Friday, February 28, 2014

Toffee-Pretzel Peanut Butter Cookies {definitely not your average PB cookie}

Once in awhile, I come across a recipe that makes me say, "I have to make that NOW." This was one of those recipes. It came to my inbox from Real Simple, and it's a keeper. Even though I was powerless to resist making it, I am able to resist eating more than one at a time, so that's good. It's also good to note that Real Simple says there are 145 calories per cookie, which isn't too bad. For those who have to count carbs like we do, there are 17 carbs per cookie, with 42 cookies per batch.

Toffee-Pretzel Peanut Butter Cookies 
adapted from Real Simple

2 cups creamy peanut butter {or use crunchy and cut out the cocktail peanuts}
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
3/4 cup broken salted pretzels
1 cup Heath toffee bits
1/2 cup cocktail peanuts

Heat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment. Mix together first six ingredients until smooth. Fold in pretzels and toffee bits (and peanuts if using). Roll dough into balls (about 1 T. each) and place 2 inches apart on parchment. Use a fork to flatten each ball. Bake until puffed and golden, about 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly on baking sheet and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fluffy Vanilla-Almond Buttercream

I blog my life--and today, my life involves helping pull off a cub scout Blue & Gold Banquet for 200 cub scouts and dads. Since life is what you make it, I figured I'd make it extra fun by blogging my favorite butter cream frosting recipe that I used to frost 4 dozen cupcakes for the banquet.

There are lots of good butter cream recipes out there. This is just my own way to do it, a hodgepodge of what I've liked about my favorite recipes over the years. I don't know that it's perfected--but it's pretty darn good! It's more of a step-by-step than a recipe, but here you go. Enjoy for your next kid gathering, birthday, or I-need-some-good-butter-cream-to-lick-off-a-spoon days. (We all know they exist).

Fluffy Vanilla-Almond Butter Cream
{This recipe will frost 48 cupcakes}

Begin by setting out 2 cubes of salted butter to warm to room temperature. It should still be solid--no melting!
Put the room temperature butter in an electric stand mixer and start beating it at medium speed. Once it is looking smooth, add:
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
Keep beating the butter and extracts, and add in a few drops of food coloring if desired. (My picture shows yellow food coloring, about 8-10 drops. If you use gel coloring, it takes less). Once the color is incorporated, stop beating. Add:
2-3 cups powdered sugar
3-4 T. milk
Slowly mix in powdered sugar until incorporated, then turn the speed up to medium again and whip for 2 minutes. Once again, stop beating. Add:
another 1-2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 T. milk
Again, slowly mix in the sugar and milk, and then turn the speed up to medium-high. Whip for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, stop beating and check the consistency. You want it spreadable, not loose but not too thick. Too thick? Add a teaspoon or two of milk. Too loose? Another 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Just right? Turn the mixer back to medium-high, and let it goooooooo. We're talking about 5 minutes. I really just beat the heck out of it, until it's really fluffy and especially yummy looking. (Translation: the point where you think you could just devour a couple spoonfuls and who would know the difference?)   At this point, frost your cake/cupcakes/sugar cookies however you like. For the cupcakes pictured above, I put all the frosting in a gallon-sized ziploc bag with about 1/4-inch of one bottom corner snipped off. Then just squeeze all the butter cream down into that corner and go to town.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Crocheting {and knitting too} is good for your health!

A few days ago, I suddenly decided that I was sick to death of my computer. Can you tell by my absence the last couple of days? I was just feeling stressed and having more tension headaches because of it. I just knew that I needed to reprise my crochet habit and give myself something better to do. The only problem? My hooks were M.I.A--not an uncommon occurrence with kids at home. :/

A trip to Walmart was in order, for new hooks and some more yarn. Then I dug back into my rather weak crochet skills, determined to master them once and for all.

Something miraculous happened. I felt soo much better! I felt calm. I felt composed. I felt de-stressed. 

As a fringe benefit, it looks as though I will amass quite a collection of cute little wash/dishcloths. {Which means sooner or later I'll have to try something new!} The blue dishcloth is all done in a double crochet stitch, and the other is done in a half double. Both were made with Peaches & Creme yarn and a size J hook. And I'm feeling proud of myself because I finally crocheted something with straight edges!

