Monday, May 14, 2012

New Beginnings

I've got those back-to-school butterflies in my stomach this morning.  For the first time in a loooong time, it's my "first day of school"!  I'll be taking online classes for the next year, and I'm excited and nervous at the same time {normal emotions for the start of a new school year, and the start of a new adventure}.

I'll tell you what I'm studying eventually.  I don't like to get too far ahead of myself and start counting my chickens before they've hatched, so I tend to keep things like this to myself for a while.  I'd rather get acclimated with  my school work and the subject matter first, and then start letting people in on what it is I'm up to.  My own mother doesn't even know I'm taking classes ~  that's how private I am!  My husband, my older brother, my dad and my stepmom are the only people I've clued in to what I'm doing.  My best friend does know I'm starting classes, but I haven't gone into details with her about what I'm studying.

I am super excited to begin this new chapter in my life.  I'm hoping to make positive changes both personally and professionally; get out of my current dead-end job; go into business for myself; and actually like going to work.  Sound too good to be true?  I don't think it is ~ I think the key to happiness, in life and in work, is to figure out what you love to do.  No matter how passionate you are about your job, there will always be bad days ~ you just have to find something where the bad days aren't so bad, and the good days more than make up for them.  Some people know what their passion is before they've left high school; a few more have it figured out by the time they graduate college.  I think most of us need more time than that, even, to figure out what we want to be "when we grow up" ~ and a lot of people never really figure it out!  And it's okay to take the time you need to figure out who you want to be, and to change your mind a lot ~ if you stop changing and growing as a person, you stop living.

So, my pencils may not be sharpened {this is the new millennium ~ classes are on my iPad!}, I'm not bedecked in head-to-toe new school clothes {yoga pants and a tank top, if you really want to know}, and I'm not climbing those giant school-bus steps {why are those steps so big?  Kids have such little legs!}, but it's back-to-school for me nonetheless.  I just know this year is going to be a fantastic one for me, and eventually you're all going to benefit from it too. 

Roll call!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Yummy, Salty, Crunchy...and Healthy! Snack

I've been making these Garlic Parmesan Roasted Chickpeas from Sugar-Free Mom for a few months now.  They are such a yummy, crunchy snack, and they're a cinch to whip up.  No preservatives or artificial ingredients here, and they satisfy your salty snack cravings {well, they satisfy mine anyway!}.  Last night I was flipping through a magazine that listed some Dr. Oz health tips ~ and his tip for a healthy snack?  Roasted chickpeas!  If it's good enough for Dr. Oz, it must be good enough for all of us, so I knew I had to pass along this recipe.

You might have to play around a bit with the cooking time of the chickpeas ~ 60 minutes was just a tad too long in my oven, but 45 and 50 minutes left the beans without enough "crunch".  {Tasty nonetheless, though}.  I'm thinking 55 minutes next time will be just perfect.

There's little danger of these yummies hanging out on your shelf for too long {they're addictive!}, but if you don't gobble them all in a day or two, they will get a bit softer over time.

The roasted chickpeas I'm nibbling on as I type this!

Garlic Parmesan Roasted Chickpeas
2      cans {15.5 oz each} garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1/2   cup grated Parmesan cheese
1      tsp minced garlic {or more, to taste}
1      Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2   tsp salt
        pepper, to taste

Drain the beans and rinse them well.  Lay them on paper towels to dry for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  In a bowl, mix together oil, garlic, salt and cheese until crumbly and oil is absorbed.  Add beans to bowl and toss to coat with mixture.

Lay beans on a baking sheet and bake for 45-60 minutes {until golden and crispy}.


For nutritional information or to see Sugar-Free Mom's original post, click here.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book Club: 50 Shades of Grey {Review}

I love to read {as you probably have gathered}.  I also love to see what all the fuss is about when there's a new breakout trend ~  whether it be in entertainment, fashion, food or something else.  So when the buzz starting building {and building...and building...and exploding} about E.L. James' debut novel 50 Shades of Grey, I knew I had to check it out for myself.

If you've heard anything about this book, you know that it's got the literary world all atwitter over it's graphic, S&M-based sex scenes.  If you haven't heard anything about this book, you have most likely been living in a cave, away from the internet, television, newspapers, and bookstores, in which case you probably aren't reading this blog anyway.

From what I've gathered from the plethora of 50 Shades articles, interviews, and tidbits, 50 Shades began as a Twilight fanfic, although it has nothing to do with vampires and werewolves. {If you're unfamiliar with the world of fan fiction, read Wikipedia's explanation here}.  EL James is a wife and mother living in England, and 50 Shades was her first attempt at writing a novel {which became a trilogy}.  Side note for the wannabe novelists out there {myself included} ~ usually, the first piece you ever write does not skyrocket to the number one spot on the New York Times' Bestsellers List; it just doesn't.  James' 50 Shades trilogy was never intended for mass publication, to my understanding.  It simply gathered so much attention and popularity as a strictly-downloadable set that it ended up transitioning to print, and James has sold the movie rights as well.  {I have no idea how this can be adapted into a mainstream movie; absolutely no idea}.

I figured I would review this book as I review any other book ~ read it; give you an synopsis that goes a bit beyond what the book jacket tells you, without giving the entire story away, and give you my overall opinion on it.  Now that I've knocked out 10 or so chapters of 50 Shades, however, I'm going to take a different approach.  I am going to review the book section by section, as I read it, because I think my feelings on it may change daily.  I think I will see it through to the end, although as of today I'm not quite sure.  Today, I need a break from Christian Grey, without a doubt.  So instead of plowing through and reading a few more chapters, I'll review what I've read so far.

I bought all three books at once, figuring I'd plow right through them.  Now, I'm not so sure...

Day 1:  April 23, 2012
Started 50 Shades of Grey today and read through six chapters.  These chapters lay the foundation for the rest of the novel ~ we meet Anastasia Steele, a young and naive college senior; we meet Christian Grey, a cold, successful-beyond-his-years millionaire who is in his late twenties; and we meet a host of secondary characters such as Ana's roommate and best friend Kate, Ana's long-time friend Jose {who has romantic feelings for Ana that are not mutual}, Christian's brother Elliot, and a smattering of Christian's employees and Ana's acquaintances.

I probably would not have noticed the Twilight correlations if I didn't already know that this started out as a Twilight fanfic, but I can see the similarities.  Both stories take place in the state of Washington.  Ana is clumsy and awkward, like Bella.  Christian is cold and dangerous, like Edward, and warns Ana to stay away from him for her own safety, as Edward does with Bella.  Jose is the Jacob of 50 Shades ~ a friend of Ana's {almost a best friend} who wants nothing more than to be in a romantic relationship with her.

