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 07.27.2014 ]

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Orange Zest and Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Sea Salt

Orange and chocolate seems to be either a love-it or hate-it combination; some people tell me they think thats repulsive, and other people (like me) think it’s heavenly. If you’re on my team, you will LOVE this recipe from Cooking Classy. Her recipe calls for 1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips and 1 cup milk chocolate chips, but I just substituted the semisweet chips for semisweet chocolate chunks for bigger pieces of chocolate in with the milk chocolate chips. That’s just my personal preference. 

Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

I’m not a fan of cilantro, so I made a chimichurri without it. This Argentinian green sauce adds so much flavor. A quick dry-rub on the skirt steak gave it a nice slightly sweet-hot flavor that was well complimented by the fresh citrus-y sauce. 

Ingredients for Dry Rub: 

2 tsp chili powder

2 tsp brown sugar 

1/2 tsp cumin 

1/2 tsp coriander 

1/2 tsp garlic powder 

1/2 tsp oregano 

1/2 tsp onion powder 

1/4 tsp salt 

1/4 tsp black pepper 

Ingredients for chimichurri: 

1 cup fresh parsley

1/3 cup fresh oregano

1/3 cup fresh basil 

1/3 cup fresh chopped green onion

3 cloves garlic 

1 tbsp lemon juice 

1 tsp lemon zest

1/4 cup olive oil 

2 tsp red wine vinegar 

1 tsp chili powder 

1/4 tsp salt 

1/4 tsp pepper 


1 lb skirt steak 

Olive oil


1. Oil your grill grates and heat to high. 

2. Combine all ingredients for dry rub in a small bowl. Lay skirt steak flat and drizzle with olive oil. Using fingers or brush, spread oil evenly. Flip steak and do the same to the other side. Sprinkle half of the dry rub on one side and rub it into the steak like you’re massaging it into the muscle. Do the same for the other side. 

3. Place on hot grill for about 6 minutes per side, or until it reaches desired doneness. Remove.

4. While steak is resting, add all ingredients for chimichurri to a food processor or blender. Process until you get a thick sauce. 

5. Serve chimichurri over sliced skirt steak. 

Swedish Meatballs

I have made Swedish Meatballs many times using different recipes but this is hands-down the best recipe I’ve come across. I used half ground beef and half ground pork for the meatballs, and I highly recommend that because of the flavor you’ll get from that combination. If you’re like me and always have a ton of spices on hand, you’ll love how many this utilizes. It’s a lot more work than the recipes that use cream of mushroom soup, but trust me, WORTH IT. I made this to take to friends, and stuck a picture of Swedish Chef and a box of Swedish Fish to the top. The Swedish trifecta! 

Herb Scissors

If you love cooking with fresh herbs, pick up some herb scissors to make adding it to your dishes quick and easy. If you’re not a pro chef, there’s no shame in snipping off what you need with scissors instead of using a knife! I love mine. And also, isn’t Sage beautiful?!  

My herb scissors were a gift, but you can find a similar pair for 9 bucks from Crate and Barrel here:

Turkish Coffee Cake with Ganache Infused with Pomegranate Molasses

I made this for my anniversary and it was absolutely divine. So decadent and rich. The pomegranate molasses absolutely makes it, so don’t skip that ingredient! It’s not that easy of an ingredient to find; I found it in a small middle eastern market for about 3 bucks. The cake has the texture of the cross between cake and a fudge brownie, and the ganache is dark chocolate with a pomegranate undertone. Very easy to make, don’t let the name intimidate you! If you can make a chocolate cake, you can make this cake. 

The Key to a Juicy Porkchop

One word: Brine. You can prepare pork chops all day, in the oven or the stove or the grill. You’ll never have a pork chop juicer than one you put in a salty brine first! For two pork chops, bring 1 cup of water to a simmer (on the stove or about 5 mins in the microwave), stir in 2 tablespoons of salt until it’s fully dissolved, and then add 1 cup of very cold water. Pour it over the pork chops in a dish and put it in the fridge for 3 hours. Before you prepare it, just take them out of the brine and pat them dry. Try it, see the difference! Note: For these in the photo, I used 1 1/2 inch thick bone-in pork loin chops and added fresh sage to the brine as well. 

PB&J 2.0


There is a viral photo being shared by millions of people for a “PB&J 2.0” that uses 6 flavors to essentially make 9 mini sandwiches in one. So of course I had to make it. This is the original post from tastefullyoffensive that went viral: 


So basically, you need:

Jam of your choice (I used strawberry) 


Marshmallow Fluff

Crunchy Peanut Butter


Creamy Peanut Butter 

2 slices of bread 

By assembling one half in rows and the other in columns, you instantly have 9 different flavor combinations. 

It was intense. It was very sweet, very rich, and very filling. But worth it. 

Dijon Chicken Salad in Avocado Boats

This is my own recipe for making chicken salad, based on my favorite flavors with it and my dislike for celery. There shall be no celery in my chicken salad. 

2 large ripe avocados 

Olive oil

2 large chicken breasts sprinkled in salt and pepper

1/4 tsp salt 

1/2 tsp pepper 

3 Tbsp dijon mustard 

1/4 cup mayo (more or less depending on how creamy you prefer)

About 12 small seedless red grapes, cut in half 

2 tbsp finely chopped orange bell pepper 

2 tbsp finely chopped purple onion 

10-12 whole almonds 

1 1/2 tsp dried dill 

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place your chicken breasts on a foil-lined pan. Drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bake 20 minutes and then allow to cool enough to be able to shred apart. Useful note: Baking chicken breasts for a shorter time at a higher temperature makes them really juicy.

