Sunday, January 31, 2010

White Space

Okay, I know the only things I've been posting lately are layouts that I've done for my Design Your Life online class with Cathy Zielske. And, yeah, this is another one. But I am finding this class to be so interesting, and so eye opening, that it's making me feel like sharing some of my work product. This week, we have been studying white space and how to use it in designing scrapbook pages. Well, I thought I knew all about white space, but it turns out that I knew a little and learned a lot!

Cathy generally provides templates or sketches for us to use for our assigned layouts, and we are free to tweak them and make them our own. For this layout, I decided to follow Cathy's sketch pretty closely. One of the benefits of following someone else's design rather closely is that you get to see how your own photos and stories play out when used in a design style that may be pretty far from your own. This layout is a great example of what I mean.

I often mat several photos together and then use that large element on my page. But I would not typically leave the amount of space around the central mat that we were supposed to on this page. As soon as I finished this page, I saw what the effect of that was -- it draws your eye in, right to the focus of the page.

Another thing is leaving equal borders around the photos on a page. I typically don't do this, because, frankly, it can be a pain in the butt to get those borders absolutely accurate (even though I'm a pretty good eyeballer). So, much more often, if I have photos in a line or a linear grouping on a page, I just jam them up right next to each other. While that isn't necessarily a bad approach, I'm finding out why there is almost always a border of white space around photos and similar elements in advertisements and other printed materials -- because it looks great and it forces your eye to zero in on the photos, but in a calm and unhurried way. I see much greater use of my quilting ruler in the future!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cell Phone Layout

This is another layout from the Design Your Life class I am taking online. This was last week's "Real World Color" assignment. Cathy Zielske finds a color combination in the real world, then gives us a sketch and we have to use the given color combination and sketch (we can adapt the sketch, of course) to make our page. This lime green, red, grey and white combination was something she spotted in the outdoor decor of a hip bistro near where she lives. I changed the red to more of a cherry red, but otherwise followed the assigned combination of colors.

Cathy had done her "example" page about the day she got her daughter a cell phone, and it made me realize that I had never done ANYTHING on my older son and his cell phone, which he's had for two years now. It really cracks me up how much teens love their cell phones and can't seem to exist without them, so that's what I journaled about. Oh, and that font I used for the title? It's called Rough Draft and it's available free on the internet. I was looking through some old pages and saw one using that font, which made me remember how much I've always liked it for a title.

I have a really nice DSLR camera, and frankly, I often forget about many of the features it has unless they are features that I use all the time. It just does soooooo many things! Cathy uses a lot of black and white photos, and seeing her pages made me realize that I haven't taken very many monochrome shots lately. So I set my camera to capture images in black and white, and rediscovered that my camera has a very cool feature -- the ability to "tint" the monochrome image so it is very subtly sepia, blue, green, or purple. The instruction manual gives tips on when you'd be likely to use each color tint, which is very helpful. Anyway, I played around with the monochrome settings and vowed to take more black and white photos in the future!

So, with three weeks under my belt in this class, I can say that I am keeping up without too much trouble, I'm learning and reinforcing design principles, and I'm learning all kinds of related things, too (like the monochrome settings on my camera). Great inspiration!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Step-by-Step Beef Enchiladas

I LOVE Mexican food. I make a number of Mexican dishes, but enchiladas are one of my absolute favorites. Now, I am currently very fond of these Black Bean and Rice Enchiladas that I make that are delicious and vegetarian and are actually surprisingly healthy and full of fiber. My kids like them, too; still, when my older son comes downstairs to dinner and sees a big pan of beef enchiladas sitting on the table, he'll say "Yay! We're having REGULAR enchiladas!" Yes, at 16, he's already a "man" in that sense -- gotta have that meat. So, I'm going to save the yummy vegetarian enchilada recipe for another day, and today I'm going to share my recipe and method for "regular" beef enchiladas. And, hang with me til the end, because there's a surprise later!

Ok, here is the basic ingredient list:

1 package (12) corn tortillas
Vegetable oil
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can vegetarian refried beans
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1-1/2 cups shredded colby-jack or cheddar cheese
1 can red OR green enchilada sauce
1 cup salsa (any kind)

To make the enchilada filling, saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes in a little vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the ground beef, breaking the meat up with a spatula, and continue cooking until the beef has browned. Drain any fat from the skillet, then, with the skillet over medium low heat, stir in the cumin, coriander, black pepper, and the can of refried beans. Heat mixture through, and set the filling aside.

Now, the first step to actually making the enchiladas is to soften the corn tortillas so that they can be filled and rolled. This is done by frying the tortillas for just a few seconds in hot oil. I put just a little canola oil in a small skillet and place it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, slip a tortilla in and let it sit in the oil until the top of the tortilla starts to bubble and puff a bit. Seriously, this will only take a couple of SECONDS.

Carefully remove the tortilla from the oil using tongs or the side of fork. The tortilla will be really soft so be careful not to rip it with whatever utensil you're using. I place my softened tortillas on a plate with a couple of sheets of paper towel on it. Continue frying/softening the tortillas until you have 3 or 4 on your plate. Let the tortillas cool for just a minute, otherwise you will seriously burn your fingers trying to roll the dang things up.

