Friday, September 30, 2016

Shape and Bake

I usually don't review things before I've actually tried them, but I was so excited about the Shape and Bake that I was ready to write about it before I even had it washed. This kit is really cool!

The kit is like a construction set for baking pans. It's a set of straight and curved pieces of metal along with hinges with clips. The idea is that you can assemble different shaped baking pans rather than buying pans in shapes that you might not ever use a second time.

And of course you can create shapes that probably don't exist in commercial bakeware.

I had a little more fun that I should have, putting pieces together to form ... ummm ... things that were just odd shapes. I almost went with a thing that was sort of like a candy cane, but then decided that a heart made more sense. I wasn't planning on decorating it, so I wanted something that was an easily recognizable shape.

It took a little fiddling before I got the heart shape arranged so all the edges were flush against each other, but I think I'll get better at that sort of thing after I've used the kit a lot. And, hey, that's what frosting is for, right? Little flaws can be covered.

The first thing I baked was a lemon bar mix that I got from King Arthur Flour. It's a new line of mixes, and they sent me a few to sample. Since the heart was smaller than the recommended pan size, I used the leftover mix in muffin cups.

Silly me. I could have used more of the kit to make a small square to use up the rest of the mix, but at the time I was just excited about the heart.

The Shape and Bake comes with a booklet that shows how to make a bunch of different shapes, which is helpful, but it's probably more fun to just mess around with the parts and see what you come up with.

The actual instructions on how to use the kit were a little sketchy, though. The kit came with little slips of parchment paper and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with them. The instructions say, "Connect your shapes with the Shape and Bake clip and pre cut parchment paper on the outside of the shape." Um ... okay. The photos on the website show the parchment under the clip things that hold the metal pieces. I thought that might be to help prevent scratching the metal, but most of the clips were too snug to let the parchment slip under. I gave up and didn't use them and nothing terrible happened.

I also wondered whether I was supposed to have the shiny side of the matte side of the metal pieces on the inside of the pan. After looking at some of the configurations in the booklet, I saw that the curved pieces sometimes had the curve inside and sometimes outside. So apparently it doesn't matter which side is inside.

When I made the lemon bars, the cookie crust at the bottom was just fine, but the curd mix wanted to run out at some of my not-tight-enough connections. But that curd mix was pretty thin. Cake batter is thicker. I should have made the cookie walls taller, and it all would have been fine. Or I could have cut a couple of large parchment strips and lined the inner side of the pan with the strip to keep the pan from leaking.

But I'm chalking all of that up to user error because, seriously, you can make cakes in wacky shapes, and that's certainly something worth getting excited about.

Well, if you're me, you get excited about it.

If you don't want to make a whole cake in a wacky shape, you could also use a small shape to make a hole inside a large cake you're baking. Like you could leave a small circle or square inside your cake so you could fill it with something after it's baked. Like ice cream. I vote ice cream.

But let me go back a second to that lemon bar mix, because it was freaking AWESOME.

And really easy to make. You just mix the crust with softened butter, press it into the pan and bake until golden. Then mix the filling with egg and water and pour that on top of the crust and bake again.

What I loved about the lemon bars is that they were TART. Not that sweet lemon that tastes like candy. This was lemony and fresh and tart and not sticky sweet. The crust was nice, too. I'd for sure make these again.

King Arthur sent me a couple of other mixes to try, so I'll be reporting back on those a bit later. Next up are cheesecake bars. Mmmmm. Cheeeeeesecake.

The SECOND thing I baked in the Shape and Bake was a batch of brownies. This time I decided that maybe the little slips of parchment were supposed to be at the bottom of the hinges, which seems to make more sense than having them at the top. I'd suggest doing that.

Unfortunately, I had some leakage around the bottom of the pan in one spot. Note to self: make sure I use a completely flat baking pan next time. Oopsie.

Can you guess what this shape is supposed to be?

But that bottom leakage was no problem. It made a nice snack for me. Hah!

