Turn Up the Heat, It’s Chili Season!

Chili is the perfect fall dish. Think about it. Few foods are more satisfying on a cool, crisp evening than a hearty bowl of chili. Serve this savory stew on game day and you’re sure to score a lot of points with hungry football fans. And, because it’s so versatile (have you seen all the different chili recipes online?), it appeals to any appetite.

Some like their chili muy caliente (very hot) with loads of sweat-inducing peppers that set our tongues ablaze, while others prefer a milder version, with just a dash of cumin and cayenne. In Texas they leave out the beans (it’s called “Bowl ’o Red”), and in Ohio they serve it over pasta (aka Cincinnati Chili). So, how you make and take your chili seems to be a matter of taste, tradition, and location.

Every October we have a Chili Cook-Off at work. Resident “chefs” bring in slow cookers filled with their homemade creations, and by noon people are lined up with bowls in hand, eager to treat their palates to a range of flavorful and fiery concoctions.  My taste buds are tingling already!

Since we tend to consume a lot of chili this time of year – at football parties, potlucks, everyday meals, AND cook-offs – I thought I’d share a few recipes, including some award winners! Note: if you can’t take the heat, just tweak the recipe a bit or go with one that’s a little less zingy.

white-chicken-chili

The 1st place winner in our last chili cook-off. One taste and you’ll know why!

Southwest White Chicken Chili   
This is my absolute favorite chicken chili recipe and it’s gluten-free!
Ingredients:
3-4 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 (14.5 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed
2 (14.5 oz.) cans sweet corn, one drained & one with liquid
2 cans diced tomatoes with green chilies
2 pkgs. dry ranch dressing mix
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. cumin
1(14.5 oz.) can of chicken broth (optional)

Directions:
1) Place cooked, shredded chicken in the bottom of a slow cooker.
2) Pour the beans, corn, and tomatoes over the chicken. Mix in the ranch mix and spices. NOTE: This is a thick chili. If you are concerned with the thickness, you can add chicken broth to thin it down some. It won’t change the flavor much, just the consistency.
3) Lay the cream cheese on top of the chicken, beans, and corn.
4) Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
5) When done cooking, stir in the cream cheese.
Serves 6-8. Recipe courtesy of glutenfreemakeover.wordpress.com. Photo: dennyssupervalu.com

Chili Corn Carne - traditional mexican food, in wooden bowl,

This recipe is loaded with extra-hot peppers, so it definitely has some kick to it!

Matschina’s Ghost Chili
If you like it hot, I mean really hot, this one’s for you!
Tip: Keep dairy products (e.g., ice cream or milk) on hand to tone down the heat from the peppers. Wear gloves when cutting chili peppers.
Ingredients:
7 ghost peppers, julienned
5 habanero peppers, julienned
5 jalapeño peppers, julienned
1 yellow bell pepper, julienned
2 medium white onions, chopped
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. spicy Italian sausage
3/4 lb. applewood smoked bacon
3-4 (28 oz.) cans of San Marzano tomatoes
Vegetable oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt & pepper, to taste
All-purpose flour (optional)

Directions:
1. Using a sauté pan, heat oil to medium heat and add garlic. Simmer garlic for one minute; add peppers and onions and sauté until onions are translucent and peppers are heated yet crisp (not soggy). Place in cooking pot (without heat).
2. In another pan, brown sausage, adding salt and pepper to both. Drain grease.  Add to cooking pot.
3. Cook bacon. Drain grease. Chop. Add to cooking pot.
4. Add tomatoes straight from the can to cooking pot. Break up tomatoes with cooking spoon into bite-size pieces, but not so much that you have created a sauce.  Add up to all 4 cans to cooking pot, depending on your desired consistency.
5. Add all spices to taste, using a smaller amount of oregano than the first three on the list and then salt and pepper to taste.
6. Simmer everything in cooking pot on low-medium heat for 3-4 hours to allow flavors to come together.
7. Serve with flour tortillas, cheese, onions, sour cream, and chives.

debdoozles-chili

Simple to make and full of flavor – no wonder it got 5 stars on allrecipes.com!

Debdoozie’s Blue Ribbon Chili
This is one of the easiest and tastiest chili recipes out there!
Ingredients:
2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce
1 (8 oz.) jar salsa (mild, medium. or hot, depending on your taste)
1 pkg. chili seasoning mix
1 (15 oz.) can light red kidney beans
1 (15 oz.) can dark red kidney beans

Directions: In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, combine ground beef and onion; sauté for 10 minutes or until meat is browned and onion is tender. Drain grease. Add black pepper, garlic salt, tomato sauce, salsa, chili seasoning mix, and kidney beans. Mix well, reduce heat to low and simmer for at least one hour. Serves 8.
Recipe and photo from allrecipes.com.

For True Texas Chili, try this recipe from epicurious.com.

Skyline Chili 3-way
Wondering how chili tastes with spaghetti? Here’s a recipe for Cincinnati “Skyline” Chili from americanfoodroots.com.

Go meatless with this Contest-Winning Vegetarian Chili from Taste of Home.

Now that I’ve enticed you with all these amazing recipes, it’s time to indulge your chili cravings!

Find more great comfort food recipes on our Smart Perks Pinterest Board!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. likes to get out and enjoy the fall weather, but when winter comes she’d rather hibernate.

Pack Healthy School Lunches Your Kids Will Eat

Final Main ImageIt’s that time of year again when kids are gearing up for school or are already settling into their classrooms (do I hear a collective sigh of relief?). If you have children in grade school, you may be wondering what to do about their midday meals, specifically whether you should pack their lunches or trust they’ll eat whatever the cafeteria dishes out.

Let me just say if your little darlings are finicky eaters, they’re probably better off bringing their lunches from home. The trick is to make them appealing and nutritious at the same time. I know, easier said than done, right?

Well, good thing I have some ideas for tasty and healthy meals, as well as fun and functional ways to tote food & beverages to school!

Say Goodbye to Boring Bag Lunches

Back in the day, if you weren’t lucky enough to own one of those groovy tin boxes with your favorite TV characters, you had to carry your lunch in a flimsy, worn-out brown paper bag that was barely big enough to hold a sandwich and an apple.

These days you’ll find an awesome assortment of durable, roomy and cool-looking lunch bags, boxes and containers, many at discounted prices during back-to-school sales. Here’s a sample:

Insulated Lunch Bags. These lightweight bags come in so many patterns and styles – from cartoon characters and action heroes to cute critters and bright geometric designs – you’re sure to find something to suit any age and taste. Find fabulous lunch bags. like the one below, at Amazon.com!

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DIY Lunch Box.
Pick up a plain tin lunch box, like the one above from Oriental Trading, and let your child decorate it his or her own way with glitter, markers, magnets, stickers… you name it!

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Rubbermaid LunchBlox®.
  This Bento-style kit includes 3 colorful containers with leak-proof lids to help you organize and store snacks, fruit, veggies, dips and sandwiches, plus a Blue Ice® pack to keep food chilled and fresh. Everything snaps together to fit inside tall or flat lunch bags. See the complete LunchBlox line at Rubbermaid.com.

Best Bets for Beverages and BrothsContigo water bottles

Contigo AUTOSEAL® Gizmo Kids Water Bottle. The BPA-free reusable water bottle is leak- and spill-proof and has an easy-clean transparent lid. Go to reuseit.com for all kinds of clever water bottles for kids!

 

Crayola® Juice Box Holder. No more crying over spilled juice! Just place the juice box in this sturdy, squeeze-proof plastic container and the juice stays put! Get one now for only $3.99!

food jarninji turtles food jar
THERMOS Brand FUNtainer Food Jar.

The compact, double-wall stainless steel container holds up to 10 ounces and keeps food hot or cold for hours. Choose from a variety of FUNtainers at Target.com.

Kid-friendly (and mother-approved) menu ideas:
* Pita-bread pizzas — If they like pizza, they’ll devour these! Take pita rounds (without the pockets) and top them with pizza sauce from a jar, pepperoni and grated mozzarella. Bake in a toaster oven and wrap them in foil to stay warm.
* Sandwiches in fun shapes — Use crust or cookie cutters to turn ordinary sandwiches into something “magical” like butterflies, hearts or dinosaurs! Get a 5-Pack of Sandwich Crust Cutters at Amazon.com
* Pinwheels — Spread cream cheese on a flour tortilla, cover it with deli ham or turkey, shredded cheese and lettuce, roll it up and slice into bite-size pieces.
* Kabobs — Take wooden skewers and lace them with chunks of ham or turkey, cheese and fresh fruit like pineapple or apple.
* Mini pot pies — make these ahead of time, heat ’em up and wrap in foil to keep them warm. Here’s an easy pot pie recipe from Betty Crocker.
* Pasta — Most kids like mac & cheese, spaghetti & meatballs and ravioli. Needless to say, homemade is better than the pre-made kind you pop in the microwave. Try these delicious, kid-tested pasta recipes from allrecipes.com.
* Vegetable alphabet soup — Heat it up in the a.m., put it in a thermos and it’ll still be “mmm, mmm good” at lunchtime.
* Ants-on-a-Log — A good-tasting, good-for-you snack that’s fun to make and eat! Just spread peanut butter on stalks of celery and sprinkle with raisins.
* Veggies & dip — A great way to get youngsters to eat their vegetables! Fill a container with baby carrots and include hummus or ranch dressing for dipping.
* Yogurt — Click here to find the best yogurts for kids.
* Something to drink — low-fat milk and ice water are the best choices for beverages. Juice boxes are good, too, as long as they’re low in sugar. Sodas are a no-no, of course. Even diet soft drinks have been proven to be unhealthy.
* Include some fresh fruit (grapes, berries, an apple or pear), string cheese, crackers, maybe a granola bar or cookies (from scratch) for dessert, and they’re good to go!

Visit our Kid Stuff Pinterest board for more school lunch ideas!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. tried brown-bagging her lunch once in first grade but gave it up after the paper bag ripped and she lost half her meal on the sidewalk.

4 Deliciously Different Things to Do with Zucchini

If you have an overabundance of zucchini in your garden, you’re probably thinking “what the heck am I going to do with it all?” Yeah, I’ve been there and I know from experience that if you don’t pick them soon enough, your zucchini will turn into overripe, torpedo-size gourds!

Sure, we joke about leaving bags of the green stuff on neighbors’ doorsteps and using giant zucchini as door stops, but the truth is there are so many wonderful ways to prepare summer squash, you’ll wish you had more!

Let’s start with these amazing recipes!

zucchini shrimp scampi

This savory shrimp scampi uses spiralized zucchini in place of pasta and has only 214.3 calories per serving! 

Zucchini Shrimp Scampi (Serves 4)
Ingredients:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or more, to taste
1/4 cup chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-1/2 lbs. (4 medium-size) zucchini, spiralized
2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley flakes

Directions: Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pink, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in chicken stock and lemon juice, season with salt & pepper. Bring to simmer. Stir in zucchini noodles until well combined, about 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately, garnished with Parmesan and parsley, if desired.
Recipe and photo courtesy of Damn Delicious.

Watch this video on how to spiralize zucchini.
Don’t have a spiralizer? Shop for one now at Amazon.com.

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Try this good-tasting, good-for-you snack with your favorite dip!

Baked Parmesan Zucchini Crisps   
Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 zucchinis, thinly sliced to about 1/4 inch-thick rounds
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt & pepper
Directions:
1. Lay out paper towels and place zucchini slices on the paper towels. Sprinkle zucchini with salt on both sides. Cover zucchini slices with more paper towels and press down. Leave for 20 minutes. Paper towels should be wet and zucchini slices fairly dry.
2. Preheat oven to 400° F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. In a shallow plate, combine Panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, oregano, salt & pepper; set aside.
4. In a 2nd shallow plate, add flour seasoned with salt & pepper.
5. In a 3rd plate, beat eggs with salt & pepper.
6. Dredge zucchini slices in flour, dip into eggs then dredge in Panko mixture, pressing to coat.
7. Place zucchini slices on prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all zucchini rounds are done. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until zucchini rounds are golden and crispy. Serve with your favorite dip.  (We like it with ranch dressing.)
Recipe from jocooks.com.

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This yummy zucchini quiche is easy to make and there’s bacon in it… need I say more?

Zucchini Bacon Quiche (Serves 6-8)
Ingredients:
1 tube (8 oz.) refrigerated crescent rolls
2 tsp. prepared mustard
6 bacon strips, diced
3 cups thinly sliced zucchini (about 1-1/4 lbs.)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten*
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese*
2 tbsp. dried parsley flakes
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. dried oregano*
1/4 tsp. dried basil*

Directions:
1. Separate crescent dough into eight triangles; place in a greased 10” pie plate with points toward the center. Press dough onto the bottom and up the sides of plate to form a crust; seal perforations. Spread with mustard.
2. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels; drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of drippings. Sauté zucchini and onion in drippings until tender. In a large bowl, combine eggs, cheese, seasonings, bacon and zucchini mixture. Pour into crust.
3. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cover edges loosely with foil if pastry browns too quickly.
*I changed this Taste of Home recipe by adding an extra egg and replacing mozzarella with Colby Jack cheese and dried basil/oregano with Adobo seasoning. My husband devoured it!

