Monday, April 30, 2012

Putting Your Best Face Forward

Part of being a woman in this culture is being concerned about youth and beauty.  Fortunately,  looking young has yet to be an issue for me.  However, I do agonize over looking good for my husband on almost a daily basis.  Maybe it’s the 25 lbs. I gained after we got married, but I never want to feel like I’ve gotten lazy when it comes to my appearance.  I want my hubby to always find me attractive.
When it comes to beauty regiments, there are two issues that daunt me: time and money.  There was a time when I would wake up an hour and a half early just to make sure that my hair and makeup were perfect and that my belt, bag, and shoes matched… then I graduated from high school.  Today, I am all about “low-maintenance”.
Let me preface the following information with this disclaimer: I am not and have never been a cosmetologist, makeup artist, or beauty consultant.  I am just a woman who likes to find simple ways to accentuate my best features while still looking natural.  So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite beauty products!
Recently, I experienced a breakout due to an allergic reaction which left me with acne that was worse than anything I experienced as a teen.  I tried everything to calm my irritated skin, and then I remembered how well Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser worked for me in the past.  Let me just say, this was a life saver!  For less than $8, it completely cleared my skin, and it leaves my skin feeling exceptionally soft!  I also love how well this product balances my combination skin. As an added bonus, I think it smells really nice. 

Another product I love is St. Ives Apricot Scrub.  It’s great to use in the winter for dry patches, but it also helps lighten acne scars.  I also like to use this product prior to getting a spray tan.  This product is less than $4.

If I had to splurge somewhere in this step, it would be the moisturizer.  I absolutely love Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel.  Again, this is a great product for balancing combination skin.  Even better, it leaves your skin feeling smooth instead of sticky!  My husband has even been known to grab this moisturizer in place of aloe to treat a peeling sunburn.  A small bottle will cost you $13, but a little goes a long way.  However, you could wait to buy this during Clinique “gift” time and walk away with a makeup bag filled with quality freebies (which is what I like to do)!

I am very particular about my foundation.  This is another beauty product I believe should be purchased with quality in mind.  I prefer Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra.  Not only does this product feel like you’re wearing nothing at all, but it has superior coverage to every other foundation I have ever tried.  It will cost you $44, but I promise it is worth every penny.  On the bright side, you really don’t need press powder with this product.  You can purchase the “Fresh Wear” version with SPF 15 for $34 though.   This is another product that you can save for “gift” time with Lancôme too! 

I love playing with makeup, and I have always felt that when it comes to color, you can afford to be cheap.  I will say that the more expensive the product, the more highly concentrated the pigment is, so you won’t need as much of it.  You can make the most of the pigment in a cheap product by purchasing a quality primer though. 
I have relatively sensitive eyes, and the best mascara I have found for my sensitivity that also lasts all day and is easy to remove is Avon Wash-Off Waterproof Mascara.  This will cost $6.50 when it’s not on sale.  If you don’t know an Avon representative, have no fear.  You can be matched with a representative in your area online, and many representatives are opening their own Avon stores.

My favorite drug store eyeliner is NYC (New York Color) Classic Brow/Liner Pencil for $1!  It applies very smoothly, and it is great for smudging into a smoky eye look.  It also removes very easily.
Eye shadow and lipstick are areas I like to experiment in.  My favorite brands of eye shadow are Avon and Cover Girl.  My favorite brands of lipstick are Avon and Wet ‘n Wild.
While I think blush is a necessary for a finished look, I’m not very picky about the brand.  However, I do normally buy Avon or Cover Girl for this product too.

Et Cetera:  
I highly recommend using Dove products for bathing, whether it be the bar soap, body wash, or hair care products.  Everything they say about Dove leaving no residue is completely true! 

When it comes to my nails, I refuse to buy anything but OPI nail polish anymore despite the $8.50 price tag.  Also, the trick to keeping your nails looking good for a long time is a good top coat.

