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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Home Depot Meals: Can You Top This Pizza?

When I was in grade school, our school would have a fund raising night at Straw Hat Pizza. The restaurant donated a portion of all their earnings for the evening to our school project. The project is long since forgotten, but I well remember that I did not like cheese, so I didn't want pizza! I ordered a hamburger!

Happily I grew up.

Not only do I love cheese (and had a really hard time imaging going without when I did a food allergy test--thankfully not allergic!) I love pizza too.

In fact, my whole family loves pizza. So this Christmas when we had all 12 of us together (kids, spouses, grandkids, and my parents) we did a 4 generation Can You Top This pizza meal. 

Here's How:
First I made the crusts ahead of time using this very easy recipe.

I quadrupled the recipe and divided the dough into 16 balls which I then rolled out and baked at 400F on cookie sheets for just 3 minutes each. I place the partially cooked crusts on cookie racks to cool.

Do you make perfectly round, magazine ready crusts? I don't! But they taste just as good. Of course, you can buy frozen, par baked pizza crusts that will be perfectly round.

I froze these crusts and brought them out about 15 minutes before we were to top our pizzas. 

On the counter I placed every pizza topping I could think of along with a jar of spaghetti sauce. I preheated my oven to 400F and let everyone Top Their Own pizzas and bake them by placing them directly on the oven racks. The pizzas needed about 10-12 minutes to bake.

I love these "do your own" meals because it feels like I'm not doing the work, everyone gets what they want, and it's just fun to work around each other and discuss kinds of pizza toppings they like. 

We're family, so we already know and love each other, but this can be a great ice breaker for a group of people who don't know each other well. I guarantee they'll start talking!

For more of my "Home Depot" (let your guests make their own) meal ideas click here!

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Winter: Slow Cooker Time

Stepping into the house from church Sunday mornings, guests in tow, is always an act of faith! Can I smell lunch or did I forget to turn on the slow cooker?

I think my fears come mostly from our days in South America when the electricity could go off at anytime without warning. In fact, we used to joke that if they warned us that the power or water would be off we were safe! (I always filled every pan in the house with water when they said it would be cut, even though I never needed it when they told me I would. Twenty four years in South America was not beat by twenty-four years growing up in the states!)

I have to admit that I'm pretty proud of myself when I manage to get a meal into a slow cooker before I head out of the house and come home to the satisfying smells of a meal ready to eat (far better than military MREs!)

And somehow when it's cold outside, those slow cooker meals seem even more appropriate. Since we are in that season in the northern hemisphere, I thought I'd do a collection of slow cooker recipes (in alphabetical order) that our family enjoys to help you with your meal planning.

Beef Daube Provançal -- I think that's French for "beef stew" except stew never tasted this good! I've made it both in the slow cooker and the oven and it is always appreciated. Sometimes I serve it with rice instead of egg noodles.

Coconut Chicken and Veggies -- I at least double the spices in this recipe and love the sophisticated taste. (It's already on next week's menu!)

Cranberry Chicken -- This is just too easy. I serve it with brown rice, roasted veggies, and a harvest salad.

Chicken Parmesan Soup -- How can you think "slow cooker" without thinking "soup"?

Chicken Taco Soup -- Spice and Texture!

Chicken Fajita Soup -- are you seeing a pattern here? Our family loves what my 4 year old son once called "tasteable" food!

French Onion Soup -- With a salad this makes a whole meal.

Mac'n'Cheese -- Quick and a favorite with kids. Don't let it cook too long!

Pork Tenderloin -- Easy and delicious! I live in pork country and since it's the cheapest meat around, it's often what I feed my Sunday noon crowd.

Pot Roast -- My only complaint is the price of chuck roasts. But I've made it with rump roast when it's on sale and it's just as good! I love her side suggestions, too.

Sloppy Joes (hot and spicy) -- find the recipe below! I like to double this because it freezes well. Then later I get a day off from cooking!

Spicy Meatballs and Spaghetti Sauce -- Even my Korean guests enjoyed this truly non-Asian meal!

Vegetarian Chili - warm and full of comfort, even the meat lovers in your home will enjoy this hearty meal.

Hot and Spicy Sloppy Joes

2 pounds ground turkey
4 medium onions, chopped
1 large green pepper, cut into short strips
1 medium red pepper, cut into short strips
2 6-oz. cans tomato paste
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
10-12 hoagie rolls

In large skillet, cook and stir to break up ground beef and onion until meat is no longer pink at all.

In a 5 - 6 quart slow cooker, combine everything except the rolls. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5. Serve on toasted rolls.

Serve with: apple slices and dip.

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Can't wait to read Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at MealtimesDid you know it is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

National De-Lurking Week!

Photo Credit

Three years ago I started a on a venture called blogging. When I studied communications in college and even before that in high school when I read regular columns in the paper, I thought I would love to have a "column" in a magazine where I could write about things that I considered important or interested me.