There is nothing overly scandalous in these first six chapters.  We are introduced to the characters and their personalities, and while foreshadowing into Christian's dark ways is abundant, Ana and Christian don't so much as kiss.

Day 2:  April 24, 2012
I continue reading 50 Shades, and in these chapters the "naughty" nature of the book starts to show.  Christian has made it clear that he would like a sexual relationship with Ana, but his type of sexual relationship is different than virtually any other you've ever read about in any other book.  For starters, involves a non-disclosure agreement and an extensive contract outlining the nature and rules of the relationship.  Ana sees what Christian refers to as his "playroom" {full of sex toys and...paraphernalia?}, and she is given the option of whether or not to enter a relationship with Christian.  He has an all-or-nothing approach to his relationships ~ do it my way, or no dice.  He doesn't do romance, he doesn't do "girlfriend"; straight up kinky sex, and that's about it.

Upon finding out that Ana is a virgin, Christian decides that the world of S&M is no way to be introduced to sex, so he breaks his own rules and has "vanilla" {as he calls it} sex with her.  Even these "vanilla" scenes are incredibly graphic ~ much what I would imagine reading a porn script is like {do porn movies have scripts?}.

Christian does show a softness and affection towards Ana; he holds her hand in public, he sleeps in the same bed with her on more than one occasion {going against another one of his rules}; and he even introduces her to his mother when she drops by unexpectedly.  {This, the man who refuses to have a girlfriend, ever}.  Is this foreshadowing into a relationship that turns more romantic in the future?  I'm not sure, but it seems like it.

By the time I wrap up for the night, Ana still hasn't decided whether or not to enter into a dominant/submissive sexual relationship with Christian.  I'm going to guess she decides to go for it...

Day 3:  April 25, 2012
I need a day off from the world of Christian and Ana.  50 Shades of Grey is a heavy book.  Not in weight {it's pretty standard in that department}, but in the tone of the book.  Christian is a dark, brooding character with a lot of issues {I think that's obvious}.  I also have no idea how realistic the having-to-sign-a-contract thing is ~ is that how S&M relationships work?  E.L. James says she did a lot of online research for this book, so I guess I'll take her word for it.  Still...

You can't possibly enter into the world of 50 Shades without knowing that there will be graphic, explicit sex scenes.  It's the reason there is so much buzz about the book in the first place.  I think it's fair to say if you are even remotely easily offended, this is not the book for you.  I am not easily offended, and I haven't even gotten to the S&M parts of the book yet, and already I just want to shout "Stop telling me about the sex already!  I don't want to know anymore!"  I'm just over it.  That's why I'm not sure I will wind up finishing the book ~ if I'm this over the sex scenes now, how I'm I going to feel halfway through the book, or three-quarters of the way through?

To be continued....?


{photo credit for first photo:}

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yummy "Fettuccine" Dish!

Yes, "fettuccine" is in quotes.  Why?  Because this post is all about a Hungry Girl pasta swap that uses tofu shirataki noodles instead of real pasta.  Wait...keep reading!!!

Okay, it took me a good six months of reading my daily Hungry Girl email newsletters {where she often touts the amazing product that is the tofu shirataki noodle} before I actually worked up the courage to give this recipe a whirl.  For most of us, when we think "tofu" we think "ew".  I'd never actually tried anything tofu before, but I still thought "ew".  But sometimes you've got to step outside the box a little and try something different;  you never know if you don't try!  Hungry Girl offers a million and one {this might be a slight exaggeration...but only slight} recipes that utilize tofu shirataki noodles; the one she boasts about most often, however, is her Hungry Girlfredo.

There is nothing healthy about Fettuccine Alfredo.  Nothing.  Well, okay, the gallons of cream do have calcium...but that's about it.  Depending on the brand of pasta you use, a cup of white or whole wheat traditional noodles will cost you around 40 carbs {and who really has ONE cup of pasta?  Anyone?}.  Now, carbs are good for you; carbs are great for you, actually ~ they provide your body and your brain with the fuel you need to exercise, think, and function.  But carbs are in everything, not just grains ~ carbs are in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, as well as breads, pastas, and other grains.  When you're trying to cut back on calorie intake and not go overboard on the starches, these tofu noodles make a great swap for traditional pasta ~ at 40 calories and 6 grams of carbs for a whole bag of noodles, how can you go wrong?

 I found the House Foods Tofu Shirataki Noodles that Hungry Girl recommends at my local Whole Foods {my Stop and Shop doesn't carry them}.  They were in the dairy/refrigerated aisle near the other tofu products.  The secret to these suckers is to dry, dry, dry them!  Open the package, dump the noodles into a colander, rinse them thoroughly, and spend at least the next five minutes patting them dry with paper towels.  These noodles hold onto a lot of water, and if you don't dry them thoroughly, you will wind up with a watery "Alfredo" sauce ~ not the effect you're going for.

Would you fool friends in a blindfolded taste-test into thinking that this is real-deal, made-by-an-Italian (or even made-by-the-Olive-Garden} Fettuccine Alfredo?  No, I don't think you would.  The texture is a bit different {these noodles are a little chewier than traditional pasta}, and of course this dish isn't doused in cream sauce.  But with a bit of salt and pepper for seasoning {I use garlic salt as well ~ yummy!}, this really does make a great, livable substitute.  I prefer to have mine with some grilled chicken, but plain works just as well.

A serving of Hungry Girlfredo {the entire recipe} has 99 calories and 2 Weight Watchers PointsPlus.  For the rest of the nutritional information, check out Hungry Girl's post here.

Hungry Girl's Hungry Girlfredo

1 package House Foods Tofu Shirataki Fettuccine Shaped Noodle Substitute
1 wedge Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss cheese
2 tsp reduced-fat Parmesan-style grated topping
1 tsp fat-free sour cream
Optional:  salt and black pepper {*I also use some garlic salt or powder}

Use a strainer to rinse and drain shirataki noodles well.  Pat dry.  In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave for one minute.  Dry as thoroughly as possible, using paper towels.  Cut noodles up a bit, using kitchen shears or a knife.

Add cheese wedge, grated topping, and sour cream, breaking the cheese wedge into pieces as you add it.  Microwave for one minute.

Stir well.  If you'd like, season to taste with salt and pepper.  Enjoy!

