Friday, January 29, 2010

Kitchen Wishlist

Carrie the ScrapChick at Through The Camera Lens posted her top 3 items on her baking wishlist & asked "What's on your wishlist?" So this is my answer to her query.

For years I have wanted a beautiful piece of LeCreuset. I remember it was a treat when Mom and I would go shopping, to go in and wonder over all the beautiful cooking equipment at Williams Sonoma. It was a magical place to us, like Santa's Workshop, it was a candy store for cooks. Back then I had my eye on a beautiful burgundy Roasting pan. Now that I am more of a seasoned cook what I long for is a Dutch Oven in blue. Have I mentioned I love blue? Unfortunately the price tag of a LeCreuset enamel dutch oven is, shall we say, prohibitive. I think it costs as much as my entire set of cookware...

BUT joy of joys a few weeks ago in Wall-mart I spotted this lovely beauty at a perfectly respectable price tag. Its made by Lodge, an American company and my preferred brand in cast iron. Today I discovered Amazon has it in 4 colors including blue... but at this point I have kind-of become attached to the red. Decisions decisions.....

Next is something I have long wanted, but never bothered to track down, but low and behold there they were on Carrie's blog. Rolling pin bands! Then I'll need a pastry mat to do all that rolling on.

Magnetic Measuring Spoons even though I have a set of Cuisipro oval stainless measuring spoons... and they are marvelous! I think every kitchen needs 2 sets of measuring spoons. Just try measuring baking soda after adding vanilla.... so I'd like to try these magnetic spoons as my backup set.

And now my guilty secret. I keep looking at these in the store and I have almost bought them at least 5 times. Wilton Brownie Pop molds. Yeah like I need to be eating brownie pops... but every time I go to H.E.B. I have to go over and look at them with longing. Check out these halloween brownie pops... they are just so CUTE!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Purpose: Utilizing Google Reader

My One Little Word for 2010 is Purpose. Learning to better utilize Google Reader is one of the ways I intend to be more Purposeful this year. Now that I have begun to use it, I have found that I can read several blogs in the amount of time it used to take me just to decide which blog to visit. Google Reader keeps track of the blogs I want to follow and shows me posts I haven't read yet. Its on the web so I can access it from any computer & even from the web browser on my smartphone by going to on my phone.

Here is a GREAT Video with some tips for using more features of Google Reader. I learned about some new features & ways to use them. If you're completely new to Google Reader jump down to the 2nd video: Google In Plain English.

Google Reader Tricks for Craft Bloggers from Diane Gilleland on Vimeo.

Google Reader In Plain English

I was really reluctant to use Google Reader because I was afraid I would spend even MORE time online, but I find that using Google Reader actually allows me to be more intentional and productive about what I am reading than before I started using it. I get on, I look around and then I log off and I am able to avoid a lot of advertising too!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Day on Galveston Bay: Digital Scrpapbook Pages

Success!!! These are my first ever Digital Scrapbook Pages!

click photo for larger view

This is the first assignment for the Big Picture Scrapbooks class that I am taking Design Your Life taught by Cathy Zielske.

These pages were made in Photoshop Elements 7, using a layered template that was provided as part of the class materials. I rotated the templates to allow me to use portrait photos and I used the same template to make the 2nd page because I don't know how to do a single page layout. Especially in a lesson on Symmetry. Digital Papers and accessories were purchased at ScrapGirls and are from the Fatherly collection designed by Amanda Sok

Monday, January 25, 2010

I feel like a T. I. double "g" r.

That's the bouncy enthusiastic Tigger of Winnie The Pooh fame, in case you didn't follow that reference. It's a little more difficult to convey in print - see the video below.

I have two work surfaces in my craft room. I have just one rolling office chair, the second seating solution in my room is a medicine ball. Yeah, you heard me right. One of those silver balls from the Yoga equipment section of Target. How on earth did I come up with THAT idea... well I'll tell you.

