Kitchen Concoctions

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Homemade Maple Syrup {for Pancakes and Waffles}

When I was little, one thing that I loved about traveling was staying in a hotel. I am sure this was the case for most kids, the excitement about getting to be far from home and staying in a different place; was kind of like a slumber party for the whole family!

Since I have had the opportunity to travel a lot, I have stayed in a lot of hotels. From fun and magical hotels (with Mickey Mouse shaped furniture) at Disney World, to hotels with bunk beds for all the kids, to super modern hotels in Europe, and small beach side B&B's; each of them special and unique in their own way.

In addition to taking in all the scenery, fighting over the complementary mini bottles of shampoo and lotion (you know, because my sisters and I thought they were soooo cute!), and being in awe of the hotels with indoor swimming pools (seriously... this little Texas girl could not believe her eyes the first time she saw an indoor pool at a hotel up north); getting to eat at the complementary breakfast buffet was top on our favorite things list!

Maybe it was the self serve waffle bar, or assortment of “mini” boxes of cereal or maybe it was just the fact that we had so many choices right at our fingertips, but we loved breakfast time!

Today when I travel, I often think back to those fun family vacations. Now when I check out the hotel breakfast buffets, I often chuckle to myself. I see families with small children running around trying to make choices from too many options. I see people all lined up at the Texas sized (and often shaped) waffle iron, since often this is the only 'hot' item found at many of these buffets. I then grab some lukewarm coffee and I sit. I take it all in and I remember back to those crazy days spending time with family.

While I try and relive these special memories as often as possible, enjoying breakfast at home or brunch at a popular local restaurant when traveling; eating a big, hot breakfast is a rarity. But every so often, we have a lazy Saturday morning at home, or I crave breakfast for dinner, and whip up a big batch of pancakes or waffles, crisp up some bacon and make some fluffy, cheesy eggs.

Nothing beats a hot, chewy waffle with every nook and cranny filled with syrup! Mostly, for at least the past few years, we usually have pure maple syrup on hand to use for our waffle cravings. But when we run out, this recipe for Homemade Maple Syrup is fantastic! It is hands down my number one go to for waffle or pancake syrup (we haven't had the store bought stuff in our house in years!). With the exception of maple extract, every single ingredient in this five ingredient recipe can be found in your kitchen right now!

In case you were wondering, yes, some of these photos may look familiar! I whipped up this syrup when I made these Light and Fluffy Waffles a few months ago and even shared it a while back with this recipe for Pancake Mix. However, I decided it was finally time for this family favorite recipe to have a blog post all on it's own!

One Year Ago: Sweet Potato and Leek Quiche
Two Years Ago: In Season: Eggplant
Three Years Ago: Slow-Cooker Chili Boiled Peanuts
Four Years Ago: Georgia Peach Tea
Five Years Ago: Spiced Buffalo Burgers

Homemade Maple Syrup {for Pancakes and Waffles}
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 5-8 minutes Makes: about 1 ½ cups

A sticky and sweet homemade maple syrup perfect for topping pancakes and waffles. 

1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon pure maple extract

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring water to a boil. Slowly stir in both sugars, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture thickens, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and maple extract. Serve warm.

Note: Leftover room temperature syrup can be stored in the refrigerator, in a plastic storage container or glass jar, for about 1-2 months. If desired, heat in microwave for 15-30 seconds.

Other recipes you might enjoy:
Vanilla Buttermilk Syrup
Southern Butter Pecan Syrup
Chocolate Syrup
Strawberry Syrup
Cornflake Waffles with Honey Sauce

Monday, September 15, 2014

5 Flavored Water Recipes {with Simple Variations}

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

Despite having a whole selection of drink recipes here on this blog, water is pretty much the only thing I drink! Hands down it would be one of my three items if ever I was stranded on a desert island, and no coffee is not the first thing I go looking for in the morning, but a tall glass of ice, cold water! Fortunately, never in my life have I struggled to get my “8 cups” a day, because drinking water is so natural for me. That is, until I moved into my current home. I don't know if it is just the area I live or the pipes, but the water here is not refreshing (I swear even my friends and family have had detailed dinner conversations about mysterious “floaters” they sometimes see in the tap water) and used to leave me struggling to get my recommended water intake.

Missing my refreshing, ice cold water (and tired of embarrassing dinner conversations) I went on a mission to get refreshing, clean water back into my daily routine! One thing that helped, was getting bottled Ozarka water by the case load at my local Walmart store. I always try to keep several of these individual bottles of water in my fridge, so that I can have cold water to grab on the go when I am headed out the door to go workout or teach a class. They have also been great to have on hand when I have guests over and don't want to be embarrassed by my awful tap water. These individual Ozarka bottles are also super convenient for guests to take water with them on the go as well, and not have to worry about them taking any of my cups or glasses.

However, even though bottled water is convenient for all those reasons plus many more (can we say camping, tailgating, birthday parties, road trips, wedding 'welcome' bags...etc.), I feel like am always running out of bottles and taking loads to recycling. It would be awesome and super convenient if my local Walmart carried the the 5 Gallon Nestlé Pure Life bottle water containers. These would be perfect for at home drinking, cooking or “fancier” entertaining when I may want a pitcher of water instead of individual bottles. Not only that, the 5 Gallon Nestlé Water bottles are made from PET plastic which is BPA-free and are better for the environment because the bottle can be returned to the store for refilling (which is also more cost effective in the long run) and ultimately recycling. For more information and water tips visit Ozarka online and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Even though I love my water, sometimes I want something with a bit more flavor and personality, while still being healthy. That's why I love all natural flavor infused waters. These waters are so refreshing and easy to throw together. They are great as a late afternoon water break, or can be sipped all day long. While the recipes I am sharing today are for one, feel free to double, triple or quadruple the recipe, as I often do, to serve as an elegant drink at a baby shower or at home spa day with friends.

Here are a few quick tips for homemade flavored infused water:

  • Make several batches and/or varieties of flavored water at one time, and store water in mason jars or plastic reusable bottles with tight fitting lids, in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. This means that as soon as you get thirsty you have a refreshing, healthy and flavorful drink ready to go! 
  • While I am providing five different simple flavored water recipes today; I have also included notes on ways you can change the base recipe. However, feel free to create your own concoctions by mixing different fresh fruits, fresh herbs and spices or even adding some sliced jalapeno for a spicy kick! 

5 Flavored Water Recipes {with Simple Variations}:

Apple Spice Flavored Water
Printable Version
Prep Time: 5 Wait Time: 10 minutes Yields: 2 cups

1 (16.9 ounce) bottle Ozarka Water (or 2 cups)
10-12 thinly sliced apple wedges
1-2 dashes apple pie spice (or cinnamon)
Ice, optional for serving

Pour water into a large glass. Add apple slices and apple pie spice. Let water sit, to infuse with flavors, for 10-15 minutes, or over night, in the refrigerator. Serve with ice, if desired.

Change It Up: Add a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Or replace apple with pears.

Cucumber Lime Flavored Water
Printable Version 
Prep Time: 5 Wait Time: 10 minutes Yields: 2 cups

1 (16.9 ounce) bottle Ozarka Water (or 2 cups)
4-5 slices cucumber
3-4 slices lime (or ½ lime, juiced)
Ice, optional for serving

Pour water into a large glass. Add cucumber and lime slices. Let water sit, to infuse with flavors, for 10-15 minutes, or over night, in the refrigerator. Serve with ice, if desired.

Change It Up: Add 1-2 sprigs fresh mint. Or omit lime and add 2-3 sliced strawberries.

Ginger Pear Flavored Water
Printable Version 
Prep Time: 5 Wait Time: 10 minutes Yields: 2 cups

1 (16.9 ounce) bottle Ozarka Water (or 2 cups)
1/3 cup finely chopped pears
½ teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
Ice, optional for serving

Pour water into a large glass. Add chopped pears and fresh ginger. Let water sit, to infuse with flavors, for 10-15 minutes, or over night, in the refrigerator. Serve with ice, if desired.

Change It Up: Omit pear and add lemon or cucumber slices.

Lemon Basil Flavored Water
Printable Version
Prep Time: 5 Wait Time: 10 minutes Yields: 2 cups

1 (16.9 ounce) bottle Ozarka Water (or 2 cups)
2 sprigs fresh basil (about 10 basil leaves)
4-5 slices lemon (or ½ lemon, juiced)
Ice, optional for serving

Pour water into a large glass. Add fresh basil and lemon slices. Let water sit, to infuse with flavors, for 10-15 minutes, or over night, in the refrigerator. Serve with ice, if desired.

Change It Up: Omit lemon and replace with 2-3 sliced strawberries. Or omit basil and replace with fresh thyme.

Sunny Citrus Flavored Water
Printable Version
Prep Time: 5 Wait Time: 10 minutes Yields: 2 cups

1 (16.9 ounce) bottle Ozarka Water (or 2 cups)
1-2 lemon wedges
1-2 lime wedges
1 orange wedges Ice, optional for serving

Pour water into a large glass. Squeeze juice from fruit and add juice plus fresh fruit wedges to water. Let water sit, to infuse with flavors, for 10-15 minutes, or over night, in the refrigerator. Serve with ice, if desired.

