Valentine Cupcake Ideas

 By:  Vickie W

Valentine Cupcake Display

Looking for some Valentine cupcake ideas? Make Valentine’s Day extra special with this great cupcake display! Cupcakes and a cupcake display are easy ways to treat your friends and family for Valentine’s Day.  My friend, Oma, made this cupcake display for her grand kids.  The cupcakes were made with a mix and  then she embellished the cupcakes with pink icing and heart shaped sprinkles.  Valentine cupcake picks were used as the topper.  You could use a strawberry cake mix for pink cupcakes or swirl some vanilla cake mix and strawberry cake mix together for a marbled effect.  

Cupcake stands are inexpensive and really add pizzazz to your table.  If you can’t find them locally, you can order cupcake stands online. You can also buy really cute toppers and cupcake liners with many different designs and colors.    This would turn and simple gathering into a party! Cupcakes are really trendy now.  Cupcake displays are often included on dessert buffet tables.  I have even seen them served at wedding receptions.  Kids ( and adults) of all ages love cupcakes.  If you are serving adults, you may want to make two cupcakes per person, especially if you are serving men.  You can bake a batch in no time and with just a little creativity, the cupcakes become fun for everyone.

If you have kids or grand kids, you could get them involved in making and decorating the cupcakes.  Cupcakes are very easy to mix up and even small children can get involved.  Have a variety of sprinkles and toppers available so everyone can choose their favorite!   When you share this activity with your kids, cupcakes become more than just a dessert….They become a memory your kids will long remember.        

A cupcake display would be great for an office party,  school party or a dessert buffet.  

What a great way to “Make Life Special” for Valentines Day!  




Taste of the Town

Taste of the Town

By Todd Blackledge

 Taste of the Town

Reviewed by: Nicole


Note:  Hachette Book Group  supplied me with one bag each of  for review.  No other compensation was received.  The review in this post is honest and my own.


Gift Guide Age Recommendation:­  14+




I would be lying if I told you I am a huge fan of college football.  I’m not.  I don’t have my DVR set to record the next big game and I certainly don’t pay extra on my TV bill every month to get an all access pass to college sports.  But, I am a fan.  I always root for my alma mater (go Louisville Cards!) and I will always root for University of Kentucky to lose no matter who they are playing.  I follow the game fairly well, thanks in part to my husband’s love of playing Madden on our Play Station.


That being said, I really enjoyed this cookbook.  It was really neat to read about the eateries associated with some of the biggest teams in college football.  The book is filled with stories and told in such a way that you almost forget you are reading a cookbook.  I like that Blackledge tells you about restaurants even if a recipe is not featured.  In that way, the book is part cookbook and part travel guide.  I’ve already made a note to visit Ye Old Steakhouse next time I am in Knoxville, TN.  But, until then, I have a lot of recipes to try out in my own kitchen!

 travels Cookbook

I chose to make Chandler’s Meat Loaf from Chandler’s Deli in  Knoxville, TN.  As I prepared the dish, I was glad to have some background on who created it and where it originated.  The meatloaf reminded me of a dish my mom used to make when I was a little girl; it was delightful!  I can’t wait to try out other recipes from this fabulous collection.  I think Ursula’s Catering’s Chicken Etouffee is next in line…


Who would like this gift?

I would recommend this book to any fan of Mr. Blackledge’s Taste of the Town segment on ESPN.  I also recommend this for any fan of college football… especially if they travel for games!

Where to Buy

You can purchase a copy of this cookbook  by visiting Taste of the Town

Or, you can shop online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million, Indie Bound, Powell’s Books or Indigo.

Tyrrells Chips

Tyrrells Chips

 Tyrells Chips Bags

Reviewed by: Nicole


Note:  Tyrrells Chips graciously supplied me with seven bags of chips (one each flavor)  for review.  No other compensation was received.  The review in this post is honest and my own.


Gift Guide Age Recommendation:­  18+



I fell in love with English style chips when I visited England, Ireland and Wales during the summer of 2004.  The flavor, the texture, the refined ratio of salt to potato… delightful!


Perhaps I am a potato chip snob, but the standard American grocery store potato chip purchase leaves me rather underwhelmed.  I find them to be too salty.  Usually, if you find a bag or two in my house it is because my husband wanted some snack foods.  Either that, or we just had a grill out with friends.

