Sunday, October 27, 2013

Penicillin Cocktail

Without a bartender, having fancy cocktails at a party can be really difficult. As a hostess I'm usually running around crazy - cooking, making sure everyone has everything they need and trying to socialize, so bartending is not feasible. For +Aaron's 30th birthday party last weekend I wanted to have a "signature cocktail" - something delicious but manly enough, and something that I knew he would love. I decided on the Penicillin, did some math and pre-made mix so that party guests could easily make their own drinks.

The Penicillin is a blended scotch-based cocktail with fresh lemon juice, sweetened Honey-Ginger Syrup and a delicate pour of aromatic Islay Single Malt for the necessary smoke on the nose - it's perfect! To make a single batch see the official recipe from Sam Ross -

The key to a good Penicillin is quality, fresh ingredients. So I was quite nervous about pre-making a mix but it turned out absolutely fantastic! I made the honey-ginger syrup and squeezed lemons the day before the party and they were both still fresh and perfect for the party!

INGREDIENTS : Makes 30 oz (About 15 drinks)

6.5 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
6.5 oz Honey Ginger Syrup
17.5 oz Single Malt or Blended Scotch
Laphroaig Scotch (1/4 oz per drink)
Large ice cubes/spheres 
Candied Ginger for garnish

For the Honey Ginger Syrup

2 cups honey
1 1/2 cups water
1 fresh ginger root, thinly sliced

Combine ingredients in saucepan. Heat over low heat until ginger has incorporated nicely in the syrup ( you want a STRONG ginger taste). I did this for about an hour while I prepped some other items for the party. Remove and discard the ginger. Strain into air tight container. Refrigerate until ready to use. I made the syrup and squeezed the lemons for the lemon juice the day before the party.


Combine 6.5 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice, 6.5 oz honey ginger syrup and 17.5 oz single malt/blended scotch in an airtight container. This will act as your drink "mix." ( I made 3 bottles for a party with 30 to 40 people in attendance). Refrigerate until ready to use. 

For your guests set up a drink station for them to make their own drinks with. You'll need your pre-made bottled mix, ice, Laphroaig, candied ginger, measuring devices, and instructions. 


1. ) Combine 2oz drink mix in shaker with ice.

2.)  Strain into rock glass, ideally with one very large ice cube (dilutes the drink slowly). 

3.)  Float 1/4 oz Laphroaig over top of drink.

4.)  Garnish with candied ginger.

The drink was a BIG hit at the party and even appealed to the non-scotch drinkers in attendance. My favorite part is the peet aroma and taste from the Laphroaig. I used a very inexpensive blended scotch for the mix and the quality of the drink overall was still superb. Be Careful...These bad boys are potent! 

Pro Tips:

I thought I'd give you the links to some of the cool tools I used to make these drinks absolutely perfect!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Hello Autumn! Pumpkin Carving and Roasted Pumpkin Seeds!

For those readers living in Raleigh, you know that we've had a long stretch of dreadfully depressing weather the past couple weeks. It's been rainy and gloomy. I can't remember the last time I've seen sunshine. This weekend I decided that despite all the gloom and despair I was going to rally and get into the autumn spirit! Obviously this means pumpkin carving.

We brought our dog, Bernice, with us to go pumpkin picking. We went to this really cute place up Lake Wheeler Road a bit - Porter Farms & Nursery, they have a great selection of a variety of different types of pumpkins and some pick-your-own fields BURSTING with gigantic pumpkins!

Rustic Camper Pumpkins

If Cinderella goes camping, I imagine this is how she does it. I saw a similar project to this in an old Better Homes & Gardens magazine and just had to do it!


2 Pumpkins; one taller and slimmer, one short and stout.
3 small gourds
Pumpkin Carving Tools (I used a steak knife and a box cutter)
3 Bamboo Skewers
2 Thumb Tacks


The first thing I did was sketch my design on the pumpkins with a marker. The smaller pumpkin is the "car" and the larger one is the "camper." For the car I made a large front windshield, a side door and side window. For the camper, I placed the pumpkin on it's side and drew a door, 2 windows (with drapes), and a racing stripe for authenticity.

Next I carved round holes in the back sides of the pumpkins (NOT the top where you usually carve pumpkins) - this is for goop removal. Using your hands or a spoon, scoop out all the guts/seeds.

Now you're ready to carve! Carve out all the solid pieces first. Then carefully carve the outlines of the doors. Make sure not to make your outlines go all the way around or else the entire piece will become dislodged from the pumpkin. Use your box cutter (or vegetable peeler, or other tool) to scrape away the outer orange skin of the pumpkins for the window drapes, bottom of camper door, and racing stripe. Wipe off any remaining marker. 

