Kitchen Concoctions

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pumpkin Butter and Pecan Granola

Granola is my 'go-to' breakfast and afternoon snack. This version has brown butter, warm spices, seasonal pumpkin butter and pecans for a nutty, toasty homemade granola! 

This year I just couldn't get on board with pumpkin. While the rest of the world was pumpkin this and pumpkin that and OMG! #PSL, I was like eh.

This is definitely very uncharacteristic of me. In fact, most years I am so pumpkin crazy that I even have an entire pumpkin themed week here on the ole blog.

But this year? Well I've been a bit bored with pumpkin. Is pumpkin played out? Should we be moving on to other fall beauties like acorn squash or pears? Of course, I certainly hope that pumpkin is not out of style, yes even being in a pumpkin rut, but maybe it should be used in moderation. You know so that we can actually enjoy the iconic fall flavor.

If you are wondering, this is only the third pumpkin thing I have shared on the blog this year (and it is only the fourth pumpkiny thing I have even eaten (besides a handful of pumpkin spice lattes, but those don't count).

I even debated about sharing it because, well, I am sure many of YOU are also sick of all that pumpkin and isn't is almost gingerbread season anyways?!?

But.... tis the season...

I actually whipped up this granola after I had some pumpkin butter just hanging around from another recipe and that I didn't want to go to waste. And while I already have traditional pumpkin granola and even pumpkin granola bars recipes that I love and have shared in previous (pumpkin loving) years, I really liked this version since it uses pumpkin butter, which totally changes it up! This version also uses very basic pantry staples and is really easy to whip up, you know when you do have a small pumpkin craving but don't want to eat an entire pie.

Oh and one last thing. This recipe has you brown the butter first, which lends to a nice nutty and toasty fall flavor. Hears to hoping I get my pumpkin mojo back for next year! In the mean time I am eating a big bowl of frozen berries, topped with plain Greek yogurt and this pumpkin granola. Moderation.

One Year Ago: 50+ Pie Recipes for the Holiday Season and Beyond! 
Two Years Ago: Lentil Bean Soup
Three Years Ago: Greek Burgers
Four Years Ago: Cheesy Turkey and Veggie Casserole
Five Years Ago: Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Pumpkin Butter and Pecan Granola
Printable Version 
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 30-35 minutes Yields: approximately 3 ½ -4 cups

A toasty rolled oat and pecan granola with warm fall spices and a hint of pumpkin. 

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 cup chopped pecans
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup pumpkin butter (homemade or store bought)
3-4 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl stir together rolled oats, pecans and spices. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place the butter in a heavy bottom saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter begins to boil up and becomes foamy. Continue cooking and stirring until butter starts to smell nutty and toasty and turns golden brown in color and brown specks begin to form, about 6-8 minutes.

Reduce heat, and whisk in the pumpkin butter, maple syrup, and vanilla. Continue whisking until fully combined, about 2 minutes.

Pour the warm pumpkin butter mixture over the oats and pecans in bowl. Stir until the oats are evenly coated with the pumpkin butter mixture. 

Press granola into an even layer onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, turning pan half way through baking so that the granola bakes evenly.

Once granola is golden brown in color, remove from oven and cool completely. Using a spatula, break granola into pieces. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for about 2-3 weeks. 

Adapted from Veggie and the Beast

Other recipes you might enjoy:
Pumpkin Granola Bars
Pumpkin Spice Granola
Peanut Butter Banana Granola
Pina Colada Granola
Lunchbox Granola Cupcakes

Monday, November 24, 2014

Three Bread Stuffin' Muffins

Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without stuffing! Whip up this version, with three varieties of bread for added flavor and texture, and then bake it in muffin tins to give each dinner guest their own individual serving!

Hi friends! It's me again. And I have a favor to ask.

Nothing too big. I promise.

Can we all just please, take a moment. And at least for the next few days all just agree to focus on Thanksgiving?

Yeah. Thanksgiving. That little holiday coming up on Thursday.

I know with all the stores putting up their Christmas stuff since September, and all those adorable holiday themed commercials, and with that extreme arctic blast we had last week, you might be giddy to rush in and start gearing up for Christmas.