Looking for some other tofu shirataki noodle recipes?  They come in fettuccine, spaghetti and angel-hair shapes {and macaroni, but that's newer and hard to find}, and Hungry Girl has plenty of recipes for them.  Follow this link for more HG tofu noodle recipes, or type "shirataki" into the search bar on the Hungry Girl website.  {Hint:  the "Know Your Noodles" guide has links to about a half-dozen of her past tofu noodle recipes}.  I've also tried the So Low Mein with Chicken recipe {even better warmed up for lunch the next day}, and the hubby and I are planning to whip up the Humungous Shrimp and Veggie Noodle-Fry this week {both use the spaghetti-shaped shirataki noodles}.

I know the word "tofu" is scary to some, but with the Hungry Girl recipes, you'll find that you can slash the calories on some of your favorite dishes instead of giving them up entirely!



photo credit:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Club: Little Earthquakes {Review}

Well...hmmm.  I didn't not like this book.  I just didn't love it.

I've heard, of course, the old adage ~ "never judge a book by it's cover".  But, you know something?  I do often judge books by their covers.  I'm more drawn to certain books on the shelf or the "new release" table based on the visual appeal of the cover.  Regardless of the cover, if it's a book in the genre I tend to read {usually chick-lit, fiction, female-protagonist pieces, although not always}, I always read the back cover or inside flap to find out what the story is all about, and I usually flip to the first page right there in the store to see if the book grabs me right from the get-go.  Sometimes the book with the most interesting cover has me zoning out before the first page is over ~ then I know it's not for me.

Not only do I use a book's cover to help draw me to it, but I usually form an opinion about the tone of a book from the cover as well.  A James Patterson mystery's cover is probably going to look very different than Elizabeth Berg's newest novel about a wife and mother trying to find her own identity outside of her family role; and the vibe of both those covers will be different still from the picture-heavy tome featuring the history of Boston's working class, or the unauthorized autobiography of Justin Bieber.  So, you can see why I feel somewhat comfortable throwing caution to the wind and ignoring that famous pearl of wisdom, and in fact judging a book by it's cover.  But I've come to realize that while the cover may be able to tell you some things, there can be a lot more under the surface that the cover doesn't even hint at {maybe those old wives do actually know what they're talking about...}

When I saw the cover of Little Earthquakes, with it's pretty pastels and chubby baby legs {not to mention just a hint of diaper-butt}, I figured I was in for a lighthearted story of new motherhood.  The Miami Herald quote on the front cover told me that this book was "hilarious, heartbreaking, and insightful", so I figured I could expect some serious moments ~ you know, giving a grounded portrayal of marriage and motherhood, not just a head-in-the-clouds idealized version.

Instead, I found very little hilarity in Little Earthquakes ~ it was far too serious and borderline depressing to be funny.  Is motherhood really that much of a bummer for the average Jane?  I don't have kids myself, and while I don't expect that being a mother is all sunshine and rainbows, I'd like to think that there's something enjoyable about it ~ otherwise, what's the point?

When we meet the main characters, they are three very pregnant strangers who meet in a pre-natal yoga class.  Becky, Kelly and Ayinde form a fast friendship {out of convenience and the fact that they have impending motherhood in common, initially}, and the novel sees them from pregnancy, through delivery, and into full-fledged motherhood.  Each woman has her own issues and personal problems going on, which is fine ~ we all have our own drama to deal with, and marriage, motherhood, and life isn't all sunshine and rainbows.  Their issues range from a meddling mother-in-law to financial worries to infidelity.  A fourth main character, Lia, is dealing with her own baby issues and personal struggles.  Lia is outside of the yoga-friends loop but winds up being a friend to the girls as well {after basically stalking them for months in a fairly creepy fashion...but whatever}.

So many elements of Little Earthquakes are far-fetched and unrealistic ~ starting with the rapid formation of the women's friendship.  Perhaps most annoying to me?  Ayinde's husband is a professional athlete; when she is in labor, the nurses and doctors all but ignore her except when they're asking when her famous husband is going to arrive, at which point they follow him around like puppy dogs.  I've known both professional athletes and healthcare professionals; people are impressed with celebrity, yes, but they are not usually quite so ridiculous about it; also, giggling, ooh-ing and aah-ing over a high-profile patient {actually, a patient's high-profile spouse} in a hospital setting goes against just about every code of professionalism.  The parts of the book that mention how everyone Ayinde encounters thinks her husband is so amazing, drooling and falling all over themselves and saying ridiculous things, was so irritating to me I almost couldn't stomach it.  I think it's safe to say Jennifer Weiner has not spent any length of time with any public figures, or any labor-and-delivery nurses either.

I wouldn't tell you to not bother reading this book; if you're caught up on your to-read list, your favorite shows have gone into reruns, and you're looking for something to fill the time, it's definitely not the worst book you could read.  Hey, I read it start-to-finish;  when I really dislike a book, I can't even make myself do that.  In a nutshell, it was just more of a downer than I was expecting {those chubby baby legs are so misleading!}, there were so many unrealistic or unbelievable elements, and it just wasn't the best effort that Weiner has ever put out. 

{photo credit:}

Friday, March 30, 2012

Easter "Nest" Cookies {Times Two!}

Easter and eggs are pretty much synonymous with one another {not that there's much mention of eggs, brightly colored or not, in the Bible ~ but we tend to take a little creative liberty with our holidays these days}.  Of course, on Easter morning children will be waking up to baskets brimming with bright green "grass", a plethora of candies, perhaps a toy or two, and even a few dip-dyed eggs in some houses.

If you want to keep the Easter Egg theme going from morning straight through to dessert, give one of these yummy Easter egg "nest" cookies a whirl.  Both recipes call for just a handful of ingredients {especially if you use ready-made dough and frosting for the sugar cookie variety}, and the second kind is even no-bake!

On either of these nest cookies, your "eggs" could be jelly beans, Cadbury mini-eggs, Easter-colored M&Ms, or any other candy you think looks good.   Bright jelly beans will look the most striking, but chocolate-based candies will probably taste better combined with the other ingredients.

All credit goes to Pillsbury and Art of Dessert for these festive morsels!  {Follow the links for the original posts ~ especially Art of Dessert's, who included great step-by-step pics}.

These sweet little pastel-y darlings are a snap to make with your preferred store-bought sugar cookie dough and frosting; or, use your favorite homemade recipes to give them an extra special touch!  {Hint:  while homemade buttercream frosting made with real butter is divine, it tends to have a yellow tint; these cookies look best with a pure white frosting.  To achieve this in a homemade frosting, use shortening instead of butter}.