Tyrells Chips

My complaint about chips being too salty does not apply to Tyrrells Chips.  The chips that have a flavor other than salt are flavored quite nicely.  My personal favorite was the Mature Cheddar & Chives.  They had a strong taste of real cheddar, not generic processed cheese.  The Lightly Sea Salted Potato Chips were very delicate in their taste and you could still taste the potato (which I liked very much).  The Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper did not skimp on either the sea salt or the cracked black pepper; in fact, I have to say that they are the best “salt & pepper” style chips I have ever eaten.  My husband devoured the Sea Salt & Cider Vinegar and the Worcestershire Sauce with Sundried Tomato was surprisingly good.  I would have never thought of putting Worcestershire on a potato chip, but it works very nicely and goes great with a strong cheese.

Who would like this gift?

I have to admit that any anglophile will adore these.  So, any friend of yours who celebrates the birthday of “The Queen” every year with a complete tea service will love you forever for buying these for them.


If you are looking for something special to get your favorite cubicle mate, or a small token of your affection for your hairdresser, building security guard, or favorite study partner in college then a bag or two of these delightful chips would be a great choice!

I also recommend these as part of a gift basket.  Paired with some good beer, some cheese, cured meats, and a few gourmet candies these would go from a good gift to an outstanding gift.


Where to Buy

You can purchase these products and view their whole product line  by visiting Tyrrells Chips.


They are also available at Amazon.

The Juice Lady’s Big Book of Juices

The Juice Lady’s Big Book of Juices and Green Smoothies

By: Cherie Calbom, MS, CN

 Big Book of Juices and Green Smoothies

Gift Guide Age Recommendation:­  13+



A few years ago I tried juicing.  I loved it!  But, my juicer didn’t make it through one of our many moves and I let my new juicer linger in my Amazon Wish List for far too long.  Reading thru The Juice Lady’s Big Book of Juices & Green Smoothies was a great reminder to purchase my new juicer and re-enter the world of juicing.  As a novice juicer, this book discussed all the things I needed to know; how juicing is beneficial, the nutritional perks to juicing, how to store homemade juice, how much homemade juice costs (less than a latte), and pages upon pages of recipes are all contained in this fantastic book.

Green Pina Colada

I sampled Calbom’s Green Pina Colada Smoothie.    I was skeptical that it would taste anything like a Pina Colada.  Yes, it contained coconut, banana and pineapple.  But, it also contained spinach.  I drank spinach! And, it was delicious!  Had someone just rattled off the list of ingredients, I doubt this recipe would have worked.  Calbom is very precise in how much of each ingredient to use (this recipe, for instance, called for 6 ice cubes) and her little tidbits of information placed throughout the book really make it one to read and not just skim thru.


Who would like this gift?


This is a great book for the health conscious, the friend or family member who owns a juicer, that friend who always talks about needing to remove toxins from their bodies, or someone looking to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables.  For those looking to give a bigger gift, I would recommend this book be given with a new juicer.


Where to Buy


For $13.60 you can purchase this cookbook at Amazon.


For More Information

You can visit The Juice Lady’s Website.


Reviewed by: Nicole


Note:  News & Experts graciously supplied me with a copy of The Juice Lady’s Big Book of Juices & Green Smoothies  for review.  No other compensation was received.  The review in this post is honest and my own.

CONTEST CLOSED Lets Get Together Cookbook Giveaway

Cookbook Giveaway

Lets Get Together Cookbook Giveaway

Giveaways are Great!!!!

I love to offer giveaways here at Make Life Special and this cookbook giveaway is a gift from me to my readers!  

Learn the secrets for keeping the fun in cooking for friends.  You can spend more time enjoying your company when you follow these easy and delicious recipes.   

This cookbook features recipes for breakfasts and brunches, appetizers, salads, soups, sandwiches, entrees, side dishes, desserts and drinks.  There is also a chapter on gifts of food.  The cookbook offers suggestions for easy menus for entertaining too.  This book makes it easy to put together a single memorable meal or an entire weekend of good food.  

Recipes such as Apple Cinnamon Stuffed French Toast or DeeDee’s Best Waffles are tempting breakfast fare.  Grilled Summer Vegetables, Chili Blanco, Classic Macaroni and Cheese, Creamy Crunchy Potato Bake and Mom’s Favorite Gingerbread with Hot Lemon Sauce are just a few of the delicious recipes found throughout this cookbook.  


Let’s Get Together

Let’s Get Together Will Make a Great Addition To Your Cookbook Collection!

Giveaways are great and you could be the lucky winner!  

We LOVE Giveaways!

Contest Ends Friday August 2, 2013 at 8:00 PM CST

Winner will be chosen by 

Winner will be announced on our winners page

You can enter more than once

Good Luck!

Here are the different ways you can enter.  Each item requires a separate comment in the comment section below to count as a separate entry.

