Cake Mix Cookies

So I don't honestly know if this even counts as recipe, but it was too easy and too tasty not to share. This weekend my friend Colby came over b/c she wanted to bake cookies with me. She asked me if you could make cake like cookies using cake mixes and I told her that I didn't know but I would look into it. After a quick Internet search I found that this was a quite well known thing. So Sunday afternoon we went to work making cake mix cookies. I chose cherry chip cake mix adding white chocolate chips and Colby chose chocolate adding semisweet chocolate chips. They were the easiest thing and they really have a cake-like texture. Perfect if you are really in a bind, or just want quick cookies! Below is the recipe and some photos. Enjoy!

1 boxed cake mix
Any additional mix ins

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix cake mix according to directions on box minus any water. Add anything extra such as chocolate chips or nuts. Scoop onto cookie sheet and bake for 8 minutes or until edges are slightly brown. Remove from oven and let cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet before moving cookies to cooling rack. Enjoy!

It's finished! (almost)

The guest room is finished! I actually can say almost because we are waiting on two things, shelves to be bought and the cable to be rerouted from the ceiling. Yes, that's right. Our previous owners have the cable coming out of the ceiling. I'm sure most homeowners notice weird things that the previous occupants did, but I think we have more than usual. Anyhoo, everything is in place. The painting went well, and let me now say, Benjamin Moore paint is the way to go! We did have to end up using two coats in order to cover marks on the wall, but it went on so smoothly I didn't mind at all. With my dad's assistance, we painted the room in 6 hours, including some prep and cleanup. I'm very happy with the overall results. Here are a few reasons why I suggest painting for a easy new look.
  1. Paint cleans up the dingy factor a room might have. You might not realize how dirty your walls really are until you have a new coat of paint.
  2. Its relatively cheap. My one room used 1 gallon of paint, costing me a whole $33. I'd say budget $50 if you need supplies as well.
  3. You can change it! If you don't like the color, its the easiest thing to change about a room.
The cost ended up being a little higher than I wanted because of all the frames I had to buy, but thankfully a gift card came the day I need to buy the last of the frames. The total cost is below.
  1. Paint - $33
  2. Frames - $80
  3. Pegboard Items - $12
  4. Grand Total - $125
Below are some photos of the process. Now it's on to the rest of the house!

The token "before" photo. We are ready to paint after taping off everything.

See what I mean about the cable outlet!

One view of the room.

My favorite corner!


All Paint Is Not The Same

Remember a few weeks back when I said that I would be remodeling the guest room over the next few weeks? Well the most important part, the painting, is happening this weekend! The ugly shelves "gifted" to us by the previous owner are down and now I have some 1/2 in. holes to spackle, thanks to their not so conventional use of screws. But after that, and moving everything except the bed out of the room, I will be ready to paint.

My parents have painted two whole houses already, so I nicely asked my dad if he would like to assist me since my mom will be out of town at a medical conference this weekend. He oh so nicely said yes. Just a side note, my parents are great and have helped Chris and I so much with things around the house over the past almost two years. I know that Chris's parents would help us out too if they didn't live 3,000+ miles away! But I digress. My parents have informed me to buy a certain brand of paint. I was thinking that I'm sure paint is paint right? But no, according to them, paint is not just paint. There are certain qualities of paint, some cover better than others, which means more paint and more coats which then equals more time and money. With some coaxing from my parents, I've gone with Benjamin Moore. This paint is known as some of the best in the industry, so I am going to try it out and see what I think. I'll make sure to follow up after I finish the project as well to let you know how well it worked. By the way, the color I selected is named Woodmont Cream.

I also said in a previous post that I wanted to keep the entire project (frames, shelving, drapes, paint, etc.) under $100 dollars. So far I've spend $33 for the paint. I also bought one of the 10 picture frames with a gift card, so no money from the budget gone there. Only 9 more frames, shelves and drapes to go!


Cheddar Apple Bacon Melts
Difficulty: Easy

Sorry this is actually being posted on Thursday, but I made this recipe last night and was having some trouble photographing and then I had to wait until this morning to upload the photos, but nevertheless, this is a great recipe to share. Grilled cheese is one of the those go-to comfort foods in our house. During the winter I pair it with Tomato Soup, but this go around, I chose to do something a little different. The blend of flavors is wonderful. The crispiness of the apple and bacon add something to to the gooey cheese. In order to shave calories from the traditional grilled cheese, use turkey bacon or even soy bacon, and use whole grain bread and low fat cheese. For my melts, I used turkey bacon but not low fat cheese because I never skimp when it comes to cheddar. Instead of tomato soup, pair this sandwich with watermelon slices and some pretzels for an amazing taste of home.

