Kitchen Concoctions

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Banana Bread Energy Bites

Need a tasty snack that fuels you for an intense workout or to get you through a busy afternoon? These Banana Bread Energy Bites, packed with good for you ingredients like flax seeds and prunes, will help keep you going through the day. 

Well my friends, it is the end of January. And the big question is, have you stuck with your new year's resolutions?

If you are rockin' it and still going strong with accomplishing all those new goals, then my friends, you deserve a pat on the back. But if you are like me and haven't been exactly on target with your resolutions, don't let the end of January get you down! This is a great time to reevaluate your goals, maybe changing them to be more realistic, and acknowledge the things you have accomplished.

For me, my health and fitness goals included working out regularly and making better choices when it comes to food. Even though my job requires a lot of cooking and therefore taste testing of a variety of foods, I can honestly say I am enjoy these things in moderation.

The area that is more challenging, is finding the time, energy and motivation to workout. I use to love working out, but it seems like the last few years it has become more of a chore and just another thing on my never ending to do list. When the new year came I decided that working out regularly was a must, but my crazy schedule (I have had to go out of town every week since Thanksgiving) has kept me form working out the way I would like.

Now for all you workout enthusiasts, this may seem like excuses, but I like to think positively, and I'd rather use this to reevaluate my goals. For me, right now in my life, I can commit to an intense workout about two days a week. The other days, well I just squeeze in as much activity as I can. This is going on 20 minute walks with my dog at least twice a day, or parking at the back of a parking lot or taking the stairs. I would rather be active like this than not at all, so I'll take it! And hopefully over the next few weeks I can start adding more days of exercise.

On the days that I exercise, or are just busy and on the go, a healthy, filling, yet tasty post workout or afternoon snack is essential (and if I am being honest, the post workout snack is what I look forward to most. Smile.). Most days this is a loaded green monster smoothie or a banana with almond butter, but sometimes I want more or want to change it up.

That's when I discovered energy bites. Have you heard of them? They are quite popular and are basically bite sized homemade protein/granola bars. There are so many possible flavor combinations and depending on the recipe, are packed with all sorts of good for you, all natural and raw ingredients. Ingredients like flax seeds, which are a good source of omega-3, protein packed nuts, whole grains and prunes, like Sunsweet Amaz!n™ Prunes, which are an excellent source of potassium, fiber and studies have even shown that prunes may promote healthy bones.

These Banana Bread Energy Bites I am sharing today are packed with all of these good for you ingredients, as well as bananas, cinnamon and pure maple syrup to give that great banana bread flavor. Grab a few of these energy bites after your morning workout or as you head out the door to run some afternoon errands and you will be good to go! I like them best served cold, as opposed to room temperature, and since they are stored in the refrigerator they will keep for up to two weeks, that is, if they last that long! What are your go to healthy snacks?

Banana Bread Energy Bites
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 10 minutes Wait Time: 30 minutes Yields: 15 bites

Tasty, yet full of healthy good for you ingredients, banana bread flavored granola bites. 

1 cup raw walnuts or pecans
1 large ripe banana
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5-6 Sunsweet Amaz!n™ Prunes
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons flax seeds
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Place walnuts in the bowl of a large food processor. Pulse several times, just until walnuts become small pieces. Remove half of the chopped walnuts and set aside.

To the remaining walnuts in the food processor, add banana, cinnamon, prunes, vanilla and flax seeds. Blend for 3-4 minutes, stopping to scrape the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula as needed, until ingredients are finely chopped and a paste like mixture forms.

In a large bowl, stir together rolled oats, maple syrup, reserved chopped walnuts and blended banana mixture; stirring until well combined. Using a cookie scoop or tablespoon, scoop oat mixture and shape into balls. Place formed energy bites on a waxed paper lined plate and freeze for 30 minutes. Store leftovers in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Boston Market Cornbread

Cornbread is a necessary staple during the cooler winter months, as it is the perfect side for soup, stew or chili! This version, inspired by a popular restaurant chain, is a quick and easy sweet cornbread that will feed a crowd! 

