Texas Star Chili Cook Off 2012

I was so excited this week to learn that my Beef and Black Bean Chili had been selected as the winning entry in the Texas Star Chili Cook Off 2012! This is an annual chili recipe contest that anyone can enter, and the winner is based on the chili with the most views at the end of the month of October. I am so delighted and honored to be the winner this year with the many wonderful recipes to choose from!

All of the tasty recipes can be viewed by visiting Texas Star Chili Cook Off 2012 at Miz Helen's Country Cottage. 

Many thanks to all who voted for my chili, 
and to Miz Helen for the $50 Amazon gift certificate! 


Dipped Pretzel Rods for Halloween

My plan was to make dipped pretzels that looked like candy corn with a white layer, an orange layer, and then tipped with yellow sprinkles, but that didn't happen. Living in a small town has its advantages, but shopping is not one of them. I couldn't find the yellow sprinkles that I needed, so I tried to substitute yellow sanding sugar. It seemed like a good idea, but it didn't work. The yellow sugar didn't show up on the orange candy. That's when I went to plan B, and used the sprinkles that were available.

Although the pretzel rods turned out looking somewhat different than what I had intended, I think they came out pretty cute anyway. Instead of candy corn pretzels, mine ended up looking like Indian corn pretzels, so all is well, I think. They're still a yummy, salty/sweet snack no matter what color the sprinkles are.

To make these Halloween dipped pretzels you will need:

1 bag large pretzel rods
1 bag white candy melts
1 bag orange candy melts
Candy sprinkles

1. Melt the white candy according to package directions. Dip about 3/4 of each pretzel rod into the melted candy. Lay the pretzel rods out on wax paper to dry.
2. Melt the orange candy melts according to package directions. After the white layer has dried, dip the pretzel rods again, this time covering about half of the white layer with orange. Add sprinkles at this point while the candy is still wet, then lay on wax paper to dry.



This batch of pretzel rods will be going to a Halloween party at school. I packaged them in clear pretzel bags and tied the ends with orange ribbon. There were lots of extra spiders left over from my recent Halloween wreath project, so I added a spider ring to each pretzel package for fun. I'll bet the second graders won't even mind that their pretzel treats look more like Indian corn than candy corn.



Mission Organization: Week 43 - Reusable DIY Swiffer Dusters

After making the switch from my disposable-pad mop to my new Rubbermaid Reveal mop with its washable and reusable microfiber cleaning pads, I have been rethinking my dusting methods. I love using my Swiffer duster, and I have always been happy with the cleaning results. The only problem I have with this type of duster is the waste produced from throwing away the soiled dusting cloths and the cost of replacing them. My reusable mopping pads gave me the idea that maybe there was a way to make the dusters reusable too. I started looking around to see if there was any information on how to make a washable Swiffer dusting cloth, and I found just what I was looking for from Abby at Sew Much Ado. She came up with a great design for a flannel duster that fits perfectly on my Swiffer duster arm.

To make a washable and reusable Swiffer duster you will need:

4 pieces of flannel 7" x 7"
4 pieces of flannel 4" x 7"
Pinking shears or scissors
Swiffer duster handle

Flannel is inexpensive to buy at a fabric store, but you also might want to consider recycling something that you already have around the house. Outgrown flannel pajamas would work well, as would any soft flannel receiving blankets. In Abby's post she said that she had tried some other fabrics, but prefers the flannel over microfiber or fleece.

Cut four pieces of flannel 7" x 7" and four pieces 4" x 7".

Place two pieces of the 4" x 7" flannel on top of two of the 7" x 7" squares, centering the smaller pieces. Repeat with the remaining flannel pieces.

Then sandwich all the pieces together with the 4" x 7" pieces on the top and the bottom of the stack. Machine stitch down the center through all the pieces.

The next step is to make a casing for the Swiffer handle to slide into. Fold the smaller pieces to one side and lay the center of the handle over the center of the fabric where the seam was stitched. Now mark a line for the casing along the edge of the prong, being sure to allow room for the curved edges.

Now fold the smaller pieces to the other side and mark a casing for the other prong in the same way. Machine stitch along each of the marked lines to form a casing for the prongs.

The prongs will slip right into the casings.

Now trim about 1" off the edges of the top large square and the top small piece so that the layers are graduated. Turn the cloth over and trim the other side in the same way.

Then starting at the narrowest layer, clip the flannel into a row of "fringe" at about 1/2" intervals. Repeat for each layer, then turn the duster over and repeat on the opposite side. You'll want to wash and dry the duster to fluff it up before using it. I cut mine with pinking shears to avoid a lot of fraying, but you may want to trim a few threads after it is washed the first time.

So how well does a homemade Swiffer duster work? Here's the comparison of a used and an unused one. The flannel is soft and does a great job of picking up dust, and I'm glad to be living a little greener with one less thing to throw in the garbage.


