Friday, January 30, 2015

Salsa Beef Stew

Printable Recipe

Salsa Beef Stew
1 1/2 lb ground beef
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 small onion chopped
2 carrots chopped
3 cups chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can corn drained
2 cups salsa

Brown ground beef with half of the onion. Stir in chili powder. Set aside. In a large pot heat olive oil and cook remaining onion and carrots until tender, about 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, black beans, and corn. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in beef mixture. Heat through. If desired, serve with cilantro, cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips.

Serves 6

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Florida~ St. Petersburg/Clearwater

My husband recently had a work trip in Tampa so I decided to fly out at the end of the week to spend the weekend in Florida with him. My wonderful parents watched our kids for 4 nights and I am so grateful to them. They make it possible for us to go on fun trips together.

I had enough points from my rewards credit card to get my flight for free. I highly recommend getting a travel rewards credit card because you can save so much money on flying. See my post on the best travel rewards credit cards.

My husband had enough Marriott Rewards points from previous work trips to pay for two nights at a hotel so we just had to pay for one night. All we had to pay for was a rental car, one night at a hotel, food, and whatever we decided to do. All of my husband's travel was payed for.

Before I travel anywhere, I always research the area to see what kinds of things we want to do and where we want to eat while we're there. When I researched Tampa, I realized that there are a lot of things to do like museums and shopping but we mostly just wanted to go to the beach. We live in Utah so we take advantage of any opportunity we can to hit the beach!

We decided to stay in the St. Petersburg and Clearwater area so we could be closer to the beaches. We spent one day at Universal Studios Orlando, which was an hour and a half away. It was a blast! I love Universal Studios. It's definitely a must-see! The rest of the trip was mostly spent at different beaches in the area.

The beaches we went to were Clearwater Beach, Madeira Beach, Treasure Island Beach, and St. Pete Beach.
All of these beaches were so beautiful! The sand was very white and super fine. None of the beaches were too busy but it was January so it wasn't really peak season. I'm sure in the summer these beaches get pretty busy. The temperature was about 65-70 degrees so it wasn't exactly swimsuit weather but I thought the weather was perfect.

I think my favorite of all of these beaches was Madeira Beach, even though I read that Clearwater Beach was the most popular. Across the street from Madeira Beach was a place called John's Pass Boardwalk. There were lots of shops and restaurants right on the pier. It was one of my favorite places we went on our trip. It was such a fun atmosphere!

We also ate a lot of really yummy seafood while we were there. I always research restaurants and read the reviews and menus before we go on a trip. These are the restaurants that we ate at:

Frenchy's Rockaway Grille- Clearwater Beach:
This restaurant was right on the beach so it was a really fun atmosphere. A lot of people recommended this restaurant so I had high expectations. My husband and I shared a Grouper sandwich and we each had a bowl of crab soup. The soup was amazing but the sandwich was just okay. There are a few other Frenchy's locations in the area and I'm wondering if one of the other locations might be a little better.

Crabby Bills- Clearwater Beach:
My husband and I both ordered a bucket of crab legs, shrimp, mussels, and clams. I've never had mussels or clams before so it was a new experience. The mussels were good but the clams were interesting. The crab and shrimp were good but I've had better at other restaurants.

The Hut- Madeira Beach at St. John's Pass
This restaurant was right on the dock. It was such a fun experience. We had shrimp tacos and a shrimp caesar wrap. The food was okay. It was kind of generic food, nothing special. But the view was amazing, the weather was perfect, and we had so much fun.

The Oyster Shucker- St. Pete Beach
My husband and I both ordered all you can eat crab legs. Oh my goodness! They were so good! This was probably one of the best meals I've had in my life.

Chevy's Fresh Mex- Orlando
This is where we ate after Universal Studios. We usually don't like to go to chain restaurants on vacation because we like to try the local food. But we don't have a Chevy's near us so we decided to give it a try. The chips and salsa were delicious. I ordered fish tacos and they were probably the best fish tacos I've ever had. It was made with mahi mahi and topped with a pineapple salsa. Seriously so good!

Fourth Street Shrimp Store- St. Petersburg
This was probably one of the best meals of our trip. My husband and I shared a lobster and shrimp roll and peel and eat shrimp. The lobster roll had so much lobster meat and whole pieces of shrimp. It was heavenly. Peel and eat shrimp is also one of our favorite things to eat and it was so good here because it tasted so fresh. I would definitely come back here if we are ever in the area again.