Place a large-ish spoonful of the filling mixture down the center of one of the tortillas. Top the filling with a little cheese, then roll the tortilla up into a slim cylinder. Be careful not to use too much filling, or you won't be able to roll the tortilla up. Remember, these are enchiladas, not burritos! To gauge the "right" amount to use, half of the filling mixture in the skillet should fill 10-12 tortillas.

This is what your rolled tortilla should look like. Place the rolled tortilla, seam side down, in a 9x12 baking pan that has been greased or sprayed with cooking spray. Continue filling the tortillas, and softening and filling additional tortillas, until the pan is full.

With a bit of gentle squeezing, you should be able to fit 10 to 12 enchiladas in a 9x13 pan. Now, once the pan is filled, if you haven't overstuffed your tortillas, you've probably only used about HALF of the filling mixture. Set the remaining filling mixture aside for right now.

Pour the can of enchilada sauce evenly over the tortillas in the pan. Red enchilada sauce is generally spicier than green, and will have a chili-like, robust taste. The green sauce has a milder, more subtle flavor. But both make great tasting enchiladas! Sprinkle the remaining cheese over top of the enchilada sauce, then spoon the salsa over everything. Cover the pan with foil and pop it into a 375 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes, until everything is hot and bubbling. Note: if you leave the pan uncovered while it is in the oven, the enchiladas will become crispy on the edges. Some people like this, but it does make them harder to cut and serve. My kids like them not crispy.

I serve these enchiladas with finely shredded Romaine lettuce, chopped Roma tomatoes, and chopped fresh cilantro. I love the contrast of the cold and crunchy lettuce with the soft, hot enchiladas. Yum. You could also put out bowls of sour cream, guacamole, or additional salsa as accompaniments.

Here is what the pan of enchiladas will look like when you take it from the oven. It looks like a lot, right? Well, be forewarned that guys can eat A LOT of these enchiladas. Okay, okay, in the right frame of mind, so can I. But seriously, 12 enchiladas sounds like a lot, but it is amazingly easy to eat three of these babies, so you may not get more than 4 servings out of one pan.

Here are the enchiladas, as served. Don't they look great? Ok, now for that SURPRISE I promised you. Remember that half of the filling that you didn't use? Scoop it out of the skillet into a bowl or other suitable container, and pop it in the fridge. You can then use the filling to make another pan of enchiladas a few nights from now -- just soften the tortillas, fill, roll up, and bake as before. With the filling already made and waiting, I can whip up a pan of enchiladas even on a busy school night. Love that! But, here's another option. If you don't want to make more enchiladas, you can use the leftover filling to make nachos for the football game on Sunday! Just spread a little of the filling over round tortilla chips laid out on a baking sheet, then top each chip with a little cheese. Pop in the oven at 400 degrees just until the filling is hot and the cheese has melted, about 7 or 8 minutes. Serve with salsa and pickled jalapenos, and you'll have a football snack to cheer about.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pinks and Oranges and Guys

So, I HAD to post this layout, because I finished it tonight and I am totally loving it! Yep, another layout done for my Design Your Life online class, with sketch and color palette provided by Cathy Zielske. When we got this assignment, which was to compare and contrast two people in our lives, I knew immediately I wanted to focus on my sons. But the "real world color" combination Cathy had chosen for us was pink, orange, and brown! While I like those colors a lot, they didn't seem to lend themselves to "guy" photos. Since pink and orange are analogous colors on the color wheel (they are basically next to each other), Brandon asked me if I couldn't just choose two other analogous colors, since that was, after all, the point of the exercise.

Well, sure, I could have done that. But, I've never been one to shy away from a scrapbooking challenge, so remembering that I had some crazy bright (and really old) Doodlebug papers hidden somewhere in my paper stash, I decided to go ahead and use Cathy's chosen color palette, and try to make it work with my theme. This layout is the result, and I couldn't be more pleased with it. Oh, by the way, these pages are 8x8, so our physical space was limited, too.

I love how the big Doodlebug cardstock letter stickers work with the patterned paper and the grid design of the layout, and once again, I've managed to put a few FLOWERS onto a layout about my boys! Now, would I make a page like this for the boys' books? Maybe not. But it's a really fun layout to have in my own collection.

Yeah, I'm loving this class. So far, I am CAUGHT UP! I was convinced I'd be behind by now, but since Cathy provides us with sketches for each layout we do to practice the design principles we're learning, actually putting the layouts together goes more quickly than when I'm making all of the decisions on my own. Well, my plan tonight was to post a recipe and "in process" photos for these great beef enchiladas that I make, but I guess that's going to have to wait a day or two longer!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Design Your Life

On December 30, after procrastinating for a couple of months, I finally signed up to take an online scrapbooking class, Design Your Life, taught by the incomparable Cathy Zielske through Big Picture Scrapbooking. If you're not familiar with BPS, they offer content-rich online scrapbooking classes taught by some of the best and most well-known names in the business. In the past, they've had classes that lasted for an entire year, while others are brief workshops. DYL is a three-month course, and one of the reasons I finally took the plunge is that by time the twelve weeks are over, it will be the end of March and spring will be just around the corner! I thought some serious scrapbooking and learning might be just the thing to keep the winter doldrums away.

