Monday, April 30, 2012

April A-Musings

It was a busy month had by all!

The hubby and I decided to build a house, Gizmo acted weird for almost 3 weeks,  I continued to practice my baking, I saved $297.87 couponing, I participated in a 5k walk for charity, we celebrated 3 family birthday's, and Haloti enjoyed every minute of the whole, crazy ride.

We finalized our plans to build a house in April. We've had multiple inspections, including by the health department and the builder. We moved dirt and laid out the flow of the house. We finalized things with our bank. Next week, we sign our contract for the house and sometime next month, we will sign documents for the construction loan. And by far the best news? On May 14th, we will have only 30 days left in the rental!!! Yikes, I better start packing!

Gizmo and Haloti got groomed on April 9th. Gizmo immediately got a skin rash that had to be treated with anti-biotics and a steroid. He sulked and pouted for almost 3 weeks, all while doing none of his favorite things. No Blue Monkey, no sleeping in his bed, no cuddling with Mom and Dad, no walks, and no desire for carrots (our version of doggie treats). After keeping him a little bit dopey on Benedryl for a week to keep him from rubbing his skin raw and licking himself raw, Gizmo began to act more like himself last Friday. The hubby and I both gave a sigh of relief to have our puppy back. It was also decided that Gizmo will never go to the groomer again.

Haloti could care less he got groomed, and to be honest, I think he rather enjoyed the social time with the other dogs, as he was allowed to hang out with the "friendly" dogs after getting groomed. When I went to pick him up, he was sitting next to a very gentle Mastiff that was the size of a horse :)

We bought these bones to distract Gizmo from his woes. It worked!

I baked a lot in April. 3 family birthday's (brother's, hubby's aunt, and hubby's mother), with 2 requests for baked goods. I made Dark Chocolate Cherry Nut Cookies for the brother's birthday and the Red Velvet cupcakes below for my mother-in-law's birthday. The peanut butter cookies pictured above? Double Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. I made these for my Dad's birthday (tomorrow!) and shipped them out to Oregon.

I experimented with yeast in April. I made Mini Doughnuts (twice) and worked on Cinnamon Roll Bread. The doughnut above is a Raspberry Filled Mini Doughnut. Experimenting with yeast this month turned out pretty delicious :)

Red Velvet Cupcakes for the mother-in-law's birthday.

Last Saturday, my sister-in-law (to the far left), also named Jessica, and I walked a 5k for the March of Dimes. Jessica's friend Shannon (middle) is a nurse at the local hospital. The nurses in her unit had setup a team of about 7-8 girls. Jessica and I both donated to her unit, and volunteered to walk. The walk was at 9 am on Saturday. I awoke that morning at 7 am to a thunderstorm right over Ashland. It was also very cold. But the march did go on, and Jessica and I powered through. Cold, wet feet and all. There was a surprisingly large crowd, despite the inhospitable weather.

Rocking a poncho at the March of Dimes! And yes, that is a Duck's hoodie under my poncho!

I can't believe April is over, this year is flying by. Hopefully I will blink, it will be October, and we will be in our new house! Hey, a girl can wish, can't she? :)

And, oh yes, the hubby and I put back $297.87 into our couponing account. On to May!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shrimp Fried Rice

While perusing Cooking Light's website last week, I discovered that I've never made fried rice. I guess discover is not the right word, it just never occurred to me that I'd never made it. Fried rice is so good, I don't know why I've never tried making it before. Never the matter, it was time to try my hand at fried rice.

I used brown rice as my rice, which made me feel super-healthy. This is a Cooking Light recipe, so it is a lot less un-healthy than what you get in a restaurant. The hubby and I enjoyed this dish, but I'm definitely going to try making it with regular rice next time. I think I'm also going to experiment next time by putting some broccoli and bean sprouts into it.

I started with plenty of brown rice, chilled (Helps keep the rice from clumping up).

Eggs (scrambled into the dish), peas, and sliced green onion

Well, it wouldn't be Shrimp Fried rice without shrimp, right?

Fixins' for the simple sauce. Looks like I need to buy some more rice wine! I cut the salt by half for the recipe, as I figured there was enough sodium in the soy sauce. I also added some crushed red pepper for a kick.

Prepping the sauce.

And all these wonderful ingredients turn into a delicious main dish. Oh, how I wish there was a Chinese restaurant around here. I'm having serious withdrawals :)

2 tbsp rice wine
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tbsp peanut oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cut green onion, sliced
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cups long grain rice, chilled

1. In a small bowl, whisk together rice wine through crushed red pepper. Set aside.
2. Heat peanut oil in a large pan. Add eggs to pan, and stir fry until soft- scrambled. Add peas to the pan and stir fry until peas are warm. Add the green onion and shrimp to the pan, cook until the shrimp are pink (2-3 minutes).
3. Add rice to the pan and stir fry for 3 minutes, or until heated through.
4. Add rice wine mixture to the pan, and toss gently to coat.
5. Serve immediately!

