Chocolate Lava Cakes

This past weekend was so fantastic! We left for Utah on Thursday night and were back by late Monday night, so it was a whirlwind of a trip, but it was wonderful to be able to see so many friends and family and to see Shyla and Jason get married. The entire time we were there we were so busy that I forgot to take my camera with me every single day (um…fail!), but I’ll be sure to post pictures sometime later this month when I can steal a few from my mother-in-law. The wedding was so beautiful (and so was the bride!) that I wish I could post pictures right now, but I guess it will just have to wait.

Anyway, now that I’m back and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I wanted to post a yummy dessert recipe that is the perfect end to a romantic dinner at home. Brinton and I rarely go out for Valentine’s Day, but eating in doesn’t mean that dinner and dessert have to be boring or less special! Chocolate lava cakes look so fancy and complicated, but they are really so simple to make. Also, did I mention they are amazingly delicious? Because they are. Oh my goodness, yum!

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Don’t these look fantastic?! Okay, let’s get to the recipe.

What You Need:
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup salted butter
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
cooking spray
4 ramekins, 6 to 8 oz each

The How To:
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
1. In a microwaveable bowl or double boiler, melt the butter and chocolate together. If using a microwave, melt the chocolate in only 30 second intervals, stirring after each time in order to make sure the chocolate isn’t burning and the mixture is nice and smooth.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla until well blended.
3. Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and blend.
4. Add the flour and mix until well incorporated and there are no lumps.

Chocolate Lava Cakes Step by Step
5. Spray your ramekins with cooking spray (I used coconut oil spray) and divide the batter equally into four ramekins (they should be between 2/3 and 3/4 of the way full).
6. Put the ramekins in the oven for 10 minutes. Do not overcook! If necessary, watch the cakes in the oven for the last few minutes. If you overcook these, the insides will just be cake instead of yummy lava. It’s better to undercook them and have to pop them back in the oven for a minute or so than to overcook them and end up with regular old cakes. The center of the cakes should jiggle slightly when you take them out of the oven.

Chocolate Lava Cakes After Baking
7. Once out of the oven, allow the cakes to rest for just a few minutes. Gently run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the ramekin. Place a dish over the top, and flip it upside down. If you greased the ramekin enough, the cake should easily slip onto the plate.
8. Garnish with powdered sugar and serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Fresh fruit tastes yummy on top too!

Chocolate Lava Cake

These cakes really are fantastic. You can even prepare the batter ahead of time and store the ramekins in the fridge until ready to bake to make this a quick dessert!

Let me know if you make these yummy cakes and how they turn out for you! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Linking up with Linking up with Tuesday’s Table and Lou Lou Girls!

Small Ways to Say I love You

With my sister-in-law’s upcoming wedding this weekend and Valentine’s day the weekend after that I’ve been thinking a lot about love! I’m not usually someone who really celebrates Valentine’s day–with Christmas at the end of December and then my birthday at the end of January, I honestly feel bad that there is another holiday so close that usually calls for gift giving. Brinton and I usually keep things pretty simple, and we make an effort through the year to continue to intentionally date each other and express our love.

How you might express love to those you care about may differ based on your relationship and your personalities, but here are some ideas for how to say I love you!

Small Ways to Say I Love You

Lunch notes // Every now and then I will pack my husband’s lunch for him for work and write a little note to him. It’s usually something simple like, “Thanks for working so hard!” or “I love you and can’t wait to see you tonight!” but he says it always makes him smile when he sees it.

Do his or her least favorite chore // Brinton and I both hate doing dishes, so when one of us tackles the whole sink it is definitely out of love for the other. Maybe your loved one hates folding their socks, or can’t stand taking out the trash, or really dreads scrubbing the shower. Do it for them as a small way to show your love and thoughtfulness.

Sing a voicemail // When my husband and I were dating in high school, I called him one day while he was working and I knew he wouldn’t be able to answer his phone. When his voicemail picked up I sang to him the chorus of I just called to say I love you by Stevie Wonder. He saved that voicemail for years and played it for me a few days before we were married. It was so special for me to realize that something I thought was a silly little way to say I love you meant so much to him.

Surprise him or her with their favorite meal // Food is more than just food to me–food is an expression of love itself! I love surprising Brinton with his favorite meals or snacks. Getting creative in the kitchen is one of my favorite ways to let Brinton know I care about him.

Hold hands // I love when my husband and I are just sitting on the couch and he reaches over and takes my hand. It’s the smallest gesture, but it instantly connects us and makes me feel closer to him. Feeling close and connected is so important, especially today when we are usually so plugged in and disconnected from each other.

Take time to pause together // With the hustle and bustle of everyday life, taking the time to pause can be hard. Every now and then when Brinton will come up to kiss me, I’ll be in the middle of cleaning up after the baby, or trying to get something done, or rushing to get somewhere on time and the last thing on my mind is stopping to give my husband a long hug or kiss. But then I pause and remember that the mac and cheese Evan threw on the floor can wait, because there is nothing more important than my husband and our relationship. Taking those few extended seconds with each other can make all the difference in our relationship that day.

There are so many more ways to express love, but I hope these few ideas gave you something new to think about!

Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa and Zucchini

I love stuffed peppers. As a kid this was always one of my favorite dinners that my parents used to make. The peppers were always so delicious, so filling, and I used to fight my sister to be able to eat the left over stuffing!

When my husband and I were first married, I started making my own version of stuffed peppers by using good old Rice-a-Roni as the base of my stuffing. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Rice-a-Roni…a lot, but the “health conscious” side of me knows that there are healthier options out there that are just as delicious. I finally decided to experiment a bit with quinoa as an alternative, and though I used to always add some kind of ground beef or sausage, I decided to make a vegetarian version this time.

Let me tell you–these turned out so delicious there weren’t any leftovers!

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What You Need
3 cups cooked quinoa
6 to 8 red bell peppers, tops removed and diced, bell pepper cavities seeded
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 small to medium sized zucchini, diced
1 cup corn kernels
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 small can petite diced tomatoes
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, to taste
1 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

The How To
Preheat your oven to 350º F.
1. Cook the quinoa according to package directions to yield three cups.
2. While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the bell peppers by chopping off the top, removing the stem, seeding the pepper cavity, and dicing the cap.
3. In a saute pan over medium high heat, heat the olive oil until hot. Saute the garlic until lightly browned. Add the onions, zucchini, and diced bell pepper caps. Cook until onions are semi-translucent and the other vegetables are slightly softened.
4. Salt and pepper to taste and add the chili powder as well.

Sauteed Vegetables for Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

5. Add the corn first, then the beans, the tomatoes, and finally, fold in the quinoa.

Quinoa and Bean Stuffing for Peppers

6. Stuff the bell peppers with the stuffing mixture. Place upright in a baking dish, and top generously with cheddar and feta cheeses. Note: you can add a quarter to a half inch of water in the bottom of your baking dish if you would like to help prevent sticking and to help “steam” your pepper to help it cook a bit more quickly, but it is completely optional. Don’t add too much–you don’t want your peppers to boil at the bottom and cook unevenly.

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers Topped with Feta

7. Bake for 30 minutes, until the pepper is cooked and the cheese is brown and lovely on top.

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers Right Out of the OvenQuinoa Stuffed Peppers Close Up

They look delicious, right?! I promise you, they are. What are you waiting for? Get in the kitchen!

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers Dinner Plate

I paired these delicious peppers with a simple salad: mixed greens with spinach, topped with fresh berries, more feta (because, yum!) and a simple balsamic vinaigrette.

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers Dinner Plate 2

Note: I mostly just threw things together, but just before making the peppers I decided to google “quinoa stuffed peppers” to see what other people put in their stuffing and I stumbled across a recipe on one of my favorite food blogs, Damn Delicious. I’ve mentioned this blog here in the past (because everything is so amazing!) and from the looks of it, the recipe was sure to be a winner. I got the idea for the corn and the feta from that blog, but I pretty generously adapted the recipe to fit my taste and what I had on hand. You can check out the original recipe here, if you are interested.

Also, you may find that the recipe makes more stuffing than will fill 6 or 8 peppers. It really depends on the size of the peppers and on the size of the other veggies you use. If you have extra stuffing, it keeps as leftovers very well and would also be delicious all on its own if you don’t want to buy more peppers.

I hope you all enjoy these when you make them! Let me know how they turn out for you!

Linking up with Linking up with Tuesday’s Table and Lou Lou Girls!

Twenty-Six

Yesterday I turned twenty-six years old. My day started out pretty rough–thanks 6am garbage truck who wakes my son every Friday morning!–but I ended up having a great day. We had some wonderful friends take Evan for the evening and Brinton and I were able to go out to dinner and just enjoy each others company. After dinner we caught the tail end of the Waikiki fireworks from the top of the Ala Moana Center and then walked around the mall for a bit picking up my free birthday perks from a few makeup stores. I also stopped to buy an adorable Curious George stuffed animal for Evan. I know it was my birthday but I knew he would love it so much!

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Later we went to buy Brinton a suit for his sister’s wedding and then went out for fro-yo at Menchies. It was such a good evening and a much needed date night. We haven’t been out just the two of us in quite a while and it was so nice to be able to go out without worrying about if Evan was getting antsy or not.

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Brinton also surprised me with a beautiful necklace from Wrenn Jewelry. Their jewelry is just so stunning–I want everything! The necklace he chose for me is absolutely gorgeous. I’m wearing it in the picture above, but I’ll post a better picture on the blog and on Instagram next week when I’m actually dressed. It’s pjs Saturday around here today…no shame, y’all.

I asked my mom to send me a few pictures of me when I was little. Here’s a few good ones of baby/toddler Maria. Ha, you can see I’ve always had quite a little personality.

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I hope you all are having a fantastic weekend. Thanks to everyone who called or messaged me with birthday wishes! I appreciate you all!

Nine Alternatives to Birthday Cake

My 26th birthday is this week, and it has gotten me thinking about how I want to celebrate! I always love the idea of cake, but I’m actually not that big of a fan of eating it. I do get a good cake craving every now and then, but in general it usually isn’t my first pick. I’ve also been trying to make healthier choices this year, so I thought it might be fun to brainstorm some birthday cake alternatives and share them with you all! Don’t get me wrong…not all of these choices are going to be healthier options…but some are!

Most of these pictures are from Pinterest or Instagram, and I’ll link to the website that they came from if they are not my own. I would have loved to make everything myself and take my own pictures but I didn’t have the time to do that (plus if I made and subsequently ate all of these things, it definitely wouldn’t be healthier than birthday cake!)

Fruit Pizza

Chocolate Avocado Mousse

Chocolate Avocado Mousse

via me, Maria Simply Smiling (recipe coming soon!)

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Angel Food Cake with Fruit and Fresh Whipped Cream

Pudding Cups

Mini Pies, Cheesecakes, or Crumbles

via me, Maria Simply Smiling (recipes here and here)

via me, Maria Simply Smiling (recipes here and here)

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

Ice Cream in a Cookie Bowl

Cinnamon Rolls

via me, Maria Simply Smiling (recipe coming soon!)

via me, Maria Simply Smiling (recipe coming soon!)

I hope this gives you all a few new ideas for ways to celebrate your birthday other than with cake! Do you have anything to add to the list? I haven’t decided what I’m going to celebrate my birthday with yet, so let me know in the comments!

Linking up with Linking up with Tuesday’s Table and Lou Lou Girls!

How to be a More Productive Planner

I struggled with starting this post today. Originally, my intentions were to write about why planning is important, but as I sat down to write I found that I didn’t have as much to say as I thought I did. Instead, the post started to steer in the direction of how to be a more productive planner and why planning is helpful on a day to day basis.

Here are a few tips on how to plan more productively!

Make the time to plan your week // Take an hour or so at the beginning of your week and sit down with your calendar, schedule, to-do list, etc., and plan things out. You are more likely to be successful and accomplish more if you assign specific tasks to specific days. I personally find that I have a greater sense of peace and control when I plan my whole week out in advance. There are less surprise things to do that sneak up on me and I feel more calm starting my week off in order. Every morning, take a quick look at the day you have planned to see if you need to make any changes, and adjust accordingly.

Menu plan // This can be a cumbersome chore for me, but my week runs so much more smoothly when I have an idea of what we are going to do for dinner every night. To get started menu planning, brainstorm a list of your favorite meals so you have a “bank of options,” so to speak. You can then plan out your meals accordingly. Save time consuming recipes for nights when you know you’ll be able to cook, and either plan freezer meals or take-out for nights when you won’t have time to cook. Remember that your meal plan doesn’t have to be set in stone! Every now and then I will look at our menu for the evening and not feel like eating what we planned, but because we have a whole week of meals planned and shopped for, I can just swap days and still be ahead of the game!

Find a system that works for you // For me, it’s color coding. Planner Color CodeI assign a specific color to different aspects of my life so that when I write everything out in my planner I can quickly see what it is I have to do that day, or what my overall schedule for the week looks like. I personally find this to be really helpful because I don’t need to necessarily look at each and every thing that is happening that day, but just by glancing I’ll know that I have two blog posts to write, an appointment in the morning, and a meeting for church in the evening. If you are interested, here is a picture of the color code I am currently using:

Don’t over-plan // This one is really important. I know many of us have a ton of commitments, appointments, and events we need to keep track of, but if you spread yourself too thin eventually it will catch up with you. If you over schedule yourself (or your kids!), either a) you wont be able to keep up or participate fully in everything you are supposed to do, b) you will accidentally forget about things you are supposed to do, or c) you will burn out from trying to do everything. It is important to learn how to say no to people or commitments when you are becoming overbooked. It’s also important to learn how to prioritize the things you decide to stay committed to. It may be hard to eliminate things from your schedule at first, but as you learn what your priorities really are and how much you can handle, you will feel less stressed by keeping it simple (or at least, a little more simple than before).