I have another confession (seems like I a full of them as of late!).

I only started making homemade, as in 100% made from scratch, cornbread right before I started blogging, about 6 years ago (side note: now I have a whole collection of cornbread recipes published here).

Not that homemade cornbread is difficult. I mean every bag of cornmeal has a basic cornbread recipe on it and our trusty family cookbook has a fantastic, yet simple recipe, from my great aunt, as well. 

It's just that for most of my life, my Mom (as well as my Grandmother) always made cornbread... wait for it... from a box. A box of Jiffy cornbread mix, to be exact.

So naturally, after I moved away from home, that little blue box followed me and that's what I always used. But then I started to really cook and bake (and blog) and usually making scratch cornbread was easier... because I always had the ingredients on hand.

But every once in awhile, when I am feeling lazy or I just get a craving for cornbread “just like Mom use to make” (LOL!), I grab a box of Jiffy and whip some up!

That's why when I saw this recipe for Copy Cat Boston Market Cornbread, which calls for “doctoring” two boxes of Jiffy Cornbread Mix I had to try it. This recipe is extremely easy and is a great way to dress up a few box mixes. This good ole' buttery, sweet style cornbread will feed a crowd... perfect for a chili dinner with friends on a cold winter night!

What food reminds you of your childhood?

One Year Ago: Slow Cooker Barbecue Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Maple Pecan Barbecue Sauce
Two Years Ago: Smoked Turkey Enchilada Soup
Three Years Ago: How-To Throw a Pizza Party
Four Years Ago: Peanut Butter and Banana Oatmeal
Five Years Ago: Pumpkin Pancakes with Apple Cider Syrup

Boston Market Cornbread 
Printable Version
Prep Time: 10 minutes Bake Time: 30 minutes Serves: 15

A quick and easy sweet cornbread recipe inspired by a popular restaurant. 

2 (8.5-oz) boxes Jiffy cornbread mix
1 (16.5-oz) box butter cake mix
5 large eggs
1 ⅔ cups buttermilk
½ cup canola oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together both boxes of cornbread mix and butter cake mix.

In a separate large bowl, whisk the eggs until combined. Whisk the buttermilk and canola oil into the eggs. Add the egg mixture to the bowl with the cake mix and stir until well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Bake in the preheated 350 degree F oven for 30 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serving suggestion: This cornbread would be perfect with a big bowl of chili, like this Slow Cooker Bourbon Beef and Bean Chili, or serve it along side some Crock-Pot Baked Beans and Honey Mustard Grilled Chicken at your next barbecue!

adapted from Taste and Tell

Other recipes you might enjoy:
Brown Butter Cornbread
Pesto Cornbread Muffins
Pumpkin Cornbread
Basic Cornbread
Z'Tejas Cornbread

Friday, January 23, 2015

Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

This simple apple snack cake, made with fresh apples and applesauce, and topped with a cinnamon brown sugar glaze; is the perfect dessert for a small family dinner or a sweet afternoon treat! 

So I have a confession to make. I have made this cake four times. This is partly because it is delicious and easy to make, but also I because the first time I attempted to make it was not my best day in the kitchen. I tell you this because we all, whether you are a professional chef, food blogger, or rockin' home cook; have bad days in this kitchen.

Yes, this can be because of a poor recipe, but could also be from missing ingredients or lacking proper equipment, or from various distractions. For me, this first time I attempted this recipe was for Thanksgiving. The days leading up to Thanksgiving were extremely busy for me and we were getting ready to head out of town.

This cake seemed like the perfect make ahead Thanksgiving dessert that would travel well. So the night before Thanksgiving, at 11 pm, I went to work on this cake. Late night baking is nothing new for me. I tend to be a night owl and so the late night hours are usually the only time I can squeeze in to get time in the kitchen to do what I love... bake!

