Sunday, February 22, 2015

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Bars

I love these cookie bars! They taste just like chocolate chip cookies but they're so much easier to make. This is my go-to recipe anytime I need to make a dessert. I always have all of the ingredients and I can whip up a batch in no time!

Printable Recipe

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Bars
2 1/8 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips (Any kind you like. I used half milk chocolate and half white chocolate)

Preheat oven to 325. Move oven rack to the lower-middle position. Mix together flour, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together butter and sugars. Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. With a rubber spatula, fold in dry ingredients. Do not overmix. Add chocolate chips. Line a 9x13 baking pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. Pour cookie mixture into pan. Press down so it's even on top. Bake for 24-28 minutes, until lightly brown on top.

Makes 24 bars

Recipe adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios is a really fun park with such a fun atmosphere. It kind of reminds me of California Adventure at Disneyland. But if I have to choose, I think I like California Adventure a little better mostly because there's a little more variety there. At Hollywood Studios, the theme throughout the whole park was the same. Most of the rides and attractions are based on movies. But having said that, we definitely had a great time here and I'm sure we'll come back some day.

Here are some highlights of Hollywood Studios:

We loved all of the rides here. My favorite was Tower of Terror. My boys loved Rock 'n' Roller Coaster with Aerosmith. We also loved Star Tours, Toy Story Midway Mania, and The Great Movie Ride.
Fast Pass +
The Fast Pass+ is tiered so you can pick one from the first group and two from the second group.

Group A:
Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster
Toy Story Mania
The Great Movie Ride

Group B
Disney Junior - Live on Stage!
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!
Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
Muppet Vision 3D
Star Tours
For the First Time in Forever - A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Voyage of the Little Mermaid

From Group A, I would recommend picking either Rock 'n' Roller Coaster or Toy Story Mania and getting in line early in the day for the other ride. If you're kids aren't into big roller coasters, I would definitely go for Toy Story Mania. That's a really fun ride and you'll probably want to ride it more than once. The line always gets really long for this ride. However, we got in line for Toy Story Mania at the very end of the day and we only had to wait about a half hour and the wait time that was posted was over an hour.

From Group B, we picked Star Tours and Tower of Terror.

Try to schedule your fast passes as early in the day as you can. Once you've used your 3rd fast pass+, you can go to any kiosk in the park and book another. You can keep doing this as long as you've used it or your allotted time frame is expired. After we got off a ride, we checked the wait times on the My Disney Experience app to see which ride had the longest wait. Then we went to a kiosk and booked a fast pass+ for that ride. We did this multiple times throughout the day and it decreased our wait time by a significant amount. Keep in mind that the fast passes for some of the more popular rides go fast so you probably won't be able to book them at the kiosk. That's why it's important to book them as your original fast pass+.

There are a lot of really fun shows at Hollywood Studios. We loved the Lights, Motors, Action stunt show! We also loved Muppet Vision 3D which is also at California Adventure. One of my favorites was the Voyage of the Little Mermaid. It was a live show with Ariel and all of her friends singing all of the songs form The Little Mermaid. It definitely took me back to my childhood and my kids also loved it! Unfortunately these were the only shows we saw because my kids just wanted to ride rides.

I've heard that the Indiana Jones stunt show and the Beauty and the Beast show are also really good. The Frozen sing along was not at Hollywood Studios when we were there but I can guarantee that we would see it if we were there now.

Hollywood Studios has all of the main Disney characters like Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, and Chip n Dale. They also have a lot of the Disney Jr. characters like Sofia the First. My 4 year old was so excited to meet her and then she didn't say a word when she finally got to meet her. My 8 year old was really excited to meet Sorcerer Mickey. This is the only park at Disney World that you get to meet him. My kids also met Phineas and Ferb and that was a huge highlight for them.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Chicken Enchilada Pasta

When I first saw this recipe I was a little skeptical. I love Mexican food and I love Italian food but I wasn't sure about combining the two. I was a little hesitant to make this but I am so glad I did. It was so delicious and packed with flavor.

