Monday, November 4, 2013

Cajun Jambalaya - Recipe # 2

This is the second version of my Cajun Jambalaya recipe. I've changed it just slightly the last few times I've made it, but this is the best so far! I think I'm going to stick to this recipe all the way.

3 yellow onions, diced
2 red peppers, diced
1 green pepper, diced or dried equivalent 
3 stalks celery, diced
1 small bunch parsley chopped, or 1/2 cup dried parsley
8 small tomatoes, quartered
3 cups sliced (frozen) okra
1 large can fire roasted, whole tomatoes such as Muir Glen 
1 1/2 bulbs (yes, bulbs) of garlic, chopped
3 cups (dry) brown rice, cooked separately 
2-3 chicken breasts, cut into small bite sized pieces, seasoned with hickory salt or sea salt and pepper 
2 lbs shelled shrimp, cut in half if large
5 andouille sausages, cut in half lengthwise, then sliced into "half moons"
1 1/2 sticks butter
4 T olive oil
1/2 cup flour
5 cups seafood or shrimp stock (optional items added to stock, see below) 5 cups prior to simmering. 
4 T smoked paprika
1 1/2 T liquid smoke (Applewood flavor)
4 bay leaves 
4 1/2 T Worcestershire sauce 
2 T Red pepper flakes 
2 tsp cayenne pepper
sliced jalapenos (optional garnish)

Makes 12- 16 dinner sized portions. Freezes extremely well. Amazing leftovers! Total prep to finish time 60 - 75 min. 

Begin shrimp or seafood stock in medium sauce pan. I use seafood stock consume with water (i've used homemade shrimp stock in the past, too) with the addition of these items for extra flavor: 1 lemon, sliced in half, 4 stalks celery, cut in sections, 5 bay leaves, 1 onion peel, center rind of 1 red pepper, 8-10 tiny center garlic cloves. Simmer stock until ready to mix into jambalaya. 
In a hot large stock pot, add 1/2 stick butter, and olive oil. Add onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic. Sauté until tender. Add tomatoes, cook 4-5 more minutes. Meanwhile, make a roux with remaining 1 stick butter, and flour. Mix roux into pot, combining well. Add seafood stock, chicken and okra. Continue to stir frequently, keeping heat on medium-low. Cook an additional 10-15 minutes. As it's simmering, add seasoning. Finally, add shrimp, rice, and sausages, simmer 10 more minutes until all shrimp are pink. You may continue letting the dish simmer on very low if you are not ready to eat, or can serve if you are. Top with optional jalapenos, if desired. 

I always make enough of this recipe to freeze it. Why?! Because it takes a good amount of time to make, and is totally fantastic when you need a quick meal from the freezer. In addition, I usually make a freezer container for a large meal and one for a smaller lunch version for 2. 

Other notes: This is the first time I added liquid smoke and andouille. I must say - those 2 items made the dish! I generally do not care for sausage, but the mildness of the andouille adds excellent flavor. 

Hope you enjoy! 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Leopard pumpkin & DIY Leopard Stencils

Happy Halloween!!! This is my pumpkin for the year. Pretty excited about how it turned out!

- Gold Spray Paint - I'm loyal to Rust-olium
- Teal paint
- Black paint
- Foam to cut leopard stencil from (See pictures at bottom.)
- Thin paint brush
- Thin Sharpie marker
- Scissors

Simple How To:
- Spray paint pumpkin gold. Dry.
- Use foam to draw leopard stencils. I created 6 and repeated those throughout the whole pattern on the pumpkin. Cut stencils out of foam, using tips of scissors cut negative space out between spots. (See pictures at bottom.)
- One stencil at a time, dip stencil into paint, and begin pattern. I started with the largest piece to spread it out evenly. Repeat and fill the space accordingly using the remaining patterns. 
- Let paint dry.
- After teal paint is set, begin painting the black "shadows" with a fine brush. Recommend starting on the back of the pumpkin so you've mastered the outline before you get to the front.
- I referenced Google Images for "Leopard Patterns" and found one with a shadow I was trying to re-create. Generally, the bottom and right side of each single pattern is where you are going to want to highlight. Think of the teal pattern piece being on top of an identical black pattern piece and then moving slightly up and to the left. The black would remain to create a "shadow".
- Work your way around the whole pumpkin, focusing first on the center of the pumpkin. Then, slightly tilt the pumpkin and paint the bottom patterns, rotating when needed. Finally, paint the top.
- Let dry and then show your pumpkin off!!!!

