Spicy Cajun Turkey (…or Chicken)

Some people get the post-Thanksgiving blues once the big meal is done. Me? Not so much. Since I do all the cooking (which I always call my own personal sporting event), my husband does the cleaning, and then it’s time for CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS.

We have a rule in this house: no Christmas stuff gets put up before Thanksgiving. But the second those leftovers are in the fridge, I grab myself a glass of mulled cider and get to work on our tree. Maybe it’s a little bit of wanting to get my money’s worth out of my decorations, but mostly I just love the way a house looks with some extra glitter, tinsel & twinkle lights. The halls are decked from Thanksgiving night until New Years Day.

Now, you might think I am sad that my biggest cooking day of the year is over… again, not so much. I don’t go quite as “hard” as Thanksgiving, but Christmas is another reason to make a holiday feast, so I decided to share some recipes that can carry over.

I did a poll on Instagram asking my followers if they wanted my turkey recipe or my Hawaiian sweet roll stuffing recipe and the results were literally 50/50. So, ask and you shall receive! Today I’m going to start with the turkey.

You can get turkeys for *super* cheap after Thanksgiving. I saw them for 99 cents a pound a couple days after, so it’s a great, economical way to enjoy the big bird more than one time a year. (Plus, if you overcooked it on Thanksgiving, this can be your redemption.)

Not everyone wants to deal with the whole turkey all over again, so I’m actually going to give you my recipe for a bone-in turkey breast. This is perfect for about 4-6 people, and actually what I made on Thanksgiving since we had a small crowd. And maybe you don’t want turkey again at all, which is understandable. I know a lot of people who go with ham on Christmas, but I’m a poultry and seafood only kind of gal. If you want to change it up just a little, you could also use this same preparation on a chicken!

There are two parts to this recipe… the brine and the rub.

First things first: you’ll need a bone-in whole turkey breastapproximately 4-7 lbs. (Mine was about 5 lbs this year.) Alternatively you could use a whole chicken. 

THE BRINE

  • 2 cups beer, anything light, or blonde, or a lager (I used Kona Longboard Lager)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 lemon, sliced in half
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs of fresh sage
  • 2 habanero peppers, sliced in half
    1. Put the beer, water, salt & brown sugar into a large stock pot and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt & sugar. One it starts to boil, add the remaining ingredients and lower the heat. Simmer it for 5-10 minutes, until fragrant.
    2. Let the brine cool completely. (Very important, you don’t want to start cooking the bird.)
    3. Place your turkey breast (or chicken) into a brining bag & carefully pour in the cooled liquid, including the lemon, garlic, herbs and peppers. Add more water if needed to submerge the breast fully. Tie the bag tightly, put in a pot or baking dish & refrigerate for 6 hours to overnight.

IN-BETWEEN TIPS 

  • If you have not heard of a brining bag, they are just thick, clear plastic bags you can get at the store. You can also use a sturdy trash bag or a plastic/glass container, if you have a big enough one. You don’t want it to be huge, because you don’t want to be adding a gallon of water to get the turkey submerged.
  • If you are hosting a large crowd and want to do a whole turkey or two chickens, keep the brining recipe the same but double the rub. The only difference is you definitely want put it in the fridge overnight to brine.
  • Before it’s time to cook, take the turkey out of the fridge, remove it from the brine, and pat it dry. Let it sit out and come up to room temperature. This is SO important. If the turkey goes in the oven cold, it takes longer to cook, and this way the skin starts to crisp up immediately, instead of having to warm up first.
  • If you are doing a whole turkey or chicken, you can re-use the lemons, garlic, herbs and peppers from the brine to stuff inside for extra flavor. For the turkey breast, you can put them in the bottom of the roasting pan to add flavor to the drippings.
  • I like to put veggies under my turkey in the roasting pan, but it’s not necessary. For the record, I used 3 chopped carrots, 3 chopped celery stalks and a chopped yellow onion. 

THE RUB (for bone-in turkey breast or 1 whole chicken… double for a whole turkey or 2 whole chickens)

  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp white pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted & cooled
  1. Remove turkey from the brine and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Mix all the spices together in a bowl. Stir in the cooled, melted butter to create a paste. Slather the turkey all over in the spice mixture.
  3. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan & tent it with foil, careful to keep it from touching & rubbing off the spice mixture. Cook for 30 minutes covered, then remove & cook another 30 minutes. Start checking the temperature every 15-20 minutes from here, until it reaches an internal temp of 155-160.
  4. Remove the turkey from the roasting rack, place on a cutting board, tent with foil and let it rest 30 minutes before carving. Reserve pan drippings to add to your gravy.

If you have kiddos or aren’t a spicy fan, leave the habaneros out of the brine and the cayenne out of the rub, and you will still have a tasty turkey. The rub goes on pretty thick and creates almost a crust, which really helps lock in all the flavor and juices.