Sliced Whole grain bread
Cheddar cheese
Granny Smith apple
Butter, margarine or spray butter

Begin by cooking your bacon, two slices per sandwich. One bacon is fully cooked, place on plate covered with a paper towel to soak up the grease. Slice apples in thin slices. Assemble sandwich by placing a layer of cheese, 4 apple slices, 2 bacon sliced and another layer of cheese. This helps to hold the sandwich together. Heat frying pan to medium. Once pan is heated, spread or spray butter on one side of the bread. Turn sandwich butter side down in pan and cover with lid. Let cook for 3 minutes, but watch carefully to make sure it doesn't burn. While still in pan, cover the bread facing up with butter then flip sandwich. Cook for another 3 minutes or until browned. Remove from pan, cut in half and serve.


Great For Your Pantry

One of the things I keep on hand at all times is cake mix. I suggest buying it when your local grocery store has a sale such as $1/box. Yellow, White, Chocolate, Cherry Chip and Angel Food are my flavors of choice. Yellow, White and Chocolate are for what I'm about to discuss and Cherry Chip and Angel Food because those are our personal favorites.

There is a great book, which is the main reason I keep so many cake mixes on hand. It's called The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn. The whole point of this book is to make homemade cakes using mixes as a base. Every cake I've made has turned out great and no one has ever questioned whether it was made with a cake mix. The recipes use flavor boosters and make the cake richer by adding key ingredients.

This book actually rates as one of my favorite baking cookbooks of all time. Some of my favorite recipes from the book are the Ripe Banana Loaves and Blueberry Muffin Cake. I've even given this as a gift to a few friends...enjoy!


Simplifying For Summer

I'm not sure how many of you are aware of this, but I have a 45+ minute commute to work every morning. It's not ideal, but I've learned to embrace it the most I can over the past year and 9 months I've been driving 25 miles each way to and from work. I usually spend my time thinking. Now sometimes this is good and sometimes it's bad, and most of the time I get a little stressed about something. Well this morning was no different. Over the weekend I began to realize how much my "technology" is spread out. You might wonder what my "technology" is, and I'm getting to that now. When I was on my computer this weekend, I realized that I use 3 computers regularly...3!
  1. My work computer, which inevitably gets it's fair share of personal use and has personal files and pictures saved on it.
  2. My ibook, which has mostly items from college and the year after, but also has been getting used a bit at home since computer #3 is waiting for a new hard drive.
  3. "Our laptop" which is an old computer Chris reformatted and we mostly use as our Internet computer at home but also use it for music, photos, etc.

To be honest, the whole thing was pretty stressful. I realized that I had photos stored on all three computers, that each computer has different files, all of which I need, and that it's more difficult for me to locate items when I need them.

My stress level lowered after I got into work this morning and was doing my normal Internet routine. When I came across a notice on one of my favorite sites, I realized that the answer to some of my problems might finally have been solved. Shutterfly, which I have started using since Flickr started charging, has started a new things called Share, which allows you to upload your photos, put them on one website, write about them, and order them. I know that this sounds just like a blog, and it is, to some degree, but it also allows others to print your photos with professional quality and can be controlled for privacy.

If you are feeling anything like me and want to take the summer to do some nice indoor cleaning, I suggest finding a site similar and trying to harness your "technology" into one place. If you have out of town family and friends, this is also a great way to stay in touch. Also, don't forget to back up any and all files on your computer every few weeks or so in order to prevent a disaster. External hard drives are great for this, and they are easy to hook up to any computer. If you spend just a few hours out of the heat and organize your technical files, you will be so much happier the next time you have to find THAT photo!


Celebrating Father's Day

I look forward to taking some time this weekend to celebrate Father's Day with my dad. Since my dad LOVES chocolate, this year I've decided to bake him fudge. My dad truly loves baked items just as much, and maybe even more than store bought gifts. I think this is because he would eat sweets every day if he could. Him and I are both sweets and milk lovers. One of my favorite photos of us when I was a baby is the two of us eating chocolate pudding. In order to make the presentation of the fudge just a little more exciting than fudge in a plastic storage container, my hunt for an old chocolate themed tin is on. There is a great antique mall by my parent's house that is great for items like these. In fact, any time you want a nice box or tin for a gift, check out your local antique shop. I especially like these for Christmas time gifts and edible treats. The fudge I'll be making is both old fashioned chocolate and butterscotch. I figured Dad deserves two kinds for his putting up with me all these years. I'll be sure to post photos with the end results and give recipes as well. Some people think fudge is difficult, but really, it's quite easy. Have a great weekend celebrating with all the fathers in your lives!


