All my microcontroller projects revolve around PICs from Microchip; a 16F877A for basic stuff or an 18F4580 / 18F4455 for something bigger. First, I like using breadboards. They give more area to drill into and customize. After strapping one or two to some plexiglass, I start with a basic setup. Both controllers start from a single schematic:
Start by flashing the LED, so you know the the microcontroller is connected, then get the LCD working. If your greeting does not appear, start looking at connections, masks in your program or proper printf usage. Once its all working, the real project can begin.