I was at dinner one night with a friend whose company had an ergonomic expert come in and review their offices space. Her office chair was taken away and replaced with a medicine ball. Something about how it makes you sit up straight and is much better for you back. I have back problems, so within the week I ran out and bought a medicine ball.

So now that I am getting back into my newly (and still in process) organized craft room. Today I decided to try the medicine-ball-as-chair. I tell you it is fabulous! I DO need to find the pump for it, it's been sitting for awhile and needs a little more air... it is a tad low for my work surface, but just fine for computing. I had my coffee in here this morning while catching up on email & Twitter, with music playing. A more bouncy and energetic morning I have not had AND I AM NOT a MORNING PERSON!!! I have been bouncing and rolling along with the music. As an added bonus my abs are getting a fun little workout and a stronger core is always good for your back. I wouldn't have this as my only chair... but it is incredibly fun as a second option.

To quote our friend Tigger my morning has been "Bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun fun fun fun fun! That's saying something for a Monday Morning that we missed the bus.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bento Lunches For School

Ethan loves lunches this way and I have been surprised that I can make school lunch quicker now than the old way. I don't know if what I'm doing qualifies as Bento anymore, but we're doing fresh foods & I try to make it colorful & fun to eat.

Click photos for larger view. All photos taken with my camera phone... it's busy around here in the morning.

My solution to hot lunch. This is Easy Mac, with ham or leftover bacon. Grapes, blueberries (a new addition), banana nut mini-muffin & yogurt pretzels. Second lunch also has string cheese. Ethan specifically requested string cheese.

Strawberries, Cheese cubes, mini-blueberry muffin. Cuties (a new addition) & a sandwich cut out with a Mickey shaped cookie cutter. It didn't cut very cleanly even though I cut each layer separately. Next: Italian sandwich on bun, cheese cubes, pretzel sticks, red grapes & more Cuties.

Buttered split croissant with Italian cold cuts, cheese cubes, yogurt pretzels & smokehouse almonds. Next is Macaroni with bacon, strawberries, cuties, and blueberries

This is the lunch tote we use now. I got it on clearance at The Container Store. It zips at the top & is insulated. I put various blue-ice frozen pieces in it to keep things cold.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Craft Room Shaping Up

Today I got in and worked on tidying up my scrap room.
It feels so good to be able to get in here and have a clear surface to work on.
I'm participating in the Capture The Memories, clean up challenge.

I have 2 closets in this room. Both tiny and so strangely shaped you can't use them. This closet is about 16" wide at the back, then has a strange angled wall, the door is narrow, not standard width. I found this Damask Closet Organizer in the dollar spot at Target (It was $2.50) it was the only one in damask. All the rest were bright colors. Don't know if it will work because the shelves are fabric only, but for $2.50 you can't go far wrong. Especially if it allows me to do something workable with this space!

I intend to add 2 lights like this to this workspace. I got this for my husband for his work area and it works real well. I got either from Target or Wal-mart, I forget which, I know I hit both stores that day... The light bar has a toggle on/off switch at the left.

in this photo you can see how little it shows from the front, against my white shelves it will be barely noticable. Over desk lighting is needed in this room as the main light source is a fixture in the center of the room... so I cast a shadow onto my work surface.

Other Posts about my Craft Room:

If you would like to see before pictures, they are here, but I suggest you just enjoy the clean and leave the messy alone.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Aromatic Rice

I find myself making this recipe yet again so I think it is time to include it here on my blog. This recipe comes from Food Network's Nigella Lawson.

Aromatic Rice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods, bruised
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3 (I just sprinkle in cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds, optional (aka black sesame seeds)
2 1/2 cups basmati rice (different cook time be sure to use basmati)
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish

Cook the onion in the oil, in a deep saucepan with the cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, and nigella seeds, if using, until the onion is slightly browned and soft. Keep the heat medium to low and stir frequently; this should take about 10 minutes.