Change It Up: Omit one citrus fruit from above and replace with 1 grapefruit wedge. Or simply add grapefruit in addition to the other citrus fruit listed in recipe. Or add 3-4 fresh sage leaves.

What is your favorite flavors for infusing water?

Health and Wellness: 5 Austin Area Hike and Bike Trails

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

While I try my hardest to live an 'active' lifestyle, I am by no means perfect. When I was a child I dabbled in gymnastics, like most little girls do. Then in elementary school they forced us to take state fitness tests in P.E. (which were never fun and borderline humiliating) and of course there were those awkward days spent in middle school gym class. By the time I was in high school, I was done with it all and decided to take P.E. by correspondence. Yes, P.E. via the mail! College was where I started to finally enjoy working out and found my own groove. Although I was religious about working out in my college years and a few years shortly thereafter, the past several years have been hit or miss. Exercising regularly and eating super healthy for several months and then getting busy with life and slacking. But since last spring I have made a very conscious effort to make healthy choices, set some health goals, and over all take care myself!

It definitely has not been easy. Life often still gets in the way, and I'll be first to admit that once I get busy or stressed, my eating habits, well can become horrible, and exercise is the very first thing to go. This is very frustrating because most days I find walking or biking therapeutic and a stress reliever. But I guess when added to a never ending to do list, then I feel that forced feeling (like from my childhood) to get it done and don't want to do it.

Some things that have helped me stay on track are taking walks and bike rides with friends and family, cute exercise clothes (LOL!) and the Walgreens phone app with the healthy choices feature. The Walgreens app is a great way to access all the services the store offers, especially the Walgreens Balance Rewards program. The Balance Rewards program lets you earn points, from various activities and purchases, that you can then use to save money on other in store purchases. Since I am always running in Walgreens for one thing or another this is huge! The Balance Rewards for healthy choices feature within the Walgreens app is where you can set health and wellness goals, track your progress and get rewarded for your hard work. While feeling great and being healthy is, of course, the best reward, a few other 'perks' don't hurt! : ) With the app you can sync up other popular fitness apps and devices, like FitBit, iHealth, Jawbone, MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and MapMyFitness, to help you more easily track your hard work. Then for every mile you walk/run and every pound you track, as well as other health and wellness goals and activities, you get points added to your Walgreens Balance Rewards account.  While the app and the ability to sync to other fitness tracking devices is super convenient, you can also log your activity manually on the app or set up an account online! Now I have even more reasons to get active and reach my health goals!

Biking has been very helpful in me staying active over the past six or so months. While I rode bikes as a child and adolescent, I had not picked up a bike since my childhood until earlier this year! While it was painstakingly tough at the beginning (seriously I thought it would be so easy and almost passed out the first day I tried to go on a 'real' ride!), I have come to enjoy it!

Below are some of my favorite bike and hike (which is something I will ALWAYS love... walking/hiking) in and around Austin, Texas. Austin is such an extremely fit city and I feel like such an armature giving my trail recommendations, so take them as that, armature suggestions. Right now, I still consider myself a beginner biker and these are just my favorite places to let the wind blow through my hair and breathe in some fresh air. Since Austin has so many beautiful hike and bike trails hopefully I can add more to this list in the future!

Favorite Austin Area Hike and Bike Trails (in no particular order):

1. Harry Man Trail/Brushy Creek Trail:

There are some really pretty spots along this trail! It is one straight trail, 6.75 miles from one end to the other. This makes this trail great for any skill level. Easily adjust the length of your ride/run for a total possible of 13.5 miles (one way and back again). I like this trail for the large amount of shade it has a long the way. I also like that the scenery changes with the trail. While most of the trail is wooded, the trail goes past play grounds, swimming pools, soccer fields, babbling brooks and homes. Another plus, is while this trail can get busy, depending on the time of day or day of the week, I have never found it overly crowded. I highly recommend this trail for any north Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park or Georgetown residents.

Location: Going north on IH-35 in Round Rock, exit W Palm Valley Blvd/Sam Bass Road. Head west on W Palm Valley Blvd/Sam Bass Road. Turn right onto Harry Man Road. The trail head starts about a mile down Harry Man Road. There are several trail parking lots with trail access all along Harry Man Road. Total Miles: 6.75

Parking: Plenty, scattered

Skill: Easy to Moderate

Restrooms: 5

Benches: Several

Trail Type: Dirt, gravel, concrete

Shade: Mostly shaded with some uncovered areas

Water Fountains/Trash Cans: Few, scattered

Hike: Yes

Bike: Yes

Traffic: Light to heavy

2. Lake Pflugerville:

Lake Pflugerville is a great place to start if you are a beginner biker/runner. It is only 3 miles around the entire lake and has pretty even terrain. While I see people of all abilities running, walking and biking this trail; if you are a very experienced athlete you may find it boring (although, I do see people running sprints up and down the east side of the lake, where there is a steep hill, for added exercise). I like coming here for late evening or early morning walks (since there is not any shade), when I don't have time or feel up to a long walk or bike ride. It can get a bit crowded at times, with people not only jogging, but enjoying the lake too, so keep that in mind.

Location: Going north on IH-35, turn right onto Greenlawn Boulevard (before Louis Henna Boulevard). Turn right onto Pflugerville Parkway. The lake is approximately 6.5 miles down Pflugerville Parkway at the intersection of Weiss Lane and Pflugerville Parkway.

Total Miles: 3

Parking: Plenty, scattered

Skill: Easy

Restrooms: 1

Benches: Several

Trail Type: Dirt, gravel, concrete

Shade: No shade

Water Fountains/Trash Cans: Few, scattered

Hike: Yes

Bike: Yes

Traffic: Light to heavy

3. City of Georgetown Trails:

This is probably my favorite trail! I love all the different scenery, from playgrounds to natural waterfalls, to wooded forests and streams! The trail is long, if you do the entire main trail (9+ miles), but it does not feel that long to me since the scenery is constantly changing and there is lots of shade. Scenery and shade is very important to me to help me stay motivated and keep going! I also like that while parts of this trail can get crowded, there are other parts that are completely secluded, which makes for some nice peaceful riding/jogging. This park is very clean and maintained and the park rangers/attendants are quite possibly the nicest, most helpful people ever! While it is a bit of a drive, this trail, at least in my book, completely worth it! 

Location (to Blue Hole Park): Going north on IH-35, take exit 261. Turn right onto State Rte 29 E/W University Ave. Turn left on Scenic Drive and the park is approximately .5 miles down.

Total Miles: 9+

Parking: There is plenty of parking scattered around this trail, but it can be hard to find. My recommendation is to park near Blue Hole Park, which is near El Monumento or at the main park, San Gabriel Park.

Skill: Easy to Difficult

Restrooms: Several

Benches: Several

Trail Type: Dirt, gravel, concrete

Shade: Mostly shaded with some uncovered areas

Water Fountains/Trash Cans: Several, scattered

Hike: Yes

Bike: Yes

Traffic: Light to heavy

4. Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail/Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail: 

This is probably THE most popular hike and bike trail in Austin! It is smack dab in the middle of downtown and is always, and I mean always, scattered with people. While the views are pretty, and the trail can be long (good if you want/need it to be), the crowds at this trail are my one complaint. Since we like to bike, navigating these crowded trails can be a bit challenging. The good part is if you can get to the east side of the trail, you will find less and less people. For someone that needs variety and a change of scenery, you know to keep me motivated, this trail has great views of the Austin skyline, weaves through eclectic Austin neighborhoods, and is a breath of fresh air in an ever growing city. Oh, and the new boardwalk is definitely great for checking out the view!

Location: You can access this trail in several places. Going south on Mopac, exit 5th Street/Cesar Chavez Street. Keep at the right in the fork, and follow signs for Cesar Chavez St. Parking for trails will be on the right.

Total Miles: 10

Parking: There is plenty of parking scattered around this trail, but it can be hard to find a spot due to crowds and various annual events.

Skill: Easy to Difficult

Restrooms: Few

Benches: Many

Trail Type: Dirt, gravel, concrete

Shade: Mostly shaded with some uncovered areas

Water Fountains/Trash Cans: Few, scattered

Hike: Yes

Bike: Yes

Traffic: Heavy

5. Walnut Creek Park and Greenbelt:

This is an unexpected little bit of fresh green right in the middle of north Austin. Many new comers to Austin drive by this massive park and trails daily without knowing it's existence! However, this was the first park I discovered when I moved to Austin so many years ago and thus will always hold a special little place in my heart! Walnut Creek Park, close to 300 acres (with more than 15 miles of trails), is sandwiched between I35 and Mopac in north Austin just south of Parmer Lane. I am more familiar with the smaller west side of the park and hope to more deeply explore all 15 miles of trail, via bike, soon. I like this park because if you live in north Austin it is easily accessible and is within walking distance of many apartments and neighborhoods. I also like this greenbelt because while there are definite paved trails, there are many 'hidden' paths that can lead you to peaceful wooded areas and streams all while being 'in the city!' Many people hike and bike these 'off road' trails which can be very intense but if you stick to the traditional trails, this park is fantastic for beginner joggers and bikers (you don't have to do all 15 miles!).

Location: The official address is 12138 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, Texas 78753 but as I mentioned there is park and greenbelt access spanning from Lamar to Mopac (east to west) just south of Parmer Lane.

Total Miles: 15+

Parking: Depending what part of the park/greenbelt you are trying to access, this can be challenging. If you live in the area, walking to the park is my suggestion, if not you might have to park on the street, if not parking near at the main park.

Skill: Easy to Difficult

Restrooms: Not many, only in main park (as far as I know)

Benches: Several

Trail Type: Dirt, gravel, paved

Shade: Mostly shaded with some uncovered areas 

Water Fountains/Trash Cans: Very Few, scattered 

Hike: Yes

Bike: Yes

Traffic: Light to medium

Note: I have grouped water fountains and trash cans together since when walking/jogging I often have my dog with me and both of these (combined) are crucial with him in tow! Regarding skill level, I based this on length of the trail, the terrain, etc. This may vary on an individual basis based on ability.

What are your favorite ways to stay fit? What are your favorite hike and bike trails in Austin or your own city?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

M&M’s Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

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

One of my fond memories as a child was watching movies with my Dad. Whether it was going to the movie theater or watching a movie at home, it was just the thing my siblings and I did with our dear old Dad! Since we watched movies together on such a regular basis you would think that we would tire of it; but no, every opportunity was a grand adventure! From four kids trying to all agree on the same movie (superheros, no princesses, no adorable animals who talk!), to my job to call (Yes! CALL!) the movie theater and carefully listen to some teenage boy with a scratchy voice painstakingly rattle off the movie show times, to the magic and wonderment of a movie theater... we loved it all!

Since the movie theater could get expensive, we often had to wait for movies to come out on Blue Ray DVD VHS and rush, not to the good ole movie rental store, but for my Dad, it meant rushing to buy the movie so that we could all watch it over and over again as a family!

To this day, I am still a movie fanatic! I love going to the movie theater for a late afternoon matinee, while the sun is still shining bright. And then leaving, hours later, with eyes filled of joy and wonderment, when the movie theater sign is all lit up in bright neon lights, casting a magical glow on the dark evening sky.

Since going to a movie is not always in our budget or busy schedule, we try to have movie date night at home at least once a week. Even though movie night is so simple and ordinary; it is the simple things like these that I try to make fun and extraordinary! The carefully selected movies, comfy, cute pj's and a special treat are a movie night must!

Picking a movie we both agree on can be challenging, but luckily we always can agree on a movie full of superheros! Since we are huge Marvel fans, having seen all the movies so far, we were super excited about the Captain America 2: The Winter Solider DVD release on September 9. We eagerly planned our weekly movie night centered around this Captain America movie release. We headed to Walmart to buy the movie and grab some M&M's® Chocolate Candies to make a special treat. While we could have simply snacked on popcorn and M&M's® during our Captain America double feature and been happy campers; I was inspired to be a movie night 'superhero' and make a fun new treat!

I whipped up my favorite M&M's cookie recipe, but didn't stop there! To make things more exciting and tasty, we transformed our cookies into a winning treat and made homemade ice cream sandwiches that couldn't be beat! (Sorry... I had to make it rhyme!)

These homemade M&M's Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches are so fun to make and eat! You can keep them plain and simple, or customize them to match a party or movie night theme. For special Captain America ice cream sandwiches, I sorted through the M&M's and only used the red and blue ones. Keeping with the patriotic superhero theme, we then rolled the edges of our ice cream sandwiches in red, white and blue sprinkles and sat down to enjoy the show!

How do you “save the day” and make everyday moments extraordinary? For exciting ideas, fun games and valuable coupons (including a $5.00 off any two (2) M&M’s® Brand Chocolate Candies (15.4oz. or larger) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier DVD at Walmart), head to and take the Marvel Superhero challenge!

M&M’s Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 20-25 minutes Bake Time: 8-10 minutes Wait Time: 4+ hours Yields: approximately 12-15 ice cream sandwiches

Homemade ice cream sandwiches with soft and chewy M&M's cookies.


M&M's Cookies:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups mini M&M's Chocolate Candies

Ice Cream Sandwiches:
1 quart vanilla ice cream
Assorted Toppings (if desired):
Mini M&M's Chocolate Candies
Mini chocolate chips
Colored sprinkles


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

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, pudding mix, 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 1 cup mini M&M's.

Drop dough, by rounded tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart onto an ungreased baking sheet. Press 4-5 of the remaining M&M's on top of each cookie.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned and set in the middle. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Once cookies have cooled completely, remove ice cream from freezer and let sit at room temperature for 1-2 minutes to soften slightly.  Working quickly, use an ice cream scoop to scoop some ice cream onto the flat side of a cookie. Top ice cream with a second cookie, making sure the flat side of the cookie is towards the ice cream. Press down gently to allow the ice cream to spread slightly. Immediately roll the edges of the ice cream sandwich in additional M&M's candies or sprinkles, if desired. Wrap ice cream sandwiches individually in plastic wrap and freeze until the ice cream is very firm, at least 4 hours.

Want to create your own M&M’s Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches and have a Captain America movie night at home? Enter to win one of ten $100 Walmart gift cards!

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Fall Trail Mix Cookies and An Apple Themed Dinner Party (Complete with a Menu Full of Apple Recipes!)

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

Life is short. It is meant to be spent with family and good friends. It is meant to be exciting and fulfilling, and even a little challenging yet rewarding! I firmly believe in having a life bucket list and 'kicking' things off as I wonder the road less traveled! One of my many bucket list items is to have at least one themed dinner party a month for a year. It may seem silly, but I love to entertain and host get-togethers. I love taking an idea and planning every little detail, especially when it is centered around a fun theme! Well, recently I was given the opportunity to plan a fall-inspired party. Because I wanted to start my goal of having monthly themed dinner parties, and finally 'kick' this item off my bucket list, I instantly knew what I wanted to do! First up an apple themed dinner party full of fresh apples, apple juice, apple sauce, candy apples and as many apple recipes as I could think of!

I invited several close friends and family and started planning! I wanted everything from the décor to the menu to the party favors and after dinner entertainment to be centered around this fabulous fall fruit. Yes my friends, cheat on pumpkin and make apple the flavor of fall!

To make my party a success I headed to Walmart to get everything I needed. Not only did Walmart have everything from apple board games to red paper napkins, to these fun new Candy Apple M&M's; I could get everything I needed without spending a small fortune. To help me stay on budget I used these $1.50 off any two (2) M&M's brand chocolate candies and $1 off any two (2) Mott's sauce or Mott's juice drink coupons to save even more!

Once home I went to work! I kept the décor simple. For the centerpiece I filled a nice wicker basket with a variety of fresh apples (and a few pears) and placed the basket full of apples on top of some burlap fabric and red gingham fabric. For each place setting, I placed a red folded napkin on top of the plate and topped the napkin with an apple.

Our menu had fresh apples, applesauce and/or apple juice in everything! Several dinner guests were worried that it would be apple overboard but the apple ingredients complemented everything just right and the end result was a fantastic, err... apple-tastic meal!

Below is the exact menu I served. Some recipes were super simple and I shared quick notes on how to make them below. Other recipes are already here on Kitchen Concoctions and others I will be sharing in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned!

Apple Dinner Menu-

Specialty Drink: Apple Mocktail (Mix equal amounts Mott's Apple Juice and ginger ale plus diced apples in a large pitcher.)

Appetizer: Apple Honey Crostini (Recipe coming soon!)

First Course: Festive Fall Salad (Recipe found here on Kitchen Concoctions. Made as written but replaced orange juice in dressing with Mott's Apple Juice for a stronger apple flavor.)

Main Course: 
Apple Cheddar Stuffed Chicken with Apple Dijon Sauce (Recipe coming soon!)

Apple Spiked Mashed Sweet Potatoes (Simply add Mott's Apple Sauce to your favorite basic mashed sweet potato recipe.)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apples (Recipe coming soon!)

Dessert: Caramel Apple “Bar” (Directions below!)

Party Favor: Fall Trail Mix Cookies (Recipe below!)

For dessert I wanted to set up a DIY Caramel/Candy Apple “Bar.” I thought that this would be unique and a fun way for my dinner guests to interact with each other. I made homemade caramel sauce for dipping, but if I do this again in the future, I would use store bought caramel sauce or caramel dip. This is because I had to make the homemade caramel sauce last minute and it set up quickly.

So my guests could eat their apple creations immediately, we did not dip/decorate whole apples. Instead, I sliced a variety of apples and we dipped the slices in the caramel and toppings. This worked out great and my dinner guests had fun dipping and then immediately eating their delicious apple creations! Another party tip is to put all your toppings in small bowls before the party and wrap with plastic wrap and set aside. This makes for quick and easy serving! Below are some of the toppings and supplies needed for a homemade DIY caramel apple bar.

