Buffalo Chicken Pizza

buffalo chicken pizza cooked

If you’re looking to be a little adventurous…  to take a small walk on the wild side… to watch two tasty worlds collide… look no further!

The other night we made my friend Steph’s Buffalo Chicken Pizza for the first time.  We have had it a second time since then BECAUSE IT WAS THAT GOOD.  Now, she actually grills her pizza.  On a grill.  Outside.  I fully intend to give that method a whirl just as soon as we defrost the barbecue thanks to this POLAR VORTEX nonsense.  You can check it out here.

As you might imagine, this pizza packs a little bit of a spicy punch.  You can control the heat by choosing a mild or hotter wing sauce.  We used mild and it was still fairly hot for me – but I am a total wuss when it comes to heat!

You will need:

Pizza dough (pre-made from the store or you can use my pizza dough recipe to make your own)

1/2 cup wing sauce (choose your heat level! You can also use hot sauce if you prefer.)

1 cup marinara sauce

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles

1 cup shredded cooked chicken

How to make:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Roll out your pizza dough to about 1/8″ thick.

3.  Toss chicken in wing sauce.

4.  Spread sauce over the pizza dough.

5.  Sprinkle mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the sauce.

6. Top with chicken and sprinkle with blue cheese.

7.  Bake until the cheese is melted and the bottom of the dough is set.  (Ours baked for about 20-25 minutes.)

buffalo chicken pizza before oven

buffalo chicken pizza cooked 2

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Berry Smoothie Freezer Kit

berry smoothie kits title

If you were to ask me what I would spend money on if I won the lottery:  pay off the mortgage and hire a personal chef.  That’s it, those are the two main things I’d be interested in!  I actually love to eat healthy. I love fruit, I love veggies.  What I can’t stand are the hours that it can sometimes take to prep said fruits and veggies for whatever recipe(s) I am attempting.

The reason that I resent all of that prep time is because I simply don’t have it.  TIME.  Never enough time.  I am in a constant whirlwind of running here, running there, running TWO businesses from home with an active 5 year old and a little 3 month old.

TIME IS PRECIOUS and it likes to escape me!  Any little thing that I can do ahead of time to ensure that I get breakfast and it doesn’t come from a drive-thru is worth it.

I have always enjoyed smoothies, of all different kinds, but a basic berry smoothie remains my favorite and probably the easiest to make.  I like to add flax seed to my smoothies as well for additional health benefits.

Time Saver – You can actually make up smoothie kits – with every ingredient minus the milk – and keep these in the freezer!

One tip – my blender (just your run-of-the-mill type, nothing fancy like a  Nutribullet, Ninja or Vitamix!) sometimes has trouble churning through the yogurt and berries when they are frozen solid.  If your blender groans at the thought of frozen food, consider pulling a kit out of the freezer at night and letting it thaw a little in the fridge until morning.

You will need (per kit):

1.  Quart or sandwich sized freezer bag

2.  1/2 cup frozen berries (crazy about berries?  Add up to 1/2 cup more if you’d like!)

3.  1/2 cup non-fat vanilla flavored Greek yogurt (any brand, I usually use Dannon)

4.  (optional) 1 TBSP flax seeds

5.  3/4 cup milk

How to make:

1.  Fill freezer bag with berries, yogurt and flax seed.

2. Freeze!

berry smoothie freezer kit

3.  Add all ingredients from freezer bag to your blender along with the milk.

4.  Blend until you reach the desired consistency.

5.  Enjoy!  These are great on busy mornings when you’re on the go – throw in a travel cup and add a straw.

berry smoothie

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Snow Ice Cream

snow ice cream title

It has taken me about 4 years and a dozen snow storms to FINALLY make some snow ice cream with Lily.  I knew that it would be incredibly easy, but for whatever reason, we never ended up making it… until this afternoon!

Making ice cream out of snow is a cinch – and it only takes a couple of minutes.  One word of advice regarding how much snow to use – the fluffier (lighter) the snow, the more snow you will need.  I like to start with about 10 cups of snow, but always keep extra nearby in case I need more.  Today we have a VERY light, fluffy snow coming down so I probably used closer to 15 cups of snow.