Easter Nest Cookies
yields 24 cookies

1 pkge {16 oz}   refrigerated sugar cookie dough {or homemade sugar cookie dough}
12 oz                  fluffy white frosting
1 cup                  flaked coconut
                          food coloring
                          jelly beans {or egg-shaped candy of choice}

Bake cookies as directed on package {or according to your recipe}.  Cool completely, about 10 minutes.

Frost cookies.  Add coconut to a 1-quart resealable food-storage plastic bag {separate into multiple bags if you're making the "grass" more than one color, as in the picture}.  Add 2-3 drops of food coloring, shaking bag to blend color.  It may be necessary to add 1 to 2 teaspoons of water to help disperse the color evenly or additional food coloring until desired color is reached.  Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of coconut on each cookie.

Top with jelly beans or candy.

For a true "nest" to hold your candy eggs, try these adorable, no-bake sweets.  You only need three ingredients {including one not often found in desserts!}.

Bird's Nest Cookie's
yields 30 cookies

12 oz         chow mein noodles
12 oz         butterscotch morsels
90             egg-shaped candies

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Pour the butterscotch morsels into a microwave-safe bowl and place them in the microwave.  Heat for 30 seconds; remove to stir.  Return morsels to the microwave and heat again for 30 seconds.  Stir until melted.  Add in the chow mein noodles and mix until combined.  Use a 1/4 measuring cup to portion out the cookies onto the baking sheet.  If the mixture starts to solidify in the mixing bowl, you can reheat for 15 to 30 seconds to melt.  Place three egg-shaped candies in the center of each cookie, first dipping the bottom of the candies in melted butterscotch to help them stick to the nest.  Allow to set for at least 5 minutes before serving or transferring.

AoD tip:  Depending on the brand of butterscotch you use, 12 ounces may not seem "wet" enough to coat the noodles.  If so, just up the amount of melted butterscotch morsels.

{photo credit:;}

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Jello Easter Eggs {with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting}

I've saved the link to these easy, festive little Easter treats for the past few months.  I knew they were too cute not to share, but I had to wait til we hit Easter season.  ButterYum posted these festive and colorful sweets last April ~ you only need a handful of ingredients and an egg-shaped mold {like this one from Freshware}.  ButterYum recommends a snap-together type mold, which you should be able to find on eBay.  Check out their original post here.

ButterYum's Jello Easter Eggs 
with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients and Instructions ~ Eggs

3 ounce       package of Jello (any flavor)
1 1/4 cups  boiling water

Lightly spray egg mold with non-stick cooking spray.  Snap mold together and set it on a small tray to catch any spills.  {The mold I linked to doesn't snap together}.  Combine Jello and boiling water together; stir for 3 minutes until the Jello is completely dissolved.  Slowly pour mixture into 3 whole eggs {or 6 halves}.  Repeat as many times as you like, with as many Jello flavors as you like, until all your eggs are filled.  Chill for at least 4 hours.

When you're ready to unmold the eggs, slowly pry the mold halves apart if you're using a snap-together mold {use a butter knife to gently coax the halves apart} and, using a sharp chef's knife, cut the eggs in half lengthwise using one continuous motion.  {If you're using a half-mold, like the one linked to above, you skip this step}.  Next, use a melon ball tool to make a well in the large end of each egg half.

Ingredients and Instructions ~ Frosting
makes enough to fill approx. 24 egg halves

8 ounces       cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup         sugar
1 tsp             vanilla
1/8 tsp          salt
1/2 cup         heavy cream

Cream together the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt until smooth.  Add the heavy cream and whip until stiff peaks form.  Put the cream cheese filling into a pastry bag that has been fitted with a star tip and pipe the filling into the egg halves.  Chill until it's time to serve.

Note:  If you're filling the eggs with the cream cheese frosting more than six hours ahead of serving, you may want to add a packet of Dr. Oetker's Whip It to help maintain the consistency of the frosting.



{photo credit:}

Friday, March 16, 2012

{Guilt-Free} Shamrock Shake!

Last week I told you about Dashing Dish's amazing I Can't Believe It's Not a Milkshake protein shakes {good for a meal or a snack, with calorie counts and Weight Watchers PointsPlus included!}.  This week, Dashing Dish rolled out their Shamrock Protein Shake.  It's on the lower end, calorie- and Points-wise, of all her shakes {180 calories and 5 PointsPlus!} and promises to give McDonald's famed Shamrock Shake a run for it's money.  {The McDonald's stats, by the way ~ 540 calories for the 12 ounce shake; 680 for the 16 ounce; and 840 for the 22 ounce!  And you don't even want to know about the sugar counts.}

This shake is easy-peasy to throw together ~ water, ice, protein powder, no-cal sweetener {I use Truvia}, lowfat cottage cheese, mint extract, and food coloring.  You could add some sugar-free pudding mix as well {pistachio would give it the green color, or vanilla would just add a boost of flavor and creaminess}.  As I said in the original post ~ don't be afraid to use the cottage cheese if you aren't a cottage cheese fan!  I don't like eating cottage cheese at all, but you don't taste it and it's what gives the shake it's milkshake-like texture {plus gives you some protein and calcium!}

I didn't have time to make my shake for breakfast this morning {sad face}, but at 180 calories, this Shamrock Protein Shake will be the perfect afternoon snack when I get home from work!

Dashing Dish Shamrock Protein Shake

Combine all ingredients in a blender.  Use the "pulse" option of your blender, especially in the beginning, so that your blender motor doesn't burn out trying to chop up the ice.  Remember ~ more water/less ice = "drinkable" shake; less water/more ice = "spoonable" shake.

1/2 cup         lowfat cottage cheese
1 scoop        vanilla protein powder {around 100 cal/scoop}
2-3 packets  sweetener
1/2 cup         to 1 cup water
5-10             ice cubes
1/8 tsp          mint extract {this stuff is strong!}
                    green food coloring {a few drops}

optional:  1-2 Tbsp sugar-free instant pistachio pudding mix

Here is Dashing Dish's original post.  And if you're looking to get all sugared-up with your festive Irish treats this weekend, try these Frosted Irish Cream Brownies!

Enjoy, lads and lassies!


{photo credit:}

Monday, March 12, 2012

Frosted Irish Cream Brownies

Whether you're a little Irish, a lotta Irish, or not really Irish at all, most Americans love to celebrate the most recognizable Irish holiday of the year ~ Saint Patrick's Day of course!  You can whoop it up in public this Saturday, bedecked in shamrocks in a sea of green while bellying up to the bar for another pint of Guinness, or you can tuck into a plate of these yummy, Bailey's-infused brownies at home.  {Or, you can do both}.

