Kitchen Kapers

Blogging a little homemade fun…

July 1, 2013

Summer Reading

Summer reading was a new thing when I was in school. As kids we believed it was instituted as a means of punishment to keep us trapped inside, improving our minds, during the gorgeous, blistery days of summer. We did not appreciate this new summer homework. We were outraged. Or as outraged as ten-year-olds can be. Who would want to be stuck in the house reading a book when you could be outside playing ball with your friends or riding your bike? At least, that’s what my grade-school self would have argued. Our protests were no use, though. We had to read the books. We had to do the assignments. And being the good student I was, and actually an avid reader, I read them, but I didn’t always enjoy the books that were chosen. There is something in me that has always resisted such mandatory reading assignments. Why do I have to read that book, especially when there are so many others I’d rather be reading? This was my struggle when picking through the Summer Reading lists. I quickly realized that choosing the books I knew I’d probably like made it seem less like summer homework.

Watergate PopsIt wasn’t until high school, though, that I actually started to appreciate our yearly list of Summer Reading. Of course by that time the list had grown to include books chosen by our History teachers as well. Having been a bit of a bookworm, I never really minded the lists given by our English teachers. As a matter of fact, I started to anticipate them, asking my teachers for recommendations on which books they thought I’d like best. Some of the books I’d read for Summer Reading became favorites. But the History teachers’ lists didn’t always capture my attention. Being a “lit nerd”, I didn’t take much to reading History books. Then one summer, my History teacher made All the President’s Men a mandatory read. I remember thinking, “Watergate? How…boring.” But I picked the book up and started reading. I was pleasantly surprised. The book was not the dry, historical account of the now-famous break-in. It was an exciting narrative of the events that unfolded after two reporters caught the story of a lifetime. As gripping as a bestselling crime novel, it was a quick read for me, and I actually looked forward to handing in my paper to my teacher and discussing the book in the class that fall. I’d even actually liked it better than some of the books I’d read for my English class!

Even now, I still have a tendency to head to my nearest bookstore or library in the early days of summer, to find a few good books to read. Sometimes I’ll pick up a few novels, or a couple classics I want to reread, sometimes I’ll add a biography into the mix and sometimes I’ll even add a few books about historical events. But one thing is a constant now; there is always a list. I’ve already starting compiling one for this summer and All the President’s Men has been selected for a reread. I’ll be enjoying it while munching on one of these Watergate Pops and giving thanks for my teachers and all the years of Summer Reading they assigned.

Watergate PopsWatergate Pops
adapted from Kraft
Ingredients
1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
3 1 oz. packages Sugar Free JELL-O Pistachio Flavor Instant Pudding
1 cup mini marshmallows, chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped, divided
1 container Fat Free Cool Whip Whipped Topping, thawed
1/2 cup marshmallow fluff, warmed

Instructions
Wash and dry your favorite popsicle mold and set aside. In a mixinb bowl, combine the pineapple, dry pudding mix, marshmallows and 1/2 of the pecans and stir until combined. Add the Cool Whip and stir with a spatula until it’s incorporated. Transfer the mixture into a disposable pastry bag and snip off the tip. Pipe the mixture into the pop molds, being sure to rap the pop molds on the counter top several times to remove air bubbles. Fill each of the molds until there’s only about 1/2″ of open space left from the top. Transfer to the freezer and freeze for at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, remove the pops from the molds, drizzle each pop with the warmed marshmallow fluff and sprinkle with remaining chopped pecans. Enjoy while reading a good book.

June 14, 2013

Dessert, Fixed.

Golden GoodnessMy Dad is a proper handyman, Mr. Fix-It kind of guy. For as long as I can remember he has been our family’s go-to person for advice on everything from fixing a leaky faucet to building furniture. And I guess having had four, um, “high-energy” kids, he would have to be. He’s been our resident drain unclogger, the bicycle tire pumper-umper, the baseball glove breaker-inner, the Barbie and baby doll surgeon, and an excellent monster exterminator. He’s also been the guy that fixes the washer, the dryer, and the refrigerator ice dispenser when they stop working. He’s untangled necklaces and shoelaces, removed splinters and ticks, and has redone the kitchen, the bathroom, the dining room and the bedrooms of the house we grew up in. With creativity, ingenuity and care, he’s fixed our problems, great and small. And he still does.

So this Father’s Day I wanted to whip him up a tasty dessert to say thank you for all he has done and all he continues to do for all of us. But, I didn’t have a lot to work with in my pantry. After some googling, I found a recipe for Apple Brown Betty that looked promising. Except, I had no apples. I did have a couple cans of crushed pineapple though. So, with something akin to my Dad’s knack for fixing things, I decided to whip up a new type of Betty. I’d make a pineapple one, that’s filled with all the tasty warmth and goodness he deserves on Father’s Day.

This Pineapple Brown Betty goes together pretty easily, you can actually get it in the oven in less than an hour. It requires no mixing, and very little measuring, and if you’re using bread that’s a few days stale, then you can skip the toasting part completely. Oh, and Mixed Spice is the British answer to Pumpkin Pie Spice, so feel free to sub that if you’re pressed for time.

Pineapple Brown BettyPineapple Brown Betty
Ingredients
1/2 stick unsalted butter, divided
14 King’s Hawaiian Rolls, cubed
30 oz. crushed pineapple, drained, juice reserved
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. mixed spice, or to taste (see below for recipe)
1 tsp. vanilla
Whipped cream for serving

Instructions
Preheat your oven to 350°. Using 1 tablespoon of the butter, generously butter an 8″ square baking pan and set aside. First, toast the bread cubes. Spread the bread cubes out in an even layer on a cookie sheet. Transfer to the oven to dry out and lightly toast the cubes for 3 minutes. Turn the bread cubes and let them toast another 2 minutes. They should be dry to the touch and just starting to get crunchy. When the bread cubes have toasted, remove them from the oven. Add enough of the toasted bread cubes to cover the bottom of your prepared baking pan, then top with half of the pineapple. Sprinkle 1/3 of the brown sugar over the pineapple, then sprinkle 1/2 of the mixed spice over the brown sugar. Dot with some of the butter. Drizzle with the vanilla. Add another layer of the bread cubes, pineapple, brown sugar and mixed spice. Then top off with the remaining 1/3 of the bread cubes, the final 1/3 of the brown sugar and dot the top with the remaining butter and drizzle lightly with some of the reserved pineapple juice. Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil and transfer to the oven to bake for 35 minutes. After the 35 minutes, your Betty should be hot and sort of bubbling, if it’s not, bake for an additional five minutes covered. Then remove the foil and bake for an additional 3 to 5 minutes to brown the top. Serve warm with a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Mixed Spice
Recipe from Wikihow
Ingredients
1 tbsp. cinnamon, ground
1 tsp. coriander, ground
1 tsp. nutmeg, ground
1/2 tsp. ginger, ground
1/4 tsp. allspice, ground
1/4 tsp. cloves, ground

Instructions
Combine all spices in a bowl and mix well until incorporated. Store in a tightly sealed container.

June 7, 2013

3 Great Gifts for Grill-Master Dads this Father’s Day

This Father’s Day, ditch the ties and get the King of the Grill a present he’ll really love. Whether shopping for your dad or hubby, show him how much you care with a grill-related gift that can add even more enjoyment to his hobby.


Big Green EggThe Big Green Egg
We all know the saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Dad loves his steaks, pizzas, salmon, pulled pork, cookies, cakes, chili and more, so we’re inclined to agree. However, we’re just now learning that all of those things—whether they be grilled, seared, smoked, roasted, or baked—taste best when made on the Big Green Egg.

This combination grill, smoker, and oven masters everything from high-temperature (750° F) steakhouse grilling to “slow and low” smoking. The Big Green Egg is a kamado-style ceramic charcoal cooker that is straight out of any dad’s dream, so it’s no wonder the dads over at Bon Appetit also picked it as the number one item on their Father’s Day Wish Lists. With sizes from Mini to Extra Large available, there’s an Egg for every lifestyle available at each of the 13 Kitchen Kapers locations. Just ask one of the knowledgeable staff members, and they’ll be happy to help you learn more about this fantastic device.
*Available in-store only.