Although I sold some articles to magazines over the years, I never had the opportunity to write on a regular basis. There were too many other important things going on in my life to pursue it, things like mothering and missionarying. Besides, although I have always loved to write, I never wanted to write with out a purpose, without being able to inspire people to live more closely to the life to which God was calling them. That meant I needed a reason to write.

That reason came about unexpectedly. I certainly didn't plan it. But it was exactly the kind of topic I wanted--one that I had truly lived out, that I felt strongly about, that I believed was biblical, and that is important. 

So I've been writing about family mealtimes. I've included ideas for getting young children and teenager to talk to you,  and the benefits all that talking has when the kids are adults.

I've written about Mom and Dad talking to each other regularly and on special occasions.

I've talked about manners.

I've suggested creative devotion ideas.
And holiday devotion ideas, for Easter and for Christmas.
And devotion ideas for everyday.

I've posted all kinds of recipes and menus.

And every once in a while I go off topic.

You know, I see that I get some people reading my blog, but I wonder if it interests them, if it helps them, if they are inspired at all by it. Because inspiration to have a meal with your family is my goal!

I'm glad you read my blog, but what I'd like is if you would tell me once in a while that you appreciated an idea or thought, that you tried a recipe (even if I left an ingredient out), or if you disagree with me or have a better idea. 

This week is National De-Lurking week for blogs. That means that we bloggers want you to comment on our blog. So please take the time to write a line or two about why you read my blog and what you get out of it. Then you will inspire me!

Thank you

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For more of my ideas on prayer, click here here, and here,

Did you know that Around the Table: Connecting With Your Family at Mealtimes is available on Kindle?

You can get a copy today for only $4.75!

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

How To Stop Procrastinating!

I once went on a missions team of about 50 people. A couple of weeks after I got home I received a letter from one of the girls that I hadn't gotten to know very well. Along with the letter was "a round tuit."

Photo Credit

In the letter she wondered if getting "a round tuit" would help us get "around to" answering her letter! I've always been a letter writer, so I answered. Funny thing is, her response must have gotten lost in the mail, or else she didn't get a round tuit.

But getting around to it is hard for all of us on some tasks and for some of us on a majority of tasks. How can a person stop procrastinating...now?

True Story: I wanted this post to be for the first of January when we all have those great resolutions in our mind and the determination to go with them. If you will check your calendar you see that neither today nor the post date is January 1. There are a lot of reasons (good reasons, really!) that it was not done. So I write to you with ideas to help you stop procrastinating, ideas that have helped me, but remember that I'm reminding myself, too.

Here are eight tips that have passed the test with me. Maybe they'll be the key to more fun family meals at your house!

8 Tips to Stop Procrastinating

1. Stop being so perfect! -- Sometimes "good enough" really is. If the conditions to do something have to be perfect, if the final product has to be perfect or not at all, you will never do it. Inviting someone over for a meal that is just so-so is still a great invitation for them!

2. Limit Yourself -- Set a timer for the task you hate. Whether it is cleaning the bathroom or doing exercises or organizing your recipe file, if you set a reasonable amount of time to do work on you will make great headway. I often set a timer for 15 minutes for a cleaning job I hate. Although I'm not done, I'm usually motivated enough to finish. But if I'm not, I give myself permission to stop and do some more later.

3. Be Nike -- Just do it! Did you drop a paper just short of the trash can? Train yourself to bend over and pick it up right away. Decided not to wear those jeans? Force yourself to hang them up again. See something that is out of place, need to file a paper, is there a light left on? Just fix it now. Then the task is never overwhelming.

4. Reward Yourself -- If I clean the kitchen floor I might allow myself 10 minutes to read a good book or make myself a cup of coffee. My mom used to make herself do something she didn't like before she had a diet soft drink. Whatever will be a little reward for you, use it to motivate. It gives a sense of achievement!

5. Beat the Microwave! -- Are you reheating a cup of coffee (for the 4th time--we call our microwave an overpriced cup holder!)? Or melting butter? Or thawing meat? See how much of the dishwasher you can empty before it dings, or how much of the counter you can wipe. Next time you have the microwave running, don't stand watching it, look around to see what you can do!

6. Announce it -- Tweet or post about how you are planning to overcome procrastination or a job you will get done by a certain time. That makes you accountable to a crowd and you have the feeling of accomplishment when you can add a comment about actually getting it done!

7. Get a friend -- Do whatever you are procrastinating about with a friend. Hate cleaning out the garage, taking down Christmas decorations, pulling weeds? Ask a (good) friend to help you. Remember how doing homework with a friend made it much more fun...okay, maybe not fun, but at least more enjoyable?  Same principle applies to grown-ups.

8. Scratch it off -- To Do lists make you feel so accomplished! I give you permission for the first item on your list "write to-do list." Yes, I write things on my list that I have already done just so I can cross them out!