You will need:

10 cups of CLEAN white snow (possibly more if the snow is super fluffy)

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup milk

snow ice cream ingredients

How to make:

1.  Place snow in a big bowl.  Sprinkle sugar over the top of the snow.

snow ice cream

2.  Slowly add vanilla and milk.  I poured mine down the side of the bowl to melt as little of the snow possible.

snow ice cream 2

3.  Fold ingredients into each other until you get a slushy-ice-creamy consistency.

snow ice cream 3

4. Enjoy immediately!  This sweet treat is especially enjoyed by kids who have played to their heart’s content out in the snow all afternoon!

snow ice cream 5

snow ice cream 4

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Carnival Glory Cruise Review – Miami to Western Caribbean

Carnival Glory cruise review grand cayman

Background:

Last year in January (2013) my family flew from Philadelphia, PA to Fort Lauderdale, FL.  “We” are made up of myself, my husband Bob and our (then 4 year old) daughter, Lily.  Once we landed in Florida, we rented a car and drove to Miami where we spent the night at a hotel downtown before boarding the ship.  Our cruise was a 7 night voyage that was advertised as having stops in Cozumel (Mexico), Belize, Honduras and Grand Cayman.  We booked our trip less than 2 months prior to our departure.

Cruise History:

This cruise makes #4 for me (Bahamas twice, Bermuda, Alaska), #3 for Bob (Bahamas, Bermuda, Alaska), #2 for Lily (Bahamas).  This was our 2nd cruise with Carnival – the first being a semi-disastrous trip on the Pride.  We wanted to give Carnival a 2nd shot at impressing us and the price tag was by far the cheapest of the similar itineraries on other cruise lines that we considered.

Booking:

Booking our cruise was pretty easy.  While I am almost always a book-via-internet kind of gal, I took advantage of the Carnival travel coordinator who kept calling me with “specials” and let her book our trip over the phone.  She was very nice and also helpful.  The one deciding factor for us in choosing this cruise in particular was the fact that it docked for a day in Belize.  I have several friends who have taken this exact cruise in the past.  All assured me that the one that stopped in Belize was THE BEST because it stops at one of the most impressive examples of Ancient Mayan ruins.  (Seeing the Mayan ruins were pretty much the sole reason that I chose a Western Caribbean cruise over other destinations.  Ever since learning about this civilization in elementary school I have wanted to see them in person.)

After booking the cruise, we made sure to take Lily to apply for her passport since the ship was making so many stops in foreign countries.

I was able to book all of our shore excursions online without a problem.  We were getting really excited to leave the cold winter up north for some fun in the sun.

Then the Pot Started to Boil

About a week before our trip, I received an email from Carnival.  The email stated that our SHORE EXCURSION to BELIZE was being canceled and that my money (already charged on the credit card) would be refunded (no mention of WHEN it would be refunded).  I never ever ever received an email or a phone call from Carnival letting me know that our ship would not be docking in Belize.  Had I not booked that shore excursion to the Mayan ruins, I would have boarded the ship assuming that Belize was still on the itinerary.  After some internet digging, I found information that Carnival knew our ship wouldn’t be stopping in Belize by the first week of December.  They never changed their website and continued to sell the cruise as having a stop in Belize.  We didn’t book our cruise until mid-December – AFTER it was already not going to stop in Belize.  Yet they were happy to take my money for both the cruise and the shore excursion in Belize.  I wrote a nasty gram to their customer service pointing out the fact that this was completely deceitful – to sell a cruise and shore excursions for a location they had no intention of stopping at, and also that I was leaving for vacation within the week and my credit card still hadn’t been credited back hundreds of dollars for the trip to the ruins.  Carnival refused to help me in any way – not even so much as a free drink credited to our cabin.  LOL  I’m kidding about the drink – but they made absolutely no attempt to pacify me or apologize.  They just kept repeating that they “had the right to change the itinerary and substitute a comparable stop.”  Bottom line – I only chose that cruise because of the stop in Belize.  I would have booked a different cruise if I had known we wouldn’t be stopping there.

