Which Came First...The Chicken or the Stuffing?

Chicken is one of those highly versatile foods as there are literally a zillion +1 ways you can prepare it within any category:

Grill it.
Bake it.
Fry it.
Saute it.
Stuff it.

You can be so creative with marinades and dipping sauces and the like, but my creative strengths lie in the "Stuff it" category.  

I've stuffed chicken and smothered it with crab meat (the story of which always makes me laugh when I think back on it) and I've even crammed fruit into a bird.  There are so many other things that I've stuffed a chicken breast with and I can't believe I haven't yet shared them with you here, mostly because it's a last minute thing of figuring out what in the fridge needs to be used up and makes a good combination and there's no real recipe per se.  Today's offering is no exception to that rule.

I found myself with an overload of Boursin® Cheese thanks to a BOGO sale at my beloved Harris Teeter a few weeks ago and I also rustled up a jar of roasted red bell peppers left over from another kitchen project.  I threw in some fresh sage leaves and some par-cooked bacon and it all made for one tasty dinner.  I've discovered that I prefer using thin cutlets when stuffing simply because a regular chicken breast seems to be a ratio of too much chicken vs. stuffing once it's all rolled up (see how the chicken seems to be a little too top-heavy in this photo?).    I've been known to slice a regular breast in half and pound it out even a little thinner if that's all I have on hand.   

Try your hand at creative stuffings and let me know what combinations you come up with!

Boursin Stuffed Chicken Breasts

4 chicken breast cutlets
1 package Boursin® Cheese
4 slices par-cooked bacon (by par-cooked, I mean partially cooked. Don't cook it until it's crisp and brittle. You want it to be a little pliable so you can roll it up and it will continue to cook while the chicken is baking.)
4 to 8 fresh sage leaves
4 strips of roasted red bell peppers
Seasonings of your choice
Splash of white wine or chicken broth

Spread 1/4 of the Boursin Cheese generously on each chicken breast. Add a strip of bacon, roasted red bell pepper and one or two fresh sage leaves. Roll chicken up into a bundle and secure with toothpicks. Season bundles with your choice of seasoning blend (I usually have one of those premixed poultry seasonings on hand but just salt and freshly ground pepper work fine too).

Add a tablespoon or so oil in a skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Sear chicken on all sides until golden brown. Add about 3/4 cup or so of liquid (white wine or broth) and deglaze the pan. Remove chicken and liquid from skillet and place into a baking dish.

Bake chicken in oven preheated to 350 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Pumpkin Bars: A Fall Rite of Passage

If you can feel a slight chill in the evening air and hear fallen leaves rustling and crunching under your feet, most likely you can also smell pumpkin bars baking in my oven.

To me, pumpkin is inherently an autumnal ingredient, but these could technically be enjoyed any time of year.  I think if I baked them during any other season I wouldn't appreciate them as much because seeing the farmer's markets and roadside produce stands deluged with pumpkins straight from the patch always triggers the memory of these bars.

This recipe was posted by a virtual friend on a recipe forum that I used to frequent and makes a half sheet pan, so there's more than enough to share with friends, family and coworkers or to take to a Halloween or Thanksgiving potluck.  I've doubled the ingredients for the icing because while I love cream cheese icing, I'm also absolutely horrible at icing a dessert and not getting crumbs all mixed in.  I usually spread half the icing without any worries about getting it all crummy, put the pan in the fridge for about 15 minutes so the cream cheese can set just a bit and then use the rest of the icing to make it all pretty.  These squares are really cute garnished with the little candy pumpkins that you see in the candy aisle this time of year. 

Pumpkin Bars
Recipe By: Chef Beck

Amount  Measure       Ingredient -- Preparation Method
--------  ------------  --------------------------------
2               cups  sugar
1                cup  butter (2 sticks), room temp.
2               cups  canned pumpkin (one 15-oz. can)
4                     eggs, room temp.
2               cups  flour
2               tsp.  baking soda
1               tsp.  cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, ground cloves
1/2          tsp.  salt
6                oz.  cream cheese, room temp.
2              sticks  butter, room temp.
2               tsp.  vanilla
2               tsp.  orange zest (optional)
4               cups  powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 15 X 10 1/2 X 1 (half sheet) pan. Sift flour, baking soda, spices, and salt together; set aside. Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add pumpkin and eggs; beat until smooth. Add dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Spread mixture into pan. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until cake springs back when touched or toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely and frost.  For frosting, beat all ingredients together until smooth.

