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Yearly Photo Books

Is it just me or have digital pictures taken over your life too? Right now my phone has over 1,500 photos on it- and that’s not including the hundreds, probably thousands, that I’ve deleted from it trying to free up space. The card in my camera is completely full, and I struggle to delete just enough to make it useable as new events occur. Most days, I am a housewife and dog mom and people often ask what I do all day. The answer: organize pictures. It’s seriously become a full-time job. I’m slightly obsessed with managing my pictures. It’s funny to me that storing/preserving our digital files has become such a big deal since we didn’t use to obsess over how to save our negatives in the days of film developing.

To me pictures are SO important. I am always the one taking pictures rather than just “enjoying the moment”. And really, I like it that way. Memories and experiences are awesome, but pictures preserve those moments. I have never regretted taking a picture, but I often regret not taking one.

Over the years, I’ve gone through several digital photo organizing systems. Right now, I’m in the process of uploading them all to Dropbox so they are out there and accessible and if our house burns down we have them. I also have them on an external hard drive and they will soon be on a USB to stay in our fireproof box. Like I said, obsessed.

So that’s all well and good that I have the digital files protected. But what about actually enjoying them? My photos sat in digital form for so long, and that made me sad. I don’t want to always look at them on a computer. So I pondered. I could print them out and put them in albums, like people have done for years. But the albums are so bulky and you have to make hard decisions about which pictures to print for cost and space reasons.

And then I came across a post on Pinterest from the eighteen25 blog (I can’t find the exact post again) about making family yearbooks! I immediately fell in love with this idea. All the pictures from the year, all in one easy-to-store place. I was hesitant for awhile, just feeling sad about not having actual hard print pictures, but after serious pondering and discussing it with some people (y’all, this was a really big decision), I decided to go ahead with the books, and also print out a few pictures from each year- the “important” ones.

In July 0f 2012 I began creating the photo books. I started with the year 2009 because my husband and I met in January of that year, so it seemed fitting to start there. At some point I hope to go back and do my college years and before, but for now my focus is catching up to present day. I have completed 2009-2012, and am about 3/4 of the way through 2013.

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After much research I chose to use Blurb for the making and printing. It is definitely not the cheapest or best quality of the options, but it has a large page limit (400) and a “portrait” option for the book versus landscape. (I will say that I had a program issue at one point and lost an entire book, but their customer service was outstanding and I received a $150 credit, enough to cover a couple of my books. And I think the issue was probably mostly my mistake). Overall, I have been very happy with my books, the design program, and the pricing. I average about $70 for each book, which seems pretty good for an entire year worth of pictures!

In creating the books, I don’t use a specific “style” or plan. Sometimes I put 1-2 pictures on a page, sometimes 6-7. It all just depends on the event and the pictures. One thing that I LOVE about this is that you can add random pictures that you may not choose to print out and put in an album, but fit into the book. And with phones we all take so many pictures throughout the day that we’d like to have forever. It has really freed me to feel ok about taking many pictures. (please excuse my bad iphone pictures of theses pages…)

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I have also seen where people with kids include scanned pictures of their drawings and such. I definitely plan on doing that! When my husband proposed he wrote me a poem and I scanned that and included it. So many options for things that can be preserved in these books!

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For the covers I always use one of our “professional” pictures from the year (we always have pictures taken in November for our anniversary/Christmas cards).

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So, in summary, I LOVE my yearly photo books and HIGHLY suggest this approach to deal with the thousands of pictures we all have. I am sure there are things I have forgotten to cover in this post so please ask questions!

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Goodbye 2013…

Y’all, I had such big plans for Christmas posts. I have several still in draft format waiting to be finished (most just needing pictures added). I had a long list of topics I was going to blog about: goodies I made, my method for saving Christmas cards, traditions I enjoy (and want to enjoy), Christmas movies, Pioneer Woman cinnamon rolls…. but none of these posts ever came together. And that is really unlike me. I think I’m feeling unmotivated and uncommitted since only like three people regularly read this, if that.

Though they are the least read, I really enjoy my book list posts. So those always take priority for me. But in the New Year I hope to be more faithful and consistent in writing about things that YOU want to read… what might that be? Baking? Cooking? Crafts? Home management? Dog stuff?