Broiled Steak Sandwiches with Balsamic Vegetables
Difficulty: Easy

This recipe is, to date, one of my very favorite magazine recipes! I'd been eying it since I ripped it out of the February issue of Real Simple magazine. Well last Friday night was finally my chance to try it out. I used ciabatta bread rolls instead of the Focaccia it suggested, and a different type of steak, but everything still blended nicely. The flavors in this recipe were perfect, and it was incredibly easy to put together the sandwiches. If you are looking for a dinner party recipe that doesn't require much time in the kitchen, this is definitely it! Your guests will also be impressed with the presentation. Serve along side some horseradish smashed potatoes and green salad, and any summertime party will be complete. My sandwiches actually looked just as pretty as the magazine picture, however, I was unable to get any of my own photos due to the fact that we ate these so fast! So the photo below is from the original article.

1 pound strip steak
Kosher salt and pepper
4 Roma (plum) tomatoes, halved
1 medium red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rings
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 pieces focaccia or French bread, cut in half
3 ounces blue cheese, or any cheese you prefer

Heat broiler. Season the steak with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place the steak on one half of the baking sheet. Toss the tomatoes and onion in a medium bowl with the oil, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place the onion and tomatoes, cut-side down, on the other half of the baking sheet. Broil the steak and vegetables, turning everything once, until the steak reaches the desired doneness, 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove the steak and return the vegetables to oven until browned, about 1 minute more. Toast the rolls. Slice the steak. Place the bottom halves of the bread cut-side up and top with the steak, onions, tomatoes, and cheese. Sandwich with the remaining bread. Serve warm.


Happy Belated National Doughnut Day!

Friday was National Doughnut Day and since I am such a huge fan of doughnuts, I celebrated with a trip to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on Sunday. We only have one shop in the state after the previous franchise owners went bankrupt. Doughnuts are one of those items that, for me, are eaten rarely due to the "unhealthy" factor. Recently, right before Mother's Day in fact, I came across a recipe for homemade doughnuts in our local paper. I've been wanting to make them for some time, but am still searching for a doughnut pan. They are baked instead of fried, which is more appealing to the health conscience person. My goal is to make these in the next few weeks, they would be perfect for any kind of brunch or shower. I'm definitely going to post the recipe and photos when I'm done if they are any good! On that note, I've posted a poll regarding your favorite doughnut shop. I thought it would be a fun thing to do and try to be a little interactive!


A Little Costco Crazy

This past weekend was filled with a few different things, but among them were our 3 trips to Costco. YES...3 trips! It wasn't really on purpose, it just kind of happened. Chris needed new tires, but since the membership is in my name, I had to go with him. So we were there for the initial order, and then had to go back later in the day to pick up his car. Of course both trips required a stroll around the entire store. Then Sunday, after a trip to Krispy Kreme (the only one in the state) we headed over to a new Costco that we learned was selling Burburry purses, True Religion jeans, and Juicy sweatsuits. We also did the complete walk around that store as well. My Costco card is definitely my item of the week for the following reasons:
  1. Their gas is cheaper than the regular gas stations. Since I fill up my tank more than once per week due to my long commute and busy schedule, this is very helpful. Today I noticed that their gas was at least $0.10 cheaper per gallon than the other stations in the area.
  2. You can eat lunch...for free! On the weekends, there are all kinds of different sample stations strategically placed around the store and you can often go back for more than one. Some of the things I sampled this week are sausage, turkey, quesadillas, salsa, cheese, bread, oatmeal, fruit snacks, pistachios and peanut butter.
  3. Even if you can't fill up on samples, their snack bar is great. The food is tasty, not very healthy, but tasty and the price is just right. I recommend the pizza!
  4. Their prices can be cheaper if you shop right. I don't buy everything there, but toilet paper, paper towels, pure vanilla extract (weird I know, but I use a lot of it), wine, granola bars and zip lock bags are only a few items I like to buy because of the money savings you get from buying in bulk. I also buy these amazing bean, cheese, and rice burritos that are organic, only have 1 gram of fat per burrito and are less than 300 calories!
I know that some people like Sam's Club better and I'm certainly not debating that issue, one because I don't have a Sam's membership and two because I know a very high ranking official at Sam's. My reasons work for any big box store, so if you don't have a membership to one of these, I say an investment in one is a great idea. You can certainly make up your initial investment with the savings you'll have throughout the year. Just make sure not to over shop while you are there!