Deep Breath.  We refused to get on the ship already annoyed.  We put on our positive thinking hats and hoped that this would be the only hiccup.

Faster to the Fun

After we booked, I kept seeing options to add Faster to the Fun to our cabin account.  For about $50 PER CABIN (not per guest) you can enjoy certain perks that cut out a bit of the usual waiting throughout the cruise.  We decided to try it out and I am really glad we did.  As a Faster to the Fun pass holder, we enjoyed expedited check-in and were on the ship in (literally) minutes.  In less than 20 minutes we went from walking in off the street to stepping on board the ship, room card in hand.  That’s pretty darn good!

Some other FttF perks included the guarantee that our cabin would be cleaned and ready AS SOON as we boarded the ship.  We also had our luggage expedited to our room within minutes of arriving at our cabin.  We have been on cruises before where we were still waiting on luggage well after dinner, so this was really a nice option.

carnival cruise faster to the fun tags

carnival cruise faster to the fun

As former Carnival cruisers, we received vouchers that could be redeemed for a free alcoholic beverage during the cruise.

carnival cruise

Bringing alcohol, soda and water on board

We were pleasantly surprised to learn that Carnival allows passengers to bring wine (up to one bottle per passenger) and a reasonable amount of bottled water and soda on board.  This was a great option for us and saved us a lot of money.  We aren’t huge soda drinkers but one every now and then hits the spot.  I drink water 24/7 so I appreciated have some on hand without having to trust the tap water on the ship.  We enjoyed coming back to our cabin each night, putting Lily to bed and having a glass of wine out on the balcony.  We took two bottles of wine, a case of water and 2 12-packs of soda on board.  We had a whole bottle of wine, some water and soda left at the end of our cruise so we left it for our cabin steward who had taken great care of us all week!

carnival cruise soda wine water

Cabin 6336

We loved our cabin!  This was the very first time that we have ever upgraded to a cabin with a balcony and I’m pretty sure we will never NOT get one again.  It was just fantastic having our own little spot to enjoy the outdoors and the scenery without having to schlep off to a public area.  We sat on the balcony a LOT – more than we ever thought we would.

Our cabin was located midship so the rocking was hardly noticeable.  The only drawback to our cabin was that it was located directly above the casino.  Late at night, when you laid your head down on the bed you could hear the ching-ching-ching of the slot machines and the booming voice of whoever was manning the microphone that night!  Fortunately we always travel with a white noise machine, so we just cranked that sucker up and it drowned out most of the noise.

carnival cruise cabin 6336

carnival cruise cabin 6336 b

carnival cruise glory bathroom b

carnival cruise glory bathroom a

carnival cruise bathroom amenities

The Ship

The Glory was a nice enough ship.  The decor wasn’t too tacky or outdated.  You can find your usual array of bars, the casino, shops, a pool/hot tubs (with an adults-only pool and hot tubs on the back of the ship), spa, gym, kids’ club theater and more.

Shortly after we boarded the ship we took a walking tour of our new home for the next week.  Lily’s favorites were the water slide on the back of the ship and the kids’ club.  By the end of the week we finally made it to the water slide and she made the trip all by herself!

carnival glory pool

carnival glory pool cruise

carnival glory cruise water slide

Camp Carnival (Kid Club)

FINALLY we were on a cruise with a kid who was old enough to enjoy the kids’ club.  AND ENJOY IT, SHE DID.  Within our first few hours on the ship, we signed Lily up for Camp Carnival and stopped by the actual club area to take a walk around.  Needless to say, Lily would have been more than happy to spend her ENTIRE CRUISE at Camp Carnival.

