January 02, 2011

Holiday Gifts and Other New Arrivals

This Christmas season, we got a lot of cooking-related gifts, and we also purchased some kitchen-related items for ourselves. 

Almost all of my gifts this season were kitchen-related, which is just fine with me.  Some of the stand-outs include an immersion blender, a mandoline slicer and three new cookbooks.   The cookbooks are the new edition of the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, which features a new section of cookware ratings; The Best 30-Minute Recipe, also by the ATK folk; and Perfect One-Dish Dinners by Pam Anderson (the food writer, not the actress).  I've already made one dish featured in the Family Cookbook and used it to research ways of fine-tuning a couple of my own recipes.  It contains a lot of great stuff, including the cookware ratings section mentioned above, lots of product reviews and recommendations based on ATK taste tastes, which are sprinkled throughout the book, sidebars featuring helpful cooking tips, a table listing lengths of time for microwaving and steaming various vegetables and, of course, lots and lots of great recipes - more than 1200 in all, according to the book's cover.  So far I've only glanced at the other two books, but I expect to get a lot of use out of both of them.

The Christmas gift Juli's gotten the most use out of has been her Keurig B30 Coffee Brewer and a variety of K-cup packs for use with the Keurig.  It brews up a cup of coffee (or tea, or cocoa) in very little time and with no mess, which is great for busy workday mornings.  She'd been wary of buying one of these, as the reviews have not been uniformly spectacular, but so far this model has worked like a charm.  The K-Cup Carousel has been quite useful at keeping a selection of the little K-cups organized and ready.

Another stand-out recent arrival is my Lodge Enameled Cast-Iron 3-Quart Covered Casserole, which I purchased in emerald green.  It is quite nice, as it serves well as a back-up skillet and can go from stove top to oven without a problem.  It has already seen a fair bit of use the past few days.  Like all the Lodge enameled products, it heats uniformly and conducts heat wonderfully, and it cleans up from even the most sticky, burnt-on mess with virtually no effort at all. 

The biggest new arrival to our kitchen is our new Cuisinart 5.5-Quart 12-Speed Stand Mixer.  It wasn't a Christmas gift.  Our old KitchenAid mixer had served us quite well, but it was on its last legs, and I've been using a stand mixer an awful lot of late, more than enough to justify the purchase.  We picked ours in a spiffy-looking black finish.  It works like a charm - I've already used it to beat egg whites and make cookie frosting - and when we have a bit of spare cash, I'm looking forward to purchasing one of the optional attachments:  a meat grinder/sausage-maker.  That will have to wait for awhile likely as not, though... maybe a birthday present down the road.  We wouldn't have bought the mixer yet, but it was recently on sale at Amazon for a great price. 

One smaller, but nonetheless quite useful, addition to my bakeware collection is the Chicago Metallic Non-Stick Slice Solutions Brownie Pan with Lid.   It's a nonstick baking pan with a bottom insert that allows you to lift everything out of the pan, and another insert which allows you to bake up brownies, bars and what have you pre-sliced.  This came in quite helpful recently when I made up another batch of the Blackberry Bliss Bars featured in the most recent issue of Cook's Country.  They were a big hit at Thanksgiving, and just as welcome the second time around, and the pan's tight-fitting lid kept them fresh more than long enough for us to finish them off.

We also got a gift certificate for Penzey's from my son, which has of course been a great gift for us.  He also gave us a gift certificate for Half-Price Books, knowing that we both like to read - and that Half-Price has a large cookbook section, of course!

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