Printable Recipe

Chicken Enchilada Pasta
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 lb chicken, cooked and shredded
1 can (4 oz) diced green chiles
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
2 (10 oz) cans green enchilada sauce
2/3 cup red enchilada sauce
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 pkg (16 oz) penne pasta

chopped avocado
sliced green onions
sliced olives
chopped tomatoes
sour cream

Cook pasta according to directions on package; drain and set aside. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and red bell pepper and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes. Stir in chicken, green chiles, salt, chili powder, cumin, and green and red enchilada sauce. Reduce heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes. Add cheese and stir until melted. Stir in sour cream until mixed well and heated through. Pour sauce over pasta and mix well. Serve with desired toppings.

Serves 6-8

Recipe adapted from Pearls, Handcuffs, and Happy Hour

Thursday, February 19, 2015


I really liked Epcot but it wasn't my kids' favorite park. There aren't a lot of big rides here and most of the things here are geared towards older kids or adults. But I think Disney has done a great job in making the things that are here a little more kid friendly. To me, Epcot didn't have the same magical feeling that the other parks have. But it definitely was a fun place to go.

Here are some of the highlights of Epcot:

World Showcase
I really loved World Showcase. There are 11 different countries represented in World Showcase and it was so fun to walk from country to country. I really felt like I was actually in that country. I could've stayed there all day because it was such a fun atmosphere but my kids were kind of bored because there are no thrill rides in World Showcase. You can meet a lot of characters in Epcot so that's a great way to keep the kids entertained. There's also an activity for kids called Agent P's World Showcase Adventure where they get to be spies like Agent P.

Our favorite rides were Soarin', Test Track, and Mission Space. We also thought The Seas With Nemo and Friends was really cute. It was a lot like the Ariel ride in Caifornia Adventure and Magic Kingdom. Turtle Talk with Crush was also really fun but it's more of a show than a ride. The rest of the rides were more educational.

International Flower and Garden Festival
If you go in the springtime, you can be there during the flower and garden festival. This was one of my favorite things about Epcot so I would definitely recommend going in the spring. They have topiaries made out of almost every Disney character. It was so fun to look at all of them and take lots of pictures.
Club Cool
This was a fave for sure! In this store, you can get free samples of Coke products from all over the world. It was a hot day so we kept going back. My kids were in heaven because they could drink as much soda as they wanted!

There are a lot of characters to meet at Epcot. You can meet the main Disney characters like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald. You can also meet a lot of the Disney princesses in the country they're from. My favorite character was Mary Poppins in England. My 6 year old asked her to say "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" backwards and she did! Then she said, "Now I do think that's going a bit far, don't you think? Come along children. Spit spot!" I was loving it! She was totally in character and she made our experience so much fun. I also loved Aurora in France and the way she interacted with my girls. My oldest son's favorite character was Duffy the Bear because he's a big fan.

Fast Pass+ recommendations
The fast passes here are tiered so you can choose one from the first group and two from the second.

Group A:
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth
Test Track
Living with the Land

Group B:
Captain EO
Journey Into Imagination With Figment
Mission Space
Spaceship Earth
The Seas With Nemo and Friends
Turtle Talk with Crush
Epcot Chracter Spot

I would recommend getting a fast pass+ for either Soarin' or Test Track from group A and getting in line for the other ride as early as possible when you get to the park. Both of those lines get long pretty fast. This didn't work out for us because our shuttle didn't get us there until a while after the park opened. So we had to wait in line for about an hour at the end of the day for Test Track. But it was worth it because it was a pretty awesome ride.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Beef Taquitos

Printable Recipe

Beef Taquitos
1 1/2 lb ground beef
3/4 cup onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup salsa
3 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
fajita size flour tortillas
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

Brown ground beef with onion and garlic; drain. Stir in salsa, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Warm the tortillas in the microwave until pliable, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Place meat mixture in the center of each tortilla. Top with cheese. Roll up the tortillas and place seamside down on prepared baking sheet. Spray taquitos with cooking spray. Bake for 8-12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve with salsa.

Serves 6-8

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Disney World Tips

Last year we took our kids to Disney World for the first time. We have been to Disneyland 3 times with our kids but this was our first time going to Disney World. Since I had never been before, I did A LOT of research before our trip. It kind of took over my life for a while! It really paid off because I felt like I knew the park inside and out. We had such a perfect trip!