At the beginning of the trip we received a master schedule of ALL of the activities that Camp Carnival would offer, what times they would take place, etc.  We were able to figure out which activities Lily would enjoy and which ones would work around our shore excursions, etc.  We dropped Lily off at Camp Carnival several times throughout the week… once so we could enjoy a fancy date night at Emerald Steakhouse Restaurant, another so that we could jump on the treadmill at the gym, etc.  She literally couldn’t get enough of it and the staff was always very pleasant, positive and welcoming.

carnival glory kids club

carnival glory kids club 2

Setting Sail

Setting sail from Miami appeared to go off without a hitch.  Once again, we were ready to do the dance of joy as we realized how nice it as going to be to have a cabin with a balcony as we journeyed through the Western Caribbean and back.

carnival glory cruise ship leaving miami

weavers leaving miami

lily miami

Service

The service from Glory’s staff rivaled every other cruise we have ever been on.  In one word: exceptional.  From the very first staff member we encountered at the port, to the kids’ club, to the cabin steward – all were fantastic.  They went out of their way to make sure that we had nothing but the very best experience.  Even though we chose the “anytime dining” plan and got to head to dinner whenever we felt like it, we made sure to request the same waiter and assistant waiter every night – they were just wonderful.  Julius and Rocky took such good care of us each night!

carnival glory dining room

The Food

While our food on a previous Carnival cruise was just so-so, we both agreed that this ship offered some really delicious options.  There is, of course, the buffet, which was nothing special but had some tasty options.  24 hour room service is included (and we certainly enjoyed it almost daily) and everything we had was good.  We made it to the main dining room every night except for two.   As I mentioned above, we loved our waitstaff so much on the first night that we requested them every single night after that.

We LOVED Guy’s Burger Joint.  Found on the back of the ship, this quick service burger joint really hit the spot for a tasty lunch or dinner.  You order a burger and then head to the fixin’ bar(s) where you can add every kind of topping and sauce imaginable.  The fries were really yummy too!

carnival glory guys burger joint food

One of the coolest benefits to having a kid who was not only old enough for the kids’ club, but LOVED spending time at the kids’ club, was a true blue, real deal adult date night!  That’s pretty rare when we’re on the vacation, and really never happens when we travel solo, without other relatives or friends.

Lily skipped happily into Camp Carnival on our first Day at Sea while Bob and I dressed a little fancy and went on a dinner date to Emerald’s Steakhouse (reservations strongly recommended).  For $35 per person (includes tip, does not include alcohol) you can dine in this upscale fine dining restaurant.  We each had a different cut of steak, cooked just as we like it.  You actually get to see the different cuts of steak (brought to your table) before you make your choice and the waiter describes them and their differences.  The steak, the sides, the dessert – all were scrumptious and well worth the price.

carnival glory cruise emeralds steakhouse dinner

carnival glory cruise emeralds steakhouse dessert 2

carnival glory cruise emeralds steakhouse dessert 1

Other food options on the ship include a burrito cantina (yum!) and a seafood bar (eh, so-so).

The Itinerary

Except for the BELIZE DEBACLE (see above), we LOVED the itinerary on the Glory!

Our 7-night cruise made 4 separate all-day stops:

Cozumel, Mexico where we spent the day on the Passion Island Beach.

Costa Maya, Mexico where we explored the ancient Mayan city of Chacchoben.

Roatan Island, Honduras where we enjoyed a private cabana all day on the beach.

Grand Cayman where we swam with the dolphins and went to the turtle farm.

We spent a day at sea on the way out and another one on the way back.  During those days we were able to enjoy the ship’s amenities and spend a delightful amount of time watching the waves from our balcony. (Er, don’t forget the day that I discovered I was pregnant at the end of the cruise! LOL)

The Entertainment

We caught several of the nightly shows in the theater and they were all an enjoyable time.  Lily loved singing, dancing and costumes!

Glory’s itinerary had activities almost round the clock – from deck parties and bingo to family game show night and chocolate buffets, there was always something to do.

Weather

Oh did we ever luck out with the weather during this trip.  We cruised in January and left behind the barren, dismal, arctic winter in Pennsylvania for warm and sunny skies in Miami and the Caribbean.  We did encounter two pretty rainy days during our trip.  Fortunately the rain in Costa Maya didn’t get bad until after our Mayan ruins tour bus left the port.  We heard that people who booked the later tours that day had canceled trips so we felt extremely lucky that we had the chance to go.

