October 30, 2012

Cookie Cutter Pumpkin Carving

I'm happy to share that another Pinterest project payed off!  I thought the idea of using cookie cutters to "carve" a pumpkin was pretty genius, but iffy on whether or not it would work.  I will say that for the plastic cookie cutters, I didn't even try thwacking them with a hammer.  The metal ones went like gangbusters, though, so I'm happy to report this pin win: verified!

Now what you're seeing is the result of two metal cookie cutters (the house and candy), and tracing a plastic bat cookie cutter.  To the left of the house, I traced a ghost cookie cutter, too.  With the metal ones, I just kept hammering away trying to evenly push the cookie cutter in, and it went really well.  The candy piece got a little mangled on the left side, but that was the only downside to this approach.

I thought the house looked a little odd just floating in with the other shapes so I added the little walkway/river/moat/whatever you want to call it.  For experiments with my 2-year-old's pumpkin, I still call it a success.  I laid out the Halloween cookie cutters for him to choose from and did them in the order he wanted, so I was able to find a pretty good way to include him.  He was most excited over the massive piles of guts I scraped from the pumpkins first.  That came as no surprise.  He was napping when I took this pic so he hasn't seen the final product of our handiwork.  I can't wait to show him the lit pumpkins tomorrow night!

Lemon Butter Shrimp

This delicious main dish comes courtesy of one of those Pinterest pins with details in the caption, because the  link doesn't actually go anywhere with a real recipe.  So I ran with the notes from the pin, modified a bit to suit my family, and before I knew it I had a new favorite way to make shrimp that got enthusiastic votes from the peanut gallery.  Hooray!

  • 30-50 pre-cooked, peeled shrimp, tails removed
  • 1/2 stick of butter (4 tablespoons)
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter in the microwave.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Pour on the melted butter and evenly coat the baking sheet.
  4. Lay the lemon slices in a single layer on the buttered baking sheet.
  5. Arrange the shrimp on top of the lemon and butter so that each shrimp is at least covering a bit of lemon slice.
  6. Sprinkle generously with Italian seasoning.  I'm guesstimating that I used about 2 teaspoons.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes.
There you go.  Insanely easy, and super delicious.  I served mine with rice and a salad and it was great!  Enjoy.

October 21, 2012

Sausage and Stuffing Criss-Cross Pastry

I got this recipe from a coworker, who found it on a blog, reposted from Pepperidge Farm.  I definitely modified this from the original, and I tend to use it as a weekend brunch.  It's touted as a good holiday side, and it certainly was a hit when I made it with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in the past, but there's no reason to restrict this to holiday fare!  It's really very similar to a sausage pastie, which is recognized (smartly so) as an anytime food.


  • 1/2 of a 17.3-oz pkg. Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets (1 sheet), thawed*
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 lb bulk pork sausage
  • 1 cup Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing
  • 1 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic butter (to make your own, stir a couple shakes of garlic powder into 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter)
*It is very easy to double this recipe, making two at once so that you use both pastry sheets and the full 1 lb tube of sausage.  You can make the second one (just skip the egg wash and putting in the oven), wrap in wax paper and aluminum foil, and freeze in a gallon freezer bag.  Just thaw out and bake at a later date.


  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Beat 1 egg and the water in a small bowl with a fork or whisk and set aside.
  2. Mix the sausage, cheese, parsley, stuffing, remaining egg, and onion in a large bowl.
  3. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface.  Cut slits 1 inch apart from the outer edge to the fold mark on each side of the pastry sheet.
  4. Spoon the sausage mixture down the center of the pastry and shape to evenly fill.
  5. Starting at one end, fold the pastry strips over the sausage mixture, alternating sides, to cover the mixture completely.
  6. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  7. Place the pastry on the prepared baking sheet, and brush with the egg wash.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the sausage is cooked through.
  9. Brush with garlic butter and let the pastry cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Happy Halloween Banner

I really fell in love with some of Pottery Barn's new Halloween decorations this year.  In particular, their Happy Halloween Banner and a burlap table runner.  Now the runner was definitely beyond my skill level, so I bought that one, but I was convinced I could make a decent banner myself.  Sure enough, I did.  I'm pretty proud of myself for this one.  I think it cost less than $15 and took me about 2 hours.