Southwest Zucchini Boats

These fun zucchini boats are packed with flavor and they’re healthy, too!

Southwest Zucchini Boats (Serves 4)
Ingredients:
4 medium zucchini
1 lb. ground beef
3/4 cup salsa
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided

Directions:
1. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise; cut a thin slice from the bottom of each with a sharp knife to allow zucchini to sit flat. Scoop out pulp, leaving 1/4″ shells.
2. Place shells in an ungreased 3-qt. microwave-safe dish. Cover and microwave on high for 3 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Remove from heat; stir in salsa, bread crumbs, cilantro, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup cheese. Spoon into zucchini shells.
4. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 4 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Microwave 3-4 minutes longer or until cheese is melted and zucchini are tender. Serve with sour cream if desired.
Photo and recipe from Taste of Home.

Looking for something on the sweeter side? Check out these recipes for Chocolate Zucchini Bread and Cake from my 8/4/15 blog post.

You’ll find tons more zucchini recipes on Pinterest too!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. is hoping these recipes will entice her husband to eat more vegetables. 

Go-To Recipes for End of Summer Get-Togethers

Summer may be winding down (can you believe we’re closing in on August already? Dang!), but chances are you still have a family reunion, picnic, backyard barbecue, or town celebration coming up, and then of course there’s Labor Day weekend. Whatever it is, you’ll probably be providing some kind of side or dessert to round out the meal and share with the group. You could go with the usual macaroni salad or bars from a box, but why not shake things up and impress your relatives or friends with something totally unexpected?

If you’re looking for something different and delicious to bring to the table, I’ve got some recipes you should definitely try!

calico beans

Calico Beans beats basic baked beans any day! Photo courtesy of crockpotladies.com

Calico Beans 
Ingredients:
1/2 lb. bacon, in pieces
2 lbs. ground beef
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 (16 oz.) can baked beans in tomato sauce
1 (15-1/2 oz.) can kidney beans
1 (16 oz.) can butter beans
1 cup ketchup
3 tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
Directions: Fry bacon pieces; remove from grease. Brown ground beef. Add onions and celery at end of browning. In baking dish, combine remaining ingredients; add bacon and ground beef mixture. Bake covered at 350° F for 45 minutes or for 6-8 hours on low in a slow cooker.

coleslaw

More zesty and colorful than classic coleslaw! 

Sweet-and-Sour Coleslaw 
Ingredients:
4 cups chopped or shredded cabbage (I buy the kind in a bag)
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 tbsp. jalapeño pepper, chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 small can cooked corn kernels, cooled
Dressing:
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
Salt to taste
Directions: Place cabbage, peppers, onions, cilantro, and corn in a large bowl. Mix vinegar, sweetener, and salt in a small bowl, add to cabbage mixture and toss well. Chill before serving.   Recipe and photo from allrecipes.com

cowboy caviar 3

Why settle for regular salsa when you can dip your chips in Cowboy Caviar? Photo courtesy of culinaryhill.com

Cowboy Caviar  
Ingredients:
1 can garbanzo beans – drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans – drained and rinsed
1 can black beans – drained and rinsed
1 can white corn – drained
4 stalks celery
1 green, 1 yellow & 1 red pepper – chopped
1 small red onion – chopped
Dressing
1 cup canola oil
½ cup vinegar
½ cup sugar
Directions: Boil dressing ingredients together. Mix dressing with bean/veggie ingredients and refrigerate overnight.

caprese salad

A light, refreshing Italian salad that’s easy to make and simply delish! 

Caprese Salad 
Ingredients:
2 lbs. assorted fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 lb. cubed mozzarella
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar (I use balsamic vinegar)
Salt & pepper to taste
Directions: Toss ingredients together and chill before serving.
Photo and recipe from Foodnetwork.com

snow cone cupcakes

These snow cone treats are actually cupcakes, which means they won’t melt! Photo courtesy of lovefromtheoven.com

Snow Cone Cupcakes
You’ll find all kinds of recipes for these and other clever summer-theme cupcakes on Pinterest!