Emile Pizza StoneEmile Henry Flame-Top Pizza Stone
While this Emile Henry Flame-Top Pizza Stone makes a fantastic 12 to 14 inch pizza in the oven or on the stovetop, the best place to use it is without a doubt on the grill. Dad will love creating one of his favorite foods from scratch and grilling it to perfection with the help of this unique pizza stone!

The Emile Henry Flame-Top Pizza Stone is made to withstand extremely high temperatures so that the pizza dough cooks quickly. As a result, the dough is perfectly crunchy on the outside while remaining pillowy and soft on the inside—the trademark of the perfect pizza. Dad will be proud to serve friends and family members his delicious dishes straight from the pizza stone, and it will be easy to do, too, since cutting slices right on the stone won’t scratch or damage the surface.


Himalayan Salt PlateHimalayan Salt Plate
Dad’s all about getting great flavor from his meals, so why not introduce him to the cooking tool that has been used for centuries to create some of the finest dishes in the world? The Himalayan Salt Plate is exactly what it sounds like—a large block of 600 million year old Himalayan Salt that will amaze any foodie or grill master with the incredible flavors it adds to your cooking. Great for sautéing, grilling, curing, chilling, baking, and plating, the Himalayan Salt Plate will make a versatile and impressive gift that Dad will love to use!

Low in porosity and residual moisture, these salt plates can withstand both extremely high and low temperatures for all of Dad’s culinary needs. Whether he’d like to make a hanger steak that will perfectly season itself on the grill, serve cocktail shrimp on a chilled plate as they pick up a slight saltiness, sear scallops table-side with fantastic flavor, or watch as thinly sliced meats cure in front of his eyes simply from resting on their serving plate, the Himalayan Salt Plate can do it all at any temperature. The low porosity also ensures that the meals made on the plate won’t become overly salty. Instead, deep, rich flavors shine through from the large amount of trace minerals found in the block. Truly a joy to use for any meal, the Himalayan Salt Plate will become one of Dad’s favorite cooking companions!

May 17, 2013

An Edible Homage

Pimlico PuddingFor a few years now I’ve attended a Kentucky Derby barbecue hosted by my dear friend Ashley and her family. Affectionately nicknamed the DerBQ, it has become a tradition for all of us to gather to watch the “Run for the Roses” and enjoy a tasty meal in the company of great friends. Complete with Mint Juleps, expertly mixed by the hostess herself, the DerBQ is a fantastic party, and one I look forward to attending ever year. There’s always plenty of food at the DerBQ, and I usually volunteer to bring a dessert. I like to keep with tradition so I’ve made various Kentucky-themed ones in the past, including my very popular Triple Berry Trifle. Unfortunately, though, this year Ashley found out she’d be traveling for business the weekend of the Derby, so to preserve our annual May get-together, she decided to host a Preakness Picnic instead. From my years of attending the DerBQ, I’ve gotten to learn about the traditions of the Derby, like singing ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ before the start, sipping those refreshing Mint Juleps and admiring the loads of red roses arranged all over Churchill Downs. Knowing that horse racing is a sport that is steeped in tradition, I decided to do some research on the Preakness to prepare for the big day, so we can celebrate in true style.
This Saturday marks the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes. Set at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, it is the second leg of the famed US Triple Crown, and is the second most attended thoroughbred horse racing event in the United States after the Kentucky Derby. Like the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness proudly upholds traditions meant to honor its home state. These traditions serve to highlight a host of Maryland’s local treasures and include the US Naval Academy Glee Club performing ‘Maryland, My Maryland’ before the start of the race and the winning horse being festooned with a blanket of black-eyed susans, Maryland’s state flower. Pimlico PuddingSince I offered to bring dessert and Ashley requested my trifle, I thought I’d mix things up a bit and turn the trifle into an homage to Maryland too. Based on the colors of the Maryland state flag, this trifle features ripe red strawberries, pillowly clouds of whipped cream, rich custardy vanilla pudding layered with bananas, and decadent chocolate pound cake. This unique combo of flavors works really well together, and is a nice change of pace from my Triple Berry Trifle. I have to say, I think it will be the perfect dessert for the Preakness Picnic.


Pimlico Pudding

**Special Note: The measurements given in the ingredients are approximate. Adjust the amounts of your ingredients based on the size of your trifle container. You should have enough of all the ingredients to make at least two nice layers of each ingredient in the trifle bowl. Each of the ingredients can be homemade or store-bought. Use what you prefer. This can be made in a single large trifle bowl or in glasses for individual servings.