A Halloween Wreath

Not long ago I wrote about ways to eliminate spiders from the house, and one way was to keep them off the porches. Today I am contradicting myself because I have just invited lots of spiders to adorn my front porch for Halloween. I decided to make a creepy crawly spider wreath for the entertainment of all those little trick or treaters who will soon be ringing my doorbell.

The inspiration for my wreath came from a picture that I saw on Pinterest, but I have not been able to find the original source to give due credit. I used the idea that I saw in the picture with some added embellishments of my own.

To make the wreath I used a green Christmas wreath that I had discarded and stashed in a closet. I also used a can of black spray paint.

I spray painted the wreath with several coats of paint on both sides, covering all the greenery, letting it dry between coats. 

Some of the supplies I used were black tulle, orange wired ribbon, plastic spiders, florist wire, and wire cutters.

I also used some ping pong balls, wiggly eyes, and of course, my hot glue gun.

After the wreath was painted black and dried, I wrapped some black tulle around the wreath to give it a web-like effect. Then I simply hot glued the orange spiders all over the wreath for color and "creepiness".  Peeking eyes were made from the ping pong balls and wiggly eyes hot glued together. The wreath was finished with a big orange bow made from the wired ribbon and florist wire.

I think I'll let these spiders hang around on my porch while the big googly peeking eyes are on the look out for trick or treaters!


Mission Organization: Week 42 - DIY Non-slip Rugs

Small decorator rugs are found in almost every room of my house, and most of them need skid-proof pads underneath. I usually use those mesh-looking pads that can be cut to fit the rug, but I don't particularly like them because it seems these small rugs can easily get moved a little and the mesh starts peeking out from underneath, not pretty. Enter, Martha Stewart. Her tip is to apply thin strips of acrylic latex caulk to the back of the rug to make the rug non-slip.

I had several rugs similar to this one that I wanted to use to test Martha's idea.

For this project I used a tube of acrylic latex caulk and a caulk gun, both of which I already had on hand.

Flip the rug over to the back and apply thin lines of caulk every 6 inches or so. My caulking technique is a little lacking as evidenced by the squiggly lines, but that should just give the rug a little more "grip"!
Let the caulk dry thoroughly before turning the rug back over to use.

After the caulk is dry the latex lines will grip the floor and keep the rug from slipping. It should eliminate the need for buying these expensive and troublesome pads to put under every small rug. In my opinion, the caulk should only be used on rugs that are not the washable kind. I haven't tried it, but I don't think the caulk would stay adhered to the rug during washing.


Mission Organization: Week 41 - Cleaning the Silver, FAST!

Silver pieces on display are so beautiful when they are polished and shining, but all too often mine look like these tarnished pieces. I can spend literally hours working to polish my silver pieces, and then it seems I turn around and they are tarnished again. Thanks to my sister, I have found that there is an alternative way to clean silver that is FAST and doesn't require the drudgery of polishing.

Instead of polishing the tarnish away, some simple ingredients added to water can cause a chemical reaction that will make the tarnish disappear from silver. It almost sounds too good to be true, but the directions for this quick and easy way to clean silver can found at About.com Chemistry.

To clean your silver pieces you will need:

Glass bowl or sink
Aluminum foil
Steaming hot water
Baking soda

Line the bowl or sink with aluminum foil. The water can be heated in the microwave or on the stove, but it needs to be steaming hot. Pour the water into the aluminum foil lined bowl or sink, then add 2 teaspoonfuls each of baking soda and salt.

Place the tarnished silver pieces in the steaming mixture so that they are resting on the foil. Leave the tarnished pieces in the water for 5 minutes, or less time if you see that the tarnish is gone. 

Rinse with water and dry with a soft cloth, no polishing, but look at the shine!

Here's a silver tray that had one end dipped into the mixture, see the difference?

And a bread tray that has one end cleaned, isn't it amazing?

My tarnished silver tongs . . .

. . . came out shiny after their dip!

Where did all that tarnish go? It stayed behind in the bowl on the aluminum foil. The chemical reaction causes a bit of an unpleasant smell while the pieces are being dipped, but the minor odor is well worth the speed of the cleaning, no more hours of polishing silver for me!


Candied Ginger Lemon Muffins

This is a unique muffin recipe sure to brighten any day with the combination of zesty lemon and sweet crystallized ginger.  These muffins are great with morning coffee, and they also go well with an afternoon cup of tea.

Recipe adapted from Totally Muffins Cookbook 

Candied Ginger Lemon Muffins

1 cup cake flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
5 teaspoons lemon zest, divided
2 eggs
1 cup half-and-half
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 (2 ounce) bottle crystallized ginger (or about 1/2 cup), rinsed, dried, and chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray or use paper liners. In a small bowl, combine both flours and baking soda; mix with a fork.
In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar; beat in 2 teaspoons lemon zest. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add half-and-half and lemon juice and mix until combined. Add flour mixture and stir just until flour disappears. Gently stir in chopped ginger. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups and sprinkle tops with remaining lemon zest. Bake for 18 - 20 minutes, or until muffins test done. Makes 18 muffins.

