Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Spinach and artichoke dip chicken

As you know, I have a tendency to hoard recipes.  It's not to keep them from other people but to keep them from myself for the time being.  To store them for a rainy hungry day, a dinner party, or some other special occasion.

This is one of those recipes.  I've had it bookmarked for months, waiting for the perfect excuse to reach for it and wow whatever guests we were planning to host.

Am I implying that I haven't had even one opportunity to do so in over 4 months?  Abso-fruit-ly not.  In fact, there have been plenty of occasions when this dish would've wowed everyone who sunk their teeth into it.

But, every single time, something else jumped the line and was suddenly in first place.  Whether it was a themed party or someone's birthday request, I wound up making that other thing that was delicious but was not spinach and artichoke dip chicken.

At last, my birthday week rolled around and gave me the ultimate go-ahead to make this dish -- because I wanted it, gosh darn it!

Spinach and artichoke dip is, without a doubt, my all-time favorite appetizer to order or enjoy just about anywhere.  I have my favorites (i.e. Cheesecake Factory) and least favorites (i.e. Red Lobster), and there are certain qualities crucial to earning a two-thumbs-up rating from this woman.

First, it's gotta be hot; cold, slimy dip is an instant deal breaker.  It's also gotta be intensely cheesy; minimum of three cheeses necessary.  Next, it must be thick and creamy; soupy or oily messes will not be consumed.  Finally, it's gotta be loaded with artichokes and spinach.  I've actually seen versions without a trace of spinach or artichokes.  Fraud!

So, with those strict criteria in mind, I'm happy to say that this recipe is totally worthy of your love!  You can rest easy, now :)

This spinach and artichoke dip chicken not only fed my stomach but my soul, y'all; it turned my favorite snack into a legitimate one-dish meal!

Piping hot and bubbly right out the oven.  Check.  Mozzarella, parmesan, and cream cheeses - all the cheeses!  Check.  Thick and creamy, without guilt, thanks to a surprising combo of non-fat plain Greek yogurt and 1/3 less fat cream cheese.  Check.  Packed with an entire package of spinach, near pound of artichoke hearts, and shallot and garlic for extra zip and deeper flavor.  Check.

Dare I use a word normally reserved for colder months, but it's utter casserole perfection!  Don't make the same mistake I did and delay making this. 

And there's just enough extra dip topping for some dinnertime munching.  Always-sturdy Triscuits (cracked black pepper, natch) and carrots were my dippers of choice.  Have I mentioned my criteria for dipping vehicles?  No?  Don't even get me started...

One year ago: Blueberry muffin oatmeal

Spinach & Artichoke Dip Chicken
(adapted slightly from Iowa Girl Eats)
-serves 6

A few notes: The original recipe called for 6 ounces of cream cheese, but I preferred to simply add the whole 8 ounces.  A little extra cheese never harmed anyone.  Also, I increased the amount of chicken to take advantage of all of the dip topping and make it last a little longer.

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 Tablespoon butter
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Ground black pepper
8 ounces 1/3 fat cream cheese, softened
6 ounces plain Greek yogurt
10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained very well
14 ounce can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut chicken breasts in half (if large) or pound until uniform thickness.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.  Coat a 2 quart baking dish with nonstick spray and arrange chicken breasts in the bottom.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter and add shallots.  Season with salt and pepper and saute until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds.  Add cream cheese and yogurt, stirring until smooth.  Remove skillet from heat and fold in spinach, artichokes, and half of the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Spoon mixture over chicken and smooth and cover with foil.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and top with remaining cheeses.  Bake 10 to 15 more minutes until cheese is golden brown and bubbly.  Allow dish to rest for 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Thai pork burgers with Sriracha aioli

The grilling itch won't go away, even after 11 straight weekends of it.  I'm certain this is some kind of (delicious) record for me.  I've had ribs, chicken, fish, hot dogs, and, of course, burgers.

You'd think we'd be growing tired of all of the summertime fare, but you'd be wrong.  I've been feeling extra creative and daydreaming of new spins to put on classics like burgers.  And this inspiration came from the most unusual place -- a seafood dish.

