Black Bean Soup

Last week my husband and I went to a nice dinner out.  I ordered black bean soup as part of my meal, and it was delicious.  As you know, I love soup, and I love my Vitamix.  (Seriously, this blender is amazing!) So, as soon as I got home from dinner, I had to find a black bean soup recipe to try!  Here’s what you will need:

  • Vegetable broth
  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Onion
  • Bell peppers
  • Jalapeno

Check out the full recipe here, or my pin on my Yum board.

Black Bean Soup

Review

Black bean soup is one of those things I am slightly picky about.  It’s not that I won’t eat it if I don’t think it’s “perfect,” it’s just that I think it can be hard to get the right flavor combination.  That was the case with this recipe.  It wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t “just right” either.

I liked the kick of the jalapeno, but I was also craving a bit more….something.  I ended up adding some paprika to the pot and that helped immensely.  I was originally drawn to this recipe because of the peppers and onions in it, but I felt like the red and yellow peppers got lost in everything else (and I even added more than the recipe called for).

Overall, this wasn’t a bad recipe, but it wasn’t the perfect black bean soup either.  However, it was a good start on the way to a better black bean soup, so I will probably make this again and continue trying to tweak it to make it just right.

Crock Pot Mac and Cheese

I love to cook and try out new things, but sometimes I’m just not feeling it, or I’m not feeling making all the parts.  Enter my crock pot.  I love this thing.  I use it all the time, even if I wouldn’t mind cooking.  Mac and Cheese, as always, is a favorite (as seen here and here), so a crock pot version seemed like a way to be lazy and still get my mac and cheese.  You will need:

  • A slow cooker
  • Macaroni
  • Evaporated Milk
  • Cheese
  • Milk

Check out all the ingredients and the recipe here, or my pin on my Yum board.

crock pot mac and cheese

Review

The basic idea here is to dump it all in and forget about it.  There is nothing to prepare before your toss it all in, and I really appreciate that on days when I just don’t want to bother with cooking.  The first time I made this, it didn’t really thicken on me and was a bit “soupier” than what I normally like.  So, the second time I made it, I threw in some extra pasta.  Maybe 1/4 cup more.  This produced a consistency that I liked more.  I’ve also tried this recipe with other add ins like turkey sausage, mushrooms, and a bread crumb topping.  All of them turned out well!

So, would I make this again?  Obviously.  I’ve already made it 4 times!  It’s a great way to have a quick side dish, and it reheats well (though there are rarely leftovers).  I haven’t tried it, but I bet this would also make an excellent grilled mac and cheese!

January Birchbox

I am three months into my subscription, and I am LOVING my Birchbox.  Even when an item is a “miss” for me, I still have fun trying out things I would never look at otherwise.  Sometimes an item isn’t right for me, but I didn’t know that until I tried it.  The sample sizes are always just right for me-enough to try the product several times, but not so much that it is a waste if I decide I don’t like it.

This month my box was addressed to “The Bold Constance.”  I love when people address things like that!  I opened it up, and immediately got to work playing with everything!  Here are my thoughts on this month’s items.