If I put something off until a deadline, I am under pressure and everyone around me feels the brunt of my stress and anger--anger at myself for not doing what I needed to do when I needed to do it. Save yourself and your loved ones a lot of problems and go do it...now!

***What is your favorite way to avoid procrastinating?***

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

From our family to yours

a very
Merry Christmas to one and all

May you have love and laughter 
around your table
on Christmas
and all through the year!

(Come back in January to get some great ideas to stop procrastinating!)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Enjoying the Season

How is your Christmas season going?

A. Overwhelming
B. Cozy
C. Worshipful
D. Stressed Out

If you said "A" or "D" or "A and D" could you possibly just take the evening off to make it B or C tonight? Come on, this is supposed to be a happy, loving, joyful time of year. Pull back a little. Turn off the Martha Stewart recording in your head. Close down Pinterest. Put your to-do list aside for a few hours. I have some fun ideas for you.

Let's Be Tired Together
A few years ago my husband was traveling the beginning of December. My daughter was involved in a Friday night ministry and I was going to spend another December Friday night alone. 

So I decided not to. 

I wrote in my Facebook status "If you are reading this, you are invited over tonight to watch A Christmas Carol with me." I had some expected guests and some I wouldn't have guessed would come. We were a small group. I made popcorn and we just relaxed together and got into the season.

Cookie Baking Night

Are you and your friends behind on your baking?
What's that? You can't face the work and mess?
Besides you want some accountability on cookie dough snitching?

Whip up 2 double batches of sugar cookie dough, wrap them well and stick them in the fridge. Get a hold of some friends and ask them to come over and bake cookies with you. Bribe them by telling them they can take 2 dozen they choose home with them.

Play Christmas carols and cut, bake, and decorate. Your friends will help you wash the pans and wipe the counters I'm sure. If you don't have disposable plates, tell them to bring their own dish to take their cookies home in.

(Cheat: Buy ready made cookie dough at the grocery store!)

Carol Sing

Our brother-in-law started this. There was a very musical college student attending our church whom our brother-in-law invited over along with anyone who could come for a carol sing. But even if you don't have a musician handy, you just need someone who's not afraid to start the song and can basically carry a tune. Get copies of the words from somewhere (we sometimes borrow hymn books from church) or only sing first verse. 

Ask everyone to bring along some plate of snacks to share if they can, but come even if they can't. Provide coffee, tea and water if you can. Remember, we are trying to relax here!

And sing yourself into the joy of the season!

Do you find yourself saying, "But my family..." Get into the spirit yourself, get some other people over who enjoy it, too, and you'll be surprised what your family will do.

You might not be around the table, but you'll be connecting in a great way!

Have a very Merry Christmas!

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Home Depot (DIY) Meals: The Panini Episode

Over Thanksgiving we had three of my children, two of my in-law children, and my two grandchildren with us for almost all meals. What's not to love?!!

Whenever we get together we have one meal where we can each make our own. This year's suggestion came from my younger son and his wife and they also contributed some of the goodies including the bacon. What's not to love?!!

Panini sandwiches go for big bucks in restaurants...and do you ever really get the combination you want? It's easy to do at home and everyone enjoys making their own, wandering around the kitchen, puttering, examining what others are putting together, and, of course, eating!

This could be a great, relaxing way for you to get together with family or friends over the holidays.

For added fun, you can ask everyone to come up with a creative name for the sandwich they are making. That ought to be a conversation starter!

It's really easy, too. Just set up all the possible ingredients you have in your fridge and pantry on an island or peninsula counter top or on a table people can walk around. Have a couple of panini makers, sandwich makers, or indoor electric grills set up and hot. (Make sure you won't be blowing a fuse with a trial run. If they do, find out which outlet is on a separate fuse and plug the second one in there.) Then call your guests to the kitchen and let them go to work!

Panini Bar Suggestions (but not limited to these)

  • White bread
  • Sourdough bread
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Rye bread
  • Cranberry artisan bread
  • Your favorite bread
  • Yellow mustard
  • Spicy mustard
  • Horseradish
  • Chili sauce
  • Mayo
  • Butter
  • Plain yogurt
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Italian dressing
  • Balsamic vinegar dressing
  • Olive oil
  • Ranch dressing
  • Thousand island dressing
  • Your favorite dressing
  • Minced garlic
  • Black olives
  • Green olives
  • Banana peppers
  • Jalapeño peppers
  • Dill pickles
  • Bread and butter pickles
  • Fresh sliced peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocados 
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh or dried oregano
  • Fresh or dried basil
  • Garlic salt
  • Salt and pepper
  • A variety of lunch meats
  • Cooked bacon!
  • Lots and lots of cheese slices--these make the sandwich gooey and stick together!
We had a great time. My son called his sriracha sauce, garlic, and banana pepper combo "Hot, Hot Garlic!" I called mine "Aristotle Gomez" for it's Greek (black olives) and south of the border (peppers) combination. What's not to love?!!

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