Add the rice and move it about in the oily spiced onion until it is slicked and glossy, then pour in the stock and bring the pan to the boil. Cover the pan with a lid and cook over the lowest heat possible for 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat, take the lid off, cover with a tea towel and clamp the lid back on the saucepan. You can leave the rice to rest like this for at least 10 minutes, and up to about 1 hour. Fork the rice through when you are ready to serve it, scattering the toasted sliced almonds on top.

I've served this recipe with both Mughlai Chicken & Five-Spice Chicken.

No Leftovers Five-Spice Chicken

My family likes this so much I make a double batch. The recipe is from the August 2007 issue of EVERYDAY with Rachael Ray. I've been making this recipe regularly since then & we're still not tired of it. The magazine calls the recipe Five-Spice Coconut Chicken, but that's misleading because the only coconut is coconut milk in the marinade. I happen to adore coconut, but the rest of my family does not appreciate it in flaky shredded form. I find coconut milk in the International food aisle with both the Chinese and Indian foods. Five-Spice powder is an Asian spice blend. Five-Spice powder is not hot, it's sweet & aromatic. It is from the gods, if you've never tried it, TRY IT! Your supermarket will have it either with the regular spices & or in the Asian & International aisle.

Five-Spice Chicken

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tablespoons honey
1 Tablespoon lime juice (please use fresh, so much better!)
2 Tablespoons of Soy Sauce
1 clove garlic (I usually put more, I am probably one of those folks who smells like garlic)
2 1/2 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 boneless chicken thighs (about 2 pounds) pounded flat

Place all ingredients except chicken in a large zipper bag, I use the 2 gallon size because I make a double batch. Squish all the marinade ingredients around in the bag to combine them, then add the chicken thighs in the marinade. I like to set the bag inside a plastic container to keep it stable and capture any possible leaks or drips in my refrigerator. The recipe says to let it marinade for 15 minutes, it's good even in a short 15 minutes, but an hour or a several hours are even better!

Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium. Prepare the grill by applying oil to the grill.
Here is how: Make yourself a pad by folding a paper towel up into a small rectangle. Get yourself a small bowl and put some vegetable oil in it (olive oil will burn use your canola or sunflower or vegetable, plain old oil.) Use heat-safe tongs to hold the paper towel, dip it in the oil & rub it on the grill to oil the grill before you put the chicken on.

I am sure you can cook this chicken in a skillet, but chicken thighs are great for cooking an a BBQ grill. They little bits of fat on them char and get black and taste fabulous! So if you can grill them over fire, do (I am at this moment contemplating the dark clouds outside & the chill air and decided it will indeed be worth it, provided I can wrestle the grill out of the garage.) If you don't have a grill, broil or saute.
Back to the grill. Grill the chicken thighs for about 5 minutes on each side until cooked thru.

Serve with rice & a veggie. I recommend Chinese snow pea pods, broccoli or sugar snap peas.

A note about chicken thighs. Here in Texas the kind of boneless thighs I get are flat and messy and kind-of folded up on themselves in the package, I have to unfold them like opening a little book. I don't have to pound them. When I made this recipe for my Dad in California, the thighs there were lovely & flat & completely different, but they were kinda spongy when I cooked them, I think that style should be pounded to make them thinner.

Meal Planning: Kitchen Message Board

You might not have trouble with this, but I try so many new recipes & because I only choose a selection of meals for the week, rather than assign them to specific nights... sometimes, well OFTEN, I forget to make dishes I have purchased ingredients for. I end up using the vegetables & the meat in some meal, but sometimes I forget what recipe it was that called for the red curry paste I bought at the specialty market, or which magazine the recipe appeared in.

I am a cook of mood, and I have learned that I need to allow for this in my meal planning, or I will end up having food go to waste. I also have a love-hate relationship with my local market, I love the specialty market 20 min. from my house and I hate the one around the corner that has spoiled produce, sells items past their sell-by date, and is infrequently restocked. Almost every time I go to the store I end up not being able to get all the ingredients I need at one market (seriously my local market was out of chocolate chips for 2 weeks & I once had to go to a 2nd market just to get boneless chicken breasts - it is a TERRIBLE store, you never know what basic staples they will be out of.)