I've been thinking about why crocheting is helping me so much. My dad knits and he says pretty much the same thing--it's calming and enjoyable. So I pulled out my trusty Google research skills and looked it up. Turns out, studies have been done documenting the health benefits of knitting and crochet--both mental and physical. If you're interested, watch this cool video. If you're not a knitter or crocheter, it'll show you some pretty good reasons why you should be. And if you are a knitter or crocheter, then you probably already knew this!

For more information, visit the Craft Yarn Council website.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ham Fried Rice {a family favorite and easier to make than you think!}

This a family favorite, and pretty easy to put together. It's just a little labor intensive--but if you can cook some rice, scramble some eggs, chop some ham and saute some vegetables, you can make this. And it's so worth it! Anytime I have leftover ham, I plan on making this because the fam all loves it! Mia even insisted on contributing this recipe to her 4th grade class cookbook a couple years back. Enjoy!

Ham Fried Rice

2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 t. sesame oil (Don't skip-it adds really good flavor)
3 cloves garlic
4 green onions, sliced
1 10 oz. bag of frozen peas & carrots
2-3 cups diced ham
5-6 eggs, scrambled in butter and salt & pepper
5 cups cooked rice
4-5 T. soy sauce, depending on your taste

Start cooking your rice. Meanwhile, heat the oils in a large skillet (we're talking really large). Add the garlic and saute til fragrant. Stir in the onion and the bag of peas and carrots. Saute together until the vegetables are tender; about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, scramble the eggs in 1 T. of melted butter. Salt & pepper to taste. Add the ham to the skillet and saute to brown the ham a little. Stir in the scrambled eggs and the cooked rice. Cook and stir to combine all the ingredients well and then add the soy sauce to your liking.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Chocolate-Hazelnut Mug Cake


I'll get to the point today. Sometimes you just need a little dessert instead of a whole pan. Somebody, somewhere, came up with the idea of a mug cake, and the rest of us can just wonder why we didn't think of it ourselves.

Today's recipe comes by way of Cooking Classy. When I saw her recipe yesterday, I HAD to make it right away because....because....I just had to. You know how it is, right? Right.

Her recipe called for some applesauce instead of 2 T. of oil, but I did not have applesauce. And I wasn't about to go to the store just for that. In my estimation, if you're gonna have a mug cake, have a mug cake. If that means using all butter, by all means, use butter. I did, and I'm not sorry.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Mug Cake
adapted from Cooking Classy

In a 16-ounce mug, melt 3 T. of butter in the microwave on high for about 30 seconds. Swirl the melted butter around in the mug to coat the sides.

3 T. Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread (or Nutella--I used the Kroger brand and it worked fine)
3 T. 2% milk
1 XL egg
1/2 t. vanilla
Whisk together with a small whisk or a fork, until smooth. 

1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
2 1/2 T. unsweetened cocoa
1/4 t. baking powder
dash of salt
Stir together until well combined.

Place in the microwave and cook for 2 minutes (for a 1,000 watt microwave). Let stand until it cools a little (if you can wait that long) and either turn the cake onto a plate or just dig in! Yummy with a little whipped cream on top. I shared with the rest of my family and everyone got 3-4 nice bites. In the words of the hubs, "That little dessert you made was yummy."


Monday, February 17, 2014

eShakti Spring 2014: Customize Your Size

Once again, I was lucky enough to be offered a sample from eShakti in exchange for a review on my blog. {See past reviews here and here}. If you didn't know, eShakti will customize any item to your size, your height, and your style--change the neckline, change the sleeves, change the length--it's up to you.

I now own two dresses that were customized to my height, size and style, and I'm really happy with both. Here is a look at the dress I chose this time:

As you can see, it's navy with some coral embellished flowers on the skirt, but only on the front--the back is plain. It has cap sleeves and a scoop neck, which will be perfect during the summer. For now I paired it with a coral sweater from my closet and knee-high boots.

It's knit and very comfortable to wear. All of eShakti's dresses come with pockets, but I opted to have the pockets left off this dress. Sometimes they feel bulky to me, particularly with a knit, so that's why I had them left off. The original dress also had a deeper neckline, more of a deep V, and I changed it to a scoop. I actually wish that I had changed the sleeves to elbow-length, but I didn't. Hindsight!