I also made another error. I forgot to spray the pan with nonstick baking spray. But that didn't actually cause any problem. The cake came out just fine. The fact that I could unclip it and remove the side pieces individually probably helped.

Next time (see, there's some learning involved) I think I'm going to use a silicone mat under the cake instead of parchment, since that's even more nonstick than parchment. The cake released okay, but I want to try the mat, anyway.

If you're staring at that brownie and wondering what the heck shape it's supposed to be ... it's could be one of two things, I guess. It's either a really brown slice of bread (do you see it?) or it's a cupcake or muffin. Imagine it frosted with something fluffy starting above that little indented waist at the center. Right? Right?

Okay, it's just a shape that I thought looked interesting.

Who's it for:
Creative bakers will love the Bake and Shape kit.

The lemon bar mix would probably appeal best to people who don't want to bake completely from scratch, but who want something that's higher-end than the grocery store brands.

The kit is awesome. Fun. Creative.

The lemon bars were tasty. Easy.

I wish there was more instruction for assembling the kit, but after fiddling with it, it was simple enough to figure out.

The bar mix is a tad expensive compared to store-bought.

I hope they come out with add-on shapes for the kit, maybe with different curved pieces and larger and smaller straight ones. Not that they're needed, but it would just be fun to mess around with.

As far as the lemon bars, I'd love to see these in key lime. Oh yum. But there are a bunch of other mixes, so I guess I shouldn't be so greedy.

Source: I received both the Shape and Bake and the King Arthur Flour mixes from the respective manufacturers for the purpose of a review.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Degustabox - September

So, what's in the box this month?

Degustabox, in case you don't know, is a company that sends out a box full of different food products each month. I'm getting them at no cost so I can tell you about them. The thing that amazes me is how they manage to fit all the products in the box. I set them out to take a photo and then they seem to overfill the box when I tuck it away.

Here's what I found this time:

Lemon-flavored sparkling bitters
Nice as-is. Bitters are supposed to be good for an upset tummy, so it might make sense to keep a few of these on hand. Or, you know, for cocktails.

Popcorner chips
This is a fun idea. Chips in a puffy triangle shape that taste like popcorn. The ones I got had a kettle corn flavor and they're freaking delicious. Perfect if you like the flavor of popcorn but you don't like getting the pieces stuck in your teeth. It looks like I can get one flavor at one of my local stores, but Amazon has a variety pack with 7 flavors or Popcorners in small snack-sized bags. That might have to happen.

Hak's Paks One Pot sauce

Since this was one of the few things in the box that I could cook with rather than snack with, I decided to use it right away. I browned some chicken thighs, poured the sauce over, and baked them until they were done. Pretty tasty stuff, and really simple. It looks like there are a bunch of different flavors, so these would be handy to have on hand for quick meals.

Sam Mills gluten free pasta
I don't need gluten free foods, but I have friends who do, so I gave this one away. My friend said they were good, but I didn't taste them.

Nando's Peri-Peri Sauce
Hot sauce. Oh heck yeah. I love spicy foods, and this one is a great addition to the spice collection. I used it to spice up some chicken soup, but it's nice as a condiment, too.

The English Provender Company chutneys and lemon curd
I adore lemon curd. It's pretty easy to make, but having it in a jar is easy. I like it with yogurt for breakfast. I haven't tried the chutneys yet, but the flavors sound really good. I think they'd be great on burgers or sausages or sandwiches.

Michele et Augustin cookies
Yummy little cookies. There were two little boxes. One was shortbread with sea salt, and the other was shortbread with chocolate chips. I mean, how can you say no to cookies?

Honey Bunches of Oats cereal
This cereal, or perhaps a slightly different variety of it was in a previous box. I've got nothing against cereal, but this was my least favorite item in the box. The rest of them were things I hadn't tried before so it was fun to go through the box and sample. But I've had this cereal before, so it wasn't much of a "wow."

