Thursday, July 31, 2014

EZ Doh Manual Bread Kneader

I knead an awful lot of bread dough. Most of the time I use my stand mixer because it's easy. Sometimes I knead by hand because I like the hands-on experience when I'm in the mood. Once in a while I use my food processor, just because it's different. And on occasion, I use a bread machine.

Just recently, I found yet another kneading method.

The EZ DOH manual dough kneader ($38.95). is a large plastic bucket with a hand-cranked large dough hook. Sort of the same concept as a hand-cranked ice cream maker, but for dough

The dough maker comes with a recipe printed right on the bucket, but there's no reason you couldn't use your favorite recipe. I tried it with a few of my favorites with no problems. While kneading dough with this wasn't as easy as letting a stand mixer do all the work, I was surprised that it wasn't all that hard to crank. Certainly not as hard as using a hand-crank ice cream maker.

And, unlike an ice cream maker, you can stop kneading the dough whenever you like if you get tired of cranking. Actually, it seemed to work better with stop-and-start cranking, and the results were just as good as other kneading methods.

One major reason I think this would be good for new bread-kneaders is that there's a tendency to keep adding more and more flour to the work surface during kneading, which adds more and more flour to the bread dough, often resulting in a dense dough and heavy bread. With a device like this, it's unlikely someone will add extra flour, so recipe proportions are less likely to go off-kilter.

Here's the loaf I made using the EZ Doh and the recipe on the bucket:

Just for the fun of it, I tried kneading a batch of pasta dough in the EZ DOH. It did a fine job with the initial mixing, but once the dough became cohesive, the dough tended to gather on the hook and stay there. But still, I persevered, reversing the kneading direction and occasionally stopping to pull the dough off the hook.

Of course, since the dough was much denser than a bread dough, the cranking was a little more difficult, but not impossible.

Whether this device is easier than hand-kneading depends on your kneading skills and physical ability. Cranking is a different movement that requires different muscles than you'd use for hand-kneading, so it could be great for people who have difficulty kneading by hand. And, since all the kneading is contained in the bucket, it can be done anywhere. No need to be standing at the kitchen counter. Or standing at all.

For folks who want their kids to get involved or who have helpful guests underfoot, the helpers don't need to know how to knead to use this. For people who don't like handling dough, this is a mostly hands-off process - you still need to get the dough out of the bucket and shape it, but that's about it.

I don't think I'm going to abandon my stand mixer for this, but it does offer an interesting alternative. While the dough hook and crank are made from plastic, they seem pretty sturdy, so this should have a long life with normal use. The bucket is plastic that could crack after a while, but replacements are inexpensive - just $3.95 at the EZ Doh site.

The bucket is top-rack dishwasher safe, but it's a bit tall to fit mine - but that's fine - it's easy enough to hand wash. The hook/crank section is supposed to be hand-washed.

Who's it for: People who don't have a stand mixer and don't want to (or can't) do hand-kneading.

Pros: It's simple, lightweight, and kneading skills aren't required. Cleanup is easy.

Cons: At nearly $40, this is best for someone who knows they're going to want to knead dough regularly.

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

If you're looking for lots and lots of bread recipes, be sure to check out my recipe site, Cookistry.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

11 1/2 things to do with wooden spoons (besides stirring!)

Wooden spoons have been around ... oh, since sticks were invented, probably. How many other kitchen tools do you use that have changed so little since your grandmother's time?

Sure, you can find them made from bamboo or fancy wood. You can find them with holes in them, or made into unique shapes. But still, they're pretty much the same spoons.

My favorite wooden spoon is a unique shape, but it didn't start out that way. Years of pot-stirring changed its shape. It has lasted longer than many tools that were more expensive, and since then I've acquired even more wooden spoons. It's an unusual day in the kitchen when I don't use a wooden spoon to stir something.

But wooden spoons are useful for things other than stirring. Here are a few of my favorites.

Focaccia dimpling

When you make focaccia, you need to dimple the surface just before baking. If you don't want to get your fingers all greasy again, just use the handle of a wooden spoon to do the poking. And, bonus! It's kind of fun to randomly stab the dough.

Lid venting

There are probably times when you want to leave the lid of a pot slightly open during cooking, but trying to position a lid just-so on a pot isn't always easy. A wooden spoon in the pot or laid crosswise on the rim can serve to keep the lid vented. The great thing about using a wooden spoon is that it won't get hot, if you need to move it.

Food shaping

If you like making decorative foodstuffs, a wooden spoon can come in handy for shaping things. For example, parmesan crisps. You can roll them around the handle for a tube, drape them over the handle for taco-shaped crisps, or lay them on the spoon for gently curved bowls.

Other foods that start off soft and pliable - like ice cream cone shells, pizzelles, or krumkake - can be draped over a wooden spoon handle to create a fillable taco-like shape.


