Sunday, August 12, 2012

Twice Baked Potatoes


This is the first time I'm posting a recipe that is entirely mine.

OK - John is interjecting and saying it's OURS.  Which is very true - it has taken us years to perfect it, changing measurements and ingredients as we go.  But we finally found the perfect combination and for years we've been enjoying this side dish with a variety of main dishes.  I wouldn't recommend having them multiple times a week!  They're not exactly the healthiest thing in the world.  Enjoy!

This picture does not do them justice, by the way.  I'll work on getting a better one.

John & Stephanie's Twice Baked Potatoes
Serves: 2 - 3 Preparation time: 15mins Cooking time: 1hr 50mins


Ingredients
I do a lot of estimating so bare with me.

  • 2 large baking potatoes 
  • 1/4 cup (approx) heavy cream 
  • 1 bunch green onions 
  • 1 1/2 sticks salted butter (12 tablespoons) 
  • Four strips bacon (my favorite is the Whole Foods Black Forest bacon)
  • 1 - 2 cups shredded chipotle cheddar cheese (best to get a whole block at the grocery store and shred it yourself for maximum flavor!)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Paprika

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Poke holes in the baking potatoes and place in the oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes. 
  2. After baking, cut the potatoes in half and scoop the potato out of the skins and into a mixing bowl. Place skins in a small baking dish close together to prepare for stuffing. 
  3. Prior to mashing/mixing/stuffing, bring the oven temperature down to 350 degrees. 
  4. Add light cream to the mixing bowl (eyeball it based on the amount of potato you have, you want it to be mashed but not completely smooth). Mash the potatoes, a little less than normal mashed potatoes. 
  5. Cook the bacon until slightly crispy. Drain on paper towels and crumble/chop. Add to mixing bowl. 
  6. Cut up the green onions into tiny pieces (discard white stalks) and saute about 1/2 cup (packed tight) in a small pan with 3/4 stick butter for approx. two minutes. Add remaining butter and green onions to the mixing bowl. 
  7. Mix the potatoes, green onions, and bacon thoroughly until even. Add a pinch of salt to flavor.
  8. For each skin, put a layer of the potato mixture into the bottom, about 3/4 filled each. 
  9. With the chipotle cheddar cheese, take a good handful (ok, I like a handful, some more health conscious people will probably want less) and create a layer of cheese on each skin. Remember: cheese melts down quite a bit, so don't scrimp!).
  10. Using the remaining potato mixture, cover the four skins. Not ALL of the cheese has to be hidden under the mixture, in fact the cheese that sticks out around the edges is a good thing on the final product.
  11. Cover each potato with a dusting of paprika.
  12. Melt the remaining 3/4 stick of butter and pour over the four potato halves in the baking dish.  
  13. Put the baking dish into the oven for 25 - 30 minutes until reheated. Let stand outside of the oven for 5 minutes before serving.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cross Stitching & Cooking

One of these days I'll post to this blog more than once a month.

I was hoping to post soon regardless, as Package Pals would be coming around soon again.  But it's been postponed to October and changed to four times a year instead of six.  I can't blame Jamie, the coordinator, as it must take a TON of work and organization to put something together like that.

So while I'm waiting for the next round to begin, I decided to try my hand at cross stitching.  I found these adorable patterns on Pinterest the other day; a whole line called "Pixel People" with options from different TV shows and movies over the years.

I bought the pattern for the Monty Python and the Holy Grail pixel people.  A friend of ours recently got John and I practically front row seats to Billy Elliot at the Boston Opera House (it was fantastic!).  To say thank you, a normal run-of-the-mill CVS greeting card wasn't going to cut it.  And he quotes from this movie ALL the time, so I'll be stitching this up for him:


How cute is that?  If it goes well, they have other patterns for the Golden Girls and Star Trek that I want to try.  I'll post my end result when it's done, in the meantime you should visit her Esty shop if you're interested in the patterns.

In other news, John and I celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary on Saturday.  My gift to him this year is food.  I made up a menu and gave it to him early, giving him an option for each course.  I'm going to be cooking like crazy on Saturday!  If you're interested the menu is in PDF form here - each of the menu items is a link back to the original recipe, with the exception of the twiced baked potatoes (I've made them so often I don't need a recipe anymore) and the rice.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Package Pals - June 2012

