Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Little of This, A Little of That

I guess I'm in the mood for roundups. I did a gift guide last week, and now I've got more goodies to tell you about. Some are gift-worthy, some are useful. tasty, or interesting. Some I received from the companies, some were from other sources, and I bought quite a few.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

But I thought you might be interested in a few of them.

GIR Spatulas

I reviewed the first GIR spatula a while back, and now they've got a whole bunch of different sizes. It's hard to say why I like these so much, but unless I need a spatula-spoon sort of thing, these are the ones I reach for first. Since it's one-piece construction, there aren't seams where food can lodge, and they're just the right firmness - bendy enough, but not too soft.

AND they come in a huge variety of colors. So you can coordinate with your kitchen colors, or buy completely wacky colors so you can find them easily among their brethren in the utensil crock.

They're a little pricy, but they should last nearly forever, unless your dog decides to use them as chew toys. The big one is ... really big, so this is the one to reach for when you're stirring the vat of marinara or the cauldron of chili. The little one might actually be my favorite.

Disclaimer: I received these from GIR but was not required to write about them.

9x13 Covered Baking Pan

I got one of these pans from Good Cook for some promotion they were running, and I went out and bought another one and I'm about to grab a few more. You might think that a lidded pan isn't necessary all that often, but I have to tell you, I'm finding plenty of uses for it. When I'm making buns, it's nice to be able to snap the lid on when the dough is rising - no need to fiddle with plastic wrap.

And, since the lid is tall, there's no chance the dough is going to rise that high. Or at least I hope not. With plastic wrap, the plastic usually sits right on top of the dough and it can stick, so that's another point for the lidded pan.

Then, when I've got baked goods that need to be transported, having a lidded container is great. I'm getting tired of buying plastic wrap, bags, and foil that get thrown away almost immediately.

The pan itself is getting a lot of use, as well, with buns, buns, and more buns going into the oven as I test recipes for the book I'm working on.

Disclaimer (and not): I received one of these from Good Cook, but have since purchased another.

Stretch Tops

Speaking of too much plastic wrap, I was getting really tired of the reams of plastic wrap I was wasting when I was covering bowls of rising dough, so I started looking for some kind of covers that would be reusable. I know some people use shower caps, but those are pretty much disposable. Oh, sure, you might use them a time or two, rinsing between uses, but if they get gunked up with dough, I'd probably toss them rather than scrub.

I saw some lids on Made-for-TV commercial, and they seemed like a brilliant idea. I couldn't find those for sale, but I did find some unbranded lids that looked pretty similar. I gave them a try and got frustrated pretty quickly. The description says they stretch to fit different-sized bowls, but trying to get the largest size onto my stand mixer bowl was like trying to put a queen-sized bedsheet on a king-size bed. And then, when I finally wrangled it in place, it wanted to slip off. UGH!

These actually work fine if you happen to have bowls that are the right size, but that's not quite what I was looking for. I do have some bowls they fit, so I can use them - but the point was to have a cover for the stand mixer bowl, so I moved on to another product.

I ordered Norpro's bowl covers, which are just stretchy silicone squares. I liked these a lot better - I was able to cover my mixer bowl, and it held tight as long as the square and bowl were clean and dry. A little flour or oil on the outside or rim of the bowl made things less stick-able, but not terrible.

The downside was that when I tried to cover a square pan, the sharp corner damaged the silicone square and the next time I tried to stretch it over a bowl, it tore. Since the tear was at the edge of the square, it's still perfectly usable, but now I know that it's a little fragile.

Since these don't need to fit a bowl of a specific size, they're really versatile, and they stretch a lot, and they cling pretty well. I'd love it if I could find them in an even larger size to fit things like muffin pans or other big baking pans. I'd love them even more if they weren't as delicate.