Yeah. My friends, and you know who you are, who already turned on the holiday music, put up your Christmas tree, hung the stockings and took a peak at the movie Elf, I'm talking to you.

Now don't go calling me a Grinch. I love, love, love the holiday season and every single special tradition it involves. But I feel like this year, more than ever, Thanksgiving is being passed by just as another day, as we rush to Christmas.

Since I love the holidays so much, including Thanksgiving, this makes me sad. So my favor, my wish, my plea, is that for the next few days that we all focus on Thanksgiving and what this holiday means..

Focus on the people we will be spending time with. The things we are grateful for. Happiness and good cheer.

And let's all take time to give thanks!

Now that I am done preachin' how about one last Thanksgiving-ish recipe. I say 'ish' because I am sure everyone has already prepared their menu, shopped and are ready to get cookin' for the big day. And even though stuffing is super popular at Thanksgiving, I often forget that it is an awesome side dish that can (and should!) be enjoyed year round, you know, instead of your normal starchy sides like rice, potatoes or rolls.

The stuffing recipe I am sharing today, is inspired by my Grandmother's stuffing (or dressing as she calls it) recipe, except instead of all cornbread I use three varieties of bread and bake everything in muffin tins for individual servings. This is not only fun and something your guests will love, it frees up one of your casserole dishes for something else.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

One Year Ago: CraftyConcoctions: Felt Mitten Candy, Money or Gift Card Holders (StockingStuffer Idea!)
Two Years Ago:
LentilBean Soup
Three Years Ago:
Greek Burgers 
Four Years Ago:
Cheesy Turkey and Veggie Casserole
Five Years Ago:
Stuffed Sweet Potatoes 

Three Bread Stuffin' Muffins
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes Yields: approximately 14-16 muffins

Individual servings of stuffing made with three varieties of bread for a flavorful twist on a holiday classic.

4 cups corn bread, cubed
4 cups French bread, cubed
4 cups whole wheat bread, cubed
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper
2 - 3 cups chicken broth
2 eggs, whisked

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter or spray with cooking spray, two standard size muffin tins. Set aside.

Place cubed bread on a baking sheet and bake in preheated 350 degree F oven for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Remove bread cubes from oven and place in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add celery and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add sauteed vegetables to bread mixture in bowl. Stir in chopped parsley, poultry seasoning, salt and black pepper. Stir to combine.
Add whisked eggs and enough broth until bread mixture is moistened but not wet. Mix well.

Spoon stuffing mixture into prepared muffin tin. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes or until center is firm and muffins are golden brown. Serve warm or room temperature.

NOTE: Stuffing mixture can be made up to 24 hours in advance.

Other recipes you might enjoy:
PumpernickelSausage Stuffing 
Breakfast Stuffing 
Leftover Stuffing Frittata Muffins 
Easy Sausage Stuffing 
Cheesy Turkey and Veggie Casserole 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chicken Cordon Bleu Quiche

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Goldrich Eggs. All thoughts and opinions are my own. #GoldrichYolk 

A holiday breakfast or brunch wouldn't be complete without a decadent quiche. This Chicken Cordon Bleu Quiche is a delicious twist on two popular French dishes! 

I've mentioned before that my Mom was an exceptional baker! She was known for her moist and flavorful banana bread, her crisp buttery chocolate chip cookies, and for mad pie making skills. Every year during the days leading up to Thanksgiving my Mom went on a pie making frenzy. You see, most years we went to my Aunt's house for Thanksgiving and my Mom was assigned to bring pie, because, well no other pie would do! 

My Mom would spend hours making the most picture perfect pies. Pecan pie, loaded with the finest Texas pecans. Pie with plump juicy blueberries. And of course creamy pumpkin pie. From a young age I would sit and watch my Mom make her famous pies. Measuring and mixing the finest ingredients. Carefully rolling the dough into my great-grandmother's pie plates. Beautifully crimping the edges of the dough and baking the pies to golden perfection; then carefully cutting that first piece.

Because of my Mom's meticulous pie making, I have grown to love and have a great appreciation for pies of all sorts (a pie snob? No, just a pie connoisseur!) As I have gotten older (read: my palate has matured), I have grown to appreciate not only sweet pies, but savory pies, as well as, tarts and other delicacies in the 'pie family'! 