It poured (POURED AND POURED) most of the day that we were in Honduras.  Thankfully, we had rented a private cabana so we were able to stay on the beach despite the rain.  When the rain took a break, we hopped in the ocean, returning to the cabana when the downpours started up again.

Traveling with a Kid

This cruise made it a complete and utter joy to have a kid in tow.  Lily is a fantastic little traveler and finally she was old enough to enjoy the many activities that a cruise ship has to offer.  We spent so much time together as a family, yet Bob and I still found pockets of time to enjoy time on our own.

Final Thoughts

We had SUCH a wonderful trip.  We had the weather, the cabin and the service that combined to make it a trip to remember.  While we would take a Carnival cruise again, it wouldn’t be until Landon is at least 4 or 5.  Lily was 4 at the time of our trip and she was able to get so much more out of the whole experience than our first cruise with her 3 years prior.

If we cruise in the meantime, it would likely be on Disney Cruise Lines, which I hear is a good choice when traveling with the tiny kiddos.

bob and lily in cozumel

devon and lily in cozumel

lily and devon on airplane

mayan ruins in chacchoben

swimming with dolphins grand cayman

towel animal carnival cruise

cruise dis

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Bread Machine Pizza Dough

bread machine pizza dough title

Ladies and Gentlemen, this recipe is a LIFE CHANGER for me. I don’t know why, but the idea of making my own pizza dough has both interested and scared me for years. How cool would it be to MAKE my own dough?! Pizza night every week – any toppings we could imagine – budget friendly and knowing exactly what ingredients I was feeding my family.

The flip side: how in the WORLD could I possibly ever MAKE my own dough?! It sounds so difficult, daunting even. Do I need yeast? What kind of yeast? Do I need to take pizzeria style dough tossing lessons?

I am happy to report, that any fear of the unknown that I may have been feeling was completely eradicated after finding a recipe that was so easy, I could nearly follow it blindfolded (I said NEARLY).

This recipe uses a bread machine to do all that nitty gritty kneading and such. As long as your bread machine has a “dough” option (and many of them do), you’re in business. One of my very favorite parts about this dough recipe? It freezes like a champ. You can have a dough day every few months… just keep loading ingredients into that bread machine and let it do the work. Bag your dough and pop it into the freezer for days when a quick-yet-tasty dinner is a necessity (hmmm.. that’s pretty much EVERY night over here).

This recipe makes enough dough for one large pizza or two smaller pizzas.

Here’s how to make your very own pizza dough:

Ingredients:

4 C whole wheat flour
1 packet bread machine yeast (approx 2.5 tsp)
1.5 C warm water
3 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP sugar
2 tsp salt
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp dried minced garlic (up to 1 tsp depending on how garlic-y you like your crust)

To make:

1. While I suggest following the directions that came with your bread machine as far as what order to add your ingredients, a general rule of thumb is to add wet ingredients first. Then add the dry, with the yeast at the very top, not touching the wet ingredients.
2. I add the water, then olive oil, following by: flour, sugar, salt, Parmesan cheese, garlic. Then I poke a little indent in the top of the dry ingredients and pour the yeast into the hole.
3. Turn your bread machine on and choose the “dough” setting. Sit back and let your bread machine take over! (This process takes my machine about 1.5 hours.)

bread machine pizza dough 3

4. When your dough is finished, remove from the machine.
5. Decide if you want to keep your dough in one piece (for a larger pizza) or, if desired, break evenly into two balls for two pizzas. We have actually been able to get 2 smaller thinner crust pizzas out of 1/2 of the dough, so in other words, 1 batch of this recipe tends to yield 4 thin crust pizzas, approx 12 inches in diameter.
6. Set dough aside to let rise for 20 minutes.

bread machine pizza dough 2

7. Label a Ziploc bag for each ball of dough and spray the inside of each bag with non-stick cooking spray. Place each ball of dough in a bag and stick in the freezer.

bread machine pizza dough 1

8. You can, of course, skip the freezing part if you intend to make your pizza that night. Otherwise, pull the dough out of the freezer several hours before you intend to start cooking it to give it time to defrost.

The sky is the limit when it comes to toppings!

We bake this dough for about 20 minutes at 350 F.

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