Thursday, December 30, 2010


A few years ago, a friend and I were traveling, and we spent a night in Shreveport, Louisiana.  We stayed with some very hospitable folks, and they served us some of the most delicious food I had ever eaten.  Gumbo and rice for supper, biscuits and jam and spicy sausages for breakfast. 

The memory of that food has stayed with me all these years, and about a month ago, I got a hankering for gumbo again.  I looked up several different recipes, then came up with my own.  I'm not sure if this is traditional Cajun gumbo or not, but I do know that it is delicious and is sure to become a regular meal in our household!  It does take a little more time than a lot of recipes (2 1/2 to 3 hours), but it is well worth it!

The foundation of a lot of Cajun cooking is a brown 'roux', used in gumbos, dirty rice, and other recipes.  A roux is a mixture of equal parts flour and fat, cooked slowly until the desired color is achieved.  Lighter shades of roux are used in French cooking and are used for thickening, but Cajun cooking uses a dark brown roux, which is used more for adding flavor.  Brown roux has the most wonderful aroma when it is cooking!  You can read more about roux at this page :


3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 pound smoked sausage, cut into bite size pieces
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup flour
5 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
5-8 cloves garlic, minced
4-8 green onions, sliced
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
4 cups hot chicken broth
1 can (14 oz) stewed tomatoes with juice, cut into small pieces
2 cups frozen sliced okra
1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled deveined and cooked (optional)
Louisiana hot sauce, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

     Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and sausage and cook until all the chicken is white.  Remove the meat and set aside.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter with the oil, and add flour, stirring constantly.  Cook over medium heat, stirring very often for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a rich brown.  Be careful not to burn the roux.  When it is brown, remove from heat and set aside to cool.

    Meanwhile, chop all the vegetables and herbs.  Return the dutch oven to medium heat and melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter with the roux.  Add onion, green onion, garlic, green pepper and celery.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often.  Add Worchestershire sauce and parsley.  Cook for another 10 minutes.  Slowly add the hot chicken broth, whisking constantly.  Add the meat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.  Add tomatoes and okra.  Add hot sauce if desired, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another hour.  Just before serving add the shrimp.  Serve over hot rice.

I didn't use shrimp this time, since I was serving it to my grandma, and she's not crazy about seafood. :) I usually give it a good couple shakes of hot sauce, and that is still pretty mild. I have also used gumbo filé in this, but I didn't have any this time either. I hope you all enjoy! This is a wonderful meal for a chilly day!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Off the Beaten Path

Sometimes in this hectic age, we have to step off the beaten path...

...back to a slower pace of living....

...and embrace all of the simple joys that are so important in life.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Soap Balls

For the past couple of years, we have been going to a Craft Fair on Thanksgiving weekend.  They have demonstrations on all sorts of crafts: woodworking, blacksmithing, pottery, cheese making, weaving, basketry, old time farming techniques, and much more!  They also have a lot of stations where kids
can do little crafts: paddle boat making, mug rugs, candles, bronze spoons, jump ropes, pottery, baskets, soap balls...the list goes on.

Chance loves going to the fair.  He is a really hands-on type of kid, and he loves to be able to make things.  Some of the things they do at the fair, we have made at home later.  One of the easiest things to make is a soap ball.  They are great fun for kids to make, and they also make a nice gift!

You will need:   bar soap, grated      
          warm water
                            food coloring (optional)
               plastic zip bags
                           festive fabric (optional)
                          tissue paper (optional)
                  ribbon (optional)

Start by grating your soap with a cheese grater.  You can use any type of bar soap you like.  This time, I used a lavender scented white soap.  Measure 1/2 cup of grated soap into a plastic zip bag.  Add 1 tablespoon warm water plus 3-4 drops of food coloring.  It works best if you add the food coloring to the water before you add it to the bag.  Seal the bag.  Now your child (or you) can squish the soap all around in the bag.  There should be just enough water to get all the soap damp and sticky.  If you add too much water, you will get suds and the soap ball will not stick together.

When the soap is all sticky, open the bag and remove as much of the soap as you can.  Now roll it around in your hands while gently squeezing to form a ball.  This makes a bit of a mess, but it's a good clean mess! :)  When the ball is formed, set it aside to dry a little bit.