I first made these brownies last spring, and I had to make several batches in a weeks' time to satisfy friend-and coworker-demand.  These brownies call for a 13x9-inch pan, and while I am a hard-core 8x8-inch pan devotee when it comes to brownies {to turn out the thickest, chocolatey-est, moistest brownies possible, of course}, a 13x9 inch pan is actually perfect for this recipe.  The sweet layer of spiked frosting on top makes these brownies just as thick and yummy as their traditionally-baked 8x8-inch-pan counterparts.  And, with this much sweetness and flavor going on, using an 8x8-inch pan with this recipe would yield brownies that just might be a little too much of a good thing {with inches of frosting atop each brownie}.

Creamy Bailey's in both the brownie batter and the frosting makes for an irresistibly delicious sweet with just enough of an Irish kick.  {Here is the link to the original recipe, courtesy of Betty Crocker}.

Frosted Irish Cream Brownies

Ingredients ~ Brownies
1       pkg. fudge brownie mix {1 lb 3.8 oz}
1/2    cup vegetable oil
1/4    cup Irish cream liqueur {like Bailey's}
2       eggs

Ingredients ~ Frosting
1/2    cup butter or margarine, softened
2       cups powdered sugar
2       Tbsp Irish cream liqueur
1/2     tsp vanilla extract
2-3    tsp milk

Ingredients ~ Drizzle
1        ounce semi-sweet chocolate, chopped {or chocolate chips}
1        teaspoon butter or margarine {or vegetable oil}

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease bottom only of 13x9-inch pan.  In a large bowl, combine all brownie ingredients; beat 50 strokes with spoon.  Spread in greased pan.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until brownies are set and begin to pull away from sides of pan.  DO NOT OVERBAKE.  Cool 45 minutes or until completely cooled.

Beat 1/2 cup butter in a small bowl until light and fluffy.  Beat in all remaining frosting ingredients, adding enough milk for desired spreading consistency.  Spread over cooled brownies.

Place drizzle ingredients in a small microwave-safe bowl.  {I melted chocolate by itself and added vegetable oil after to make it thin enough to drizzle}.  Microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds; stir until melted and smooth.  Drizzle over frosted brownies.  Refrigerate 30 minutes or until firm.  Cut into bars.

Yields 24 brownies {cut 6 rows x 4 rows}




Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How about a Milkshake -- For Breakfast?

...and, it's healthy!

Okay, what?  Let's start at the beginning, shall we?  I was blog-hopping the other day, following one link to the next and getting introduced to some pretty fabulous food bloggers.  I landed on Dashing Dish, a blog that offers "healthy alternatives to the food you crave".  {Some examples ~ guacamole, lemondrop cupcakes, loaded pasta salad, and banana bread french toast...hello!}.  Dashing Dish is run by a girl named Katie who could not be any more adorable if she tried; she includes fitness information {and has some religious-based posts too}, but the overwhelming majority of the site is recipes, recipes, recipes!  Katie mentions that she lost 20 pounds and has kept it off for five years, and she is also a nurse, so I feel confident taking some healthy recipe tips from her.

The most divine post I came across on Dashing Dish is her I Can't Believe It's Not a Milkshake protein shakes.  Now, most of us have knocked back a chalky, watery, and/or unnatural-tasting protein shake after a workout at one time or another.  Protein is important, especially when you're working out, but many protein shakes leave much to be desired.  So I was instantly intrigued when I hit upon Dashing Dish's list of delicious sounding shake combinations.  They all start with the same base ~ a mix of lowfat cottage cheese, protein powder, sweetener (like stevia), ice and water.  Then a dash or two of a few extra ingredients transforms this shake into a decadent treat that you can feel good about!  {Don't let the cottage cheese part weird you out ~ I don't like cottage cheese at all, but you don't taste it, it blends right up into the shake with everything else and gives it that milkshake-y texture, and it sneaks some calcium into your diet}.

I upgraded the Cookies and Cream Shake from a breakfast or post-workout shake into more of an indulgence by using two real Oreos {instead of the 100-calorie pack kind} in the shake and a dollop of whipped cream on top.  If you're counting calories or Points, remember that modifications like this will alter the calories or Points a bit.

I gave the Peanut Butter Butterscotch Shake a whirl last Friday ~ and I've had a Dashing Dish Shake every day since then!  Peanut Butter Butterscotch is my favorite so far ~ it tastes so good, you think you're being naughty!  Katie posts the calorie and Weight Watchers PointsPlus information for each shake, though, so you know you're actually not being bad at all!  I've also tried the Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake, the Oatmeal Cookie Shake, a modified Cookies and Cream Shake {see above}, and a taste of the Thin Mint shake I made for my husband.

I usually have my shake for breakfast, which also happens to be a post-workout protein boost for me.  I work out right when I wake up, so these shakes pull double-duty in providing me with a filling meal and delivering some all-important protein to my hard-working muscles.

Here, the recipe for my now-beloved Dashing Dish Peanut Butter Butterscotch Shake! {Click here to access Katie's original I Can't Believe It's Not a Milkshake post, including lots of variations; or click here to scroll through her entire Shakes category, which includes seasonal shakes like Pumpkin Pie and Malted Milk Chocolate}.

Dashing Dish Peanut Butter Butterscotch Shake

1/2 cup    lowfat cottage cheese
1             scoop protein powder  {around 100 calories/scoop...Katie and I both use Designer Whey vanilla}
1-3          packets of low-or-no-calorie sweetener {I use Truvia}
5-10        ice cubes {I use 7 to be able to drink through a straw, or 10 to eat with a spoon}
1/2 cup    to 1 cup water {I use a little more to be able to drink through a straw}
2 Tbsp    sugar-free butterscotch pudding mix {in powder form}
2 Tbsp    peanut flour, or 1 Tbsp peanut butter
              a few drops maple extract {optional}

Combine all ingredients in a blender.  Remember to use the "pulse" mode on your blender so that your blenders' motor doesn't burn out from trying to chop up the ice.  Once blended completely, pour into a glass and serve with a straw or a spoon, depending on the consistency.

Enjoy!  {I know you will}


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One Day Shopping Deals!

In honor of Leap Day {not that Leap Day has much to do with least, I don't think it does}, several retailers are offering one-day-only discounts online.  Thank goodness Banana Republic and Charlotte Russe did a "29% off" deal ~ no one else seemed to get the sticking-with-a-theme-is-cute memo!