I’ve been working on this for a couple years and it always gets rave reviews. Turkey has a reputation for being bland and boring, so you have to add a lot to get a lot out of it, but honestly it’s not a ton of work. Just a ton of ingredients.

Even if it’s not the holidays, you could do this with chicken any time of year, for any occasion. It’s a perfect Sunday dinner. And if you happen to see turkey breast on sale at the store, grab it and try this out one weekend. Serve it over some mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables. Slice it thin, and have incredible sandwiches all week long. Use the carcass to make stock for your next soup. Why does turkey just have to be for Thanksgiving?

Not just turkey either. In a few days, I’ll be back with my Hawaiian sweet roll stuffing! See you then!

Spicy Cajun Pasta Bake

Wow! Time has been flying. I can’t believe summer is right around the corner. I mean, it is kind of hard to tell in California sometimes, since it’s pretty much always 70 and sunny where I am. (Not complaining!)

While my husband was on deployment, I dropped twenty-something pounds. I did it by exercising consistently and eating small, healthy meals during the week. But this isn’t a fitness blog, I still hate working out with a passion and I’m not going to start polluting your newsfeed with inspirational quotes over sunsets and pictures of salads.

You came here for the weekend food. The cheat day food. Because, come on, you can’t expect me to count calories on Saturday and Sundays! I need cheese, people.

If you have followed me for a while, you know I also love spicy food. If it’s something I share on the blog, I always make sure to have a toned down version for those who aren’t fans. Well, this time, there’s no mild option. There’s no healthy option.

This is my spicy cajun pasta bake.


“I’m not sorry.” -Beyonce

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  •  oz box of penne pasta
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 8 oz shredded colby jack cheese
  • 2-4 oz blue cheese crumbles
  • green onion, cilantro or parsley to garnish (optional)
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic, red pepper and onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add the bell pepper, and cook an additional 2-3 minutes while stirring, until veggies are slightly tender. Strain out excess liquid and set aside.
  2. Cook pasta to package directions, until al dente. Strain out the water and return pasta to the the pot. While warm, add the cream cheese (preferably room temperature) and cover.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Once the cream cheese has melted enough to be easily stirred, mix in the partially cooked onions and peppers, hot sauce, cayenne, paprika, oregano, basil and 6 oz of the shredded colby jack cheese.
  4. Transfer to a greased 13×9 pan and top with the remaining colby jack and blue cheese, to your liking. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve garnished with chopped green onion, cilantro or parsley if you choose.

I mean, it DOES have vegetables. And green stuff.


So healthy, until smothered in cheese.

This recipe started out going down the road of a buffalo chicken mac and cheese, but then I passed by the produce section and that idea was out. I did keep a nod to the original plan by keeping the blue cheese crumbles in the mix.

Alright, I may have gotten away from myself that there’s no way to tone this down. Cut out the cayenne and pepper flakes if you want, maybe add a little extra garlic instead. You are an adult (I assume), so cook what you like!

This is a great meal to make at the beginning of the week if you want leftovers for a few days or to feed a crowd. There is nothing light about this pasta, so pace yourself!

What are your biggest cheat day cravings? Let me know, or send me a pic if you make this or any of my recipes! I’ll be back in a couple weeks with something new to kick off summer!

I Love French Fries!

If you DON’T love French fries, I don’t think we can be friends. If you have read some of my past posts, you may have caught that when I was a kid, fries were one of the only things I would eat. Back then, I just liked them plain. I didn’t even dip them! How can you ignore the endless dipping possibilities?! Luckily I have come to my senses and here’s three flavors that are better than any over-salted fast food French fries.

To start, I cut three russet potatoes into wedges and preheated the oven to 450 degrees. Baking instead of frying is a lot healthier and you don’t end up with greasy fries that taste like hot oil. I didn’t measure any of this out, so I’m not labeling these as recipes. I just made sure they were evenly and generously coated in the oils and spices I used.

  1. Salt & Vinegar. Here’s an easy one to start. I used rice vinegar, but malt or even white wine vinegar would work. I tossed the wedges from my first potato in the vinegar and seasoned with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Done.
  2. Garlic Parmesan Truffle. Now we’re getting fancy. I tossed these in a little white truffle oil. A little goes a long way! Then seasoned with minced garlic and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. I also added a little extra Parmesan when they came out of the oven, because… cheese.
  3. Spicy Cajun. This is a dry rub. I combined some onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne and paprika and coated the last of the wedges. You could make this even easier by using a premade Cajun seasoning.

I put them all on the same baking sheet and cooked them for about 35 minutes. Keep an eye on them, because depending on the size of the potatoes, they could cook faster or slower. When the fries are golden brown and you can cut through them with a fork, they’re done.

And don’t forget the dips! I used some truffle ketchup, which is literally just stirring a small amount of truffle oil into ketchup, and some sour cream that I mixed with some onion flakes and fresh chives.

Try any of these and I guarantee you’ll never go back to making plain old French fries ever again.

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet}