>Fresh Idea Friday … Books!

>Today we’re sharing all about reading time with our kiddos. Since I recently posted about the kiddos favorite books, I thought I would share a little about how we include book time during our days.
In the morning, I spend time doing some reading with the kids all together, usually at breakfast or shortly after. We typically read a Psalm or Proverb from the Bible, and as well a chapter from the Hymns For a Kids Heart series. We have used different things for my times with the kiddos in the morning, but that is currently what we’re going through and it’s fun getting a little history lesson about all different hymns and then taking time to listen to and learn hymns as well.
As soon as our kiddos outgrow taking an afternoon nap, we switch over to book time. So for about an hour every afternoon during the week Hailey and Justin have book time. Since Hailey can read now, she will sometimes read to Justin, but other times they have book time seperately.
Most afternoons I also spend a good amount of time reading aloud to them as well, so sometimes they don’t have as much alone book time when we are reading together for an extended period of time. Some of their current favorite read alouds include The Little House on the Prairie series, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and when it’s just me and Hailey the American Girls series.
Another time during the day when the kiddos will often read (or look at) books is while I am preparing dinner. Since I find this can be a rather hectic time of the day, I will often ask them to sit at the counter or table with a book while I prepare dinner. Of course Callie usually just hangs out in the bouncey seat!
And last, but not least … we typically read to the kiddos before they go to bed. Daddy often gets time with the kiddos at this time of the day, and has been going through some Character Building books with them, in addition to reading from one of our Children’s Bibles. And of course, some nights we read some of their other favorites too!

So that’s what book time looks like in our home!
Head over to Lisa’s blog to check out other ideas for this Fresh Idea Friday!

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>Fresh Idea Friday

>Today Fresh Idea Friday is back … just in time to share our favorite fall recipes!
I love this time of the year since autumn is my favorite season. It’s the best time of the year for campires!

So, moving onto some of my favorite fall recipes … I always pull my crock pot out around this time of the year and use it often. It’s so nice having dinner prep finished early in the day! So, I thought I’d share a couple of our favorite crock pot meals.

First … Chili! It’s the perfect time of the year to enjoy a bowl of warm chili over brown rice served alongside fresh cornbread.

Easy Chili (Makes 10-12 servings)
1 lb. ground turkey
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 T. taco seasoning (see recipe below)
29 oz. can tomato sauce
3 – 16 oz. cans kidney beans, drained
29 oz. can crushed tomatoes
6 oz. tomato paste
2 T. chili powder
3 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. maple syrup
shredded cheddar cheese

~Brown meat in skillet. Add onion and green pepper halfway through browning process. Drain if necessary. Add taco seasoning to meat (*to make my own taco seasoning I combine 1 T. chili powder, 1 1/2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. sea salt, 1 tsp. black pepper, 1/2 tsp. paprika, 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, 1/4 tsp. onion powder, 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes and 1/4 tsp. oregano).
~Combine meat mixture, tomato sauce, kidney beans, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, salt and maple syrup in crock pot – stir to combine.
~Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 3 hours.
~Serve over rice if desired topped with shredded cheddar cheese.

*Note: I will often double this (I have a very large crock pot!) so that I have plenty for leftovers and to freeze.

Cornbread:
1 c. kefir
1/4 c. melted butter
3 T. maple syrup or honey
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

~Blend together the kefir, butter, maple syrup (or honey), cornmeal and flour. Let sit, covered, on counter for 12-24 hours (or skip this soaking process).
~Blend eggs into mixture.
~Mix baking soda and salt thoroughly, but briefly into mixture.
~Pour into greased 8″ square baking dish and bake @ 350* for 25-27 min. until done.

*Note: I bake in 9×13 inch baking dish when I double it and allow for extra time to bake.

Second … Pot Roast with Veggies!

Pot Roast w/ veggies
3 lb. roast (round, chuck, or whatever is cheapest)
2 onions, sliced
7-8 carrots, cut into 1″ pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. rosemary
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2/3 c. dry red wine or beef broth

~Place veggies in bottom of slow cooker.
~Stir in seasonings.
~Place meat on top of veggies.
~Pour in wine or broth.
~Cover and cook on low 10-12 hours.

*Note: If desired, you can sear the meat (and veggies) by heating olive oil in a saucepan then browning for a minute or two before placing in crock pot to give it extra flavor. Use wine or broth to deglaze pan before pouring into the crock pot.