All of these deals are online only and today only unless otherwise noted.

Banana Republic
29% off full-price items ~ use code BRLEAPYEAR at checkout

Barnes & Noble
25% off one item ~ use code LLDVWLK2KZVLA at checkout

$20 off you purchase {first purchase only} ~ use code LEAP20 at checkout

Charlotte Russe
29% off any one item {sale items excluded} ~ use code LEAP29 at checkout

Children's Place
Free Shipping on every order; 25% off Spring Dressy {get those Easter outfits!} ~ no code necessary

$25 off $75 or $50 off $150 through 3/4/12 ~ use code 1120 at checkout

15% off your purchase {some exclusions apply} ~ use code GAPGIFT at checkout

GW Little
20% off a purchase of $85 or more ~ use code LEAPSTER at checkout
12% off a purchase of $75 or more through 3/5/12 ~ use code XTRADAY at checkout

Old Navy
15% off your purchase {excludes Everyday Steals and Jeans} ~ use code ONSPRING at checkout

25% off sitewide ~ no code necessary

Free shipping on orders over $29 ~ use code LEAPYEAR at checkout

Have fun saving!


Monday, February 27, 2012

Happy National Strawberry Day!

I recently discovered that I am no longer allergic to strawberries; after a 20+-year strawberry hiatus, what's the best way to reacquaint myself with this sweet and pretty seeds-on-the-outside fruit?  Of course there are chocolate-dipped, there are shortcakes, there are strawberries-and-cream, and there's good ol' fashioned straight-out-of-the-bowl.

But perhaps the most fun way to jump back into the strawberry pool, on National Strawberry Day of all days, is to cut myself a slice of Paula Deen's Simply Delicious Strawberry Cake {it currently has a 5-star rating on Food Network's website}.  The best news?  It's starts with a cake mix, which makes the process that much {wait for it...} sweeter.

{P.S. ~ it's not only National Strawberry Day, it's also National Kahlua Day.  May I recommend our own homemade "ultimate" mudslide?}

Paula Deen's Simply Delicious Strawberry Cake

Ingredients ~ Cake
1    {18.25 ounce} box white cake mix
1    {3 ounce} box strawberry-flavored instant gelatin
1    {15-ounce} package frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed and pureed
4     large eggs
1/2  cup vegetable oil
1/4  cup water

Ingredients ~ Frosting
1/4  cup butter, softened
1     {8 ounce} package cream cheese, softened
1     {10 ounce} package frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed and pureed
1/2   teaspoon strawberry extract
7      cups confectioners sugar
        freshly sliced strawberries for garnish {optional}

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease 2 {9-inch} round cake pans.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix and gelatin.  Add pureed strawberries, eggs, oil, and water; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Pour into prepared pans, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool in pans for 10 minutes.  Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

For the frosting:  In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.  Beat in 1/4 cup of the strawberry puree and the vanilla extract.  {The rest of the puree is leftover, but can be used in smoothies or on ice cream ~ Paula's tip!}.  Gradually add confectioners' sugar, beating until smooth.  

Spread frosting in between layers and on top and sides of cake.  Garnish with sliced fresh strawberries, if desired.

Paula's post on Food Network's website can be found here.


{photo credit:}

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Beauty Department

Last spring, Lauren Conrad {of The Hills fame, but also a fashion designer in her own right} and a few pals launched the website The Beauty Department, a site that offers frequent hair, makeup, skincare and sometimes fashion tips.  I had heard about the site months ago, but I just finally got around to checking it out ~ I didn't even realize what I'd been missing!

The Beauty Department often posts step-by-step tutorials to guide you to beauty perfection, whether the task be somewhat simple {like tackling a salon-perfect blow dry at home} or a bit more complex {like some fun and fancy nail art}.

I was so excited to see this post detailing the way to get a great blow-out.  I have a lot of hair {usually it's almost down to my waist} and I can never get that "salon" blowout on my own.  I usually end up throwing my hair up in a messy bun because it's just easier than struggling with the blow dryer and brush, and not even winding up with the results I want.  I'm hoping these instructions can help me solve my basic blowout problems once and for all!

Click here for the blowout basics instructions.

I love a pretty red lip ~ it's a style that hit the mainstream hard a few years ago {Christina Aguilera's Candyman video helped!} and it seems like it's here to stay.  Red lips, when done correctly, are downright striking ~ ladylike and sexy at the same time.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways to mess it up ~ picking the right red, first of all;  making sure the color stays on your lips and doesn't make it's way onto your face, for another example.

Click here for the start-to-finish instructions on how to get a great red lip that will stay put.

"Fashion Friday" posts on The Beauty Department usually show a particular type of dress or clothing style {shown here ~ basic A-line frocks}, and give you a few examples of which hair styles work best with it, and more importantly, why.  It might sound silly, but when you want to look perfect from head-to-toe {especially for formal events like weddings or an important first date}, all the details count!

Click here for the complete post {including illustrated examples of hairstyles to pair with A-line dresses}.

Perhaps my favorite posts that I've happened upon at The Beauty Department are the DIY, super adorable manicure tips!  Check out the two examples below, and click the links for instructions on adding hearts to your mani's {hint: it involves toothpicks, and it does not involve freehanding hearts} and for nautical nails {I cannot wait for summer to try these out!}.

Have fun beautifying, lovelies!


{photo credit:  all courtesy of}

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's Girl Scout Cookie Time! {But Maybe Not What You're Thinking...}

I always wanted to be a Girl Scout.  I think really I just always wanted to wear that stylin' sash, decked out with achievement patches.  I probably wouldn't have enjoyed actually having to earn the patches ~ it seems like an awful lot of work.  But what would have made all that hard work worth it was the cookies...oh, the cookies!

Lucky for all of us {and unfortunately for all of our thighs}, you don't have to be a Girl Scout to enjoy Girl Scout cookies.  But, as I've just discovered, you also don't have to eat Girl Scout cookies to enjoy Girl Scout cookies.  Wait...what?

Thanks to Bonne Bell and the Lip Smacker crew, you can now enjoy the scent and flavor of your favorite GS cookies on your lips, without seeing the aftereffects on your hips.  Several flavors are available individually for a couple bucks a piece, or you can snag this 8-piece "Party Pack" for $9.95 ~ two tubes each of Thin Mint, Coconut Caramel Stripes {aka Samoas, aka Caramel Delites}, and Trefoils; and one tube each Peanut Butter and Chocolate Peanut Butter.

