Sea Salt Caramel and Chocolate Covered Cookie Bars

Let me preface this post by saying that I value healthy eating. I get dietary guidelines and the importance of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats and (for those of us who are not lactose-intolerant) dairy products.

sea salt chocolate caramel cookie bars

I am an advocate of whole foods. And I truly believe I feel best when my diet is full of them. And yet…I am also someone who believes in enjoying something sweet every day.

I believe in moderation and taking care of our bodies and minds; but I don’t believe in deprivation.

Dessert should be delightful, fun and delicious. One night, as I was enjoying a regular chocolate chip cookie, I asked myself…what could be more delicious and fun than a chocolate chip cookie?

My conclusion? A chocolate chip cookie covered in sea salt caramel and chocolate, of course! Baker’s tip: For extra gooey cookies, take the bars out of the oven about 5 minutes early, then serve with vanilla ice cream or milk. (Note: picture is not a 13×9 pan as instructed to use in the recipe. The cookie bars in the photo were made using leftover dough.)

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Cheesy French Breads with Artichoke + Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you one of the messiest, but most delicious and satisfying appetizers you will ever taste. It’s so good, my fiance and I frequently make a meal out of it by eating several with a side salad.

Cheesy French Breads_Hardy

Cheese. Garlic. Bread. Pesto. Artichoke. And more cheese.

Probably a good idea to grab the napkins for this one, folks.

Though simple by design, this appetizer is bold in flavor. I originally developed this recipe for Pillsbury.com, which is why the first ingredient is their crusty French loaf bread dough—feel free to use fresh French bread if that is what you prefer. Either way, you’ll hardly be able to wait for these piping hot cheesy breads to cool off before digging in. Continue Reading…

Caught by surprise

A woman went into cardiac arrest at our church yesterday.

Ambulance

In the middle of worship, after the last reprise of the chorus of Christ Is Enoughsomeone from the congregation yelled, “We need prayer!” The church my fiance and I attend is very large, so we could not see what was going on. All we could do was follow the worship leader’s instruction, drop everything that we were thinking about, and run to God in prayer for this sister in Christ.

Eight scary minutes passed since the paramedics carried her outside of the sanctuary, and our lead pastor came on stage to update us on her condition.

“Eight minutes ago, I was told that this woman was in full cardiac arrest, with no heartbeat,” he paused. “But I can say now, thanks to your prayer, and God’s power and provision in guiding the medical team’s facilitation of care, the woman has a heartbeat and is being sent to the hospital to recover.” Continue Reading…

How to stop turning molehills into mountains: lessons from wedding planning

Becoming engaged marks the beginning of many things. It’s planning a wedding from start to finish. It’s the beginning of an eternal commitment. It’s the start of the rest of your life.

When my fiance proposed, I knew we were embarking down a road of constant lesson learning. Though this journey has already taught us many things about ourselves, I’m more amazed by what being engaged has taught me about life.

From the moment we saved the date to marry on October 12, 2014, I set out to wrap up our planning in the first three months. There were many questions to consider: What kind of gown did I want? What was my wedding style? Cake or no cake? What kind of favors was I going to have? Where would we book a honeymoon?

As the questions flew through my mind, I became dizzy. I finally realized why so many brides can go crazy from wedding planning: There are no right answers to these questions. You could spend hours, days or weeks making your mind up about something miniscule. It’s all dependent on where your priorities lie.

I knew early on that for me, I didn’t want to become consumed with wedding details… The priority was to make a decision and stick with it.

The pursuit of this goal made me think about how making wedding decisions is similar to how we go about our everyday lives. We can obsess and let daily decision-making own us, or we can own what we choose and move on in an adequate time and manner.

How often do we become overly concerned with things of a trivial nature? How often do we allow little things to get in the way of the bigger picture?  I believe we make life harder than it has to be when we make mountains out of molehills. When we become obsessive about things, we lose sight of the bigger picture. We get distracted and tune the surrounding world out.

There’s nothing wrong with caring about something, but I do believe there is a difference between caring and stressing ourselves out/becoming consumed by things. 

Like weddings, life can be as beautiful, memorable and satisfying as we want it to be—or it can be stressful, drama-filled and give us a never-good-enough feeling.

Either way, we can choose to not be consumed by the little details that cross our paths. And when we do get worked up about something or someone who gets in the way, we can enjoy the ride by constantly reminding ourselves of what is most important: love, life, and the joy and hope we have in Jesus Christ.

Pantry Vegetable Chicken Casserole

It hit me on my way home from work one day last week.

Pantry Vegetable Chicken Casserole | laurenhardy.com

For the first time since my fiance and I moved to Minnesota, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to make for dinner.

We’re pretty good about planning out our meals for the week. Every Saturday we sit down, take inventory of what we have and create a menu based off of that and other things we want to try. We usually plan through Friday night, but this week, we had only made it to Wednesday.