January Birchbox

  1. TOCCA Crema da Mano-Cleopatra (Full size:  $10-20):  This hand cream is super thick.  Like soaps, lotions can be a problem for me.  Many of them don’t absorb well and leave my hands feeling a bit itchy and uncomfortable.  However this lotion was much better.  It absorbed quickly with little greasy feeling.  My hands didn’t have an adverse reaction at all!  However, I also felt like the effects of the otion wore off somewhat quickly.  Applying often would be ideal.  This lotion has a light, grapefruit smell with a hint of something else.  That something else, according tot he card, is cucumber.  Whenever I put it on the scent put a smile on my face.  Will I buy this?  Maybe.  It’s one of the better lotions I’ve come across.
  2. Oribe Shampoo for Beautiful Color (Full size:  $39):  This is one of those products that made me realize the importance of multiple tries before making a decision.  The first time I tried this shampoo I HATED it.  It made my hair feel extra thick and tangled.  I conditioned twice after I used it.  But, the next time I got in the shower, I decided to give it another go.  The sample ended up having 4 uses for me (I have not quite shoulder length hair currently), and each time it got a little bit better.  I think my hair just needed to adjust to the product.  By the end I still knew it wasn’t the right product for me (my hair is not currently colored), but I didn’t hate it anymore.  And, that tangled mess feeling was gone by the final shampoo.  My hair still felt thick, but not tangled.  Another drawback for me was the smell.  It wasn’t  bad smell, it just wasn’t one of my preferred smells.  The best description I could come up with was a combination of grass and celery, but that’s not totally accurate either.  Like I said, not bad, but not my cup of tea either.
  3. Coastal Scents Revealed Eye Shadow Palette (in Latte) (Full size:  $19.95):  I’m not great with make-up, and I don’t wear it often.  Trying out make-up without a huge cost to sample was one of the reasons why I decided on a Birchbox subscription (though I am loving the non-make-up products WAY more).  So, I was excited to get some eye shadow to play with.  I like that the colors are already matched, as that is something I struggle with.  I also like that these colors play nice with the eye liner I received last month.  These colors are subtle and not too overwhelming, which I liked.  They went on well, and I didn’t feel like I needed to use a lot in order to get a nice color application.  Will I be purchasing?  Maybe, but not for a while.  Since I wear make-up so irregularly, this set will probably last me for quite a while.
  4. Dr. Lipp Original Nipple Balm for Lips (Full size:  $14.50):  Winter out here can be harsh on the skin.  It is already dry, but the cold and wind really do a number on my lips.  I was excited about a lip balm that was ultra hydrating.  This definitely delivers.  My lips felt nourished, and it helped relieve the chapped feeling.  However, this stuff went on thick and felt sticky like those lip glosses you apply with a wand.  I am not a fan of my lips feeling like they are going to stick to glasses when I drink.  The description said that it could also be applied to cuticles and elbows, so I gave that a try, but it didn’t absorb quick enough for me, so I wasn’t fond of that application.  Overall, I would use this occasionally as a supplement to my normal balm, but I don’t think I could do it on a more regular basis.  Besides, for that price, I can buy a lot of tube lip balm.
  5. MyChelle Dermaceuticals Advanced Argan Oil (Full size:  $14.50):  This oil is meant to help fight signs of aging as well as smooth the skin and hair.  I only tried this on my skin and not on my hair, so I don’t know if it does much in the hair.  However, it did seem to have some effect on my skin.  That said, it totally felt like oil being put on my skin and it smelled like olive oil, which isn’t one of my preferred scents.  My skin definitely felt greasy for a while after putting it on, which I was not a fan of.  However, it doesn’t take much for this to work.  It says t only use one to two drops, and the truly is all you need, so a full size bottle would last a decent amount of time.  The packaging it came in said that you could add the oil to cleansers or moisturizers, which totally helped the greasy feeling.  Once it was added to other products it didn’t feel as gross and the smell was lessened.  Will I be purchasing this?  Probably.  I think it would be a nice add in to products to really boost the fight against signs of aging.

Out of all my samples, only one of them would be going into my cart today (the Argan Oil), but, as always, I am happy to have sampled everything.  I am loving my subscription and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for February!

Are you thinking about checking out Birchbox?  Use my referral link!  At just $10  month, the mount of product sampling is a real steal!  Not convinced?  Check out my reviews from November and December.

Sharpie Onsies

I have a small obsession with Sharpies.  For a while there I was buying them all the time and had a huge collection.  Over time I have slowly weeded out the dead ones and stopped myself from impulse buying more, but I always get excited when I see a craft that includes Sharpies in the supply list.  For this you will need:

  • Sharpies
  • Onsies (or other cotton items)
  • Rubbing Alcohol

Check out all the directions here, or my pin on my Crafts as Gifts board.

