Friday, December 22, 2017

Gadgets and Decor

Stuff. I get stuff. Mostly for free. And here are some reviews!

Let's be honest. I have a freakish lot of cookie sheets. When I was baking croissants for Thanksgiving, I used nine half-sheet pans, and still had more in storage. But this one, with its copper-colored surface caught my attention. Honestly, my cookies don't care all that much about cookie sheet color (although light or dark can make a difference) but cookies will look snazzy on this one. I have another Air Bake pan in basic aluminum, and it's very useful as a pizza peel. This one should be even better, because it's nonstick. I'm actually thinking about getting a whole set of these, just because the color is cool.

Before I said yes to these knives, I looked them up online. Kenji Lopez-Alt loved them. Some other guy went into lots and lots of detail about the pros and cons of different types of metal that are used in knives. Somewhere along the line he said that the knives were nice but not the best he owns. So ... after living with these for a while, I like them. They're a little heavier than other knives I own, but it's a comfortable and well-balanced weight, so it's not tiring. They arrived very sharp and the edge has remained. Are they the best knives I own? Heck, I don't really know. Every knife I have has a unique shape and its own purpose because of that shape. But if you're looking for a knife, I'd suggest looking at these. Because there's no middleman taking profit from their sales, they're a good value. Plus, the blue handle is different among all the dark-handled knives in my collection. Oh, and inside the box is a diagram of how to properly hold the knife, so that's great for folks who are a little new to kitchen knives.

When I saw these, I thought they were a little weird, but then after fiddling with them for a while I understood the concept. When you're looking at a measuring cup that has multiple measuring options, it's easy for the eye to drift from one scale to another. Then there's a baking fail because someone looked at milliliters instead of ounces. Here, there is a window that shows one single scale while the rest of the measuring cup is covered. The smaller 2-cup measure is shaped more like a beaker and fits neatly into the larger 4-cup measure for storage. The outer cover snaps on and off easily for cleaning.

These are simply cute. There's no other way to describe them. They nest for storage and would look cute on display. Although I'm not so much into super-cute-pink-and-girly things, I'm sure there are plenty of people who would squeeeeeeeeeee over these. They would also be cute for kids who are learning about math, measuring, and baking. And they're real measuring cups and spoons, so they're not just for show. Squeeee. Pink.

iChef is a remote thermometer for roasting and barbecuing. Not only is there a base unit, but there's an app that can be used to monitor what's cooking. At the Housewares Show in the spring, I saw a new version of this that worked with Alexa, and I was hoping to see that available, but I don't see that option on any thermometers at the moment. Ah well. I'm still hoping that it will be showing up on the market soon. In the meanwhile, the remotes from Maverick have performed well for me, and the app is pretty handy.

I saw a whole bunch of these at the Housewares Show earlier this year. Lots and lots of options. The general idea is that they're special lids for standard canning jars that transform the jars into fun or useful objects. The pump jar top is great for soap but could also be used for ketchup or mustard at a barbecue. The drinking top turns the jar into a sippy cup. And the fun favorite is the kit for turning the jar into the perfect habitat for holding lightning bugs until their release later. There are more. Lots and lots more. There was a whole wall full of these, so check them out.

Oh, coffee, how many ways can I love you? The Melitta pour over thingie (I'm sure there's a name for it. I'm sure it doesn't matter) makes it easy to brew a cup of coffee at a time. The Melitta folks sent me a ceramic pour over device (which also comes in an unbreakable version as well as a metallic one) along with filters and coffee. I've actually been having fun brewing the single cup of flavored coffee or decaf or whatever suits my mood. This is super-easy to use. The coffee filters have marking for different amounts of coffee to vary the strength or the amount of coffee brewed. Then you just need hot water. Oh, and the flavored coffee was good, too.

When I saw this little colander, I thought it was a little odd. I mean, it's not like it's big enough for straining a pot of soup stock, which is one of the major uses of strainers and colanders around here. But then I had another idea. Instead of pouring stuff through it, it's super-easy to use it to scoop the large bits out of the pot of soup. After the big stuff is gone, I can strain the rest through a fine strainer and I'm done. Since it collapses, it stores easily, which is a HUGE bonus. It would also be fine for straining small amounts of stuff, like emptying a can of beans into it. Or for washing a hand full of berries. I'm still keeping my big colander for big jobs, but I've used this a lot more than I expected to.