Whether you're going for the first time or you've been before, I hope these tips will help you plan a magical trip to Disney World!

When to go?
Typically, the best time to go is the same for Disney World and Disneyland. September usually has less crowds. October, November, and December are great with the exception of Thanksgiving week and right before and after Christmas. January and February are usually less busy but a lot of rides are closed for refurbishment (check the Disney website to see which rides are closed). We went the end of April to the beginning of May and it was a great time to go.

There are a few different websites that have crowd calendars that tell you how busy the parks will be on specific days. They use years of statistics to come up with these calendars so they're pretty accurate.

The first crowd calendar I looked at was at Your First Visit. This website has a calendar for the whole year and tells you what the crowd levels will be for each week. They even have the weeks ranked in order from best week to worst week.

Touring Plans is a great website with a very accurate crowd calendar. If you want full access to the crowd calendar, you can subscribe for 1 year for $12.95. They will also create a touring plan for you to do everything you want to do in the most efficient way possible. If you want to view the crowd calendar for free, make sure you look 30-60 days before your trip. They only show 30-60 days from the current date for free. To see more than that, you have to subscribe.

Some other crowd calendars that I also like are Easy WDW, Dad's Guide to Walt Disney World, and Undercover Tourist.

I checked all of these calendars and compared each one to decide which days we would go to each park.
Where to stay?
There are a lot of lodging options in Orlando so it kind of depends on your preference. Do you want to stay in a Disney hotel or stay off-site? The advantage of staying in a Disney hotel is you're very close and you have easier access to the parks. But they're a little more expensive than staying in some of the off-site hotels.

We booked an extra vacation through RCI and it only cost $349 for a week. Our condo also had a shuttle that took us to the parks. The downside was that the shuttle only came at certain times and we couldn't get to the park as early as I would've liked to. But it was a sacrifice we were willing to make since our lodging was so much cheaper. Plus we didn't have to pay for parking at the parks.

How many days to go/which parks to go to?
If you've never been before I would recommend going to each park at least once. So you would need at least a 4 day pass. There are 4 parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. They also have a few water parks which we have never been to. I did a post for each park so I could talk about each park in detail:

Magic Kingdom
Hollywood Studios
Animal Kingdom

Park hoppers are more expensive than one park per day tickets. In my opinion, I think the one park per day tickets are better options because a) it's cheaper, and b) Disney World is so big that it would take a lot of time park hopping.

The advantage of park hopping is you can go to another park if the park you're at closes early. Or maybe you're planning on going to each park once and you want to park hop on your last day.

We bought 5 day one park per day tickets and I thought it was perfect. We went to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom once and we went to Magic Kingdom twice. 

Fast Pass+
Disney World has a fairly new fast pass system. It was implemented in the park about a year ago and all guests can have access to it. It is different than the paper fast pass system at Disneyland. The Fast Pass+ is used electronically. You can book your fast passes 30 days in advance if you're staying off-site and have park tickets and 60 days in advance if you're staying at a Disney hotel. You book them through the My Disney Experience page or on the app. You can pick 3 fast passes in a day and you can choose from most rides, shows, and character experiences. After you've used your 3rd fast pass+ you can go to any kiosk in the park and book another fast pass+. Once you've completed that one, you can choose another, and so on.

I really liked this new system. It was so nice to know that all of my fast passes were already booked when I got to the park and I didn't have to run around getting paper fast passes and then returning when it was time to ride. We were able to walk onto so many rides using the fast pass+.

Magic Bands
If you stay in a Disney hotel, your Magic Band is included with your tickets. If you're staying off-site, you have to pay extra if you want a Magic Band. You can use a Magic Band as your park tickets, fast passes, room key, and you can also link it to your credit card for purchases at the park. We stayed off-site and did not purchase Magic Bands. I didn't feel like they are totally necessary. Our tickets were also used as our fast passes so I felt like we had everything we needed. But a lot of people really like them so it's all about your preferences.