Click here to order yourself up some sweet lip balms, or see if your local Lip Smacker-carrier stocks them. 

I'll take two boxes tubes of Thin Mint, please!


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Book Club: Sisterhood Everlasting {Review}

I finished reading Sisterhood Everlasting about a week and a half ago, but I had to reflect on it before writing this review.  Ann Brashares' lastest offering is the fifth {and presumably final} novel in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.  If you've read the other books, or seen the movies, you're familiar with the characters ~ outspoken and ambitious Carmen, who wishes to be an actress; shy, beautiful Lena, the artist; free-spirited, athletic Bridget {or Bee}; and quiet, quirky Tibby, an aspiring filmmaker.  The girls have been best friends literally since birth, and the books chronicle four consecutive summers in their teens as they come of age.

The first four books in the series focus on the friends as teenagers, and as such, are geared towards a younger audience {although I read them in my twenties}.  Sisterhood Everlasting takes place ten years later, as the girls are scattered across the globe, nearing their 30th birthdays.  The overall tone of this book is heavier than the previous installments, as they deal with more "adult" issues.

I spent a large portion of the week or so that it took me to read Sisterhood unhappy with the direction that Brashares chose to take the story.  The book starts out pleasantly enough ~ just like with any series, revisiting familiar characters is like catching up with old friends.  The first few chapters bring the reader up to speed on who is doing what in life now {Carmen, for example, is a working actress in New York, thanks to the magic and free license of fiction}.  Brashares throws more than one unexpected twist into Sisterhood, though, and I found myself questioning how necessary some of those choices were.

I actually can't say my opinion on the plot line itself without giving away some of the twists, which wind up being an integral part of the story overall.  I will say that I was really disappointed when I hit the first big "surprise", a few chapters in to the novel.  It almost made me not want to keep reading, because Brashares' vision for these girls and where their lives would take them was clearly completely different than what I had expected.  I pushed ahead though, partly because I like to finish something when I start it, and mostly because regardless of whether I agree with the choices Brashares {or the characters} had made, I was still emotionally invested in their lives and I wanted to see how the rest of the book played out.

Sisterhood offered several more twists and turns as it progressed, some completely unexpected and some not quite as shocking.  It took me until almost the end of the novel to feel at peace with the direction the story had taken.  Ends were tied up, as in any proper chick-lit piece, and finally things seemed to make sense again ~ for myself, and for the girls.   I still don't think I agree with the life choices that Brashares laid out for at least some of the characters; but I respect the fact that ultimately they are her characters and she knows them better than the rest of us do.

Bottom line ~ if you were a Sisterhood fan {books or movies} before, you'll appreciate the opportunity to catch up with the girls now that they're "grown ups".  Just expect the unexpected when you curl up with this latest installment of the girls with the pants.  I wouldn't even mind a future book or two checking in on the sisterhood ~ just please no more crazy surprises!


{photo credit:}

Friday, February 10, 2012

Conversation Heart Cookie Cake Pops

When I spotted this "conversation heart" cookie-and-cake creation on Pinterest, I just about died.  Could you possibly find a more adorable homemade Valentine's Day treat?  I think not.

Darla at Bakingdom is the brains behind this ingenious creation, and she's managed to incorporate just about all my favorite things in the world ~ cookies, check...cake, check...sprinkles, check...bright, happy colors,, check...adorable stamps from Michael's, check! 

Darla swears this is an easy-peasy recipe, but it is a multi-step process, so instead of linking to her site and giving you the recipe here, I'm just going to link over to her site.  That way you'll have every single one of her pictures and instructions to follow!  Click here for her tips, instructions, and step-by-step photos!

I cannot wait to whip up these adorable cookie treats this weekend!


{photo credit:}

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

No-Bake Cake Batter Truffles

...well, isn't that a pretty title!

No-bake recipes are fantastic ~ one, if you've got kids they can help from start to finish, as there are no stove tops or ovens to worry about; two, a no-bake recipe always seems to be a simpler process {probably because the start-to-finish time is quicker}.  And I think we can all agree that all things cake {and cake batter} are indeed a good thing.

I happened across this scrumptious-looking picture of Chef in Training's creation on Pinterest, and I'm. In. Love.  What I especially like about these sweets is their versatility ~ you can use any flavor of cake mix you choose, although white-on-white does keep them looking pristine.  You can also match the truffles to any season or occasion, simply by switching up the color of the candy melts and/or the sprinkles.  Use white sugar sprinkles in January for wintery, snowball-esque treats; use the bright, multi-colored nonpareil sprinkles pictured for the perfect Easter desserts; coat the truffles with orange candy melts and black sprinkles for Halloween; etc.  

Cake Batter Truffles

Ingredients ~ Truffles
1/2     cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2     cup sugar
1 1/2  cups flour
1        cup yellow cake mix
1        tsp vanilla
1/8     tsp salt
3-4    Tbsp milk
2        Tbsp sprinkles

Ingredients ~ Coating
16       ounces {8 squares} almond bark, OR white candy melts
4         Tbsp yellow cake mix {if desired}

Beat together butter and sugar using an electric mixer until combined.  Add flour, cake mix, vanilla, and salt;  mix thoroughly.  Add 3 Tbsp of milk and blend; add additional milk if necessary to create a dough-like consistency.  Mix in sprinkles by hand.  Roll dough into one-inch balls and place on a parchment paper- or wax paper-lined cookie sheet.  Chill formed balls in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up.

While dough balls are chilling, melt almond bark or candy melts in the microwave {in 30-second intervals, or using package instructions} until smooth.  Stir between intervals.  Once melted, quickly stir in cake mix until incorporated completely.  {For smoother-looking truffles, don't add cake mix}.  Using a fork, dip truffles into almond bark; shake off excess by tapping the bottom of the fork on the side of the bowl.  Place truffle back on the cookie sheet and top with sprinkles.  Repeat with remaining balls until finished.

Chill coated truffles in the refrigerator until serving.  Makes approximately 24-30 truffles.



{photo credit:}

Monday, February 6, 2012

Red Velvet Cake Batter Dip

February is in full swing, and pink and red are the colors of the season ~ this fun and festive dip does not disappoint!  This sweet and creamy dip gets its awesome red hue from red velvet cake mix {much easier than pouring in copious amounts of red food coloring!}, and it pairs well with cookies or fruit for dipping!  Thanks to Something Swanky for the recipes.