Deviled Eggs are always a hit at summer parties, but instead of going with the same old mayo and mustard recipe, try one of these Unique Deviled Egg Toppings!

Looking for handy ways to store, serve and carry your food & beverages?  Check these out:

snap and stack 2Snapware® Snap ‘N Stack Food Storage Eggtainer
Ideal for picnics and potlucks, this multi-use tote has two removable egg holders for deviled eggs and stackable containers for bars or cookies. Buy it now at boscovs.com

 

crock potCrock-Pot Oval 7 Quart Red Slow Cooker with Travel Bag
Perfect for hot appetizers, entrees, and side dishes (like Calico Beans!). Comes with a travel bag for easy toting to summer parties. Buy it now at shopko.com

cooler
Rubbermaid 60-Quart Wheeled Cooler

Keep beverages cold on the go with this roomy, easy-to-maneuver cooler. It holds up to 62 cans with ice, plus has built-in cup holders. Buy it now at homedepot.com

Enjoy!

Smark Perks Blogger Catherine B. loves summer. She just wishes it lasted longer (if only she could say the same for winter!).

The Smart Cookie’s Guide to Royal Icing

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Royal icing is having a major moment. Seriously. Decorated cookies are almost as popular as Pokemon Go right now.

There is a cookie cutter for virtually anything or any occasion you can think of.

So if you’re planning a party, or just want to do something special for a friend, you can just jump online and order a cookie cutter specific to whatever tickles the person’s fancy, from unicorns to 50s muscle cars to French Bulldogs and saguaro cactus (yes, everything and anything!)

pineapple

Of course, I want all the pretty things I see online.  And, I suffer short-term memory loss when it comes to my inability to bake, and whatever my last failed attempt was. So whenever I see some intricately decorated iced works of art on Pinterest or Instagram, I think “Oooooh, I want to do that!”

But royal icing seemed so intimidating! I’m a canned frosting from the baking aisle kind of girl. However, the fancifully decorated cookies you see everywhere right now require royal icing, which has that beautiful, smooth matte finish that makes a cookie look so professional, like it came straight from a wonderful bakery.

I enlisted the help of my go-to baking expert and good friend Mary, and said, “TEACH ME! I want to be your icing Jedi!!!” So she shared her techniques in this video, along with her amazing set of decorating supplies, and we set out on an odyssey of summer cookie decorating adventure.

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I got to do what I do best. Shop. I found adorable summer-themed cookie cutters on Etsy from Frosted. There are a bajillion great shops – just enter your desired shape + the word cookie cutter in the search box on Etsy and you’ll find some really unusual ones. Or, you can request a custom cutter if you don’t find what you’re looking for. Etsy is my go-to for unique and original everything.

I did manage to make the cookies beforehand using the package Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie Mix, although I baked one batch on wax paper instead of parchment. But the real purpose of this exercise was for Mary to teach me to decorate cookies using royal icing. My only other experience with it was a disaster, trying to make my own Ginger Bread House with a store-bought kit containing premade icing. It was too thick and well…see for yourself.

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Needless to say, Martha Stewart chose a different photo for her December issue of Living.

For this icing, my baking Yoda used a recipe from Sweet Sugar Belle which she modifies slightly. Mary used the whisk attachment rather than the paddle attachment on her KitchenAid mixer, and Vanilla Bean paste. We also added additional warm water by the drop as necessary when it came time to ice, in order to get the desired consistency, so the icing would settle when the cookie was gently tapped.

Take a look at the video Mary & I made, and you’ll never be intimidated by making royal icing again.

 

 

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson, learned the hard way, NEVER to put plastic cookie cutters in the dishwasher. Special thanks to icing guru, Mary Haehn. 

 

It’s a Cool, Cool Summer

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When I was young, one of the highlights of summer was the ice cream man coming to our neighborhood once a week to deliver sweet relief from the sweltering heat. We’d hear the familiar melodious sound of his truck down the block and dash into our houses to grab a few quarters from our piggy banks. By the time he stopped at our street we were ready with coins in hand, eagerly waiting to dig into orange cream bars, Push-up Pops, Eskimo Pies and sundae cups. Aaaahhh, those were the days.

Sadly the ice cream man wasn’t around when my kids were little. So, we’d get ice-cold goodies at the community pool, local DQ or the grocery store.

Now that I have grandchildren, I want to start a new tradition – creating our own refreshing frozen treats.