Ingredients
1-2 chocolate pound cakes
1 jar good quality strawberry jam
1 large container of strawberries, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
4 to 5 medium bananas, peeled and sliced
4 cups prepared vanilla pudding
whipped cream for garnish
chocolate sundae topping for garnish

Instructions:
Start out by prepping the pound cake. Slice the pound cake into even slices and spread each slice with a thin layer of strawberry jam on one side. Then, cut each slice of the jammed cake into cubes. Transfer some of the cubes, jam side up, to the bottom of your trifle bowl. You should add enough to cover the bottom without leaving any spaces. Next, layer some of the strawberries over the cake evenly so that the cake is completely covered. Top the strawberries with a layer of the pudding. You should see your layers start to take shape in the trifle bowl at this point. Top the pudding with a layer of the sliced bananas, then repeat the layers starting with the cake cubes and ending with the layer of sliced bananas. Continue to create layers in this fashion until the trifle bowl is filled nearly to the top. Top the whole thing with a good layer of whipped cream then transfer to the refrigerator to chill for a several hours. Just before serving, drizzle with the chocolate sundae topping.

May 9, 2013

A Morning Chat and Popovers

Popovers for MomSometimes things don’t always turn out how we think they should. We have a bad day. Plans have to be cancelled. Life just gets suddenly overwhelming. It’s days like these when I want nothing more than a moment to sit and chat with my Mom. From the scraped knees and broken hearts of my youth to the irritants and disasters of adulthood, she’s been my constant confidante and comfort - my best friend for as long as I can remember. And no matter how utterly frustrating life can be, she always knows exactly what to say to remind me that things will get better. It’s a fact. They always do.

My Mom and I have always been the first to wake in the house in the morning. So our chats have typically taken place over a cup of coffee in the early hours, before the rest of the house has left their beds. Even when I was away at college, she’d call me and I’d have breakfast on the phone with her. So, for Mother’s Day, I wanted to do something really special for her. To show her how much I appreciate these moments most of all.

Glorious Golden MomentI decided that I’d wake up even earlier and surprise her with some freshly baked Popovers for our morning chat. Popovers are a great metaphor for life. There are darker bits, and sometimes they just don’t turn out how we expect them to, but then, there are also these great golden, sunshiney moments. You know what I mean. The lush, custardy bits, that make up for all the bad days. The lightness and the elation when everything is just as it should be. My Mom’s the one that taught me to savor these moments, to cherish them. Because they are what carry you through the tough times.

Popovers are a great metaphor for my Mom’s personality too. Because she has survived life’s trials and has still maintained her sunny outlook on life. Nothing can mar her fun-loving spirit or change her warm and comforting nature. She takes pleasure in the simple things in life. Even if it’s just a morning chat with her daughter over coffee and popovers.

MisePopovers for Mom
Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly, divided
4 large eggs, pre-warmed in a bowl of hot water for 15 minutes
1 1/2 cups skim milk, heated for 25 seconds in the microwave
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

**Note: It’s really important to have everything warm or lukewarm before beginning. It makes for the puffiest popovers.

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 450° and position one of your racks on a lower shelf in the oven.

Brush a twelve cup standard sized muffin pan or a standard size popover pan with 3 tablespoons of the melted butter, being sure to brush the top of the pans along with inside the wells to insure that the popovers don’t stick.

When the oven has reached 450°, in a bowl with a pour spout, combine the eggs, milk, and salt and using a hand blender or electric mixer, mix until well combined. Then add the flour and continue to beat until combined, about 30 seconds. I used my Bamix for this, because it is the perfect tool for the job. The mixture should look almost like thin pancake batter and it’s okay if it still has a few small lumps. Scrape the sides of the bowl down and beat for an additional 30 seconds or until frothy and light. Add in the remaining 3 tablespoons of melted butter and mix just until combined.

Once the batter is ready, pour it into the muffin pan, filling each well about 3/4 full, and transfer to the oven to bake for 20 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR!!! No peaking allowed!!! I mean it! After the first 20 minutes have passed, lower the oven temperature to 350° and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes (without opening the door!) or until your popovers are puffy and a rich, golden brown.