This was sand paper attached to foam my husband had just worn out. Good way to repurpose! Draw rough design of leopard patterns and cut out.

Cut each pattern out individually. 

Use scissor points to go around edges, snipping down into the foam.

Use your fingers to lightly pull the foam apart and to cut the "negative space" part of the pattern out. 

Finished pattern pieces! Ready to paint...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween DIY: Part 2 - Books, Food and Decor

Finally getting a chance to post pictures from projects over the last few weeks. Hope you find some inspiration behind these ideas. Happy Haunting! 

I've included materials and steps for re-creating spooky spell books like these. The possibilities are endless when it comes to creating one of these books. I started by looking through my craft box for items of interest: small textured components such as flat wood pieces, rope/trim, ribbon, rhinestones, etc. These can be made very inexpensively - it just takes some creative thinking. Materials and directions are listed below. 

Used: plastic bat, 1/4'' wide cording, 2 gold thumbtacks 


- Old Books (Phone books, dish detergent box or books found at Goodwill or Garage sales).

- Paper towels 

- DIY "Modge Podge" - See below

- Paint brushes, 2-3 sizes

- Spooky findings for texture & detail (cording, plastic creatures, tacks, rhinestones, etc.)

- Hot glue 

- Paint colors of choice

- 3D lettering, optional 

DIY Modge Podge: Pour 1 bottle of glue into an airtight container such as an empty jar. Fill empty glue bottle 60-70% full of warm water. Shake well. Pour water into glue and mix well to combine. Voila! MUCH cheaper than Modge Podge, and it does the same thing!! Yes, I promise! 

How To:

1. If you want painted pages, this needs to be your first step. I only painted the edges of 1 of my books.  Spray paint or hand painting will work. Let dry before proceeding below.

2. Add textured elements to book. Use hot glue to adhere items and/ or create 3D words or designs. 

3. Prepare work area, lay down newspaper or a paper bag.  Dampen a paper towel. Squeezed together tightly, and then open gently. Put a light coat of modge podge down on the front and spine of book.  Place towel on the book, edges should meet evenly, or towel can overlap to inside with a 1/2'' - 3/4'' border.

4. Lightly use your fingers to crinkle the towel up in certain areas, and to fold into the textures and begin brushing with the modge podge. Use a smaller brush to push the towel into the cracks, where necessary. If you've added rhinestones, gently scratch a hole over the rhinestone and push the towel down around to expose it. 

5. Rotate book as needed to cover. Depending on the book you may or may not be able to cover the back at the same time. 

6. Wait patiently while the book dries. This is really hard!! 

7. Finally! Start painting your book. My husband and I experimented with a few colors and really liked how everything turned out. Walmart and Hobby Lobby have great selections of craft paints. I'm a big fan of the metallic paints, and the effect they give when mixed with other colors. 

8. If you want to add 3D letters, wait until the book is completely dry to adhere those. 

9. Add book mark pages,  optional. I used gold wire ribbon in a few ow my books. 

Old phone book! Yep, FINALLY a use for those silly things.  Plastic centipede and snake, wooden popsicle-like stick, red rhinestones.  

Mixing up some paint colors.

Happened to have this wood stain that was a really deep brown. It worked great and when mixed with other paint colors gave a unique twist to the paint when applied since we mixed oil and water based paint. Primarily used this stain, yellow, magenta, red and gold paint in different combinations for the books.

Empty dish detergent box, spray painted black to make it look like a book.  Stain mixed with magenta paint.