Despite being around all that pie growing up, one variety of pie (or tart, as some would say) that I did not experience until I was much older, was quiche. One bite of that rich egg custard, with plump, juicy veggies and that buttery, flaky crust~ well I was completely smitten! Since then I have eaten and made many sweet and savory pies, and while I am still trying to become a pie master, like my Mom, I am slowly perfecting my pie trade! :) 

Like my Mom and her dessert pies, when I set out to learn how to make the perfect quiche, I knew I had to use the best ingredients. Freshly grated cheese, the finest meats, premium eggs, like new Goldrich eggs, and a buttery, flaky made from scratch crust. 

Just like learning the proper milk to egg ratio for the perfect quiche, a beautiful crust is equally as important. Sure you could take a shortcut and use a store bought pie crust, but it wouldn't be the same. A homemade crust is the only way to go, and while it may seem intimidating at first, check out my video below, for a step by step perfect quiche crust tutorial! 


I love having a big breakfast or brunch whenever there is a special occasion, especially during the holiday season! A quiche is the perfect item to serve to out of town guests the after day Thanksgiving, when they want something besides turkey, or as a filling breakfast as they get ready to get on the road and head back home. 

Quiche is super adaptable to your tastes, but I decided to do a twist on another popular French dish, Chicken Cordon Bleu. This hearty quiche is filled with not only chicken, but ham and Swiss cheese all baked into a rich and creamy egg custard and a gorgeous crust. 

Chicken Cordon Bleu Quiche 
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions: 
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes Serves: 6 

A hearty quiche filled ham, chicken and Swiss cheese all nestled into a buttery, flaky crust. 
1 batch flaky butter pie crust (recipe below) or 1 store bought 9-inch pie crust 
1 cup diced cooked chicken 
1 cup diced cooked ham 
1 cup Swiss cheese, grated 
3 large Goldrich eggs 
1 cup milk 
1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half 
½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper 
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, plus more to garnish 
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray 9-inch pie plate or tart pan with nonstick spray. 

Roll out the quiche crust and press into 9-inch pie plate. Trim away any excess dough and flute or crimp the edges of the crust. Sprinkle diced chicken, ham and grated cheese evenly over the bottom of the quiche crust. Set aside. 

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, heavy cream, salt, black pepper, chives and mustard. Pour egg and milk mixture over the meat and cheese mixture. 
Bake in preheated 400 degree F oven for 30-35 minutes or until crust is golden brown in color and filling is set. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold with additional chopped fresh chives, if desired, for garnish. 

Flaky Butter Pie or Quiche Crust 
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:  
Prep Time: 15 minutes Wait Time: 1 hour Yields: 1 large deep dish pie crust  

A basic flaky, buttery crust for pies or tarts. 

1 ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour 
¼ teaspoon salt 
8 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces 
2 tablespoons ice water 

Combine flour, salt and butter in a large food processor. Blend until mixture is coarse and crumbly. Add ice water and pulse several times, until dough comes together (additional water may be needed to form dough). Shape dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one hour. 

When ready to use, roll chilled dough onto lightly floured surface. Once rolled to approximately 1/4-inch thick, carefully lift and place in pie or tart pan, gently pressing in the bottom and up the sides of pan. Trim off excess dough and bake as directed for recipe.

Disclosure: This sponsored blog post was written by me on behalf of Goldrich Eggs. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Because of sponsors like Goldrich Eggs I am able to continue to bring you all the content I feature here.

Movie Night Popcorn & M&M's® Cookies {Plus Movie Night Gift Baskets}

 Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MovieNight4Less #CollectiveBias #ad

Everyone loves movie night! Give the gift of movie night this holiday season with a homemade movie night gift pack filled with fun movies, popcorn, candy and buttery, crispy Movie Night PopcornM&M's® Cookies! 

I have shared many times that I absolutely love having movie night at home. Yeah as much as it is fun to get dressed up and have date night out, cuddling up on your couch in comfy pajamas, eating whatever snacks you want and being able to pause the movie for any unexpected interruptions, well, that is simply perfect.

Since I love everything about watching movies, the snacks (a soda, popcorn and M&M's® are my personal favorite), eating popcorn out of a special container, the entertaining movie and just having a rare opportunity to relax, I love giving the gift of movie night to others.