2. Using forks (or your fingers) shred chicken into a large bowl.

3. Add mayo and dijon mustard and mix well. Then add grapes, almonds, purple onion, and bell pepper. Mix to coat all ingredients. Add more mayo and/or mustard if it’s not as creamy as you’d like it. 

4. Add dill, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and refrigerate until cool. 

5. Cut avocados in half evenly, and carefully remove the pits. Divide chicken salad between the 4 avocado boats. 

Heart-Shaped Cinnamon Rolls

This is a very easy thing to do, that will make someone’s morning. (Or make your own morning.)

Simply get a roll of refrigerated cinnamon rolls. Unroll one and roll each end towards the other, pinching the bottom so that you have a heart shape for each. Baking time and directions don’t change, they just bake into perfect cinnamon roll hearts! 

Chocolate Cinnamon Coffee Cake Pops

My original intention was to make the Starbucks recipe for Cinnamon Chocolate coffee cake and give it to a friend for his birthday since he was a barista when I met him. Found a great copycat recipe called Chocolate Cinnamon Bread from the blog Table for Two, cut the recipe in half since it does make two loaves, and pulled the amazing smelling dish out of the oven. Then had a problem getting it out of the dish aaaaaand it was ruined. Upon the suggestion of a friend, I opted to make my pile of super delicious but unattractive chocolate cinnamon cake into cake pops. How to do this:

First, make this recipe, noting that it makes TWO loaves of it, so cut the recipe in half. If you’re not a baker, it’s helpful to know that one egg is 1/4 cup, so use 2 whole eggs and whisk the 3rd egg in a bowl and use 2 tablespoons of it.

You will also need: 1 jar chocolate frosting, 1 bag melting chocolate of one color (I used light blue vanilla flavored), 1 bag melting chocolate of another color (I used Salted Caramel flavor), approximately 20-25 lollipop sticks depending on how big you want to make your cake pops, a large piece of styrofoam to hold your drying cake pops 

When the cake is cooled off, break it apart into little pieces in a large mixing bowl. Add spoonfuls of icing to the bowl and mix evenly, until you get a texture that you can roll into balls that will stay in balls but aren’t too overly sticky and mushy. You’ll use about 2/3 of the jar. Roll the batter into balls and place onto wax paper on a plate and place the plate in the freezer for 20 minutes. Don’t allow them to freeze solid. Set your styrofoam on the counter.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt half of the bag of your chocolate you’ve chosen as your main color in the microwave for 1 minute. Stir, then microwave in 30 second intervals until smooth.

Remove your cake balls from the freezer. Take a lollipop stick and dip it about 1/2 inch into the melted chocolate and stick it into the cake ball. Then dip the entire cake ball into the chocolate, rotating to coat evenly. Allow to drip for a couple seconds and then place the end into the styrofoam to hold it still. Repeat for all of the cake balls, melting the second half of the bag of chocolate when you run out. 

The chocolate dries fast. When you’re done, melt about a handful of your second color/flavor in the microwave for a minute on 50% power. Stir until smooth. Spoon mixture into a sandwich bag and use scissors to snip the very tip of one corner off. Drizzle over the tops of the cake balls. Allow to dry. Refrigerate. 

The Best Coffee Cake Ever

I’ve made a lot of coffee cakes, but honestly I don’t think I’ve ever made one quite as delicious as this one. The writer of The Pioneer Woman Cooks says this was her mother’s recipe, and calls it “The Best Coffee Cake. Ever.” And she is not kidding. The only change I made, just for my personal taste, is leaving off the pecans. I made mine in a 10”x10”x3” cake pan, which was literally perfect. The whipped egg whites being folded into the batter just make for the most ideal texture. I whipped them in my stand mixer first and then set them aside before following the rest of the recipe, which just made it a little easier. She uses a whisk attachment on an immersion blender, which is really cool too.

Farmers’ Market Crustless Quiche

I published this recipe in the June/July issue of Inspire Coastal Bend Magazine ( with photo by Dustin Ashcraft. Such a great way to use fresh farm eggs and veggies you pick up at your local farmers’ market! 


2 tablespoons butter
1 cup sliced zucchini
1 cup sliced yellow squash
1 small purple onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup baby spinach
6 small tomatoes such as black cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
6 fresh farm eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top (approximately 1 tablespoon)
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped apple gouda chicken sausage (recommended)


1. Preheat oven to 375. Heat butter over medium heat, and add zucchini, squash and onion. Sauté until soft, cooked through and slightly browned. Add garlic, then spinach, and cook until spinach is wilted. Add 3 of the sliced tomatoes. Remove from heat. If using sausage, add to mix and toss all ingredients together.

2. In a bowl, whisk the eggs together with milk, Worcestershire sauce and salt. Add cottage cheese and sharp cheddar.

3. Pour vegetable mixture into 9-inch greased pie pan, and pour egg mixture over the top. Use remaining 3 sliced tomatoes to decorate the top, and sprinkle with salt, pepper and parmesan cheese.

4. Bake 30 minutes.