Category Archives: Tools of the trade

Measuring Up

A few months ago, the good people at Pyrex were kind enough to send me some of their new measuring products. Being the sort that likes to measure things, I figured I’d give them a try.

First up: the measuring spoons. Well, they’re measuring spoons. They come in all the right sizes, they measure correctly and I’ve used them successfully.

But here’s the difference: magnets! I never lose these things because of the small magnets in each spoon that allow them to find each other. Genius, I tell you!

It kind of makes me wish all of my cooking tools had magnets. Since I live in a tiny NYC apartment, it would save all sorts of room. I’d just have one big amoeba of cooking implements, like a rubber band ball. Although, come to think of it, it would be hard to get anything that wasn’t on the outside. So maybe not.

Anyway, on to the measuring cup/bowl. As anything Pyrex, this thing is made of sturdy glass. And it’s got a nice rubber lining at the bottom which helps it stay in place as I throw ingredients in. I like that I can tell from the top how much I’ve put in, and it’s so wide I can mix stuff in it. Sweet!

So if you plan on measuring stuff, do yourself a favor and pick up one or both of these. If you don’t plan on measuring stuff, get the spoons anyway. Because, well…magnets are just fun.

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A Wine Ferments in Yonkers

Despite an inspired notion now and then, I’m not what one would call “a good gift giver.”

I tend to buy mostly gifts in boxes and I tend to buy them late. Sometimes I forget to buy them altogether.

This situation can add up to some pretty wacky gifts. Case in point: the make-your-own Chardonnay kit I got for my mom one Christmas (or birthday or Mother’s Day). It’s not that it’s a bad gift in general; it’s just that my mom really doesn’t drink too much wine any more and I don’t think she was ever a big fan of drinking Chardonnay, let alone making a few bottles worth.

Not surprisingly, the wine kit has spent the better part of a year in my parents’ garage, during which time we probably could have started a private label wine company. While combing through the aforementioned garage for stuff to sell, I came across the box, dragged it out, and decided to kick start the process myself.

The first step was sterilization of equipment. Using the included solvent, I scrubbed down every plastic piece as if each was a life-saving surgical tool. One thing to be prepared for is that there are a lot of little powders included in wine-making, so be sure you separate the sterilization stuff from the rest. This will ensure that your wine doesn’t kill you… quickly.

Next, you combine the viscous concentrate, which is stored in this funky looking space-age bag, with some filtered water to make the… let’s call it “pre-wine.” For some reason, the concentrate is really dark, which I found strange for a supposedly white wine mix. But maybe losing pigment is part of the fermentation process.

Regardless, the next step is to get the pre-wine into the plastic wine cube, as they say in the business. This involves the complex process of siphoning: putting liquid on one level and a container on a lower level, and adding a tube.

My parents’ kitchen was slowly transforming into Mr. Wizard.

To finish off the first day’s worth of activities, you screw on this other plastic doohickey, fill it halfway with water, and let the whole contraption stand for many, many moons (I think about 12 days).

The folks just today checked in on the stuff and siphoned it back out of the wine cube and back into it again. My mom reports that the liquid is now a mysterious amber color.

Check back in late August for another update.

Homemade Coffee-Oreo Hybrid Ice Cream

One of the fundamental rites of passage for any engaged couple is to ask for and receive a machine that enables you to prepare foods you’ve never thought of making yourself. Things like waffles, bread, frozen margaritas, and fried candy bars are yours for the making if only you register the right way.

Already owning a bread machine – which we use only to make banana bread and only when we have some over-ripe bananas laying about – and cowering in fear at the prospect of owning a deep fryer, the wife and I chose the ever-so-sensible ice cream machine.

As stereotypically lazy Americans, we were surprised that making ice cream actually takes work, even with our newfangled technology. Often things have to be heated or melted or mixed or strained by hand before the motorized monstrosity even comes into play. Such a revelation would have led lesser couples to excommunicate such a contraption to the back of the cupboard.

But we persevered.

After some unsuccessful experiments with frozen yogurt and “light” ice cream, however, the wife threw in the towel. Heavy dairy is not her bag.

So I persevered.

But only a couple times a year when I’m alone and feel like making the effort (that sounds dirty, sorry). One such opportunity presented itself last month when I decided to finally put the instant coffee I had bought for this very purpose to use.

I found this recipe for Coffee Oreo Cookie Mount Gay Ice Cream one day after work and thought I’d give it a shot. And by shot, I don’t mean the Mount Gay rum. That ingredient was immediately jettisoned in keeping with my long-held “no alcohol in dessert” decree.

The addition of egg yolks make this more of a frozen custard than a straight-on ice cream. This recipe was also my first venture into “tempering” territory and I think it went surprisingly well (i.e. the eggs did not get cooked by the warm cream mixture).

The one thing I would change would be the time of Oreo addition. When I added them right before pouring the liquid into the machine, the cookies broke down and became part of the ice cream. So instead of little bits of cookie flecking the coffee ice cream, I ended up with a true coffee/Oreo hybrid.

This is similar to the melding, at a molecular level, of Seth Brundle and the fly in David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly. Below is a picture of my ice cream and Brundle-fly for comparison.

To fix this, I would wait until the last five minutes of the hardening process before adding the cookie chunks. This way they would get mixed into the ice cream without falling apart.

And thus, to finish with the comparison, you have what the ice cream should look like next to the original Fly: a garden-variety human with a few insect parts mixed in.

Ice cream and sci-fi: two great tastes that taste great together!

A food mill

This is a food mill. Hypnotic, isn’t it?