Stain, some magenta, gold and tiny yellow/gold highlights. 

Materials used on this book. I was really luck to find 60 year old books at Goodwill!!! 

Added 3D letters and tacks to finalize. This is one of my favorites!

Copper metallic paint, hot glue details and paint. 

NO idea why some of these pictures are showing up tiny! They are all the same size when I'm  writing they post. Please just click the picture until I can get it fixed. Thanks!

My husband painted this! Scrap wood with silver foil (from housing materials). I used the "weathered" method for this using glue as a base coat. (Follow link for details.) 

Candles floating in red water. 

Chalk Board Blocks created using scrap wood, wood stain, chalk board fabric, thumb tacks and spray adhesive. 

Votive candles floating in red water. Makes removing the candle easier, and it looks creepy!

Food Ideas: 

How to cut Brie to make a coffin and 2 moon like shapes. 

Creepy cheese assortment. 

Platter with Spanish moss covered with plastic wrap. I used this to serve deviled eggs on. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Beef, Barely and Cranberry Slow Cooker Stew

This is a new recipe I tried last night. It was quite the success, easy and really healthy! I made quite a few modifications from the original recipe, which can be found here. See below for my take on a fall beef and barely stew.

In a lightly greased Crock Pot, combine the following ingredients:

-1 1/2 lbs steak meat of choice, cut into bite sized pieces. I used $7/lb sirloin steaks, for maximum tenderness.
- 1 cup dry barely
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 stalks celery, sliced
- 2 cups sliced carrots (fresh or frozen)
- 1 large package of sliced mushrooms
- 1, 14 oz can cranberry sauce, with whole cranberries
- 1, 12 oz bottle of beer (I used Michelob Ultra, as it's what I had on hand.)
- 4 cups beef broth or beef consume and water totaling 4 cups
- 3 T chopped garlic (prepared type in jar)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 t salt
- 2 T pepper
- 1 T thyme

Mix all ingredients together, and cook on low 6-8 hours. Keep on warm until ready to serve. You may additionally add a bit of fresh shaved parmesan to the top, if desired.

Master List for Halloween Resources & Inspiration

Your one stop list for all Halloween resources! Where to find what, at the right price? 

(Scroll to bottom to see all our pictures!)

Today I'm featuring a guest writer, my cousin, Stephanie Cahill for part of this post. Stephanie is a self proclaimed huge Halloween fan, like myself. Together we've made this master list of all our favorite places to shop for Halloween decor, props, costumes, etc. We hope you'll find this list helpful. Please scroll to the bottom too see a sampling of projects using materials from these places. We hope to inspire you, too! On the labels, we found most of these through free Pinterest downloads, a few were purchased, though. 

Lindsey’s Tips (Most stores can be found nation wide):

Chain Retailers:

Dollar Tree (All $1):
Creepy cloth, plates, napkins, cups, plastic skulls, highlighters, Spanish moss/ floral moss, floral foam, small tombstones, fake eyeballs, hands and feet, small table top decor, many items that can easily be turned into trophies for a party.

Goodwill & Salvation Army:
Any "old" looking item to haunt with - candles, oil lamps, candle sticks, vases, old books, picture frames, trunks (if you are lucky), shoes for costumes, outdoor witches.
-Begin looking for creepy stuff in late August (who am I kidding, year round, but pick up intensity in August!) before everything good gets picked over.

Cheap corn syrup, food coloring, good selection of plastic and sometimes glittery bats, spiders and pumpkins, colored lights, glow sticks, cheesecloth (found in craft section, year round), black light bulbs, fog "juice", spray paint (best price on Krylon and Rustolium).

Hobby Lobby (known as the craft danger zone during October):
Vellum & other paper for labels, wreath/ bottle inspirations, clear Christmas bulbs - to make crystal balls with

HomeGoods / TJMaxx / Marshalls:
Usually can find good after season deals and great inspiration for many projects you can make at home. Reasonably priced Halloween/Fall decor that can span the season, lots of bright colors (purple, lime green, silver) for the season. 