Difficulty: Easy

This week's recipe is actually my own concoction. I call it weeknight pasta for the simple fact that it's easy to make during the week, after you've worked all day, suffered through the commute, and realized that when you get home, your stomach will be demanding some sort of healthy meal. It's also good for using leftover meat that might be sitting in your fridge. The ingredients are vague and can be substituted based on what you have, or how many people you are serving. Plus there are only a few fresh ingredients, which makes it easy to make from the items in your pantry.

2 servings pasta noodles, any variety of your liking
1/2 c. pesto sauce
1 c. cooked Italian sausage, or can be substituted with sliced chicken, etc.
1 c. marinated and roasted bell peppers
2 t. Pine nuts
2 slices bread such as sourdough, french, or even sandwich bread
Grated Parmesan Cheese
Butter or butter substitute

Begin by boiling water. While the water is coming to a boil, prepare bread by spreading a small amount of butter and sprinkling with grated Parmesan. When water is ready, cook pasta according to directions. While pasta is cooking, cook Italian sausage and peppers in small sauce pan over medium heat for 5 minutes. Pour pesto sauce in pan and cook until warm. Place bread in toaster oven or under oven broiler for 5 minutes, or until crisp. Drain pasta when cooked and plate. Pour sauce over the pasta, then sprinkle with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Place each piece of toast on the side of plate. Serve.

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures, but i will be making pasta this evening when my cousin comes over, so I might share at a later date!


Public Service Announcement

I'm just doing my part by spreading the news that Linens 'n Things is closing 120 stores around the US. Click here to get a complete list of closing stores by state. Over the next few months, I'm sure that there will be bargains. How great? One only knows. I feel like closeout sales are never that fantastic. In this case, they can simply ship the merchandise to another store that's staying open. However, you never know what steals you'll be able to find when rummaging around.

That's my part today, short and sweet. Stay tuned for tomorrow's Recipe Wednesday!


Huge Tasks Ahead

This weekend got me thinking about the huge tasks we have ahead of us in the next few months. My goal is to work on each of the rooms in our house, one or two weekends per room, to get them to where I feel they are actually "done". It's amazing how much you can change a room with a few simple ideas. My first step is the guest room since we are expecting guests at the end of this month! Below are two older photos of the "before" look. My goal is to spend less than $100 on the room transformation. We've already refinished a dresser Chris found in the trash (yes, the trash, as in a large dumpster at a friend's apartment complex) and bought prints from a local artist in the Florida Keys. As you can see from the bedding, the theme is tropical.

This is where some of my simple home decorating tips will come in handy. I'll give the run down when I've completed the project but a few things I have up my sleeve are...

  • Buy a variety of frames and fill them with photos from Florida and the beach to go on top of the dresser.
  • Take down the not-so-pretty shelving and glow-in-the-dark stars that were left by the previous owner and add some smaller shelves instead.
  • Paint the walls a soft color.
  • Possibly add drapes or a valance over the window.
Summer is a great time to work on indoor projects, because let's face it, it's darn hot outside and you can only take so much sun and heat! My suggestion is to work room by room in order to not feel so overwhelmed. The other big task is to clean out each room as you tackle the decor part. A cluttered room won't have the same pizazz, no matter how nicely it's decorated. Donate unwanted items to charity, or save for a garage sale later. Also, stick to a budget. Don't let yourself go overboard and try to save money wherever you can.


What You Can Get For A Dollar

Cookbooks! I completely forgot that a few weeks ago, when I was at Joann's, I picked up this cookbook for only a dollar. As you get in line, there is a whole section of $1 items, and this time I couldn't resist. I figured it was only a $1 and it was about cupcakes AND muffins, so why not! The moral of this story is that sometimes you can find some nice items for only a dollar. This would be a great hostess or housewarming gift along with a non-traditional set of measuring spoons such as these from Gooseberry Patch.

After a quick browse, I want to make the following recipes from it...

apple & cinnamon muffins
doughnut muffins
frosted peanut butter cupcakes
warm molten-centered chocolate cupcakes

I'll let you know how they turn out once I make a recipe.
*Also please note that photos are up for the sugar cookies I made last weekend. Scroll down to check them out!