Crystallized ginger is like a soft, sweet, slightly spicy candy.

Finely chop the crystallized ginger pieces before adding to the batter.

Sprinkle lemon zest on top of the batter before baking.

Make a batch of these Candied Ginger Lemon Muffins and your day will have a sunny start no matter what the weather!


Mission Organization: Week 40 - Those Itsy Bitsy Spiders

I don't really want to get rid of all spiders, I just don't want them living in my CLOSETS or under my BEDS or behind my COUCH or on my PORCH or actually anywhere in my HOUSE. I know that spiders can be useful to help get rid of insects, and I do appreciate them doing their job, but I do want to keep my house spider free mostly because they CREEP ME OUT. After all, the fear of spiders is the most common phobia in the world!

This garden spider was in my back yard, and I carefully avoided any contact while she went about the business of catching insects in her web. I wouldn't harm this creature, but neither will I allow her cousins to co-habitate with me.

I recently found that one of Ms. Garden Spider's relatives had set up shop in the upper corner of my front porch. This fellow had done an excellent job of catching moths, but I got my broom and evicted the tenant. Keeping all webs and spiders off the porches and windows will also help to keep the interior of the house spider free.

There are several ways to keep spiders from feeling welcome in your home. Start by sealing any cracks that allow spiders to enter your home. Another way is to keep your house clean and clutter free. Spiders view clutter as a condo with a 'welcome' mat out for them. Purge closets of unessential items and avoid using cardboard boxes for storage. Avoid stacking clothing or papers on the floor, as spiders love to hide in such areas. I'm not sure exactly why, but many report that dusting furniture and window sills with Lemon Pledge is supposed to be a good spider repellant.

A natural and good smelling way to repel spiders is to use essential oils. Peppermint and eucalyptus are two that are good for this purpose. I have also been told that citrus oils are effective as well.

Mix 2 teaspoons of essential oil with 1 cup of water and shake well. Spray around doorways, windows, corners, or anywhere a spider might frequent. This will not only repel spiders, your house will smell great! Take precautions if you have pets, the solution could be irritating to them.

Another method for dealing with the creepy crawlies is the Catchmaster glue boards. These are very easy to place in out of the way places, and you will soon find out where spiders visit most frequently. 

It may take some effort and repeated application, but I believe spiders can be relegated out of the house and back to the garden where they and I will be much happier. I'd love to hear of any other good "spider remedies" that have been effective for anyone else.

The opinions stated in this post are my own. I have received no compensation from the manufacturers of the products mentioned herein.


Beef and Black Bean Chili

The weather was cool this morning, and I needed a jacket when I went outside so I knew it was going to be the perfect day to make a pot of chili. The recipe that I used today comes from the food writer Laraine Perri. I first noticed this recipe last year in my newspaper and because it was different than the chili that I usually make, I just had to try it. I have made a few minor adjustments from the original recipe at Relish.com to suit my own taste. This is a flavorful chili that your family is sure to love, and it can be made with or without the added heat of the chipotle peppers.

Beef and Black Bean Chili

2 pounds ground round
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
3/4 cup water
2 (15 ounce each) cans fire roasted tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons chopped chipotles in adobo sauce, optional
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Brown the ground round in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Use a slotted spoon to transfer beef to a bowl; set aside. Drain liquid from Dutch oven, then add the olive oil. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes until soft, but not browned. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Stir in beef, salt, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and cinnamon. Add chicken broth, water, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, honey, and chipotles (if using). Reduce to medium-low heat and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add beans and lime juice and cook 5 minutes longer. Serves 8.

Some toppings you might want to use with this chili are shredded Cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, and sour cream. Other yummy chili toppings are cilantro, diced avocado, and lime wedges.

This chili recipe is being entered in the 2012 Texas Star Chili Cook Off. Please visit the Cook Off to view all the recipes, and of course I'd love for you to return often to the Cook Off because every time you view my chili at the Cook Off during the month of October I will receive a vote!

To view:


Time for Halloween Treats

Fall has officially arrived, and Halloween is just around the corner. Many children love the costumes and the parties that are often associated with the holiday. Whether you are hosting a party or just entertaining your own children at home, homemade treats will likely be a hit. Here are some of my past Halloween treats that kids have enjoyed:

Creepy Popcorn Hands are very easy to make and so cute. I have made these for several years for Halloween. I took these to my grandson's first grade class last Halloween, and I think every child thanked me.

The Great Pumpkin Cake is baked in a Bundt pan and has an ice cream cone as a stem. It's colorful and makes a nice table centerpiece for a party.

Halloween Cake Pops can be packaged individually if you want to hand them out as treats.

Cake Pops can be decorated in many different ways, and kids like these little treats on a stick. These are made with a red velvet cake mix, and sprinkles were used to decorate the the creatures in the post Halloween Cake Pops II.

With Halloween coming up soon, it's time to be thinking about goodies for your little ones to enjoy!