Friday, July 18, 2014

Cleaning a Stand Mixer

Stand mixers are indispensable kitchen electrics that get a lot of use in our homes if we happen to be avid bakers.  Although they are pricey investments, you'll quickly come to realize their true worth once you start using one on a regular basis.  A stand mixer helps us mix, knead, grind, whip and combine just about any ingredient with ease.  I would be lost without my mixers, because I use them weekly to mix so much.  Regardless of the brand or capacity of one's particular mixer, it's a good idea to keep these machines clean and gleaming in our kitchens.

Keeping and maintaining a stand mixer in prime condition is very simple.  A mixer is made to provide us with decades of use in our kitchens, yet if one wants to keep them looking as good as the day they were purchased, it's essential that we keep a few things in mind.  In my very own kitchen I make it a habit to wipe down and clean my mixers as soon as I'm done with the day's baking.  It's almost impossible to keep an ingredient or two from splashing or flying out of the mixing bowl and having it all over the machine, so cleaning it when I'm done makes sense.  I use a lightly dampened, fluffy kitchen towel to do most of the work and a small paper towel (or a piece of one) to do one particular task.  Keep in mind that all of this should be done after you've unplugged the machine.  Using a very gentle spray cleaner can help with any sticky and unsightly mess.    

Here is a KitchenAid duo flanking a Cuisinart food processor on one of my Metro shelves in the kitchen.  Everything is clean and ready to go should I need them. 

I always begin from top to bottom whenever I clean my mixer.  With the machine unplugged, take a cloth that's lightly dampened (not sopping wet) and begin wiping down the head of the mixer.  Get all the way around it on both sides and remove any flour or other food particles.

Carefully wipe around the speed control knob and make sure that you do not get any water into the opening.  Remember to wipe the labeled metal strip too.  This one has smears of flour & butter if you look closely.  If using a spray cleaner, spray the towel and wipe down the mixer.  Don't spray the mixer itself.

You will find ventilation ports behind the motor.  Wipe those down and always keep them free of dust.

Don't forget the handle.  6qt. or larger models have plastic knobs attached to the ends, so keep these clean as well.

If you've used the attachment gear shaft at the top, wipe the inside well with a paper towel and reattach the branded cover when you're done.

With the same cloth, wipe down the cord and keep it free of grease.  Don't wet the plug.

The KitchenAid mixers are labeled well with cautionary reminders.  The gear attachment area is probably the one that gets the dirtiest.  The metal band which connects the gear gets wiped & cleaned first.  This one, again, has flour on it and bits of butter mixed with sugar.

If you look at it from below to above, you can see flour and even some splashed vanilla extract.  Wipe it clean.  Newer models have a smooth rotating disk in this area with no gaps in between, which makes wiping them down a lot easier.  However, if your model is a bit older like mine, don't forget to get into that gap between the shaft and metal band. 

The gear shaft itself almost always gets a bit of residue from the motor.  I use a paper towel or part of one to wipe this area down, because it does permanently stain cotton towels.  The metal clip which winds around the shaft and holds the attachment down needs to be cleaned well.  Stubborn flour can get caught in there.  A small brush can be used to remove any flour from this area. 
Raise the arms of the mixer (unless you have a tilt-head model) and wipe them down, both in front & back.  If any flour has crept down the spine of the mixer, wipe that off.

Let's not forget the base of the mixer.  Bits of flour, butter, eggs, among other things, will gradually find their way to the the base if we spill a little bit while mixing.  Wipe the area well.

Mixer bowls are dishwasher-safe since they are constructed from stainless steel.  I like running them through the dishwasher because it removes all traces of butter & grease, which may otherwise hinder whipping egg whites in the future.  However, I do on occasion hand wash them if I don't have room in the dishwasher, using very hot, soapy water.

The types of attachments that come with mixers vary, but most will resemble these.  There is a whisk attachment, a flat beater and a dough hook.  Some people put these in the dishwasher, but I never do.  I always hand wash and dry them with a clean kitchen towel.

This new style of flat beater (sold separately) with wiper blades attached to the ends is quite helpful and makes scraping down the bowl of the mixer as you're mixing, virtually unnecessary.  It's a nice extra attachment to have and I do run it through the dishwasher since it's plastic.