Twine, Jute, nail heads, paint brushes, and drop cloths for painting.

Primarily Online:

Costume Fabric:,, JoAnn, Hancock Fabrics.
Always use coupons and shop sales. Columbus Day sales are your last best bet to get the best price on fabric and catch good seasonal fabric before it's all sold out. White fabric for covering furniture, walls, etc. for black light effect can be found at JoAnn’s Fabric for $ 1.50 - $4/ yd. (See picture of basement for reference at the bottom).
Spandex World has a great website that is super easy to shop by category, and offers very realistic color photos of the fabric. You will find every type of spandex you could ever need, most of which is not carried at your local fabric store. Do plan ahead for all the materials you will need to order, as shipping can be $15- $20. I've still found with the amazing quality and selection of fabric and their competitive prices on fabric you can't beat it. 

Oriental Trading Company:
Party decorations, small trinkets (great for kids parties).

US Toy:
Great for costumes and props! Also offers similar selection as Oriental Trading Company. Can find higher end costume accessories and paints as well.

Trash to Treasure:

Some unexpected items than turn from trash into treasure with a little black spray paint (these are all items I've successfully used for Halloween decor):
- Dish detergent box (now spell book).
- Glass bottles and jars of all varieties (hot sauce, pickle /Costco Artichoke jars -- some of the best, small condiment jars, and of course, wine and liquor bottles.
- Vanilla extract and spice bottles.
- Salt container (now skeleton salt).

Lindsey’s Inspirations: Pinterest, spray paint and glass jars! 

Stephanie’s Tip’s (Most of these stores (that aren’t online) are located Nation Wide):

Chain Retailers:

Bargain Buys:

Dollar General (All $1 - $1.50 Each): (This stuff is cheap even in the month of October!)
$1 Each
Bats, bugs, spiders
Small décor
Creepy cloth
Single bags of candy
$1.50 Each
Corn syrup (Compared to $3.50 or more at the grocery store! for making creepy jars – use corn syrup and food coloring!)
$3 Each
Skull heads
$5 Each
Orange and black organizing storage bins
Pet t-shirts (you won’t find a pet costume this cheap ANYWHERE!)
Over $5 but still inexpensive
Trick or Treat candy (cheapest place to get it!)

Savers (Comparable to Goodwill and The Salvation Army): (Halloween items are only available in the month of October)
Picture frames (to frame pictures of vampires, wolf man, etc.), wigs, tights, used adult and child costumes, adult and child costume accessories, glass bottles/containers and shelves to hold creepy stuff.

Creepy cloth, mini strobe light ($5!), indoor and outdoor décor (you can find some between $5 and $20).

Target - Dollar Bin Section only – the rest of the store verges on the expensive route:
You can find all kinds of random goodies in the dollar bin section at Target! I check there EVERY time you shop because you never know what you’ll find! I love it too because the stuff there doesn’t look as cheap as most dollar stores! You can find creepy crawlers, creepy ice cube trays, Halloween coasters, containers to hold candy, and lots of children’s items such as trick or treat bags and trinkets.

Hobby Lobby:
Spray paint (between $6 and $8 a bottle), velum paper for labels (59 cents per page!), twine and stick on jewels and other items for bottle decorating details, red and white candles to make “bloody candles,” and doll arms for creepy jars ($4) Don’t forget – you can always find coupons on their website!

Party City: (For these items only – most other stuff verges on the expensive route):
Black light bulbs (bulbs are $3 each!), creepy crawlers and small trinkets for kids parties – or to use in creepy jars or on spell books (ranging from $1 to $5 for a single pack or one large pack for $20).

