Category Archives: Kitchen Tips

Roasted Peppers

Wheat-free * Dairy-free * Gluten-free * Vegetarian * Vegan * Parve * Paleo~~~

CIMG4300  flaxseed crackers with roasted peppers and scallion

There’s nothing like homemade roasted peppers for making tasty sauces, dips, for antipasto or toppings for bruschetta, in salads or on sandwiches.  The ones you buy in jars pale in comparison to homemade; and they are so easy to do.   Although you can roast green or purple peppers, it is more common to use red, orange or yellow pepper because they have a lovely sweetness once they are cooked.  You can roast peppers on a grill as well as under the broiler.

The first and very important step is to select fleshy peppers.  Unfortunately these are usually the ones that are the more expensive ones from Holland.  You’ll recognize them by the big green stem and they should be heavy when you pick one up.  The peppers that are not as fleshy don’t roast particularly well and I just skip it if I can’t find the fleshy ones.

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Preheat the broiler.  After you’ve rinsed your peppers, cut them in half through the stem

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Then remove the stem, seeds, and any white pith.

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Cut the halves in half to make quarters and place on a baking sheet lined generously with foil.

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Place under broiler and cook until charred.

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Turn and cook second side until charred.

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Immediately roll up the cooked pepper in the foil that was lining the pan.  This lets the peppers steam as they cool, making it easy to remove the skins.

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When the peppers have cooled, open the foil packet and peel the papery/blistered skin from the fleshy part of the peppers.

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Now you have peppers ready to eat or cook with.

My favorite thing to do them them is chop them up; add plenty of garlic, some fresh or dried herbs, and some extra virgin olive oil, a little salt to taste and you are good to go.

CIMG4320   flaxseed crackers with roasted peppers and scallion

Basic Asparagus Preparation and Hollandaise Sauce

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As Spring approaches (though it’s hard to tell when you’re still wearing your winter down coat) the vegetable that epitomizes Spring for me is asparagus.

I really like asparagus.  I like them even thinner than pencil thin.  My mom always preferred them really fat asparagus – she liked the meatiness.  The great thing about asparagus is that size does not matter (really, I’m not just saying that).  What is important in choosing asparagus is that they be firm, no limpness.

Look for asparagus with tips that are closed – and certainly avoid any that are starting to look wet and dark or slimy.

The bottoms of many asparagus can be tough which is why we snap them off.  Chose ones that are green all the way to the bottom as white on the bottom is definitely going to be tougher and you will be discarding more of the asparagus when you snap it – but that does not affect the flavor or mean the rest of the asparagus will be tough as well.

The proper way to prepare asparagus is to let the plant tell you where the tough part starts.  Do this by holding the asparagus with one hand on the bottom and the other in the middle or slightly towards the top.  Bend the asparagus until it snaps, leaving the bottom part to be discarded and the top to eat.

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My favorite way to prepare asparagus is to roast them.

Preheat your oven to 400F.  Line a baking pan with aluminum foil.  Now remember the Misto olive oil sprayer I recommended some months ago?  Now is the perfect time to use it.  Spray the pan with a light film of olive oil.  Add the asparagus and give a light spray.  Using the Misto prevents the asparagus from getting too greasy.  Bake 15 minutes or until softened (the timing will vary depending on how thick your asparagus are), turning once during baking – and that’s it.

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If you like, you can serve them with Hollandaise sauce.
Continue reading Basic Asparagus Preparation and Hollandaise Sauce

I Love My Misto – You Should Have One…or Two!

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The Duane-Reade a block away from my apartment closed recently and during the last few days had great sales on stuff they wanted to unload.  That is why I actually bought my Mistos.  They were on sales for $1.19 each.  Who could resist?  At worst I could give them as house gifts (thereby violating my rule about never giving gifts the receiver has to keep).  The deal was so great I bought FOUR!  So now you know a little more about my character…I can’t resist a good sale.

Fast forward a few weeks.  I’m busy in the kitchen and am about to reach for olive oil Pam when I remember I had this new gadget to try.  I take my “good” olive oil and fill the sprayer – I press the sprayer and…Nothing!  I’m a little perplexed, is this a total dud?  Did I waste my $4.76?  Now I’m forced to read the instructions (something I rarely do).  It says “pump top cap until firm.”   Huh???

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I put the cap on and start pushing  1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8..  I get it.  It doesn’t want to be pushed anymore.  Now I take off the cap and press the sprayer – WOW a really fine mist comes out (wish I had a better camera so you could see it better).