And to end on a sweet note … there’s nothing like enjoying a yummy cinnamon roll on a cool morning!

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls
(*Note: this recipe makes a lot of rolls … it fills (2) 9×13 baking dishes!)
Dough:
1 c. water
2 T. yeast
2 tsp. honey
1/2 cup butter
2 1/2 c. milk
1/2 cup honey
4 tsp. sea salt
8 c. whole wheat flour
~In a large bowl, mix 1 cup very warm water, 2 T. yeast and 2 tsp. honey. Stir together, then let sit for a few minutes.
~Melt 1/2 c. butter in a large saucepan. Add 1/2 cup honey, 4 tsp. salt and 2 1/2cups of milk. Heat to about 120 degrees.
~Pour milk mixture into yeast mixture and stir.
~Stir in 8 c. of flour, 2 cups at a time, adding more if needed.
~Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes. Place into greased bowl, cover and let rise for 1 hour in a warm oven (preheat oven to 175*, turn off then put covered dough in oven).
~Punch down dough and knead out the bubbles.
~Cut the dough in half, setting one half aside.
~On a well floured surface, roll dough into a large rectangle, about 1/4” thick.

“Insides:”
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup rapadura (or use white sugar if you want)
1 T. cinnamon
~Melt butter and set aside. Mix together the rapadura (or sugar) and cinnamon in a bowl.
~Use a pastry brush to spread 1/2 of the melted butter all over the rectangle. Sprinkle 1/2 of the rapadura (or sugar)/cinnamon mixture all over the butter.
~Roll up the dough starting at the long side.
~Cut into thin slices, about 1/2 inch thick.
~Place rolls side by side in 9×13 greased baking dish.
~Repeat for other half of dough.
~Allow to rise for about 30 minutes.
~Bake at 350* for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Frosting:
3 T. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 – 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar to make the consistency you like
~Melt butter then stir in vanilla, milk and powdered sugar.
~Whisk together until smooth.
~Allow rolls to cool a little, and then drizzle frosting over them.

Head over to Lisa’s blog to check out more Fall Favorites!

>Fresh Idea Friday

>I know I mentioned about trying to post something other than food in the near future … however, I can’t help it if today’s Fresh Idea is about Leftovers! So, you’ll have to endure another post about food before I move onto a baby update (that’s right, stay tuned to hear all about how our little girlie is doing … I had an ultrasound and baby appt. yesterday, so I’ll give an update later).

Back to Fresh Idea Friday … as I mentioned, today we’re sharing our leftover magic … creative ways we use leftovers.

I have to confess that I have it very easy when it comes to leftovers. I have a husband (and kiddos) who will eat leftovers for lunch or for dinner 3 nights in a row! They aren’t picky which makes my life much easier. Depending what it is, we’ll often just re-heat it in the oven since we find that it tastes better that way (we don’t do this much in the summer as I try to keep the oven off). That being said, I do sometimes try to use leftovers to create another meal … so here are some of my basic guidelines and ideas in trying to be creative with leftovers:

~Grilled meats that are leftover will often get sliced/cut up for salads, fajitas or stir-frys.
~Roasted/baked meats tend to get used in homemade casseroles.
~Seasoned meats, such as taco salad meat is great for an appropriate companion meal such as chili or mexican tortilla soup.
~Leftover veggies (grilled or steamed) get thrown into stir-frys, salads, casseroles and homemade mac n cheese.

One of my favorite meals to make in the fall/winter is Oven Roasted Chicken. It’s simple, quick and delicious!
All I really do is rinse the whole frying chicken with cold water, remove the giblets, season breast side first, then place in baking dish (that has a lid) breast side down, season the other side and bake @ 325* for about 30 min./pound. Some seasonings I typically use are rosemary, lemon pepper and seasoned salt. It’s also helpful if you use a baking dish about the size of the chicken as this will keep it nice and moist. The leftover meat is perfect for casseroles, soups, enchiladas, sandwiches or whatever else you might use perfectly moist chicken in! You can also just freeze the leftover meat to use for later.
And the juices from the roasted chicken are great to save for chicken broth or to make homemade cream soups. Just put the cooled juices in a container in the fridge to allow the fat to harden and seperate. Remove from the chicken broth (which will turn into a jelly substance) and use in any recipe calling for chicken broth (can be diluted as it is a very rich broth!). Or, make some homemade cream of chicken soup (or whatever you use) to freeze for the next time you need some …