Trash to Treasure:
Using red or black spray paint, you can transform any of these items!
I’ll second all that Lindsey said above as well as the below items:
- Vitamin bottles work great too!
I haven’t tried these out yet, but will soon:
-Toilet paper and paper towel rolls (cut two holes (or more if you use a paper towel) and add a glow stick – put in your trees/bushes to make “creepy eyes”! *Remember that glow sticks only last for about 5 hours so use the day of your party/Halloween)
-Egg crates (to make creepy eyeballs)

 Higher End/Worth the Splurge:

***KC Costume Company:
2020 Grand
KCMO 64108

This store is AMAZING!!! They are the largest costumer in the Midwest and provide to theatres, films, and for Halloween needs.  They have everything you can possibly think of!!! Items range from affordable to very costly/but worth it! They have AMAZING costumes, wigs, feather boas of ALL shades, hats, gloves, costume accessories and props, makeup, shoes, eyelashes, teeth, latex cuts/wounds etc., glasses, petticoats, jewelry, fake tattoos, the list goes on and on! They also have costume rentals and items available online. Some wigs are as low as $15. This store is open year ‘round. Note: all sales are final.

For more high-end, detailed items such as brand new costumes, wigs, décor (ex: skull heads are about $15), outdoor décor, tombstones, indoor and outdoor lighting, creepy cloth, GREAT selection of pet costumes.

JoAnn’s Fabric:
Fake flowers, vases, Spanish moss.

Party City:
For more high-end items such as brand new costumes, wigs, costume accessories, party décor, cups, plates, napkins, glow sticks, fog machines, fog “juice”, tombstones, strobe lights, black lights and pre-made backdrops, signs, some pet costumes. *Just remember that wigs are NOT returnable after purchase.

 Primarily Online:

Costumes Online (For items that are harder to find in stores):
Colored leotards and cami bras (to go under the leotard).
Lindsey gave me the tip to always go for comfort when ordering a size – remember; you’re going to be dancing around, eating and drinking!

Colored  tights (About $18 each plus tax)
Vintage Shoes (This site is expensive in most cases – but I found GREAT 80s shoes that I couldn’t pass up!)

Stephanie’s Inspirations:
My cousin Lindsey!!! J She also gives me GREAT tips ALL the time!
Hobby Lobby, Target and other store décor I

Dollar Tree skulls. Creepy cloth wrapped candelabra & Goodwill candles. (Pardon the working mess on the table.)

Dollar Tree glowing eye skulls and spanish and other type of moss, candles in water with red food coloring.

Chest (which is a year round decoration when shut), is now a creepy potion pub. These are all empty vitamin bottles painted black, along with a vanilla extract bottle, and single liquor shot bottles. Moss is from Dollar Tree, stuffed bottom with packing paper to use less moss. Candles are battery operated. 

Glowing eyeballs!!! 
Dish detergent box - working on making the below spell book. Painted black first, then covered with paper towels and paint. 
Finished dish detergent box, and 2 other books found at Goodwill. I painted the front of the middle book and made up a name for the center design which already had the letters "AC" - I just gave it the name! 

Jute string put to good use. 

Side view to see creepy mice!!

Perfect potion jars!!! This is fine glitter and corn syrup. EWW - doll feet! 

Great spider topiary! 

DIY Pirate chest and map! 

Bood, anyone?

Which apple?! 

Nice assortment of old spice jars! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Amazing!! AND, fast, easy and cheap!

Holy awesomeness!!!! This is the easiest, cheapest, fastest, hands-down most awesome Halloween idea EVER! I saw a reference for using B Complex vitamins in a drink to make it glow, so I tested it out before "game day". Wow! This stuff really works like magic. This bottle found at Walmart, contains 10 pills for a whopping 88 cents!!!! You can clearly tell in the picture above this juice is glowing! Note, there is a black light on the table behind it. So, we have learned that the "B Complex" vitamins are black light sensitive.

*** UPDATE*** (October 2015)
I've been experimenting with all the B vitamin options. B2 works the best, since it is the Riboflavin that will make it glow. The complex works well, too, but if you have the option go for the B2. This glowing water/ ice will not have a taste, so you can mix it into pretty much whatever you want! (And, a great side note on B2- it is amazing for helping treat migraines and headaches. So thankful I found this tip for my husband, it has worked wonders, and works very fast.)