To give these as a gift, I like to wrap them up with a bit of pretty cloth and some tissue paper.  Cut a 10 inch diameter circle of fabric.  Cut a 10-11 inch square of tissue paper.  Place the tissue paper on top of the fabric.  Place the soap ball in the center.  Gather the fabric around the soap ball, and tie with a ribbon.

Chance loves to have a gift to give that he made himself!  I'm sure your kids will too!  Have fun with this project! :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sugared Pecans

My memories of my grandma's place always include pecans. She had a large pecan tree in her backyard, and as a kid, I used to help rake the leaves or pick the nuts off the ground.  And it seemed like she always had a jar of sugared pecans on her table.  They were a very special treat after working hard in the backyard.  It's been years since she lived at that place, and she's no longer able to make sugared pecans.  But I'd like to keep the tradition alive, and hopefully I can make some people happy with this yummy treat!

Sugared Pecans

1 pound pecan halves
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water (you can substitute some vanilla if you like)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional

Beat the egg white and water until frothy.  Add pecans to the bowl and stir until all the nuts are well coated.  In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon and salt if wanted.  Slowly pour the sugar mixture over the pecans, stirring to coat.  Line a baking pan with aluminum foil.  Spread the pecans in a single layer on the baking pan.  Bake at 275º for about an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so.  Remove from oven and let cool.  They should have a sweet crispy shell.

I have to warn you all though...these can be addicting!  It might be a good idea to give some to a friend as a gift so you don't eat them all yourself! :)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Easy Chicken Soup

With our busy schedule around here lately, I haven't been doing too much fancy cooking. :S  In fact, a couple days ago, while I was driving home from being gone all day, I stopped at the grocery store and picked up a rotisserie chicken.  I sometimes do that when I'm in a pinch because I think they are a little healthier (maybe) than alot of fast food places, and they go a little further.  As I discovered this time, the bones also make excellent soup!

Usually, after a meal of rotisserie chicken, I stick the bird in the fridge and we eat cold chicken off of it for a couple of days.  But one of my pet peeves is picking a cold chicken.  It is just so much easier to do it while it's warm.  Lately, every time I bake a chicken, turkey, etc, I try to boil the bones and make stock for future soup making.  So this time, I boiled the bones...and all the meat left on them after one meal.  It turned out to be some of the best chicken noodle soup I have made!

Easy Chicken Soup

1 leftover rotisserie chicken, with meat left on it
1 quart chicken broth
2 cups carrots, chopped
2 large stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
noodles of your choice ( I used egg noodles)

Place chicken in a large stockpot.  Be sure to add the jelly-like stuff on the bottom of the container...that's the good stuff!  You may want to break the ribs apart a little. Pour chicken broth over it, and add enough water to cover the bones.  Simmer for at least 1/2 to 1 hour. (The longer the better!)  This is a good time to chop up the vegetables.  When the meat is done simmering, remove the meat and bones from the broth, leaving the broth in the stockpot.  Add the vegetables to the broth and bring to a boil.  Let the chicken sit until it is just cool enough to handle.  Pick all the meat off the bones, and discard the bones.  Add the meat to the soup.  When the vegetables are starting to get tender, add a couple handfuls of noodles.  Continue boiling until the noodles are soft.  Enjoy your soup!

Note:  You shouldn't have to add any salt or other seasonings, because rotisserie chickens are already very salty and well seasoned!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Coffee Bean Candle Holders

Howdy!  It seems like lately I am always apologizing about not posting on here.  Our life has been incredibly hectic and erratic around here the past couple weeks, including doctor visits for me, and an unexpected hospital stay for my husband.  But the good news is that everybody is alright now!  So today I am going to share with you a fun and easy decorating tip for the holidays!

I am not much of a coffee drinker.  I like it, but I don't feel like I need it every day. You might say I am a social drinker. :)  But the smell of coffee is one of my all time favorite scents.  Often in the grocery store I walk down the tea and coffee aisle even if I don't need anything there just to smell the coffee beans!  This project will make your house smell that good without even brewing any coffee!

All you need is some whole coffee beans of your choice (I used french vanilla), decorative glass containers or trays, and some candles.  Make sure your containers are clean and dry.  Pour a small amount of whole coffee beans into them.   Next, position your candles where you want them.  Pour a little more of the coffee beans around them so it comes up the sides a little and supports the candles.  Now if you want, you can also add pine cones and pine sprigs to add color and cheer!

This is a great looking centerpiece that makes your home smell warm and inviting for the holidays!  Have fun with it, and enjoy the wonderful aroma!