ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Espresso Chocolate Caramel Bars

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Once again, CSN Stores has furnished me with a lovely gift certificate on the condition that I review whatever purchases I make with it. This time around I nabbed four items: a hand blender, a candy thermometer, a cooking sheet, and a four-cup angled liquid measure. I decided I would test out the candy thermometer first, and what better way to employ one than by making caramel? This, of course, was a bold choice for me because I’m deathly afraid of things that are super hot and bubble. Call me old fashioned, but anything that has the potential to simultaneously suddenly explode AND maim me is something I stay away from. (And yes, I include “scarring” under the “maiming” category). Luckily, when I went through the great Apple Tatin phase of 2009, I overcame most of my caramel fears and felt more or less confident that I could tangle with the beast again.

After the jump, check out photos of the exciting process, including many shots of bubbling caramel (which is incidentally my tranny stripper name).

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ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Bread Machine Bonanza

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A few months ago, I received a free gift card from CSN Stores, and I asked my Twitter followers if I should use it for an ice cream maker or a bread machine. The debate was fierce, and ultimately I opted for an ice cream maker (actually, I opted for a slow cooker first, and THEN the ice cream maker next month). I was very happy with my choice, but I did always wonder what I may have been missing out with by passing up the bread maker. Well, as it turns out, CSN gave me another gift card to review something from their store, and this time around, I decided I would take the plunge. I used my gift card to nab a Breadman 2 Pound Bread Maker, which was on sale for the bargain basement price of $64.99.

I must admit that I did have concern about that low price — would I be sacrificing quality for money? Did I just order a giant piece of junk? The results after the jump…

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ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Smoked Shrimp and Peppers

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Not only did I receive a salad spinner from CSN Stores this week, but I also nabbed a smoker too. It was a random purchase, and quite frankly, I don’t know what had inspired the decision. I wouldn’t call myself someone who yearns for smokey cuisine on the regular, but the deed was done, and now I had a smoker.

Well, last night my friend Derrik was over, and after having enjoyed some wine at a neighbor’s place, it became evident that we needed to eat. What better way to enjoy a buzz than by lighting up the smoker and tossing in somDerrike shrimp and peppers? That’s exactly what we did. And so Derrik manned the camera while I attempted my first ever smoker experience.

Photos after the jump…

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Taking Salad For A Spin

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As some of you know, the wonderful people at CSN Stores have been sending me gift cards to use on their sites in exchange for me reviewing the products I order. This has proven to be an exciting partnership as over the past few months I’ve procured an ice cream maker, a slow cooker, a Bundt pan, a mandolin, a muffin tin, and most helpful of all, a citrus juicer. On the less fancy side but certainly no less useful comes my latest kitchen addition: a salad spinner!

Truth is that I already had a salad spinner, a lovely plastic contraption that my mom had given me back when I first moved to LA. However, the spinner was not in great shape. First of all, it had a major design flaw in that the basin in which the basket sat had holes in the bottom. This was probably meant to serve as some sort of drainage system, but all it meant was that you had to inconveniently spin your greens over the sink. Plus, with the holes, you couldn’t convert the outer bowl into a serving bowl, which was kind of annoying. And then, of course, there was the fact that my old roommate used to use the basket as a makeshift colander (it was during our clueless fresh-out-of-college bachelor days when we were too dumb to buy an actual colander. Fear not though: I have since purchased a lovely specimen featuring holes shaped like pineapples. Makes me feel like I’m in the tropics).

On top of all this, I was getting intensely jealous of the Food Network personalities and their nifty “pump-it” spinners. It seemed so easy and fun, as opposed to my arduous turn-the-dial gettup, which was always problematic because inevitably the basket would reach a velocity entirely too fast for the handle, causing the entire contraption to shake with tumult as if it were perhaps about to launch into space.

Needless to say, over the past nine years, my salad spinner had been through a lot. It was time to upgrade. Pics of Salad Spinner 2.0 after the jump…

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ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream!

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Not so long ago, I asked the readers to help me decide whether I should get a slow cooker or an ice cream machine from CSN Stores, who had graciously offered me a gift certificate to use in return for a product review. It was a divisive debate, and when I opted for the slow cooker, I know a large portion of the readership was DEVASTATED by my choice.

