Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top Five: New Favorite Finds

I love getting recommendations from friends about their favorite products and I love telling friends about mine. I get way excited about new fun products and want to share them with everyone. I thought it would be fun to share a "top five" list once in a while of all of my favorite things. So to start it off, I am giving you a list of my Top Five New Favorite Finds: 

I love this sauce! It is actually not really new to me, I found it last year. But just recently Costco started carrying it again and I bought five 2-packs. I really can't get enough. It is so good with whole wheat spaghetti. It has only 100 calories per 1/2 cup. You can find it at Harmons ($8.99 each) along with their other amazing pasta sauces (I also love the Organic Red Heirloom) or at Costco ($7.99 for a 2-pack). 

This was recently on Shauna Lake's Favorite Things (evening anchor on Channel 2 News). She said that her skin has never looked better. My skin is always so dry in the winter so I thought I would give it a try. I have never loved a moisturizer so much in my life. It is such a light lotion and yet in just a few days my skin looks better and the dryness is gone. AmLactin Moisturizing Body Lotion contains an alpha-hydroxy acid that gently exfoliates and intensely hydrates dry skin. I found it at Walgreens ($25.99, pricey but worth every penny). 

Meet my new favorite water cup by OneVessel drinkware. It is completely BPA free plastic (which means it doesn't have cancer causing crap in it) and it has a lid and straw. Every single morning I fill Ella's sippy cup with a straw and my oneVessel cup with ice water. We both love ice water and we both love straws. I found mine at Nordstrom Cafe ($10.99).

I love this app! You can find locations and directions to a Starbucks near you, pay for your order, manage and reload your Starbucks Card, and look up nutrition information. Yesterday I had a Caramel Apple Spice and a Peppermint Brownie Cake Pop and I really shouldn't have looked at the nutrition information. Who knew Cider had so many calories? Could it have been the caramel and whipped cream? Perhaps. I got this iPhone app at the App Store (Free). 

Chocolate covered frozen bananas remind me of being a kid in Disneyland. I loved the frozen bananas  (even if I did have to pick off every single nut). Diana's Bananas Banana Babies are so amazingly delicious. They are a half of banana dipped in creamy milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or milk chocolate and spanish peanuts. They are all-natural, healthy, and only 130 calories each. Personally, I think they are so much better than ice cream on a stick. I found them at Target ($4.99 for 5 banana babies).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Freezing Fresh Herbs

Nothing flavors food better than fresh herbs. I love them and add them to as many dishes as I can. However, fresh herbs are not always an option. Dried herbs are sometimes the only option and I do love them too. Just remember that if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of fresh herbs, you generally would third that and only add one teaspoon of dried herbs. Always make sure your dried herbs are fresh. If there isn't an expiration date on the bottle than give your herbs and spices the "sniff test." In most cases they have a strong scent. If the scent is weak or not there, it's time to buy new. 

My favorite option when I can't add fresh herbs is frozen herbs. This weekend I finally got out and cut down my rosemary. Fresh rosemary smells so amazing. 

First I picked the leaves off of the stems, washed them thoroughly, and dried them.

Next, I used kitchen shears and cut all the leaves into smaller pieces. 

Then I put them in these awesome trays by AeroGarden that I found on Amazon. They are shaped like leaves and hold one teaspoon and one tablespoon of herbs (ice cube trays are also a good option). Put the herbs in, pack tightly, and add water so the herbs are covered and will freeze together. 

Voila! You have frozen herbs that you can drop into any recipe. 

Don't they look great? I got a couple of trays of rosemary done to use through the winter.

My basil and cilantro didn't do very well this year, so luckily Dorot makes freshly frozen garlic and herbs that come in crushed garlic, chopped basil, chopped parsley, chopped cilantro, crushed ginger, chopped dill, and chopped chili. Each package has 20 separate cubes that are one teaspoon each. Dorot has made it so easy. I absolutely love these! I found them at Sunflower Farmers Market and Harmons.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

4 Days Of Eating, Shopping, And Fun!

Some of my favorite days of the year are coming and I couldn't be more excited. One of them being Thanksgiving, of course - spending time with family, eating way more than our pants will allow, and reflecting on all the things we are truly thankful for. On Thanksgiving morning while my Mom and I are in the kitchen tripping over a toddler and cooking up side dishes to take to our family gathering, my husband will be at a turkey shoot with my brothers. Then he will head home so we can go to my aunt and uncles house where he will be frying up one of our Thanksgiving turkeys (my aunt is cooking a traditional turkey as well). If you have never had deep-fried turkey, you are missing out. 364 days of the year I would tell you to kill your deep-fryer and bury it in the backyard, but if you are frying a turkey for Thanksgiving, I say go for it. It is the most juicy, delicious turkey with such amazing flavor. 

After dinner, the girls will strategize a Black Friday game plan while the guys lounge around. We will go through the ads, plan who will grab which deals, and where to meet if we all get separated or trampled. We will most likely hit Target at midnight, then the mall, and not stop until we are either too tired to go on or completely out of cash. I love Black Friday! 

A few years ago I learned all about Small Business Saturday. I just love the idea! Each year on the Saturday following Black Friday, you stay out of the big box stores and shop local and support the small businesses in your area. We are planning on eating and shopping at only small local businesses that day. I am also planning on getting half of my Christmas gifts at local boutiques and stores this year.

Then on Sunday we are going to put up our tree, watch Christmas movies, and drink hot chocolate. That gets us in the Christmas spirit early every year.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches

I absolutely love my slow cooker. We cook everything in it from soups and stews, roasts, ribs, chicken, and desserts to name a few. Over the years I have collected some really great slow cooker recipes that are easy to make, delicious, and healthy. One of my family's favorite recipes is for slow cooker French Dip sandwiches. They are very flavorful, super easy to make, and also fairly healthy (don't tell my husband). Everyone I have shared this recipe with has loved it too. 

Easy and Delicious Slow Cooker French Dips
2-3 lb. Rump Roast
1 can Beef Consomme'
1 can Beef Broth
1 can French Onion Soup
Sliced Cheese (optional)

The great thing about this recipe is the roast can go straight from the freezer to the slow cooker (no thawing required - love that). The three cans of soup will be your Au Jus - pour the cans of Beef Consomme and Beef Broth over the roast, then pour the French Onion Soup over (I like to pour this can last so that all the onions from the soup are on top of the roast to give it even more flavor). I usually like to have the fat on the roast on the top as well since so much flavor comes from that - but this roast wouldn't stand up because it was frozen.

 Slow cook on low for 7-8 hours until the roast is cooked through.

When the roast is done, remove the fat and slice. I like to take the Au Jus and put it in a fat separator (above). It has a strainer on top to catch all of the onions and the fat floats to the top and you pour the mixture from the bottom. Pour the Au Jus into small bowls. Next, just put meat on the buns and that's it. I like the Brat Buns from the Wal-Mart Bakery. They are perfect for French Dips and they are a good size.

My husband likes cheddar or provolone cheese on his, so I put the meat on the bread and then put the cheese on top and stick it under the broiler open-faced for a minute or two until the cheese is melted and the bread is slightly toasted. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Travel Journals

On Pinterest I have come across quite a few travel journals. I had never really seen anything like them and I just fell in love with the idea. Since I am so over scrapbooking, I thought this would be a really fun and easy way to keep travel keepsakes together. 

Here are a few of my favorite examples:

This one is mostly pictures with a hand-written description of what the family did each day. She even put sea shells in a plastic pocket. It is held together with binder rings. (To see more of this journal and get instructions on how to make it, click here.)

This one is probably my favorite of all of them. She kept the coffee sleeves from their trips to Starbucks, valet tickets, maps, brochures, and more. She included pictures and hand written notes on each of the items to remember where they stayed, ate, and played. It is all held together with binder rings. (To see more of this journal, click here.)

I really like this one because it's so orgnanized. She did use stickers and embellishments, but it isn't overdone. It has pictures, brochures, maps, and so much more. It is also held together with binder rings. (To see more of this travel journal and get tips on what to collect and how to put everything together, click here.)

I wish I would have known (or thought) about this before our trip to Northern California. I didn't keep anything except for pictures to remind me where we went and what we did. Every morning in San Francisco we would walk to Noah's Bagels for breakfast and I could have kept a napkin or something like that for my travel journal. I could have kept my hop-on hop-off bus pass, menus from Tacolicious, Kara's Cupcakes, and Asqew Grill, a chocolate bar wrapper from Ghiradelli Square, and a trinket from China Town. I could have written down how much I loved the clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls and the best garlic fries in the world at Fisherman's Wharf. 

Here are a few of our favorite pictures from San Francisco: 

 We loved all the history and architecture in San Francisco. These are the most photographed homes in the United States. One of them has been on the market for while and if you are interested in purchasing it, it will cost you 4 million (reduced from 7 million). You might recognize this row of homes from the show Full House.

 The Golden Gate Bridge in the fog. 

 All the people standing around are actually in line waiting for ride on the trolley.

Chinatown was so busy, but a lot of fun to see.

We also spent a few days in the Redwood National Park on this trip. The Redwoods were more of an emotional part of this trip (pictures do not do these majestic trees justice). We did a few hikes in the Redwoods and there is something very spiritual about them. I felt such peace walking through the forest and you could literally hear a pin drop it is so quiet. The forest floors are covered in in ferns and when you look up you can't see the tree tops. I just wondered what these ancient trees have seen in their thousand plus years of life; the fires which they survived, the earthquakes and floods, and the loggers. On this trip I learned that only about 4% of the trees were saved from loggers. It actually made my heart ache to hear that. Over 90% were cut down, a lot of them being much bigger and much older trees. But I am thankful for what is left and feel blessed that I was able to walk among them. 

Our last stop on this trip was Napa Valley. We only stayed one night so I didn't collect much of anything, even pictures. But it was gorgeous and I would love to go back and spend a few more days. 

I didn't take this picture, but it shows how gorgeous the Napa countryside is. 

I will have to put something simple together for this trip, but in the future I will definitely start collecting more keepsakes for travel journals. I would love to look back to see and remember everything we did.