1.  Tell us about your favorite recipe for entertaining… is it a cheese ball…or maybe chili…or ribs?  We would love to hear about it!   

2.  Click the YouTube Button  above and subscribe to the Make Life Special YouTube channel.  Anyone can subscribe to my YouTube channel.  You don’t have to have videos yourself in order to subscribe.  Just be sure to post a comment below that you subscribed.

3.  Share this link on  your Facebook page.  Post the link below in the comment section.

4.  Follow Make Life Special on Pinterest!  Use the Pintereset Button above for the link then post your comment below that you followed us!   

5.   ” Like” Make Life Special on Facebook.  Click the Facebook Button above for the link then post your comment below and tell us you liked MLS.

6.  Repin 5 of our recipes from the Cooking With Make Life Special Board on Pinterest!  Use the Quick Pinterest Button Link above, then tell us you did it in the comment section below.

7.  Repin 5 of our videos from the Make Life Special Video Board on Pinterest!  Use the Quick Pinterest Button Link above, then tell us you did it in the comment section below.

8.  Tell us what your favorite Make Life Special recipe is!

9.  Tell us how you prefer to entertain friends….is it a potluck…or maybe a brunch…or chili night?  We would love to hear about it.

Have Fun!!!!

Giveaways!!!     Giveaways!!!   Giveaways!!! 


Salsa Black Beans Recipe

black beans recipe

Salsa Black Beans

There Is a Lot To Be Said For Easy!  My Salsa Black Beans Recipe is Super Easy!

Everyone is so busy….who has time for long, complicated recipes?  Not me!  That’s why I feature easy and creative recipes for BUSY people on Make Life Special!  I know what it’s like to have a full time job, raise kids, go to softball games, basketball games, scout meetings, committee meetings, juggle the household chores, pay the bills, grocery shop, be the fix it person…and generally try to make everything alright for everyone in your family!  With your time at a premium, you need easy recipes that are great tasting.  

Try my Salsa Black Beans Recipe With Your Next Mexican Dinner!

This black beans recipe uses the convenience of canned black beans and canned salsa for a surprisingly easy and tasty side dish.  No one ever guesses how easy this is!

Salsa Black Beans Recipe
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
You can vary the flavor by using mild, medium or hot salsa. You be the judge!
Recipe type: Side dish
Serves: 6
  • 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 to 1½ cups salsa
  1. Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and heat.
  2. Enjoy!


black beans recipe

Salsa Black Beans Recipe Ingredients

 You can vary the flavor of this recipe by using either mild, medium or hot salsa.  My family prefers the taste of medium salsa but you be the judge!

Black beans are a great source of protein and fiber.  This means that they will satisfy your hunger and keep you filling full and energized for hours.  Not only that….they taste good!  This Salsa Black Beans recipe is a perfect side dish for your next Mexican meal but it is also good served alongside any meat.  I like to serve this with roasted pork tenderloin, grilled chicken, pork chops or grilled hamburgers.  Once your family tastes this, you will be making it often.  And, this is also a very economical dish to make.  It is easy on your budget and great for you too!  Ole!


Onion Roasted Potatoes

Potato Recipes

Onion Roasted Potatoes

Every BUSY cook needs easy potato recipes!  

My recipe for Onion Roasted Potatoes is simple to make!  You just throw together the three ingredients and bake for only 30 minutes!  We are grilling steaks tonight so I’m making Onion Roasted Potatoes as a side dish.  Onion Roasted Potatoes are a snap to make because you don’t even peel the potatoes.  Just diced them up, toss with a little olive oil and a packet of Dried Onion Soup Mix and these are ready for the oven!

Onion Roasted Potatoes
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Side Dish
Serves: 4
  • 4 medium potatoes, diced with the skins left on
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 packet dry onion soup mix
  1. Combine all of the ingredients and pour into a greased casserole dish.
  2. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes


potato recipes


Just dice, combine and bake!  Easy…Easy!!

Here are the Onion Roasted Potatoes hot out of the oven.

Onion Roasted Potatoes Hot Out Of The Oven

Onion Roasted Potatoes Hot Out Of The Oven

And now for a few nutrition facts about potatoes.  Did you know that one medium potato has only 110 calories?  A medium potato is fat free, sodium free and cholesterol free.  A medium potato has 45% of our daily value for Vitamin C.  In addition to all of that, the skin has lots of good for you fiber. Baking and roasting are healthy ways to cook potatoes.  

You might also want to check out my Perfect Baked Potatoes Recipe with Baked Potato Bar.  It’s a great choice for entertaining because your guests just assemble their own loaded baked potatoes!  And don’t forget Potato Smashers!    They are like potato skins…loaded with lots of crisp bacon and sharp cheddar cheese…YUMMY! 