Here's a sampling of some of eShakti's new spring offerings:

Sash tied lace dressSash-tied Lace Dress. I love the color! Keep in mind that you can add sleeves to any of eShakti's tops or dresses.

Embellished florals poplin dressThis one was a close second for my choice. Embellished Florals Poplin Dress.

Piped polka dot cotton dressPiped Polka Dot Cotton Dress.

 Contrast trim poplin tunicContrast Trim Poplin Tunic. I would totally wear this.

Mesh and ribbon lace frockI think this Mesh and Ribbon Lace Frock would make a perfect bridesmaid dress.

eShakti promises customized dresses will ship to you in 14 business days from the time you place your order. Both times that I have customized a dress with eShakti, I have received it sooner than 14 days. Each time was between 8 and 10 days. All three of my eShakti dresses are well made and I've never had an issue with ripped seams or tears or any other problems.

If you are new to eShakti, be aware that if you register you will receive a $25 coupon good on your first order. Also, through Tuesday, February 18th, get 20% off during eShakti's President's Day Sale. 

Don't miss your chance to get a unique dress, skirt, top or jacket, customized to fit YOU, with an extra 20% off! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Trouble with a capital T!

Happy Valentine's Day! I hope your day is filled with flowers, chocolate, dinner out, love...whatever it is that you enjoy.

Around here, we got trouble.

That would be Mia's hand in the pic above. Wearing a matching ring and bracelet. From a boy. Handmade by said boy. Supposedly it even took him six hours to make. Not only that, but the ring was inside of a pop-up flower inside of a handmade card.

Wow. Impressive work, I'll admit.

Buuuuut......not to mention the fact, Mia is 12.

I have not had handmade jewelry given to me by any boy. And I'm 46.

See why I say we got Trouble?

At least the boy is nice--I'll give him that. But we need another 10 years or so before we get any more handmade jewelry around here. :) 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Secrets of Happy Couples: The Science Behind Happy Relationships

Today's post is an interesting infographic, brought to you by Happify. I was asked to share this with my readers, and I think it contains some interesting information just in time for Valentine's Day. Take a look, and if you are interested in knowing more about the science of happiness, visit

happy marriage

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bathroom Renovation: How One Mirror Became Two {a great DIY project}

I already posted all the pics from our bathroom renovation, but I wanted to do a more in-depth post on the mirror and how it was transformed with some simple boards and a can of stain. Even though I didn't do it myself, I watched it being done and know that this is something we could have definitely done ourselves.

Before demolition began, I went in search of inspiration on Houzz. Good stuff there if you haven't ever looked. This was the inspiration for the mirror:

Transitional Bathroom by Burnsville Design-Build Firms Highmark Builders

I really liked the look of this frame, with it's simple lines, heavier looking top and the sconces set through the wood. It was also the first time I realized that we could frame the mirror into looking like two mirrors. I showed this pic to our contractor, and he said we could easily do something like that. Jeff and I decided that we would rather have downward pointing sconces mounted over each sink, rather than on each side of the sink. 

The frame was built using 1"x8" poplar boards for the top and bottom, and 1"x6" poplar for the sides and middle, as well as a strip of crown molding for the top. We chose poplar, which is about the same price as pine, because it has less knots and a nice grain. The boards were stained to match the vanity using Minwax stain and sealer in Red Mahogany. It took most of an 8 oz. can, leaving us a little for future touch ups that may be needed. (Four kids at home and you never know!) Three coats of stain were applied, with a sanding between the 2nd and 3rd coats. 

As you can see, the frame was built around the granite backsplash. Before the frame was there, the granite was mounted to the mirror with clear silicone. Our other option would have been to forgo the granite backsplash and have the frame extend to the countertop, but granite will take moisture and abuse much better than wood, so we decided to do it this way. I really like the look of the granite and wood next to each other. 