We welcomed 2014 in last night with a gathering with my husband’s family. We played games and ate lots of great food. Too much food. (Dinner at Olive Garden before was a bad decision!). I played Nertz and dominoes, and thankfully avoided being part of the 4-hour long Mexican train extravaganza. With my family our midnight tradition has always been to toast with sparkling grape juice, it just isn’t New Year’s without it. I had taken some along so we could do that last night. But my husband’s cousin- their tradition is to eat a few bites of black eyed peas right at midnight. So we did that as well. It’s always fun to add new traditions!

For the new year I didn’t want to make “resolutions”- those seem so easily broken and forgotten. So I’ve thought of a few things I want to change by 2015. One of these involves beginning Weight Watchers, again. This will be my fourth time to do this program. I was successful once before, but then let myself gain it all back. So I enter this new beginning VERY excited about getting healthy. That’s my main focus. I’m sure some of that will appear on the blog. And maybe, sadly, a little less baking (but we’ll see, because that’s my favorite thing to do!).

And with that, Happy New Year and welcome to 2014!

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Christmastime is here!

I cannot believe Christmas is in three days! I usually really don’t like when people say that. I mean, it’s been coming all year, it didn’t just appear. But this year has felt different, maybe because Thanksgiving was later, or because stores seem to be putting up Christmas stuff earlier. And now here at the last minute we’re all distracted by Duck Dynasty rather than the beautiful season of Christ’s birth.

I really love Christmas. The best part of Christmas is what it’s really all about- the birth of Jesus and Him coming into the world in love to save us. But I also enjoy the lights, decorations, shopping, music, and baking! All make it such an exciting time of the year.

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is decorating the house, inside and out. I don’t really have a theme to my decorations as some people do, I just find things I like and hope it all works together. If I had to come up with a theme name, it would be “Hobby Lobby” because almost every decoration is from there. LOVE me some Hob Lob.

So come along on a tour of our house decorated for the Christmas season!

IMG_4392We bought our tree back in 2010, our first married Christmas. We bought most of the ornaments then too, but have collected more along the way. Some of the ornaments are from decorations used at our wedding, and some were decorations at my in-law’s 40th anniversary party last year. There are lots of penguins (I love penguins!) and lots of tractors┬á (my hubby loves tractors!). We even have some tractor lights.

IMG_4223I love the garland on the mantle. It works so perfectly with the tree and fireplace. It all comes together like such a perfect Christmas picture.

IMG_4330Most of my life I have hoped to someday have a full Christmas village. We don’t have a great place for it, but one day this season I was at Walmart and came across the village pieces and just decided to buy some and hope I would find a good place! So my village is small, but hopefully will grow each year! So far there is a Bakery, Tree Farm, Horse & Carriage, carolers, people making s’mores, a dog house, and a few trees. I love it so much!!!

IMG_4319I want Jesus and our Nativity to be the focal point of our Christmas decor, so I decided to put it on our entryway table. I bought that table runner at Hobby Lobby just to add a little, and that is a red snowflake Scentsy with Festival of Trees scent in it- my favorite at Christmas!

IMG_4356My mom gave me this chalkboard a while back, and while she was at my house over Thanksgiving she wrote this. It’s so perfect! It makes me happy each time I see it and adds some festiveness to our kitchen.

IMG_4318 DSC02245We have red and white lights outside- not LED. I haven’t felt like making that upgrade yet… I just don’t like the look of the LEDs. I love my little tree by the front door. Seeing my house lit up at night makes me happy each evening. I’ve noticed not many people put up Christmas lights this year. So sad! But we have us a few others on our street so that’s nice.

Thanks for coming along and checking out our decor!

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M&M Chocolate Oat Bars

I saw this dessert on Pinterest and was so excited to make it. It’s basically oatmeal cookies with fudge in between, topped with M&Ms. It seemed sort of like a fall dessert, though as the recipe points out, you can just change the M&M’s out to make it themed for any holiday and time of the year!