 What are your favorite potato recipes?




One Pot Pasta

Pasta Recipes Add Lots of Flavor To Your Week Night Meals!

One Pot Pasta
One Pot Pasta

 Looking for Easy Pasta Recipes?

Easy pasta recipes are a must for BUSY cooks and this One Pot Pasta is crazy good … it all cooks in one pan in about 10 minutes!  You do not cook the pasta separately!  You literally throw it all in the pot and cook it!  What could be easier?  And best of all…this is delicious!  You can serve it just as it show above, or you can add a simple Marinara Sauce for extra pizzazz.  Try topping this with my Quick Marinara Sauce Recipe.


Ladle Quick Marinara Sauce Over One Pot Pasta
Ladle Quick Marinara Sauce Over One Pot Pasta


One Pot Pasta
Recipe type: Pasta
Serves: 6
  • 12 ounces linguine pasta
  • 15 oz can diced tomatoes, including the juice
  • 1 large onion, cut in julienne strips
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • dash of red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • handful of fresh basil, sliced
  • 4½ cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
  1. Place dry pasta, canned tomatoes, onion, garlic and basil in a large pot. Pour vegetable broth over everything in the pot. Sprinkle with the red pepper flakes and the oregano. Drizzle the olive oil over the top.
  2. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes but stir this every 2 minutes. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Stir the pasta well and serve.
  5. Garnish with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese if desired.
  6. Note: You might want to top this with my Quick Marinara Sauce recipe!

 It’s hard to believe, but you really just dump all of the pasta ingredients into a pot and simmer for 10 minutes!  This is one of the easiest pasta recipes I have ever made!

One Pot Pasta Ingredients
One Pot Pasta Ingredients

As this cooks, the starch cooks out of the pasta and creates a yummy sauce.  You do not drain this after it cooks.  You just let this cook and it makes its own sauce!

Cooking the One Pot Pasta
Cooking the One Pot Pasta

After the 10 minutes of cooking time, uncover and cook a couple of minutes more to reduce the sauce to the consistency you desire.  

Easy Pasta Recipes are Great for Busy Cooks!

You can dish this up and serve it as is, or you can top it with my Quick Marinara Sauce Recipe.  Either way, it’s delicious!



Vickies Quick Marinara Sauce Recipe

Vickie's Quick Marinara Sauce Recipe

Vickie’s Quick Marinara Sauce Recipe

You won’t ever buy the canned marinara sauce again after you taste my Quick Marinara Sauce recipe!  This recipe is easy to make and only has five ingredients.  Like all of my Make Life Special recipes, this will have you in and out of the kitchen in no time!

Marinara sauce is a traditional Italian tomato sauce recipe that is usually made with olive oil, garlic and of course,  tomatoes.  My recipe uses the convenience of canned crushed tomatoes and it is delicious.  I add a handful of fresh minced basil right before serving to add a wonderful burst of fresh flavor!  

Marinara sauce is great on pasta, pizza, fish or meat.  I served it with my One Pot Pasta shown above.  You could also use this in my Baked Goat Cheese Marinara recipe.  

You could easily turn this into a meat sauce by adding browned ground beef or meatballs.  

Vickies Quick Marinara Sauce Recipe
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
You can whip up this marinara sauce in no time!
Recipe type: Sauce
Serves: 4
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, including the liquid
  • handful of minced fresh basil
  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for about 1 minute.
  2. Add the tomato paste and cook and stir for one more minute.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes with the liquid and simmer 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the minced fresh basil right before serving.

Saute Garlic in olive oil Add Tomato Paste 

 Add crushed tomatoes Add Fresh Basil at the end

 This marinara sauce can be stored up to a week in the refrigerator and up to 6 months in the freezer.  

I like this recipe because you can make this sauce while your pasta is boiling and have dinner on the table in no time.

Ready to Serve


Vickie's Quick Marinara Sauce Served Over One Pot Pasta

Vickie’s Quick Marinara Sauce Served Over One Pot Pasta

Remember, “Let’s Make Life Special by sharing great food with our family and friends!  Enjoy!”

Fiesta Crockpot Chicken Recipe Is Delish!

Looking for an easy Crockpot Chicken Recipe?

You HAVE to Make This Fiesta Crockpot Chicken Recipe!

Fiesta Crockpot Chicken Recipe

Fiesta Crockpot Chicken Recipe

This Fiesta Crockpot Chicken recipe is one of the easiest and tastiest crockpot chicken recipes I have ever made!  