For cookies, use easy Pillsbury Pre-Cut holiday cookies {they come with heart and Valentine prints, or Disney and Disney Princess designs}, your favorite cookie recipe, or the Funfetti Sugar Cookie recipe below!

Red Velvet Cake Batter Dip

8       ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2    cup butter, softened
2       cups red velvet cake mix
2-3   cups powdered sugar
3-4   Tbsp milk

In a stand mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter until smooth.

Mix in the red velvet cake mix, one cup at a time.  Add 1-2 Tbsp of milk, as needed, keeping consistency of batter smooth.

Mix in powdered sugar one cup at a time, alternating with tablespoons of milk.  Continue alternating powdered sugar and milk until the dip reaches the consistency and sweetness that you prefer.

Serve with cookies, graham crackers, or fruit for dipping.

Funfetti Sugar Cookies

3         cups all-purpose flour
2         tsp baking powder
1         cup sugar
1         cup butter, cold
1         egg
1 1/2   tsp vanilla
Pink and red sprinkles

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine all ingredients {except for sprinkles} in a stand mixer, and mix on medium speed for 5 minutes.  Dough will look crumbly at first, but will come together when mixed long enough.  Fold in sprinkles with a rubber spatula, or by hand as you roll the dough out.

Roll the dough onto a floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick.  Cut out desired shapes {hearts would be nice!}.  Place shapes onto prepared cookie sheets.  

Bake for 11-12 minutes.  Let cookies cool on sheet for a few minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

Enjoy, lovebugs!


Friday, February 3, 2012

What a Workout!

I may not have tried all the dance workout DVDs out there, but I sure have tried a lot.  Hip Hop Abs has been a long-time favorite {although I have no interest in seeing what I actually look like while doing it ~ I prefer to preserve the picture I've conjured up in my mind of myself looking like a pop star music video goddess};  Dancing with the Stars has a few workout DVDs out, one of which I love {see links below}; and I tried Carmen Electra's Cardio Striptease series when that was at the height of its popularity {for the record, your clothes stay on}.

I've had the two-disc Rockin' Body workout kit for a few years now {led by Shaun T, the trainer featured on both Hip Hop Abs and Insanity}.  There are four workouts ~ Mark, Move & Groove; Disco Groove; Party Express; and Shaun T's Dance Party ~ featured on the "blue" workout disc {although Mark, Move & Groove is really more like a brief instructional piece on several of the key moves featured throughout the other workouts}.  The red workout disc has three segments ~ Rock It Out, Hard-Core Abs and Booty Time.  The great thing about these DVDs is that on the back jackets, they list the length of each workout ~ so you can pick the segment that fits your schedule that day.

I've tried all the workouts on the blue DVD, and they're a blast.  You may feel a little silly doing some of the "disco moves" in the Disco Groove segment, but who cares?  You're having fun {I've actually laughed out loud at some points} and working up a sweat. 

For some reason I'd never paid much attention to the red DVD, until yesterday.  I wanted to do a half-hour workout, and the Booty Time segment fit the bill.  This workout may be my favorite in the whole series ~ I loved the moves {and actually felt reasonably coordinated doing them}, and today my thighs, quads, hamstrings, calves and booty are burning.  I haven't felt a really good day-after muscle burn from a workout in a while {probably because I do a lot more cardio than strength training}, and I had forgotten how good it felt to feel that good kind of "pain".  I will definitely be adding the Booty Time workout into my regular rotation, and now I'm even more curious to give the 10-minute Hard-Core Abs segment a whirl.

  I have no idea why they show 7 DVDs ~ there are 7 workouts on 2 DVDs

Rockin' Body is produced by Beachbody, the company that also offers Hip Hop Abs, Insanity, P90X, Brazil Butt Lift and more.  I've never tried a Beachbody product that I didn't like, although they can be a little...persistent {especially with Shakeology, the nutrition shake that they offer}.  For links to some of my favorite workout videos, Beachbody or not, see the list below.  {I also included some releases that I haven't tried yet, but sound fantastic}.
Some of My Faves

Hip Hop Abs  {Shaun T is just too adorable, and nice, which is a switch from the Jillian Michaels'-types of the workout world}
Insanity  {Cardiovascular-wise, I could keep up just fine with this high-intensity workout; the impact is too much, however, for my precarious knees, so I could not stick to the six-day-a-week program they prescribe.  I will probably throw this back into my mix, sporadically, in the near future}

Rodney Yee's Ultimate Power Yoga  {I've said it before and I'll say it again ~ I just love Rodney's style of teaching yoga, and the fact that this this DVD comes broken down into five 20-minute-or-so segments that you can mix and match as you please is just the icing on the cake}

10 Minute Solutions: Pilates  {Another DVD broken down into mix-and-match segments; Pilates is so fantastic for lengthening and strengthening your muscles, especially in your legs and core.  Sometimes I use the last segment on the DVD, Pilates for Flexibility, as my cool-down stretch after a different workout}
Dancing with the Stars Cardio Dance {This workout DVD is led by Kym, Maks and Ashly, and the jive is my favorite segment.  Some of the other DWTS vids are too hard for me to keep up with ~ literally; my feet don't move that fast! ~ but this one provides a fun, high-cardio workout without leaving me in the dust}

The Biggest Loser: Last Chance Workout  {If you watch Biggest Loser, you know that the Last Chance Workout is the final, give-it-all-you've-got workout done before weighing in for the week.  This Jillian Michaels-led DVD is great for people of all shapes and sizes ~ if you're just starting out with exercise or have limitations, plenty of modifications are given; if you're an old pro, give it your all and you'll get an amazing workout session}
Next On My List

Billy Blanks' Billy's Bootcamp: Cardio Inferno {I've had the original Billy's Bootcamp series for about five years now, and this seems like it will be even more intense!}
Bethenny's Skinnygirl Workout  {This is Bethenny's second workout DVD and was just released in December.  Of the ten reviews that have rolled in on Amazon, eight people gave 5-star reviews.  From what I read, these are yoga-based workouts broken up into fairly quick sections}.

Cardio Barre {Ballet workouts are no joke ~ ballerinas are strong, and their muscles are long, lean, and ladylike.}

The Physique 57 Solution {A book, not a DVD, actually.  Physique 57 classes in New York and LA are celeb-frequented, and the company offers both at-home DVDs and this just-released book.  The book offers step-by-step guides to their multi-format workouts, and the handful of Amazon reviews so far are all five-star}
Have fun workin' on your fitness, ladies!

{photo credit:}