Also, I love Curél Continuous Comfort lotion.  While this product is sold in limited locations, it will likely cost you less than $10 for a 16.25 Fl. Oz. container.  You could also try their Daily Moisture lotion as well.

You can also save yourself a few dollars by investing in a pedicure set with pumice stone and foot rasp instead of spending $20 or more every other week at a salon.

Additional Notes:
I am still looking for the perfect sunscreen, although I’ve been wanting to try Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock.

In addition, I am also trying to find the best hair products for my budget, although I've heard great things about Redken Water Wax 03 Shine Defining Pomade.

Lastly, your makeup is only as good as the tools you apply it with.  I have had my brush set for so long that I couldn't begin to guess what brand it is or which store it came from.  However, I can tell you that I have heard nothing but good things about ELF (Eyes Lips Face) brand brushes.  You can buy them for $1 each or the entire collection for $12.  That's a steal!  Otherwise, stick to natural hair brushes over synthetic.

I hope that you found some of these suggestions helpful.  Simplifying your beauty treatments and consolidating your cosmetic collection will be sure to improve your morning routine as well as boost your confidence... and may even give your man whiplash!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Family First

This weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time with family members that I haven’t seen for a very long time.  In fact, I think that it’s been 4 years since we’d all been in the same room together last.  In honor of this landmark event, I made a new dessert of my own creation: Strawberry White Chocolate Tea Cakes.
Basically, I was just looking for a creative way to use a box of Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Strawberry Supreme Cake Mix.  I was inspired by a few posts I’d seen on Pinterest (one for tea cakes and one for candied strawberries), and I thought I would add my own personal twist.


*1 box strawberry cake mix and ingredients listed on box
*White chocolate chips or Hershey Bliss White Chocolate Meltaways
*Cupcake wrappers

*3 ½ cups powdered sugar
*1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
*4 tbsp. sweetened condensed milk
*1 tbsp. vanilla

*¼ light cup corn syrup
*2 cups sugar
*1 cup water
*Straw­ber­ries (about 12)
*Wax paper

Combine the ingredients for the cupcakes and either mix in ½ bag of white chocolate chips or stick 1 white chocolate meltaway in the center vertically.  Either way, only fill the cupcakes approximately – ¾ full.  Bake at 325° for 25 minutes.  An alternative to the strawberry cake mix would be using a white (not angel food) cake mix with 1 can of strawberry soda and 3 egg whites).
Meanwhile, combine powdered sugar, butter, condensed milk, and vanilla for the frosting. 
While the frosting is softening, rinse and dry the strawberries thoroughly.  Cut berries in half lengthwise.  Bring corn syrup, sugar, and water to boil over medium-high heat.  Have a cooking thermometer on hand that reads up to 300°.  Stir the mixture only until ingredients are dissolved (this will happen by the time you reach 100°).  Then, resist the urge to stir any more no matter how much it boils to avoid crystallization.  My stove only allowed me to bring the temperature up to 225°, but the optimal temperature is 295°.  When the mixture reaches your target heat, remove the pot from the burner immediately and begin dipping the strawberries individually with the skewers.  Lay out to cool on wax paper.  See for the original recipe.
When your cupcakes have cooled completely, apply the frosting with a piping bag or use an all purpose spreader.  Place a candied strawberry half on top and secure with a toothpick if needed.
You may refrigerate prior to serving, but this is not necessary.  If the finished product looks like this, you can pat yourself on the back.
Since we went out to eat on Friday and my parents hosted dinner Saturday, I had to save the cooking at home for Sunday.  We opted for another meal with planned leftovers because it’s going to be a very busy week for us… Well, at least for me.  I decided to make Chicken & Rice Casserole.  This is another hybrid meal featuring a little of my mom and the mom-in-law.