Supplies (for 15-foot banner as shown in pictures)

  • 2 yards of burlap (will be plenty)
  • 8 1/2" x 11" paper to use as guide
  • 8 yards of hemp cord (found in the necklace/bead aisle in a craft store)
  • Scissors
  • Black craft paint
  • Brown craft paint (the one I used was slightly metallic, which really worked out well)
  • Foam brush
  • Small paint brush (you could use a variety of sizes for the different letters and details you add)
  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • 2 nails or hooks


Lay out burlap, but don't completely unfold.  This will help minimize the time spent cutting squares.

Using a piece of paper as a guide, cut one long strip of burlap.  It is ok to have variation in the length and width of the panels, as long as they are roughly the same size.

Fold it over, and cut at the folds to get 4 panels for your banner.  Again, neatness is not the key here.

Repeat until you have at least 14 panels.  I cut a couple extra for insurance.  Mix up the panels so you don't have the exact same size pieces next to each other in the final banner.

Lay a panel of burlap on your cardboard (believe me, the paint is going to transfer through the burlap and newspaper will just become mush underneath; you want cardboard or an empty cereal box to protect your work surface).  Using the foam brush, paint brown smudges around the border of the panel, leaving an oval for the letter in the center.  Use uneven strokes and dapple some corners more than others to get a relaxed look to the banner.  You aren't trying for perfect edges here.

Using the small paint brush, paint black letter in center of panel either using a stencil or free handing.  I didn't see any stencils I liked, and I found that the PB style was actually fairly easy to mimic.

Paint spiders, cobwebs, and paint splotches on random bits of the panels (though not on every single one) as you go.

Repeat until you have Happy Halloween spelled out.  Lay panels on newspaper to dry.

It could also be fun to paint an extra panel at each end with a pumpkin, ghost, haunted house, or crow silhouette!

Once panels are dry, thread the hemp cord along the top of each panel.  The cord was too thick to thread through any needles I had, but I did use a needle to stretch out a hole in the burlap to run the cord through.  I just ran the cord over two stretches at the top of each panel- I didn't weave it in and out throughout all of the burlap.  You will need to trim the frayed edge of the cord as you go.  Without a needle, it will begin to split apart and be impossible to thread after a few minutes.  You'll have plenty of excess, so don't worry about these little trims.

Tie ends of the cord to nails or hooks to hang your banner.  Trim excess.  Marvel in your success!

October 17, 2012

Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have been better about digging through old pins on Pinterest and finally making them.  This is one such mission.  The idea of Nutella chocolate chip cookies sounded so good, and while I never really had a specific idea of how they would taste, I have to say I'm happy with how they turned out.  They still taste like chocolate chip cookies, but with this slightly different flavor that makes them special.  I would love to make these during the holidays as a bit of a surprise treat.  They're also a tad addictive.  I'm pretty sure I've already eaten 4 "test" cookies while they were still cooling!

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat butter, Nutella, sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy (3-4 minutes).  Trust me, it will get light and fluffy!
  4. Add egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add vanilla extract and beat until combined.
  5. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture slowly until combined.
  6. Add chocolate chips and mix until fully incorporated.
  7. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Let cool 2 minutes before transferring to wire racks.
  9. Store in an airtight container with a slice of bread to keep the cookies soft.  The cookies absorb the moisture from the bread!  Swap out bread with another slice when it turns dry and hard.