When you feel that the popovers are done, open the door and tap gently on the top of one. It should sound hollow. Remove the pan from the oven and, if you’re serving them immediately, poke each popover gently with the tip of a paring knife to allow any residual steam to escape. Remove the popovers from the pan and serve immediately with your choice of toppings. I served mine with a bit of homemade Tupelo honey butter and seedless blackberry jam.

April 30, 2013

A Gift For Every Mom: Kitchen Kapers’ Ultimate Gift Guide for Mother’s Day

Not quite sure what to get Mom this Mother’s Day? No worries. Kitchen Kapers has you covered. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite kitchen items that will make her life easier whether she’s a pro chef, or just a dabbler.

Surprise your Master Chef Mom with cooking tools fit for a pro. The versatility of the Cuisinart MultiClad Pro 5.5 Quart Saute Pan makes it a perfect gift for a Mom whose signature Chicken Marsala is the best around. Or opt for this Shun 10th Anniversary 8″ Chef’s Knife paired with our bestselling cutting board, the Epicurean Non-Slip 18″ x 30″ Natural Cutting Board, to help her make quick work of tedious prep tasks.

For the Master Chef Mom

For the Hostess with the MostDoes your Mom play hostess as well as she cooks? For the Hostess with the Most make sure she looks as good as her appetizer platters by decking her out in this pretty Market Tomatoes Apron. Give her a bevy of fresh dinner ideas with the Franny’s Simple Seasonal Italian cookbook. Then help her serve up dinner al fresco in style with a set of these Le Cadeaux melamine Rustica Plates, and the Cuisinart Spaghetti Fork.

For the New Mom
While some Moms are seasoned vets, others are just learning the ropes. For the New Mom who wants to make baby food from scratch, the Bamix Mono is the perfect gift. This powerful hand blender tackles fruits and veggies and purees them to perfection. The bonus? She’ll use it even after Junior has moved onto solid foods. (The Bamix can also whip up homemade mayo, smoothies and can even mash potatoes.) Don’t forget to include a set of these glass Libbey bowls so she can store the freshly made baby food in the fridge or freezer. These Cuisipro Date Dots are a must too. They make it easy to remember exactly when the food was prepared, or when she opened the container.






For the Tea SipperSometimes there’s nothing more relaxing at the end of a long day, than a nice hot cup of tea. Show her you care by gifting her with these fantastic finds for the Tea Sipping Mum. Boil the water for her “proper cuppa” with this All Clad Stainless Steel Tea Kettle. Then slip one of the tasty teas from Tea Forte’s Teas for the Heart collection into her favorite pot for a delicious and healthy beverage. (The best part? The antioxidants found in the green teas of this collection have been proven to lower the risk of heart disease.) Then, serve it up in style in this pretty Poppy Fields Cup.


For the Coffee ConnoisseurOr maybe she prefers coffee to tea? Spoil your Coffee Connoisseur Mom with an authentic cup of espresso, brewed in seconds with the Nespresso U machine. Easy to use and even easier to enjoy, Nespresso will turn your mom into a barista right in her kitchen. Pair this elegantly styled espresso maker with an equally exquisite set of espresso cups. Whether she prefers a refined ristretto or a rich doppio, these Nikko Platinum Filigree Demitasse Cups accompanied by these WMF Bistro Espresso Spoons will have her sipping in style.


Mom On the Go

Of course a Mom’s work is never done. Make sure she eats well, even when she’s on the move. Help your Mom on the Go, by packing her a healthy (and stylish) lunch in this Gourmet Getaway Bag from Built NY. Made from durable neoprene, it will help keep her lunch cool throughout the day, then fold flat when empty for easy storage. Pair it with this Sistema Salad To Go Container for easy transport of her favorite lunch. And if she needs a little java jolt, she’ll love this cheeky I’m the Mother Tumbler from Tervis, because she’s the mother. That’s why.

So if you’re searching for that special gift for Mom and need something tailored to her style, shop these great choices, or give us a call at 800-455-5567, and we’ll be happy to help you find her the perfect present.

April 25, 2013

Join us this Saturday!!!

