Category Archives: Gadget Reviews

Ta daaa! Fresh Mozzarella!

Fresh cheese!  and the kit.

Here is what remained of our fresh mozzarella when I went to make pizza last night. It had been in the fridge, in a bowl of water, for several days. Behind it you can see the kit for making it. In the near future I’ll do a post with how-to photos, but this will have to do for now!

Making your own cheese with this kit is really very easy, though I’d hate to do it alone. Having another pair of hands is very helpful. Mr. Pea and I made this ball of cheese together last week. It started as a gallon of milk. The butcher down the road gets shipments of milk from a local dairy, so I went there for it; a gallon was really inexpensive at $2.99. I poured the milk into a large stainless steel stockpot. The kit contains two main ingredients–citric acid and vegetarian rennet. A bit of each are dissolved in water and set aside. The acid is added to the milk right away; you heat to a specified temperature (the kit contains a thermometer), and then add rennet to make the curd. You let it sit, then heat it up, and stir your curd. Then the whey is drained off and saved to make pizza crust with a recipe in the kit; the remaining curd is microwaved to a specified temp, and then shaped into a ball, just like you’d get at the grocery store. Only better. And really, really cheap. Our local grocery store flyer has fresh mozzarella on sale this week for $6.99/lb; a $3 gallon of milk yielded just under a pound of cheese, and the kit itself makes 30 batches.

Pizza with our own mozzarella!

I liked the cheese best the day after we made it–fresh mozzarella is a very delicately flavored cheese, and it was a little more developed the next day or so. For several days I’d just pull the ball out of the fridge and cut off a hunk to nibble on. We also made three pizzas in addition to just munching on it. It gives pizza a different texture, sorta, than the shreds you buy at the store–because you really can’t shred it, you have to plunk little pieces down and you don’t get the cheesy mass pizza tends to be. I kind of prefer the cheesy mass on pizza and prefer eating the fresh mozz all by its lonesome, or, when the season changes, with fresh tomatoes and basil.

This time I used 1% milk; next time I’m going to try either 2% or whole and see if that changes anything. If you’ve ever thought about trying to make your own cheese, and you’ve got a friend to help you out or are much more coordinated than I am, you should give this kit a whirl.


Alas, it’s not meant to be

espresso machine

See this espresso machine? It was a gift from my parents when I was, oh, 16 or 17. I’ve been nursing my coffee addiction since I was about 14 years old, and when I was in my late teens a coffee shop opened in the next town over that sold (expensive) espresso drinks. They gave me this to offset what I was spending there, I think, out of my little paycheck from the pharmacy I worked at. Anyway, it was mothballed a year or two after I left for college, and sat in my folks’ cabinet until last year. My mom, in a cleaning frenzy, handed it to me. It then sat in my pantry until this last Monday. In Italy, I drank incredible (and wee-Americans make their drinks too large!) cappucinos and cafe every day, and I was hoping for a splashing return it. I bought some espresso at Trader Joe’s, and dug out my little machine.

But no matter how many times I rinsed it out–ran water through it–ran water and vinegar through it–it keeps kicking back little brown flakes. An investigation with a tiny reading lamp reveals what looks like some corrosion inside the well. It’s a shame, because it works beautifully, too. But I probably shouldn’t drink rust with every coffee, so I guess it’s time to move on.

I do have a birthday coming up with great speed, so Mr. Pea has suggested a little European stove-top espresso brewer. Be on the lookout for it in next month’s gadget reviews!

Sometimes silicone is a good thing


Silicone can be very scary. It’s a little…unnatural…in places. But in other places, like your kitchen, it’s extremely useful. This here is my pal, the silicone pastry brush. I have long used pastry brushes for egg washes, milk washes, spreading warmed jam on puff pastry, you name it, and the bristley ones were always a real struggle to clean. God forbid you used it with oil, you might as well just forget about it. You couldn’t hand wash it and get it thoroughly clean and the dishwasher trashed it by the third go-around. That’s why the silicone brush is extremely handy. Nothing sticks to it, you can handwash it clean, and it survives the dishwasher just fine. Hooray! Now I can spread barbecue sauce in peace. They’re available in most cooking stores; I believe Mr. Pea bought this at Sur La Table. He spoils me.