Adapted from Cooking Light

Friday, April 27, 2012

Double Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

My Dad's birthday is on Tuesday! I asked him what kind of cookie he wanted me to make to send him and the only guideline he gave me was peanut butter. Lovely! A lot less complicated than the brother's request. That, and I've seen multiple recipes floating around online with mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I loved having an excuse to try one of them :)

These cookies are jam-packed with goodies! Pudding, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and mini Reese's. One of the problems I have with peanut butter cookies is that they are always dry. I hate that. A lot of Internet research was done looking for a moist peanut butter cookie. I finally found this recipe by Six Sisters that uses a box of instant pudding to keep the cookies moist. My curiosity was piqued.

I can't say if it was the pudding or not, but these cookies are plenty moist. I did alter the recipe just a little bit to include more peanut butter. I was almost sad when I had to ship all these away yesterday, they were so good. I might have to make a batch just for me :)

1 cup + 2 tbsp creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, room temp
1 tbsp vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 (4 oz) box of instant vanilla pudding
1 large bag of mini Reese's (8 oz)
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Cream peanut butter and butter in a large mixing bowl. Add in both sugars and mix until mixture is creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing completely. Mix in vanilla.
2. In a small separate bowl, whisk together flour through salt. In 3 additions, add flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix in vanilla pudding.
3. Fold in mini Reese's and chocolate chips. Place dough in the fridge to chill for 20 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5. Roll dough into little balls and place 1-2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. I was able to fit 12 cookies on a sheet, the cookies don't spread too much. Make an indentation on the cookies with a fork, if desired. Bake in preheated oven 7-8 minutes. Cookies are ready when they've browned a little bit at the bottom edges. Don't over-bake.
6. Cool on cookie sheet 5 minutes and then remove cookies to a cooling rack. Cool completely before storage. Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Recipe adapted from Six Sister's 

More cookie madness! Cookies cooling before I shipped them off.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Product Review: Primer Roundup

I've tried a couple of different primer's this month. Some I like, some... eh, not so much. Primer is one of the most important things in my makeup bag, I never go without. I will tell you this, I think that a good primer is more essential to a beauty routine than a "good" (i.e. expensive) foundation. I've been using drugstore foundation for about a year now and thanks to good primer, I can't complain.

1. Revlon PhotoReady Color Correcting Primer

I've been using Revlon's Perfecting Primer for a couple of months now, and I give it rave reviews! CVS was out of the Perfecting Primer on one of my trips, so I picked up the Color Correcting Primer instead. My honest opinion on this product? It works exactly the same as the Perfecting Primer. I haven't noticed a single difference. This could be construed as good or bad. Good, in the fact that this is an awesome primer. As with the Perfecting Primer, I blot my face late in the day and I never have to retouch with powder. My makeup stays perfect all day. This primer works good under normal foundation and I've also found it works good under BB cream too. Bad, in the fact that I haven't noticed any difference as to color correction. Maybe my skin doesn't need color correction, I'm not even sure what that means. The verdict? If the store is out of the Perfecting Primer, I will be buying this instead. It works just as good as the Perfecting Primer.

2. Revlon PhotoReady Eye Primer + Brightener

Here is my eye primer routine: I swipe my regular primer over my eyes, wait a minute, and then apply concealer over that (I like L'Oreal True Match concealer). I've been doing this for years. I got a really good deal on this eye primer with coupons, so I decided to give it a try. As an eye primer, this sucks. My normal routine works much better at keeping my eyeshadow crease free and intensifying the pigments in my eyeshadow. However, I've been using this under my eyes as a brightener and this I love! I apply it before my foundation, it has a creamy consistency that doesn't settle into the fine lines under my eyes. It also covers what shadows I do have, and really does brighten the area. The verdict? I'm torn. This is expensive without sales and coupons, and it really doesn't work like it's supposed to. If I get a really good deal on this again, I probably will pick up more for my routine. I don't think I will be seeking this out again, however.