In fact, whether giving a gift for the holidays, a birthday, bridal shower, or whatever the occasion maybe; I love giving a gift that is activity and has a personal touch. See for me, an ideal gift is the opportunity to spend time and go do something memorable with a friend or loved one. So I strive to gift personalized gifts like this, and always include a special homemade treat, whenever the occasion calls!

My movie night gift baskets have become quite popular among my friends and family. This gift is super fun, yet thoughtful, and easy to put together. It is also super affordable since all of the gift items can be purchased conveniently at my local Walmart. Right now Wallmart is making it even easier and more affordable to give the gift of movie night this holiday season, with these special move night pallets with almost everything you need (including Orville Redenbacher's, M&M's® and a variety of Warner Brothers DVD and Blu Ray movies) in one easy location.

Since I have some good friends who just had a baby (which means they aren't getting out much right now), I thought surprising them with a movie night gift basket was just the thing they needed to have movie night in the comfort of their own home.

Here are some things I always include in my movie night gift baskets:
  • A large bowl, box, or basket to hold everything in
  • A variety of candy
  • Packets of popcorn
  • Popcorn seasonings (homemade or store bought)
  • Soda (in glass bottles, because it's fun!)
  • A couple of movies
  • Cute bowls or special popcorn serving containers
  • A homemade treat

In addition to giving gifts that are an activity, I always like to include a homemade treat. I have found that including a homemade treat (no matter what type of gift I give) adds an extra special personal touch and makes the gift recipient feel more loved and remembered.

Since I wanted to include a special homemade treat for my movie night gift basket to give my friends, I decided to whip up a batch of cookies inspired by my favorite movie snacks, popcorn and M&M's®! I am ecstatic about how these turned out, buttery, crispy and tastes just like what watching a movie should taste like! :)

Movie Night Popcorn & M&M's® Cookies
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 25 minutes Cook Time: 10-12 minutes Yields: approximately 2 dozen cookies

Buttery, crispy cookies filled with favorite movie night snacks: popcorn and M&M's®!

¾ cup butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups Orville Redenbacher's Kettle Corn, popped
1 ½ cups M&M's® chocolate candies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and both sugars on medium speed, until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add vanilla extract and mix well.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. Slowly add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the butter mixture, mixing just until combined.

Carefully, fold in prepared popcorn and 1 cup M&M's® chocolate candies. Drop dough, by rounded tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart onto a baking sheet. Press 3-4 of the remaining M&M's® on top of each cookie.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned, set in the middle and crispy around the edges. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5-8 minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Applesauce Spice Cake with Caramel Glaze

It's apple season! While this tender and moist Applesauce Spice Cake with Gooey Caramel Glaze uses fresh homemade applesauce, feel free to use store bought applesauce and make this delicious cake year round! 

Tomorrow's my birthday.

And while normally I am super ecstatic, and am one of those who celebrates their birthday all month long, this year I am like eh...

Not that I am freaking out about being older, in fact this year I am actually feeling pretty good about life and where I am on this beautiful journey. But at the same time, this year I don't feel anything special about my birthday, despite having already received several loving birthday wishes.

Yeah tomorrow's my birthday. And I feel like I should have something poignant to say about the celebration of life. Some wise words. Some earth shattering revelations. Especially considering last year's major milestone birthday.

But maybe, just maybe, that's what it's all about. Being happy with what blessings life has given you. Working hard to fulfill dreams but not letting the bumps in the road get you down. Spending time with friends and family, even if it's just sipping on a warm cup of coffee on a chilly afternoon or feeling the kiss of the sun on your cheek as you watch packs of dogs run around the park. No, despite what I thought 10 years ago, life is not about going on some elaborate vacation or how many “so called” friends show for your 21st birthday or that you have the cutest outfit in the whole room. Life is about surrounding yourself with good people. People who lift you up and don't put you down. About people who you can really count on.

It is about breathtaking sunsets, good laugh-til-your-side-hurts filled nights, chasing your dreams and even a few cloudy days and uncontrollable tears, because well that's what makes up the story called life.