It's that time again!  Thanks again to Jamie from C.R.A.F.T for putting this together.  And this time I'm happy to say I stayed on top of things and finished early for once.  I had a lot of fun working on projects for Ellen from Missouri (Creative Passage).  After reading her blog and going through her Pinterest page, I figured out a few things about my new friend:
  • She loves owls and peacocks.
  • Like me, her favorite color is blue.
  • She is slightly obsessed with buttons.
  • She loves to cook and bake.
These details provided me with a hundred ideas but I thankfully narrowed it down to enough to fill a cardboard box and send it out without breaking the bank on shipping charges.  Here's what I put together for Ellen:



Homemade Vanilla Extract
I saw this saved on Ellen's "things to do" list and thought I'd help her out.  I had some spare supplies laying around from my last batch of extract, so I whipped her up a bottle.  But since this was going to someone else, I got to get a little fancy and play with a label maker I found online:  http://www.jamlabelizer.com/  Sure, it's supposed to be for jam, but I tweaked it to work with what I had.  I'm going to do the same thing when I start playing with chai tea concentrate this weekend.  This takes five weeks to mature, so it was the very first thing I made.  My kitchen smelled like vanilla the rest of the day; it was heavenly.
Project Link:  Homemade Vanilla Extract from Zoe Bakes

Peacock & Button Hoop Clock
Blue.  Buttons.  Peacocks.  The idea of trying to design a blue peacock made out of buttons flittered around in my head for a few seconds, but I abandoned that once I saw the button clock.  I found the idea when I was cruising through the web for new projects.  I wanted to try something a little different that would include some of Ellen's likes.  It went through a couple different variations (tried looking for peacock fabric that wouldn't be too busy with the buttons instead of painting it, but my options were limited) but the end result made me very happy.  This was my first try with fabric markers (yes, I traced, but from a black and white picture, the coloring was all me!).  The clock actually works!
Owl Pincushion Mason Jar
This was actually one of the first crafts that I put together for a Package Pal.  When I heard Ellen loved to sew AND loves mason jars (she has a whole board dedicated to it on Pinterest) I had to revive this project.  I got some owl fabric for the pincushion top, and painted (or attempted to) a white owl on the front.  I've got to find a better paint for glass than what I used, but it still came out pretty cute.  I filled up part of the jar with blue buttons and a lavender sachet.
Project Link:  Mason Jar Pin Cushion from Please Note

Hand Embroidered Tissue Topper
I decided to take the plastic embroidery to the next step by putting together a tissue topper.  I went a little crazy buying up every shade of blue yarn I could find and used a Log Cabin pattern.  This was my first time putting together anything three dimensional with the plastic embroidery.  It wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be.  In fact, a girlfriend of mine told me later, after I showed off the finished project, that she used to make these things in junior high all the time.  I'm still pretty proud of my thirty-year-old self that I was able to put this thing together and make it look halfway decent!
Project Link:  Purchase the Log Cabin Tissue Topper plastic embroidery pattern here

Button Craft Book
I found this on Amazon during a recent craft book shopping splurge and couldn't resist.  Looks like I was just in time, too, as I got one of the last copies.  But it's still available used if you're interested.
Product Link:  Button! Button!: 50 Cute & Crafty Projects

UPDATE:  I received my package from Ellen!  I had so much fun going through all the great goodies that she sent me, from a sewn tiger pouch (that my iPod is happily snuggling in now), to a wonderful peacock tote bag, paint sample bookmarks, assorted paper envelopes, and so much more.  Thank you, Ellen!




Monday, May 14, 2012

Animoto.com - Photo & Video Slideshows

I've referenced a few times this mystery photo project I'm working on for a friend.  Her daughter just celebrated her Bat Mitzvah (something I'm getting very good at spelling without looking it up!) and we put together a slideshow of pictures from her youth and then the ceremony and party.

But I don't use just any slideshow tool to put these things together.  I use Animoto.com.  An amazing resource that allows you to upload your pictures AND video clips, select your own music or something from their library, and then combines it all into this spectacular show.

Most of the projects I've put together for this come from children's events or high school sports events, so I can't really post those up without quite a few consent forms.  But what I will show as an example is one I put together for my own family after a joint birthday party for myself and my youngest brother:

video

I've been using this service for years.  It's evolved over time, allowing more options for timing, concentrating on specific photos, video clip manipulation.  They offer different templates depending on the type of video, although I mostly rely on the standard black one.

Pricing.  Here's where it gets a little tricky.  Anyone can sign up for a free account to start.  This allows you to create thirty second videos with their basic templates.  A Plus account ($5/monthly or $30/annually) will allow you to create full length videos, still with limited templates, but then the movies are downloadable (with the free account I think you can just link to them).  Each movie ends with the "Animoto" logo.  This is what I typically subscribe to.

