Knife Sharpener

One of the most frustrating things is cutting with a dull knife. I wouldn't write with a very dull pencil so why do I cook with a dull knife. I think most people are too intimidated by knife sharpening but it's really easy. Here's a quick way to sharpen knives using the unglazed, rough bottom of a common coffee mug:

The reason this works is because ceramic is harder than steel. Diamond is 100 on the hardness scale and cheap steel is about 50-60. Good, expensive steel is about 60-70. Ceramic (like the kind on your coffee cup) is about 85. This means that ceramic will actually scrape steel off your knife. It's like sharpening a pencil by shaving off a new edge. The gray material that forms on the cup is actually fine particles of steel being shaved off.
Like sharpening a pencil...

My take on this -- It actually works. I've done the knives at NL and they really are sharper. Good knives will maintain sharpness for a long time while cheaper knifes will require it more often. It's not as precise as using a whetstone with different grits. For an expensive/quality knife, I would take it to a skilled professional to make sure it's done right. For an average dull knife about 10 swipes each side will do nicely every once in a while. Just keep it parallel to the table and keep the blunt end lifted at about 20-30 degree angle and swipe it across the bottom of the cup. If gray marks appear, you're doing it right. It can't replace professional sharpening -- true sharpening has more steps and creates a smooth, sharp, and polished edge.

In what circumstance would I do this? On the fly cooking at someone's house and I don't have access to proper tools and want a sharp knife. When visiting family and they have DULL knives and I want to do something nice for them. I do this to my steak knives instead of taking out the full sharpening tool set. It actually works wonders on scissors. Spread the blades open and take each blade and swipe against the angle (sharpen only the existing sharp edge). My kitchen shears and the scissors at my work desk are very sharp now.

The next post will discuss honing a knife using a steel.

Beef Barley Soup pt.1

Quick Look_______________

Vegetable beef barley soup is easy to make and great for a filling, hearty snack/meal. It's perfect for a post bible study snack or a camping/snow trip. We served this at the a2f snow trip last year. Here's an easy, classic recipe. This soup cooks for about 2-3 hours; the next post will feature a recipe that takes 1 hour with similar results.
  • Prep time: 10-15 minutes
  • Cook time: 2-3 hrs
  • Difficulty: Easy.
  • Labor Intensity: You can do on your own very easily!
  • 30 servings, adjust by 1.5x if your group tends to eat multiple servings.


  • 8 pounds beef (brisket, chuck, cross rib)
  • 2 cup barley
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 12 carrots, chopped
  • 12 stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 large onion, chopped
  • 4 (16 ounce) package frozen mixed vegetables
  • 2 gallons water
  • 16 cubes beef bouillon cube(enough for 1 gallon broth) -- add more to taste if necessary
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 (28) ounces cans chopped stewed tomatoes


  • Cut meat into 1/2 cubes (if necessary)
  • Add water, beef bullion cubes, sugar, pepper, chopped stewed tomatoes and bay leaves
  • Boil the meat until very tender (usually 2.5 hours on high).
  • - - - -
  • Add barley, carrots, celery, onion, and frozen mixed vegetables during the last hour of cooking.
  • Discard bay leaves.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • (Pearl barley will absorb the liquid and expand a lot, so don’t add more than you need.)

Tom's Tips and Tricks_______________

This is as simple as it gets. Just toss everything into a stockpot, get it boiling (this takes the longest), reduce heat to a simmer --watch out so it doesn't flow over and burn, and let it simmer for about 1.5 hours. Toss in the rest of the ingredients.

You could substitute beef broth, but bullion tends to be cheaper.

[Possible side dish] Serve with french bread slices