As a result of this meal planning for me has had to become even MORE flexible. I have had a list of 3 meals & not been able to get all the ingredients for a single recipe. If I am shopping for that night, I may have to add a meal or change my plan on the fly (yeah life would be so much easier if there was a decent market in my neighborhood!)

So perhaps now you begin to see my difficulty with remembering what I am supposed to make each week. I've begun to keep the info as a memo in my phone... I also note the magazine, cookbook & page number if it is not something I make all the time... but I've recently added another step. I have a dry erase board in my kitchen, I've started listing the meals on that. It helps me by being always in view and a it helps my family to know what's on tap for the week. For example if my husband will be working late one night he might request that I not make one of his favorites on that particular night. My son likes to look at it so he can anticipate upcoming dinners, he doesn't love surprises. I don't erase the board until it is full. I put a line thru each dish as I make it. And unintentional benefit of this is that it serves as a visual reminder to my husband about just how many great meals I make & what a variety of things we eat. He is used to eating this way every day and has a tendency to take meals for granted. This helps with that a lot, and it also helps ME feel good to see, Wow I did all that this week. That is the thing about cooking... if you've done it well there is no evidence lying around at the end of the week to testify you did it. It reminds me that even if I did nothing but dinner, I have still accomplished a lot by the end of the week.

Symbol Key:
Items with a line thru are dishes I have made.
Items with a + mean some ingredients are outstanding... a trip to the market is required for an item or two. This is mostly due to the aforementioned supermarket issue... but also for freshness. For example: cilantro doesn't keep long, and when I'm going to make shrimp I buy it the same day I cook it.
An F indicates a meal in the freezer that needs to be defrosted, this is a great way to remember to USE up those frozen casseroles & lasagnas!
(Message Board is from Southern Living at Home)

More About Meal Planning on The Fragrant Hand

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Fragrant Hand Has Hit 10 Grand

Wow sometime last week my site counter turned over 10,000 hits. Cool!
Thanks guys for visiting me at The Fragrant Hand for the past Year & 5 Months!

In Honor of this, I decided it's time I have a page where you can find a listing of all the recipes on The Fragrant Hand with links.

All Recipes on The Fragrant Hand by Category

Monday, January 11, 2010

Meat Sauce for Pasta with Pork Ribs

I got the idea for this from Coleen's blog, Slice Dice & Dish. She mentioned that her family always cooks pork chops in their pasta sauce, that sounded like a serious flavor enhancing idea, so I decided to give it a try. The pork got wonderfully tender in the sauce. For this recipe I broke out my stainless steel dutch oven, I had an idea in the back of my mind that I might finish the sauce off in the oven, and I wanted to build a nice flavor profile by scraping up browned bits of the bottom of the pan... that just doesn't work as well with non-stick. At the last moment I decided to be adventurous and add some fresh orange juice. This was inspired by the wonderful BBQ sauce served with pork ribs at The County Line.

Pork Rib Meat Sauce

olive oil
1 package boneless pork ribs, cut up
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground chuck, I used 80/20 beef for better flavor
1/2 cup wine, whatever kind you have
2 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound pasta, I used pene rigate
2 tablespoons of juice from an orange, optional (Update, better without too acidic with)

Place a decent amount of oil in the bottom of the pan, heat & add the pork ribs. Cook for a few minutes browning on 2 sides, you don't need to cook them done, they'll finish cooking when the sauce simmers. Remove the ribs from the pan and set them aside.

Saute the onions until they are translucent, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Push onions to the side & place ground beef in the middle of the pan. Break up the beef as it cooks when the beef is mostly done add the wine. Bring the wine up to a bubble and scrape up any brown bits off the bottom of the pan.