This was such a fun trip! I would definitely recommend visiting this area if you've never been here. I love Florida and I love the beach. It was such a perfect little getaway!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Using credit card points is a great way to save on travel. However, if you struggle to make ends meet and you think you might not be able to pay off the balance in full, then this probably isn't the best idea for you. You don't want to go into debt just to get a cheaper flight or save some money on your vacation. If you know for sure that you're going to pay the balance in full every month, then the benefits from credit cards can be awesome. My husband was a little skeptical when I suggested this. He hates credit cards and hates debt! I told him to let me try this for a few months and if I didn't pay off the balance, he could cancel the credit card. It's been almost two years and I haven't paid a dime in interest and I've made over $2000 in travel credit!

Here are some of the best travel reward credit cards:
Barclaycard Arrival 40,000 bonus points, 2 points per dollar, receive 10% of your redeemed points back ($0 intro for the first year, $89 annual fee after first year)
Capitol One Ventures card 40,000 bonus points, 2 points per dollar ($0 intro for the first year, $59 annual fee after first year)
Chase Sapphire Preferred 40,000 bonus points, 2 points per dollar on dining, 1 point per dollar on all other purchase ($0 intro for the first year, $95 annual fee after first year)
Southwest Rapid Rewards card 25,000 bonus points, 1 point per dollar, 6,000 bonus points at your anniversary each year (sometimes they offer 50,000 bonus points) ($99 annual fee)
Alaska Airlines 25,000 bonus points, 1 point per dollar spent, coach companion fare every year for $121

The way the points convert is 40,000 points is equal to $400. With the airline specific credit cards, 50,000 points is equal to about $800.

If you don't want to fly with a certain airline, you might want to consider one of the first 4 cards. You can fly with any airline and you can also redeem your points for other travel such as hotels and car rentals. But if you know you're only going to fly with a certain airline, you might want to get that airline's credit card.

We had the Barclaycard and I really liked this card. I used my credit card for all of my purchases and paid the balance in full each month. After redeeming our credit card points, it only cost us $800 for our family of 6 to fly to Orlando! Not bad, right? We then received 10% of the points we redeemed and I used that towards our rental car. We got a mini van for 10 days and only paid about $200!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Universal Studios Orlando~ Islands of Adventure

My husband recently had a work trip in Tampa, Florida so I flew out at the end of the week and we spent the weekend in Florida together. While we were there, we decided to go to Universal Studios in Orlando, which was about an hour and a half away.

Since we were only there for a short time, we opted to just go to one park for one day. If you have more than one day, I definitely recommend going for two days or more and going to both parks. My husband and I came here for our 10th anniversary four years ago and we went to both parks. This time, we decided to go to Islands of Adventure because we liked that park a little better. But they're both amazing.

The pass we bought was $96 and it was a one day pass and could only be used in one park. It's definitely not the best deal but we were short on time so that's what we chose. If we were to upgrade to a park to park pass, it would've been $136. For the same price of $136, you can get a two day pass that's one park per day. I think that's the best deal. However, if you want to ride the new Hogwart's Express which takes you from park to park, you'll need a park to park pass. So if that's a priority to you, then you'll need to get that pass.

It's a good idea to look at crowd calendars before your trip to decide which days are the best days to go to the park. These crowd calendars are based on years of statistics so they're actually pretty accurate. Here are some links to crowd calendars:
Orlando Informer
Undercover Tourist
Touring Plans

The park is divided into sections: The Lost Continent, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon, Marvel Super Hero Island, and Suess Landing.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
This was by far my favorite part of the park. Whether or not you're a Harry Potter fan, you'll love being here! It feels like you're right in the movie. The details were amazing! It's something that you have to experience, especially if you're a die hard Harry Potter fan.

They recently opened a new area called Diagon Alley, which is located in Universal Studios. Unfortunately, we didn't get to experience it because we only went to Islands of Adventure but if it's anything like this part of the park, I'm sure it's awesome!

There are 3 different rides in this section of the park. They are Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Dragon Challenge, and Flight of the Hippogriff. They were all so much fun but my favorite was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The line goes through the caste and it looks just like it does in the movie. Even the pictures hanging on the wall move! The ride itself is so much fun because you're flying with Harry Potter and it feels so real. The effects are amazing!

You can also go to the gift shops and buy Harry Potter memorabilia such as wands, shirts, candy, etc. We tried Butterbeer for the first time. It was good but it was a little overpriced for what it was. But that is to be expected in a theme park, right?

Jurassic Park
We loved Jurassic Park! There are only two rides in this section of the park. They are Pteranadon Flyers, which is only for kids, and Jurassic Park River Adventure. They also have a section with interactive activities that remind me a lot of the movie. (We just happened to watch the movie a few weeks before we came here.)

Suess Landing
This is the only section of the park with kiddie rides. It was so cute! Just like you're walking through the pages of every Dr. Suess book. So much fun!

Marvel Super Hero Island
This was a really fun part of the park. My boys would love it! Everything is super heroes! There are four rides here. The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, Doctor Doom's Fearfall, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, and Storm Force Accelatron. My favorite was the Spiderman ride. It's in 3D and it feels so real.

