Sunday, March 27, 2011

Baked Potato Soup

So, here it is Sunday again.  I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but here in Michigan where I live, it is unseasonably cold.  It's bright and sunny today, but the high isn't supposed to get past the low 30's, and it got down into the teens last night.  Putting aside the fact that it is officially spring by the calendar, it is looking like a good night to cook a hearty soup for dinner.  If you've read my other posts, you know how much I like to use my slow cooker on Sundays, to keep an easy day simple and stress-free.  Therefore, the soup recipe I'm going to share today is part of my "Slow Cooker Sunday" series.  It's a super hearty concoction that really does taste like a baked potato!  I got this recipe from a good friend at my office, who made it for a birthday luncheon that we had a few months ago.  It is amazingly easy, yet it tastes so good!

Baked Potato Soup

1/2 cup butter
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 gallon milk
1 can cream of chicken soup
32 oz. bag frozen hash brown potatoes
2 cups cubed ham
1 tsp. black pepper
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
Toppings:  Bacon bits, chopped green onions, shredded cheese

Melt butter and cream cheese together in a saucepan.  Pour mixture into slow cooker.  Stir in milk and cream of chicken soup.  Add hash browns, cubed ham, and pepper.  Stir well.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  About an hour before serving, stir in shredded cheddar cheese and a bit of chopped fresh parsley.  Check consistency of soup at serving time.  If too thin, add a tablespoon or two of instant mashed potato flakes.  Have toppings available in small bowls, and allow each person to add the toppings that they like.  Serve with hot crusty bread or biscuits for a complete meal.

Just a couple of notes.  This recipe is one of those very "forgiving" ones.  You can do almost anything to it, and make any substitutions that you want (including substitutions to lower the fat and calories), and it will still taste great.  For instance, I've made this soup with whole milk, and with skim milk, and it was great both ways.  I've left out the cheddar cheese since my kids aren't big fans of cheese in soup, and it was still great.  I've also cut down on the butter with perfectly fine results, and you could definitely use bacon bits instead of ham or even leave out the meat all together.

I must give you one word of warning, though.  I like my potato soup nice and thick, so I always add some mashed potato flakes at the end.  If you want to add the potato flakes to thicken the soup, start with a single tablespoon, stir thoroughly, and check the consistency.  Add the flakes just a tablespoon at a time, and keep checking the consistency.  I say this because it is really easy to add TOO MANY potato flakes, and if you do, you'll end up with a soup that is more like potatoes than soup.  (Don't ask me how I know this.)  So just go easy on the potato flakes; a few tablespoons should be plenty.  Oh, yeah, this soup is just as delicious left over as it is on the day that it's made.  I love to take the leftovers for lunch -- a couple of minutes in the microwave and I have a nice, hot meal.

I hope you get a chance to try this recipe.  If you do, be sure to let me know what you think!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

One-Photo Layouts

Do you ever have a problem with one-photo or one-page layouts?  I'll be the first to admit that I do!  I tend to be a very linear, clean, and simple scrapper, and I mostly do two-page layouts with lots of photos.  Even with "everyday" types of subjects, I like to use multiple pictures on a page.  So when I have a great photo that I want to enlarge and make into a single-photo layout, I tend to find myself somewhat stumped.  A lot of the one-photo layouts that I see these days are in more of the extreme shabby-chic style, a style which I can admire, but am not really very good at imitating.  Or, they have tons of flowers and lace and other girly embellishments, which look great but won't work for pages of my two boys.  And, while I'm sure I could find some sketches that would work for single-photo layouts, I always seem to feel that these pages shouldn't be that hard, and that I should be able to just come up with some sort of design on my own.

I'm sharing the one-photo layout above because I think it's somewhat successful.  I like it fairly well, and it didn't take me three days to put it together, either.  I should say here that you'll probably notice when I post layouts and cards that I mostly use older supplies.  The reason for that is pretty simple.  I have a fantastic scrap room, and it's filled with supplies, but unfortunately, all three scrapbook stores in my city closed, the last almost two years ago, and now the closest dedicated scrapbook store to me is more than an hour away.  While I do go there occasionally, with gas prices what they are, it's not a trip I can really make very often, at least not just to shop.  So, because I don't have anything close to me but a Michael's store and a Jo-Ann's, I tend to not have a lot of really new product in my stash.  I sometimes buy online, but for me, it's hard to really get a "feel" for whether I'd like something if I haven't at least seen it in person before I order it from cyberspace.