Add the ribs and any accumulated juices back into the pan. Add tomatoes, stir everything together and leave on a slow simmer for about 1 hour and a half, stirring occasionally. I have a pot with a vented lid, so I simmered with the lid on and the vent open for 30 minutes, then I removed the lid, added the herbs, salt & pepper and simmered for the remaining 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. I used a splatter shield so I wouldn't have red sauce splatter everywhere.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, add salt then drop the pasta into the water & give it a stir. I cooked my pasta 5 minutes short of the recommended time. Drain the pasta & dump it into the sauce, simmer for 5 more minutes and check the pasta for doneness. Finishing the pasta in the sauce imparts more flavor to the pasta. Turn off the heat & add the orange juice if desired.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cuttlebug Machine with Spellbinders Dies

I recently gifted a Cuttlebug machine to my friend Heather. I've been wanting to get her one for a long time, so this year I combined her Birthday (July) with Christmas and sent her a machine. She's expecting & there are so many cute dies and embossing folders to use for baby stuff, I wanted her to have it in time to use with any baby cards, scrapbook pages and etc... that she might be making in her brand-new-mommy days. Oh how I wish I was in California to make over her in her waiting days... so instead I sent her a Cuttlebug.

Telling Heater - via some lengthy emails - everything that her Cuttlebug can do has got me excited about mine again... So I decided to have another go at using Spellbinders Nesting & Embossing Dies in my Cuttlebug machine. This morning I happened across a great YouTube video tutorial of how to do it. It involves layering the cutting & embossing plates in a special order, so I needed a refresher.

Baby It's Cold Outside!

Brrr, it's been cold here in Houston. Down into the 20's at night, we're just NOT used to that. It was so cold in the house that I had to go buy long underwear so that I could come out from huddling under blankets and get my housework done. It's so cold I have to open the battery compartment, spin the batteries and huff on them with my warm breath in order to get the TV remote to work.

Robert had the pipes wrapped, but last night a sprinkler pipe burst so he's going to have a Home Depot project to fix that.

I've been putting Ethan's clothes in the dryer every morning to try to tempt him out of bed for school.

All the plants in my front planters have frozen and will have to be replaced. I don't know if I'll be able to persuade Robert to let me get roses, again... they did so well the first year, but between roofers, hard freezes, and broken drip lines, one by one I have lost them all.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tumbld thru the rabbit hole into yet another topsy turvy land

Ok so as of yesterday I'm also on tumblr. Don't ask me what its for, I don't know...
It's a handy place to collect pretty shiny objects I find all over the web.

I was trying to figure out a name that would tie in with both SparrowApril & The Fragrant Hand. I've named it
A Bird In The Hand.
Here's where.

Monday, January 4, 2010

On Starbuck's, Mommy Guilt & Gift Card Budgeting

OK I Tweeted this idea this morning & it is getting very good responses but since it was in an @reply only some people saw it, so I decided to blog it.

Katie blogged about her new goals for the month on her blog Hungary for Adventure she mentioned that the cost of her favorite Starbuck's tea is going up, and she needs to start drinking FREE tea at home and at work instead of the yummy tempting $4+ tea at Starbuck's. Well this reminded me of MY way of not overdoing at Starbuck's (now that I am addicted again thanks to the fairly new Caramel Brulee Lattes they evil-ly concocted with malicious intent to snare people like me who finally were "over it" (it being Starbuck's.)

So I Tweeted this:
If you put say $20 on the gift card then you set the rule that you can only pay at Starbuck's with the gift card. So when your gift card is empty... no more Starbuck's for you until next month when you can load your card again. Easy designated budgeting. And you can even have roll-over dollars if you want to (or splurge if someone gifts you a card.) This idea is part of the natural progression of my way of looking at gift cards that I recieve as gifts, if I use a gift card, then it's "free!" and I don't have to feel guilty about getting Starbuck's.

Now to take this gift card budgeting concept backward to its origin. I have a child with a December birthday and then there is Christmas & I often am entertaining guests for Thanksgiving. We have a LOT more things going on in December. In some past years between hubby & I both gift-buying... (or hubby deciding to pay Jan. mortgage early for a tax break) well anyway some years there has been a breakdown of communication & I have had to get VERY creative to come up with groceries for the Christmas dinner... It hasn't happened in quite a while but I tend to have anxiety about it every year. SO while discussing this with a friend she came up with the BEST idea. Why don't you just buy a Kroger gift card occasionally during months when you don't use the full budgeted grocery money... and set it aside for the holiday grocery shopping (or other rainy day.) BRILLIANT!!!