See You Next Spring!

When the temperature drops below 70 degrees, you won't be seeing me out and about unless it's absolutely necessary. The least little drop in temperature and loss of humidity turns me into a frigid Ice Queen and makes me want to shut myself up in the warm confines of my house until next spring. (Okay, so according to a few of my former husbands, I'm an Ice Queen pretty much any time of year but that's a different story altogether.) I just wish it could stay the perfect temperature of 72.5 all year long.

But I suppose if the temperatures never changed, there would be no need for warm comfort foods such as these South of the Border Shells (affectionately referred to as SOBs in my household). These delicious shells offer a twist on typical Italian themed stuffed shells because they are stuffed with a combination of ground beef, green chilies, and Southwestern spices then topped with picante sauce. I highly recommend using a medium or hot (if you dare) picante to give the shells a boost of flavor.

When these appear on the Wish Upon A Chef menu, you can bet that my summer clothes have already been archived to the back of the closet, the fuzzy blanket is on the bed and the heat pump thermostat is pegged to a nice, toasty temperature. I'll see you folks when I'm finished hibernating, but in the meantime enjoy these SOBs!

South of the Border Stuffed Shells
Source: ilovepasta.org
Servings: 6

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
24 jumbo pasta shells
1 16 oz. jar picante sauce
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 medium onion -- chopped
2 cloves garlic -- minced
1 pound lean ground beef
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp chili powder
1 4 oz. can green chilies -- chopped
1/2 cup canned corn -- drained
1 cup Monterrey jack cheese -- grated

Prepare pasta according to package directions; drain.

Mix picante sauce, tomato sauce and water in small bowl. In a skillet, cook onion, garlic and ground beef in oil over medium heat until meat is browned and onion is tender (if using non-stick skillet, use only 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil). Remove from heat and drain off fat. Add chili powder, chopped green chilies, corn, 1/2 cup shredded cheese and 1/2 cup picante sauce mixture to meat mixture.

Preheat oven to 350. Pour half of remaining picante sauce mixture in bottom of 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Fill each cooked shell with 1 to 2 tablespoons of mixture and place shells in baking dish. Pour remaining picante mixture over top of shells. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes. Uncover, add remaining 1/2 cup cheese and bake, uncovered, an additional 5 minutes until cheese melts. Serve immediately.

* This recipe can be assembled and frozen. To bake, thaw at room temperature for 8 hours and bake as directed above.

Trick or Treat!

When I was a kid, my grandparents would take me on a shopping trip to the mall almost every week and indulge me with gifts.  Being the only grandchild, I was spoiled rotten appreciative of everything they bought for me and one of my most favorite splurges each week was a box of caramel coated popcorn from the now non-existent KarmelKorn shop.  How sad I was when the franchise disappeared from our area malls, but according to their website, there is a location in Norfolk, NE but it only does mail order. 

The salty-sweet smell alone was enough to draw you into the store and then you had the task of deciding which flavor of popcorn you wanted, but it was always an easy decision for me.  Now, thanks to Gina at Desperately Seeking Gina, I can have caramel corn anytime I want.  Gina made her caramel popcorn for Halloween last year and this year I decided to do the same.  It's excellent for bagging in the cute little holiday treat bags that tempt me from the shelves of my favorite Dollar Tree store and I'm currently the owner of 100 super cute Halloween cello bags. 

The recipe is fun and simple and I'm posting Gina's version but I had to put a different spin on my treats because once I got to the grocery store, I remembered I needed "Reese's" but thought it was Reese's Pieces instead of the Reese's mini cups (I stood right there in the aisle and looked at them all the while cursing because my store didn't have Reese's Pieces).  So, I went with M&M's and candy corn, but a word to the wise:  do not mix the candy corn in with the caramel and popcorn prior to baking.  Baked candy corn is NOT pretty.  I ended up picking the melted, oozing puddles of corn goo out of the mixture and then adding more as I bagged it.  The M&M's held up sort of okay after baking but quite frankly if I did it again, I'd add those in at the end as well.  I didn't drizzle the white chocolate because I ran out of time and I also wanted to keep it as close to my beloved childhood treat as I could. 