DIY Caramel/Candy Apple “Bar” Supplies-

Homemade or Store Bought Caramel Sauce/Dip
Apples (whole or sliced)
Wooden Sticks
Wax Paper

Assorted Toppings:
Fall Plain M&M's
Coconut Flakes
Chopped Nuts (walnuts, peanuts, almonds, pecans)
Crushed Cookies
Mini Chocolate Chips
Fall Colored Sprinkles
Potato Chips
Breakfast Cereal

For after dinner entertainment, we played a popular apple themed board game and laughed our heads off! Like I said, life is meant to be spent with friends and family and full of laughter!

After the party, I wanted to send my dinner guests home with a fun and sweet reminder of the enjoyable evening. So I whipped up these Fall Trail Mix Cookies ahead of time and packaged them in some treat bags tied off with twine for easy transport.

There is no doubt about it, these cookies taste like fall! Just like my dinner party, I crammed as much fall, a.k.a apple, into these little cookies! From those festive Candy Apple M&M's to some Mott's Apple Sauce and Apple Juice; these cookies were a great way to end a night of fun, laughs and good eats!

Want more fall party ideas and apple recipes? Visit

Fall Trail Mix Cookies
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Printable Version
Prep Time: 25 minutes Bake Time: 9-10 minutes Wait Time: 10-12 minutes Yields: 32-36 cookies   

Cookies loaded with fall flavors and topped with an apple glaze. 

1 2/3 cups white whole wheat flour or unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder 
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup cubed unsalted butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup Mott's Unsweetened Apple Sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon maple extract (optional)
1 ½ cups rolled oats
2 cups 'fall' trail mix (with dried cranberries, dried apples, pepitas, pecans, walnuts)
1 cup Caramel Apple M&M's

Apple Glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons Mott's Apple Juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.

In large bowl stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Set aside.

In another large bowl, using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together on medium speed, about 3-4 minutes. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in apples sauce and extracts.

Slowly mix in flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Slowly fold in the oats and trail mix. Next, carefully fold in M&M's, making sure not to over mix.

Using a medium sized cookie scoop (approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough), scoop dough onto prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges start to brow. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 8-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack, to cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar and apple juice to form glaze. Once cookies are completely cool, use a spoon to drizzle glaze over cookies. Store cookies in an air tight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Spicy Cajun Popcorn

I love to have get togethers.

From craft night with girlfriends to family game night to a football watching party... I love any excuse to gather with friends and family, to swap stories, to bond over good food and to make lasting memories.

But as much as I love hosting gatherings and having people over, let's face it, it can be a lot of work..... cleaning the house from top to bottom, shopping for food and drinks, and organizing the whole shebang!

That's why I love to have not only quick 'go-to' dinner recipes, but quick and easy 'back pocket' entertaining recipes too! You know, like a brownie recipe you can whip up in a pinch, a super simple, yet seems fancy schmancy, crostini recipe or some homemade 'gourmet' popcorn! They are the recipes you need when, surprise! your significant other shows up with friends unexpectedly or when you have a long day and are headed to movie night at a friend's and don't want to show up empty handed.

In addition to having a selection of 'go-to' recipes to turn to when you need them most, having a 'back pocket' website you can go to for inspiration is equally important! I love discovering new things in the world of food; whether it is the latest food fad, newest restaurant or a fresh new recipe website! That is why I was excited to check out the new Yahoo! Food. With Yahoo! Food you can explore the latest food trends, check out well written articles, watch videos to learn a new cooking technique, and drool over mouthwatering photos and recipes. Content on Yahoo! Food is provided by a team of editors, including Managing Editor Sarah McColl; former Bon Appetit senior web editor, Julia BainbridgeRachel Tepper who joined from Huffington Post Food; and Alex Van Buren, who has written for Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and Martha Stewart Living. Yahoo! Food has also partnered with popular food publishers including Bon Appetit, Epicurious, Food52, Martha Stewart and more, to bring you additional expertise and ideas.

Recently when pouring over the many recipes on Yahoo! Food, I stumbled upon this Spicy Cajun Popcorn. It was just the recipe I needed that day... a quick party snack to bring to a gathering with friends! This Spicy Cajun Popcorn, lives up to it's name and definitely has a kick, but was a complete hit at my latest soiree! It is perfect for ANY gathering and can be thrown together in a pinch, making it a fantastic recipe to get you through all those fall social events!

Spicy Cajun Popcorn
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 5 minutes Serves: 8

A spicy gourmet popcorn with a Cajun twist!