Gleaming & spotless, the KitchenAid stand mixer is now ready to be either left on the counter or get placed on my Metro shelf.

If you're in the market for a stand mixer sometime soon, the capacity, attachments & wattage, along with the brand, should be completely your choice.  I've used KitchenAid stand mixers for years now and I couldn't be happier with them.  Other brands of reliable and powerful mixers include, Viking, Breville, Cuisinart & Hamilton Beach.  Check the instructions manual that comes with your mixer to see if the attachments are dishwasher safe.  If it does not tell you or if you happen to acquire a used mixer (this can prove to be a real money saver!), wash the attachments by hand.  You'll come to understand that it's so much nicer to approach a clean stand mixer the next time you find yourself reaching for one.  Make it a routine in your home to keep these beautiful machines clean, because they are going to provide you with years of great baking.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Most Curious Cat

As luck would have it, I came into a set of adorable cat cookie cutters that I thought I would share with you because of the story attached to these little felines.  Some dear family friends of mine took it upon themselves to surprise me for an upcoming birthday with the coppery kitties, five of which are part of a set.  Little did I know that one kitty cat in particular had a small anomaly that came with a bit of a back story to it; quite a story, let me tell you!  I will condense it for the sake of this write up.  As you will see, it is indeed a most curious kitty cat.

This dear friend of mine who acquired the kitty cat from an auction did not know about the flaw until she had it in her possession.  Once she received the cutter and the ding on the cat's tail became apparent to her, she was cautious of sending the cutter along to me.  Being that we're good friends, she and I began a dialogue about cookie cutters.  I said to her that I found these small anomalies to be endearing flaws that I could live with.  It's hard to resist a kitty, as you can well imagine.  

With some perseverance and steadfast queries put through to the right people, the mystery was solved and I was left with something that is undoubtedly quite unique, and to my mind, quite collectible.

Some people will only collect flawless items and will pare down their collections based on this.  Anything that is out of the ordinary or flawed will get discarded or sold through various channels.  I can understand this type of collecting, because I do it to some extent with various items in my home. When it comes to cookie cutters, however, I collect them not only for their beauty, but for the simple fact that they are functional.  I am a baker after all. As long as I can cut out perfect cookies with them, I don't care to have a flawless polish on them or to have a band that is free of scratches or dings. This is exactly how I feel about my uber-polished stainless steel pots & pans. Yes, they appear to be flawless from a distance, but when you examine them up close, they have some wear.  

One must pay attention to these peculiarities and endearing flaws because they may in fact be something which makes the collectible stand out.  Think of the 'botched' or inverted Jenny stamp from 1918 that many considered a mistake.

I like using my cookie cutters to create cookies for loved ones.  You may have noticed the Fourth of July Cookies that I made recently.  Oh yes, I don't store my cutters in a drawer or cupboard and let them collect dust.

This particular kitty cat with its slender outline and half-sitting, half-standing pose is adorable as you can see.  If you give a quick glance to the photograph that I took, you would not think that anything was amiss.

Now, take a closer look.

Can you see the ding on the folded edge?  The hem that is folded over on these open-backed Martha by Mail cookie cutters is always smooth.   

This photo highlights the problem area.

If you look at it directly from above, the small strike on the kitty's tail is more apparent.

This is what the coppersmith had to say about the little feline.  

Michael Bonne: "After looking at the photos of the cutter I can tell you several things.  First thing is that it is authentic and was made in my shop in Indiana for Martha.  This cat was one of the first several hundred made on a ram press I invented.  A metal wedge came down and pushed the copper into a mold hand held and turned by a crafts person.  It sounds dangerous and it was!  I made a replacement machine that made the cutter in one operation with "no hands" in harms way! What you are seeing is a cutter made on the earlier machine and an extra strike on the cat where our craftsman accidentally hit it a second time. This was considered unavoidable and normal for that time period.  Any worse and we would have rejected it as a factory second and it would have been destroyed."

Mystery solved!

Thank You Michael, for sharing this piece of knowledge and history with us. This is what I mean when I say this cutter is absolutely a collector's item.  

Think about it.  If only a few hundred of these cats with possible strikes on them exist, out of the thousands that were made, wouldn't you want to hold onto it?  Check your MBM Cat Cookie Cutters and see if your slender cat has this little peculiarity.  