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M&M Chocolate Oat BarsLil’ Luna

  • 1 1/2 cups oats
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 bag milk chocolate chips
  • 2 TBSP butter, softened
  • 1 cup M&Ms (For the fall version, I bought a “large” size bag and picked out the red, yellow, orange, and brown. Then you get to eat the rest!)
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a large bowl, mix oats, flour, brown sugar, salt and 1 cup softened butter with a spoon. Remove 1 cup and set aside.
  3. Press remaining mixture into the bottom of a greased 9×13 pan.
  4. In a small pot, melt condensed milk, chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons of butter over low-medium heat. Stir constantly until chips are melted and all is mixed well.
  5. Pour chocolate chip mixture over the bottom layer and spread evenly. Sprinkle leftover cup of oat mixture over the chocolate.
  6. Top with M&Ms and bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting, if you can! (I couldn’t wait!)

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Cheddar Soup and Beer Bread

I made this soup and bread one day in mid-October when a cold front hit Texas. A much, much needed cold front. And it stayed cold for about a day. I took full advantage of that chill in the air to make some “fall” recipes I’d been storing away for that very moment- the first chill of fall. It also worked out really nicely that my best friend happened to be coming over for dinner that night. So she got to be a guinea pig for my new recipes ­čÖé We got to have a lovely, candlelit dinner on the patio.

This cheddar ale soup pairs perfectly with the beer bread. The soup was a somewhat challenging and involved recipe, but definitely worth it. We later decided it would be great with some potatoes added in. I didn’t take the best pictures of this because I was focused on hanging out with my friend, but you’ll just have to make it for yourself and see how yummy it looks and tastes!

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Ale and Cheddar SoupCloset Cooking

  • 1/2 pound bacon (preferably smoked or double smoked), cut into 1 inch slices
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2+ jalapeno peppers, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon thyme, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 (~12 ounce) bottle/can ale
  • 2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
  • cayenne to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cook the bacon in a pan over medium heat and set aside on paper towels to drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the grease in the pan.
  2. Add the onion, celery and jalapeno and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
  4. Add the butter and let it melt and get all bubbly then sprinkle on the flour and let it cook until it starts to turn golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the ale and broth and deglaze the pan before adding the bacon and then let cook for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the cream, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and cheese and cook until the cheese has melted without bringing it back to a boil.
  7. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper to taste.

Buttery Honey Beer BreadCookie Monster Cooking

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup bread flour (but all-purpose can be substituted)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 1 bottle (12 oz) beer
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×5 in loaf pan with cooking spray or butter.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add in the honey and beer and mix until just combined.
  3. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Evenly pour the melted butter over the top of the batter.
  4. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean and the top is golden brown.
  5. Cookie Monster Cooking also has a recipe for honey butter to go with the bread. I didn’t make it, but you can check that out here.

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Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

One morning a couple weeks ago, the Pioneer Woman posted a recipe for Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls. That combines like three of my most favorite things: Pioneer Woman, pumpkin, and cinnamon rolls. I HAD to make them. And I did, that very night. Well that night and into the next morning since it took me four hours to make them. But maybe that was just me. And they were WELL WORTH THE TIME. Lots of cinnamony, pumpkiny, cream cheesy goodness.

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It may have also taken me four hours because around 11:30, in the middle of making them, I discovered A SNAKE on our living room floor. Michael was already asleep and so I screamed and screamed until he woke up and came into the living room very confused. It was a harmless snake… BUT STILL. NOT OK to be in the house. I was freaking out, but did get close enough for a picture (because who was going to believe me without proof??). Michael did pick it up and take it outside unharmed (but I think maybe slightly traumatized by my screaming). (Side note: Our house is really nice and in a nice area, it is not normal for creatures to come in!).

Proof.

Proof.

So back to the cinnamon rolls… they took a long time to make, but it was a fun challenge. I had never made any kind of “sweet rolls” before and it’s about time to learn! I definitely need to perfect my rolling technique, but I’m sure I will be making these a lot more, and also plan on trying her regular cinnamon rolls around Christmas.

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Ready to be rolled up!

This recipe made four pans of rolls, so I sent some to work with Michael. One of his co-workers loved them so much that he paid me to bake him some for a Halloween party! My first baked good sale. Very exciting.

