A couple of weeks ago I ran out of coffee, and then I ran out of tea bags. I need my morning caffeine! So I figured I’d make use of the tea infuser spoon that somehow I acquired some years ago. I had LOTS of lose tea. It works remarkably well! The tea can be just as strong than with a tea bag, it works for two mugs of tea and the tea leaves don’t come out. Of course, it’s messier than a tea bag and I have to wash it, but I’m saving a lot of money on tea bags AND I’m getting to use the enormous quantities of lose tea I have.
I’m not sure I’ll continue using it once I go through all my lose tea (several months from now, I’m sure), but meanwhile it works great!
It’s been four years since I got Mika (now 9 1/2 yo) an Easy Bake Oven (a model which has been recalled since). When I first got it, and for years afterwards, the kids had little interest on it. The mixes were boring, the portions too small and it took too long to make them. We did go through all the mixes that came with the oven, but after that we put the oven away. Indeed, if I wasn’t so lazy I would have sent it back when they had the recall.
But I’ve come to learn that a toy that doesn’t interest a child when you get it, can really interest them years later. A couple of days ago we went to the 99-cents only store and found a bunch of Easy Bake Oven mixes for, well, 99-cents each. These are the full size packages, each containing about 4 mixes (each of which makes enough for one cookie-size recipe). While 99-cents for the equivalent of 4 cookies may seem expensive, these packages usually retail for $6 to $10! Mika saw them, wanted them so I bought a couple of packages. She knew exactly where the Easy Bake Oven was (in the garage, I think) and somehow we managed to find the necessary tools that went with it, so she went ahead and made the brownies. She needed a little help putting the pan inside the oven – it’s a bit tricky – but she got the hang of it and it went well. Well, not great, because she did not put the timer so the brownie came out too dry, but well enough. Cookies are next in the menu.
If she (or Camila) show more interest I may go back to the 99-cents store and get more mixes, at that price they can’t be beat. But I daresay they’ll get bored with it again pretty soon.
We bought this BBQ grill at Grocery Outlet last summer. I couldn’t find anything about it when I googled it, but it was very cheap and I thought it was worth the risk. It was not. Indeed, this product is so bad that I’ll be keeping away from any Bond grill or any grills sold at Grocery Outlet.
The cheapness of the product is evident as soon as you try to put it together. The materials are flimsy and do not fit well. The cover, for example, never closed all the way. It worked fairly well at the beginning, but now, a year (but not that menu bbq’s) later, it’s pretty much in its last legs.
First of all, the inside of the lid is peeling and it looks like the lid itself is oxidizing. More problematic are the persistent grease build ups – it’s not an easy grill to clean – which lead to huge flames and burnt food. Also annoyingly, a standard box for wood chips doesn’t fit inside the grill.
I’m pretty sure we’ll have to replace this grill soon – next time we’ll buy something good.
I got the Bella Cucina Rocket Blender at Macy’s a couple of months ago. It was on sale for $20 with a $10 rebate, so, after tax, I only ended up paying $12 for it (score!). Right now it’s $30+ shipping at Macy’s, and $27 at Amazon – quite a bit more.
I’d seen the ads for the Magic Bullet on TV, and this one seemed to work on the same principles, just at a much cheaper price. The reviews at Amazon were mixed, according to them the little blender works well, until it stops working altogether, sometimes after a few months. The parts are somewhat delicate, so it’s probably a good thing that we have to hand wash it anyway (as we don’t have a dishwasher).
I’ve used it for smoothies quite successfully, it crushes ice quite well. Recently I used it to make pesto sauce, also quite successfully. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I had an opportunity to try it for grinding spices – and I’m happy to say it ground cumin and fennel seeds beautifully. This is very important for me, as I haven’t had a way to easily grind spices. The mini chopper won’t do it, a simple pepper mill doesn’t do it either (at least with any ease), and a mortar and pestle are too hard to use, IMHO. So I’m thrilled. I finally can use whole spices and grind them as I need them.