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It settles evenly on my baking sheet.  That was easy.

But the question remains was it really worth buying?  I did have Pam why bother with an extra gadget?  Here are the really BIG reasons.

1.  It doesn’t use any chemicals.  I really dislike the smell of aerosoled oil and it always makes me wonder what bad stuff gets in the food (maybe none or maybe – who knows).

2.  You are in control of the quality and type of oil (or vinegar or whatever you want to spray).  I don’t imagine that the corporations that makes aerosol sprays use extra virgin olive oil… I would guess they use olive oil from the second or third pressings.

3.  It’s eco-friendly.

Here are some of the uses I’ve found for it (and I’m sure I will find more uses as I have it longer).

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Perfect for a light salad dressing – and here is where two Mistos are genius…one for oil and one for vinegar.  4 sprays oil; 8 sprays wine vinegar – excellent!

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Perfect for broiling or roasting potatoes or vegetables…spray the pan or foil, spray the veges.

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Perfect to spray the Griddler (post 2 weeks ago) or waffle iron to ensure nothing sticks

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Perfect for low fat sauteeing.

You can buy the Misto probably anywhere and certainly on Amazon.  I think it’s around $10 and it now comes in very sexy colors.  You can check it out at www.misto.com

Happy Spraying!

 

House Gifts – the good, the bad, and the ugly

I had an all day brunch yesterday, a yearly tradition, and some of my 30 guests felt the need to bring a gift.  I enjoy receiving gifts as much as the next guy but I do have very definite ideas of what constitutes a good house gift and what’s a not so good one.  As you can see, not too many people brought gifts – and that’s perfectly okay.  Of the gifts I received some qualify as good – or even great – and some not so much.

Let’s start with the great gifts…Oh, they’re not in the photo…most great house gifts are the ones that get used up before the guests leave.  One person brought a salami – I think it had wine and garlic – but whatever type it was, it was delicious and there was none left (which is too bad as I might have had some for breakfast).  Another gift that earned top honors this year was a bottle of grog (spiced wine) that we heated and served and was really delicious (I had to go into the garbage room to retrieve the bottle so I could photograph it for you) – the Persecco also ranks high but I just didn’t get around to serving it.

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Presents for the pets (or kids) are always appreciated.

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Chocolate is also a good choice.  This box of chocolate sticks was really yummy – though I think I was the “guest” who ate most of them.  The bear is nice for children.

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Cookies.  Again no photo ’cause they are all gone.  Cookies are always a good gift because you can serve them right away, if you want.  But if you’re bringing cookies make sure they’re really good ones (and that depends on taste, in some instances packaged cookies are fine). One guest brought a dozen French macarons – those multicolor sandwich cookies.  In this instance some of them were delicious and I confess, since they arrived late and there were few guests left to eat them, my last guest and I bit into each cookie – some we ate and some we threw out (sorry D.).

The towels, pot holder and candles are neutral house gifts because they have a limited lifespan.  They’re okay if you like the ones that were brought, but mostly they find themselves in the “pass along” cabinet.

Large gifts and gifts you are expected to keep over a long period of time or worse – forever – are terrible gifts unless you know positively it’s what the hostess wants/needs.  The basket was a fine gift because my friend, who is getting rid of a lot of stuff, called and asked me if I want it before she brought it.  Gifts like vases or chatckis (brik-a-brack) that the hostess is expected to display are awful gifts.

and then there is my personal least favorite house gift – flowers.  Now don’t get me wrong – I love flowers.  I always buy and arrange my flowers long before my guests arrive – I would never think of waiting for the guests to bring them to me.

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Handing me a bunch of flowers when you arrive means I have to find a vase, deal with the paper around the flowers, cut the stems, and arrange the flowers all while I am still cooking and greeting guests.  If you really want to give the hostess flowers, send them early in the day or bring already in a vase so the hostess doesn’t have to deal with them when you arrive.  Or you can send them the next day as a thank you.

so here is Carol’s Rule for House Gifts:  Food and Beverages are good; Anything that gets used up is good; Anything permanent is undesirable; Flowers are only good if I don’t have to do anything to them during the party.  And as for the Ugly…Don’t Bring Ugly Gifts EVER!

Happy New Year

 

Ruffoni – the Best Gift Ever

 Okay, perhaps there are better gifts than Ruffoni pots (especially if you don’t like to cook) … a Rolls Royce, a boat, an apartment (or house), a trip around the world…you get the idea.  But the best gift I ever received was my Ruffoni pot.