Using a mandolin or even a grater in the kitchen can be a little dangerous. Heck, some people have problems with knives. So cut-proof gloves make a whole lot of sense. And they're thin enough so you don't lose dexterity. These aren't puncture-proof, so you cans still get stabbing injuries if you happen to poke yourself with something sharp, but if you lose your grip on a potato and slide your hand along the surface of a grater, you'll be fine. These come in three different sizes.

These bowls are cute, colorful, and I've used them more times than I thought I would. The bowls nest and the rims create a flat top, so you could store something on top of them and it wouldn't wobble. These come in a couple different colors, combined with white. 

Got a sense of humor? These paper cocktail napkins and cloth kitchen towels have your name on them. Well, not your actual name, probably. But they're fun for parties or just for times when you want a little giggle. They'd also make a nice housewarming gift, tucked in with a couple other items.

I get stuff for free for reviews all the time. Like these.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Coming Soon! Uuni Pizza Oven

Gah! I hate it when bad timing on my part and bad weather delay a review, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it. The nice folks at Uuni sent me their pellet-fired pizza oven, and although I've wanted to test it (I love pizza), it simply hasn't happened.

It's an outdoor pizza oven. Every time I had ingredients on hand, it snowed. If I ran out of cheese (which happens with frightening regularity) the weather was nice, but I had no time to do a grocery run.

I've been insanely busy with other things, so ... the Uuni pizza oven has yet to be reviewed.

I mean, seriously, I went grocery shopping yesterday and bought everything I wanted for pizza. It was nearly 70 degrees. I was looking forward to a pizza for lunch today, but when I woke up there was snow outside. Snow. Cold. Blergh.


I know things about it that I can tell you. This thing is fired by wood pellets. So it's a wood-fired pizza oven, but I don't have to chop down trees to use it. It's light enough for me to move it easily, so I don't have to ask for help from the neighbors when I want to move it into an appropriate spot for cooking. It heats in 10 minutes, so I don't have to wait an insane amount of time when I decide I want pizza. And it cooks pizza really fast (they say about a minute) so I don't have to pace around waiting for a pizza to cook.

On the other hand, I shouldn't leave a pizza in there while I go to the mailbox unless I run to the mailbox. And if I ever decide I want to make two or three or four pizzas in a row, the first one will still be screaming hot when the last one comes out of the oven.

What I don't know - which will come with the review - is how long it takes to cool down and whether I like the way the pizzas turn out.

So ... as soon as the weather and my schedule allow, there will be a review. And if this puppy works the way I think it will, there may be some recipes as well. Because, heck, it looks like a whole lot of fun.

I received this from the manufacturer at no cost to me for the purpose of a review. Which I promise will happen.

Fancy Foods - and some more practical

Once again, I find myself with too many sampled foods to do an individual post on each, so it's time for a roundup. Yummy, yummy roundup!

Aw, honey. I seem to go through a lot of it, and I also seem to always have a bunch of different varieties, ranging from super-local to imported. Savanna Bee sells a bunch of different honeys as well as products made with honey. They send me a sweet little sample jar of palmetto honey. This is the kind of honey you use when you want to savor the flavor. So ... probably not a tablespoon in a bread recipe, but definitely good for drizzling on an English muffin, or perhaps in tea.

Brennans apparently makes a whole bunch of different breads, but I wasn't familiar with them at all until they sent me their Wholewheat Traditional Soda Bread. This is marketed as being high in fiber, yeast-free, and with no added sugar. I was kind of surprised that it was a soda bread rather than a yeast bread, but it definitely had the texture of a high fiber loaf. This was good toasted with some butter, and would make a nice base for a schmear of cream cheese. Unlike some high fiber varieties, this had good flavor and it didn't feel like I was depriving myself of anything when I ate it.

I love alternative grains for baking, although whole grains can also be used for cooking as-is, as a side dish. But hey, I have a Vitamix, so I made flour from the Emmer and then made a loaf of bread in my bread machine. My usual ratio is 2/3 bread flour and 1/3 alternative flour, more or less. That gives me the structure I like, with the added flavor or fiber or color from the alternative flour. So ... that's what I did. I still have some more experimenting to do with these grains, but I have to say that I was happy with the results. These folks also make a grain mill, but I haven't tested it. Looks good, though.