3. L'Oreal Magic Lumi Primer
This was my least favorite product I tried. I'm not sure why they are trying to market this as primer, but to me it seems more like a liquid highlighter than a primer. The consistency is very thin when you put it on your fingers, and just looking at you can see it's full of shimmer. I'm all for using highlighter on parts of your face, but I'm not interesting in looking like a disco ball. Once I realized how much shimmer was in this product, I didn't use it on my whole face. I used it on parts of my face as a highlighter. It works good for this purpose, but I'm partial to a powder highlighter that I can use a brush to apply. I can put the highlighter on more accurately with a brush. I did use this one day like a cream eyeshadow that I put under a nude eyeshadow and I got a pretty, natural effect. The verdict? I will not be buying this again. I suspect it will take me quite a while to use this tiny bottle since I don't use liquid highlighter very often.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cinnamon Roll Bread

Another yeast-y challenge!

I saw this recipe 2 months ago, and I've been wanting to try it ever since. I got most of my weekly chores done on Monday, so I decided yesterday would be perfect to try this. It was a cold, windy day anyway, might as well bake some bread!

This bread is best when warm. It really does taste like a cinnamon roll inside. It's all gooey and cinnamon-y inside. I had a piece for breakfast this morning, I popped it in the microwave for 30 seconds and recreated the magic all over again.

The bread takes awhile since you have to let it rise, bake it, cool it, and glaze it. But it's so worth it!

The hubby asked why I didn't simply make cinnamon rolls, I defensively told him that I wanted to try this recipe. I've been asked to make cinnamon rolls next time :)

1 cup milk, warmed to 110 degrees
1 packet dry, active yeast
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup bread flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs, plus 1 egg white
4 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp milk
1/4 tsp vanilla

1. Mix warm milk through sugar in a large mixing bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes, or until foamy. Stir in the bread flour and continue to stir for 5 minutes. Add cinnamon, eggs, and 1 cup flour. Mix for another 5 minutes. Add the remaining flour, and mix until combined. Add the butter. Knead for 10-15 minutes, adding flour if dough becomes sticky. Dough will be ready when the texture feels as though the dough wants to move cohesively as one piece of dough.
2. Place the dough in a large mixing bowl coated with cooking spray. Cover, and place in a warm place, free of drafts. Let dough rise until doubled, about 90 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
4. Combine butter through cinnamon in a small mixing bowl. Cut into mixture until mixture resembles coarse sand.
5. On a well floured surface, roll dough out until 3/4" thickness. Spread 3/4 of the butter mixture on the dough, roll dough up, and place in a greased loaf pan. Spread the remaining butter mixture on top.
6. Place the loaf pan on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven until top is brown, and is melted and gooey, about 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan 20 minutes, then turn out to a cooling rack. Allow to cool 30 more minutes before glazing bread.
7. Combine powdered sugar through vanilla in a small mixing bowl. Stir until you reach a desired consistency for drizzling. Drizzle over bread. Serve immediately or heat bread in the microwave before serving.
8. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from What's For Dinner?
Linked to: Retro Re-Pin Party

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Creamy Tomato and Mushroom Pasta

I make this for the hubby. It's his favorite (well, one of them). I've made this for his birthday dinner for 2 years now, ever since I first tried this recipe and he fell in love. If I ask him if there is a specific dish he wants me to make during the week, this is what he asks for. I try to throw it in the rotation every couple of months to keep him happy.

I used to hate it, but it's grown on me.

There's plenty of fresh vegetables in it. Diced tomato, sliced mushrooms, and diced onion.

The recipe calls for bow-tie pasta but I'm not a fan of the bow-tie pasta with this sauce. I usually use penne, but I've made it with rigatoni or ziti occasionally.

The sauce is quite easy, and calls for a half cup of cream and 3 oz of cream cheese. This combination makes the hubby very happy.

My two personal favorites, lots of fresh basil and fresh grated Parm. Fresh basil makes me very happy. One of the things I'm most looking forward to with our new house is planting a garden next year with about 50 basil plants. All right, I'm exaggerating a little bit :)

As with any recipe using fresh onions, I always start by sautéing the onion into mush in a smidge of olive oil. Then it's time to throw in the garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, salt, and crushed red pepper.


After sautéing the veggies for a good 10 minutes or so, add in the cream, cream cheese, and basil. Stir until the cream cheese melts, and the sauce looks like creamy wonderfulness.

Add the pasta back to the pot and toss to combine. I like to put a layer of grated parm on the pasta and let it melt while I prepare some grilled garlic bread to serve with it.