I have a tendency to plan to do things for myself, then feel guilty about spending the time or money & not doing it. For example: I have not had a pedicure in probably 10 months and I live in Houston where we wear nothing but flip-flops 8 months out of the year. I wait WAY too long before having my hair cut and getting back to cover the grey roots... I just seem to have trouble allowing myself to take care of myself. I think this is a common Mommy problem.

I usually don't work during the summer months, so I have lots of time to do fun things (with my child because no family to leave him with) but no income coming in to fund activities. In the past when I have put aside money for myself for summer activities I usually end up using it on other things that come up. This year I'm getting gift cards for the lunch spot where I meet the girls from work & the movie theatre... the things I always want to do in summer... but feel guilty about spending money on. Yes budgeting for these things would work... if I would let myself have them... but the gift cards will be better for me... because gift cards are money already spent that you can't get back... and I can't buy a Wii game (or an educational book) with a gift card for the nail place so I won't feel guilty about it.
Dear My Hubby: I own a Kindle. It would be really really nice to have an Amazon gift card for buying new books guilt-free.

My Favorite Tea Maker

This is my favorite way to make Hot tea. I have a local Teavana store that I shop at which is very handy for selecting teas, but they are also online. Teavana Online I have given quite a number of these tea infusers as gifts. Lo and Behold they now have a YouTube video so I can show you what I'm talking about.

I place my loose tea & German rock cane sugar in the infuser, add my hot water & allow the tea to steep for 4-5 minutes depending on the variety of the tea. Then I set it on top of my mug & it strains the tea into my mug. The infuser I have makes a 16oz cup, but I just fill it with water up to the bowl the little man is holding & that is an 8oz cup. I'm a tea sipper, so if I made 16oz cup it would get cold long before I drink it. If I'm getting near the bottom & want more, I just start another cup brewing. My husband is strictly a tea drinker, he hates coffee, and he has his own tea infuser for work.

I love the German Rock Cane sugar they sell at Teavana, it tastes so much better with tea that normal white sugar. I have several favorite tea flavors. Rooibos Orange is one of my alltime favorites (I ruined 3 tins before I found a tea-rista who was able to tell me it was the orange rind in this tea that was warping the sealing ring on my Teavana tin - now I keep it in a plastic container) I also love Silver Needle a white tea with wonderful health benefits & a very light flavor, I often mix it with Rooibos Orange or brew it on its own, then strain it into a mug with a Bigelow Earl Grey teabag in it. I like the flavor of Bigelow's Earl Grey, but it's so strong, I fish it out as soon as the tea is finished draining over it.

Another great group of teas are the Matte's I really like Matte Vana with milk, sometimes I blend it with Rooibos Chai (this is not your traditional chai, if you're looking for that look in the section for black teas such as Masala Chai.) Thai tea Blend is another very tasty option full of flavors of coconut, almond and vanilla.
It looks like Rooibos Caramel has been discontinued :(

I have allergies to most fruit, so I have been very limited in the past as to what flavored teas I can drink. Teavana has such a wide array that I am able to find a ton of different flavors to try.
My husband, who is not fruit impaired is a fan of Rooibos Tropica blended with Peach Tranquility.

Teavana is good at blending teas. They have a number of suggestions on their website and will blend the teas for you if you so desire... however... being the kitchen tinkerer that I am... I prefer to get the flavors separately so that I can do my own mixing and matching & tinkering at home.

Teavana has a huge variety of teas in several different categories... I like that they give information about health benefits and give me an idea about the differing amounts of caffeine in the different types of tea.

I boil water in a Krups Electric Water Kettle. Automatic, cool-to-the-touch, a kettle that lifts of the cord base, and auto-shut-off... Stove-top tea kettles are very charming to look at, but once I used an electric kettle, I will never go back!