A few weeks ago, Matt and I had a date night, and he was in charge of picking a new restaurant to surprise me.  The man chose Andora and, boy, did he hit a home run with this place.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fast Friday: Grilled asparagus

Surprise Friday!  (Yes, again.)  Mondays are totally my favorite days to use vacation; having that day off makes the rest of the week shorter, both literally and mentally.  I've (mostly) gotten back to a normal routine, which means I'm not having dessert three times a day.  The dream had to end eventually, right?

Just in case you're one of those folks who require more than cake and ice cream to survive, I've got the quickest grill-friendly vegetable idea for you to make.  It'll provide lots of vitamins and minerals, all those good things of which doctors are imploring us to enjoy more.

(On a related note, if you ever figure out a way to make vegetables taste like peanut butter and chocolate, I kindly request that you inform me first.  Kthanksverymuch.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The best chocolate sheet cake. Ever.

I tend to get really excited about things.  Like, really really excited.  Think dogs and mailmen kind of excited, but more vocal and (barely) more civilized.

Let me give you an example: I see a new movie in a theater.  I enjoy said movie.  I talk about said movie at every opportunity.  I tell friends, family, coworkers, bus drivers, and church greeters about the film.  I explain that I loved it so much that I'd see it again.  I tell my audience they must go see it.  No, they MUST.  "I'll even come with you!" I offer.

I start throwing around phrases like "best ever," and my friends will grow weary of my rants.  They'll politely (or not so much) change the subject.  That is, until they see the movie for themselves.  Then, most of the time, they'll confirm what I told them long ago that yes, that movie was totally awesome!  And yes, I was right.

Actually, that last part is only inside my head, but it's there, nonetheless.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Grandma's Oreo dessert

Whew.  It's Wednesday, right?  Right.  What a fabulous weekend that was.  Thank you for all of the birthday wishes!  29 has gotten off to a busy and fun start.  I ran, ate (obviously), celebrated with friends and family, soaked up the sunshine in my beloved city, and even snuck in a day off at the country home (a.k.a. my parents') on Monday.

Does anyone else feel like the longer you're away the harder it is to return to the everyday routine?


Yesterday, I punched in (and out), hit the gym, made dinner, prepped lunches for the week, and tidied up the aftermath of the post-weekend-away mess.  Just when I thought it the everyday routine was back, I opened the freezer and spotted the last remaining trace of my birthday celebration.  Squee!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday five: Birthday edition

At roughly 8:15 this morning, I will officially be 29!  I can hardly believe it -- probably because I'm still carded at bars and movie theaters.  Yes, really.

But I'm thankful for even that, as well as my wonderful husband, family, friends, and even you.  I consider myself incredibly blessed, and this past year has been so fun and so memorable.  In fact, it's probably been the best one yet!  I know I say that each year, but I genuinely believe that.  If each year can be as good as the last, consider me the happiest person in the world.

Being surrounded by the most amazing people makes me feel totally spoiled every single day, and -- I know you're not supposed to say this, but I'll say it anyway -- I love every second of it.  Though I don't expect any of it.  It's merely icing on the cake.

The cake being the one I make myself.  Truth be told, I enjoy my birthday so much because it's the one day a year that I make a conscious effort to appreciate all of the little things that I can do for myself that bring me the most joy.  And most of those things turn out to be things I do all the time.  I just make sure to fit them all into one glorious day :)  With that thought, here is this week's Friday five: "Treat yo'self, it's your birthday!" edition.  Here are five of the many things I will be enjoying for my birthday:

1. Early morning run - It.Makes.Me.So.Happy.  SOHAPPY!  Best way to start my day, period.  Especially in light of what's planned for later that night...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Chocolate waffles

My birthday isn't until tomorrow but that hasn't stopped me from dedicating an entire week to the celebration.  What can I say?  No matter how young or old I get, I will always love my birthday!

While I enjoyed every moment and bite of our fancy dinner out on Tuesday, I'm really having a ball trying new recipes that I've been saving for a special occasion.  If a cook can't pick what to make on her birthday, when can she?  (Actually, nearly every day, but I usually try to keep Matt's interests in mind, too.)

