Bouchard Chocolates 72% Cacao Fine Belgian Dark Chocolate

We are unabashed chocolate junkies in this house, and we usually don’t discriminate, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t discerning. There’s some really, really good craft chocolates out there, and some really, really bad stuff you can find at the supermarket checkout lane that shouldn’t (and sometimes even can’t) legally be called chocolate. But, in swoops Bouchard Chocolate to show you what’s good about good chocolate. And, sadly, what’s bad about a company looking to increase their presence in the U.S. but shot itself in the foot.

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To start, it’s a good chocolate, despite arriving during a now-customary California Fall heatwave. We’re talking 100+ temps in late September. I feared the worst, but most of the Napolitains arrived intact. More than a few were melted and toast, but I’ll use those for baking. The bag I received was simple cellophane, understated and all about the product within. It’s a dark chocolate (72% cacao content), but I can’t find a list of ingredients, nor did I get anything listing them, nor does the website list them…you kind of get where I’m going here. So, tastewise it’s pretty good. It’s comparable, favorably, to Green & Blacks, which is a pricey but good chocolate you can find almost anywhere. It’s smooth, not gritty, melts in your mouth without any lingering sugars after, and slightly bitter to the tongue, but in the way a good chocolate should be. The small morsels in the packet I got were good for a light snack when you’re needing that chocolate fix, but don’t want to gorge (yes, it’s happened here. Too often!).

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And that’s it for the good. The bad is that this company is doing a positively lousy job of getting to market. The company name and product has been around in some form or fashion since 1931. It’s roots trace back to the fine chocolatiers  in Ghent, Belgium with an award winning recipe for fine chocolate. But good luck finding a decent web presence, or price point, or e-commerce site for them. I couldn’t, and none was supplied for me to promote with. No ingredient list, no “Where to Buy”, just a lot of pretty pictures and florid prose, but no substance. In this country, we call that “All sizzle and no steak”. It’s a fine product, probably top 5 of all the chocolates I’ve had recently. And while they told me to mention that their product can be found in Costco Warehouses around the country, near weekly visits by Hubby has yet to locate any in the wild. Nothing on Amazon, Costco.com, no way to buy or even price. I can’t even tell you if it’s a value. And that’s a real shame. Since the company was acquired by Halloren Chocolate Group in 2014, they wanted to quickly get the name out there. That’s only a good strategy if you make your product readily available, and as of this writing, they have not. I’d love to recommend the chocolate, because it tastes divine. But I don’t know where to point you other than “Supposedly Costco”, and I can’t tell you how much it costs, what other types of products they have, what they’re made with… Ugh, so frustrating to see a good product doomed by terrible (or non-existent) marketing.

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Connect with Bouchard Chocolate:

I received the above product(s) free of charge from Bouchard Chocolate. I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion. I received no other compensation in exchange for my review. My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

MomsMeet: Organic Nutiva Hazelnut Spreads and Buttery Coconut Oil #Review #Nutiva

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Hazelnut spreads are my weakness and when I saw that Nutiva actually makes both a classic chocolate blend and a dark chocolate……I knew what I would be baking up storm with this season (and the next). Nutiva, took the (my) hazelnut spread addiction a step further, by providing us with an organic option. This is a game changer as finding just natural products is difficult with these spreads and most contain artificial ingredients to even nasty ones that take the enjoyment of indulging away. This is why I stopped eating what I enjoyed so much as a kid. Hazelnuts are my favorite and you combine chocolate with them, well it’s a perfect marriage. I always wished they made a dark chocolate variety but in the end, I just kept wishing they added less sugar and sweet syrups to the spreads! My hazelnut spread was slowly lost as time went by and when the company was sold to another food company, I lost any hazelnut or even chocolate flavors that remained. I started just calling it the brown spread. Sort of sounded gross but it summed up how I felt about what I had lost.

 

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Nutiva comes in and saves the day…..heck, my childhood memories. My mind is running with ideas from truffles to cakes made with their spread. I was worried that I was building up the idea and would open up the jar to just find sadness. Nutiva was very generous with the kit they sent and I received:

 

Verdict:

 

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When it comes time to purchase coconut oils, I always resort to Nutiva as my go-to brand. The brand has never failed me when it comes to quality ingredients and they are constantly innovating the brand with the new products they added. Everything is always a must buy after I have tried it once. You can’t say that about many brands out there. Nutiva’s selection may not be as grand as others but knowing that what you are buying is not only made with premium and clean ingredients, you also know that it will taste good. I am all about eating well and organic when possible, but the taste and texture has to be there for me. I don’t like the idea of “eating good” but not being happy about what I am eating in the first place. Nutiva has made me a fan of coconut oil to now being able to add their Organic Buttery one to the mix. I was already at times mixing unsalted butter with my coconut oil in the first place but now I won’t have to. The best part, you taste butter but it’s not there. Nutiva managed to use sunflower to create this genius concoction. I assumed the butter was there when I cooked and ate a pasta dish I made but while eating, I started reading the bottle and noticed this is a “butter alternative”, not actual dairy. It’s even Vegan friendly! Pure genius and I will definitely be purchasing this mix again.