I decided to try one more product with a different design, and that was the odd-looking stretch cover from Lekue. I hesitated on this one because of the price, but decided to give it a go, anyway. And, good thing I did. The 10.2-inch lid is perfect for my stand mixer bowl. The odd shape means that it's holding on because of the design as well as the tackiness of the silicone.
When dough is rising, this thing hangs on tight and it expands to accommodate the gas building in the bowl. And it really, really, really stretches.

The downside is that it's not going to fit absolutely every bowl you own, but it does fit a range of sizes - the one that fits my stand mixer bowl also works well with several smaller mixing bowls I have, like the one above. But there's a point where it's just too floppy. It covers the bowl, but it's not snug enough to seal.

But, they sell covers in a lot of sizes, from the 10.2 that I bought, all the way down to a 3.3 inch size. I'm probably going to pick up a few more, just so I have a variety. And they come in a couple different colors, if that matters.

Allegedly, you can use them to cover a melon or a cut orange or whatever, but I was mostly interested in having flexible bowl covers.

Non-Disclaimer: I bought these.

Wacky Apple

Wacky Apple is a local company, and they sent me some samples of their apple products, including apple sauce, juices, and fruit leathers.

I love apple sauce, but not vast quantities all at once. When I buy a big jar and only use part of it, sometimes it'll be growing mold before I decide to use it again. The Wacky Apple products are marketed for kids, but I thought the single-serving sizes were kind of handy for the small applesauce cravings that sometimes hit.

As far as flavor, I liked that they weren't over-sugared, which is my pet peeve with some apple products. And there were a bunch of different flavors, with added fruits or cinnamon, as well as the plain applesauce. The juices were nice, and I can see how they'd be handy for sending along with lunches. If I buy juice, I don't mind buying larger quantities, but I can see how it could be useful if you just need a small amount of something for a recipe or you want juice with lunch.

Disclaimer: I received these as a free sample. I was not required to blog about them.

Bakery Bags and a Yeast Spoon

You know all that baking I've been doing? Well, when it's done, I need to stash those breads in bags, and those little grocery store bags storage bags just don't cut it when I've made a large loaf. The big bags from King Arthur Flour are big enough for my largest loaves, and they'll hold a whole 9x13 pan full of baked buns without breaking them apart - perfect for when I'm giving the buns away but don't want to send the pan, too.

Also great for storing other large items, and I've used them for brining as well.

These are the biggest ones, but there are several smaller sizes as well.

Speaking of King Arthur flour, I also love their yeast spoon. It seems like a silly thing, but you have to understand that I buy yeast by the pound. Or two pounds. A standard packet of yeast is 2 1/4 teaspoons, which is an odd amount to measure over and over and over. The yeast spoon measures 2 1/4 teaspoons, so it's one dip in the yeast jar, and I'm done.

Non-Disclaimer: I bought these.

Hershey's Spread

OOooo, yeah. This is a thick spread, like the consistency of peanut butter or nutella, but it's all chocolate. When this arrived from a Klout perk, I went after it with a spoon. I'm still not completely sure what I'll do with it, but I suspect I'll figure it out.

This product isn't up on the Hershey site yet, but I see on Amazon that they also sell chocolate almond and chocolate hazelnut. The chocolate almond sounds interesting, but I kind of like the plain chocolate version, since it will be a little more versatile.

Disclaimer(ish): I received this as a Klout perk. There is no obligation to write about these perks.

Diamond Candles

Are candles food related? They are when they're scented with food scents, and I chose the Vanilla Lime scent. I love vanilla and I love lime (it might be my favorite citrus fruit, but don't tell lemon or orange...) so I thought it would be nice to have in the house for those days when I've burned something or I'm just tired of the lingering odor of bacon.

Okay, maybe not bacon.

I was happy with the scent - it was pleasant but not overwhelming. And the candle itself is pretty huge. It looks like it should last for a LONG time. And the jar is re-usable, which is always a plus. The vanilla lime doesn't seem to be on the site now, but I see and orange-vanilla that would probably be just as awesome.

The added benefit of Diamond Candles is that each of their ring candles has a ring embedded in the wax of the candle, so that once you've burned about an inch of candle you can fish out the little packet and see what you got. Most of the rings are nice-quality costume jewelry, but someone could also get "real" jewelry. There are also classic candles that don't contain rings.

Oooooh, sparkly!
I ended up with a nice purple stone, which amused the heck out of me, since purple happens to be my favorite color. Score!

If you check the Diamond Candles website, it seems like they're often running specials and sales, so you can score some extras. I think these would be great gift items.

Disclaimer: I requested this from the company and received it at no cost to me. I was not required to write about it.

Lagrima Vanilla

I love vanilla. Sure, there's chocolate. But vanilla is pretty awesome too. I've tried a whole lot of brands, a lot of types, from a lot of countries. And I've made my own. Recently, I tried the Lagrima vanilla - it's made from single-source Ugandan vanilla beans in small batches.

If you're looking for a high-end, boutique vanilla, this could be the one for you. It's not as sweet as some brands, since there's no sugar (some brands add sugar. Crazy right?) and it's more earthy than floral - deep flavor that seems to linger. Nice stuff!

Each bottle includes a few vanilla beans, so when the bottle is empty, you can remove those beans and drop them into some sugar to make your own vanilla sugar.

I'll be cooking and baking with this vanilla soon, so keep a looking for results and recipes!

Disclaimer: I received a bottle of vanilla from the company for use in recipes.

Spiceologist Block

A while back my friend Heather from Farmgirl Gourmet said she was launching a partnership with a spice company and the next thing I knew there was a Kickstarter campaign for the Spiceologist Block, a wooden block that holds test tubes which are filled with spices from Savorx.

I really found this idea intriguing. Most of my spices are carefully stored in a dark cabinet, which is where they belong, but I'm really enthralled with the test tubes. It speaks to my inner mad scientist.

I'm going to use up the spices that came with the set, then figure out which spices I use enough to want them readily available on the counter, and revise what's in the block based on my peculiar cooking needs. My kitchen isn't very sunlit, anyway, and my most-used spices will get used quickly enough that it's not going to matter that the block is on the counter rather than in a cabinet.

Or ... I might fill it with colored sugars and crazy salts. We'll see. Right now I have a lot of new spices to use - some familiar favorites, and a few that I didn't have. Seriously, can you believe I didn't have pumpkin pie spice?

Non-Disclaimer: I received this after funding it on Kickstarter. In other words, I paid for it. Heather, however, is a friend. 

Thermapen Thermometer

My dad always felt that you should always buy the best-quality equipment you could afford, and I guess I absorbed some of that attitude. I've never regretted the money I've spent buying quality products, but I've often regretted buying cheap stuff that has to be replaced when it malfunctions or breaks.

A thermometer is a kitchen basic these days, and if your goal is to cook your food to a precise temperature without overcooking, then it makes sense to have an accurate, reliable thermometer. I think the reason some of our moms were so fond of overcooking turkey and pork was that they couldn't reliably tell the difference between underdone and just-done. So, for safety's sake, they cooked everything a little longer. Like, overdone.

Now, we can tell for sure if our chicken is at a safe temperature. Or, we can if we have a working thermometer.

I recall one annoying evening when my roasted-something seemed to be cooking at lightning speed according to my leave-in thermometer. I double-checked with several other thermometers and got a wide range of readings. It was pretty obvious that my leave-in thermometer was having issues, but it was just as obvious that the other thermometers weren't all that accurate, either. Or maybe one was. But which one?

So, I invested in a Thermapen and I've never regretted the purchase. Well, I sort of regret that now there are splash-proof models and pretty colors, and the newest ones have backlit screens, while mine is the original version. But still, I'm happy I bought this one when I did. It has stayed accurate and it reads the temperature much faster than any of the other "instant" thermometers I happen to have sitting around here.

Non-disclaimer: I bought this.

So there we go - some of my new finds, old favorites, and other things. What's Santa putting under your tree this year?