 For my 65th birthday (yes, I’m that old!) my friends Lorraine and Pete gave me the Ruffoni braiser.  I was so excited I could barely contain myself.  It’s so beautiful that the photo does not do it justice.  But after a week of using it as a centerpiece on my dining room table I realized that practically speaking it’s really a waste to use such a quality pot as an ornament when it should be in the kitchen being used.
So, I traded in my beloved braiser for the much more practical 3 1/2 quart pot

 

Let me tell you – this pot cooks like a dream!  It cooks evenly and cleans up with just a simple soak and once over with a soapy sponge.
Though I am madly in love with my pot – it would be unfair to not mention the drawbacks.  The beautiful top is a little awkward to lift, although Ruffoni does offer a more traditional one to replace it with
And – did I mention the price?
The set goes for close to $1,300; the braiser is close to $500; and my 3 1/3 quart pot is around $350.
So when I’m talking gift, I mean BIG gift.  Certainly amazing for a holiday gift, but also, keep it in mind for those special occasions that warrant BIG gifts – like weddings.  Anyone who receives a Ruffoni, in addition to being thrilled, will think of you every time they use it – and thank you over and over.
In addition to the hammered stainless steel Ruffoni makes another less ornate line and lots of copper pots.  You can check them out in person at Williams Sonoma.
BTW I still use my Ruffoni as an ornament, but it sits proudly on one of my burners so I have it on hand whenever I want to cook something.
And, perhaps you might want to put one on your gift list to yourself…after all – you’re worth it!
Happy Holiday Shopping!

I Love My Immersion Blender – do you have one yet?

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If you know me well, you know that when I LOVE something, just one is never enough.  So here are my two immersion blenders; the white one (Braun) is very ancient (in small electronics years) and the stainless steel (Cuisinart) one is less old, but not too new.  But why fall in love with an immersion blender in the first place?  The biggest reasons in my book are:  it saves time, it’s small so doesn’t need much storage space, it performs the function of more than one appliance – and it’s not too expensive (although if you want to go top of the line I’ve seen them for as much as $300).

But let me take a step back.  If you don’t own one the first question is:  what does it do?  The wand (motor + blade) purees.  It does the same job as a blender or food processor.  You can buy an immersion blender that does only that – however, you can also buy one that comes with attachments (like mine).  The mini-processor – in addition to pureeing it chops.  I was so happy to have it when I was cooking for Thanksgiving and needed tons of minced garlic.  I just peeled the cloves from two heads of garlic; put them in the mini-processor and in seconds they were minced for me.  It’s also great for chopping nuts and vegetables if you don’t need more than a cup or two.  The whisk does just that – but it’s much more effective than a fork if you are scrambling eggs and its easier to grab and clean than an electric mixer when you want to beat cream or egg whites until stiff.

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Let’s go back to my reasons for falling in love.  It Saves Time.  It’s so much quicker to puree a pot full of sauce or soup by plunging in your immersion blender, than to transfer the soup to your food processor or blender and then have to puree it in batches.  What about the cleanup?  All you have to do is wash the blade.  No extra dirty dishes like a blender container or the bowl, lid, and blade of the processor.

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It’s Small.  I store it in a convenient drawer with my pots so it’s easy to grab and doesn’t take any counter space.  You gotta love an appliance that doesn’t take up counter space.

It Performs the Function of More Than One Appliance. Okay, not exactly true.  It certainly does puree, but if you want to chop big batches of things you’ll still want a food processor especially if it shreds and slices; and the whisk is only for small jobs like beating eggs, making pancake batter, whipping cream.  You will still need a mixer for making cookies or other big jobs.

It’s Not Too Expensive.  I’ve seen the wand for as little as $13.00 though most are around $30.00.  The wand plus attachments can be had for as little as $30.00 though the majority are $45 to $99.

As the holidays approach you may want to think about giving an immersion blender to someone on your gift list who loves to cook.

And here’s a really cool thing I just figured out to do with my wand:  Fruit Shake in a Glass
Continue reading I Love My Immersion Blender – do you have one yet?

Thanksgiving Guests with Allergies

I had the honor of writing a guest post on my friend Carol’s blog:  Buttercup Counts Her Blessings (which is being posted today and you might want to check out).  So welcome to anyone who has read that post and is now visiting my blog.