Homemade Cream of Chicken Soup
~1 1/2 c. chicken broth (from roasted chicken juices)
~2 T. minced onion
~1 garlic clove, minced
~1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
~1/8 tsp. black pepper
~1/4 tsp. salt
~1/4 tsp. parsley
~dash of paprika
~1 1/2 c. milk
~3/4 c. flour

In med. saucepan, boil broth, 1/2 c. of milk, onion, garlic and seasonings until onions and garlic are tender. Wisk together remaining 1 c. of milk and flour, then add to boiling mixture and wisk continually until mixture boils and thickens. This will make about 3 cups (or about 2 cans) of cream soup.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, I have also made Roasted Chicken in my crock pot. The most important thing to remember is not to place the chicken directly on the bottom of the crock pot. You have to put potatoes/onions/carrots/etc. on the bottom first. Then season the chicken breast side up, turn over so that it cooks breast side down and season the other side. Add about 1/4 c. of water and cook on low for about 8 hours. The great thing about this is that I can throw it in the crock pot in the morning with the potatoes and veggies and have dinner be ready 8 hours later without creating a single dirty pan! When I make it in the oven, I typically make a couple of sides (brown rice, veggies, salad, etc.) so there is still a little work to be done before dinner!

Another great way to enjoy leftovers is to double the recipe (at least in my family!) and then freeze half for another meal. There are lots of great meals that freeze well and taste just as good baked out of the freezer. Of course, if you do that you aren’t really using leftovers, but oh well! I’ll often do this with soups/stews/chili … make a large batch and then freeze a good portion of it to use on those days when you need something quick out of the freezer.

So there are my leftover tips … check out Lisa’s post for more leftover ideas!

>Fresh Idea Friday

>Anyone who knows me well probably knows that I like to keep things organized in my home. I enjoy structure so that I know what to expect (at least somewhat!) my days to look like. I’m always on the lookout for ways I can save time and be more efficient at what I love doing … being a homemaker!
And it just so happens that today we’re sharing time saving tips

So here are my tips …
~Plan ahead … particularly for things that can be time eaters such as menu planning, shopping lists, daily schedule, laundry and cleaning. I find that I spend much less time accomplishing these things if I have a plan! During the summer my menu plan is almost non-existant as we pretty much just grill everything we eat. However, come fall, I plan to get back into my routine of having a weekly (maybe monthly if I get brave!) meal plan. That way, I only spend a little time over the weekend planning what we will be eating every day the following week instead of trying to figure it out last minute every day. This is especially helpful if meat needs to be thawed or beans/grains soaked ahead of time. I have also found that if I keep a running list of items I am low on, it saves me a lot of time prior to going shopping. I try to do this for food and for clothes (particularly for the kiddos … I keep a list handy of what I need for next year since I buy ahead when things are on sale and at garage sales … this prevents having too much of something or not enough of something!). Although different seasons of life require a different schedule, I find that by having a rough daily schedule things tend to run smoother. I’ve already shared my time saving laundry tips, and for cleaning I like to pick one day to do the majority of my cleaning. Of course things like the kitchen and bathroom are constantly being cleaned every day.

~Eliminate too much “surfing time” … there once was a time when I checked every single blog that I read for updates. However, awhile ago I started using google reader. I’m sure there are other things that will accomplish the same thing, but I’m partial to google! All I had to do was enter in every blog or webpage address that I read and it automatically lets me know when anything new has been posted. No more hopping around from blog to blog checking to see if there is an update! I find that I spend less time on the computer this way, which gives me more time to effectively serve my family!

~Freeze things … if you were to look in my chest freezer out in the garage you would see that I am well stocked! I take advantage of my freezer in any way I can think of. I buy things like parmesan cheese and shredded cheese in bulk at Costco, then divide them into 1 c. or 2 c. portions when I come home so that I have perfect portions to store in the fridge or pull out for a meal. In addition to keeping things like bread, butter, veggies, fruits, meats and cheeses I also like to keep a few frozen meals in the freezer for those days when things don’t go quite as planned! This will be especially helpful in the days to come when baby Herr #4 makes her appearance. I find that by freezing things in portions (chicken breasts, tenders, ground turkey, shredded cheese, fruit, etc.) it is a huge time saver. I also like to freeze extra homemade baked goods such as breads, muffins and bagels … all I have to do is double the recipe, and then freeze at least half of it to pull out for a later time.