But that particular day I had been up at 4:30 am and going nonstop until I walked into the kitchen that night. I should have known that things probably would not turn out well. I was exhausted. And even though this cake is pretty easy to whip up, I failed to consider the 40-45 minute bake time. Well I was so tired that night, that I probably pulled the cake out a little too soon and the next morning found the cake a hot mess (and not in a good way).

I obviously couldn't bring a sunken, under cooked cake to Thanksgiving dinner. So a stop at the grocery store Thanksgiving morning was in order. Whomp. Whomp. Whomp.

Determined not to give up, I tried making the cake again a few weeks later, when I hadn't been up since 4 am. And guess what? When baked the full time listed in the recipe, it was a success!

Since we enjoyed this cake, when baked properly (LOL!), I whipped it up again for two different holiday functions. The best thing about this cake, besides being easy to throw together, the measurements are perfect for doubling so if you need a larger cake for a crowd just double it and bake in a 9x13-inch pan.

Even though the glaze topping “dresses up” this simple apple snack cake, I prefer to keep this cake “down to earth” and serve it plain. However, if desired vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream would also pair beautifully with this fresh, seasonal apple snack cake!

Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze
Printable Version
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cook Time: 40-45 minutes Yields: one (8x8-inch) cake

Apple snack cake made with fresh apples and topped with a sticky brown sugar glaze. 

Apple Cake:
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 small Granny Smith apple, grated
1 small Fuji apple, grated

Brown Sugar Glaze:
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon milk

For the apple cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a round or square 8x8-inch pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together both sugars and eggs until fully incorporated and light in color. Whisk in oil, applesauce and vanilla, whisking until combined.

Slowly stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture, stirring until the flour is fully incorporated. Fold the grated apples into the batter.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place the hot cake on a wire rack to cool. While cake is still hot, prepare the glaze.

For the brown sugar glaze: Combine all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture comes to a gentle boil. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until glaze thickens. Pour hot glaze over the warm cake. Let glazed cake cool completely before serving.

Adapted from Lick the Bowl Good and Lick the Bowl Good: Classic Home-Style Desserts with a Twist 

NOTE: This recipe was chosen as November's recipe for the Lick the Bowl Baking Group. However, I got behind in baking and blogging and so I am just now sharing it (stay tuned for December's recipe)!

In case you were wondering, here are the recipes that the Lick the Bowl Good Baking Group has made so far (click on the link to find the recipe, recipe review and/or completed recipe photos):  

January: Banana Pecan Breakfast Cake
February: Chocolate Strawberry Brownie Kisses
March: Irish Cream Cake
April: Pina Colada Mini Cheesecakes
May: Vanilla Bean Pound Cake
June: Fruit Pizza
July: Skinny Berries Romanoff 
August: Chocolate Zucchini Bundt Cake
September: White Chocolate Cranberry Oat Bars
October: Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Pie

Check out the calendar of recipes we will be baking from Lick the Bowl Good: Classic Home-Style Desserts with a Twist here.

Here is my official review of the cookbook and recipe for Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes.

Learn more about the cookbook author and fellow blogger, Monica, by reading this interview: "Bites with Bloggers" - Lick the Bowl Good

Buy the Lick the Bowl Good: Classic Home-Style Desserts with a Twist Cookbook here!

Note: This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links which helps support Kitchen Concoctions. Thank you for supporting Kitchen Concoctions.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Slow Cooker Bourbon Beef and Bean Chili {Plus 6 Tips to Amp Up Your Chili}

Cold winter months call for big pots of simmering, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food! Personally, I love to warm up with a big hearty bowl of spicy chili (with homemade cornbread, of course!) Today I am partnering with Stubb's Sauces and Marinades to share my current favorite chili recipe plus my tips to really amp up your chili! 

Chili is deeply personal and rich in not only flavor but deep rooted memories and customs. It seems like every home cook and professional chef is a chili expert and has an award winning recipe or secret chili tip. Because of this, chili connoisseurs all over the world have endless debates over what makes an authentic pot of chili. But chili is a fantastic dish that can be customized in a variety of ways!

Try one of these tips to amp up your next pot of chili:

The meat: Ground beef is the most common type of chili meat; however, to change it up, consider using bacon, sausage, leftover shredded turkey or chicken, tofu or other types of ground meat like lamb or bison. Since the best chili comes from slow cooking over low heat; lean or tougher cuts of meat, like chuck roast, beef short ribs, elk or venison, do well with this cooking method.

The beans: Some chili traditionalist strongly believe that chili should be hearty yet simple with just meat and spices. But for many others, beans are a key ingredient to a perfect bowl of chili. Since chili is cooked for a long period of time, dried beans are an affordable option. Simply precook dried beans or include enough cooking liquid to cook the dried beans appropriately in the pot. Canned beans are more convenient, but can often have added flavors or sodium. To yield the best chili, use quality brands and choose canned beans with no added flavors and are labeled low sodium or salt free. Just as with the type of meat, change up your chili by using kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, cannellini beans, or great northern beans.

The spices: No matter how you like your chili, the variety of spices are crucial to a mouthwatering chili. Most chili connoisseurs firmly believe in purchasing dried chilies and grinding them yourself. However, if you have a well stocked spice cabinet, you can concoct a special chili seasoning blend all of your own. Chili powder, cayenne powder, red chili flakes, cumin, dried oregano, smoked paprika, and even Stubb's Bar-B-Q Spice Rub can all add nice flavor profiles.

The cooking liquid: Due to the long cooking process, proper cooking liquid is essential to preparing chili. While beef or chicken broth is common, beer, coffee, bloody mary mix, cola and red wine can all be added.

Secret ingredients: Many chili enthusiast have special, secret, ingredients they add to make their pot of chili over the top. Unsweetened baking chocolate or cocoa powder, cinnamon, pumpkin puree, peanut butter, liquid smoke, soy sauce, Bar-B-Q sauce or even Stubb's Smokehouse Bourbon Cooking Sauce can all be found in many “award winning” chili recipes.

Toppings and sides: Just like what goes into a custom pot of chili, the toppings and what is served along side the perfect bowl can be personal and vary from region to region. Most popular chili toppings include cheddar cheese, onions, sour cream or fresh cilantro. To change it up, try using different varieties of cheese, nuts, pumpkin seeds, fresh or pickled jalapenos or guacamole. Corn chips and corn bread are more common sides to pair with chili, but some enjoy serving chili with rice, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, tortillas or even spaghetti!

This Bourbon Beef and Bean Chili is a tasty twist on traditional chili. It is loaded with two different cuts of meat, two different varieties of beans, and has a spicy, yet tangy sauce!

Slow Cooker Bourbon Beef and Bean Chili 
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 4-5 hours on low or 8-9 hours on high Serves: 4-6

A spicy and tangy chili packed with two different varieties of beef and beans, all cooked in the slow cooker. 

1 pound ground sirloin
1 ½ pounds boneless chuck roast, cut into
1/2-inch pieces
1 (12-ounce) package Stubb's Smokehouse Bourbon Cooking Sauce
1 cup beef broth
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) cans dark red kidney beans
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper, or to taste

 Heat a large saute pan over high heat. Add ground sirloin and half of the Stubb's Smokehouse Bourbon Spice Pack to pan. Cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until meat is cooked through and no longer pink, about 5-6 minutes.  Add cooked beef to slow cooker.

Toss remaining Stubb's Smokehouse Bourbon Spice Pack with diced chuck roast. Add seasoned chuck roast to slow cooker.

To slow cooker add Stubb's Smokehouse Bourbon Cooking Sauce, beef broth, onions, garlic, tomatoes, beans, dried herbs and spices. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 8-9 hours.

Right before serving, adjust seasonings to taste, if needed. Serve topped with preferred chili toppings, such as sliced green onions, cheese, sour cream or even candied pecans, if desired.

Disclosure: I am in a working relationship with Stubb's Sauces and Marinades. This recipe was developed by me for Stubb's. This blog post was written by me on behalf of Stubb's. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Because of sponsors like Stubb's I am able to continue to bring you all the content I feature here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Skinny" Brownie Pudding Parfait

I'm teaming up again with Special K to bring you "Skinny" Brownie Pudding Parfaits. These lighter dessert parfaits are made with "skinny" chocolate pudding, topped with fresh strawberries and diced fudge brownies... perfect for satisfying a chocolate craving!

A few weeks ago I shared my 10 Tips For a Healthy Start to the New Year, because well, even if you didn't need them I sure did! After an extremely hectic holiday season, which included a lot of travel (read: not much exercise and not very healthy diet) and all the delicious holiday festivities, I definitely needed to hit the restart button.

We are now almost half way through the month of January (yikes!) and I wish I could report that my 2015 goals are off to a smashing good start. And while I have made a conscious effort to eat better (eating salad when I wanted a burger, drinking kale and spinach packed smoothies every morning), I have not really gotten back into a regular exercise routine. But I guess exercising a few times and overall eating healthy is better than what I was doing... so I'm not going to beat myself up too much!

One thing that I have always been a firm believer of is everything in moderation. In the past when I totally restricted sweet treats or other "not so good for you" foods, then I felt deprived and things usually didn't end well. But if I did treat myself to a small serving or made smarter decisions when cravings hit (like having baked sweet potato fries instead of traditional French fries), then I felt satisfied without blowing all that healthy eating and exercising.

Making healthy choices when it comes to meals is usually pretty easy for me (I actually LOVE lean salads and packed green smoothies); but I will admit I have a bit of a sweet tooth and always want a little treat, usually chocolate, after dinner. That is why I was happy to discover these new Special K Brownies, which are only 80 calories. These new brownies are perfectly portioned (just a few bites), are made with real cocoa, chocolate or caramel chips, and topped with a drizzle of chocolate fudge and come in two tasty flavors: Divine Fudge and Heavenly Caramel. If you are a chocolate lover, and who isn't, then these brownies are for you!

My "Skinny" Brownie Pudding Parfait came to me one night when "power watching" some of my favorite shows, when I wanted a special treat that was "just a little bit more" indulgent but still figure friendly. I whipped up some "skinny" chocolate pudding, made with good for you Greek yogurt mixed with cocoa powder and a little sugar (you can use whatever sweetener you prefer, I also like using maple syrup or honey) then topped with fresh strawberries and a diced Divine Fudge Special K Brownies; all layered in a small bowl for a pretty treat! Go on! Grab a spoon and take 5 minutes to enjoy a rich chocolaty treat, a good chick-flick or gossip magazine, and a few moments just for you!

"Skinny" Brownie Pudding Parfait
by Heather H. at Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 8-10 minutes Serves: 2

"Skinny" chocolate pudding topped with fresh strawberries and indulgent fudge brownies.

4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup 0% plain Greek yogurt
1-1½ tablespoons brown sugar or sweetener of choice
½ cup diced strawberries
2 Divine Fudge Special K Brownies, diced

To form pudding, in a small bowl stir together cocoa powder, Greek yogurt and sugar (or sweetener of choice); stirring until well combined.

Divide chocolate pudding mixture between two small serving bowls. Top pudding with diced strawberries. Top strawberries with diced brownies. Serve immediately.

Even though I am not totally where I thought I would be with my health and fitness goals, 2015 is still young and there is still plenty of time! I am tackling each day as it comes and for me that means small successes! What are your health and fitness goals for 2015?

For more ideas and information visit Special K online and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. And check out the new Special K® Brownies when they hit store shelves nationwide January 2015!

This post is sponsored by FitFluential on behalf of Special K Brownies.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Spiced Honey Oat Muffins

Muffins first thing in the morning are a special treat! These Spiced Honey Oat Muffins are sweetened with pure, natural honey; have warm, welcoming spices and are loaded with good for you old fashioned rolled oats! 