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The recipe is pretty detailed and Ree gives such excellent directions and pictures on her web site so I am going to direct you there for the recipe. Her pictures are very necessary the first time you make these.

I hope you make them and let me know what you think!

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Award-Winning Salsa

A few weeks ago, Michael entered a salsa contest at work. They do fun things like that from time-to-time. Salsa, chili, beans, watermelon seed spitting… Of course he waited until the night before to find a recipe and buy the supplies, and I was tasked with scouring Pinterest for a good salsa recipe. I came across the Pioneer Woman’s (of course!) and it sounded perfect so that is what we settled on.

He ended up winning Second Place! (First Place was green sauce which really shouldn’t even count….).

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I didn’t have a chance to take a picture of it, so here is one he took during the contest

This recipe was easy, delicious, and cheap.

Restaurant Style Salsa from The Pioneer Woman

  • 1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 cans (10 oz each) Rotel
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 1/2 cup cilantro (or more!)
  1. In a blender or food processor, put all the ingredients.
  2. Pulse several times until it is the consistency you like.
  3. Enjoy with chips! So easy! (and perfectly delicious)

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It’s Fall Y’all

Fall is the best. The weather starts getting cooler, the leaves change colors, football is in season, a fresh school year. Everything just seems better in the fall. I so enjoy decorating my house and making it all festive and fall-like. I think I decorate more for fall than I do for Christmas! One of my favorite parts of fall is PUMPKIN. I’m a huge Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte fan (though I don’t allow myself one until it’s cold outside…) and I love baking with pumpkin. I guess I could do that year round, but then it wouldn’t be special.

So far I have made three different pumpkin recipes- cake, cookies, and a layered dessert. (I had to make the cookies twice because I forgot to take pictures the first time… oops?…)

Pumpkin Spice Cake. Now I know this recipe is all over Pinterest, but my mom taught me to make it long before Pinterest was around. It’s so simple. Two ingredients. A box of spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin.

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Mix together (I also like to add a bit of pumpkin pie spice to amp up the flavor some), put in a 9×13 pan, and bake according to box directions. No oil, eggs, water- just those two ingredients! I then frost mine with cream cheese icing, but that’s up to you. So easy, and so delicious.

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[Random story about this cake… our honeymoon took place over Thanksgiving. We spent that day in our cabin in the mountains cooking and eating a Thaknsgiving feast. We made this cake, and between the two of us, we ate it all in less than 24 hours…]

Pumpkin Spiced Oatmeal Cookies- from Skinnytaste 

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  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 cups oats
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 6 Tbsp canned pumpkin
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray cookie sheets or cover with parchment paper
  2. Whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon.
  3. In a mixer, cream the butter and sugars, then add the egg, pumpkin, and vanilla. Mix well.
  4. Stir in the flour/oat mixture until just combined.
  5. Drop by Tablespoons (or however big/small you want them!) onto cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes.
  6. Prepare for amazing, moist, pumpkin deliciousness!

Layered Pumpkin Dessert- from Kraft

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  • 25 Nabisco Ginger Snaps, finely crushed (about 1 and one-third cups) (I couldn’t find Nabisco brand…)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 16 oz (2 packages) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1.5 cups canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 packages (3.4 oz each) Instant Vanilla pudding
  • 2 cups cold milk
  • 1 tub (8 oz) Cool Whip topping, thawed
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Mix cookie crumbs and butter; press into 9×13 pan. Bake 10 minutes.
  3. Beat cream cheese and sugar until well blended. Add pumpkin and spices, mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low until just blended. Pour over crust and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool for 1 hour.
  4. Beat pudding mixes and milk with whisk for 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of Cool Whip. Spread over dessert.
  5. Cover with remaining Cool Whip
  6. Refrigerate for 3 hours or until firm. Sprinkle with pecans before serving.

