Posted in Helpful Hints

Helpful Hint Thursday: e-Recipes

I intended to have Tuesday’s book review done today. But, finishing the Christmas sewing took precedence. Hopefully next week…

So, with all of the Christmas cooking in full swing, I thought I’d share my “recipe book” tip. If you have an e-reader, read on. If not, you can skip this one.

I have cookbooks that I like, but I inevitably find myself printing recipes from the internet. I have ended up with a huge supply of printed recipes hanging around, and I wasn’t doing a great job of getting, much less keeping, them organized. So, I started changing my tactic. Instead of printing them, I have been saving them to a Word document and then sending that document to my Kindle. Or, copying them into a single document, putting a table of contents at the beginning of the document, and sending the whole thing to the Kindle. Either way, voila – a new cookbook that is easily updated!

I use a clear plastic cookbook protector/stand to put the Kindle in while I cook.

The one hitch is that the Kindle sometimes shuts off before I’m done with whatever I’m cooking. But, turning it back on is not a big deal.

I do have all of the recipes backed up in a file on my computer, just in case.

Happy cooking!

Posted in Helpful Hints

Helpful Hints Thursday: Silicone Baking Mat

Okay, these things have just revolutionized cooking for us!

Mats are purchased based on pan size. We have mats for our half sheet and quarter sheet baking pans.

At first, I wondered if they were really worth the investment. We started using parchment paper a little more in cooking, though, and noticed a difference in the quality of the food. So, we thought the one-time expenditure for a baking mat might just be worth the cost.

And it was!

  • No pan greasing needed.
  • Food does not stick, thus preserving the look of the food and easing the clean-up.
  • The baking mat cleans very easily, leaving very little on the pan to be cleaned.
  • The food cooks more evenly. I won’t bake cookies without it anymore!

Any negatives? I’m not sure I’d call these negatives, as long as you know to expect them. But, here they are…

  • Food does not crisp as well on a baking mat. You have to be intentional about crisping.
  • The mat cannot withstand a knife blade. While this is typically not an issue for us, we do have one recipe that requires cutting in the pan. We solved this with a plastic knife. It is not sharp enough to cut the mat, but it is wedged enough to cut most things that might end up on the mat.

So, where might you get such a thing? Amazon.com has a wide selection, as I’m sure kitchen stores do. A popular brand is the Silpat brand.

Posted in Helpful Hints

Helpful Hints Thursday: Giving

I don’t know what your Christmas giving looks like, but in our family we have frequently enjoyed finding at least some way to give to a missions organization at Christmas. We try to be creative in how we plan and do it, but it’s a lot of fun no matter how it happens.

One thing that can be difficult, though, is sorting out which organizations are legitimate and which ones actually end up passing the donated money on to the causes they claim to support. My goal for this post was to make a list of some of the organizations we have given to over the years, but my wonderful husband beat me to it! So, I’m just going to link you over to his post:

Christmas Giving Guide 2011

Whatever, however, and to whomever you give this year, I pray that your giving will glorify God in amazing ways. It’s beautiful to me how even simplest gift to a family member can bring honor and glory to the One whose birthday we are celebrating. May your giving strengthen your relationship with Christ in the most beautiful of ways!

Posted in Helpful Hints

Helpful Hints Thursday: Advent Devotional

Yes, I’m shamelessly promoting my wonderful husband because I think he’s awesome!

I know we’re several days into the advent season so you’d have to catch up, but if you’re looking for a daily devotional to use between now and Christmas, Doug’s advent book might be just what you’re looking for. It is based on the gifts of the wise men – well, at least for the first three weeks. The fourth week focuses on the other people of the Christmas story.

The book is available from Amazon for Kindle for 99 cents. Click on this link to purchase.

Advent Reflections 2011: The Gift Cycle

Don’t have a Kindle, but still interested? You can always install a Kindle reader on your computer or phone. But, the book is also available (for free) in PDF format. I only ask this: if you download it for free and if you like it, will you click on the Amazon link and review it for Doug? Of course, it would be great for you to do that if you purchase it as well! Also, if you have any suggestions for how to improve the format or content for next year, will you send Doug an email? (His email address is included in the book.)

Happy reading!

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Helpful Hints Thursday: Meals

The kitchen can be an intimidating place for me. If it’s not about baking cookies, breads, granola bars, etc., it’s just not fun. I can cook. That’s not a problem. If I have a recipe in front of me, I rarely have a problem creating something palatable. And, I’ve learned enough from my mom and hubby that I can sometimes even prepare meals without recipes. But, there is one major thing that paralyzes me: figuring out what to fix. And frequently when I finally come up with something that sounds good, I find I’m lacking a key ingredient to fix it. With the grocery store 15 minutes away, there’s no way to run out and grab that ingredient quickly and make our noon meal at any decent time, especially considering we need to be doing certain school tasks while I’m working on dinner.

The solution for me is two-fold.

1) Plan ahead. Make a list of meals, post them in slots on the calendar, and post the calendar on the fridge. I also list it in my school planner. That way it’s in front of me all the time. I know exactly how much effort needs to be put into the meal, and I don’t spend all my prep time staring into the pantry with a glazed look on my face.

2) Cook ahead. Even if I know what I’m supposed to prepare, I don’t have a lot of time in the mornings to make a meal. I do all of my teaching in the mornings, except for a little one-on-one time with the girls after lunch. I essentially have thirty minutes before lunch to devote to being in the kitchen once the breakfast dishes are cleaned up. That would automatically exclude some of my kids’ favorite meals like quiche, pot pie, parmesan chicken cordon blue, and peachy chicken. So, I will cook ahead. Right now I have enough meat sauce in the deep freezer, subdivided into meal-size portions, to make six to eight meals of lasagna and spaghetti. I have four meals worth of peachy chicken, and five or six of parmesan cordon blue. I have three and a half dozen balls of frozen pie dough ready to thaw and roll out for quiche or pot pie. And, next time I make a pot pie filling, I’ll at least double it so I can freeze a bag or two of that as well.

When I take the time to do this, it makes a HUGE difference in our week. When I don’t, well, our meals are just not pretty. Or healthy, for that matter.

If this sounds helpful to you, do you need some recipes and tips for planning ahead? I recommend 30 Meals in One Day. About a year ago I posted about our first experience with the program on my family blog. Here’s part one and part two. We don’t typically follow the plan to a “T”, but some of our favorite recipes (such as the peachy chicken and parmesan cordon blue) come from that book, and I learned so many freezer tips as well.

Posted in Helpful Hints

Helpful Hints Thursday: Chop Stir

Today’s helpful hint is a kitchen gadget. We have only had this handy tool for a couple of years at the most. But, now that we have it (actually, them – we have two!), I have no idea how we lived without it!

The gadget is the Chop Stir. (Click on the name to see a picture.) It is a handy little tool that does exactly what it says it does – chops and stirs at the same time. The description in the above link talks about using it for ground meat, which we do. But, there are so many more uses! Mixing up juices from frozen concentrate. Blending chunky items in a pot. Cutting up casserole on a child’s plate. Mixing the different components of fruit salad. Just to name a few!

The “blades” are pointed to give them a cutting edge, but the entire utensil is solid plastic. So, it doesn’t scratch surfaces.

So there you have it. A new and very necessary kitchen gadget. You’re welcome!

Posted in Helpful Hints

Helpful Hints Thursday–Schooling

This week’s edition of Helpful Hints Thursday is all about education – and not just homeschool education, either!

First, an article entitled “Homeschool Blindspots”. (Click on the title to read the article.) This article was originally published in Virginia Home Educator Magazine and then reposted on Josh Harris’ blog, and I think it’s a great article for parents in general, not just homeschoolers. Good reminders for me, for sure.

Second, a book recommendation. First, let me say that I have not read this book. But, I want to. And, if it is what I expect it to be, I want to have a couple of copies always on my shelf to share with other families. The book is entitled Going Public, and I first read about it in a review written by Tim Challies. (Click here to read the review.) Going Public deals with Christian families raising godly children while educating them through the public school system. I hunger to encourage all families in the education of their children. But, I personally have very little knowledge of how to encourage families whose children are in government schools. David and Kelli Pritchard, however, do have that experience, and they share it in Going Public. Like I said, I haven’t read the book yet, but I trust Tim Challies’ perspective enough to share it as a “probably worth checking out” title.