 

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Next comes the Hazelnut spreads. Um, they are back and can I even admit to being better than before? I taste hazelnut again. That was gone after my third jar of trying and I bought the third bottle from another brand by telling myself maybe the other 2 jars were bad batches. You know, made on a Friday at the factory and everyone wanted to leave early kind of batch. Cocoa is the second ingredient followed by Palm and then the nut! No skimping here and I feel the spread is smoother not only in taste but texture. No grainy or oily feel when consumed. The quality of the chocolate is present and no rancid weird taste of what I call “fillers” when not only hazelnuts are used. There is a reason the hazelnut and chocolate combination has been a hit for generations. It works and Nutiva did not mess with that. I finally can have my spread and they listened to me even though I never said anything directly to them, but like some magic Nutiva lowered the sugar. Yup, by 40% less than the leading brand. This is why the power of the chocolate and hazelnut is what you get at every bite……finally, less freaking sugar. I am not anti-sugar but like salt, just a touch so you can still taste the actual ingredients you want. There is also many advantages buying Nutiva’s spread where you get Omega-3 (450 mg), Fair Trade Palm oil, to Organic and a Gluten Free product. Anyone can eat this because the goal was to make the best hazelnut spread with the best ingredients and this is why (and others) agree that so far Nutiva has beat the competition by a huge margin!

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I received the above product(s) free of charge from Nutiva and MomsMeet. I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion. I received no other compensation in exchange for my review. My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

 

UpNature: Raw and Organic 100% Natural Honey #Review #UpNatureHoney

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Honey is one of nature’s most simplest products and the applications are endless. Now buying honey was very simple before. You usually picked a jar or a bear shaped bottle and you had honey ready to go. Then the industry decided to get funny but not in a very laughable kind of sense. We had companies add fillers and sell honeys from around the world that were high in price but not quality. You were paying pretty much for sugars and not even the good kind. Some even add enhancements and flavoring, which are not even naturally occurring. So finding a brand you can trust and sells true and honest honey can be a bit of a hunt but so worth it. You will even find if you use the real stuff, like with vanilla extracts, you end up needing less because of the purity.

 

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UpNature makes Raw and Organic Honey with zero surprises or fillers. You get the real stuff with zero processing. The good stuff is kept in and no bad stuff added! Simplicity and honesty at it’s finest. UpNature is USDA Organic Certified, Free of GMOs, and even Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certified. Free from being heated and literally jarred in the same form it was gathered.

Price Point: $17.99 via Amazon or $19.99 via UpNature’s Website for a 400 gram jar

 

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Verdict:

The first thing I noticed was that the honey in the jar was not clear like many in the stores that have been processed via heat so other fillers can be added and combined. You have a semi-opaque liquid that tends to run slower than other honeys of like kind. It’s almost the texture of a maple syrup of high grade when you move it in the jar. The color is a brilliant amber! Just beautiful and UpNature gave the bottle a beautiful beehive design on the golden colored lid, so the little details were very much appreciated. The taste test is just amazing. There is thickness to the honey but it’s a creamy texture and very smooth. I tried it on bread first to see how it tasted and I had to stop myself. I had no idea I liked honey so much until I tried UpNature’s honey. The product is from the Ukraine and the bottle states the honey is cultivated from fields that are rich in minerals, so the bees create a honey that is really made from wildflowers. I tried it with tea the second time and just a 1/4 of a teaspoon was more than satisfying and enhanced the flavor of the tea, which was orange/citrus in taste. This honey just brightened that little tea cup and changed the flavor profile completely. I love using less because this means this jar shall last! I have a recipe for blonde brownies where honey is used as a sweetener and I will be using this one because it will definitely create a better texture (moist) to the brownies.

 

I received the above product(s) free of charge from UPNature. I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion. I received no other compensation in exchange for my review. My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

Coomber Family Ranch Wines: 2013 Skater Girl Limited Edition Pinot Noir Wine – 750ml #Review #SkaterGirlWine

 

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Being in California, we get that perfect weather that yields beautiful grape crops.  You name it, it can be grown here because the weather is not too wet, where the grapes get a fungus and hot enough, to stress the plant just a enough to get the best flavor.  Not all wines are equal and I learned that very early on and that myth that a so-so wine can be saved by cooking with it……well I debunked that when I used a wine that was barely drinkable to make a pasta sauce.  So, definitely buying well is now something I take into consideration over the price tag.