Hmm, I have a birthday coming up…

I can’t take credit for finding these things myself, or photographing them, or having actually ever seen them in person, but they’re quickly rising to the top of my must-have list. I may forward them to Mr. Pea for his next baking endeavor. Several years ago, in jest, I told him I wanted a Sponge Bob cake. Lo, he went to a friend’s house and baked and decorated a Sponge Bob cake for me. I was honored and impressed.

I think this year–as I’m nearing right to the edge of 30–I want the giant cupcake:
enormous cupcake--Sur La Table photo

Look at it! Holy cow! It’s made with two pans and then you must just frost the hell out of them to get them together. Wow! I don’t even know what to say, I’m so astonished by it. I would like me a giant cupcake. I saw this over on Not Martha, and you can buy it at Sur La Table. It’s made by Wilton.

Not to be outdone, I love this octopus cake:
octopus--Williams Sonoma Photo

I can’t even imagine how long that sucker took to decorate. It seems less useful than a giant cupcake pan might be, but it’s pretty spiffy. I first saw it at Baking Bites, and you can get it at Williams Sonoma.

Imagine….giant yellow cupcake…giant carrot cupcake….giant devil’s food cupcake….with raspberry in the middle….

Kitchen Helper Extraordinaire

Food Processor
I realized the other day that it had been some time since I’d done a gadget review. Well, meet my second third favorite kitchen helper, after the mixer and the dishwasher. This is my sweet Cuisinart food processor. While I don’t use it every day and it uses an obscene amount of dishwasher space, it is a very handy tool to have. I had a little processor for some years, that was useful but not terribly strong, and which took eons to make a batch of pesto. This guy, on the other hand, whizzes through even the hardest ingredients. I used it this morning to shred carrots using the disk blade, and then tossed in the regular blade to make them a finer mince. It saved me probably 20 minutes of grating carrots and knuckles against my box grater. I use it to make pizza dough and pie crust in no time flat. So long, pastry blender. My heart is taken by my shiny friend.

Gold-tone Coffee Filter

I drink a lot of coffee. Typically I go through a lot of filters, and run out a lot, and then do a lot of cursing. I’d buy them when I could at Trader Joe’s, where they were cheaper and came in greater quantities, but the last time I was there they didn’t have any in my machine’s size. And then, frustrated, I decided it was time for a change. I ordered this filter from Amazon–it’s by cuisinart, and so’s my machine, so the fit was perfect–and have been pretty happy with it ever since. I feel more green, since I’m not throwing out multiple filters a day, and I’m saving a few bucks every week. Each morning I just remove the old grinds and put it in a container by my sink for tossing in my compost bin (another new project), give it a good rinse, and fill it with new grinds. I pop it in the dishwasher, too, on a regular basis. The one thing I don’t like about it is that I now get some very fine, silt-like coffee dust in my cup–it sits at the bottom, but has no texture, unlike when you accidentally drop grinds through the filter. The coffee itself is stronger, too, and that’s taking a bit of tweaking to get right. Altogether, though, it’s been a great $10 investment. You can get your own here.

Oh how I love my Kitchenaid mixer!

Once I read a blog review of my towels, and the writer lamented that the mixer didn’t come with them. I got this puppy as a wedding gift last year, and it’s been in constant use ever since. Partly this is because it’s so heavy, it stays on the counter–I never have to dig it out of storage, since I pretty much couldn’t. It creams butter and sugar like nobody’s business, and has a fancy dough hook to knead bread for me. My old mixer was an inexpensive Kenmore model that I actually lugged home on the subway (I don’t know what I was thinking). It worked, but never that well. It didn’t cream anything. But the Kitchenaid is a champ. If you’re in the market for a new mixer, and you know you’ll use it all the time, and you know you’ll want it for at least ten years, I’d highly suggest investing in one. You’ll swoon over its fabulousness. 🙂