*1 ½ lbs. chicken tenders or breasts
*1 can cream of chicken soup
*1 can cream of celery soup
*2 cups milk
*1 pkg. Lipton onion soup mix
*Salt and pepper to taste
*2 cups instant rice

Combine the canned soups, milk, salt and pepper.  You can choose to either use ½ of the dry soup packet, or you can sift the powdered portion into your sauce and discard the large pieces.  I prefer to use the powder for seasoning because the larger pieces don’t tend to get very tender with this method.
Place chicken in the bottom of a greased 9x13” casserole dish.  Spread sauce mixture over the top.  Bake covered at 350°for 45 minutes. 
When this time has elapsed, remove the chicken and add 2 cups of rice to the sauce.  I used 1 cup of each white and brown rice to try to be a little healthier.  Combine thoroughly as not to leave any dry rice.  Place the chicken back on top of the rice mixture and bake covered for 15 more minutes.
You should wind up with something like this.
An unfortunate result of having most of my extended family live almost 600 miles away is that their visits are few and far between.  I’ll gladly take any time I can get with them though, and I hope that we can rectify that issue in the near future.  It’s been entirely too long since I’ve gotten to see all of the people I love in the same place at the same time. 
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other highlight of our weekend.  Our Blues clinched the series against the Sharks!  I can’t begin to tell you how excited we are to see our other favorite St. Louis team earn their way to post season victory this year!  LET’S GO BLUUUES!!!
Image courtesy of

Monday, April 16, 2012

Still Craving After All These Years…

This weekend marked 10 years with my husband (although we’ve only been married for 4).  We tried to spend our Friday tailgating the Cardinals home opener, but Mother Nature had other plans for us.  I suppose it being Friday the 13th didn’t help our case either.
Saturday was our official dating anniversary, and it turned out to be a much more successful day.  Not only did the Cardinals redeem themselves for the previous day’s performance, but we also watched the Blues first playoff victory of the year that evening with friends at D.S. Vespers Sports Pub and Eatery.
Yesterday was a big day for my husband; he completed his first half-marathon.  He finished in 2 hours 9 minutes!  (And yes, that is a mohawk he is sporting for the event…)

While he was recovering, I spent the afternoon as a panelist for a discussion on women’s relationships.  (See for details.) 
To celebrate our joint milestone and my husband’s personal milestone, I splurged on a brisket and made my special beer brisket meat block sandwiches with au jus (otherwise known as “French dip”).  We also tried Turtle Island beer soup, and I made triple chocolate brownies (which we affectionately call “Megan brownies” after the friend who introduced us to them).


*1 ½ - 2 lb. beef brisket (left side is best)
*32 oz. beef broth
*½ can beer (we used Stag, but we also like Budweiser)
*Minced onion flakes
* Salt and pepper to taste
*1 pkg. ciabatta rolls
*1 pkt. Au Jus gravy

Coat your crock pot with cooking spray and lay the brisket fat side down.
Cover liberally with pepper, and add about ½ as much salt and minced onion.
Pour broth and beer around the sides of the brisket.  (Eventually, the liquid will cover the brisket, so don’t be worried if it washes some of the seasoning off the top of the meat.)
Cook on low for 6-12 hours.  (I cooked it for 12 hours only because I was up super early, but this isn’t necessary.  It does help to make the meat incredibly tender though.)
When you are within 20 minutes of eating, preheat your oven for the rolls, and cook them according to the instructions on the package.
Meanwhile, bring the contents of the Au Jus packet to a boil with half the amount of water suggested on the packet.
Trim the remaining fat off of the brisket, and serve on the ciabatta rolls with between ¼ and ½ cup of Au Jus in a separate bowl per person.

You should wind up with something like this:

*1 box devils food cake mix (I prefer Duncan Hines)
*1 small instant box chocolate fudge Jell-o pudding
*1 bag milk chocolate chips
*2 cups milk

Combine milk and pudding and milk with an electric mixer.
Add cake mix, but stir in by hand.  (DO NOT use a mixer for this step.  It will make your brownies deflate.)
Stir in chocolate chips.
Bake in a 9x13” greased casserole dish at 350° for 35 mins.