I got an email from Dove Chocolate asking me if I wanted to sample some chocolate. Yeah, that's something I never say no to. So this lovely box showed up with everything from chocolate to munch on (sea salt caramels!) to a baking mix to bake with. Wowza. The really interesting thing about the baking mix was that it wasn't just for baking one specific thing. Recipes on the bag include cupcakes, pizzelles, and snickerdoodles, so it seems pretty versatile. I'll be checking it out after the holidays. Or, after all the other snacks are gone.

Here's something different. Pork panko. Or more precisely, flaky bits of pork rinds that look a lot like panko. My first attempt at using this was in bread sticks. It wasn't quite as porky as I expected (I should have added more) but the flavor was there. I want to use these, added to regular bread crumbs, to bread some flattened chicken breasts before frying. I'll keep you posted on how that works. Possibly a recipe. They also sent some flavored pork rind snacks, which a friend of mine called "artisan pork rinds." If you like the plain rinds as a snack, I'm sure you'll find one of these flavors to amuse you. Besides snacking, I think they'd be good as "croutons" on salad.

"I don't like raisins," I said when these were offered to me. I was assured that people who don't like raisins often like these. They're made from wine grapes and they include seeds for some crunch. While these were softer than typical raisins and they had a different flavor, I still wasn't enthused about these. Because ... they're raisins. If you like raisins, I'm sure you'll find these are an interesting option. If you don't like raisins, you might like these. I mean, it's worth a try.

The pitch on this one was that the olive oil has 30 percent more natural antioxidants called polyphenols than any other oil. Needless to say, I have no way of testing that claim. So, let's go with flavor. This is a fairly strong-flavored oil, so you'd want to use in when you actually want to taste the oil. I like to keep a couple different oils on hand, with mild oils for the times when I don't really want the olive oil flavors, and then a bolder one for times when I want to taste it for sure. This had a really unique pouring spout. It's flexible and popped up as soon as I removed the cap. This made it pour very neatly. Yay, for non-messy olive oil.

These are fun. The sugars are flavored, so you can add them to drinks, use them to rim cocktails, or sprinkle them on baked goods. I've been adding the peppermint one to tea and hot chocolate, and I'm thinking the lemonade one would be awesome on sugar cookies. The mocha one would be good on cookies, too. Or maybe muffins. I haven't quite decided yet. This seems to be a small company, and I like that.

I got on a mailing list for Land O'Lakes, so I've been sampling a lot of their products lately. Which is not at all a bad thing. They're a regular in my shopping cart, so I'm always happy to get one of their boxes. In the fall, a soft butter with pumpkin spice flavors appeared, and then recently I got a package with soft cinnamon butter, which has been making a regular appearance on toast. Although I buy the soft butter with olive oil and sea salt on a regular basis, I've never bought any of the flavored butters. That cinnamon butter might become a regular, though. Oh, and they always include fun stuff in the packages. This time I got a Pioneer Woman cookbook, a little melting pot from Lodge, and a butter dish and knife. Sweet!

OOooooh, drinkies. Here's a confession. I like prosecco better than Champagne. So I was more than happy to get a bottle of a new prosecco to sample. The downside of any bubbly wine is that you pretty much need to use the whole bottle in one evening. I mean, any wine changes after it's opened, but the bubbly ones are most noticeable, since the bubbles disappear. This is a wine that you save for a party, or that you know you'll have a recipe to use it later. Like maybe a prosecco granita. That could be good, right?

All of these products were provided by their respective companies at no cost to me.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Degustabox December 2017

This is the last Degustabox shipment for the year, and there were certainly some fun things. They send me a box every month, so I can describe them to you. Good deal, huh? I think my neighbors like it, too, because I share with them.

And by share, I mean that if it has coconut in it, they get it for sure, and then they also get some other things as well. I'm only one person, so there are plenty of times when I decide that I just can't eat it all.

Barilla Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
There are so freaking many ways to use this. Like ... with some cheese on a cracker. Or on a sandwich. Or on a homemade pizza. The jars are small, but they pack a lot of flavor in a small space. This is the kind of thing it's good to have on hand because it's so versatile.

Barilla Ready Pasta
This was interesting. It's pre-cooked pasta in a bag. You just microwave for 60 second. I happened to have a need for pasta the day the box arrived, so I checked it out. While it's not all that hard to cook pasta on the stove, I could see how this would be good to leave for the kids to make, if they're not responsible enough to boil water on the stove. Of course, it would need a sauce, but that's easy to have available, right? Or, since it's shelf stable, it could be tucked into the desk at work to add to some broth for a quick soup, or toss it with some pesto or sauce.

Mulino Bianco Sfilati
These are bread stickes with olives. I adore bread sticks. Yes, I make my own, but these are an easy snack when I'm feeling peckish but I don't want to bother with anything more complicated.

Mulino Bianco Baiocchi
These are cookies that are filled with a chocolate-hazelnut filling. What's not to love? Not only are they a cute little dessert, but they're also nice in the morning with a cup of coffee.

SuckerPunch Gourmet pickles
I'm a sucker for pickles. These are spicy, but not so hot that it ruins your tastebuds or causes pain. I've been eating these with cheese and crackers. They're a little thick for use on a sandwich, but that's on the agenda, too. I have sharp knives. I can slice them in half, no problem.

Briannas creamy balsamic vinegar
I used to be morally opposed to bottled salad dressings, but I've gotten a few different Briannas dressings, and I'm starting to come around to the convenience. The flavor is good, there isn't that odd preservative flavor that some dressings have, and the combinations are creative but not peculiar.

Cauli Rice
I know that cauliflower rice is a big thing among people who are avoiding carbs, but to be honest, I like rice. I also like cauliflower. I like cauliflower raw, steamed, roasted, and even mashed. Somehow, I just can't wrap my head around substituting cauliflower for rice though. Aside from the fact that both are white, there's not much resemblance. That said, this was okay, but not my favorite thing in the box. I thought it was better as a vegetable side dish than as a rice substitute, but for people who are low-carbing, I'm guessing they'll like the convenience of this, as opposed to using a knife to turn their raw cauliflower into rice-like bits.

Good Thins "The Beet One"
I've tried a bunch of different Good Thins crackers before, but this was a new one. They are very purple. Very. And they have a slightly beety taste. Which is okay with me, since I like beets. I think these would be awesome with goat cheese. But I've been snacking on them plain. They're weirdly different.

Ozery Morning Rounds
These weren't in the box, but there was a coupon for them. I haven't bought them yet, but I've had them before. These are interesting buns. Flatter than an English muffin, but not as thin as a pita. Different, but not so different that they're weird.

Degustabox sends me a free box of stuff every month.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Uuni Cast Iron Casserole Dish and Sizzler Pan

I get a lot of offers to review things. But I don't accept them all. I always think about whether the item will be worth writing about.

First, I ask whether I've reviewed similar products before. It's fine if I've covered similar items, but I don't review products that are just knock-offs of existing items.

Next, I ask are whether the item could be better than other similar products. There are a bazillion whisks, for example, so if I get offered a whisk, I decline unless it has some new feature that will be interesting to write about, or that makes it better in some way.

Third, I'm always always always interested in things that are unique in the marketplace.

The cast iron casserole and sizzler dish combo from Uuni, is definitely the third. Yes, there have been cast iron pans for hundreds of years. What makes this one different is the design.

First, there's the casserole dish with two side handles. It's oval-shaped and deep, so it's great for slow braises on the stovetop, in the oven, or on the barbecue grill. Toss some mac and cheese in there, or a mess of greens. Or some cobbler.

The casserole has a lid, and the lid can be flipped over to use as a sizzle platter or for cooking or baking. The lid also has two side handles.

The third piece is a handle that hooks into the side handle of either the casserole or sizzle dish so you can move them around on the stove or in a hot oven or grill without needing pot holders.

The last piece is a wooden tray that either the casserole or sizzle pan can snuggle into, so you're not putting hot cast iron on delicate surfaces.

All together, this is a pretty unique collection of cooking tools, and well worth a look if you've already maxed out of cast iron frying pans or you're looking to add to your collection.

Since this is uncoated cast iron, it needs to be seasoned just like any other cast iron. So this is the kind of cookware that gets better and better with age.

Who's it for: People who like cooking in cast iron.

Pros: Unique shape.

Cons: Like any cast iron, it needs to be seasoned.

Wishes: I kind of wish the set included two sizzle pans and two wooden bases, for more options. But then again, they sell sizzler pans separately, so if that's what you're looking for, you can buy as many of those as you need.

Source: I received this from the manufacturer for the purpose of a review.