Friday, December 19, 2014

2014 Best Dinners of the Week

I am no Food Network star. Don't get me wrong -- I love to cook, but anything I make isn't gourmet by any means, and often is semi-homemade. The biggest issue I face with cooking is that by the end of a long work day, making dinner is last thing I feel like doing. So we often choose carry out or whatever's easiest from there.

That's why, three years ago, I began sharing recipes on this DIY blog and began referring them to Dinners of the Week. They are truly simple, 30-minute or less recipes that are easy enough for the busiest weeknights. I've compiled a list of my favorite five Dinners of the Week from 2014 below, and the full recipes are contained in the corresponding hyperlinks. I hope that you love them as much as we do!
#5 Spicy Shrimp-Stuffed Potatoes

I make a lot of twice-baked potatoes. They are easy, taste wonderful, and you can stuff them with whatever you have on hand. My favorite from this year were these ones stuffed with shrimp, cheddar cheese, and green chiles. They were light, fluffy, and filling enough to serve as an entire meal. I made a whole batch of these, and they were gone within minutes.


#4 Chili Lime Guacamole Shrimp Tacos

Want a light, fresh, and healthy meal in under 25 minutes? This shrimp soft taco recipe (notice a seafood trend here?) was a serious winner in our home, and I know they will be one in yours, as well. These shrimp are first marinated in fresh lime juice and spices, then grilled and folded into a hot tortilla with freshly-made guacamole and lettuce. One bite and you'll be taken straight back to summer!


#3 Twenty-Minute Marinara Sauce

It's time that we ditch our jars of store-bought pasta sauce and make our own from scratch. I promise that in as little as 20 minutes, you can make your own homemade marinara sauce that will knock your family's socks off. This recipe is simple, uses fresh ingredients, and easy to make on any weeknight. I assure you that it tastes infinitely better than anything you could possibly find in a grocery store.


#2 Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

This certainly isn't a dinner recipe, but it's so good it should be one. It is hands-down the best vanilla ice cream I've ever had, and it can be made at home, either with or without an ice cream maker. Infusing a fresh vanilla bean with a rich and creamy base for the ice cream makes all the difference here. This is truly an iconic American dessert that pairs well with just about everything, including our other favorite dessert recipe from this year -- grilled apricot flambé!


#1 Perfect Grilled Ribs and Rosemary Mashed Potatoes

Evan and I have been grilling ribs since college, and there are few meals that he enjoys more than a plate of juicy, fall-off-the-bone ribs. The trick is to season the ribs well and slow-cook them for several hours over a hot grill. Here is our favorite way to grill up the perfect rack of ribs for a special dinner for two or family barbecue in your own home. We paired these ribs with freshly-made rosemary mashed potatoes and it was the perfect summer meal that everyone would love.


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I can't wait to experiment with additional easy recipes in 2015, and am looking forward to sharing my favorites with you as future Dinners of the Week. Stay tuned for more, and Happy Holidays to you and your family!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 Year in Review

I will be the first to admit that this year is really the first in three years that I've taken a break from blogging. DIY projects and home redecorating is still my passion, and if I could figure out a way to do it full-time, trust me, I would. Perhaps that's my goal for the 2015 year! A girl can dream, right?

A lot of different factors played into this little blog break throughout the year, but one good thing about not having as many projects was that I could really focus on and take a lot of pride in a select few. My favorite projects from this year -- both large and small -- are below, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! Each post contains a full tutorial on how to complete similar projects for your own home or others.

January: Glass Tile Accent Wall

One Saturday, I was wandering around Lowe's and found a bunch of tile on clearance for practically a dollar per sheet. Heck yeah! Therefore, I spent the rest of the weekend installing a glass tile accent wall above our garden tub in the master bathroom. Installing tile is so much easier than you'd think. If I could, I'd have tile accent walls everywhere. This wall is now the focal point of the room and I really do believe that it made a huge difference in the space. Our master bathroom has always been my little getaway, so this wall makes the room so much more special to me. 