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Buying blindly is hard.  You can’t always taste the wine unless you visit a winery and you can’t even smell it and most times even see it (unless it’s a white or rose variety).  Region matters but when it comes down to everything that is made, pride matters.  Caring about what you produce and sell.

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Verdict:
When Coomber Wines offered for review the Skater Girl limited edition Pinot Noir, I must admit it, I read a little about the wine because it was an instant love for the pup in the picture.  I love companies that have a sense of humor and take a different approach because it can get boring with wines.  Yes, many companies make super fancy bottles but I want the wine and like perfumes, the fancier the bottle, the more you are paying towards it.  The Skater Girl Pinot Noir is made in California and the notes are sweet and fruity.  Very welcoming with any meal and especially a nice stuffed chicken breast to a roast, but I found it best with lamb.  The pomegranate glaze is something I already make that gets a nice kick from the acid in the balsamic vinegar I add.  I enjoyed the Skater Girl Pinot Noir so much, that next time I am making my glaze (really a reduction sauce) from this wine exclusively.  I will just need to add the savory notes and done.  It’s perfect and what’s best, it does not break the bank and that makes me smile twice.

Retail Price Point: $29.99 per bottle via Amazon

Connect with Coomber Family Ranch at:

I received the above product(s) free of charge from Coomber Ranch Famuly Wines/ Skater Girl Wine Collection. I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion. I received no other compensation in exchange for my review. My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

MYS Salt and Pepper Grinder Set

It might seem superfluous to have more than one set of grinders on your counter, but in this house, even two sets falls a little short. Because for us, we have 3 different salts and 4 different peppers to grind depending on the meal, so it can get a little crowded on the counter at times. What that also means is I get to compare and contrast MYS’s Grinder set versus, say, the previous set from Q’s Inn. They look alike, but do they perform alike?

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Sadly, no. Not that the MYS set performs badly, it’s just not as butter-smooth as the Q’s Inn set. There’s some binding in the grinding action, as well as a squeal or two. Occasionally they stick a bit. Other than that they function identically. What was absolutely superb was the collapsible silicone pouring spout for refilling. That’s a bonus that has unexpectedly made filling my grinders a joy instead of a chore. The julienne peeler is neat, but I have a few of those, and none of the are as dangerous. This one as sharp blades that are right out there for my soft, pink digits to get sliced and diced on, so have a safe place to store it. The included cleaning brush is also an inspired inclusion that is one of those “Well, duh!” tools that I should have had much sooner. But the meat and potatoes of this set are the grinders, and they’re decent, not great.

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The stainless steel is also slightly thinner, and not as “polished” so I would be wary of putting in salts that have high moisture content. The ceramic burrs are adjustable and should last a while. The glass bases are easy to clean, grip and use. And the included goodies are mostly awesome, but the action on the grinders, which means the most important part of the set, is lacking and problematic on my set, so I have to knock a couple of stars off for that, but I’ll add one back because the silicone funnel for filling? Inspired. And MYS states on the Amazon listing: “100% MONEY BACK GUARANTEE; we aim to keep you perfectly happy with our products and want to know if there are any concerns or questions; please contact us as we will make it right!” So it’s up to you, but for my money, Q’s Inn gets my business instead.

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I received the above product(s) free of charge from MYS Homeware. I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion. I received no other compensation in exchange for my review. My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

 

Top Mates Aussie Finishing Sauces

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We do a fair amount of grilling around here, especially since the weather tends to lend it self to extended outdoor times. And while our usual standby’s are always top-notch, one never wants to end up in a rut. When I got a chance to try Top Mates’ Aussie Finishing Sauces, I said you betcha!

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A finishing sauce is a thing that can make a mediocre cut of meat into a masterpiece. Different from a marinade or grilling sauce, it’s best to use them right at the end of cooking to not burn them, and be a “top-note” flavor that compliments the dish as opposed to really permeating it. The good ones are like magic, and Top Mates makes some of the best I’ve ever tried. We got to try our choice of two flavors, and I chose Caramelized Garlic and Onion and Shiraz. And the are both 100% awesome. The Caramelized Garlic flavor right away knocks down your expectations by being at once herby, tangy, and rich. Want simple, easy-to-pronounce ingredients? How about this: Sugar, Garlic, Lemon Juice, Onion, Water, Olive Oil, Sundried Tomatoes, Canola Oil, Lemon Peel, Pectin, Spices, Salt, Citric Acid.That’s it. No science experiments, just real stuff, real food, real good. We used it to top a freshly grilled tri-tip roast, by brushing it on the top and closing the lid for about 5 minutes on a Weber Kettle. After that, we let it rest for another 7 minutes and sliced to serve with a little more sauce on top, and the compliments we got we stellar. The Onion and Shiraz  (Ingredient list: Red Onion, Sugar, Onion, Shiraz Wine, