I was spoiled with Southern food. I’ve traveled to the South to visit extended family a few times. One of my fondest memories was traveling to Granbury, Texas to visit my great-aunt and -uncle who lived on a pecan plantation. I was very young at the time, but I enjoyed touring the plantation with my Uncle Frank on his golf cart with his dog, Buffy – he even let me drive a little! My Aunt Gwen spoiled us in the mornings with pecan-crusted sticky buns and family stories.

Years later when I needed pie recipes, I knew exactly who to ask. You can’t beat getting a pecan pie recipe from a Southern woman who lived on a pecan plantation! I’ve made Aunt Gwen’s pecan pie recipe for many years, and it’s definitely a favorite in my house. And it’s so easy to make!

I love making this pie for many special occasions. It's a real crowd-pleaser, and it's so easy!

I love making this pie for many special occasions. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, and it’s so easy!

What you’ll need:
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour (rounded)
3/4 cup dark Karo
1/4 cup light Karo
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup pecans
1 tsp vanilla
1 unbaked pie shell

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat your oven to 350. Spray a pie pan with cooking spray and then lay out your pie shell.

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Pour into the pie shell.

Perfectly delicious.

Perfectly delicious.

Bake for 1 hour.

Enjoy!

**Tip: To make this pie sugar-free, just replace one cup of sugar-free syrup instead of the light and dark Karo.

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 gettingĀ  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!

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.

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.

Simple Spinach and Artichoke Dip

As your friends indulge in this gooey, cheesy, yummy appetizer, they will never guess that it only takes about 10 minutes to make. It’s become a Super Bowl staple, an easy treat for family get-togethers, and a hit with my book club. And really, it’s so easy.

This little kick of cayenne makes this seemingly ordinary Spinach Artichoke Dip extraordinary.

What you’ll need:
1 10 ounce package of frozen spinach
1 9-10 ounce package of frozen artichoke hearts (if you can’t find them, 1 can of artichoke hearts will work, too)
1 8 ounce package of low-fat cream cheese
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
1/4 cup low-fat mayo
1 big handful of Parmesan cheese (about 3/4 cups)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or a couple pinches)
1/4 teaspoon salt (a pinch)
1 tablespoon garlic powder

What you’ll need to do:

In a large microwave safe bowl, defrost your spinach and artichoke hearts together. You’ll do this by adding about 2 tablespoons of water to the bowl, microwaving on high for 5 minutes, stirring, and then microwaving again on high for about 3 minutes. Drain out any liquid.

The best part of this dish is that it's a one-pot wonder. The defrosting is done in this dish, and then everything else is just added in. I even use my glass microwave-safe dish as my serving dish!

If your artichoke hearts are too big in size, break them apart with a fork.

Stir the cream cheese in with the hot mixture. Then add the sour cream, mayo, Parmesan cheese, cayenne pepper, salt, and garlic (I use low-fat versions of the ingredients if I can so that I feel less guilty about enjoying scoop after scoop of this, but feel free to use full fat if you’d like). Stir until thoroughly combined.

Serve hot with pita chips, crackers, or chunks of bread to scoop up the goodness. This can be stored in the fridge overnight and reheated the next day (reheat by microwaving on high for about 3 minutes, and then stirring to combine). Enjoy!

Bacon, Blue Cheese, and Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breast

Easy has never tasted so indulgent. This yummy, gooey, smokey dish is the ultimate weeknight treat. It’s loaded with rich, creamy blue cheese which pairs perfectly with the smokey bacon, and it’s packed with a huge serving of spinach (so you don’t have to feel too guilty, right?).

And it’s so simple! While the ingredients aren’t necessarily on my kitchen staples list, you’ll almost always find them in my fridge. Instead of cooking bacon, I take the easy way out and use bacon bits or bacon pieces. These last in the fridge for a long time and are great on salads, BLTs, or in mac ‘n cheese. Blue cheese can last for months, and again is great in salads or crusted on steak. And the spinach is just a pack of steamable frozen spinach that can be used in meals like this or as a simple side dish to another meal. The options with these ingredients is endless! So don’t feel guilty about beefing up your kitchen staples list with these yummy goodies.

I paired my yummy chicken with a simple quinoa side (or you can do rice or potatoes). Since you're loading the chicken with so much spinach, you don't really need a separate veggie side.

What you’ll need (serves 2):
2 chicken breasts (chicken tenders won’t work this time)
1 10 ounce package frozen spinach
3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (or 2 big handfuls)
1/2 cup bacon pieces (with maybe a little extra for good measure ;))

What you’ll need to do:

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Then, get your chicken defrosting in a bowl of water (see “Let’s Talk Chicken” for defrosting instructions) – if your chicken is fresh, not frozen, put the chicken aside until your stuffing is ready.

While your chicken defrosts, cook your spinach in the microwave by following the instructions on the package. Once the spinach is cooked, squeeze out any water. Mix the blue cheese and bacon with the cooked spinach in a medium bowl.

Since the spinach will be hot, your blue cheese will start to get all melted and creamy before you even put it in the oven.

After your chicken is completely defrosted, slice it open across the middle to create a pocket for the stuffing. Then, put your chicken in a baking pan so it can be stuffed.

Don't cut the chicken all the way through, think of it like a pocket.

Stuff your chicken as full as it can get with your bacon, blue cheese, and spinach stuffing. I go a little heavy on the stuffing in this recipe, so I smother the top of the chicken with whatever I have leftover.

Bake for 30 minutes. And before you know it, you’ll enjoying forkfuls after forkfuls of this delectable dish.

I can barely wait for this dish to cool long enough to eat without burning myself.

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!