As you can imagine from the title of my blog, I am gluten-free and dairy-free.  In fact, I’m Paleo which means no grains at all (not even gluten-free products), no dairy, no beans, no white sugar, and ideally no processed foods.   This makes me a nightmare of a guest, especially when you add in the fact that I’m known as a great cook and am an award-winning cookbook author.  Only my closest friends and family are comfortable inviting me to their tables.

I clearly sympathize with anyone who has to cook for someone like me.  Generally it takes at least 4 phone calls or emails checking to see

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if there are any ingredients I can’t eat in the recipes they are planning.

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Or worse for me, is when hosts don’t do any special cooking leaving me to try to find something they are serving that I can eat.  To be fair, I usually tell hosts not to worry about me because I can always find something to eat – so I create my own dilemma.  So what’s a person to do?

As a Host:

1.  Ask guests if they have any food allergies or restrictions.  It’s also important to know the extent of the problem.  A guest with celiac disease needs more than just gluten-free food, the gluten-free food must be cooked in a gluten-free environment to avoid cross-contamination.  That means you can’t reuse the knife or cutting board you just sliced bread on to the chop vegetables for a gluten-free dish.   Everything must be freshly washed and dried with a clean towel (there might be a gluten crumb lurking in a used towel) .  I usually line my counters with foil and do all my gluten-free cooking before I start my non-gluten free dishes.

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Other guests with sensitivities may just need to avoid certain foods but do not need special preparations.  If your guest is a vegetarian or vegan, plan for one of the side dishes to be substantial enough to be an entree for the vegetarian or vegan – like the Fruited Quinoa Salad with Fresh Ginger Dressing with added beans or chickpeas for extra protein.

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Fruited Quinoa Salad

2.  Ask the guest to bring a dish for the whole group, thereby ensuring they have something to eat.

Brown Rice with Interesting Mushrooms
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Millet Tabouli
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Indonesian Eggplant
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Fantastic Cornbread

 

Best Ever Chocolate Torte
Best Ever Chocolate Torte

 

3.  Read labels carefully.  Did you know there is wheat (a product with gluten) in soy sauce?  Allergens can be found in the most unexpected places.

Hellman’s Mayonnaise, for example.

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When you read the ingredients it’s clearly stated that it is a gluten-free product.  But it will be a problem for guests with soy or egg allergies.

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If you see the word “parve” on a label that means the product is dairy-free.  Not all dairy-free products have that word in which case you still have to read the ingredients.

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Even after reading the labels you may want to…

4.  Ask.  Call your guest – they will know or you can google the product in question.  There are also sites/blogs that will list foods that are allergen free

DAIRY ALLERGY SAFE FOODS LIST – jennifermendelsohn

http://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/gluten-food-list

http://foodallergies.about.com/od/soyallergies/a/List-Of-Soy-Ingredients-To-Avoid-When-Following-A-Soy-Free-Diet.htm 

http://foodallergies.about.com/od/eggallergies/

http://www.webmd.com/allergies/guide/nut-allergy

Though this all sounds complicated, it’s not as hard as it seems; it’s an act of love for someone you care about.

For Guests:

If you have a food allergy you have probably been coping with this for many years and know the routine.  Your best bets are:  bring a dish for everyone, bring your own food, or eat before you go to the event.

It’s not just about the food.  Enjoy the company and the event – you can always snack when you get home. 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU AND YOURS!

 

 

 

Homemade Coconut Milk

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Why make your own coconut milk when it’s so easy to buy  canned or in boxes?  I have several reasons…first of which is I’m trying to avoid cans.  I guess if you read enough stuff on the internet you can find that anything you use is harmful to your health, but I’ve decided to buy into the “bad stuff from cans leach into the food” theory.  The coconut milk in boxes have ingredients other than coconut and water; like gums and most importantly carrageenan – I have no idea what that is, but I’ve read it’s not good for you.

Now I understand that the idea of making coconut milk at home may be daunting.  All you need is the shredded unsweetened coconut,

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water, a blender, a strainer, a spoon or soft spatula, and a container to store the coconut milk.  The fact is, it takes less than 10 minutes to make; you know what’s in it; and it’s much less expensive than canned or boxed.  To me this is a no brainer.  I do admit the down side is that you have to wash the blender and strainer and measuring cup and spoon/spatula – buy hey, I have a dishwasher – so it’s not soooo difficult and the fringe benefit is:  I make coconut flour out of the used coconut – but that’s for another post.

What about the flavor?  Although it’s coconutty (duh), it’s less intense than the canned kind, but more flavorful than the boxed ones.  If you want more intense coconut flavor from homemade, double the amount of coconut in this recipe.

Where do I get my coconut?  This is very important…I do NOT use the shredded coconut you find in the supermarket because that stuff is sweetened.  You have to use unsweetened shredded (or flaked) dried coconut.  You can find it in health food stores or ethnic markets that sell Indian or Asian ingredients…or online, of course.  Speaking of not using sweetened coconut, if you are buying canned coconut milk be sure you’re not buying the sweetened one which is like sweetened condensed milk.

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The Asian brands are generally unsweetened as is the Goya pictured at the top of the post.  Just check the label the only ingredients should be coconut and water.

When you’ve made the coconut milk you will see that it separates after it stands for a bit  with the cream rising to the top (just like real milk).

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You can remove the cream with a spoon and that will leave you with “light” coconut milk.  The cream can be whipped to make a non-dairy topping (also for a future post).  I used the full fat coconut milk in the recipe I posted last week for the Butternut Apple Soup and I will be using it in my Pumkin Pie Tartlets coming in the next week or two.

I feel like a real pioneer when I make my own ingredients from scratch.  Try it, it’s fun.
Continue reading Homemade Coconut Milk

Choosing The Juiciest Lemons

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When a recipe calls for 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, how do you know how many lemons to buy? The answer to that question is:  it depends.  It depends on how ripe it is and how large it is.  It’s amazing the different amount of juice lemons can produce.  One juicy  lemon can give you as much as 1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) but more often 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of juice.  An unripe lemon (even a jumbo one) can give you as little as 1 tablespoon (thus you would need four lemons to get 1/4 cup of juice).

Then there’s the flip side of the question.  How much lemon juice does a recipe call for when it says “Juice of one lemon”?  To be a little dogmatic, to me that would indicate a poorly written recipe, but that aside, I would go for 2 tablespoons of lemon juice assuming an average lemon.

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Wouldn’t it be great if you could select a juicy lemon just by looking at it?  Well you can (or at least I can).  Look at the five lemons above.  Which one do you think is the juiciest?  the darkest yellow?  the lightest yellow?  the biggest one?

Actually none of those factors are the first thing I look for.  It’s the texture of the skin.  Lemons with smooth skins are fresher (less pits and a fresher flavor) than lemons with pitted skin.  Usually they are also lighter in color.

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Although texture of skin is the visual cue, you must also give the lemon the squeeze test.  If it is hard as a rock and has no give; it will not be juicy; and the pith (white part) will be very thick no matter how light or smooth the lemon is on the outside.

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The darker, more pitted lemon in the front of the picture above will also have more seeds than the lighter one (usually the light lemons have no pits at all).

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The last fact to consider is that the really old lemons, ones that are dark yellow with deeply pitted skins, can still be juicy but may have a bitter after taste.

So, when life deals you lemons – make lemonade – but choose the best lemons to make it with!
Continue reading Choosing The Juiciest Lemons

Have You Tried This Measuring Cup Yet?

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As a cookbook author I am a stickler for accurate measuring devices…and for using the right measuring cup for the designed ingredients.  You might wonder why you need special measuring cups for liquids; can’t you just use the metal scoop-like ones you use for flour and sugar?  The answer is that the liquid and dry measuring cups do hold the same amount, but if you are measuring liquids in a dry measuring cup you must fill it to the tippy top and the problem is  you will most likely spill some of the liquid on the way to the bowl or pot – making them less accurate than using the liquid measuring cups which are deep enough to prevent spillage and have a spout to make the pouring easier.

Ever since I could remember liquid measuring cups looked like this:

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You fill the cup to the proper line, but here’s the trick – you have to look at the cup at eye level or you won’t get the measurement right.  The angled measuring cup allows you to pour in the liquid and look down to see the proper measurement.  Much easier than the old fashioned kind, they’re also lighter as they’re made of plastic and most of the traditional ones are made of glass.  Both types are dishwasher safe.

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The 1 cup angled measuring cup costs about $7.00; 2 cup about $9.00;  4 cup $10.00, and 8 cup $18.00.  It also comes in sets of 3 sizes 1, 2 and 4 cups for about $20.00

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Though I have both types of measuring cups in my cabinet, I find myself reaching for the angled measuring cup much more often than the traditional one.

I think you’ll really like it.