New years are all about resolutions, starting over and new beginnings. For many it means getting back to the gym, starting that new diet, organizing your house, looking for that new job, reading more books, going back to school, or simply having more have fun. And while and I have been eagerly looking forward to the fresh new year, I am still working on my 2015 “list.”

One thing that is top priority is writing down my daily gratitude(s). I did this when I was in high school and college, when I was trying to 'find' myself; and it helped me so much. Back in November, I was reminded to do this by my blogging buddy Julie, who wrote a whole blog post about being grateful and how writing her daily gratitude helped her. Since then I have put a good effort into if not just thinking about what I am grateful for but trying to jot it down as well.

In addition to trying to be more grateful, when I did my daily gratitude in high school and college, I challenged myself to do 2-3 random acts of kindness a day. These were mostly small things, like saying hello to a stranger, sending a card (snail mail style) to tell someone how much I appreciate them, or paying for a stranger’s toll. These small little acts really helped me be more connected, appreciate life, be more grateful and overall bring me great happiness as well as bring a smile to another's face.

One of my absolute favorite kind acts were to bring homemade treats to friends, neighbors, and my classmates. I enjoyed getting in the kitchen and whipping up a tasty treat and my friends thoroughly enjoyed all my homemade goodies! I even have vivid memories of smiles from several shy kids in my class as they enjoyed a homemade chocolate chip cookie.

It's moments like these that I hope to have more of in 2015.

If you are looking for a delicious homemade baked good to give to someone to brighten their morning, these Spiced Honey Oat Muffins are perfect. They are sweet, but not overly sweet, and despite not having any fancy “mix-ins,” they are flavorful and hearty. Whip up a batch to enjoy as an afternoon snack or to give a friend to brighten their day.

One Year Ago: Brown Butter Cornbread
Two Years Ago: Almond Joy Oatmeal
Three Years Ago: Sausage and Pepper Arrabbiata 
Four Years Ago: Roasted Broccoli with Chili Butter
Five Years Ago: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Spiced Honey Oat Muffins 
Printable Version
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cook Time: 10-12 minutes Yields: 14-16 muffins

Warm spices and sweet natural honey make these muffins perfect for a mid-morning snack! 

2 large eggs, room temperature
¾ cup honey
1 cup buttermilk or strong brewed coffee
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease muffin pan or line with paper liners.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and honey until well combined. Add buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract. Whisk until all ingredients are well combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Slowly stir the dry ingredients into the buttermilk mixture a little at a time, stirring just until combined. Stir in the rolled oats, making sure not to over mix.

Divide the batter equally between the prepared muffin tins, filling only about ¾ of the way full. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool for 10 minutes in the muffin pan before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Adapted from Will Cook for Smiles  

Other recipes you might enjoy:
Honey Pear Muffins 
Banana Bran Muffins
Lemon Blueberry Muffins
Chunky Monkey Baked Oatmeal Muffins
Spiced Cranberry Orange Muffins

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mini Heart Shaped Cranberry Hand Pies {Plus a Comforting Winter Dinner with Caesar Salad and Marie Callender's Pot Pies}

Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #ad #EasyAsPotPie #CollectiveBias 

These cold winter months are perfect for hearty, comforting meals! One of my favorite comfort foods, that reminds me of my childhood, is sweet and savory pies! My Heart Shaped Cranberry Hand Pies are the perfect dessert to go with a simple Caesar salad and some Marie Callender's pot pies!

I don't know what it is, but there is just something about the chilly winter weather that has me craving warm, comforting things. Not only does cuddling up on the couch right now with a good “can't put it down” book and soft fleece blanket sound like the best thing ever, sitting down to a quite meal to reminisce about my childhood sounds perfect too!

Growing up, sitting down to dinner as a family was very important to my parents... as it should be. In fact it was so important, it deeply saddens me to hear that for others this was not a common practice in their home as a child, or when I see busy schedules interrupt family dinner time for many today.

I am so thankful that, despite a few arguments to eat the tomatoes in my salad (the one food I despised as a child), and sometimes seeming annoyed when my parents asked what I learned in school that day, that family dinner time was top priority for my family. In fact, I loved every minute of it!