Book Signing with Hope Cohen

More Information

April 18, 2013

Comfort Me with Chocolate Cake

It’s a ritual, really. This endeavor of making and having chocolate cake, just because. And there’s comfort in that ritual, because years ago it is what helped form a friendship that I’ve come to treasure.
     I walked into the main entrance of my college dorm late one night. The girls who lived across the hall were in the kitchen. Seeing me coming through the door at 3 AM with an utterly exhausted look on my face, one of them asked about my night. I’d chatted with them before. They were polite and friendly underclassmen, and really had no idea how trying junior year could be, or at least, that’s what I thought. One of them, Julia, told me they were baking chocolate cake and asked if I wanted some. “Chocolate cake, at 3 AM?” I’d asked. She said, “Yeah man. It’s chocolate cake. You don’t need a reason for chocolate cake.” I didn’t take her up on the offer of the cake, mostly because I was exhausted, and craving my sheets more than sheetcake. I begged off and she said maybe another time. I ended up becoming good friends with the girls across the hall, and shared a few cakes with them over the remainder of the year. We got to be so close that they became my roommates in a tiny on-campus apartment during my senior year.
     Just like that week years ago, this one has been an exhausting one, both physically and mentally. Julia texted and asked if I wanted to get together for a cup of tea, and my brain automatically finished that sentence with the words, “and chocolate cake.” But Julia has recently been following a vegan diet. So I set about putting together a vegan chocolate cake recipe that would rival those we shared in the wee hours of the morning in our collegiate apartment. When she arrived at my house, I surprised her with the cake. She was astounded. She’d come to visit me and see if I needed anything after my harrowing week, and I’d made her a chocolate cake. I just told her, “it’s chocolate cake. You don’t need a reason for chocolate cake.”

     A far cry from the Duncan Hines box and can of frosting of our college years, this vegan recipe is a nice treat to share over a cup of tea, especially after a very long week.

Vegan Chocolate CakeVegan Chocolate Cake(Vegan) Chocolate Cake
with Chocolate Frosting

Ingredients
For the Cake
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brewed coffee
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp vinegar
For the Frosting
1 cup sugar
6 tbsp cornstarch
4 tbsp cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil
1 cup water
1/2 tsp vanilla

Instructions:
To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar and whisk together. In a separate bowl, combine the oil, coffee and vanilla. Pour the oil mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until it forms a smooth batter. Add the vinegar and stir quickly to incorporate. You’ll notice that pale swirls of color will form in the batter. This is normal and is just the baking soda reacting with the vinegar. Pour the batter into an ungreased 9″ round springform baking pan and transfer to the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

To make the frosting:
While the cake cools, make your frosting. In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt and cocoa. Whisk in the water until it’s well combined. Then, heat the mixture over medium heat until it starts to thicken and just comes to a boil. Boil for a minute or less until it reaches a nice, glossy frosting consistency. Be very careful at this point because if it boils for too long, it will turn into a taffy-like candy. Remove the frosting from the heat, and stir in the vanilla and the oil. Mix until combined then set aside to cool. Once the frosting has cooled some, you can spread it over the cake and serve.

April 11, 2013

It was smooth rolling…

Knees trembling. Sweaty palms. Pounding headache. These symptoms always seem to arise in me whenever I have to deal with anything to do with measurements and numbers. If the mere thought of busting out a ruler, or even just looking at the fractions on a measuring cup fill you with dread, I understand your pain. Unfortunately, as someone who loves to bake, this is a problem. A big problem. You see, baking is a rather exacting science. It’s important to have extremely accurate measurements for finished products to turn out exactly as desired. Measuring cups and measuring spoons have long been staple culinary tools in every bakers’ kitchen.

Mrs. Anderson's Pastry MatThere is one technique of measuring that I always thought could use a little tweaking. Typically, for things like pie dough, biscotti dough, and various other pastries, one would pull out a ruler for measuring length and diameter. Rulers can be kind of awkward and clunky, however, and they tend to shift around easily. Mrs. Anderson’s Pastry Mat solves these annoying issues. This mat features clearly visible guidelines for the exact diameter of a round dough, like those for pies, tarts and pizzas. It also includes measurements along the borders that includes inches and centimeters. Finally, there is some hope for the chronically spatially impaired!