When a recipe calls for reducing a liquid by half (or any amount), how do you actually judge that reduction? If you're looking down into a pot, it's hard to judge the depth of liquid. But you can measure it. You don't need a ruler, though. Just dip the handle of your wooden spoon into the liquid, just like you use a dipstick to measure the oil in your car. Then mark the line - use a rubber band, or make a little mark with a food-safe marker. Or some liquids will stick to the handle well enough that you might not need to mark it at all.

Then, when you think you've reduced enough, just let that spoon take another dip and compare the new line to the old one.

It's a jar!

There's an old joke - when is a door not a door? When it's ajar. Sometimes you need to leave your oven door slightly ajar for a recipe, but if you're moving around in the kitchen, there's always a chance you'll bump the door and close it accidentally. A wooden spoon stuck in the door will keep it open.

Cake poking

Poke cakes were popular years ago, but I've noticed them coming back into fashion. The Jello-based poke cakes require stabbing with a fork or skewer, but the pudding-based poke cakes need larger holes. The handle of a wooden spoon is perfect for forming those holes.

Mini tart shell prodding

If you want to make mini tart shells, you can certainly use your fingers to press the pastry into the cups of the pan, but the handle of a wooden spoon doesn't have a pesky fingernail that gets in the way. For large pies, I often use the bottom of a measuring cup for the same purpose, but in the tight confines of a mini muffin pan, a wooden spoon handle is a good size.

Cabinet deterrent

If you live with small, inquisitive creatures who like to open cabinet drawers, a wooden spoon across or through the cabinet handles can often be enough to thwart the creature from gaining entry.

Of course, if you have an aggressive chewer, this could ruin a good wooden spoon. And most spouses can figure it out pretty quickly. But for tiny persons and less-enthusiastic dogs, at least it gives you time to intervene.

Foam reducing

If you're boiling something that's likely to foam up, a wooden spoon laid across the top of the pot will thwart the bubbles and help keep it from foaming over. It's not foolproof - a vigorously boiling pot can still boil over. But a simmering foamy concoction will be much safer with that spoon on top.

Pasta drying

If you ever make your own pasta, you need some way to keep it from sticking together after it's made. Short pasta can be spread out on baking sheets, but long pasta is a little more problematic, since it's hard to keep the strands separated. You can douse it with flour or you can buy a dedicated rack for hanging it. Or, you can use the handles of your wooden spoons. Flour the handles a bit, and the pasta won't stick.

The tricky part is finding some place to suspend those spoons. If you've got tall stockpots, you can hang them there. Or between a pile of books. Or ... I'm sure you can think of something.

Oil-temperature measuring

Did you know that you can use a wooden spoon to tell if your oil is hot enough? And it works with small amounts of oil. Just dunk the spoon handle into the oil, and if you see bubbles, the oil is hot enough. At first, you'll see larger, slower bubbles, but as the oil gets hotter, there will be smaller, faster bubbles - about the same bubbling action you'd see when you put food in the pan.

The nice thing about this method is that it works even when you've got a small amount of oil that would make it difficult to measure with a thermometer. And, until the "toss a drop of water in the oil" method, you won't have the crazy spattering.

If you need an exact temperature for a larger amount of oil, use a thermometer. But if you're just testing to see if your chicken will sizzle, the wooden spoon works really well.

After retirement, they're still useful

While my favorite wooden spoons are my older ones, there comes a time when they might be too old for cooking - but that doesn't mean you can't find something else to do with them. A wooden spoon can be used as a plant stake or garden marker - you can write on the spoon or the handle, so you know which peppers are the really hot ones.

And I'm sure the crafty folks have other ideas.

So, what do you use your spoon for that other might not know about?

Monday, July 28, 2014

How to Use a Cavatelli Maker

Making home made pasta is fun, but if you want to move beyond flat ribbons, you might need a few bits of equipment to make the job easier. Fante's Cousin Elisa's Cavatelli Maker from Harold Import Company ($32.37) is my latest in the arsenal of too many pasta gadgets, and it's kind of fun to use.

Once the pasta dough is made, you cut it into ribbons, feed it into the cavatelli maker, and crank out the cavatelli.

It's not quite as easy as that, though, through no fault of the machine. For the cavatelli maker to churn out cavatelli shaped pasta, the dough has to be the right consistency, the ribbons need to be the right width and thickness, and the cranking speed needs to be right.

If the dough is too soft, it will stick in the cavatelli maker, no matter how much you flour the outside. If the dough is too dense, it won't curl as well into the proper shape. When it comes to making the ribbons, I eyeballed the first batch and had mediocre results. I measured the second batch and found out that my eyeballed ribbons were way too wide and not nearly thick enough. Later batches worked much better.

You can find the recipe I made here.

After some kneading to get it smooth, I rolled the dough to about 3/8-inch thick and then I cut it into strips about 3/4 inch wide. Because of the gluten in the dough, it tended to shrink width-wise while getting a little thicker. So, you can cut to those dimensions and flatten the ribbons a bit before feeding them through the cavatelli maker, or roll about 1/4 inch thick and cut them slightly wider. The optimum width is 1/2 to 3/4 inches, so having them shrink a little is fine - but I wanted my cavatelli to be larger rather than smaller.