I wracked my brain sitting at a traffic light—creating a mental picture of what proteins, veggies and grains we had left. The outlook was bleak. Our fresh veggies were kaput, either wilted or already annihilated. My options: chicken, frozen veggies, and a can of diced tomatoes. JoyI thought to myself. Continue Reading…

Kale, Quinoa + Avocado Salad

There are few things I enjoy more than cooking a meal for someone. It’s the reason why I’ve contemplated becoming a personal chef someday – I love being able to fill hungry bellies with a high-quality meal.

But sharing meals goes beyond the simple act of cooking. What happens in the kitchen can be exciting, but what’s more important are the memories made at the dinner table (whether you’re dinner out or in).

Kale Avocado Quinoa Salad | Making Life Sweet with Lauren Hardy

While writing a story for Woodbury Magazine last month, I got to talk to a business owner who was opening up his second olive oil shop in the Minneapolis suburb-area. When asked what made him pursue this kind of business, he referenced his love affair with the Mediterranean lifestyle, and their attitude toward mealtimes. In Europe, sharing meals together is all about enjoyment. They don’t rush; they take their time – savoring every bite and every twist and turn of conversation. I, too, deeply revere and long for those kind of meals every day. And I try my hardest to make them happen whenever possible. Continue Reading…

It’s OK to Walk Away

It’s been about six months since I’ve visited a movie theater.

stand up for what you believe in, even if that means standing alone.

Back in high school my group of friends and I went just about every weekend. It was the social thing to do: get a large popcorn, some Trolli Brite Crawlers and hang out in the theater seats. The older I get, however, the more I’d rather go to happy hour with friends than drop the same amount of money for a movie. Why?

1) Social time has become more valuable to me. Partially because, with age comes more responsibilities and obligations, which eat away at the amount of time spent with friends and/or your significant other. (So why waste that time sitting in silence watching a screen?)

2) Few movies nowadays are even worth the ticket price.

Despite these thoughts of mine, I spent this past Friday night at the movies with my fiance, Alex. After doing some research earlier that week, I discovered that a movie he’d been wanting to see was at the local bargain theater—The Wolf of Wall Street. Instead of doing research on the film, we just figured that because other people had recommended it to us, it would be fine.

We couldn’t have made a bigger mistake. Continue Reading…

Shepherd’s Pie with Garlic Cheddar Mashed Potato Crust

I have a confession to make.

cow

I am not the world’s biggest ground beef fan. In fact, I avoid it, unless it is in the form of a juicy burger. Meatballs? Meh. Sloppy Joes? Never. Ground beef tacos? Give me shredded chicken instead. There’s something about ground beef that is not appealing to me.

On the other hand, I’m fine with ground turkey or lamb. So when I found this recipe for Turkey Shepherd’s Pie, I was ecstatic. Then I remembered: my fiance does not like turkey. So, despite my preferences, I began to think of ways in which I could make a ground beef Shepherd’s Pie that i would like. My solution? Make it hearty with full-bodied flavor, extra tomatoes, broth and fresh vegetables.

shepherd's pie | making life sweet at laurenhardy.com Continue Reading…

3 Ways to Start Making Better Decisions Now

Some decisions in life are easy.

Take, for example, buying groceries. You don’t have to think about it, you just do it. The same goes for showering, eating, sleeping, doing laundry, etc. Apple or banana? Easy. Beef, Pork or Chicken? Done. Watch TV until 3 a.m. in the morning on a work night? Probably not a good idea. In these instances, the answer to the question of “What should I do,” is pretty clear.

fruit at a grocery store

Photo | Creative Commons

But past the decisions of daily life is where it starts to get difficult. The answers to questions like the following—

What college should I go to?
What job should I take?
Where should I live?
Who should I date? Better yet, who should I marry (or not)?
What kind of car and living situation should I invest in?
What is God calling me to do?

—are not always as crystal clear, if clear at all.  Continue Reading…

Roasted Tomato Caprese Grilled Cheese

It will be months before we see tomatoes growing on vines in the Midwest, but I’m already dreaming about local heirlooms, and colorful, bright red, yellow, purple and green tomatoes.

Caprese Grilled Cheese | Making Life Sweet at laurenhardy.com

My new home in Minnesota has a small space for a box garden, so I think I’ll even be able to plant some of my own this season. Whether or not those tomatoes will be as juicy and delicious as the plump ones at the Farmers Market, I do not know. But I will make an attempt!

Tomatoes are the star of this simple grilled cheese recipe, which comes from the kitchen of How Sweet It Is blogger Jessica. Roasting the tomatoes brings out a sweet flavor that pairs perfectly with the mozzarella cheese, basil and balsamic reduction.

My fiancé and I enjoyed the whopping sandwich with a large bowl of Trader Joe’s Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Soup (my go-to box soup). For those of you who do not live near a Trader Joe’s, I am sorry… If I had the time to mail a box to you, I would! Yes. It is THAT good. Of course, you can’t go wrong with substituting for a bowl of classic tomato soup. Unless, you’re like me and suffer from tomato-overload-induced acid reflux…which in that case, I’d suggest buying another roll of Tums for that courageous combination.

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