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What I’ve Been Reading- September 2013

One thing that I wanted to include on my blog are mini reviews on books that I read. I have always been a reader (Thanks, Mom for instilling that into me!). Through college and grad school I didn’t read for fun very much because there was too much “school” reading to do. But once I finished school in August 2011, I started reading for fun again. I’m also an obsessive list maker and have written down every book I’ve read since then and some comments about it. At some point I may blog a list of the books I’ve read up until now, just in case someone is needing ideas ­čÖé┬á But for now I plan to write about the books I read each month. In my listing I will include the title, author’s name, fiction or non-fiction, and date published, as well as a few thoughts.

I read a variety of things- fiction and non-fiction. I’m especially into military non-fiction and memoirs/biographies. My favorite fiction authors are Jodi Picoult, Nicholas Sparks, Janet Evanovich and Karen Kingsbury. Those authors couldn’t be more different! I don’t read anything that I deem “scary” because I usually read at night to help me go to sleep and I tend to get easily spooked. My husband has been awakened more than once to help me check the closets for murderers (another thing I get from my mom….).

So, here are the books that I read this past month:

girls guide

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing– Melissa Bank (Fiction, 1999): I didn’t realize until I was a few chapters in that it was a collection of short stories more than a flowing novel. But even with that, it was enjoyable enough that I kept reading. Follows the main character through her journey of growing up and learning to find love and people to count on.

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The Language of Flowers
– Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Fiction, 2011): My mom has been telling me to read this book ever since it first came out. I finally did, and I am SO glad that I did. I LOVED this book. It has such meaning and shows the beauty of life and love.

the chanceThe Chance– Karen Kingsbury (Fiction, 2013): Karen is one of my favorite authors and if you haven’t read The Baxter Family series just ignore all these other suggestions and read those first. That series is compiled of several mini-series and begins with the book Redemption. Go to Karen’s web site and you’ll figure it out. Best series ever. Changed my life. But back to The Chance, it was moving and very enjoyable. Great character development, I felt like I came to know the chracters personally. A bit cheesy at points, but overall a great reminder of how God’s hand is in all.

mindykalingIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?– Mindy Kaling (Non-fiction, 2011): I first found out about Mindy Kaling through watching The Office. She is hilarious as Kelly Kapoor. A friend told me I needed to read this book, and I did. One thing I found funny was that early on in the book she compares hers to Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and that’s pretty much what I was already doing. No one can beat Tina Fey. No one. But Mindy gives it a good try. This book was really funny, especially the chapters about her childhood. Sometimes the humor felt forced, but overall really good.┬á I enjoyed reading about how she first got involved as a writer, and actress, with The Office. A very light and fun read!

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Pioneer Woman Burritos

Another Pioneer Woman recipe. I told you, I’m obsessed. Last week we made delicious Beef and Bean Burritos.

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This picture doesn’t do them justice. Please go to her site to see how amazing they really are! (Someday my photography will get better…)

These are so simple, but everything comes together so wonderfully to make a really great meal. They are so filling too. We both ate two, but that was more than enough.

You can find the recipe and her helpful tips and beautiful pictures here, but I will also post the recipe below.

Beef and Bean Burritos- The Pioneer Woman

  • Ground beef, 2 lbs.
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 14 oz. enchilada sauce
  • 28 oz. refried beans
  • 3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese, plus more for sprinkling on top
  • 12 burrito-size flour tortillas
  • fresh cilantro
  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the ground beef and onion. Once the beef is cooked and onion soft, add the cumin, oregano, chili powder, and salt. Stir to combine.
  2. Add half the can of enchilada sauce (7 oz) and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. While that is simmering, empty the refried beans into a saucepan and heat over medium-low heat.
  4. This is the best step! Add the 3/4 cup cheese to the beans and stir until the cheese melts. DELICIOUS.
  5. Once the beans and beef mixtures are ready, heat the tortillas in the microwave for 1 minute.┬á (Only heat as many as you are going to be eating. If there’s only two of you, 12 might be a bit too many)
  6. Spread beans, beef and any other toppings you’d like (we added rice, cheese, and cilantro)
  7. Fold the ends of the tortillas and then roll them up.
  8. Put two burritos on a plate and pour enchilada sauce over them and sprinkle with more cheese.
  9. Heat each set of two in the microwave for 1 minute.
  10. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and ENJOY!!

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