Monday, April 30, 2012

A Favorite Lunch Spot...

Well, where else would that be but

The AMERICAN GIRL Cafe!!!!!!

The kids and I had some special time with Nana and Aunt 'Fai' at American Girl last week.

I treated Reese's doll to pierced ears and Nana treated us to a yummy lunch!
(Reese and her look-a-like doll)
 She had so much fun walking around the store and looking at all of the new outfits for the dolls! American Girl also holds free workshops in the store so Reese was able to make a stitched card and a bracelet while we were there.

(Graham and his favorite friend at lunch)

Little Buddy's favorite store is right next to American Girl. We spent some quality time at the LEGO store.
He loved having a ton of LEGO's to himself! And I got some good ideas for his birthday gifts!!
(He left with a zoo truck with a lion in the back!)

Thank you Nana for a fun lunch and shopping day!
Reese and Graham

Don't forget!!! Tonight ends my first GIVEAWAY.
Leave a comment HERE to let me know you want to be entered to WIN!
(You don't have to have a little girl to enter! Those adorable socks will make a great gift!)

Friday, April 27, 2012

{SO} SWEET- Monkey Tail Cake and a 1/2 Birthday!

This cake making experience was an interesting one.....
(I'll explain that in a minute!)

{SO} SWEET Week continues with another fabulous recipe!

Monkey Tail Banana Cake
(found here)

And the candles? Why Yes! It's my daughter's 1/2 Birthday!
6 1/2
(We use any excuse to make a cake around here!)

Here's What You'll Need:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 medium-size ripe bananas, mashed
1 (16 oz) sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
4 1/2 cups flour
1 Tb. baking soda
salt (I omitted the salt because I didn't use unsalted butter)
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 jar of Nutella
1 (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups heavy cream

Here's How:
(all the 'interesting' things that happened are in orange!)

1. Preheat oven to 350* and grease 3 9-inch pans.
This is when I realized I only have two pans.
2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla until smooth.
I was also using sour cream in a side dish for dinner so I could not use the whole 16 oz. the recipe called for.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, soda and salt. Add the sifted ingredients to the banana mixture.
This is when I realized I had forgotten to buy flour. I only had 4 cups left. Panic. Then I saw my bag of whole wheat flour. Yep, I did it. Added the last 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour to my cake.
4. Stir in chocolate chips. Divide the batter evenly between the 3 pans.
Oops. I only have two pans. Time to make cupcakes too! That batter lasted forever! 2 9-inch pans of it and 14 cupcakes! 
5. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a tooth pick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert onto a cooling rack.
Don't have any more toothpicks so I used a wooden skewer. Not professional, but it worked! :)
6. Frosting: Whip the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until creamy. Increase the mixing speed and slowly pour the heavy cream and beat until smooth and think- like whipped cream.
7. To assemble the cake, place 1 layer on a cake plate. Spread with 1/2 the container of Nutella and then top with a thin layer of frosting.
This is where you MUST have the cake cooled. Need I tell you what happens when you put chocolate spread and whipped cream on a warm cake????
8. Repeat with the second layer of cake.
9. Top with the final layer of cake and frost and decorate with more chocolate chips.
This is when I realized my calculations were off about the 1/2 birthday. TECHNICALLY, it's not till May 20. Oh well. It's cake. No one's complaining! Ha!

I assembled mine a little different since.... well, you didn't think there would be a WHOLE cake at a 1/2 birthday party did you?????

I cut my 2 cake layers in half. Then started assembling what was going to be a 4 layer, 1/2 cake. It was waaaaay too warm. The bottom layer oozed into oblivion. I scooted it out and then had a three layer cake!

I topped it with 7 candles (one only showing 1/2 way) and threw mini chocolate chips all over!
I must say, everyone liked it, whole wheat flour and all!!!

The 1/2 birthday girl was super excited!

Anyone want cupcakes? I'm up to my monkey ears in banana cake! ;)

Psst!!!! Don't forget about the GIVEAWAY!
Click HERE!
Entries close on Monday!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

{SO} SWEET - Giveaway!

The best way to celebrate a BLOGIVERSARY......
Our FIRST Giveaway!!!!

Here's What I'm Giving:
One super cute pair of 'sock shoes' for a special baby girl!

(originally posted about here)

In your choice of sock color....
(Size 6-12 Months)


(Size 0-6 months)


(Size 0-6 months)

The giveaway will end at 11:59 pm on Monday, April 30, 2012. 
The winner will be randomly selected then and announced on Tuesday!

And Here's How to Enter:
1. You can get one entry by becoming a follower of Life and So Much More!
(If you already follow, leave me a comment letting me know!)
2. You can get two more entries by sharing this on Facebook and/or Twitter!
(Please leave a comment below letting me know that you shared or tweeted it!)

The Fine Print:
 Giveaway is open to US residents only and cannot be mailed outside of the US.

I can't wait to hear from you!!!!!

{SO} SWEET - Lemonade Cake

Nothing sounds more like Spring than Lemonade Cake and it's the perfect addition to our SWEET week!

Plus, a great celebration deserves a great cake!
It's Life And So Much More's 1st BLOGIVERSARY!

That's right, it's been ONE year today that I posted the first post on Life And So Much More!
Thank you for being a part of it!
It has been a fun ride! No worries, it's not over. I'll keep writing if you keep reading!

And you'll definitely want to keep reading today!

Lemonade Layer Cake
(Recipe found here by Cooking Light)

Here's What You'll Need:
  • Cake:
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons thawed lemonade concentrate
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • large eggs 
  • large egg whites 
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cups  buttermilk 
  • Frosting: (I made this first because it needs to chill for one hour)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened 
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest 
  • 2 teaspoons thawed lemonade concentrate 
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces cream cheese 
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Here's How:
  1. 1. Preheat oven to 350°. For cake, put sugar, butter, lemon zest, lemonade concentrate and vanilla in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and egg whites, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  2. 2. (To measure flour, lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife). In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda; stir well with a whisk. 
  3. 3. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat well after each addition.
  4. 4. Pour batter into 2 (9-inch) round cake pans coated with cooking spray; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.
  5. 5. To prepare frosting, place 2 tablespoons butter, lemon zest, thawed lemonade, vanilla and cream cheese in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add powdered sugar, and beat at low speed just until blended (do not over beat). Chill 1 hour.
  6. 6. Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/2 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Store cake loosely covered in the refrigerator.

Enjoy your little slice of Spring!

(Stay tuned today for our first giveaway to celebrate!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

{SO} SWEET - Oreo Poke Cake

I hope you're not tired of desserts yet!
I've got several more to share this week to continue our SWEET week here!

This next cake, I tested on made for my favorite volleyball team in the world...

And the feed-us-after-a-tough-game-we're-starving-Oreo-loving girls...

{I love them so much! I feel so blessed to be a small part of their lives. God has blessed me through them.
We spend many sweaty hours on the court together. And I'm so thankful for their continued hard work and Christ-like spirits.
They fit in great here on SWEET week!}

Oreo Poke Cake
(Found Here)
Here's What You'll Need:
1 box chocolate cake mix
2 (4 oz.) boxes instant Oreo pudding
4 cups milk
Crushed Oreos

Here's How:
1. Bake the cake according to the directions on the box in a 9x13 dish.
2. When the cake is cooked, poke the warm cake with the end of a wooden spoon.
(This is really not rocket science here!)

3. Mix the pudding packages and mix. Let the pudding sit for 2 minutes before spreading over the warm, poked cake. 

4. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Before serving, top with crushed Oreos if you want. (And believe me, you'll want!)

Serve and Enjoy!
(Although, if you don't set aside a piece for yourself, there may not be any left for you!)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

{SO} SWEET! - Eclair Cake

SWEET week continues...

I made this dessert this past weekend...
There's NONE left.