I've got a few new entrees to share with you and, of course, dessert, but you'll have to wait until next week for those.  In the meantime, I wanted to share one of my birthday recipes with you a little early because, well, I've been enjoying it early and all week long and can't get enough of 'em.

Chocolate waffles!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Best Thing I Ever Ate

Have you ever seen that show on Food Network?  I'm a total sucker for it.  Basically, famous food personalities describe and sample an entree or dessert.  I've seen both super high-brow cuisine and stuff so greasy it could only be enjoyed in a late night drunken haze.  To each his own!

I love watching my favorite cooks and chefs on their regular shows, but there's something so candid about their appearances on The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  They're a little less formal.  In fact, some get a little cray-cray talking about the restaurant dishes that make them weak in the knees.  I think I even developed a little girl crush on Sunny Anderson because of this show.  She just gets so darn animated and holds nothing back.  Makes me feel like my ramblings here on the blog aren't so bizarre after all ;)

If I were ever on that show, it'd be to talk about dessert.  Not just any dessert, but the dessert.  It hails from the Pittsburgh restaurant, Eleven.  A few years ago, Matt and I dined there and had a fantastic experience from start to finish.  But, truth be told, I don't really remember my entree.  It's not that it wasn't delicious -- because it totally was and reading my review confirms that -- but it's because the dessert totally blew me away and stole the show that night: deconstructed banana cream pie.  The best thing I ever ate, without a doubt!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Garlic brown sugar chicken

Summertime is all about spending every waking moment outside, be it in blazing sunshine or on cool breezy evenings.  Reminds me of when I was a kid and my parents had to practically drag us inside once it became dark.  Love it!

How can anyone stay cooped up inside, away from the fresh air and activity?

Anyone who has just recently discovered the majesty of Downton Abbey.  Ahem. 

I may be nearly a century late to the party, but I'm there now, gosh darnit.  And it's a fabulous (and scandalous, da-yum!) shindig, to say the least.

In two weeks, I watched both seasons parts 1 and 2, consisting of 15 total hour-plus episodes.  I've been utterly captivated by it and, therefore, basically useless in the evening hours at home.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Fast Friday: Sweet & salty breakfast sandwich

It's Friday!  Makes getting out of bed so much easier when I know only 8 hours of work stand between me and the weekend.  I dare say I almost have as much spring in my step as my bagel did coming out of the toaster this morning, but I'll get to that in a sec.

Even though the days flew by at an alarming pace (did anyone else wish for another hour in the day nearly every day?), the week seemed like it had many more than seven days in it.  I blame the post-holiday catch-up and the freak weather.  The clouds that rolled in last night looked like something out of the movie Independence Day.  Crazy times!

But, we made it and I'm looking forward to another busy bee weekend.  On Saturday, we're headed to Maryland for the first Kemp family fun day of the summer at the river!  My relatives, who live in Iowa, are going to be in town, and it's been much too long since I've seen them.  After a fun day of hiking, boating, swimming, skiing, and catching up with family, we'll hit the road.  If I were a betting woman, I'd say I'll be driving and Matt will be passed out beside me.  Sunday afternoon we'll be celebrating the end of the summer session with the swim team Matt coaches.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hummus crusted chicken

I'm willing to bet that you've heard this saying: "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."  And that's probably what most of us would do.  I'd also make lemon bars or cookies or even a cocktail, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  What matters is that most of us would know what to do with a bunch of lemons.

But, what would you do if life handed you hummus?

Yes, hummus.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Caprese quinoa-stuffed tomatoes

Did anyone else feel like getting out of bed and ready for work today was like climbing Mt. Everest?  I swear I even heard squeaking sounds while rubbing my eyes when I first woke up.  Whew.  I think that's a sign of a good, nay, great holiday weekend.  I won't say that I hope you're struggling, too, but I do hope you had a delightful 4th of July!