Oh, and life is also about good food. I firmly believe that everyone should have cake and ice cream on their birthday. I believe this so much that it has almost become a life's mission of mine to make sure everyone has a slice of cake on their special day (in fact several of my friends say that their birthday isn't complete without cake from me!).

So today, in honor of my birthday and all the November birthdays (there are a lot of us...) I am sharing a recipe for my current favorite cake. I have made this cake several times and it is absolutely delicious. Moist and tender, filled with warm fall spices and wonderful homemade applesauce (don't worry you can cheat and use store bought, if needed) and topped with a gooey caramel glaze- this cake has birthday memories written all over it!

One Year Ago: Cheddar Herb Biscuits
Two Years Ago: One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes (Eggless) 
Three Years Ago: Pilgrim Hat Cupcakes
Four Years Ago: Leftover Turkey (or chicken) Creamy Enchiladas
Five Years Ago: Chocolate Cake  

Applesauce Spice Cake with Caramel Glaze
Printable Version
Prep Time: 20 minutes Bake Time: 40-50 minutes Wait Time: 40-50 minutes Serves: 10-12

A tender, spiced cake with homemade applesauce and a gooey caramel glaze. 

For the cake:
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus 2 tablespoons)
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
2 cups store bought or homemade applesauce (recipe below)
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the caramel glaze:
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
½ cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ to 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Using 2 tablespoons of butter and flour, generously grease and lightly dust with flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the remaining 2 cups of flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, black pepper and spices, set aside.

Using a stand mixer or in a large bowl with an electric mixer. beat together the eggs with both sugars until combined and light in color. Mix in the applesauce, oil and vanilla, mixing until well combined and smooth.

Using a spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, being careful not to over-mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes in the bundt pan on a rack before inverting onto the wire rack to cool completely. Allow cake to cool completely before adding the glaze.

To prepare glaze, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, stir in brown sugar, cream and salt. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a full boil. Stirring constantly boil for one minute then remove from heat. Allow brown sugar mixture to cool slightly, then gradually whisk in the powdered sugar until you have a thick, but pourable glaze. If needed, add additional cream or powdered sugar to reach desired consistency.

Before pouring the glaze over the cake, place a piece of foil or wax paper under the cooling rack to catch any excess glaze. Immediately pour the glaze over the cake, moving slowly and evenly to cover as much surface area as possible. Let the glaze set for 20-25 minutes before slicing and serving the cake.

Adapted from Food52 via Patricia's Table    

Basic Homemade Applesauce 
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 15-20 minutes Cook Time: 50-60 minutes Yields: about 2 cups

Simple homemade apple puree using fresh seasonal apples. 

6-7 Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji or Honeycrisp apples, cored and diced
1 ½ cups water or apple juice
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil and boil for 5-8 minutes. Reduce heat to a low and simmer 45-55 minutes, stirring occasionally, cooking until apples are tender.

Allow apple mixture to cool then place in a food processor or high power blender and puree until smooth or desired consistency.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Other recipes you might enjoy:
Fall Trail Mix Cookies
Apple Spice Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting
Caramel Apple Donuts
A Guide to Apple Varieties
Chocolate Zucchini Bundt Cake

Monday, November 17, 2014

Northpole Pretzels and Polar Bear Cupcakes

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

Start new family traditions this holiday season that will leave life long memories! Read Snowby's New Friend and Once Upon a Northpole Christmas, then make adorable and easy Northpole Pretzels and Polar Bear Cupcakes!

When I think of the holiday traditions I grew up with, the first thing that comes to mind are the traditions my Mom always insisted upon and was super enthusiastic about. A real, live Christmas tree (that most years we tried to go to a Christmas tree farm to cut down ourselves), decorating sugar cookies, matching Christmas Eve pajamas and driving around to look at all the holiday lights decking the homes of neighbors.

But as I sit and reflect, my Dad had special traditions of his own. From taking us to see The Nutcracker every year, to letting us sleep on the blow up mattress right next to the tree, to letting us pick out a special holiday ornament (ornaments that now adorn my own tree), to the large collection of holiday themed books that we read the weeks leading up to the big day.

Now Eric and I have taken these traditions (and the ones from his childhood) and created our own. Decorating gingerbread houses, picking out special ornaments for each other, taking a stroll through the Trail of Lights all bundled up on a cold December night.