October 14, 2012

Creamy Penne and Fall Vegetable Casserole

I have a great Food Network daily calendar on my desk, which has a different recipe or cooking tip each day.  I tend to save recipes from the calendar and forget about them, but this one I had to try right away.  I stayed pretty close to the Baked Penne with Fall Vegetables recipe, with just a few modifications based on family preferences and ingredients I had on hand and only made half the recipe (to make 3 servings instead of 6).


  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley (or 1/8 cup fresh)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups thickly sliced leeks (white and tender green parts), thoroughly washed*
  • 3 cups large diced butternut squash
  • 1/6 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 8 oz of penne (1/2 box)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

*Leeks can have a lot of dirt on them, especially in the green leafy part.  Wash by soaking in a large bowl of cold water, straining, and repeating a couple times until the water is clear (no grit floating around).


[Note: For this recipe, you definitely need to chop and measure everything out before hand. There is a good deal of stirring for the sauce, so you can't count on that time to prepare the ingredients while you cook.]

  1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Pulse the Parmesan and parsley in a food processor until well combined.  Set aside.
  3. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions.  While it is cooking (probably 10-12 minutes), prepare the vegetables and sauce.
  4. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the leeks and squash and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until just tender (5-7 minutes).
  5. Uncover the pot and stir in the flour, sage, and nutmeg.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and gradually stir in the broth and milk.
  7. Simmer, stirring, until thickened (5-7 minutes).
  8. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. When cooked, drain the pasta.  Then add pasta to the vegetable sauce, along with the mozzarella.
  10. Stir the pasta, cheese, and vegetable sauce until pasta is thoroughly coated.
  11. Spray a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with nonstick spray.  Pour the pasta mixture into the dish and sprinkle with the Parmesan-parsley topping.
  12. Bake until the top is golden, about 15-20 minutes.  Let rest for several minutes before serving.

Golden, bubbly, melty goodness!

Breakfast Panini with Strawberries

Well I've been in love with these blueberry paninis I posted last month, and today decided to try using minced strawberries instead of blueberries.  The blueberries aren't in season anymore, so rather than spend $5 for a small container, I spent $2.50 for a bin of strawberries.  One of my favorite guilty pleasures is a strawberry cream cheese danish, so I knew the flavors would work!  Sure enough, they did, even if this recipe is definitely messier than the blueberry one.  Fair warning. ;-)

Ingredients (for each panini)
  • 1 oz of cream cheese
  • 2 teaspoons of powdered sugar
  • 2 large strawberries, minced
  • 2 slices of bread
  • Butter

  1. Heat panini press or large pan.
  2. Microwave cream cheese for 10 seconds to soften.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese, sugar, and strawberries.
  4. Butter outside of both slices of bread.
  5. Spoon strawberry filling into sandwich.
  6. Grill on panini press or in a pan for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown.

October 13, 2012

Play Room Time

This was a really exciting project for several reasons.  My husband and I were ready to reclaim our living room and clear out the toys after 2 1/2 years of being overrun.  We finally converted a basement guest room into a play room for our little guy.  He loves cars, trucks, trains, planes- anything with a motor!  So we got him a great rug that looks like a little town with roads running everywhere, so he can drive his cars all over it. To make it feel like his own little world, we put up stickers of vehicles all over, and strung cloud lanterns I made from the ceiling.  I got the idea for the lanterns from this site.  I also had the idea to run a ribbon between two wall hooks, and use curtain rings with clips as a makeshift art gallery.  I'd seen something similar in different catalogs over the years.  I'm really impressed we were able to put this room together for less than $100!  Directions for clouds and artwork below.

Cloud Lanterns

  • White paper lanterns (I found a pack of 5 at Party City that came with butterflies that I just didn't stick on)
  • LED battery tea lights- be sure to get the kind that are no heat so they won't cause a fire hazard.
  • White stuffed animal filling (I found mine at JoAnne's Fabrics)
  • Glue gun and glue (about 10 sticks for 5 lanterns)
  • Screw hooks (one for each lantern.  I used white to blend in with the white ceiling.)