Sharpie Onsies

Review

I started off on this project ALL WRONG.  In the video she explicitly states that some colors work better than others and it is important to test before you start your project.  So I ended up with some heartache when some of my inks didn’t bleed as well as others.  Basically Each onsie I used had a smattering of colors that did and did not work rendering each one un-giftable.

That said, she is absolutely right that this does work with colors that work.  I couldn’t get any pictures that really showed how well the ones that did work turned out, but that had more to do with my embarrassment over skipping that vital testing step than anything else.

One thing she doesn’t mention, but I think is worth noting is that you will probably get Sharpie all over your fingers while you are doing your initial coloring.  An easy solution to this would be to wear some plastic gloves.  Or don’t.  Just know that dyed fingers is likely to occur.

So while this time it didn’t turn out, I am excited to give it another go.  I also want to test this on paper and see if that has similar effects.  I see a lot of work in my Sharpies’ future!

Chocolate Raspberry Smoothie

I love a good smoothie.  It never ceases to amaze me just how much flavor can come out of mixing a few things together in a blender.  The majority of my Drinks on Me board is smoothies because I can’t get enough.  Chocolate and raspberry can be very hit or miss for me, so I was curious how this was going to turn out.  You will need:

  • Raspberries (fresh or frozen)
  • Milk
  • Cocoa powder

Check out the full recipe here, or my pin on my Drinks on Me board.

Chocolate Raspberry Smoothie

Review

The original recipe is vegan and calls for almond milk.  I used soy milk (because that’s what we have at our house).  I also halved the recipe as it makes two and I was only making this for myself.  I threw everything in the blender and hoped.  I tend to think that cocoa powder doesn’t give me a fabulous chocolate taste, and I feel like that continued to be the case here.  Sure it did have chocolate flavoring, but it was very powdery in my mouth.  I honestly had to force myself to finish it.  As is, I wouldn’t make it again.

But then I got to thinking.  I have dark chocolate chips in my house, so what if I switched them out?  So, the next day I set out to try again.  The results this time were much better.  I actually enjoyed sipping this smoothie.  The consistency was much better as was the overall taste.

Let’s talk numbers for a moment*.  I found this recipe inside another list of “healthy low calorie smoothies.”  So what are those numbers?  1 cup of soy milk is 110 calories, 5 oz of raspberries is around 47 calories.  So that means 157 calories before we add the chocolate.  1/4 cup of cocoa powder is 4 tablespoons, but I halved the recipe, so I only used 2 Tbsp.  Each Tbsp is 15 calories, so that’s 30 total.  So, for the original recipe, one serving would be 187 calories.  As for my modifications, I used 2 Tbsp of dark chocolate chips.  Each Tbsp is 70 calories, so that means an additional 140 calories get added.  This makes my modified recipe 297 calories.  Obviously that’s a big caloric difference, but I’d still rather drink my modified version.  Maybe I could compromise with myself and do one tablespoon of each?

 

*These numbers are all based on the calories listed on the packaging of my specific ingredients and any necessary math to get the serving size to match with my actual usage.

Maple Dijon Pork Chops

My mom makes these amazing pork chops that have all sorts of spices on them and are cooked in butter.  I am forever looking for a pork chop recipe that I can make when I am visiting that will be able to hold a candle, flavor wise, to what she makes.  That’s how I ended up here.  Maple dijon just sounds so tasty!  You will need:

  • Pork Chops
  • Maple Syrup
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Brown Sugar

Check out the full recipe here or see my pin on my Yum board.

Maple Dijon Pork Chops

Review

You can probably see that my pork chops look nothing like the picture from the recipe/pin.  Don’t you hate when that happens?  I know it’s partially my fault because I don’t own a grill.  I was never destined to have those gorgeous grill lines.

But what about the taste?  Well, while it may not look pretty, it sure did taste good!  I think that using better quality mustard and syrup would yield a better result, but even my cheaper ingredients made for a delicious result.  Will I be able to compete with my mom with this?  Probably not.  Will I make this again?  Absolutely.