Toon Lagoon
This section of the park is comic book and cartoon characters. It's really cute! There are only two rides and they're both water rides. We decided to ride one of them even though it was a little chilly that day. I'm not sure if it was the best idea. It was so much fun but we got soaked! It took us forever to dry off. They had drying machines that you could use but they cost $5! Kind of a rip off, in my opinion. But the ride was really fun even if we were cold for the rest of the day.

Overall, I really loved this park. I am a huge Disney fan and this park is the closest theme park to the way a Disney park feels. It felt magical just like Disney. But I still prefer Disney to Universal Studios and this is why. Both parks cost a small fortune but at the Disney parks I always feel like I'm getting special treatment. Here I felt like they were just trying to get more money out of me. For example, at the Disney parks, fast passes are included with your park tickets. It's on a first come first serve basis, but everyone has access to them. At Universal, you can purchase an Express Pass that will allow you to wait in certain lines that will put you in front of everyone else. Prices for an Express Pass start at $34.99 and go up to $59.99 depending on the option you choose. We also sat through a magic show that felt more like a sales pitch. The tricks he showed us were really cool but I felt like they just wanted our money. When I spend this much money to go to a theme park, I don't like feeling like I have to spend more. But it is a really fun park and I would definitely go here again. 

If you have small children, I would probably recommend waiting until they're a little older to take them here. Almost all of the rides have height requirements so you would be spending the majority of your time in Suess Landing and you would have to get child swap passes. I'm sure my four year old would love Suess Landing but there's not much more she would be able to ride. If I'm going to spend that much money, I want to make sure my kids can enjoy everything.

This place is awesome and I can't wait until I can take my kids here. They will love it! Especially my son who is a huge Harry Potter fan.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Meatball Soup

Printable Recipe

Meatball Soup
1 egg
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
2 Tbsp minced fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried thyme, divided
2 1/2 tsp salt, divided
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 medium carrots, sliced
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 lbs red potatoes, cubed (about 6-8 small)
4 cups beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained

Preheat oven to 450. In a medium bowl, combine egg, bread crumbs, half of the thyme, and 1/2 tsp salt. Crumble beef over mixture and mix well. Shape into 1 inch balls. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until no longer pink. Drain on paper towels.

Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions, carrots, and mushrooms. Saute until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in potatoes, broth, tomatoes, remaining thyme, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until potatoes or tender. Add meatballs and simmer.

Serves 6-8

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

Chicken Pot Pie is a favorite in our house. So when I saw this recipe for Chicken Pot Pie Soup, I knew I had to try it! The soup is delicious by itself but it's so much better when you add the pie crust. It tastes just like a chicken pot pie.

Printable Recipe

Chicken Pot Pie Soup
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/4 cup all purpose flour
4-5 cups chicken broth
1 cup half & half
1 cup milk
2 carrots, sliced
1 head broccoli, chopped
4 cups potatoes, chopped
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 lb chicken, cooked and diced
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (plus additional cheese for garnish)
*1 refrigerated pie crust (for pie crust strips)

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and celery and cook about 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Slowly add broth, half & half, milk, broccoli, potatoes, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Use a whisk to combine. Heat over medium heat until veggies are cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. Add the cooked chicken. Add cheese and stir until melted. Serve topped with additional cheese and pie crust strips.

*To make pie crust strips, unroll pie crust and cut into strips. Lay on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake at 450 for 6-8 minutes, until lightly browned.

Recipe adapted from Shugary Sweets

Friday, January 9, 2015

Caramel Brownies

These brownies are a family favorite. Chocolate and caramel is one of my very favorite flavor combinations. I always keep these ingredients on hand so I can make these brownies whenever I need to make a dessert. They are so easy to make and they're so delicious!

Printable Recipe

Caramel Brownies
11 oz bag of caramel bits or 11 oz package of caramels, unwrapped
2/3 cup evaporated milk, divided
1 box German chocolate cake mix
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Combine caramels and 1/3 cup evaporated milk and melt over low heat. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix the cake mix, remaining 1/3 cup evaporated milk, and butter. Mix until very thick. Grease a 13x9 baking pan. Press half of the cake batter onto the bottom of the pan. Bake at 350 for 6-10 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Pour caramel mixture over the top and crumble the remaining batter on top. Return to oven and bake for 15-18 minutes. Cool in refrigerator and cut into squares. 

Makes 24 brownies

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Planning The Perfect Vacation

Now that it's January, I'm starting to get the itch to go on vacation. Especially to somewhere warm! My family loves to go on vacation and I love to plan our vacations. I spend so many hours researching the best deals and finding things to do while we're there. My friends are always asking me for tips on vacation planning so I decided to share my tips here. Whether you're going on a family vacation, a trip with your spouse, or just going with friends, these tips will help you plan the perfect vacation!