September 2011 Update
I’ve now have this rocket blender for over 2 years. I don’t use it too much, but it’s still my favorite tool for small chopping, grinding and pureeing jobs. The girls use it to make smoothies all by themselves, and so far none of us have broken it. The thing has been dropped in the floor and survived. All in all I’ve been very happy with it and I’ll miss it when it breaks.
A couple of years ago I asked for metal measuring cups & spoons for Christmas. Mike, my mom and a friend all heeded my call – I ended up with three sets. I decided to keep the one my mother gave me – because it had 3/4 and 2/3 cups in addition to the regular ones – and the one my friend Regina gave me – because it had more measuring spoons – and to return the one Mike got me. That was the most expensive one and he’d gotten it at Sur la Table.
Well, two years have passed and I haven’t returned them, so I thought I might as well start using them as well – not that I need 3 sets of measuring cups. It’s a good thing I didn’t put them to use before because they suck! The handles on the cups are so thin, that they easily bend! And I know that Mike spent a lot of $ on them (I think about $30).
I don’t see them in Sur la Table’s website now, so perhaps they stopped selling them. They are marked with the Sur la Table name, so if you see them in a store, avoid buying them.
In previous years I got all the hardcore kitchen equipment I needed – a good quality food processor (though I came to discover, while I was cooking Xmas dinner, that it has a crappy lid), a good quality blender and a good quality mixer – so my cooking items request for this year was much less greedy. And alas, I got the most important things I wanted.
My mother gave me her old (but barely used) toaster oven. It’s a Black & Decker and small enough to fit in our very limited counter space. It’s great because our old one is probably over 10 years old and had not been working well (i.e. burning toast) for quite a while. Now I can finally get rid of it! The only problem with this toaster oven is that it doesn’t come with a baking sheet – and I doubt I can find one small enough for it. That doesn’t matter for toast – but it makes it hard to use for things like toasting nuts. Hmmm – perhaps I could find a very small aluminum pan to put there? Or use tin foil to make a little mold? Any ideas?
Also from my mother, a set of pyrex mixing bowls I had asked for. All my mixing bowls are plastic and old – and I wanted something better quality (so, at least I can feel more luxurious when I cook) that had lids – so I can put whatever it is directly in the fridge. I haven’t opened these yet, but they look very nice and got good reviews.
Mom also got me a small (10″ x 14″) cookie sheet that comes with a matching silicone mat. It’s Cooking with Calphalon brand. I’ve never used a baking mat, and I’m hoping it’ll be good – it’d beat having to use expensive parchment paper or cleaning baking sheets. The cookie sheet is on the small size, but I think it’ll fit in the oven along side my regular large baking sheets.
Finally, my sister Kathy got me a set of CorningWare. It includes a 2.5qt casserole, a 1.5 qt one and a 16 oz one. Only the bigger one comes with a glass lid, which makes it appropriate for baking in the oven – but that’s the one I really needed. Alas, CorningWare has the weird pricing scheme in that it’s often cheaper to buy a set of dishes than just one. I’m not sure what I’ll use the little ones for. The little one would work for hot artichoke-spinach dip (I made some last night for Xmas dinner, and as I didn’t have one that size I divided it into smaller ramekins). Any ideas what the 1.5 qt one (which only has a plastic lid) could be used for?
And that’s it – not many food gifts this year, but then I didn’t ask for many 🙂 I did ask for a dutch oven, but I’m not really disappointed that I didn’t get one, as I’m not sure that I’d use it very often.
Could it really be true that I don’t need/want anything else for the kitchen? Nah – I did notice while cooking Xmas dinner that I do need more wooden spoons.
Oh, and I forgot, I need a butcher’s knife, a carving knife and kitchen shears.
Mike got me a Hamilton Beach Liquid Blu 5 Speed Blender for my birthday and I tried it yesterday for the first time. It was OK. It did do a good job of blending and crushing the ice – a godsend after my old blender which took forever to crush ice and would start to smell after trying. But adjusting the bottom to the top seems tricky, apparently it needs to be adjusted really tightly, and my blender dripped all over the place. I’m hoping that next time it won’t be as bad.