So, we've just finished week one, addressing symmetry, and are now into week two. Cathy said we could post our "homework" assignments online as long as we gave her and the class their due credit. Which is, hopefully, what I'm doing here. The layout above was one of our assignments based on the principles we learned in the first week's lesson, and the layout was created from a sketch provided by Cathy. Can I just say that I LOVE how this layout came out? I tend to be a linear scrapper anyway, so entering Cathy's designing and scrapbooking world doesn't feel all that foreign to me, except maybe that her pages, in addition to being much better designed than mine, are generally pretty sparse in terms of embellishments. But hey, after this class is over, hopefully I'll be designing better pages, too! Anyway, I love all of the blues in this layout and I really love the effect of the enlargement with the smaller photos underneath.

That's my little guy Brian in the layout above, and I didn't want to leave out my teen, so I used pictures of Brandon for another one of our first week's layouts:

Again, this layout was created from a sketch provided to us by Cathy. I made it my own just a little bit by the addition of the heart mini brads and the red line at the bottom. For some reason, those little touches really pull this layout together and make it look finished. I chose that red tab on the left, and then decided another touch of red was exactly what the layout needed.

I did the title on the photo with rub-ons, the old, really great ones from Making Memories that came in those post-bound booklets. Do you remember those? While I bought a lot of them when they were the hot item in the scrapbooking world, in retrospect I should have bought a lot more. Many of my booklets are either almost used up, or have so few vowels left that my options for using them are pretty limited. But seriously, after using many, many other brands of rub-ons over the past few years, I was amazed all over again last night by how superior the Making Memories rub-ons really are. Theirs go on perfectly, practically jumping off the backing onto the surface where you're applying them, yet no one else was ever able to achieve a rub-on alphabet product this good. American Crafts rub-ons (which I used for the "ball" in "Goofball" on the layout at the top) are pretty good, but they tend to break if you move the slightest bit while you're applying them. Yeah, that's why that little green star brad is on the letter "a" -- that's my trick for covering up spots where the AC rub-ons break and can't be patched back together perfectly. So, anyway, after thoroughly enjoying using those Making Memories rub-ons, I checked some online sources to get more, and I ended up ordering a bunch off of eBay! I had to buy lots of the same fonts, but I don't even care. I'm happy to have stocked back up on these superior rub-ons. Now if I could just find a source for those old Making Memories metal ribbon slides, mini-plaques, and snowflakes, I'd be in scrapbooking heaven!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Great Football Snack

Happy New Year! In my house, we're big fans of college football, so New Year's Day is always filled with lots of bowl games and TV watching. And, that, of course, means snacks. Our tradition (if you want to call it that) on New Year's Day is to not really eat a full meal, but rather to graze and snack our way through the day. Since I'm usually somewhat tired of cooking after the holidays, this suits me just fine. Today, in addition to chips and such, we'll be having nachos and the appetizer pictured above, Pizza Pinwheels. Let me just say that if you're looking for a football snack that will absolutely be gobbled up, these pinwheels are just the ticket. My kids BEG me to make these for just about every occasion you can imagine. I won't lie -- they do take a bit of time to put together, but they are soooo worth it. If you have a lot of people to serve, you will want to double the recipe for sure.

Pizza Pinwheels

1/2 cup pepperoni, finely diced
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 cup pizza sauce (from a can or bottle)
1 egg, separated
Parmesan cheese
1 tube refrigerated crescent roll dough*

In a bowl, combine the pepperoni, cheese, Italian seasoning, and egg yolk. Stir in the pizza sauce. Filling should be just moist enough to hold together; if not, add a little more pizza sauce.
Separate tube of crescent rolls into four rectangles; seal perforations. Flatten each rectangle a bit with your fingers.

Spread pepperoni mixture over each rectangle to within 1/4 inch of edges. Roll each rectangle up jelly-roll style, starting with a short end. Pinch seams to seal. Cut each roll into six slices. Place slices on a well-greased baking sheet. Brush tops with beaten egg white, then sprinkle tops of slices with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm. (Makes 2 dozen appetizers.)

*Crescent roll dough now comes in a version specifically for recipes. It's one big dough sheet, instead of a perforated sheet that is intended to be separated into individual triangles. If you can find the dough sheet, definitely buy it. Using the sheet makes this recipe about 10 times easier! If you are using the dough sheet, follow the same general instructions as above, but work with the entire sheet as one, spreading the filling to the edges, then rolling up from a long side and cutting the roll into 24 individual slices.

Also, it goes without saying that you can add other things to the pinwheel filling if desired, such as finely chopped black olives or mushrooms. Just be careful that the filling doesn't get too chunky, though, or you'll have a difficult time rolling up the dough and cutting the slices. In this case, less is more.

I am a HUGE appetizer fan, so look for more yummy appetizer recipes on this blog coming up in the new year!