How old should your kids be?
I think Disney World is fun for all ages but I would recommend going if your child is at least 40" tall. My youngest was barely 40" and she was tall enough for almost all of the rides except one or two in each park. She also was at the perfect age for all of the magic of Disney. She wanted to meet every character, see every show, and she loved every ride. She rode on Tower of Terror 4 times!

If your child is smaller than 40" they can still have a great time. Just plan on splitting up and using the child swap pass so you're whole family can ride. I've taken my kids to Disneyland at 10 months, 20 months, and almost 3 and it was always so much fun for the kids even though they don't remember it. I remember seeing the look on their faces and to me it was priceless!

Disney World vs Disneyland
A lot of people have asked me which I like better, Disney World or Disneyland. After going to both parks, I feel like it is totally even. I love them both! There were things that I like better about Disney World but there are also things I like better about Disneyland. Disney World is huge! It's like its own city. A lot of people like that it is so big and you feel so removed from real life. Disneyland is all close together. You can easily walk from Disneyland to California Adventure. I like that about Disneyland but it all just depends on your preference.

Other Tips

*Prepare for rain: Florida weather is unpredictable. I had read many things about being prepared for rain before our trip and unfortunately I didn't follow through. It ended up raining 3 of the 5 days at Disney World. Not just a little rain. It rained all day! We only had two rain ponchos and we had to share, holding them above our heads as we ran through the park. I'm sure it was quite the sight! We ended up buying rain ponchos before our last day but I wish we would've had them the whole time. The good thing about the rain was the lines were super short. We were able to ride everything multiple times.

*Plan some down time: Disney World can be exhausting and you definitely need some time to recover in between days at the park. We were there for a total of ten days so we planned a swimming or beach day in between each day at the park. We also spent some time at Downtown Disney and Disney's Boardwalk. Both of these places were really fun! If your schedule allows, you definitely need to plan some time to relax.

*Wear good shoes: You're going to be walking A LOT so it's good to wear shoes that you can walk in. I'm actually more comfortable in flip flops so that's what I wore the whole time and that worked out perfect, especially since it rained the whole time!

*Bring lunch and snacks: Disney food can be really expensive so it's a good idea to bring your own. It's fun to buy a few snacks here and there but if you buy every meal and snack at the park, you'll go broke!

*Hit the beach: I love the ocean so I take advantage of every opportunity I can to see it. Daytona Beach is about an hour to the east and we love that beach! If you want to go to the west coast of Florida and see the Gulf of Mexico, Clearwater is also a great area. There are a lot of really cool beaches there and it's about 1 1/2 hours from Orlando.

*Buy Disney gift cards: Before our trip I bought some Disney gift cards from Smith's to pay for our food while we were there. I bought the gift cards while they were doing 4x fuel rewards points so I saved some extra money on gas. See my post How I Save Money on Gas.

*Have a plan but be flexible: It's a great idea to go in with a plan. Know which rides you want to ride first and which attractions are a priority. But things don't always go as planned so you need to be flexible. Maybe you don't get there as early as you'd like to, or maybe it rains all day. (Both of these things happened to us!) Don't get upset when things don't go as planned. You gotta just go with it. You're in the happiest place on earth and you need to enjoy just being there!

If you're interested in planning a Disney World vacation, contact Mandy at 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Buttermilk Syrup

This is called Buttermilk syrup but I think it should be called caramel syrup because it tastes just like homemade caramel. It's so delicious! This syrup can be served with pancakes, waffles, or french toast and it's perfect for breakfast on Valentine's Day or Christmas morning. 

Printable Recipe

Buttermilk Syrup
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla

In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Stir in sugar and buttermilk and bring to a boil. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. Remove from heat. It will be really bubbly so let stand for a few minutes until the bubbles go down. Serve with french toast, pancakes, or waffles.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Costa Vida Sweet Pork Burritos

There are a lot of different recipes for Costa Vida burritos and salads floating around the internet. I've tried a few different variations and I have to say that this one is by far the closest to the original. Costa Vida is one of my favorite restaurant so I'm so glad I found this recipe that's so similar.