I love crockpot cooking because I can have delicious meals on the dinner table and my crockpot does all of the work.   This recipe bakes in the crockpot for a total of four hours on high.  The delicious sauce goes on during the last 30 minutes of cooking for a real Mexican taste sensation!

What Are Some of The Advantages of Crockpot Cooking?

  1. The biggest advantage to crockpot cooking is the convenience!  You can put recipe ingredients in the slow cooker before going to work in the morning and come home to a great home cooked  meal. Nothing beats coming home after a LONG day and being greeted by the wonderful aroma of a home cooked meal….ready for the table!  And, most crockpot recipes only take a few minutes to throw together in the morning so you are not stressed out with your busy morning schedule.    
  2. Less expensive cuts of meat such as a chuck roast are tenderized through the long cooking process of a slow cooker so you save money and have great meals!  My Mom’s Sunday Pot Roast Recipe is a great example of this. The crockpot is also an excellent choice for cooking many venison dishes.  Kacy likes to substitute venison in my “Italian Beef” recipe and it turns out great every time! 
  3. A crockpot won’t heat up the kitchen the way an oven will, which is a real plus on a hot summer day.  Our hot Illinois summers make us avoid turning on the oven because it gets too hot in the kitchen  Cooking with a crockpot avoids this dilemma and makes it possible to enjoy many of your favorite “normally oven baked” meals. 
  4. A slow cooker frees up your oven and stove top for other types of cooking or baking that you might like to do.  This can be especially important during the holidays, when you are cooking for a crowd and every bit of cooking space helps!  I use my crockpot to make “CrockPot Stuffing” for Thanksgiving.  
  5. There is  lot less clean-up with a slow cooker.  If you use Slow Cooker Liners, you have even less clean up! 

Here is the recipe for Fiesta Crockpot Chicken!

Fiesta Crockpot Chicken Recipe
Cook time
Total time
This dish is a Mexican taste sensation!
Recipe type: Main Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 4
  • 4 or 5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 16 oz salsa
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 16 ounce can corn, drained
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend
  • Garnish with slices of green onions, additional salsa and sour cream
  1. Spray crockpot with Pam. Place chicken breasts into crockpot, cover and cook on HIGH for 3½ hours. Drain juices off.
  2. Mix together the softened cream cheese, salsa, drained corn and drained black beans. Pour over the chicken breasts and cook an additional 20 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle cheese on top. Cook 10 more minutes to melt the cheese.
  4. Serve over rice. Garnish with green onion slices, salsa and sour cream.

Here are the step by step photos: 

Fiesta Crockpot Chicken Ingredients

Fiesta Crockpot Chicken Ingredients

Cook the chicken breasts in the crockpot on HIGH for 3 1/2 hours.  Drain the juices off.  Stir together the softened cream cheese, salsa, drained corn and drained black beans and pour over the chicken.

Fiesta Sauce for Chicken

Fiesta Sauce for Chicken

Bake in the crockpot an additional 20 minutes.  Sprinkle cheese on top and bake another 10 minutes to melt the cheese.

Serve over rice.  I like to serve this over brown rice but any type of rice will do.  

Garnish with sliced green onions, additional salsa and dollops of sour cream. Ole!

Be Sure To Try My Crockpot Orange Chicken Too!

Both Are Great Recipes for Easy Entertaining!

Both of these recipes use a cooking method that I really like when using the crockpot. The meat is cooked in the crockpot, then the juices are drained off and the savory sauce is added at the end of the cooking time.  This method produces meat that is fork tender and juicy and a sauce that is not mushy or bland.  Both of these recipes use common ingredients that you will probably have on hand and the finished product is extremely flavorful!  

For more great easy entertaining tips that I’ve learned over the years, click HERE

Also, the crockpot is very portable!  You can take it from your kitchen to the office or party.  Just plug it in and serve!  What could be easier!  And, most crockpots have a “WARM” setting so you can easliy keep the food warm at a party without continuing the cook it.

CrockPot Tips:

  1.  Remember …do not take the lid off of the crockpot during cooking unless the recipe instructs you to do so.  Every time you take the lid off of a slow cooker, it looses precious heat.  
  2. The extended cooking times of a crockpot allows for better distribution of flavors in many recipes.
  3. The slow cooker is NOT suited to every cooking task.  However, as you can see, the crockpot has many significant advantages.  
  4. If you are not sure what to make in your crockpot, check out the thousands of recipes online and on Pinterest.  There are literally thousands of crockpot recipes online to choose from!  The possibilities are virtually endless!  

Remember, “Let’s Make Life Special by sharing great food with our family and friends!  Enjoy!”



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