  1. Assemble lanterns.
  2. Pull apart stuffing into handful-sized patches.  While it seems like it would be easy to just keep it in the "roll" and roll it around the lantern, that approach won't give you the cloud-like feeling.  It will just look like you rolled cotton around the lamp, which is what you did!  Trial and error taught me that. :-)
  3. Plug in glue gun and heat up.
  4. Apply a strip of glue the length of the lantern, and apply stuffing quickly before glue sets.  Repeat across entire lantern, varying application of glue so it is in patches- not repeated vertical rows.  You don't want the lantern to appear orderly.
  5. When lantern surface is covered, look over for thin spots.  Push aside surrounding stuffing, apply a small loop of glue, and apply more stuffing.
  6. Repeat application of glue and stuffing for remaining lanterns.
  7. When dry, place an LED tea light in each lantern.  It's ok if the light isn't fixed in place anywhere.  For all but the extra large lanterns, it shouldn't fall out after you've slipped it in.  Do keep the light near the lantern opening so you can turn it on and off easily.
  8. Tie strings to top of lanterns.
  9. Drill small pilot holes same size as hooks in ceiling for each lantern.
  10. Screw in hooks.
  11. Tie a lantern string to each hook.  Vary the height among the lanterns so they aren't all at exactly the same level.

Art Gallery

  • Long length of ribbon, varying depending on wall and desired length of "gallery", plus two smaller lengths of ribbon for bows
  • 2 Command or other removable wall hooks
  • Curtain rings with clips
  • Laser level
  • Artwork!

  1. Affix laser level to wall.
  2. Stick wall hooks in line with laser.
  3. Tie one end of ribbon around one hook.  This knot needs to be heavy duty.  My husband tied one end while I held the other around the other hook.  He knotted it multiple times, looping around the hook over and over.
  4. String curtain rings onto ribbon.
  5. Tie other end of ribbon around other hook with another heavy duty knot.  I recommend someone hold the already-knotted side while you do this, so you don't pull at the other knot too much.
  6. Trim excess ribbon from each end.
  7. Tie a bow onto each hook to hide knot in the ribbon.
  8. Clip artwork onto curtain rings.

October 8, 2012

Homemade Taco Bowls

So I saw this clever trick to making taco bowls out of tortillas, using an upside down muffin tin.  Ooo!  Had to give this one a try.  I made the crispy bowls with the tortillas, and just filled with the normal taco fixins.  I call it a success.  Hubby said they were a bit bland, though he wasn't breaking off bits of bowl to eat with filling like I did.  So it's entirely his fault, obviously.  So maybe you could try seasoning the tortillas, but otherwise, here's how to go about it!


  • Medium flour tortillas (I made 6 which was plenty for 1 lb of ground beef)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 lb of ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/2 head green leaf lettuce, shredded
  • 1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • 2 regular size muffin tins

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Spray both sides of tortillas.  Form bowls out of tortillas, and place into bottom sides of 2 muffin tins (see picture below).
  3. Cook tortillas for 7 minutes or until golden (but not dark brown as you can see bits of mine are.  I cooked mine for 8 minutes just guessing how long to go).
  4. Brown the ground beef and onion in a large saucepan over medium heat.  While browning, stir in taco seasoning.  Drain.
  5. Allow taco bowls to cool slightly.
  6. Fill taco bowls with ground beef, then cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce.  Top with sour cream if desired.

October 5, 2012

Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

I love to make this for dinner once fall gets here and there are so many great veggies to cook!  Really the only staple ingredients are chicken, vegetables, salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil.  The rest can be changed around however you like and to your tastes.