Toosum snack bar with oatmeal
These kinds of snack bars are perfect for a take-along snack or an after-work nosh. I only eat these types of things occasionally, but like to have them on hand for those times when I'm feeling peckish but it's not a good time to eat something more substantial. I've tucked this one away for later.

Bustanut flavored peanuts
The ones I got were maple bacon and bourbon flavors. How can you argue, right? The packs were the perfect size to take a long a little snack. I haven't decided which ones I liked best. Maybe both, mixed together?

Entenmann's Little Bites chocolate chip muffins
Nice little snacks. I didn't know these existed, but now that I got these, I've seen them in stores. It's a genius idea. Many commercial muffins are so HUGE that it's a commitment to eat one of them. Bite-size is nice!

Zolli Drops candy
These are good for your teeth, so they're great as an after-dinner or evening treat. And they taste pretty good, too. A little sweet and fruity. There was one larger bag and two smaller ones, along with a coupon for $1.00 off. Since these contain xylitol, you need to take care to keep them away from dogs, since it can be quite toxic for them. It's safe for humans, though. The company makes both Zolli Drops and Zolli Pops, which are lollipops rather than little candies.

I receive boxes from Degustabox at no cost to me. You can sign up for your own Degustabox HERE.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mason Cash Bread Baking Set

You know I love bread, right?

So I was pretty sure I'd like the bread baking set from Mason Cash. It includes a large bowl that's used for mixing and rising, and a lid for the bowl that doubles as a baking stone. So it's two pieces with three uses.

Or, depending on how you use the bowl, it might have other functions. Like, you can use it for mixing the dough, then use the bowl to let the bread rise, then shape the dough and put in on the lid for the final rise while the upside-down bowl functions as a lid,

Yes, it's a bowl and a lid, too.

It's also a really nice bowl for other things, like fruit or for serving large quantities of mashed potatoes.

I took it for a test drive with bread (of course) after seasoning the lid/baking stone piece according to the instructions. The bowl doesn't need seasoning, since it's completely glazed. But the lid does need seasoning because it's unglazed clay. I also used cornmeal under the bread to keep it from sticking.

The result? I kind of love this! It's big enough for a big lump of dough, and the fact that the lid doubles as the baking stone makes it even more useful

Speaking of that lid - it's the perfect size for pizza.

Who's it for: People who love baking bread or who have other uses for a large bowl plus a baking stone.

Pros: It works just like it's supposed to, and it looks attractive.

Cons: It's a bit pricey, but good baking stones aren't cheap. Plus you get a bowl.

Wishes: I wish there were little handles on the bowl to make it easier to move when it's upside down on the baking stone lid. But that's a small wish. I was able to lift it, but the handles would just make it easier.

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

Note: I was so anxious to test this, I just threw together a loaf of bread and didn't measure or time it well enough to write up a recipe. I'll do that later, I promise!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Chef'n Zipstrip Herb Stripper

I saw this cute little gadget at the Chicago Housewares Show and forgot all about it until I saw it at ... of all places ... a Goodwill store.

Have I mentioned that Goodwill is a good place to buy single plates and other things for blog photos? Yeah, it's almost as good as garage sales for that sort of thing.

So, I was wandering and spotted the herb stripper. At first, I was surprised it was there and that someone hadn't snapped it up already. But then I realized that most folks might not know what it is. Or how it works.

It's really simple. You pull the stem of a fresh herb through one of the holes in the stripper, and the leaves fall off into the bowl. And the bowl isn't just for catching. It also measures the leaves as you strip, so you know when you've gathered enough.

I have a feeling I'll be using this a lot more in the summer than winter, but it's going to be handy to have, for sure.

If you're looking for this gadget, it's called a Zipstrip, by the way.

Who's it for: People who use a lot of fresh herbs.

Pros: Works like it's supposed to.

Cons: Obviously, it only has one job.

Wishes: Can't think of anything at the moment.

Source: I bought this.