Fun Friday: A Little Bit of Madness

Happy Friday everyone!  I hope you’ve had a great week!  Out here we are looking at highs in the low 50s for this weekend, so I’m excited to get outside and enjoy this burst of nice weather!  Of course, I know not everyone is having gorgeous weather.  In fact, I just looked at the weather back in IN, and it is looking like a cold and wet weekend.

Whatever your weekend might look like, today I wanted to share with you something I do on one of my other blogs.  (Yes, I write way too many blogs.)  Over on My Book Club Hates Me, I review books I read.  I didn’t keep up as much last year as I should have, so this year I’ve started off a bit rusty.  I’m getting back into the swing of things, though.  Anyway, not only do I review books, but I also run a March Madness style bracket.  This bracket is populated with all those people we dream about dating in our heads.  You know, that character from your favorite book, or that super hot singer from that band.  Those people.  Let me explain in more detail:

Overview

The Boy/Girlfriend bracket is my answer to March Madness basketball brackets.  People nominate their dream boyfriends and girlfriends in a multitude of categories.  Nominees are then weeded (if necessary) and seeded.  Once that happens, printable brackets are created for people to fill out.  Winners of match-ups are determined by public votes in a given time frame.  All of this is in good fun.  There are no prizes or anything, it’s just a good time.

What’s New This Year

This is my second year doing the bracket, and I’ve learned a few things. This year I will run the match-ups for male and female concurrently.  You will be able to vote for both men and women at the same time instead of one bracket to completion followed by the other.  Based on survey results, the sexes will continue to be separate brackets.  The “regions” will also remain the same (TV, Movies, Literature, Celebrity) unless there is some sort of overwhelming write in option.

Also new will be a longer voting period.  Previously match-ups lasted less than 24 hours.  This time, the match-ups will be up for a longer (though not yet determined) amount of time.  Voting will be available for several days, but no longer than a week.  Again, this is TBD.  Voting will take place via polls on the site.

Timeline

  • Nominations:  Nominations will be open until February 12, 2015.  This is a Thursday.  Any nominations made after that time frame will be added to the 2016 list.
  • Weeding: Should weeding need to take place, this will happen between February 13-February 21, 2015.
  • Seeding:  If you are interested in being part of the seeding process, let me know.  Seeding will take place between February 22-February 28, 2015.
  • Brackets:  A finished bracket will be available on March 2, 2015.
  • Match-ups:  Match-ups will begin on Monday, March 16, 2015. Depending on seeding, this day may or may not include a “play in game.”

So, if you’re interested, I’ve added the nomination forms below so you don’t have to click away.  You can add as many names as you want.  Last year literature had exactly 16 nominees for each sex (with a mix of authors and characters), while movies had nearly 40 nominees that had to be cut down to 16.  Tough choices were made last year before voting even began!  So, I hope you will nominate early and often.  I might do one more post once the brackets are set, but really everything happens over on my other blog.  If this is something you think you’ll enjoy, be sure to head over there and bookmark or follow the blog.

December Darbysmart Box

Quite a while ago, Darbysmart was a company I got excited about.  It’s a craft supply and kit company.  You can look through their project gallery and have a kit sent straight to your house.  I loved that I could try out something I had never done before (such as stenciling), and everything I needed was right there in the kit!  Depending on the kit I selected, I could try something different for $20-$50 and decide if it was a crafting style I wanted to pursue.

Later, they came out with a subscription box.  It was (and continues to be) $19 a month, so I held off on it.  Then, in November, they had a Black Friday cyber sale and everything, including subscriptions, was 40% off.  I decided it was time to give it a shot.  And that’s how we ended up here.

Darby Smart Dec Box

Review

My first box arrived in December and, well, honestly, I was underwhelmed.  I know that it was partially due to other issues I had (another order I had placed did not arrive in a timely manner), so I was already a bit annoyed with the company.  And then my box came, and I was ready to believe in them again.