Whatever leftovers remain at the end of the night are gone the next day, because the hubby hoards the leftovers for lunch. I wouldn't have it any other way :)

8 oz pasta, cooked to package directions
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 plum tomatoes, diced
5 large mushrooms, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 cup cream
3 oz cream cheese
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
Parmesan cheese (garnish)

1. Heat olive oil in a large pan. Add onion to pan, saute 5-7 minutes or until tender. Add tomatoes through crushed red pepper to the pan. Saute 10 minutes, or until tomatoes start to break down.
2. Add cream, cream cheese, and basil to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until cream cheese melts and sauce is smooth.
3. Add pasta to the pan, toss to combine. Garnish with Parmesan cheese, and serve immediately.

Adapted from Southern Living

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup is another one of my faves. It's a relatively simple soup, made grand by the toppings you put on it. I usually just buy store-made tortilla strips to put in it, but I had an abundance of leftover tortillas to use.

Regarding the chicken to put in the soup, I've tried every method. I've tried as the recipe states, which is boiling the chicken in the soup. I've used store-bought rotisserie chicken. I've tried marinating the chicken, and not marinating the chicken. My absolute favorite method is marinating the chicken for a couple of hours, grilling it, and throwing it in the soup at the last second. By far, this delivers the best flavor. I marinate the chicken in a little lime juice, olive oil, garlic, and salt. It's perfect!

To start, cut your tortillas into long, thin strips.

Put the tortilla strips in a little bit of heated oil.

And fry the tortillas until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Some of my strips got a little bit darker than I wanted, but ce la vie. Set aside for topping the soup with.

My grilled chicken breasts, resting pre-dice.

Simmer a nice big pot of sauteed onions, garlic, salt, cumin, crushed red pepper, diced tomatoes, lime juice, and chicken broth. I like to simmer for about 30 minutes.

After the soup has simmered, add in the diced chicken and fresh cilantro. Garnish with the tortilla strips, grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, and diced avocado.

Siesta Sunday! :)

Juice of 2 limes
3 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
2 large chicken breasts
1 package small tortillas
4 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes, undrained
8 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp lime juice
1 cup chopped cilantro

Toppings: diced avocado, grated cheddar cheese, and sour cream

1. In a large Ziploc bag, combine lime juice through salt. Add chicken breast and seal bag. Place bag in the fridge for 2-3 hours, turning bag occasionally.
2. Cut tortillas into thin strips. Heat 2 tbsp canola oil in a large pan. Once oil is heated, add 1/3 of the tortilla strips to the pan. Fry 1-2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan with slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt immediately. Repeat with the rest of the tortilla strips. Set aside.
3. Heat remaining 2 tbsp canola oil in a large pot. When heated, add onions and saute until tender, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic through crushed red pepper, and saute 1 minute. Add tomatoes through lime juice to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.
4. Stir chicken and cilantro into the pot. Remove from heat and serve immediately with toppings.

Recipe adapted from Sunset

Weekend Wrap-Up 4/22/12

Building a home is apparently a lot of work!

We had our first inspection of the property by the builder on Friday. I took a bottle of wine over to the hubby's aunt's house while he met with the builder. I'm glad I did, because the inspection took almost 2 hours. Our site was approved though, and we sign our contract on May 8th! Construction begins 6 weeks after that. Argh, I'm so impatient! I want them to start NOW! We also met with our mortgage lender on Friday to make sure everything is set there and to give them all the paperwork they needed. This train is rolling right along :)

Our house, all laid out and marked. This will be the far corner of the house, where the office is.

Side view. You would be looking at the front door here.

Admiring his handiwork :)

Laying down in the "bedroom" :)

We did have some down time on Friday after all the running around, where the hubby was able to squeeze in an afternoon nap and the dogs were able to grab some "cuddle with Dad" time.

Gizmo finally cuddling again.

Haloti loves a good cuddle.

Doing one of their favorite things, napping with Dad. Gizmo between his legs and Haloti superman-style on the hubby's side.

Saturday, we left the house early to head to Lowe's. The hubby got a mailbox, a post, and his mother's birthday present, a rose bush. We planted the rose bush for his mother, and then headed out to the property with the mailbox. The hubby decided he wanted to talk to the postmaster before putting up the mailbox, so we ended up leaving the box and post at his aunt and uncle's. I'd returned with my bottle of wine, and we ended up spending all afternoon with his aunt and uncle, as well as going out to dinner with them. Buffalo Wild Wings had never tasted so good! :)

Another Sunday, another busy day. Sunday, we went couponing per usual. We had to add Walmart to the mix to get chicken, and I was able to grab another couple of deal's there (mainly for baking).

Couponing haul for 4/22/12.

And finally on Sunday night, I cooked the only meal of the weekend.

Yummy, yummy tortilla soup. While it wasn't healthy to eat out on Friday and Saturday night, the only load of dishes I had to run through the dishwasher was Sunday night. LOVE when that happens :)