How To and Uses:

1) As a potion bottle glowing liquid:
Get a small flat bottomed bowl or ramekin and put 1-2 vitamins in the bottom. Use a muddler or pestle to smash the vitamins into a fine powder. If you don't have one of these specialty kitchen tools, I'd recommend using something with a wide flat base (like the end of a mallet). Once the you've created a powder, fill the bowl slightly with water and then transfer the liquid into a pitcher. With 1-2 vitamins you will be able to make 1-2 GALLONS of glowing liquid!!! I'd recommend a 1 vitamin to 1 gallon water ration for best results. Transfer liquid into multiple containers or a container that holds a gallon. You can use this water in your spooky bottles, and they will now glow under a black light. 

2) In a "Witches Brew". Muddle as above and then mix with a clear fluid for your brew. I'm planning on making a brew with: pineapple juice, seltzer water, muddled B vitamins, lime juice and flavored vodka. Then adding dry ice for an extra cool spook factor. Stay tuned, I won't have that concocted until Saturday! 

3) Oh man, I'm so excited I can barely type the ideas here!!!!! Make the vitamin liquid and use it in frozen hands for your party or specialty ice cube trays.

4) [ADDED Oct 2015] Glowing brain ice mold. I just did this for my party over the weekend and it worked great! I have a brain mold I bought at a Halloween store. Fill the brain mold with the glowing water, freeze and use as a large ice mold for your witches brew or other drink. Note, this ice will not taste any different than regular ice. This picture was not even taken with a black light nearby, so you can imagine how cool it would look if there was one.

Happy Haunting!!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Halloween - New DIY Decor Part 1 - 2013

You've probably noticed Halloween is my favorite holiday! I LOVE making things to decorate my house, and our costumes as well. I've been saving cool bottles for the last several months, and anything else that looks like it could turn into something spooky for Halloween. You can also find some pretty amazing things at Goodwill. Here are some pics of a few easy things to make. Remember, a little spray paint, goes a LONG way!!! I did some rummaging through my craft bins and found things I've been saving for years to add to my props! Finally! I will add, I've had a great "master of detail" help me (my husband). He's got an artistic side behind the well chiseled jock and came up with some great ideas.

Before & After's:

 Dollar Tree plastic skulls turned fab!

Simple salt container; hot glued a Dollar Tree skeleton figure to it first, then spray painted. My husband did the coloring on the skeleton (see, I told you). The letters are silver, slightly 3D to match the silver highlights.

Vodka turned potion bottle: I used painters tape to cover the "moon" up before painting and gradually sprayed towards the bottom to get the fade effect of the white, which I liked. Same silver letters as above. The "moon" looks really cool in person, it's hard to capture the glow / multi colors of the white and grey it shows.

An array of creepy bottles in the making. I'm not quite done with these, I don't think, but they are looking good, so far. Pictured below you'll see (left to right, back to front): balsamic vinegar bottle, olive oil bottle, Glen Livet bottle (how cool is the 1824?!), 2 small Patron bottles. I used cheap twine & jute that I found at Lowe's (~ $2 roll),  a moss mix from Dollar Tree and black feathers, some buttons ( all found in the rummage), and obviously a few glue sticks!

Here's where the Patron bottles went from cool to absolutely fascinating! I saw a tip for this on Pinterest using corn syrup and fine glitter. These are so magical to spin around...yes, I'm a kid at heart. 

A few more creepy props...

Glass menagerie for $1.99 at Goodwill, two types of Dollar Tree moss, and a killer Sharpie job on the glow-in-the-dark mice by my husband. (Now, you are starting to believe me.)

Pickel specimen jars using Dollar Tree critters (plus some at home details), and more of the moss.

Hot sauce bottle, same silver letters and highlights by you know who.

99 Cent Goodwill find, old candy hand with gold spray paint...and just realized the thumb bone is roaming around...