Except when I opened it all I saw was some chunky white yarn and a small skein of thin green yarn.  I felt let down by just the contents.  I poked around in the box and thought, “but what am I supposed to do with it?”  Then I saw on the card that I needed to go to the website for a tutorial.

Except when I got to the site I needed a code, which should have been printed on my card but wasn’t.  So I had to email customer service and ask for the code.  Which they were prompt in replying to.  I had a code just an hour or two after I sent the email.

So what was I supposed to make?  A hand crochet scarf.  The website had a pictorial instruction set, but I honestly would have appreciated a video tutorial to go along with it.  I had no other ideas about what to do with the materials, so I went ahead and made the scarf.  The yarn is super nice and soft, and honestly this project seemed beneath it in quality.  (I will say that the super nice yarn is clearly where the money went for this month’s project.  I cannot stress enough how soft and cozy it is.)

I went on the website to see how others felt about this month’s project, and many of them were also disappointed.  It sounded like there had been a scarf in October too, and people didn’t like the repetition.  Customer service seemed interested in what people had to say and were asking questions about improving the box, so at least they were acknowledging that people seemed a bit let down and were trying to figure out how to improve.

I signed up for a 6 month subscription, so they still have 5 more months to wow me.  I am wondering if maybe a set “intro” box might have been a good idea, so that the first month is more likely to wow the new subscriber?  I’m not sure.  My January box should be shipping next week, and I am hoping for a little more oomph when I open it up.  If nothing else, getting mail continues to brighten my day.

Caramel Pretzel Cookies

I love salt and sweet together.  It’s just a good combination.  And when that’s what you’re craving, you want it NOW.  I was having one of those “now” moments when I found this recipe.  I ran to the store and got straight on making a batch.  Here’s what you will need:

  • Flour
  • Eggs
  • Sugar
  • Caramel pieces
  • Pretzels

You can find the full ingredient list and recipe here, or check out my pin on my Just Desserts board.

caramel pretzel cookies

Review

Did I like this recipe?  Let me present the evidence:  I ate the entire batch in a three day period, I made a second batch, I ate all of those as well.

These cookies are SO GOOD.  Even using the whole wheat flour, I could not stop eating them.  They are the perfect combination of salty and sweet.  Plus, they are super easy to make!  Seriously, instead of reading the rest of this review, you should be on your way to the store to get the ingredients to make these cookies.

Here are some tips I picked up from making my second batch:  break the pretzel sticks into thirds or smaller for better incorporation into the batter (in the first, pictured batch I only broke them in half).  You do not need the chocolate chips.  I left them out of my first batch because I wasn’t feeling like chocolate (I know), but I did put chocolate chips in my second batch.  I kind of liked them more without, but your mileage may vary.  Finally, enjoy them with a nice cup of black coffee.  The bitterness of the coffee is a great pairing for the salty and sweet.

Seriously, why are you still reading?  Go make these cookies!

(If you made these cookies and the soft chocolate chip cookies and took them to a party, you would probably always be invited to every party ever.)

Veggie Mac and Cheese

I love mac and cheese, but always knew it wasn’t the healthiest option for me.  So when I came across this recipe for a slightly healthier mac and cheese, I was all over it.  You will need:

  • Macaroni
  • Vegetables
  • Cheddar and Monterrey Jack Cheese
  • Milk

Check out the full recipe here, or my pin on my Yum board.

veggie mac and cheese

Review

I modified this recipe from the get-go to match my low-cholesterol lifestyle a little bit more.  So, for me, that meant whole grain pasta, a changing up of the veggies (partially because of what I had on hand), and using soy milk instead of the whole milk the recipe calls for.  I know that affected my cooking times and results, so I wanted to be clear about the modifications I made.

That said, this recipe came together fairly easily. I love anything that can be made in one pot, so that added to my love of this recipe.  Overall, I think this is a simple recipe to modify to suit your needs (like I did), and is a tasty take on a classic.

Will I make this again?  I already did!