One tradition that my sister started with her family was 25 days of Christmas books. She wanted to have 25 Christmas books that she would then wrap up, put in a basket and place the basket under the Christmas tree. Each night my nephew would get to pick one book, unwrap it and they would read that book as the bedtime story that evening.

When my sister told me of this idea I immediately fell in love with this new tradition. I helped her stock her Christmas book collection my nephew’s first Christmas, and I have even started working on our own collection of Christmas books for when we have babes.

Gifting my nephew some books for Christmas is actually not new for me. Since my first nephew celebrated his first Christmas, I have always given a special book for his Christmas gift. This has now carried on to all my nephews and become my own tradition with them.

This year, since we will be having our family Christmas celebration a little early, I hope to start another Christmas tradition. You know how much I love creating special treats inspired by books and movies; so when I saw these adorable Hallmark Holiday books at my local Walmart I knew instantly that I wanted to not only gift them to my nephews, but wanted to create a whole day of fun and memories, crafting special holiday treats inspired by these festive books!

Both books celebrate the magic the holiday season brings children young and old. One book, Once Upon a Northpole Christmas, is about sharing holiday cheer and that the happiness of families, as they make memories together, powers the Northpole. The other book, Snowby's New Friend, is about a baby polar bear who can't stay warm until he meets a generous elf who gives him a hat. Both books come in special holiday gift packs, Once Upon a Northpole Christmas comes with a lighted snowflake ornament “so Santa can find you” and Snowby's New Friend comes with a Snowby stuffed bear to cuddle with.

Inspired by the books, I created these cute Northpole Pretzels (Peppermint White Chocolate Covered Pretzels) and super easy Polar Bear Cupcakes. I hope that reading these special books and creating these fun treats with my nephews will become traditions and memories that last a lifetime!

What are your holiday traditions? 

North Pole Pretzels
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 30 minutes Wait Time: 30 minutes Yields: 12 pretzels

White chocolate covered pretzels with peppermint pieces decorated to look like the North Pole! 

25 peppermint candies
12 ounces vanilla almond bark or white baking chocolate
2 teaspoons coconut oil or vegetable oil
12 pretzel rods
12 small round red or white candies (round cinnamon or chocolate candies)

Wax paper
North Pole sign printable
Clear tape
Twist ties
Long plastic food gift bags (made for chocolate covered pretzel rods)

Line baking sheet with wax paper. Set aside.

Place peppermint candies in food processor. Pulse several times until coarsely crushed. Alternatively, place peppermint candies in a large resealable plastic bag. Seal bag tightly. Using a rolling pin or meat mallet, pound until candies are coarsely crushed. Sprinkle crushed candy onto a plate or over a separate sheet of waxed paper and set aside.

Place vanilla almond bark and oil in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir and return to microwave, heating for an additional 30 seconds. Repeat melting and stirring process until almond bark is melted and smooth. Pour melted almond bark onto a plate or into a shallow dish.

Working quickly, roll pretzel rods in melted almond bark, covering only about half the pretzel; allow excess almond bark to drip off. Roll almond bark covered pretzel in crushed peppermint candies. Place one round red or white candy on the top of the pretzel.

Place covered pretzels on prepared sheet. Let stand until set, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut out North Pole printable. Using clear tape, adhere one twist tie to the back of one North Pole sign, leaving enough of the twist tie on both ends to secure to the pretzels. Repeat with remaining twist ties and signs.

Once pretzels have hardened, place in plastic pretzel bag. Secure bag with twist tie adhered to the paper North Pole sign.

Polar Bear Cupcakes
by Heather of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 20-30 minutes (does not include any baking time)

Basic vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting easily transformed to look like adorable polar bears! 

For Polar Bear Face:
Vanilla cupcakes (homemade or store bought)*
Vanilla buttercream frosting (homemade or store bought)*
Coconut flakes
Mini marshmallows
Chocolate Chips
Chocolate covered caramel candies

For Polar Bear Paw Prints:
Vanilla cupcakes (homemade or store bought)
Vanilla buttercream frosting (homemade or store bought)
Coconut flakes
Mini chocolate mint candies
Chocolate covered raisins

For Polar Bear Face Cupcakes: Spread approximately 1-2 tablespoons vanilla buttercream frosting in a thin layer on baked vanilla cupcake. Place coconut flakes in a bowl and dip frosted cupcake in coconut flakes to cover.