By the way, the sitting cat is not part of the Martha by Mail Cat Cutters set.  It was part of a birthday gift box I received!  Isn't it adorable?

These cookie cutters are going to be cherished for many years to come.  I plan on putting the kitty cats to work in the coming months helping me cut cookie (chocolate) after cookie (sugar).  With the right royal icing and with a few sprinkles here and there, purrrfect cats will be visiting several households.     

As many cookie cutters as I’ve collected and handled over the years a flaw such as this is something that I would immediately notice and investigate. Even if you only have a few cutters in your possession, familiarize yourself with their qualities.  Paying attention to the characteristics and details of the cookie cutters that you collect will not only mark you as a connoisseur, but as a true collector.   

Moreover, knowledgeable and reputable dealers will gladly disclose such information to potential buyers whether you are buying from on an online auction site or from an antique store.   There are instances, however, where one will come across those who have no idea what they have or what they are selling, so the sage advice of buyer beware (caveat emptor) is a good way to shop & collect.  Take it from someone who has been collecting for a number of years and is the trusted source of information regarding Martha by Mail collectibles.  

Happy Collecting!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Deer, The Fox & The Groundhog

Nature never ceases to amaze me.  With so much wildlife around our home, it's not uncommon to see various animals walking by our windows during the day.  Some of them have even become 'residents'.  It just so happens that we were given one of those special and rare occurrences that can only be believed if seen firsthand.  Thankfully my camera is always at the ready!

A small miracle behind our house between a groundhog, a fox and a deer turned into something out of Peaceable Kingdom the other day.  It's almost as if these three characters decided to put on a show for us and behave quite civilly toward one another.  Yes, I was chuckling in between photographs, but really, it was rather jaw dropping to observe how mindful these creatures were of each other.  

This is pure entertainment!

You can see our resident groundhog, Henry, to the far left nibbling on some thick grass.  The fox who isn't fully grown yet, is right in the center and looks as if it's going to attack.  It didn't.  The deer is on the right.

A mother and her fawn have been spotted around our residence these past few weeks.  The baby stays very close to its mother, but once in awhile it does run around wildly, bucking & jumping every which way.

The little one has such an adorable face.

A den of foxes has taken up residence here just beyond the hill.  During the spring a couple of foxes gave birth to several kits; we counted 7-8 kits in total.  It was so beautiful to see the babies playing with one another, nursing and even waiting for their mother to come back from a hunt.  At the beginning, the kits were a very dark brown color, but as time went on, their coats became that familiar reddish hue.  On several occasions we spotted one particular kit (bottom right) sitting on the slate steps waiting for its mother to come back from her hunts.  


Our beloved groundhog, Henry, has survived several years of harsh weather and predators.  I realize that many individuals view these creatures as nuisances, but since there is so much space here, Henry does as he pleases.  He always brings a smile to our faces.

The silly trio behaved as if it were just another regular day for them.  I've only ever seen two of these animals near each other, never all three at once.  The adorable fox was so well behaved!

For a few moments we thought the fox was going to try and attack Henry, but he didn't.  The fox decided it was best to just lie there and take a rest.  

Here they are mugging for the camera.  As if on cue, they both turned to look at me.  How cute are they?

So it's not quite Peaceable Kingdom since there wasn't a lion nearby, but it's still remarkable to me.  I don't think I will ever witness this scene again, since Henry pretty much keeps to himself.  Perhaps Henry is mellowing out in his old age.  Who knows?

It was by pure chance that all three animals came together to pose for the camera and I'm only glad I was able to keep a steady hand while taking these pictures.  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Visiting Terrain

I had the good fortune of attending a wedding at Terrain on a beautiful sunny day a few weekends ago.  Having never been to the garden center and home goods store, I asked a few of my friends who had visited to tell me a little bit about the place.  They said to expect a lot of gardening tools, pots, urns, plants, flowers, greenhouses, a cafe and much, much more.  With this in mind I made sure I had a camera so that I could photograph Terrain’s many offerings for those of you who have never visited.

My main concern that day, however, was the family wedding, but with a few moments to spare before the occasion, I took a small tour of the adjacent center.  What struck me as I wound my way past a small gate was the number of tasteful and unique items for the home that were carefully arranged around the store, both inside and out.  I took in as much as I could in that twenty minute span.