I’m a little concerned because I only found two reviews of the blender online, one by an Amazon customer and another by the never-to-be-trusted Consumers’ Guide. But I’m not a particularly heavy user and only time will tell if the blender will perform. As it does, I’ll comment here 🙂
Last Xmas I got a KitchenAid K45SS Classic 250-Watt 4-1/2-Quart Stand Mixer from Mike. It’s the lowest KitchenAid model, but I’m not a big baker and it got pretty good reviews. It was also VERY CHEAP ($110, it’s currently selling for about $200). I hadn’t used it until now, however, because I needed a three prong adapter for my kitchen. Apparently we had one, but I couldn’t find it when I looked for it.
In any case, it’s been found and yesterday I used the mixer for the first time. Now, keep in mind that this is my first stand mixer – I’ve been using cheap mixers that you have to hold until now. But I loved it, it was so great to leave the mixer to do its job while I could prepare the next step in the recipe. And I thought it did quite a good job of mixing things. Anyway, for the time being at least, I’m happy with it.
I got Mika an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. She’d seen it, wanted one, and I figured it would be a cool thing to have. So far, it hasn’t.
The problem may be that Mika may be too young for it – it’s designed for kids 8 and over, though it still says kids should be supervised while using it. It may be that once she can read the instructions, and do the baking all by herself, it’ll be a blass. But at this age I still have to premeasure the water that goes into the easy bake mixes, which is really no different than premeasuring the water that goes into a grown up cake mix. And for a grown up cake she gets to break eggs, which is exciting. And then, it’s all a matter of putting it into the oven, whether it’s the kids one or the adult one, she needs my help to do it (though today she took the cake out of the oven all by herself – while I was on the phone – and managed to only burn herself slightly). So I don’t see much of an advantage *at this age* between using the easy bake oven and using a regular mix and the regular oven. Maybe that will change.
My Christmas list is full of food items, so it’s no surprise that I got quite a few food gifts. These included:
-A 11-cup Cuisinart Food Processor. I’ve wanted one for a long, long time (a decade even), so I was quite happy to get it. Of course, I knew it was coming – I’d asked Mike to not get it given our financial situation, but he said he’d done all the research and was committed to buying it. Well, I can’t really complain. As soon as I have the house clean and ready – and all the dishes done – I’m going to use it. Come to think of it, my friend Paz is having us over to her house for a cooking lesson at the end of the week. I may just make some stuffed kibbeh to bring anyway.
–Balsamic Vinegar. It was the 12-year-old kind and I can’t believe just how wonderful it is. Beautiful, delicious, with the strongest imaginable flavor. I can only imagine what older and more expensive vinegar can taste like. But this, really, is good enough for me. Now I need to figure out how I will consume it, other than in drops directly from the bottle.
–Metal measuring cups and spoons. Last year, when I went to Argentina, I saw my aunts cups and measuring spoons and almost started crying. I could remember perfectly using them and having my grandma use them so many years in the past. Just by looking at them, I could think of my granny. So I wanted to have my own measuring cups and spoons that one day I could give to my children and to my grandchildren. So, of course, I wanted the quality stuff. I must have wanted it really hard, because I got three sets of them. One from my mother, another from Mike, and another from my friends Regina and Boris. I couldn’t be happier, though clearly I can’t keep them all. I’ll probably return the one Mike got me and get something else at Sur la Table instead. So much to chose from 🙂
–Food storage containers. The Sharper Image version of Tupperware. My mother swears by them. I’m somewhat suspicious of the drawings on the cover (which have grapes going rancid after a week in the fridge in the “other” containers – which definitely does not happen to me), and I’m not sure if I need them, but I probably can put them to use. I should actually transfer the leftovers to them.
-Cookies and candies from our friends Aamani, Victoria and Carla and Astrid.
That’s all I can remember now.