After nearly a week of fun and frolicking around the city (fireworks, baseball and soccer games, and visitors galore!), we totally crashed on Sunday evening.  And this isn't the kind of "crashing" that movies and TV shows make look so glamorous.  You know the scene: husband and wife, clad in designer pajamas, hair perfectly disheveled, cuddling on the couch watching a movie and having intelligent conversation about recent events.

Friday, July 5, 2013

If you're back to work today...

...then this is for you:

Hang in there, we'll get through it together.  TGIF!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Last minute 4th of July dessert: No bake flag cake cups!

I know I'm cutting things close, but I've got one more recipe for you to consider adding to your party menu for tomorrow or,  heck, anytime this summer.  You might want to sit down for this one.  Because the overload of cuteness and sweetness might knock you on your behind.

No bake individual flag cake cups!

I know, right?!

I just can't.  Seriously, guys.  I don't know if I have the words or composure to write about this dessert in coherant sentences not flooded with words like cute, adorable, tiny, and best ever.  So, I'm not going to make any promises.  Here goes nothin'!

Juicy ripe strawberries and fresh tart blueberries layered with freshly whipped, lightly sweetened cream and the most squeal-worthy petite cookies you've ever seen.

Basically, all the flavors you know and love from traditional flag cake but in a portable and miniature form.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

27 Showstopping 4th of July Desserts!

Yesterday, I gave you 26 positively dee-li-shuss dishes (say that 5 times fast!) to consider for your upcoming 4th of July festivities.  Lest you think I forgot about my favorite course, I've got another list for ya.  I wasn't trying to hold out on you, I just wanted to give sugar its chance to shine.  It's no accident that there are more recipes in today's post than yesterday's.  I may be a tiny girl, but I've got a massive sweet tooth... and I know you do, too!  Here are some of the most lip-smacking and sinful desserts to please any Uncle Sam, big and small :)

Handheld Treats
-Nothing beats a display of pint-sized desserts that you can enjoy with one hand and use the other to grill/hold a cold beverage/play badminton, right? :)

Cakes, Pies, and Other Forkfuls
-One or two of these grand desserts and everyone can cut a slice proportional to his or her appetite!  And, though I mentioned it for the last one, nearly every recipe could benefit from the addition of a scoop of ice cream or dollop of whipped cream!

No-Bake Treats
-No oven, no heat, no problem!  Keep these stashed in the fridge or indoors until folks start asking for dessert.  They'll never know you barely lifted a finger to make such unparallelled decadence!

Monday, July 1, 2013

26 Dazzling 4th of July Recipes!

Because I can't wait until Thursday, let's just start celebrating now and change the holiday to Independence Week!  How 'bout it?  I don't think anyone would argue with honoring America for a few extra days.  (Somewhere, Matt is correcting my typing and saying, "It's 'merica!")

While we wait for family and friends to arrive, I'm rounding up some of my ultimate party foods for you to consider making for your patriotic bash.  My favorite part about 4th of July picnics, BBQs, and parties is that everyone contributes something and the result is the most eclectic and amazing spread of food.  No fuss, serve-yourself potlucks are where it's at!  Since burgers and dogs are an obvious staple, I hand-picked other recipes that will fill in the gaps and empty stomachs.  (If you're looking for some burger recipes, click here.) Enjoy! :)

Dippers & Poppers
-If you've got 15 minutes, you've got time for homemade appetizers.  Make, plate, and devour!

Sensational Sides
-Every single one of these recipes can be made ahead of time.  That way you can be calmly sipping lemonade and relaxing when guests arrived rather than doing the flight of the bumblebee kitchen dance!

Crowd-pleasing Main Dishes
-Burgers and dogs are classic, but I really look forward to is the variety of creative casseroles and pint-sized foods I can sample.  Think outside the box by making sandwiches but cutting smaller portions or pinwheels from wraps.  Also, Crock Pot dishes are no fuss ways to have hot dishes without getting sweaty slaving over the grill for hours.  Put out a tray of buns or rolls for serve-yourself goodness.  And make sure to keep cool salads chilled over a bowl of ice or cold packs.

Think I forgot dessert?  Never fear!  Check back tomorrow for an entire post dedicated to sweets!