March: Final Dining Room Reveal

Our dining room has been a work in progress since the day we moved into our home. Last March, I put the finishing touches on our dining room and it has remained that way ever since. Even though our dining room is truly the simplest of room designs in our home, it is still my absolute favorite. Why? It's the red walls. There's just something about them that make me smile every time I walk through the room. To finish the project, I first painted the walls a bold red, installed board and batten throughout, painted the ceiling a dark gray, put up crown molding, and installed a new light fixture. All of this was DIY and was extremely easy to accomplish.


March: Laundry Closet Reveal

Who says your laundry closet doesn't have to be special, too? Using some leftover paint and supplies from our other home projects over the years, I was able to completely transform our laundry closet over a weekend. To complete the redo, I simply painted the walls orange, installed board and batten, got some baskets and made chalkboard labels for them, and hung mason jars underneath the first shelf to house all of my craft supplies. One would hope that after fixing up this closet I would be more ambitious to get all of the laundry done, but sadly, that is not the case. Regardless, our laundry area is now prettier to look at!


April: Live for 32

This post is more of an honorable mention. I originally wrote this non-DIY story seven years ago, and three years ago, I shared it here on my blog. In March or April of every year, I revisit the post and tweak it more, as with each year brings more clarity and catharsis. What was most significant about this go-around was that this post went viral. And I mean, viral. For a few days straight, it was gaining 60-80 page views per minute. While this amount of attention was both overwhelming and exciting, what meant most to me was that my story was able to be shared, and especially to those with whom it meant the most. The massacre on Virginia Tech's campus on April 16, 2007 was something that will forever be remembered by every Hokie both near and far. I do believe that my story speaks for the thousands who, while not directly victimized by the shootings, can attest that the entire Hokie Nation grew stronger that day and vowed to make every day following a lot more meaningful.


Not a whole lot of DIY went into finishing our deck this year, but I did my best to accessorize with pops of bold, bright colors to truly transform the outdoor space. I love gardening, so I had fun making DIY veggie garden markers for our herbs and hanging those plants from the deck railings and on the siding against our house. Below our deck, too, we installed a white lattice surround to a previously empty and unsightly space. Our deck now looks beautiful and is the perfect spring or summer escape.


Evan and I decided to make candle holders out of excess firewood one day, and they turned out beautifully. We have since created a ton more as holiday gifts for our family and friends in a range of different colors and styles, but this set here that I featured on the blog is my absolute favorite. This is an incredibly easy project to do and if you're into DIY already, you'll likely have all of the materials on hand anyway!


November: A Staircase Reveal

One of the best things about taking a blog break this year was that by having fewer projects every weekend, I was able to save up the money to completely renovate our carpeted staircase. This staircase was the bane of my existence when we moved into the house, and with three dogs, it never looked pretty nor was ever clean. Over the years, I had painted the stairwell a calm blue and installed board and batten along both sides of the staircase. That helped some, but the real shine and glory of this project was what resulted when I decided to rip up the carpet one weeknight. The whole project took a lot of weeknights to accomplish (about a month's worth), but we were able to do a complete renovation for a total of $800. If we were to hire someone to refinish our staircase, it would've cost on the upward of $3,000 - $5,000. To complete the project, I took up the carpet, installed beadboard on the risers of each stair, installed new treads over the existing particleboard, stained the treads a dark walnut, installed a chunkier newell post at the bottom of the staircase, installed wrought iron balusters, stained the banisters, and applied polyurethane to everything in sight. This is, by far, the project I am most proud of in our home, and I do believe we have boosted our home's resale value as a result. 


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As the 2014 year draws to a close, I want to sincerely thank you for all of your love, help, and support in following my DIY adventures here at Paint Speckled Pawprints. I started this blog three years ago as a creative outlet for me to share my favorite pastime with my immediate friends and family. With this year, we breached nearly 700,000 page views and gained more than 250 Facebook likes. I hope that the blog will continue to flourish in the years to come, and all of that is truly a result of your direct help and support. I've got an endless amount of projects, recipes, and stories planned for 2015, and I can't wait to share them with you.

Thank you for following, and Happy Holidays to you and your families!

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