Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cheesy Potato & Ham Soup

When my husband and I were first married I made him a recipe that has become one of his favorites. One that he repeatedly asks for whether it's 70 degrees or 0 degrees. One that I finally taught him how to make so he could make it on his own when I traveled and wasn't home to make dinner. Now, he has it pretty much any time I'm out of town for work and I rarely make it anymore. Which has made me very happy. Because five years later, I am tired of this recipe.

To give you a little background, when we first got married we, like many couples, had very little extra money. We didn't eat anything fancy. Or expensive. Or complicated. I believe I had only one or two cookbooks at that time (that mostly sat unopened on top of the fridge) and hadn't yet discovered that I loved to cook and bake. Most recipes I made my mom taught me.

One winter day when we needed a meal that was inexpensive I remembered a meal my mom made for my brother and I growing up. It was potato soup. I didn't know if she even still made it, but I knew she'd easily remember how to make it. I called her up for the recipe and headed to the grocery store to pick up the few ingredients: a can of potatoes, cream of mushroom soup and hot dogs. We already had the milk. I whipped it up in no time, added a few seasonings and served it to my new husband. He LOVED it. Hot dogs + potatoes = heaven for him. It was the perfect meal to add into the rotation for the first few winters of our marriage. It cost very little to make, and it tasted good on a cold, winter day.

However, five years down the road my taste buds eventually have evolved. I am not a hot dog fan. And I was never a fan of those canned potatoes. They sometimes would taste rubbery. But my husband still asks for potato soup many times when I ask what he wants for dinner. Especially if it's raining out or when the weather is starting to turn chilly. (Of course he'll also ask for it when it's 80 degrees outside.) I knew I had to find a substitute for his precious potato soup.

And today was the day. Our weather here in Minnesota has been really warm the last few weeks, then it all of the sudden turned on us and our weather is only in the 40s. I knew I wanted soup and was planning on making tortilla soup when my husband asked if I were ever going to make him potato soup again. He had this sad, pitiful tone to his voice that I never make his "favorite" meal anymore.

I felt kind of bad that I hadn't made it in a while so I started doing some research on potato soup. There are so many different variations of potato soup out there that I took parts from a few different recipes and made something that turned out surprisingly very delicious. The best part? No hot dogs or canned potatoes!

This recipe is, of course, much more involved than my other recipe. Because, well, it involves peeling and chopping up potatoes, chopping celery and shredding cheese! But otherwise, it's the same basic concept. Just with fresh (read: not canned) ingredients. The hot dogs are left out (thank goodness!) and ham is used as the meat. It has cheese, lots of flavor and is perfect to warm up with on a chilly day. And it's still an economical meal! I can see this as being a great soup to whip up with leftover ham after the holidays.

I have to say that this is way better than the canned potatoes, cream of mushroom and hot dog soup. Although I am grateful for my mom teaching me the recipe, and I know that even if I had this new recipe five years ago, I still would have made her version. It was exactly the perfect recipe for that time in our lives. I am happy that I took her very basic recipe and turned it into an amazing meal. I am sure that my husband will still make potato soup the original way many times this winter, but any time he asks me for potato soup I'll be using this new recipe!

Cheesy Potato & Ham Soup
Makes 3 to 4 servings

2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced
1/3 cup celery
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked ham, cubed
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 to 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 to 1 tsp pepper (or to taste)
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup milk
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (or whatever cheese you love; I used Cheddar Jack)
Red Pepper flakes (to taste), optional
Seasoning Salt to taste, optional

How To:
In a large stockpot, combine potatoes, celery, ham and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are tender. Turn heat to low and cover.
In a separate pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant making sure not to burn. Add flour whisking briskly. Whisk until thick. Slowly add milk while continuing to whisk making sure lumps don't form. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until thick. Stir in cheese until completely melted.
Add cheese mixture to potatoes and ham.
Add any red pepper flakes and seasoning salt to taste (if using for a little extra spice and flavor).
Cook until thoroughly heated through.
Serve, and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Owl Cake Pops and Meeting Bakerella

HELLO!! I have been gone from my blog for way too long. I apologize for being such a bad blogger. I am back and will keep coming back with new posts! I just need to keep reading other blogs for inspiration in baking, fashion, photography and all other things cute and sweet.

Today's inspiration co
mes from meeting one of my blogging idols over the weekend ... Bakerella!! She was at Williams-Sonoma in Edina and I went to listen to her FAQ session and get my cookbook signed. I loved meeting her! She is so pretty and such a delight. She had great tips on cake pop making and showed off her favorite tools to use. So far my favorite tip she gave is to mix candy coating with vegetable oil to thin it out. I've tried shortening and all I get are clumps of shortening in my chocolate. The oil trick works like a charm!

Look at how pretty she is!

And here is my cookbook signed. Exciting!

Meeting her inspired me to make cake pops. I've always been attracted to her owl cake pops on the cover of the book, and with Halloween just around the corner I decided to make those.

I started with my favorite cake - root beer - and mixed it with chocolate frosting. I shaped the owls starting with a triangle shape, then stuck chocolat
e chips on the top for the ears. At this point I was starting to lose hope. They just looked like triangles with ears! But I kept going.

I next dipped the pops into the chocolate almond bark. Because I didn't have a styrofoam block, I stuck the popsicle stick in the top of the owl and flattened out the bottom so they would stand up. The eyes are actually made with Smarties and I filled in the inside of the eyes with a chocolate candy pen. Bakerella uses candy necklace pieces, but I couldn't find any of those at any of my local stores. The noses and feet are sprinkles, and the wings are
mini M&Ms. I attached them all with just small dabs of the candy coating. And in the end, I got adorable owl cake pops.

How cute are these??!!

I am in LOVE with these owl cake pops. They turned out so much better than I even imagined I could do. Yes, they take awhile to make. However, I think the time spent is worth it for how cute they look. And for how delicious they taste. I love them!!

Here's another pictur
e I took last night with my iPhone. (Please excuse the quality. It was cloudy and raining.)

Here is the link to Bakerella's site to show you how to make cake pops.
Here is the link to the root beer cake recipe.

Now I'll have to fig
ure out what to make next. I see Bakerella has turkey cake pops and lots of different cake pops for Christmas. Like snowmen. So many choices!

Until next time~