But when I'm working on special projects, like the Bat Mitzvah video for my friend or this family montage above, I temporarily upgrade my account to Pro status.  This gets pricy.  It's $40/monthly or $249/annually.  This gets you access to all the templates, free HD video upgrades (great for replay on large televisions or monitors), and it removes the branding at the end of the video.  I create the projects I need then cancel the service so it doesn't automatically renew.

Do you have a favorite slideshow online resource?  Please share!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Recipes Week - White Meat Extravaganza

John and I are trying to stop eating out as much as we do, save our pennies, and cook at home.  Which means I get to cook a lot more.  Which also means my Pinterest saved recipes actually get to be used!

I've been trying to cut down on red meat, which means a lot more white meat in the diets.  Pork and chicken.  Which can get pretty boring after awhile.  Here are some of my favorites in those categories that were a big hit at dinner time:



** I made this recipe for just the two of us, so I made three chicken breasts instead of the recommended eight.  And here's when I stopped thinking.  I kept the cooking time and the liquids the same.  Don't do that. I'm the only person who could manage to dry out chicken in a slow cooker.

(Trust me, it pleased this woman, too!)


Dry-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin w/ Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Package Pals - April 2012

I should just call this my "Package Pal" blog because those have been my only two posts in months!

I've been crazy busy with a photo project (which should be wrapped up in a few weeks), work, and helping a friend with a computer problem, so my time for posting has been sadly limited.  I'm hoping to get back in the swing of things in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I did manage to find time to join Jamie's Package Pals again over at C.R.A.F.T.  This is my second time and I had just as much fun as the first.  This time I was paired with Sara from Applestone Drive, here's what I put together for her:

Spring Time Embroidery
Based on my last PP attempt at a knitting bag, I took the same stitches and designed a simple pattern of my own.  Sara loves spring time colors, especially turquoise, so I brought those in and framed this for her craft room or anywhere that could use a little color!  This can be hung as is or place pictures in front of it and use it as a colorful backdrop.  Sorry, no project link for this one, I made it up as I went.  Although I did use a new handy piece of software that I recommend to plastic embroidery fans called Plastic Canvas Design Studio.  It took a little playing around with to figure out, but it was nice to be able to design my own pattern and not have to draw it out on scrap paper!

UPDATE:  As soon as I took the pictures for my blog post, I turned around to excitedly show John (who had already watched me embroider it, frame it, and photograph it, so I'm not really sure why I HAD to show him how the picture turned out) and my shoulder bumped the frame and it went crashing down.  Of course that was the last 10x10 square frame Michael's had, so I had to improvise with a slightly different and not perfect frame.  Grr.

Tea Time!
My mission in life is to show people the joys of drinking tea.  I wrote about my latest obsession earlier in the blog and now I'm sharing some of my favorites with Sara.  Martha Stewart came to the rescue on this one as I was having a hard time finding a way to make homemade tea bags that were functional as well as crafty and nice looking.  These are made from cheese cloth and cotton embroidery string.  I made tea tags and a box description on my computer and glued these using Mod Podge.  Each of these is a favorite of mine, along with some pretty blooming teas from Teavana.  Project Link:  Tea Sachets and Gift Box

Nest Necklace
I was browsing around Sara's Pinterest page when I noticed that she and I had pinned a similar jewelry craft.  Birds nest necklaces consist of one or three beads of your choice, strung on wire then continue wrapping the wire around the beads to create the nest.  These necklaces look and sound easy to make, but I struggled with it a bit!  The beads just didn't want to stay where I wanted them to be and the wire fought back.  But after a little tough love I managed it.  I created the hook with the same wire, added a jump ring, then added a hook clasp to the chain.  Project Link:  Bird Nest Necklace

Miscellaneous Stuff
Sara had mentioned that she always wanted to learn how to crochet but hadn't had much luck with it in the past.  So I made copies of some of my favorite online videos that helped teach me, made her a DVD, and sent along the rest of that turquoise yarn and some crochet hooks.  I'm still working on the same two stitches but if it weren't for these videos I wouldn't have gotten this far!

She also mentioned that she loved all things retro and vintage.  So for some fun, I sent along this book that I found on Amazon: The Complete Book of Retro Crafts: Collecting, Displaying & Making Crafts of the Past.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Package Pal Goodies


Debbie spoiled me.  The peacock feather jewelry is absolutely gorgeous (a girlfriend of mine has already threatened to steal one away while I'm not looking).  Her crochet work inspires me not to give up on my own!  The soap and the pouch smell WONDERFUL.  When I opened the package my whole office smelled nice for the rest of the day.  And on top of all of this she also sent me a ton of feathers which I'm eagerly looking forward to adding to some future projects.  Thank you again Debbie!!