Place one marshmallow, on top of the coconut covered cupcake, in each corner on the same side of the cupcake to form ears. Just below the marshmallow ears, place two chocolate chips (pointed side down) side by side in the top center of the cupcake to form eyes. Right below the eyes, top cupcake with chocolate covered caramel candies to form nose.

For Polar Bear Paw Prints: Spread approximately 1-2 tablespoons vanilla buttercream frosting in a thin layer on baked vanilla cupcake. Place coconut flakes in a bowl and dip frosted cupcake in coconut flakes to cover.

Place one mini chocolate peppermint candy or chocolate sandwich cookie in the center bottom of the coconut covered cupcake. Place four chocolate covered raisins above the mini chocolate peppermint candy, spacing the candies apart, to form paw print.

*NOTE: No time to bake cupcakes? Order a dozen cupcakes from your favorite local bakery or grocery store bakery. Most bakeries don't mind packaging up the frosting in a small container and leaving the cupcakes plain and undecorated. Just let them know when placing your order (usually most bakeries need 24 hours notice) that you will be frosting the cupcakes yourself and want plain cupcakes with the frosting on the side!

inspired by several version seen all over the web

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Brussels Sprout Salad with Pomegranate and Orange {Plus 10 Stress-Free Holiday Tips}

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

The holidays can be a stressful time of year! Today I am sharing 10 Stress-Free Holiday Tips plus a healthy, easy side dish, a Brussels Sprout Salad with Pomegranate and Orange, the perfect addition to the holiday dinner table.

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away and for many that means two weeks of stress filled days getting ready to cater to out of town guests, plan and host the big Thanksgiving dinner and gear up for the remaining holiday season. However, even though Thanksgiving can be a lot of work, it doesn't have to be! I have hosted several friendsgivings, traditional Thanksgiving dinners, and many other dinner parties over the years and have a few tips and tricks that will hopefully help you all get through your Thanksgiving as stress free as possible!

10 Stress-Free Holiday Tips:

1. Make a list and check it twice: Lists may seem tedious to create but will save you so much time, money and energy in the long run. Make a list of guests you plan on inviting, a list of dishes you would like to serve, a grocery shopping list, and a schedule of when items need to be prepped/cooked the days leading up to your dinner party and the day of the big event. Use these lists as guides to help ensure no one is left out, no ingredients are forgotten and to help you manage your time.

2. Delegate: This is definitely something I do not struggle with! :) Asking guests to help contribute by bringing a side dish or dessert will not only help cut down on your stress but will help ease the financial burden that can often come with hosting a big holiday gathering. I have found that most guests don't mind contributing and often bring a dish even without being asked. To make it easier on everyone, assign guests specific dishes to bring. This prevents duplicates, helps you plan as the host to know what to expect and where to fill in, and also guides guests and eliminates any stress for them. In addition to delegating the menu, give family members chores and specific tasks the days leading up to the event to help get ready.

3. Set out serving platters and gather containers for leftovers: A day or two before your holiday dinner, set out all your serving platters and utensils. Write down what each serving platter will be used for on a sticky note and place the note on the dish. This helps to see what additional serving dishes you may need to pick up beforehand and will help you stay organized. Also, don't forget to gather and set aside containers for leftovers. This will help ease in clean up, when you are the most exhausted, and ensure you have enough containers to store everything. Be sure and have plenty of containers on hand (paper plates, plastic food storage bags, etc.) for guests to take home leftovers as well.

4. Shop early and stock up: Even though Thanksgiving is still two weeks away you should start shopping now for supplies and ingredients. This ensures that you get everything you need before your store runs out and gives you plenty of time to start preparing for the big day. I try to do most of my holiday shopping at stores like Sam's Club, so that I can buy ingredients and supplies, like paper goods, chicken broth, and even fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk and at great prices; to make sure I have enough on hand, not only on Thanksgiving day, but to last me throughout the whole holiday season!