You’ll find a fabulous assortment of fun and colorful containers and contraptions to prepare and enjoy your favorite frosty creations.  Check these out…

pops

Ice Pop Molds – Make your own pudding, fruit, yogurt and juice pops with these handy little molds! Pick up a 6-Pc. Set now from Amazon!

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Zoku Ice Cream Maker – Whip up a bowl of fresh gourmet ice cream, gelato, sherbet or sorbet in less than 10 minutes!

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Ice Cream Bowls & Spoons – I love these cute little bowls with matching spoons! They’re perfect for picnics, birthday parties & summer celebrations. Get a set of 12 bowls & spoons for only $13.99 at Oriental Trading Company.

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Zoku Slush & Shake Maker – Use this specially-designed cup to mix up milkshakes, smoothies, iced coffee and floats, or turn your favorite soft drinks into slushies!

Here are some recipes you’ll want to try, too!

Chocolate Pudding Pops
Ingredients:
1 (3.9 oz.) pkg. instant chocolate pudding
2 cups milk
1 cup thawed whipped topping
Directions:  Beat ingredients with whisk for 2 minutes. Pour into ice pop molds (or you can use paper/plastic cups and wooden pop sticks). Freeze for 4-6 hours or until firm. To unmold, run water on the mold for a minute or so. (If using paper cups, peel paper off pops before serving). Variation: try other flavored puddings like vanilla or banana. Serves 6.
Recipe from Kraft.com

Fresh Fruit & Yogurt Pops
Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups plain vanilla yogurt (divided)
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 tbsp. honey
Directions: Mix honey and berries together in a bowl; set aside. In blender, combine 2 cups yogurt with berry mixture, blend until smooth. Fill ice pop molds a quarter full with yogurt and layer berry mixture on top. Freeze about 6 hours or until frozen. Serves 6.


Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream  
Ingredients:
1 pound strawberries
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sugar
Directions:
1) Wash and trim strawberries; cut into 1/4″ slices. Place half of sliced strawberries in food processor or blender and puree. Set aside both sliced and pureed strawberries.
2) Combine cream, milk and sugar in medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and pour mixture into large bowl. Add strawberry puree and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator until completely cool.
3) While cream mixture is chilling, dice remaining sliced strawberries into smaller pieces to mix into ice cream. Pour cooled cream mixture into Ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Towards end of process, stir in diced strawberries. Transfer ice cream to airtight container and freeze for at least 2 more hours before serving. Makes approximately one quart.

See more ice cream recipes at RealSimple.com
Find ways to make smooth no-churn ice cream without a maker!

Hot Fudge Sauce
Ingredients:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
1 cup chocolate chips (milk or semi-sweet)
1/2 cup (stick) butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Directions: In saucepan, mix powdered sugar, evaporated milk, chocolate chips, and butter. Melt and bring to boil. Boil 8 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in vanilla. Take off heat and serve over ice cream. Store in airtight container in refrigerator and reheat as needed. Makes 2 cups.

sundae closeup finalTop off your sundae with sprinkles, nuts, cherries, fresh fruit, candy pieces, pretzel bits, cookie crumbs, peanut butter, whipped cream… you name it!

Think Outside the Ice Box
Tickle your taste buds with unique flavor combos like brown butter & bacon, cilantro & lime and curry & mint – click here for recipes
Or, try this Miso Butterscotch Milkshake  (It seems like an odd combination – miso paste and ice cream? But, I’ve been told it’s surprisingly delicious, a perfect blend of sweet and salty.)

As you can see, the sky’s the limit when it comes to creating your own frozen treats. Here’s to a cool and sweet summer!

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. adores ice cream. If she didn’t care about calories, she could probably eat a carton of chocolate almond in one sitting.

 

Chill Out with Refreshing Summer Drinks

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There’s nothing like relaxing on your patio, deck or porch on a warm summer day with an ice cold beverage. You can always grab a beer or soda out of the fridge, but I have a better idea – mix up specialty drinks for two or invite friends over for cocktails! I’ve included easy recipes for delicious concoctions (some with and some without alcohol) that are sure to satisfy your taste buds, quench your thirst and impress your guests. Best of all, you don’t have to be a professional bartender (or, should I say mixologist?) to make them. I’ll drink to that!