Dinner time for our family never lacked interesting conversation, as we poured over some of the simplest meals. If my Mom was cooking it was usually Lemon Pepper Chicken or spaghetti and if it was up to my Dad it was tomato soup or savory pot pies.

Yeah, pies, sweet or savory, are probably my Dad's favorite food! There are stories about my Mom winning my Dad over with pies. And then when my parents got married, my great-grandmother passed her pie plates (from when she got married in 1918) down to my Mom so she could continue her pie making! :)

Like I said, this winter weather is sure making me feel nostalgic!

To help bring me back to those days from long ago, I decided to whip up a simple, yet comforting dinner, just like we had growing up. I headed to my local Walmart to grab a few groceries for my “homesick” dinner. In honor of my Dad, I grabbed a frozen Marie Callender's pot pie, stuff for a Caesar salad (my favorite salad as a kid because there were no tomatoes!) and some stuff for Mini Heart Shaped Cranberry Hand Pies (in honor of my Mom's famous fruit pies!).... ahh... the perfect dinner to warm you up on a cold winter day!

Marie Callender's will always remind me of my Dad because that is where he always took us for our birthday dinners and a Marie Callender's frozen pot pie often made an appearance at our dinner table at home. Unlike back then, when there were just a few flavors, Marie Callender's now offers pot pies with a variety of flavors (like chicken, beef and turkey) and vegetable combinations, making them perfect for picky eaters. Getting a few “mini” pot pies in different flavors makes a comforting dinner at home more fun for everyone!

Because everything is more fun in “mini” form, I whipped up these mini heart shaped (Hello! Cuteness overload!) hand pies for dessert. I loved my Mom's pies growing up and this mini version are so festive and fun to make. They would be perfect for a comforting, family friendly Valentine’s dinner at home!

Mini Heart Shaped Cranberry Hand Pies
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version 
Prep Time: 30-40 minutes Cook Time: 20-25 minutes Yields: 12-14 mini pies

Adorable heart shaped hand pies with a sweet and slightly tart cranberry-orange filling. 

1 batch homemade or store bought pie crust (enough for two crusts)
Unbleached all-purpose flour, as needed
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (no need to thaw if frozen)
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon all-spice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 large navel orange, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
¼ cup raw sugar (granulated sugar may be substituted)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out pie crust to approximately 1/8 to ¼-inch thick. Using a 3-inch heart or circle shaped cookie cutter, cut dough into shapes. Set dough cut outs aside. Repeat rolling and cutting process with remaining dough and any dough scraps until all dough is used and 24 to 28 heart or circle shapes are formed.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together cranberries, granulated sugar, all-spice, salt, cornstarch, orange zest and juice to form pie filling. Reduce heat to medium and let pie filling simmer for 4-5 minutes or until filling begins to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Set aside cranberry pie filling to cool for 5-10 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg and water to form egg wash. Using a pastry brush or your finger, brush the outer edge of half of the pie crust hearts with egg wash. Spoon approximately 1 tablespoon cranberry pie filling into the center of the heart shaped cut outs. Place a second dough heart on top of each filled heart. Using your fingers, gently press around the edge of the pie to seal. Then using a fork, crimp the edges together, fully sealing each pie. Repeat filling process with remaining ingredients.

Carefully transfer pies to prepared baking sheet. Using a toothpick cut a small “X” into the corner of each pie. Brush tops of pie with egg wash and sprinkle each pie with 1-2 teaspoons raw sugar. Bake pies in preheated 350 degree oven for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the pies from the oven and cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Marie Callender's would like to bring the comforts of home to the brave men and women serving in the US military. To help share a warm and flaky Marie Callender's pot pie with U.S. servicemen and women overseas, simply look for specialty marked boxes of Marie Callender's pies at your local Walmart and check out Marie Callendar’s Comforts From Home Program online. And click here for more comforting recipes the whole family will love!
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