To attach the wheels (gourds), poke bamboo cooking skewers through the pumpkins. Make sure about 1/4-1/2 inch of the skewer sticks out of the pumpkin, press gourd onto skewer to hold in place. I used 2 gourd tires on the car and 1 on the rear end of the camper - kind of as if the car was towing the camper. 

Place the thumb tacks on the doors for door handles. VOILA! You have a cute pumpkin camper!

Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

If you're carving pumpkins you HAVE to roast the seeds - it's mandatory. I like to make my pumpkin seeds with a little "kick" to the taste buds. 


1 1/2 - 2 cups Pumpkin Seeds
2 tbs Melted Butter
2 tbs Olive Oil
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp Garlic Powder
Sea Salt to taste


Pre-Heat oven to 300 degrees F.

Separate your pumpkin seeds from the goop. I usually do this by hand as I carve, placing the guts and goo and a bowl and the seeds in a colander - that way I'm ready to roast as soon as pumpkin carving is done. If you need to you can rinse the seeds with water to get any excess goop and guts off. 

In a bowl combine seeds, melted butter, oil and seasonings. Toss to coat pumpkin seeds evenly.

Spread seeds onto cookie sheet in a single, even layer. Bake for 45 minutes, mixing occasionally.

Yay for Autumn!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

This is a fun, healthy twist on the traditional Pad Thai. It's a lot of prep work with all the veggie chopping and a little time consuming but totally worth it. This dish can easily be made gluten free. You can also take out the chicken for your vegetarian friends and even add tofu for some added protein.


1 Spaghetti Squash
1 tbs + Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, crushed
1/2 Red Onion, chopped
1/2 cup Mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup Carrots, shredded
1/2 cup Sprouts
1/2 cup Green Onions, chopped
10-20 large shrimp, deveined and cooked ( I keep the frozen pre-cooked shrimp on hand
   and then all I need to do for prep is defrost and pluck their tails off - because I HATE when shrimp in
   messy dishes have tails you need to pull off)
2 chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes ( Sometimes I cheat and use leftover cooked chicken or rotisserie chicken)
1/4 cup (or more, add to taste) Pad Thai Sauce
    (you can make your own or buy it in the international aisle of the grocery store)
    I find the "Thai Kitchen" brand found in most grocery stores to be a little bland... so avoid this brand
   and leave me a comment if you know of another brand that tastes better!
2 eggs
Peanuts, chopped for topping.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cut spaghetti squash in half, length wise. Scoop out the seeds. Brush with olive oil. Place facedown on a cookie sheet. Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour (until squash is easily pierced with a fork).

Follow the directions to make your own pad thai sauce at this time, if you're making your own, set aside.

Prep all your veggies while your squash roasts.

Once I've pulled my squash out of the oven I set them aside to cool down a bit until they're cool enough for me to work with. 

While your squash cools a bit: In a large pan, sauté 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil with 2 garlic cloves crushed, half of a red onion chopped and raw chicken (if you're using cooked chicken, wait until the end to add it). Cook for a few minutes, until onion becomes translucent. 

Add in chopped mushrooms, carrots, and scallions (and any other veggies you like).

Once cooked down a bit, add shrimp (and cooked chicken if that's what you're using) and pad thai sauce, mix well. Add your sprouts last, as they wilt very quickly and become mushy and unrecognizable if cooked down too much.

Make a space in the center of your pan and add in 2 eggs. Let cook and mix well throughout the mixture.
Taste and adjust spices to desired liking

Scrape the spaghetti squash with a fork to create the "pasta". Top squash with pad thai mixture, sprinkle with green onions and finely chopped peanuts on top for garnish.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Star Spangled Apple Pie

I decided to share another fall recipe with you folks this week. This is a very classic and very simple apple pie recipe. I always like to jazz my crust up a bit, ya know, for some added flair. This time I went with a sort of "star spangled" approach with the aid of some cookie cutters!

I love apple pie! It makes me think of my mom. She always makes the best apple pie. She's not a slacker like me and makes her own perfect, flaky crust - i just can't get it right, and it's a whole lot of effort for a less than perfect crust -- I cheat and buy Pillsbury.

McIntosh apples are definitely the only apple allowed in my apple pies. They're the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Growing up in Vermont we would go pick our own apples and then "help" mom make the pie - this is the epitome of autumn to me.


Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust
1/3 cup Sugar
1/4 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon Salt
10 small to medium McIntosh Apples - peeled and sliced.
2 tablespoons Butter

Pro Tip: I use an apple slicer/decorer (seen below) and then I peel the skin off the individual wedges with a pairing knofe. I like BIG chunks of apples in my pie so I don't cut the slices down any more than that. If you want to be super efficient, do yourself a favor and pick up a fancy Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer ( that attaches to your kitchen  counter - you'll be making apple pie on a daily basis when it's this easy.


Preheat oven to 425°F and pull your crust out of the fridge so that it can come to room temperature.

1.) In large bowl, mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Stir in apples until well mixed. Set aside.

2.) Gently unroll crust and place into pie plate. Fold over any excess crust  and press fingers against top edges to make that thickened ridge at the top of the crust.

3.) Spoon filling into pastry-lined pie plate. Cut butter into small pieces; sprinkle over filling.

4.) Cut other half of pie crust into desired shape by hand or with cookie cutters. Arrange on top of pie filling.

5.) Cover pie with aluminum foil so that the crust doesn't burn. Bake for 30 minutes, remove aluminum foil, bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

DIY Guest Bedroom Furniture Revamp

In the spirit of keeping my guest bedroom update affordable I decided to revamp some furniture that I already had instead of buying new pieces. I started with a very old, very damaged dresser that was left in the garage by a previous homeowner and a Target bedside table that we've had for years (and was damaged by some nail polish remover -oops!) and

Here are some before photos:

<-- This is a stock photo off of Target's website. I forgot to take a " before" photo. Just imagine a huge blotch of finish missing off the top from a massive nail polish remover spill.


Old Furniture
Sander/Sand Paper
Paint Brushes 
New hardware (if desired)


1.) If your furniture is really old or dusty you may need to clean it first, like I did. I just wiped everything down with a damp cloth. 

2.) Sand the bejesus out of the furniture. I used a square hand sander that I picked up from Home Depot for $21. Make sure you completely remove any glossy finishes. Once you've finished sanding, wipe down once more with a damp cloth.

3.) Paint with the color of your choice. I used a flat paint because I didn't want any gloss, although I found out later that this is probably not the ideal choice for furniture that will be used quite often. Flat paint shows more flaws and will scratch easier. I didn't go back and re-paint because the furniture looked really great in the flat and it won't be used very often in the guest room.

4.)  Swap out the hardware if you need to. I bought cute floral knobs from Etsy. This shop has a lot of really cool designs for reasonable prices. Most likely, the most expensive part of this project is going to be new hardware - it's crazy!

At this point you may be finished! I removed the legs from the dresser so that it would be at a more appropriate height for the room. I'm using this as a dual piece - it's functioning as a dresser/end table. The guest room is just too small to load it down with too much furniture and I really wanted a place for guests to place clothing, etc if they needed to. 

Check out the dresser, it looks completely different! Modern and sophisticated, even! I dressed it up with my DIY Beer Growler Lamp, a cute little succulent and an alarm clock. 

The greyish blue tone I chose for paint goes great with the bedding and other decor in the room. I love the little pops of pink in the knob - I wound up bringing in a few more pops of that pink as I went further into redecorating the room.

For the end table I decided to take things a step further by making the inside portion of the table a fun print. I researched a lot of differents options - wallpaper, decals, etc. and wound up sort of making up my own method using wrapping paper and mod podge. 

Additional Supplies

Measuring Tape 
Box Cutter
Wrapping Paper/Scrapbook paper, etc
Mod Podge 
Foam Brush
Clear Gloss Spray Paint

Additional Directions

5.) Measure the areas you wish to cover in your chosen decorative paper and cut your paper to the appropriate size. I got my paper from the online store Spoonflower. I was originally led there because I knew they had really cool wallpaper. Al the patterns that I was interested in were sold out in the wallpaper department so I opted for the "Sea Cream Ikat" gift wrap (matte) instead. 

6.) Use your foam brush and liberally brush Mod Podge onto back of paper. Carefully set paper onto furniture. Use foam brush again to brush Mod Podge over top of the paper. IT WILL APPEAR WRINKLY! DO NOT PANIC - this is ok! You can smooth out any big wrinkles, but most of my wrinkles smoothed out on their own once it dried. Do this with all pieces and allow to dry.

7.) Once dry, apply a clear coat glaze and allow to dry. 

I decorated the top of this table with an old lamp that I re-did, a birdy tea-light holder and some old books!

If you're interested in some of the other decor seen in these photos check out some of my other cool projects from my guest bedroom makeover :

DIY Starburst Mirror
DIY Beer Growler Lamp
DIY "No Tools" Headboard