5. Gather your recipes and test them beforehand: Most professional chefs and caters will tell you to never test a new recipe on dinner guests, and I firmly believe in this as well. But that doesn't have to keep you from experimenting in the kitchen! With so many wonderful recipes popping up on blogs and in magazines this time of year, you may be tempted to try something new. Trying new recipes is great but these recipes should be tested several days before your dinner party. This ensures you know how to prepare recipe and that it actually tastes good. ;) Gathering your recipes ahead of time not only helps you plan your shopping trip, it makes preparation the day of go more smoothly. To make things easier, I like to print off the recipes I will be using or save/bookmark them in a special folder on my phone or iPad, so that I can easily access them when needed.

6. Prep in advance: Many dishes or ingredients can be prepared several days in advance. Chop onions, celery, etc. several days before Thanksgiving and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Even whole dishes, like cranberry sauce, pies, and stuffing, can be made a head of time and served cold, room temperature or finished off in the oven the day of the event. No time to prep? Buy pre-chopped or frozen vegetables to save time and ease in preparation.

7. Think outside the box: Hosting a dinner party or serving a large meal usually requires using a lot of dishes, pots and pans, and serving utensils. However, don't let only having one oven or twelve plates and fifteen dinner guests stress you out. While many believe using your best china is the only way to go for holiday dinners, paper plates can be easier and more cost effective than renting or buying new, if hosting a large crowd. In addition, try cooking dishes in disposable containers, for easy clean up, or using non-traditional pots and pans to cook traditional dishes. For instance, free up a casserole dish by cooking stuffing in a muffin tin (trust me, individual stuffing muffins will be a hit) or serve cranberry sauce in small ramekins and have several scattered about the table. And did you know that everything from green bean casserole to pecan pie can be cooked in a crock-pot?!?!

8. Store beverages in coolers: Keep the refrigerator free of beverages to save room for all that food. Borrow coolers and use your own to store bottles of water, cans of cola, beer and wine. Also, stock at least one cooler with ice just for drinking.

9. Take some personal time and just breathe: While this time of year can get hectic, it is important to take time for yourself and to de-stress. Take a walk outside and enjoy some fresh air. Do some yoga and sit for ten minutes in total silence. Treat yourself to a pedicure. Grab a cup of coffee and sit down with a good book or magazine, like the Healthy Living Made Simple Magazine. While all of these things will help elevate stress and recharge you for your next task, I like taking a few minutes to sip on coffee and enjoy a magazine.

10. Don't stress about the small stuff and remember the reason for the season: Even with careful planning and all these tips, there will be unexpected guests, forgotten ingredients and broken glasses. But all you can do is improvise, laugh it off, embrace precious time spent with friends and family, and grab a fork and dig in. Just remember when you start to fell stressed, that the reason for the season is love and thankfulness!

This Brussels sprout salad is great for any holiday get together because it can be made in advance (see tip number six!) and is super simple with just a handful of ingredients. Not only that, it is bright and colorful and adds a healthy, fresh side dish to the holiday dinner table!

Brussels Sprout Salad with Pomegranate and Orange
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 20 minutes Serves: 4-6

A fresh winter salad with crisp, raw Brussels sprouts, plump, juicy mandarin oranges and tart pomegranates. 

For the salad:
3 dozen Brussels sprouts, stems removed and finely chopped (about 4 cups)
1 cup Clementine oranges, peeled, segmented and sliced in half
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 cup pomegranate seeds

For the citrus vinaigrette:
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 small shallot, grated
2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper

For salad, combine Brussels sprouts, oranges and almonds in a large bowl. Drizzle with desired amount of prepared vinaigrette and toss to coat. Chill until ready to serve (can be made 1-24 hours in advance).

Right before serving, add pomegranate seeds and toss to combine.

For vinaigrette, whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl until combined. Set aside until ready to use.

Not only does the Sam's Club Healthy Living Made Simple Magazine, available for download on iPhone or iPad, have several tasty and healthy recipes, there are a number of articles, written by professionals, about how to live more healthy and stress free. These articles, including this one which inspired these stress free holiday tips, are great reminders and have valuable information not only during this stressful and indulgent time of year, but all year long! I've shared my stress-free holiday tips and now I want to hear yours!

What are YOUR stress-free holiday entertaining tips?
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