The vividly average life of Mandy Ashcraft. I like to share the little things that make me happy. :)

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fyi/ Some of the recipes I share are other peoples' and I credit them fully. I like to collect my favorite things here so that I can pass on the info. (Although some are my original creations, and I hope you enjoy!)

[ last updated 10.16.2014 ]

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Guinness Brownies with Chocolate Chunks


I think dark beer gives fudge brownies the best flavor; it enhances it’s richness with only an undertone of beer. Keep these in mind for St. Patrick’s Day! 

1 cup flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder 

1/4 tsp salt 

6 tbsp butter

1 cup sugar 

4 eggs

1 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips 

1/2 cup white chocolate chips 

1 1/4 cup Guinness beer

1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a small pot, melt butter over medium-low heat and add semisweet chocolate chips and white chocolate chips. Whisk until smooth and remove from heat.

3. Add eggs and sugar to stand mixer and beat until smooth and fluffy. Pour in melted chocolate from pot. Continue to mix at a low speed.

4. In a bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Slowly pour into mixer bowl with other ingredients until just combined. 

5. Add Guinness and stir with a spatula. Add chocolate chunks and fold evenly into mixture. The batter will be very thin and will seem like it’s not going to cook right…but it will! 

6. Line a 9x13” baking dish completely with foil. Spray foil with nonstick spray. Pour batter into lined dish. 

7. Bake for approximately 27 minutes. 

8. Allow to cool completely in the baking dish. Once cool, lift brownies in foil out of dish and then pull the foil away. This makes it much easier to cut perfect squares. 

Guinness Braised Lamb Shanks

Although I don’t often drink, I do love cooking with different types of alcoholic beverages. I had never previously cooked lamb so i did follow someone else’s recipe precisely for this, as I think everyone who is learning different techniques or new proteins should do because then you learn it’s flavor profile accurately, you don’t waste expensive ingredients, and you learn how to work with your new materials. That being said, I did cook lamb in a Persian lamb stew after I made this without using a recipe, and it turned out fabulous because I had taken the time to “learn lamb”. This is the recipe I used for the Guinness braised lamb shanks. I made mine with two large lamb shanks instead of 4 and I trimmed them down a lot to expose the bone just because I personally like the presentation that way.  And I will say, the flavor is incredible. 

Maple Whiskey Peach Fritters

I didn’t change a single thing about this recipe because it was absolutely divine. I made these for my husband’s birthday breakfast. I don’t drink much so I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be to find maple whiskey, and it turns out it’s about as difficult as finding maple syrup. haha It was only $10 for a whole bottle of Jim Beam’s Maple Whiskey which smelled delicious enough to pour on pancakes. I will say, this whole recipe is fantastic and worth the effort, but the Maple Whiskey Glaze is PURE HEAVEN and you’ll want to make it for other recipes, too. I’m thinking Maple Whiskey Glazed Cinnamon Rolls one of these days. 

Baking Jumbo Muffins in Ramekins

If you’ve ever wondered how a muffin would turn out if baked in a ramekin (do people other than me wonder that?)…they’re fantastic. I tried it just to see. Instead of filling 12 standard muffin cups with batter, split the batter between 6 greased [3.5 ounce] ramekins, filling them to the top. Then bake at 400 for 20-22 minutes. Something new to try, with a pretty presentation. :) 

Homemade “Magic Middles”

In the 80s, Keebler had cookies called “Magic Middles” that were my husband’s favorite. So for his birthday I searched the web for a way to make him this discontinued cookie to surprise him. I never had the cookies myself, but according to him these are a very close match. To me they almost taste like a chocolate filled snickerdoodle (yum, I know). This recipe advises not to bake them the same day; I made the dough 4 days before baking them and put it in the refrigerator, and the day I baked them I transferred it from the fridge to the freezer for an hour first. It worked out great, the chocolate stayed in the middle! 

Cherry Pie Bars with Creme Brûlée Glaze

This post is more about the glaze than the cherry pie bars, although the bars are wonderful. It’s mostly about the fact that I made a glaze using Bailey’s Irish Cream coffee creamer in Creme Brûlée flavor and it came out SO DELICIOUS so I have to share it. I made it out of curiosity, since I happened to have it, and I loved it. I made these beautiful bars to drizzle it over.

But instead of the glaze in that recipe, I used this: 

1 cup powdered sugar

3 tbsp Bailey’s Irish Cream coffee creamer in Creme Brûlée flavor

1/2 tsp vanilla extract 

1. Simply add creamer and vanilla extract to powdered sugar and whisk until it’s a smooth consistency.

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cookies

My boss’s daughter-in-law gave birth to a baby girl, so I felt that was a perfect opportunity to make some pretty pink cookies. I was reading about making cookies with boxed cake mix so I wanted to give it a try, even though I can’t even remember the last time I bought a box of cake mix (I actually hid the box in my shopping cart at the store in case I ran into anyone that knows how often I bake hahaha I promise I don’t often cheat!). It worked so great and was quick to throw together.  I will note that did add red food coloring to these in the picture though, because that was the second time I made them since the first time they were a very dull pink and I felt like they should be pink-er.  With 4 drops of red, they were a pretty pink. You could try it with beet juice if you don’t like artificial coloring! 