Costa Vida Sweet Pork Burritos
Sweet pork (recipe below)
Cilantro-lime rice (recipe below)
Garlic black beans (recipe below)
large flour tortillas
Green enchilada sauce (recipe below)
monterey jack cheese, shredded
shredded lettuce
chopped tomatoes

Sweet Pork:
3 lbs boneless pork ribs
3 cans coke, divided
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, divided
dash garlic salt
1/4 cup water
1 can diced green chiles
3/4 (10 oz) can red enchilada sauce

In a large ziploc bag, combine pork, a can and a half of coke, and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Marinade for a few hours or overnight.

Drain marinade and place pork in crock pot. Add 1/2 can of coke, garlic salt, and 1/4 cup of water. Cook on high for about 3 hours or low for 5-6 hours. Remove meat from crock pot and shred. Drain liquid. 

In a food processor or blender, blend together remaining 1/2 can of coke, green chiles, enchilada sauce, and remaining 1 cup brown sugar. Put pork back in crock pot. Cover with sauce. Cook on low heat for 2 hours.

Cilantro-Lime Rice:
1 cup uncooked long grain white rice
1 tsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp lime juice
1 can (15 oz) chicken broth
1 cup water
1 Tbsp lime juice
2 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro

Combine rice, butter, garlic, 1 tsp lime juice, chicken broth, and water. Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove from heat. Combine remaining 1 Tbsp lime juice, sugar, and cilantro. Pour over rice and mix as you fluff rice.

Garlic Black Beans:
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup tomato juice
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro

In a small saucepan, combine olive oil, garlic, and cumin. Cook over medium heat until fragrant. Add black beans, tomato juice, and salt. Cook until heated through. Stir in cilantro just before serving.

Green Enchilada Sauce:
1 can diced green chiles
7 oz can salsa verde
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

To assemble burritos, place a scoop of pork, rice, and beans inside the tortilla. Top with monterey jack cheese. Roll up burrito tightly. Top with enchilada sauce and more cheese. Place in the oven at 450 until cheese is melted or place in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute until cheese is melted. Serve with lettuce, tomatoes, and guacamole.

Serves 8

Recipe adapted from Favorite Family Recipes

If you like this recipe, you might also like Costa Vida Sweet Pork Salad.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

My Favorite At-Home Workouts

My goal this year is to hit the gym more. So far... I'm failing! I haven't even made it to the gym once! It's just so hard to find time. The only time that works for me is in the evening and I'm finding that as my kids get older, we're so busy in the evenings and it just doesn't work out with our schedule.

So I compiled a list of all of my favorite at-home workouts that I found on Pinterest. All of these are a really good workout and they can be done whenever you have the time. I like to do these exercises while I watch TV.  You can catch up on your favorite shows and workout at the same time. It's a win-win! Hopefully this will motivate all of us to exercise a little more!

Cardio/Strengh Workout

How to get Jennifer Aniston's abs

At Home Crossfit Workout

Killer Legs

Six-Pack March (Or any month)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cheeseburger Soup

Printable Recipe

Cheeseburger Soup
1 lb ground beef
3 Tbsp butter, divided
3/4 cup onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley
4 cups chicken broth
5 cups potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup sour cream

Brown the ground beef in a large pot. Drain and set aside. In the same pot melt 1 Tbsp butter. Add onion, carrots, celery, basil, and parsley. Saute until tender. Add broth, potatoes, and beef and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are tender. In a small skillet, melt remaining 2 Tbsp butter and add the flour. Cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until bubbly. Add to the soup and bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Stir in the cheese, milk, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir until cheese melts. Stir in sour cream. Serve topped with additional cheese.

Serves 6

Recipe adapted from The Recipe Critic

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chicken Nachos

Printable Recipe

Chicken Nachos

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Cheese Sauce:
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

tortilla chips
beans, heated through (any kind)

diced tomatoes
sour cream
Spray crock pot with cooking spray. Place chicken in crock pot. Top with lime juice, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and cilantro. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours.
For cheese sauce melt butter in a large saucepan. Add flour and stir to make a roux. Slowly stir in milk. Heat to a boil; reduce heat to medium and stir continuously until sauce is thickened. Stir in shredded cheese and stir until melted. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve chips topped with chicken mixture and cheese sauce. Top with beans, tomatoes, olives, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.

Serves 6
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