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 acorn squash, seeds removed and cut into slices
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 6 red potatoes, quartered
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 stalk of celery, sliced
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Penzeys Old World Seasoning (or poultry seasoning or season salt)

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Add the vegetables and garlic to a large roasting pan or casserole dish.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and seasoning.  Toss to coat.
  3. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables.  Season generously with salt, pepper, and seasoning.
  4. Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes.
THAT'S IT.  I swear this is the best meal to make.  10 minutes of chopping veggies followed by a half hour to relax while your house smells amazing and you get such a great meal with so little effort.

October 2, 2012

DIY Mummy Lights

This craft was so simple and fun.  My 2-year-old loved helping me wrap pasta sauce jars and cheap vases in gauze and stick on googly eyes.  A couple battery-powered tea candles later and we're in business!


  • Empty glass jars (from pasta sauce, fruit, juice, whatever) or vases from a dollar store or craft store (the round one was $3 and the small one $1 at Joanne's)
  • Gauze or cheesecloth (1 roll per jar)
  • Googly eyes
  • Glue
  • Battery-powered LED tea candles


  1. Apply a small line of glue along one end of a strip of gauze.  Glue to jar, and wrap gauze around in uneven bands.  Glue the other end and affix to bandages, preferably tucking one end in.
  2. Put a dot of glue on each eye and stick to jar.
  3. Apply a small line of glue along the top inside edge of the jar, and fold over any gauze sticking over the edge.
  4. Put LED tea candle in jar.
  5. Repeat for each jar.

Baked Rotini

This recipe has evolved over the years, and has a special place in my heart.  This was the first recipe I really did well when I was first married, and the first one I tinkered with over time instead of following the cookbook version exactly.  It's definitely comfort food in my house: both comforting for me to make because it is so familiar, and comforting to eat all year long.  I know it's nothing groundbreaking, but I hope you enjoy it all the same!

  • 1/2 lb (1/2 box) rotini
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 24-oz jar pasta sauce

  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions.
  2. While the pasta cooks, brown the ground beef with the onion and garlic cloves in a large nonstick pan heated over medium heat.  You do not need to coat the pan in oil or nonstick spray; the beef provides its own grease to cook in.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  4. When cooked, drain the pasta and transfer to a large bowl.
  5. When browned (5-7 minutes), drain the ground beef mixture and add to the large bowl.
  6. Stir together the pasta, ground beef, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, the Parmesan cheese, the pepper, and pasta sauce until evenly mixed.
  7. Pour the pasta mixture into a lidded 3-quart casserole dish.  Cover and cook at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.
  8. Remove lid, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of mozzarella cheese, cover again, and cook an additional 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
Serves 4-5

So ooey gooey and cheesy!!!

Chicken Stir-Fry Wraps

I can't say enough how much I love Martha Stewart recipes.  The flavors are just soooo good!  I always forget how much I like this recipe, and really should make it more often.  I modify it a bit to use less ginger (I really don't like ginger) and red pepper flakes (because I'm a wuss about spicy food), and I prefer green leaf lettuce for the cups.  It seems to cooperate better than the Boston lettuce.  I had apple cider with this dinner, and it was an awesome compliment to the spicy chicken.  Yum.  My way or Martha's, you're sure to have an awesome meal to pat yourself on the back over!

  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, halved horizontally and then thinly sliced crosswise. I use two large chicken breasts, or four thin-cut chicken breasts (skipping the step to halve horizontally as they're already thin)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger (I recommend using a microplane for the grating; I always scrape my knuckles when I try to use a regular grater for ginger)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
  • 6 to 8 green leaf lettuce leaves (for wraps; about 1 head)

  1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until opaque throughout (2 to 4 minutes).  Transfer to a plate.
  2. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan, along with the onion and bell pepper.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the onion is tender and golden (about 4 minutes).  Reduce the heat if browning too quickly.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes to the pan.  Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant (30 to 60 seconds).
  4. Stir in the soy sauce, vinegar, and cornstarch mixture.  Remove from the heat.  Add the chicken and any acumulated juices, tossing to coat.  Serve in lettuce cups.
Serves 4