So, the layout above, true to my recent form, uses older supplies, including the patterned paper which is from one of the first My Mind's Eye "stacks" that Hobby Lobby carried.  I split that huge stack with a friend and I have to admit, I still love a lot of the papers in it.  I also forced myself to use a 7 Gypsies tag for my journaling.  I often skip over tags and similar embellishments because I don't handwrite most of my journaling, but I made computer journaling work with this particular tag, and I like the way it came out.

One thing that often saves me when I do a one-photo or one-page layout is what I like to think of as my "default" ideas.  I have a number of techniques, page designs, and embellishment ideas that I use a LOT and that are simple enough that they look good on almost any page.  If I'm stumped with an element of page design, I turn to one or more of my "defaults" and I can usually get the page finished.  One of my most-used "defaults" is matting a photo with extra space to the left, and adding the page title onto that left part of the mat, "facing" the photo.  I used that technique in the Back-lit layout, adding a computer printed title (I believe that title font is called "Rough Draft" and it's one of my all-time favorite fonts for titles).  Another "default" technique is tying ribbon or twine around the bottom of a photo mat.  I tied twine around the photo mat in the layout above, making a cute knot at the side.  A simple vertical border of some kind is another "default" technique for me.  In the layout above, I added the ribbon along the left side of the page.  I find that when most things on the page are going horizontally (including the photo), it looks great to have a vertical element along the side to offset the horizontal elements.

One final word about photos.  Sometimes I enlarge a photo that isn't what someone might typically call a "great" photo.  The photo of my son above is cute, but I could easily have passed it up when I was looking at my pictures on my computer.  But what caught my eye was the back-lighting, and how Brian's cute little face is lit up from behind in such a way that even his little ears look pink.  Anyway, the point is, sometimes photos that don't really have anything special going on, but just have good lighting or a great background, can make super focal-point photos.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Masculine Birthday Card

You know, I love to make cards of all kinds, but when I'm creating, I usually find myself making cards that have a distinctly feminine feel.  It's not that I never send cards to men and boys, it's just that I can never seem to come up with any good ideas for "masculine" cards.  Do you know what I mean?  I look through my patterned paper scraps, and I think, is that one too girly?  Is paisley considered feminine?  And looking through stamps or fonts, I end up asking myself if certain styles have a few too many curlicues to belong on a guy card.  And then there are the embellishments.  Flowers are pretty clearly out for most guy cards, but what about eyelets, brads, and paper clips, and what about shapes like hearts?  Argh.  It's enough to send me to the card shop!

So, what inevitably happens is that when I need to send a guy in my life a card, especially a birthday card, I've got absolutely NOTHING that I can use.  This is exactly what happened to me a couple of weeks ago.  A male relative's 60th birthday was looming, and I really needed to send a card.  Inspiration struck when I started leafing through my HUGE pad of K&Co. paper, and I spied some papers that had a fishing theme.  This particular male relative is an avid fisherman, so it was perfect!  Now, normally I use scraps to make cards, but I'm realizing that in the case of "guy" cards, sometimes it's okay to cut up a full sheet of paper and make some cards out of it.  So I picked three coordinating sheets of paper, found some realistic fish stickers in my old, old, OLD sticker stash (don't ask me why I bought those stickers -- I have absolutely no idea), and created this very masculine birthday card. 

Here's what the inside looks like (and please excuse the condition of my 11-year-old's fingernails -- how DO you break them of the habit of biting their nails???):

In case you're wondering, yes, I was pretty proud of myself for coming up with that clever fishing-related birthday greeting.  I did both of the greetings, front and inside, on the computer using the Two Peas Evergreen font, but I could just have easily used stamps for a less personalized card.  I added a couple of neutral doo-dads to the front of the card for embellishment, and the card was finished and ready to be signed and mailed.

While this particular birthday crisis was narrowly averted, I'm determined to make some masculine cards ahead of time and keep them in my card stash so that I'm not scrambling again next time.  I have a few great cardmaking books, so maybe I'll look through those for some "guy friendly" card ideas.  Hopefully I can come up with some additional cards to post in the upcoming weeks.  How about you?  Are you challenged when it comes to making masculine cards, too?