Well, fear not. Everything has worked out in the end because CSN hooked me up with another gift certificate, and I was thus able to procure the ice cream maker after all. Happy ending! You could only imagine my excitement when it arrived. I immediately threw the machine’s bucket into the freezer (after washing, natch) and scoured the Internet for a recipe. I didn’t have to look very far. I soon came across The Kitchn’s “Best Chocolate Ice Cream” and was instantly sold.

Was it in fact THE BEST? Ice cream churning after the jump…

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ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Bundt Seriously, Folks

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Once again, CSN Stores gave me a gift certificate for me to use in return for some reviews of whatever I purchase with it. For my latest batch of housewares, I ordered a Bundt pan because, well, why not? I wouldn’t say that I’m an avid Bundt maker, but it’s nice having the pan, and the thought of replicating those amazing Costco chocolate ring cakes in my very own kitchen was a bit too intoxicating to pass up. And so I happily added a nifty Bundt pan to my cart, and a few scant days later, it arrived on my doorstep (ironically the very same day that local bakery Kiss My Bundt went out of business. The circle of Bundt life continues).

Nevertheless, I had my new pan, but as I opened the box, I was in for quite the surprise…

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WHAT SHOULD I BUY? Cheap-o Edition

It’s that time again! CSN Stores will be furnishing me with an $80 gift certificate to use with its vendors in return for a review on this site. This is fantastic news because now my dream of having a slow cooker AND an ice cream maker could come true (assuming the ice cream maker doesn’t sell out, in which case I’ll be devastated).

The ice cream maker in question costs $69.95 (with free shipping), which leaves only about $10 to spend elsewhere on the site. Right now I’ve singled out a gratin dish to fill out the order, but I’m curious as to what other cheap items people recommend I choose. Take a look at csnstores.com and tell me if you spot anything for less than $10 that I should DEFINITELY have. Leave your suggestions in the comments. And no, they’re not paying me to send you all en masse to their website.

I’m curious to see what y’all come up with!

ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: My First Slow Cooker Experience!

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Recently CSN Stores gave me a $40 gift certificate to use at my discretion, as long as I reviewed whatever item I purchased from them. After taking an informal poll on the blog, I opted for a slow cooker (just barely edging out the ice cream machine, which has been out of stock anyway). I was actually quite excited for this new addition to my kitchen, and I knew there would be no better way to consecrate the device than by whipping up a dish for Big Brother premiere night. All I needed to do was settle on a recipe.

Well, there’s a restaurant nearby called Lotería Grill, which specializes in upmarket Mexican fare. One of my favorite items on the menu there is a carne deshebrada. Garlicky, juicy, flavorful — my mouth waters for it nearly around the clock, it seems. I knew I could somehow replicate this wonderful shredded beef; so off to the Internet I went, and lo and behold, Epicurious seemed to have just what I was looking for: Carne Deshebrada en Salsa Roja! Truth be told, this recipe was designed for a dutch oven, but one of the commenters left a review saying he or she had executed the dish in a slow cooker to excellent results. Could this have been more perfect?

I took a perfunctory glance at the recipe and decided this was what I’d be making. To be fair, I hardly even read the steps involved. I just jotted down the ingredients, went to the store, and got to work. The results of this endeavor after the jump…

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WHAT TO GET? Ice Cream Maker Vs. Slow Cooker

Because I did such a bang up job reviewing the free items they sent me last time, CSN Stores has given me another gift certificate to use, again with the stipulation that I review whatever I purchase. My spending limit has been cut in half, however, which means I only have $40 to play with. I’ve narrowed the field down to two contenders: ice cream maker vs. slow cooker. The case for each item after the jump…

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Taking My New Mandolin Out For A Spin

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Once again I’m back to review yet another item I received for free, courtesy of CSN Stores, and this time it’s a swanky new mandolin! I must admit that I was a bit hesitant to purchase the kitchen tool. I figured that perhaps my gift certificate would be better used on an item for my dining room, but then I remembered that I don’t even have a dining room; so mandolin it was!

Of course, my other primary concern with getting a mandolin was that I felt the odds of me slicing off my finger were great. I wouldn’t call myself the most nimble or dextrous person out there. However, this mandolin brand came with a reassuring slogan: “Quite possibly the safest mandolin IN THE WORLD.” Well, you can’t deny that!

My first mandolin experience after the jump…

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