~And my best time saving tip is … take advantage of wonderful, gracious grandparents who offer to take the kiddos for a few days a couple times a year so that I can accomplish things at a rate that just doesn’t happen in normal day to day life! Both of our parents do an outstanding job in seeking to care for our family by giving us breaks so that we can have personal planning retreats and tackle projects. The kiddos are currently at my parents, and it is amazing what all I have been able to get done over the past 2 days! I’ve finished my lesson plans for school, made activity bags (e-books on sale here at The Schoolhouse Store) for Justin and Sydney, sorted and washed our baby girl clothes that have been in the attic in a tub, organized things for school and the basement, and labeled jars in my pantry (I recently started storing many things in glass canning jars)! And I even managed to have some time for resting and watching the olympics! Most of those things I accomplished that will save me time in the days to come wouldn’t have happened without my parents graciously offering to have our kiddos for a few days. Oh, and by the way … you need to find your own parents to watch your kiddos since I’m not willing to share my two sets!

Head over to Lisa’s blog to check out more time saving tips!

>Fresh Idea Friday

>Today we’re sharing our favorite recipe sources … cookbooks, magazines and websites!

Honestly, I find that most of the cookbooks that I have go unused most of the time! Especially since these days pretty much any recipe that I can find in most of the cookbooks I own, I can also easily find online. However, if I had to pick the most used cookbook on my shelf, I’d have to go with the Fix It and Forget It Cookbook … a cookbook for the crock-pot! Although I ocassionally use my crock-pot in the spring/summer, I use it regularly in the fall/winter seasons. I love the flexibility of being able to prepare dinner in the morning or afternoon before reaching that crazy late afternoon time of the day. I will mention that many of the recipes call for canned creamed soups, dry soup mixes and other processed foods. But since there are so many recipes (over 800) in this cookbook, I have still found many great ones and have also modified many of the others to make them a bit healthier. Since it isn’t really crock-pot season right now … I’ll hold off on sharing a favorite from this cookbook until the cooler months!

I don’t currently receive any cooking magazines, although I do receive the free quarterly Kraft Food & Family magazine. It’s filled with quick and simple appetizers, meals and desserts. Most recipes call for at least one Kraft ingredient (often a dressing or cheese), but you can often make easy substitutes if you don’t use their products or have them on hand. For example, they have some great salad ideas, but I’ll often use a different dressing then the Kraft one they recommend using. If you don’t receive their quarterly magazine, but would like to you can go here to sign up. The most recent recipe I used from this little magazine was Farmers’ Market Squash Saute … a simple recipe with zucchini, squash, garlic, olive oil, fresh basil and parm. cheese (I left out the moz. cheese). It’s been a great way to use our abundance of squash and zucchini!

It’s hard for me to narrow down my favorite recipe websites. I’m a bit of a browser, especially when it comes to finding new recipes! But here are a few of my favorites …
~For fresh breakfast ideas, you can’t beat Mr. Breakfast! This website has a wealth of recipes for pretty much anything breakfast related … quiches, oatmeal, omelettes, soufles, crepes, homemade cereals, pancakes, waffles and much more! A favorite from Mr. Breakfast that I make for a special treat is this recipe for Cinnamon Bun Scones. I do modify the recipe by using w.w. flour, 2 T. brown sugar to replace the 2 T. of regular sugar, and I leave out the pecans typically.

~For an all around good place to search for recipes I’ll often visit allrecipes.com. I also like their search option of putting in a few ingredients I have on hand to use and seeing what recipe ideas come up. They also have a great feature called My Recipe Box which not only enables you to store recipes from their website, but also enter your own private recipes from other sources. Since I’m trying to organize all of my recipes and need to type them up anyway, this is a great place to store them online as a back up!

~One other sight that I often visit for new recipe inspiration is Cooking Light. When searching for recipes on their sight, they use MyRecipes.com as their search network, which also includes recipes from Southern Living, Sunset, Coastal Living, Cottage Living and Health magazines. A favorite from Cooking Light is this Pasta with Five Fresh Herbs recipe. To make it a heartier main dish I’ve added chicken sausage or chicken breasts to it as well. I’ve also substituted one or two dried herbs if I don’t have them all fresh. As long as you have a few fresh herbs in this dish it’s delicious!

Head over to Lisa’s blog for more favorite recipe sources!