Fresh Plants & Flowers

Garden Ornaments

Pots, Urns & Furniture

The outdoor areas of Terrain have staged patios, beautifully organized container flowers and greenhouses where one can pick out just the right plant, shrub, chair or other garden ornament.  The urns, tuteurs and pots of flowers alone are absolutely amazing.  That is just the beginning.    

When you step into the actual store, you are immediately taken in by the abundance of home goods.  You can see various pieces of fine furniture, farmhouse-style furniture, mirrors meant to mimic vintage pieces, sconces, frames and linens.  It feels as if one has walked into a barn.  I love the rectangular terrariums displayed on that farmhouse table, because they have copper edging which casts a warm glow under the lights.

While I was there they were having a tag sale!  I wasn't in the market to buy anything, but I did see several items that piqued my interest.

Against this window-paneled wall there are flags, garlands and other festive items.  I love the striped pillows on the garden chairs. These are perfect for that tranquil outdoor space of yours or even a small breakfast area near the kitchen.

Many of the glass terrariums available for purchase can be filled with beautiful succulents located beneath.  Everything you need to create that perfect arrangement is located here.

These linens really caught my eye.  It's always nice to come across 100% linen tablecloths in simple patterns.  To me, the simpler the pattern and the softer the color, the better.

Trays meant to be used underneath planters are located in this area.  Available in copper and galvanized aluminum, they come in many different shapes and sizes.  Those long window planters along the bottom left-hand corner are superb!

The copper trays are beautiful, but those darkened aluminum ones can easily take to some paint.  

A beekeeper's area with primers on beekeeping and various bee-themed items.  Those yellow boxes that you see in the middle contain a Philadelphia specialty: John & Kira's Chocolate Bees.  They are delicious!

Tablewares galore can be found toward the middle of the store.  What I love about this layout is that there is plenty of space to walk around and everything is arranged just so.  A multitude of small plants are scattered throughout the store.  This makes table arrangements quite easy if you're at a loss as to how to create a nice table setting.

I fell in love with those wire garden baskets and the wooden trugs on the shelf.  The wooden ones are quite expensive, so be prepared.

In this area we have American made glassware from Mosser, handwoven picking baskets and even some cookbooks.

If you feel like pampering yourself with spa-type products, visit the bath area.  Natural sea sponges, artisanal soaps, fragrances and even makeup for the ladies can be purchased at Terrain.  Who knew?

Here is more of that Mosser glassware.  Some of it is in jadeite!  How nice to find made in the U.S.A. jadeite that is of high quality and true to the vintage color.  I picked up and inspected those mixing bowls and I have to tell you that they are quite hefty, saturated with color and absolutely beautiful.

These faceted tumbles are also very pretty for summertime drinks or every day sips.  I'm tempted...

As I said, there are outdoor areas which have many garden furniture pieces, such as these teak tables and iron chairs.  The jardiniere chairs lacquered in that soft mint hue are very nice.  I think they were my favorite pieces from their outdoor collection.

A nice venue for 47 guests.

I thought I would share with you the menu from the wedding.  Although everything was delicious, I did have my favorites.  The Maryland blue crabcake sliders were so tender and tasty that I devoured 3 of them while sipping a glass of rosé wine.  The mushroom & dandelion green tartlets were also quite good.  The freshly baked bread in terra-cotta pots with whipped butter was heavenly to say the least.  I also loved the grilled asparagus salad with microgreens and the fresh pappardelle.  The grilled rainbow trout with smoked ratatouille, braised red kale and garden herb puree were cooked to perfection.  The carefully planned menu was befitting of this special occasion.  

✧ ✧ ✧ ✧

Making my way back to the wedding venue next door, I finally understood what everyone had been talking about regarding Terrain.  It is indeed a wonderful place.  With two locations, one at Glenn Mills in Pennsylvania and one in Westport, Connecticut, you really ought to visit if you are ever in either of these areas.  For those of you who plan on having a celebration for a crowd in the near future and need a location, visit Terrain and book a private event.  If you can't personally visit these stores, I do recommend going to their website.  Look for the tag sales that pop up!