1 box strawberry cake mix

1 tsp baking powder 

4 drops red food coloring 

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

2. In a bowl, stir together box of cake mix with baking powder.

3. In a stand mixer, combine eggs, oil, food coloring, vanilla extract. When combined, add dry mixture. Remove from stand mixer and fold in mini chocolate chips. 

4. Place bowl in freezer for 20 minutes. 

5. On a parchment paper lined baking sheet, use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to scoop out large dough balls.

6. Bake 12-14 minutes and remove from oven immediately. If you allow them to brown, it dulls the pink color. Allow them to cool several minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Spooky Pretzels for Halloween Parties

These turn out so cute with such minimal effort; you could easily have your kids help you with these. I made 60 with these ingredients (30 dark chocolate and 30 white chocolate) but you could modify this for any amount of people. 

1  7-oz. bag Snyder’s Delights white chocolate pretzels 

1  7-oz. bag Snyder’s Delights Special Dark chocolate pretzels 

2  2-oz. blocks meltable milk chocolate bark (they usually come in a 24oz. package of 12 blocks, in the baking aisle of any grocery store; a common brand is Ambrosia)

2  0.88-oz. packages small candy eyeballs (Wilton brand is easy to find)  

Wax paper 

2 snack size Ziploc bags or other small bags (to use as a pastry bags)

1. Cover your counter with wax paper and line up your pretzels. Set your candy eyeballs to the side so you can easily grab them while you work.

2. In a glass bowl, microwave one chocolate bar for 1 minute, 30 seconds on high. Place one small plastic bag into a drinking glass and fold the edges over the sides of the glass so that you can pour the chocolate into the bag easily without making a mess. When the chocolate is done microwaving, stir until smooth and simply pour into the bag. Seal the bag and then snip off the very tip (very tiny hole). 

3. For each pretzel, fill each opening for the “eyes” full of chocolate and place a candy eyeball. You should be able to do half of them with 1 bar of chocolate bark. Simply repeat the previous step for the second bar of chocolate and continue making the eyes.

4. Allow to dry completely and harden before moving or packaging. 

Churro Banana Bread Muffins with Cajeta


This is a delicious and very simple way to use over-ripe bananas! It’s  banana bread, so keep in mind they will be dense and moist, not fluffy like a regular muffin. The layers of cinnamon sugar give it that delicious churro flavor. Makes 12.

1/2 cup butter 

2 eggs

1/2 cup sugar + 1/4 cup sugar 

1 tablespoon vanilla extract 

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder 

1/4 tsp salt

3 ripe bananas, smashed with a fork

1 tbsp ground cinnamon 

Cajeta for drizzle (or your favorite caramel syrup) 

1. Preheat oven to 350 and line a muffin tin with paper liners. Mix 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Add 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, butter, and vanilla to a mixer bowl (or a large bowl if you’re using a hand mixer). Whip together until combined well. 

3. Add flour, baking powder, and salt to bowl and mix until just combined. 

4. With a spatula, fold in smashed up bananas. 

5. Fill muffin cups 1/3 full with batter. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cinnamon sugar mixture over the top of each one. Fill cups with another layer of batter, and another layer of cinnamon sugar, and then once more. The cups should be very full. The final layer should be cinnamon sugar on top. 

6. Bake for 22-25 minutes.

7. Drizzle with cajeta before serving. 

Cauliflower Pizza Crust Using a Juicer

Cauliflower is everyone’s new favorite thing to work with due to the fact that you can do almost anything with it and it doesn’t add any fat, carbs, or hardly any calories either. Win/win/win. You can make delicious pizza crust with it using a variety of different techniques, but this is how I personally make it, using a Breville juicer. The result is a thin, crispy crust that isn’t soggy in the middle that you can actually hold in your hand. 

This makes 1 personal pizza. 

1 head of cauliflower, raw 

2 tbsp egg whites

3 tbsp goat cheese 

1 tsp dried oregano 

1/2 tsp dried parsley

1/4 tsp salt 

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

2. Cut cauliflower up into smaller pieces that you can fit into your juicer. Process all of it and discard the liquid. Scrape all of the processed cauliflower out of the inside of your juicer into a bowl. It won’t be dry, it’ll be more like a paste. 

3. Pour the cauliflower “paste” onto a cheesecloth or a very clean dish rag. Wrap it into a ball and squeeze out all of the excess moisture. It doesn’t have to be bone dry, just as dry as you can get it. It’ll end up looking more like rice, and you should have about 2 cups of it.

4. In a bowl, combine cauliflower rice with goat cheese, egg whites, parsley, oregano, and salt. Use your hands and mix it very well into a ball.

5. On a greased baking sheet (or on parchment paper lined baking sheet) place the ball of cauliflower dough. Slowly flatten it into a circle, smoothing out the edges with your fingers. It will seem sticky and wet. 

6. Bake for 30 minutes until browned and crisped on the edges, and allow to cool. Then add toppings and bake an additional 5 minutes until cheese is melted and toppings are heated through. 

The Secret to Perfect Berry Muffins

The secret to the perfect berry muffin is this: make a compote. Works for any type of berry muffin you’re making, and these in the photo are blueberry. Most berry muffin recipes will tell you to simply fold in the berries after you’ve made the batter and that’s it. But the best, most delicious way to get that flavor swirled throughout your muffin is by making a sauce with half of the berries instead. 

In a pan over medium heat, add 1/2 of the berries called for in your recipe along with 1 tsp sugar. Stir occasionally, allow the berries to soften and smash them down to release the juice. Takes about 10 minutes until you have a chunky berry sauce. Set it to the side to cool. 

When you make your batter, fold in the other half of the whole berries. Fill each muffin cup only 1/3 of the way, then use a teaspoon to spoon a little compote over the top of each one. Use a toothpick to swirl the compote through. Then top each one evenly with remaining batter, and then remaining compote. Swirl in the same way on the tops with a toothpick.

Your muffins will never be the same. This is also great when you’re trying to use two different berries; example: make a strawberry compote and use whole blueberries to fold into the batter. Get creative. :) 

Grilled Pineapple Salsa

I ordered a bottle of Pineapple Habanero hot sauce from a Texas company called Bravado Spice, and it was super delicious, so I wanted to create a fun summery dish that I could use it on. What I did was grill shrimp in spicy barbecue sauce and put them on a taco with the hot sauce, and then made a grilled pineapple salsa to top the tacos with. I’m not going to lie, it was kind of amazing. This is the salsa recipe. 

1 pineapple, remove the rind and the core, cut into about 6 “sticks”

1 pint cherry tomatoes (go for assorted colors, for visual appeal)

1/2 tsp minced garlic 

1/4 tsp salt

2 jalapeños, remove seeds, coarsely chop

1 tbsp lime juice 

Olive oil to brush pineapple 

1.  Heat grill to high heat. 

2. Brush pineapple sticks with olive oil on each side. Place on hot grill. Allow each side to char slightly, so that you have the caramelization of the sugar and also the grill marks. When it’s done, remove the pieces from the heat and set them aside to cool.

3. Cut cherry tomatoes in half and toss with lime juice and jalapeños. 

4. Cut the pineapple up in to small chunks and toss with cherry tomato mixture. Allow to sit so that flavors will combine for at least 15 minutes before serving. 

Cherry Pie Pops

Ok, excuse the Cher tag, I was making these to give to my mother-in-law with Cher concert tickets. But these were SO easy to make, and came out so cute. You could use any kind of filling you want, and decorate them any way you want! 

1 21oz. can cherry pie filling 

1 box refrigerated pie crust, thawed (2 crusts)

1 egg beaten with 2 tsp water added

2 tbsp brown sugar 

12 cakepop sticks 

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. Roll crust out on a floured surface so that it doesn’t stick. Using a mason jar lid ring (or a cookie cutter approximately 3 inches in diameter) cut circles in one of the crusts. Use a rolling pin to flatten scraps of dough out after cutting some, to be able to cut more. You should be able to get 12 circles out of one crust. You will have excess, put it to the side to decorate with.

3. Place circles onto parchment paper lined baking sheets. Press a stick into each one so that it stays, but not all the way through the dough. 

4. Spoon about 1 1/2 tsp of pie filling onto each circle. 

5. Using the mason jar lid, repeat what you did with the first crust to create 12 more circles. Combine the excess with your reserved crust from step 2. 

6. Press a dough circle over the tops of each one you placed on the baking sheet, and use a fork to seal edges. Seal very well around the stick.

7. Using a dough cutter (or a pizza cutter) cut out thin strips from your remaining crust scraps to make a lattice crust. Brush the tops of the pie pops with the egg wash before placing lattice strips. Then brush the tops when you’ve finished. Alternative: use small cookie cutters in a fun shape. Or a not fun shape, your call. 

8. Sprinkle each one with brown sugar. 

9. Bake 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Remove carefully with a spatula and allow to cool completely if you’re going to package them or tie ribbons. Handle carefully so that the stick doesn’t slip completely into the pie pop.