A couple of other important points: the mirror was not held to the wall with clips, it was glued to the wall and was never coming down easily--and if anyone tried it would probably get broken. Mirrors of this size are not cheap, so we had to frame it as was, and that was wall-to-wall. We had elected to get a 72" vanity rather than the 89" that used to be there, so the frame extends about eight inches beyond the vanity on each side. We are perfectly okay with that and love the look. 
Once our contractor had pre-stained all the boards and molding, he cut everything here and dry fit it all together before mounting the boards to the mirror. The bottom board is attached to the mirror with clear silicone, and nailed at the ends into the wall. The side and top pieces are all mounted with a combination of clear silicone and finish nails. Holes were cut into the top board for the lights. One plus of having the lights hang lower than the frame is that the light is reflected all over and made much brighter.
If you do a project like this, note that you need to stain (or paint) both sides of your boards. The side that sits against the mirror will be reflected in it and unfinished wood will show. 
Thanks for following along on our bathroom remodeling adventure!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Bathroom Renovation: Reveal!

Exactly one month ago today, demolition started on our 70s-era bathroom--it was finally time for it to go! Most of it was completed a week ago, with the exception of the mirror, and that was finally put together yesterday.

With no further adieu, here are a bunch of before & afters.

Honestly, when we set out to remodel this bathroom, we had no idea how great it was going to turn out! It's always fun to see how the ideas in your head turn into reality....and how even though plans change, the change can turn out better than what you thought it should have been.

We also met a few miracles along the way:

1. The vanity, listed at for $1299 after a $200 rebate, was found at a freight recovery store in Salt Lake for $719, minus an extra 45% off on vanities that day. We paid a whopping $423.12 for what should have been three times as much. It's birch, stained in red mahogany, with Brazilian granite counter and integrated sinks. LOVE.

2. At the same freight recovery store (NPS), the American Standard Champion Pro toilet was had for $100. Price at the American Standard website? $448-696.00.

3. The jumbo subway tile in the shower was found on a Lowe's clearance rack for $1.55 per square foot. We saved 1/2 over comparable tiles, and this was the one we both loved the minute we saw it.

4. We purchased the floor tile 5 or 6 years ago, I believe for about 88 cents per square foot, and hung onto it. The miracle? We had bought enough to cover the floor in front of the old vanity, not anticipating that we would have a furniture-style vanity and would need to tile the entire floor. We should not have had enough of it, but we somehow were able to do a diagonal pattern in the middle of the floor, cover the entire thing, and have 10 tiles left over. Don't know how it happened, but really grateful that it did!

5. The shower doors were pulled out of a fancy home in Park City by our contractor, and saved for some future use--or to sell. They are frameless (no bar down the middle between the doors) and heavy duty glass. He realized they would fit our shower and offered them to us. They are definitely not cheap, but he let us have them for $50 and a duck hunting excursion with Jeff. :) That's a savings of at least $250 bucks.

Monday I will post some details about the wall-sized mirror. Got one like it? Framing it out would be a great DIY project.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Chowder {Nacho-style!}

I have another yummy recipe for you today--I may or may not be buying time until I'm ready to post the bathroom reveal.

This one is easy to put to together, cooks in your slow cooker and is delicious served over crispy tortilla chips with shredded cheese, chopped avocado and sour cream. It's thicker than other chicken enchilada soup recipes out there, so it won't immediately make the chips soggy. I used cannellini beans {white kidney beans, basically} in order to hide them from the fam, and it pretty much worked--I didn't get as many complaints as I do if I use black or pinto beans.

Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Chowder
(1) 14 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
(1) 4 oz. can diced green chilies
(1) 15 oz. can cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
1-2 cups frozen corn
2 T. dry chopped onion
1 t. garlic salt
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (frozen okay)
(1) 20 oz. can mild red enchilada sauce
(1) 10 oz. can cream of chicken soup
1 c. milk
2 t. chicken bouillon granules or 2 cubes
2 T. butter, melted

Dump tomatoes, chilies, beans, corn, onion and garlic salt in bottom of slow cooker. Place chicken breasts on top. Mix together enchilada sauce, soup, milk, butter and chicken bouillon in a small bowl. Pour over top of chicken and cover the cooker. Cook 4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. Remove chicken from pot and shred, then add back into slow cooker.