And viola!
While we weren’t very impressed by the soup, my husband was much more enthusiastic about the rest of the meal than he normally is.  If you’d like to add a side, I recommend preparing Russet potatoes your favorite way.  We usually just make mashed potatoes with butter and garlic and garnish with some Au Jus gravy.  If you’re concerned about having enough dipping sauce, prepare 2 packets.  (I don’t recommend using the residual broth mix though.  The beer doesn’t seem to mix well with the potatoes.)
Fortunately, my quality time with the hubby didn’t end last night.  We’re spending the evening together tonight as well and hoping that the Blues give another exciting performance!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hamming it Up

The holiday weekend is over, and it’s back to reality.  This Easter was a little unusual for us.  My brother was unable to come home from college, so we’re going to celebrate further when my uncle comes to visit from Georgia in 2 weeks.  In the meantime, as is custom for most American (Christian) families this time of year, we ate our weight in ham… and then STILL had leftovers!
So what is a girl to do when she’s close to ham-overload?  Make Chicken Cordon Bleu.  I will add this disclaimer up front: I grew up eating my mom’s Chicken Cordon Bleu, and it is a non-breaded version of the surprisingly American dish.  If you want a good breading mixture to add to this recipe, I recommend referencing chef Tyler Florence’s recipe on
I also chose to serve this with our friend Jenny’s Spinach Currant Salad.  Together, it makes a very simple but elegant meal! 


*1 pkg. fresh spinach leaves
*2 oz. dried cranberries
*2 oz. sliced almonds
*2 oz. goat cheese
*¼ cup red wine vinegar
 *¼ cup EVOO
*¼ cup honey

Wash and drain the spinach leaves.
Garnish with dried cranberries, sliced almonds, and goat cheese.
In a separate bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, EVOO, and honey.
Pour dressing over salad, toss well, and serve.


*Approx. 5 large chicken breasts
*1 pkg. sliced Double G ham
*1 pkg. sliced Swiss cheese
*1 can cream of chicken soup
*1-8 oz. container sour cream
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Parsley for garnish

Slice chicken breasts down the middle horizontally almost completely through.  (An alternative would be to flatten them with a kitchen mallet and roll them, but as Alton Brown says, you usually just wind up with meat mush.  I bought pre-sliced breasts and layered them like a sandwich.)
Stuff a slice of ham and a slice of cheese in the middle of the chicken breast.  Then, stick toothpicks in the top to hold the layers in place during cooking.  Place in a greased 9x13” casserole dish.
In a separate bowl, combine the cream of chicken soup and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Then, spread this over the chicken.
Bake covered at 350° for a minimum of 45 minutes, or until chicken has reached 170° internally.

And for further cooking assistance, here is a handy temperature chart for cooking meat:
Image courtesy of

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Breakfast Before the Bunny

While the hubby and I have some time together, I thought I would make a special Saturday morning brunch (since we will be spending Easter brunch with his family).  I decided to introduce him to an old family favorite: Cinnamon Sugar Twists.  This is a very quick and simple recipe that can very easily feed a family of 6 for very little money.  (Since there are only 2 of us, I told my husband that he will have a portable breakfast for work this coming week.)


*2 cans of Pillsbury Grands biscuits
*1 cup sugar
*1 tbsp. cinnamon
*¾ stick (6 tbsp.) butter, melted

Melt butter a bowl, and combine cinnamon and sugar in a separate bowl.
Take each biscuit out of the can and grab a side in each hand, twisting in opposite directions.
Dip the twist in the melted butter, then into the cinnamon sugar combination.
Place on a greased cookie sheet, and bake at 350° for 14 minutes.

