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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"Death by Chocolate" cookies

In summary: Take chocolate then add small pieces of chocolate to it, then big pieces of chocolate, and then another kind of chocolate, and mix them all up. So basically, you’ll need a big cold glass of milk. They’re divine, though! 

1 cup butter 

1 1/4 cup sugar

2 eggs 

1/2 cup cocoa powder 

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt 

1 tsp baking powder 

3/4 cup mini chocolate chips 

3/4 cup chocolate chunks 

3/4 cup white chocolate chips  

1. In a large bowl or stand mixer bowl, add butter and sugar. Mix together until fluffy and well combined. Add one egg, combine, and then add the second egg. 

2. Add cocoa powder, mix well. 

3. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Add to mixer bowl on low speed until just combined. 

4. Use a spatula to fold in chocolate chips, chocolate chunks, and white chocolate chips. 

5. Place bowl in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350. Leave bowl in fridge for 15 minutes, while oven is preheating. 

6. Use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to measure dough for each cookie. Place about 5 at a time on a large lightly greased (or parchment paper lined) baking sheet , because they will expand while they bake. Put the bowl back in the fridge between batches to keep the batter chilled.  

7. Bake for 16-18 minutes. 

Chinese Almond Cookies

I came across this recipe on a Chinese food blog called China Sichuan Food. They’re crunchy butter cookies with a whole almond on top. The writer of this blog says they’re popular with her Cantonese friends. They’re not very sweet, but they’re not supposed to be, and they have a great flavor. The recipe as it was written is lacking a few steps involving when to add certain ingredients, so I will actually write out the way I did it which is just a standard way of making cookies since they’re not in the original directions. 

3/4 cup butter, softened 

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp powdered sugar 

1 egg, beaten

2 cups flour 

1/2 tsp salt 

1/2 tsp baking soda

24 almonds (I used Blue Diamond Toasted Coconut flavored almonds)

Liquid egg whites (for brushing over the top) 

1. In a mixer, add butter and powdered sugar. Mix until fluffy. Add vanilla extract. 

2. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

3. Slowly add beaten egg to butter in mixture, until combined. Then add in flour mixture until combined, but don’t over mix. 

4. Roll dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and place into refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. 

5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 

6. Divide dough into 24 pieces, and roll each one into a ball. They don’t expand that much in the oven so you can fit 12 balls a large baking sheet. 

7. Brush the top of each dough ball with liquid egg whites and press an almond into the top, slightly flattening the cookie. 

8. Bake for 15-17 minutes until crunchy and golden. 

This is the original recipe: 

How to Grind Coffee Beans


A lot of people think it would be difficult or a hassle to grind their own coffee beans, and yes it’s more time consuming than grabbing a K-Cup, but it’s actually really simple to do. You’ll need a coffee grinder, Mr. Coffee makes a good basic one for about $15 bucks. It’s ideal to grind just what you need for your coffee by the cup/pot, but you can also grind more and store it in an air-tight container or bag and no one will judge you. 

Step 1: Scoop coffee beans into grinder. Decide what kind of grind you’ll need for the drink you want.  A coarse grind is great for a french press, medium grind for a drip coffee maker or Keurig, fine grind for espresso beans, and an extra fine grind to make Turkish coffee. Your grinder may or may not be able to get your coffee beans into the powder required for a Turkish grind, it depends on which one you’re using. You’ll get a stronger flavor the more you grind, but also a more bitter flavor. Keep this in mind. 

Step 2: Pulse your grinder a few times and look at the result. Keep pulsing until you get the grind coarseness that you want. Don’t hold it down for too long, you can always grind more but you can’t go backwards. This only takes seconds.

Step 3: Your beans should be ground to a uniform texture, no larger beans left in there or pieces that stand out. It basically should look like good quality soil. 

Step 4: Use it as you please! 

Chocolate “Eggs & Bacon”

I saw someone do this with green m&ms for a Dr. Seuss party, which is adorable and I plan to do that in the future, but today I made them with yellow m&ms. It’s pretty much the most simple thing to do, so this would be great to have your kids help with. 

1 4-oz. bar white baking chocolate 

24 yellow m&ms (I counted 26 in my medium sized bag of plain m&ms)

24 pretzel sticks, each one broken in half evenly

Wax paper 

1. In a microwave-safe bowl, add the bar of chocolate broken into squares. Microwave on 50% power for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave again for 30 seconds on full power. Stir. If chocolate still isn’t melted, microwave again for 30 seconds on 50% power. Don’t overdo it, you won’t get a smooth creamy consistency if it’s over heated. 

2. Place a sheet of wax paper on the counter. Spoon the melted chocolate into a sandwich bag, and snip off one corner, at the very tip. It’s a make-shift pastry bag.

3. Squeeze a little bit of chocolate into an sunny-side-up egg shape onto the wax paper, and place a yellow m&m with the “M” face down into the chocolate and place two pieces of pretzel into the chocolate as well. 

4. Do each one, adding the m&m and the pretzel one at a time so that your white chocolate “egg whites” aren’t hardened by the time you go to put the m&m “yolk” in all of them. 

5. Allow to harden. Delicious room temperature or refrigerated. 

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!