Be flexible // Occasionally you may not get to everything you planned to do–life can be unpredictable and sometimes it just doesn’t happen! Allow yourself some wiggle room and be flexible with your schedule. Make sure not to schedule two things so closely back to back that you don’t give yourself time to travel, or a buffer in case your first commitment runs late. If you don’t accomplish all you want to in one day, take a few minutes at the end of your day to re-evaluate your plan and see where you can re-assign some tasks. That might mean you cut some things out completely, and that’s okay! Don’t beat yourself up for needing to change the plan.

Celebrate your accomplishments // Particularly in regards to goal setting, make sure to celebrate what you have achieved! Breaking a larger goal down into “bite-sized” manageable pieces is a great way to make the goal more achievable, and it also makes it way easier to plan for. When you manage to plan out the steps to accomplishing your goal you are already well on your way to being successful, so be sure to celebrate when you actually do complete one of those tasks! A simple pat on the back will help you to stay motivated, and if you wrote it down, crossing it off will make you feel great and give you a visual reminder of what you have achieved.

Buy a planner that you love to use // I invested in an Erin Condren life planner last year, and I really feel like it has made a huge difference in how I plan and my productivity level. I love how pretty and well organized it is, and it makes me excited to sit down with my colored pens and washi-tape and get to planning. If you find a planner you love, it will help you love to plan! This post is not sponsored in any way by Erin Condren. I just found something that works for me, so I wanted to share it with you. You can check out my most recent YouTube video all about my planner and why I love it below.

I hope some of these tips were helpful for you! Tell me, what are some things you do to be a more productive planner? I’m always looking for new ideas and tips!

Linking up with the Lou Lou Girls for their Fabulous Party and Worthwhile Wednesday!

The Silver Lining

Last week was so busy that I completely missed my silver lining post. Even though it was a crazy day today too and it’s super late, I didn’t want a second week to go by without reflecting on the positive things that happened! That being said, I’m sleepy, so let’s keep this short, shall we?

Silver Lining Header

Yoga // This last week has been a difficult week, workout wise. My wrist has really been bothering me which has made it hard to keep up with the Jillian Michaels Ripped in 30 program that I’ve been doing. On the bright side, I’ve been switching gears and doing yoga instead to allow my body to rest and avoid injury, and I feel like I’ve made some real progress with the flexibility of my hips! So, that’s always nice!

Girl Scout Cookies // My mom sent us a care package with our three favorite girl scout cookies: thin mints, tagalongs, and samoas. I’ve been doing better not munching on sweets when I’ve been hungry these past few weeks, but with these in the house, you can bet that will go right out the window. But the silver lining is…I have girl scout cookies!!! Haha, it’s both a blessing and a curse, y’all.

Roaches // Well, it’s Hawaii, so naturally we have roaches we have to deal with. ’tis the season (aka always…thanks Hawaii) and I hate it. What could possibly be the silver lining here? We are going to have an exterminator come, but in order to have him treat our apartment properly we need to completely clean out a few areas of our apartment which means I get to embrace my type A personality and go on a de-cluttering and organizing spree! (Um, side note: just to clarify…we aren’t dirty people or anything like that, and by de-cluttering I mean getting rid of extra kitchen gadgets we don’t use anymore, old cookbooks, etc. We have roaches because it’s Hawaii, not because we are gross!)

GiGi New York // So I just instagrammed this, but I am super bummed about missing out on the oh so amazing Uber clutch in white. I was going to use some birthday money to treat myself to something really nice that I never would have otherwise…but before I could checkout they were gone. I don’t know what my silver lining is, haha. I saved money! That’s good, right? Gigi New York I know there is no way you would ever see this, but if you wanted to give out the most amazing birthday surprise ever, my initials are MAJ and you would make me oh so happy! Haha. Worth a shot, right?

GiGi New York clutch

City Noise // As you may or may not have seen in two of my recent posts, I have started delving into the world of YouTube. It has been so hard to find time to film with a toddler running around though that I haven’t been quite as consistent as I would like with posting videos. I filmed another one today while my little was napping, but it took like three times longer than it should have because it is so loud here and the background city noise was ridiculous! On the bright side, I’m not letting that stop me and I am pretty determined to find a way to make it work. Also, I promised myself I would push myself outside of my comfort zone this year, and YouTube definitely falls into that category! So all in all, even though it’s challenging to make the videos and I am nervous to post them, it’s a good experience for me to go through.

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Okay, that’s it friends! I’ll be back tomorrow with a new post and video (provided I can make the time to edit it in the morning!), so I hope to see you then! Have a great Saturday!

Linking up with Five on Friday and Oh Hey Friday!