People are asking me how to make it, and I'm stalling. And not because it's a super secret, family-originated recipe.
I'm stalling because it is so simple. So simple, in fact, I almost didn't make it. I spent so few minutes and dollars on this recipe, it didn't feel 'company worthy'.

Simple. Delicious. Cheap and Luxurious all in the same dish.
Didn't know that was possible, did you??

Well, I'm not stalling anymore. Everybody needs to try this. And I bet you already have the ingredients in your pantry!

Eclair Cake
(Adapted slightly from here)

What You'll Need:
2 (3.4 oz) boxes vanilla instant pudding 
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 box of graham crackers
12 oz. whipped cream 
3 Tb. butter
3 Tb. milk
3 Tb. cocoa
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Here's How:
1. Blend milk and vanilla pudding packets for about 2 minutes. Fold in whipped cream.
2. In a 9×13 pan, layer the graham crackers to cover entire bottom of pan. (You'll need to cut and shape the crackers to fit nicely around the edges.)
3. Poor half of pudding/wipped cream mixture on top and spread evenly.
4.  Add a double layer of graham crackers to cover pudding mixture.
5. Put the second half of pudding/whipped cream mixture on top and spread evenly.
6. Put the final layer of graham crackers on top with the bumpy side down. (This will help the top look more smooth when you put the frosting on top.)   
7.  For the frosting: Microwave the butter and milk just until melted. Add the cocoa and powdered sugar and whisk together. Pour frosting over top of graham crackers and smooth out nicely.
Refrigerate overnight and prepare to AMAZE!


Monday, April 23, 2012

{SO} SWEET! - Caramel Latte Cake

This week is a very SWEET week here at 'Life And So Much More'!
I am going to share a SWEET recipe every day.

Thursday will be the SWEETest of them all...
it's a certain 'BLOGIVERSARY'!!!!!
(You should stay tuned for a SWEET giveaway!)

Today's SWEETness comes in the form of Caramel Latte Cake....


Caramel Latte Cake
(Adapted from Betty Crocker)

What You'll Need:
1 box butter cake mix
1 cup warm water
1 Tb. instant coffee granules
1/3 cup butter, melted
3 eggs
1 can (13.4 oz) dulce de leche
1/2 cup + 1 Tb  hot water
2-3 Tb instant coffee granules
1 (8 oz) container whipped cream
Unsweetened baking cocoa to dust

Here's How:
1. Heat oven to 350*. Spray the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.

2. In a large bowl, place cake mix. In a separate small bowl, mix warm water and coffee granules. Add the coffee, butter and eggs to the cake mix. Beat on low for 30 seconds and then on medium for 2 minutes. Pour batter into pan.

3. Bake as directed on box and then cool in pan on cooling rack for 15 minutes.

4. While cake is baking, spoon dulce de leche into a medium microwavable bowl. In a small bowl, mix hot water and coffee granules; stir into dulce de leche until smooth. Microwave uncovered on high 2-3 minutes. Whisk until pourable after it's heated. Set aside until cake is ready.

5. Poke semi-cooled cake every 1/2 inch with a wooden spoon handle. Pour dulce de leche mixture evenly over cake; spread evenly with a metal spatula to fill holes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen cake and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. (Mine went overnight)

6. Before you serve, spread whipped cream evenly over the top of the cold cake. Dust with cocoa powder if desired.

Serve and enjoy!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Potatoes (Grill Style)

I stumbled onto a recipe for potatoes (on the grill) from none other than, well, you know...

That website that starts with a 'P' and rhymes with 'interest'.
That website that can suck you in and give you a neck crick and back pain in no time.
Yeah, that one!

So, if you're about to get on to look for a great side to go with your grilled dinner for this weekend, let me save you the pain and the time. I found a perfect one :)

Cheesy Potatoes on the Grill

Here's What You'll Need:
4-5 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
4 Tb. grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tb. salt
Pepper to taste
4 Tb. butter
5-6 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Here's How:
1. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, onion, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

2. Transfer to greased foil pieces. I used 2 foil pieces but you could do more, making individual pockets. (I was going to do that but ran out of foil.)
3. Dot potatoes with butter. And fold foil around potato mixture, making a pocket. Grill, covered, on medium heat for 20-25 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

4. Carefully open pockets and sprinkle bacon and cheeses over potatoes. Close foil and continue to grill until cheeses are melted.