CRAVE-WORTHY COCKTAILS

160_F_105738118_6AhBQQSOTMctNcNdLmA53j0oOyS2Q2qMClassic Mojito  
Ingredients:
2 oz. light rum
1 lime
Bunch of mint leaves (about 8)
2 heaping bar spoons of fine sugar – add more to taste
Club soda (amount depends on size of glass)
Ice, cubed & crushed

Directions:
(1) Add juice of 1/2 lime to glass, then sugar. Use a muddler to squish everything together and make a syrup.
(2) Drop mint leaves in glass and use muddler to gently push the mint down into the syrup.
(3) Add crushed ice and pour in the rum. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
(4) Top off with club soda.
(5) Rim glass with lime and garnish with a sprig of mint and lime slices.
(Makes 1 drink)

Layered Lemonade Drops

lemonade cocktails

Ingredients:
6 oz. vodka
1 cup mango lemonade
1 cup pink lemonade blended with ½ cup of strawberries
1 cup regular lemonade
1 cup ice

Directions: Fill blender with 1/3 of vodka and mango lemonade and ice. Blend and set aside. Repeat 2 more times, first with strawberry/pink lemonade then regular lemonade.  Chill each mixture, and keep each layer chilled until ready to pour in glass. Pour into serving glass in layers starting with mango mix, then strawberry/pink lemonade mix, and lastly regular lemonade. Serves 4.  Photo & recipe from Delish.

Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Perfect Margarita
Ingredients:
1 oz. gold tequila
1/2 oz. silver tequila
1/2 oz. triple sec
1/2 oz. orange curacao
1/2 oz. lime juice
2 lime wedges
Crushed ice
Directions: Rim margarita glass with salt. Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Squeeze limes and add to shaker. Shake vigorously and pour into margarita glass. Makes 1 serving. See more recipes like this on margaritaville.com

Blue Hawaii  blue hawaii
Ingredients:
1 oz. light rum
1 oz. blue curacao
2 oz. pineapple Juice
1 oz. cream of coconut
1 cup crushed Ice
Pineapple slice and maraschino cherry for garnish

Directions: Place first four ingredients in blender with ice. Blend for 15 seconds, or until frothy. Pour into tall glass and garnish with pineapple slice and cherry. Makes 1 drink. Photo & recipe from stepbystep.com

MARVELOUS MOCKTAILS (non-alcoholic beverages)

June Bug
Ingredients:
3 cups ginger ale
4 tbsp. grenadine
4 tbsp. orange juice
3 scoops orange sherbet

Directions: Blend together ginger ale, grenadine, orange juice and sherbet. Pour into ice-filled cocktail glasses. Variation: substitute orange with another flavored sherbet like lime, lemon or pineapple. Make 4 servings. Recipe from food.com

160_F_86742716_PqmU5KJr0NkBZPynoCm4pW0e9U1UA0GQSparkling Raspberry Tea
Ingredients
:
2 cups cold brewed tea
2 cups chilled raspberry or cranberry-raspberry juice
2 cups chilled sparkling water
Raspberries
Lemon slices and mint leaves for garnish, if desired

Directions: In a large pitcher, mix tea, juice and sparking water. Serve tea over ice. Garnish with raspberries, lemon slices and fresh mint leaves. Makes 4-6 servings. Recipe from Bettycrocker.com


Cactus Cooler

Ingredients:
4 cups orange juice
1½ cups pineapple juice
½ cup lemon juice
Grenadine, to taste
Citrus slices (limes, oranges, lemons) for garnish, if desired

Directions: In a pitcher combine the orange juice, pineapple juice and lemon juice. Fill glasses with ice. Drizzle a little grenadine into each glass. Top with the orange juice mixture. Garnish with citrus slices, if desired. Makes 6 servings. Recipe from lovebakesgoodcakes.com

160_F_52392039_kcMs40e82dkZs2DatVHFnXwrMzI7yDxZVirgin Strawberry Colada
Ingredients:
7 ripe strawberries
5 oz. pineapple juice
1-1/2 oz. coconut cream
1 cup crushed ice
Pineapple slice and maraschino cherry for garnish

Directions: Blend all ingredients in a blender at high speed. Pour into a tall glass and garnish with maraschino cherry and pineapple slice. Makes 1 drink. Recipe from food.com

Find more delightful summer drink recipes  at foodandwine.com

One more thing, when enjoying your favorite cocktails always drink responsibly and have a designated driver if you’re planning to go anywhere.

Cheers!

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. likes to sip on margaritas or rum cocktails on the patio, but her go-to summer beverage is iced tea.