One batch of the corn went home with the Boy Toy to be shared with his kids but me thinks the Boy ate most of it.  He eventually started nearly cursing me via text because it was so addicting and he couldn't stop eating it.  Another batch went to the office after lunch and I had some happy coworkers by the end of the day and not just because 5 o'clock had eventually rolled around.

You can trick all you want to this Halloween....I'll be enjoying this tasty treat!

Caramel Corn
posted by Gina of Desperately Seeking Gina (notes are Gina's)

10 cups of popcorn, popped {about 1/2 cup kernels}
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 stick of butter, cubed
pinch of salt
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cups nuts {I used pecans}
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup Reese's Mini pieces
vanilla wafers or white chocolate for drizzling

Add nuts to popcorn in a large bowl, set aside. {I divided my popcorn in two-nuts & popcorn in one bowl.  Nuts, Reese's mini pieces, & popcorn in another}

Place brown sugar in a microwave-safe dish.  Throw in pinch of salt.  Add cubed butter.  Pour corn syrup over this mix.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove & stir.  Microwave for an additional 2 minutes. Remove & stir. Heat for another 2 minutes until mixture is hot & bubbly. Remove & stir once more.  Handle with care!!

Add vanilla & baking soda and stir to combine. Mixture will foam, rise, and lighten in color.

Pour mixture over popcorn and stir until all the nuts & popcorn are covered in caramel-y, gooey goodness.  If you divide your batch in two, like I did-eyeball it & add half the caramel mixture into one bowl, and half into the other bowl.

Now to finish:

Place caramel corn on a parchment lined baking sheet or a pan coated with butter flavored cooking spray {this is how I did it}.

Bake at 250 {preheated} degrees:  10 minutes for chewier caramel corn, or 20 minutes for crunchier.  Stir every 5 minutes! Remove from oven.

Melt vanilla wafers or white chocolate on high for 1 minute.  Stir to gently melt.  Drizzle over caramel corn and allow to cool.  Once the chocolate has set- break apart and serve.  Enjoy!

Fields of Lavender

So easy. So elegant. So good.

Crème brulée, also known as burnt cream, is very often an understated dessert. Its silky smooth custard base is made with cream, sugar, vanilla and egg yolks ~ ingredients that you no doubt already have on hand, and it can be pulled together quickly and just needs enough time to chill in the refrigerator before serving. A top layer of crunchy, carmelized sugar adds to its rich and creamy decadence.  Most recipes call for using a butane kitchen torch to burn the sugar, but it can also be done under an oven broiler.  There's no need to buy special equipment. 

I splurged on a tin of dried lavender flowers for this cocktail recipe and happened to remember a recipe I'd seen years ago on a now defunct blog called "Fresh Approach Cooking" for this lovely lavender infused crème brulée. It's simply amazing at how a bit of lavender infused in warm cream for just a few minutes can evoke a feeling and image of frolicking in a field of purple lavender blooms somewhere in the south of France, the air heavy with floral perfume.    

Serve this as an elegant end to any meal and I promise you won't be disappointed.

Lavender Infused Crème Brulée
by Rachael of Fresh Approach Cooking

4 ½ cups heavy cream
3 Tbsp dried lavender flower, or 4 tablespoons fresh
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
Additonal sugar to top

Heat your oven to 300F.

In a large saucepan, combine the cream and lavender and bring to a gentle boil. Remove from the heat and let the lavender infuse with the cream for 5 minutes.

Whisk the egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar until light and creamy. Strain the lavender buds from the cream. Slowly pour the cream into the egg and sugar mixture, blending well.

Divide the cream between 6 ramekins. Put into a pan and carefully fill the pan with warm water, until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake custards until set around the edges, but still loose in the center, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and leave in the water bath until cooled. Remove the ramekins and chill for at least 1 hour, or up to 2 days.

To serve, sprinkle one teaspoon of sugar over each custard. Melt the sugar with a blow-torch or place under broiler. It's a good idea to re-chill custards for a few minutes before serving.

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