To test out this mat, I baked some homemade crackers. I loved that the mat was very large, so as to accommodate almost any amount of dough one might need for a typical recipe. It offered enough room that absolutely nothing “escaped” from the mat, not even bits of flour. I mixed the necessary ingredients, then rolled them out. It was easy to manipulate the dough on the nonstick surface. I pulled out my pastry crimper and using the inch marks as a guide, I created (almost) perfect 2″ squares of dough.  When it came time to transfer the fragile little squares, they released beautifully from the mat without leaving a sticky residue behind or compromising the shape of the crackers.
Mrs. Anderson's Pastry Mat

Mrs. Anderson's Pastry MatI also put the circular measurements to the test with a Greek olive oil dough for savory tarts. Once again, rolling the dough out was a cinch. Having the lines for the diameter of the tart was amazingly helpful. No pulling out a ruler to measure. You simply roll and measure at the same time. I achieved a beautiful symmetrical circle with minimal hassle, and better yet, minimal thinking!

Come cleanup time, all you need is soap and water. The very few tiny streaks of leftover dough came right off, making cleanup a snap.

I can’t even imagine rolling out and measuring dough without this mat now. This clever pastry mat should absolutely be the next great indispensable tool for every baker. I definitely welcome this new addition to my kitchen with flour-coated and butter-smeared open arms!

February 1, 2013

Nutella Spritz Cookies for My Littlest Valentines

I have two nephews which I lovingly refer to as my “cookie monsters”. Every time they visit, without fail, as soon as they walk in the door of my house, they head straight for the pantry and the cookie stash. (Of course, I do tend to keep cookies on shelves which are perfectly eye-level for them, but that’s what every good aunt is supposed to do, right?)

Oxo Cookie Press
They aren’t typically picky when choosing from the cookie stash, so long as the cookies have some type of chocolate in them or are chocolate; chocolate cookies are always pulled out of the pantry first. So for Valentine’s Day, I decided to whip them up a special little treat, Nutella Spritz Cookies. I’d never made spritz cookies before, but we recently got in the new Oxo Cookie Press, which has so many different shapes in it, that I had to pick one up and test it out. So, I decided to make Nutella Teddy Bears and Hearts for my littlest valentines.
Cookie Disks and Cookies

I wanted these to be really chocolatey and packed with flavor, as spritz cookies can sometimes be a bit on the bland side, and they turned out exactly as I’d hoped. They were very rich and you could actually taste the Nutella. Of course the most important thing was how they’d be judged by my official cookie taste-testers, and I’m happy to report they were a big hit! The cookie press was also really easy to use. It’s grippy handle and lever action made it simple to press out the cookies, and didn’t require much effort. Even my Mom, who is a spritz cookie veteran, was impressed with how simple it was to operate. I’m really glad I decided to pick one up and I can’t wait to use it again. Maybe some Green, Gold and Purple Fleur De Lis for Mardi Gras? Or how about some Irish Coffee Shamrocks for St. Pat’s?
Teddy Bears & Hearts
Nutella Spritz Cookies

Ingredients
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup Nutella
1/4 cup granulated sugar, sifted**
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed, sifted**
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 tbsp. dutch processed cocoa powder

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 375° F. In a large bowl, combine the shortening and the nutella and using an electric hand mixer, mix until smooth. Gradually add in the sugars, and beat together with the shortening/nutella mixture until combined. Add in the egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Add in the flour and the cocoa powder and mix until combined. If the dough is too soft at this point, you can set it in the fridge to chill for 10-15 minutes until you have a stiffer consistency. Transfer the dough to your cookie press and press cookies onto a cold, ungreased cookie sheet. Transfer the cookie sheet to the oven and bake for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the cookies from the sheet and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

**Baker’s note: It may seem odd to sift your sugars for this recipe, but clumps of hard brown sugar are not a friend when you’re using a cookie press. This little step will help insure that your press operates smoothly, and that your shapes come out perfectly. Also, make sure that your cookie sheets are cold and free from grease, parchment or sil-pat sheets. The cookies actually need to be able to adhere to the sheet in order for their shapes to come out properly. Don’t worry about them sticking while baking; they’ll come right off when it’s time to transfer them to the cooling rack.

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