2 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/4 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground thyme
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup melted butter
2-3 teaspoons hot sauce (mix with melted butter)
20-24 cups plain popped popcorn (from 1 cup kernels or 3-4 microwave packages)

For full recipe and directions, click over to Yahoo Food.

recipe adapted from Yahoo Food

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

Monday, September 8, 2014

Corn and Leek Hash

There are days that I feel like I have nothing left to say.

I have mouthwatering recipes to share. And a few cooking tips and tricks. Or maybe even a craft or two.

But I just stare and stare at my computer trying to find just the right words to write. Sure, I could post a recipe without some long winded story before it. You know just a few sentences about how some gooey melted cheese perfectly covers some crisp salty chips. Or how blueberries explode with a pop of flavor when added to this muffin or that pie.

But one of the things that attracted me to blogging in the first place was the writing. The sharing of my upbringing, my life stories and my inner thoughts and feelings. And some days the words just flow. They just pour from my heart onto the keyboard and fill up the computer screen. Other days I go to write and nothing comes out, or what does, has already been said way too many times. Like how I don''t want summer to end, how busy life has been or that I remember baking with my Mom as a wee little one.

Then I hit delete. Bored with my own self.

When I get in a writing funk, I try to change my scenery. Sit on my porch (as I am now) feeling the humid air stick to my skin hoping for a teasing breeze to blow through my hair. Or I head to a local coffee shop, and watch other people lounge and sip on hot over priced beverages and image what they are doing, who they are and where they have been.

I look up writing prompts, hoping to find inspiration. But writing about what household chore I dislike most (cleaning the bathrooms, by the way), what movie makes me cry (I could list far too many... so what... I can be a bit sappy), or which one of the seven dwarfs I can relate to (depends on the day, but most of the time Happy, because I am... or at least I always try, to have a smile on my face, stay positive and be grateful; but if we are being honest here, I could pass as Sleepy on most days as well... Smile.).

And then as I daydream, type and ramble on; I realize that sometimes simple is best. That simple, relate-able, stories are what we, as readers, want. We want to know that someone else in the world is feeling overwhelmed with the challenges of 'having it all,' that even if your significant other makes fun of you, that someone else is uber excited about a certain TV drama, about country music stars, is returning to the fall TV line up, and that other people are obsessed with all things pumpkin.

This recipe is kind of like that.

It may not go viral on Pinterest, or even cause you to take a second look on Facebook; but sometimes simple is best. This Corn and Leek Hash is a perfect weeknight meal. It takes simple flavors and ingredients and combines them in a simple way that will satisfy hungry bellies. It is family friendly comfort food that even adults will love!

One Year Ago: Banana Bran Muffins
Two Years Ago: College Cooking 101: Cooking Tips for the First Time College Student
Three Years Ago: Apricot Glazed Pork Loin 
Four Years Ago: Pulled Chicken Suiza Sammies
Five Years Ago: Mexican Corn on the Cob 

Corn and Leek Hash 
by Heather H. of Kitchen Concoctions:
Prep Time: 20-25 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Serves: 4
Printable Version

A simple and hearty corn, leek and potato hash with bratwurst and spices. 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound bratwurst*
½ cup beef broth
2 medium Russet potatoes, cut in a small dice
4 ears of corn, shucked and kernels cut from cob*
1 leek, cleaned and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon creole seasoning
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon butter
4 large eggs
hot sauce, optional, for serving

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bratwurst and cook, turning once, until each side is well browned, about 6-8 minutes total.  Add broth to skillet. Cover and cook, flipping occasionally, until sausages are fully cooked, about 5-8 minutes. When cooked thoroughly, remove from pan and cool slightly. Slice sausage into bite size pieces. Set aside.

Drain any cooking liquid from skillet and return skillet to stove top. Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet and heat to medium-high heat. Add potatoes and saute for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until potatoes are golden brown and slightly tender.

Add corn and leeks to skillet, adding additional oil if needed. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes. Add in garlic and spices and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add sliced sausages to skillet, cover, and reduce heat to low.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Crack eggs and carefully add eggs, without breaking the yolk, to the hot skillet. Reduce heat to medium and cook eggs, without flipping, for 3-4 minutes or until desired doneness.

Serve corn and leek hash topped with fried egg and a dash of hot sauce, if desired.

*Note: Omit bratwurst for vegetarian. 2 cups frozen corn can be substituted for fresh corn.

Serving suggestions: Serve with steamed or roasted broccoli, a simple side salad, this Spinach and Pear Salad with Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette  or these Braised Peas and Green Onions.

Other recipes you might enjoy:
Avocado Salad with Sweet Italian Sausage
Easy Creole Potato Salad
Sweet Potato and Leek Quiche
Leek and Potato Pizza
All Corn Chowder
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