I found that cranking quickly worked best when I first fed the dough through the cavatelli maker, but when I re-rolled the scraps and the dough had more flour incorporated into it, I needed to crank just a little bit slower to get the correct shapes. It's easy enough to look at the results and adjust the speed.

While it's fun to pile them up and watch the mountain of pasta grow, it's best if you keep them dusted with flour and as separate as possible, unless you want the fun of trying to separate stuck pasta, or starting over with re-rolling them.

For every dough ribbon I fed through the cavatelli maker, I had a few that didn't shape correctly, usually at the beginning or end of the ribbon, but since I wasn't making them for professional sale, it didn't matter that I had a few that were flat or odd-looking. If you're after perfect presentation, you can pick out the mutants and add them to the pasta scraps that remained from cutting the ribbons and give them another run through the cavatelli maker.

The cavatelli can be cooked immediately, or you can let them dry a bit before cooking, or freeze them for later use. If you're not going to be cooking them right away, dust them with flour. If you can spread them out on a baking sheet, that's best - it keeps them from sticking together.

Give them a little shake now and then to make sure that they're not gluing themselves together where they're touching.

Cook the finished cavatelli just like any other pasta - in boiling salted water until they're done to your liking. Fresh pasta cooks faster than dry, but keep in mind that these are thicker than your basic spaghetti or linguine.

It's best if you don't add the cavatelli to the water in one big pile - send them into the water gently, or you could end up with one large clump of stuck pasta. They're less likely to stick if they're frozen or if you've set them out to dry a bit, but its still best to add them slowly. Then stir. And stir again later. Fresh pasta is sticky, and you don't want it sticking to the bottom of the pot, either.

And there you have it. Home made pasta, all ready for sauce. Or, if you prefer, cook them in boiling water, then toss them in a pan with some brown butter. Maybe with some sage or thyme.

Quick Review

Who's it for: People who often make home made pasta and want to make specialty shapes.

Pros: So far, it seems to be sturdy and well-made. I was happy with the pasta I made with it, and it was really fast.

Cons: There's a bit of a learning curve, particularly if someone hasn't made pasta dough before. Also, like many pasta makers, this can't be washed in water, so if that squicks you out, you might want to stick with buying boxed pasta.

Source: I received this at no cost from Harold Import Company. Want more info? Check here.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Re-reviewed: The Olivator

Olivator from RSVP
The very first review on Cookistry was a product called the Olivator that I reviewed in January, 2010.

Wow, that was a long danged time ago.

The Olivator, made by RSVP, is designed for stuffing semi-hard food items into other tasty food items. I used it to stuff Milky Way candy bar pieces into strawberries, and a spicy goat cheese mixture into cherries.

Funny story about those cherries. Back then I was getting very little traffic on my blog, so tracking visitors was a bit of an obsession. For some reason, I got a visit from the White House - the one in Washington - on that post.

While I wish that the White House Chef was checking out my site for recipes, it was probably an automated visit from a security-based computer because of the name of the recipe. I called them Cherry Bombs. Oopsie. 

Meanwhile, back to the opinions:

So, after four years, I still use the Olivator on occasion, mostly for holidays when I want to make a fancy appetizer. I've also used it to cut out melon pieces and stuff those cores into melons of different colors.

When I first reviewed this, some fold said that you could do the same thing with a pastry bag. Not really. You can pipe soft products with a pastry bag. This doesn't work well at all with soft products. But it excels at stuffing semi-hard substances that you could never pipe.

While it's not an essential piece of hardware, is performs a unique function that I use once in a while.

Who's it for: People who do a lot of fancy presentation, Martha Stewart clones, food bloggers, and other crafty folks.

Pros: Does what it's supposed to do very well. Well-built and solid. Comes apart for cleaning.

Cons: Most people probably don't need something like this, and for occasional use, it might be a tad pricey.

Source: I received this at no cost from a kitchen store in order to do a demo at their site.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Welcome to Gadgets!

I love all kinds of gadgets!
I love trying new products, whether they're kitchen gadgets, appliances, or new food products. For a long time, I was incorporating those reviews into Cookistry on a random and sporadic basis. And then I started reviewing kitchen Gadgets over at Serious Eats. So I had a LOT of gadget reviews.

Now, it's time for a new phase. I've decided to start a review-only blog, where I'll give you the scoop on products that are sent to me, those that I've bought, and perhaps some snark about things I don't even want to try. No holds barred, here, folks.

Cookistry will focus more on recipes, although gadgety things will still appear there, but perhaps in other clothing. So I might review a gadget here, but use it on Cookistry in creating a recipe.

To start off, I'm going to be pulling out a few products I reviewed before and taking another look at them to see if the stood the test of time. That should be ... amusing.

It'll probably take some time to get up and running here, so be patient.

Meanwhile, if you know about and interesting gadget that you think I should review, send an email, leave a comment, or send a smoke signal.

This should be fun!