1. Where To Go
When deciding where to go, the first thing to consider is your budget. I would love to go to Disneyland or Disney World every 6 months but that's just not in the budget. Plus I think my husband would get really sick of Disney! Having said that, some of my favorite vacations (besides Disney) have been the more low-key inexpensive vacations.

Some other things to consider are what type of vacation you want. Do you want to go somewhere warm? Do you want to be busy the whole time or do you want to relax? How far do you want to go? Are you going to fly or drive? What time of the year are you going? Do you want to stay in a hotel or a condo or vacation rental? Are you going to eat out or cook your own meals?

2. Where To Stay
Once you figure out where you're going, you'll need to find a place to stay. I usually check most of these sites, if not all when I'm booking a vacation. I've been able to find some great deals with the following websites.
Any employee of the government (local, city, state, federal, retired) can book through this website. There are some great deals on this site. All of the resorts here are the same resorts that could be booked through RCI or a similar timeshare. All of their Space A resorts are $349 for a week and sometimes they have sales which makes it even less than that! But you might have to go during the off season. Watch for their buy one get one free sale at the end of the summer. Last year we booked a resort for a week in October and got another week free in November at a different resort. They were both in Utah so we didn't go far but it was fun to have two mini vacations and only spend $349 total., Vacasa, VRBO
All three of these websites have vacation rentals that are listed by the owners. I've seen some really good deals on these websites. A few years ago we used Vacasa to book an 8 occupancy vacation rental right on beach in Oregon for about $850 a week. That's a great deal considering we were right on the beach.

If you own a timeshare, this is a great place to book vacation rentals. I'm not saying to rush out and buy a timeshare. We've sat through timeshare presentations and they always seem like a good deal. But once we realized how much we spend on vacations vs how much we would pay for maintenance fees we came to the conclusion that the way we're vacationing is a more affordable option for us. But we do have access to RCI and we use their Extra Vacations to book a lot of our vacation rentals. It's definitely a great way to go if you have access.
Groupon Getaways
Groupon has a lot of hotels and vacation rentals for a discounted rate. There's even all-inclusive resorts including a flight from a designated airport. 

Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity
All of these websites are great for finding hotels. I always compare all of these sites before booking a hotel.

3. Flying vs Driving
When deciding whether to fly or drive there are many things to consider: the cost of the flight, the cost of a rental car, the price of gas, how far you're going, etc. We usually drive when we travel within the western U.S. but I've realized that flying can be affordable if you know how to plan it. See my posts on flying for less money and getting a good deal on a rental car.

4. What to do while you're there
One of my favorite things about traveling is going to new cities and doing things I've never done before. When I go to a new city, I like to be prepared and I like to feel like I know the place before I get there. So I spend a lot of time researching the city and finding things to do.

This is how I do it:

Trip Advisor
I love this website. They list everything to do in any city ranked in order of popularity. I always read the reviews to find out what other people had to say as well. I also look up restaurants on this site to find out where to eat while we're on our trip. Then I go to the restaurants' websites and look at their menus. That way we know what we want to eat before we go and we're not just driving around aimlessly looking for somewhere to eat and hoping that it's good.

I always check the groupons that are available for the city that we're traveling to. Sometimes they have some really fun activities for half the price! We've also bought groupons to restaurants before we've gone on a trip.
My husband and I went to Florida for our 10th anniversary and we bought a bunch of certificates from We paid about $3 for each one and then we had to spend a certain amount at each restaurant. It was essentially like getting one meal free. It was a great way to eat out and save some money.

The city's website
If you look up the city you're going to there will be a list of things to do while you're there. Sometimes there will be special events going on during your trip.

I hope all of these tips help you plan your next vacation. If you have any questions or additional tips, please feel free to leave a comment. Have fun planning! 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Citrus Pulled Pork Tacos

We love Mexican food at our house! These tacos were so delicious. The orange and lime give it a light citrus flavor. Yummy!

Printable Recipe

Citrus Pulled Pork Tacos
1 pork loin (2 lbs), cut into 3" chunks
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp chipotle chili powder (I used regular chili powder)
1 tsp cumin
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp honey
juice of 1 orange
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper
corn tortillas or flour tortillas, warmed
garnishes: lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole, salsa

Preheat oven to 325. In a dutch oven combine pork, spices, onion, garlic, chicken broth, tomato paste, honey, orange juice, and lime juice. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer. Transfer to oven and cook, covered, until pork is tender and shreds easily, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Remove meat onto a cutting board. Set the dutch oven over medium heat and reduce until liquid becomes slightly syrupy, about 5-10 minutes. Shred meat and return to dutch oven. Allow pork to soak up liquid. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in tortillas with desired garnishes.

Serves 6-8

Recipe adapted from Real Mom Kitchen
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...