And ta-da!
So now that we’ve eaten and I’ve caught up with some of the household chores, I’m off to buy my Easter dress!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday Gourmet

My husband and I are fortunate enough to get five four evenings in a row together without outside obligations, so I’ve decided to take advantage of this opportunity by making home cooked meals 3 of these nights.  (Obviously, Easter is already taken up by family commitments though.) 
I decided to try a few new dishes, one of which being Tomato Tortellini Bisque.  I was pleasantly surprised how well this turned out on my first attempt since I created this recipe myself.  (I admit, I cheated a little with some help from other premade soups.)


*1 cup Bertolli Tomato and Basil pasta sauce or Progresso Tomato Basil Soup
*1 (regular) can Campbell’s tomato soup
*1-24 oz. can crushed tomatoes
*1 cup chicken broth
*½ cup half-and-half
*2 tbsp. butter
*2 tbsp. EVOO
*1 tsp. crushed garlic
*1 tsp. minced onion flakes
*1 tsp. herbes de provence
*4 large bay leaves
*Salt and pepper to taste
*1 bag frozen cheese-filled tortellini

(I had already squeezed the liquid from a jar of Bertolli with cheese cloth for a pizza a few weeks ago and froze the liquid, so I used this.  The starch from the tortellini helped to thicken the soup.)
Combine all the ingredients except for the half-and-half in a large pot and set to medium heat. 
When soup begins to boil, drop to a simmer, and allow flavors to blend for approximately a half hour before returning to medium heat and adding half-and-half and tortellini. 
Cook the tortellini for approximately 10 more minutes or until tender, remove bay leaves, and serve.
And viola!
I served the soup with Cole’s garlic bread that I added mozzarella to.  Despite this being a vegetarian meal, we both found it hearty and satisfying. 
I know this isn’t a very impressive dish considering the spreads destined to appear on most American tables this Sunday, but I will try to add a few more dishes before the weekend is through.  (Maybe I'll have some more pictures then too.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Feast Fit for a King

My husband and I had a very busy weekend, so we decided to let the crock pot do the work for us on Sunday night.  We were excited about the season 2 premier of Game of Thrones on HBO, so I decided to make Crock Pot Lipton Roast Beef.  

This delicious meal was first served to us by my husband’s aunt this past Christmas.  I added carrots, potatoes and cocktail onions to the dish, then I made fried Gala apples, and supplemented the meal with a few special additions from our local orchard’s market: sour dough bread and humble pies. 

We also treated ourselves to some hard-to-find refreshments that we were fortunate enough to have other people pick up for us.  For my husband, that was Michelob Golden Light (which for St. Louisans can only be found in Troy and Red Bud, IL), and Woodchuck Pear Cider for me.
So without further ado, here are the recipes:


*1 ½ - 2 lb. beef roast
*1 pkt. Lipton Onion Soup Mix
*5 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
*Approx. 6-8 oz. baby carrots
*Approx. 2-3 oz. pearl onions (optional)
*Vegetable oil
*Salt and pepper

Brush the interior of the crock pot with vegetable oil and a silicon basting brush.
 Spread the potatoes, carrots, and onions evenly across the bottom of the crock pot.  Salt and pepper the vegetables.
Evenly coat the roast with vegetable oil as well, then place on top of the vegetables.  Salt and pepper the roast as well.
Evenly sprinkle the packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix over the ingredients.  Place the lid on the crock pot and set to low for 8 hours.


*4 Gala apples, or other apples of your choice
*2 tbsp. butter or margarine
*¼ cup light brown sugar

*Cinnamon to taste

Peel the apples (optional), and cut into thin wedges.
Drop butter into a large skillet and set burner to med-high.
Add apples and brown sugar.
Cook until apples have begun to turn translucent, stirring occasionally.  This will make the apples the equivalent of “al-dente”.
If you like softer apples, turn the heat down to simmer and the skillet with a lid.  Cook for approx. 10 more mins., stirring occasionally.

You should wind up with something that looks like this:
If this meal isn’t regal enough for you, consider picking up a copy of A Feast of Ice and Fire by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer on May 29th.
With a meal like this, there’s nothing more to do than eat, drink, and be merry!