The best part is what you can't see... the crispy (slightly burnt) bottoms of the potatoes.
The original recipe said to flip your foil pockets half way through cooking.
But obviously, I wanted some crunch so we did the no-turn style!

You can see the original recipe (here). 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies (& 9 Years in the Making)

OK, it hasn't taken me 9 years of cookie-making to find the best Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.
But it is our 9th Engagement Anniversary!
And I did happen to find the BEST Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe!

Here we are 9 years ago (right after he popped the question) at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina....

Look how young (skinny and tan) we were...

I'm so glad we had family there waiting to see the ring and celebrate with us!

Oh by the way,
No digital camera 9 years ago + scanner not working tonight = a picture of a picture!

So, last year, on our 8th Engagement Anniversary, I made this.....
Joel then thought it was me 'announcing' something.
As he said, "We're pregnant?"
"Um, no, honey. Sorry, it's just a strawberry cake!"

I thought I'd try a number again this year......
He didn't ask again this year, but just in case he did, the answer is still 'no'. :)

I stopped by a rummage sale today and thought I'd 'splurge' since it's our anniversary.
I found this 'pair' of chairs and thought it was perfect to buy since we have been a  'pair' for 9 years!
1$ later and I have a pair of chairs in my garage.
(A little TLC and you won't recognize them!)
And, yes, they are missing arms! (As my husband so lovingly pointed out as he got them out of the car. )
Ha Ha

And now, the reason you're still reading...
The BEST Chocolate Chip Recipe I've ever made:

Deep Dish Cookie Pies

You can fill ramekins 1/2 full, bake and then top with ice-cream....

Or, make cookies....

And because these are sitting in front of me, calling my name, 
to get the recipe for these yummy cookies, click

I followed their recipe to the 'T'. 
To make their 'pies' into 'cookies', place tablespoons of dough on a cookie sheet and bake at 375* for 11 minutes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Toy Closet Project Complete!!!!!!!!!!

Yesterday, we took a look at what was behind Door #1.

Now join me in peeking behind Door #2!!!!!!

Toys for all the good little girls and good little boys!!!!!
(Left side)

(Right Side)

Sorry, no 'during' photos were taken of the closet, but let me remind you of the 'befores' so you get a real sense of the transformation that took place!

This was the storage closet originally....

And this was when we first moved the toys to the closet...


The top shelf holds all of the boxed games.
Below that are foam blocks, the musical instruments box and electronic games.

On the top right, you'll see more boxed games and below that shelf are some of Reese's toys. (Barbies, My Little Pony and her LEGO's.)

The lower left shelves hold the Zhu-Zhu pets and My Little People.

The middle right shelves have Baby Doll and 'doctor' boxes.

The lower right (pink) fabric bins are filled with kitchen accessories. (We're big eaters around here, even if it's play food!)

And the kitchen fits in the corner!

The middle of the closet:
Purple plastic bins hold puppets and 'cleaning';
Teal fabric bins hold puzzles;
And below with the kitchen toys is, the current favorite, Mr. Potato Head box.

And the I-need-to-be-painted table sits where you can 'eat' or play!
(I just love empty floor space!!!!)

And your question:
Does your closet really stay like that???

And my answer:
Yes! My kids love the organization. They can find any toy they want when they want it! If they play puzzles, they are very good about putting the puzzles back before getting out My Little People. I love when they sit together in the closet and play. They share and help each other clean up.

No, this did not just 'happen'. As most things with children, it took training. Sitting and playing, and showing them to clean one thing up before getting something else out- mostly with Graham.

{ The exception? When friends come over, you can play with everything if you want. :) }

I think my closets speak for me when I tell you
 I'm thankful for my Dad!!
Thankful for his hard work, his God-given talent,
his love for his family and his dedication to the Lord.