To serve, place crispy tortilla chips (we like the Don Julio extra-crispy white chips in the blue bag) in a bowl. Top chips with shredded cheddar-jack cheese. Scoop some chicken chowder over the chips and cheese, then top with more cheese, chopped avocado and sour cream as desired.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Updated: Skillet Baked Pasta

Don't you love it when you find a recipe that elicits only positive responses, from the entire family, every time you make it? I have one of those! (I also have plenty of others that get raves from half the family and complaints from the other half). It's great whenever I plan to make this for dinner, and as the kids start asking me, "What's for dinner?" to hear "YES!" and "My favorite!" and "Thank you MOM!" when I say "Skillet Baked Ziti." The pic above actually shows it made with radiatore. This recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen, with a couple of minor adaptations from me. It's easy, it's fast, you make it in one pan and it tastes delicious. What's not to love?

America's Test Kitchen Skillet Baked Ziti (or penne, rigatoni, rotini, etc.)
(with my adaptations in parentheses)

1 T. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced (I make sure they are large)
1/4 t. red pepper flakes (optional)
salt & pepper
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I use 2 14 oz. cans of tomato sauce if I don't have crushed tomatoes)
3 c. water (I use 4 because I use more pasta)
12 oz. ziti pasta or 3 3/4 cups (16 oz. bag)
1/2 c. heavy cream (2/3 c. fat free half & half)
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. fresh basil leaves, minced (2 t. dried basil)
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 475. (I've discovered that 450 works just as well)
  2. Combine oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and 1/2 t. salt in a 12-inch oven safe nonstick skillet and saute over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. (If your skillet is not oven safe, transfer the pasta mixture into a shallow 2 qt. casserole dish before sprinkling with cheese and baking).
  3. Add crushed tomatoes (or sauce), water, ziti and another 1/2 t. of salt. (If using dried basil, I add it now).
  4. Cover and cook, stirring often, and keeping the temperature high enough to keep a vigorous simmer, until ziti is almost tender, about 15-18 minutes.
  5. Stir in cream (or half & half), parmesan, and fresh basil (if using). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over ziti. Transfer skillet to preheated oven and bake until cheese melts and browns, about 10 minutes. Serve.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Bathroom Renovation: My favorite part! Plus inexpensive storage ideas

Happy Monday!! I hope it was a great weekend--and I'm sure it was if you're a Seahawks fan. We rooted for them, since our son is living in Washington as a missionary. (Catch up with him here.)

We're thisclose on the bathroom renovation. I will be posting the final reveal pics later this week, but today I want to show you my favorite part. Ironically, it's just the closet. Seems a little crazy, I know. But this is for real. I LOVE the whole thing, but I really, really love the closet. :)

As you can see in the before and after shot, the closet was a cabinet. You can't tell, but those ugly brown doors went from floor to ceiling. The frame sat on top of the opening, and then the doors were on top of that. The kids always hung their towels on the handles so the bathroom door would never open all the way.

I was firm in my decision that whatever new doors went there, they would NOT sit on top of the opening. I wanted to gain as much space as humanly possible, so originally I thought new cabinet doors would go there, but I wanted them flush with the wall.

Our general contractor (who we've decided is pretty much expert in everything) suggested that we close in the top of the wall to standard door height and then put a 6-panel door in to match the other doors in the house. He suggested getting a bi-fold door. Well, that was the best idea I'd ever heard. Sometimes I don't think outside the box very well, so I had not thought of putting a real door there. I'm so glad he did! (I guess that's what we're paying him for....)  The floor-to-ceiling cabinet thing was not practical anyway. We're not known for our height in this family, so it was never an easily reachable space.

Here's a shot of the inside of the new closet space. I'm in love, I really am. The old cabinet had fixed shelves, and Jeff thought of changing them to adjustable instead. It is so much more usable now! There's another shelf higher than the top shelf shown in this pic, and the space above that one reaches to the ceiling. I did get my hamper space at the bottom, and the kids like it so much they are actually using it. (Reverse psychology will do wonders).

For storage, Jeff had the idea to get those white wire baskets, one for each kid at home, for them to keep their own personal toiletries in (Dollar Store finds!) They love the idea, and the shelves are so much more organized this way. Jared, our diabetic, needs a couple of shelves to hold all of his supplies. We picked up the white 3-sided bins at Walmart ($4.97 for the set of 3) to hold his stuff that otherwise would get cluttered and messy. Medicines are stored in a basket on the fourth shelf from the bottom. We made a trip to our local Deseret Industries (thrift shop) and found a bunch of nice baskets to use for storage, each about $1. Can't beat it!

What is your favorite way to corral bathroom necessities and keep them organized?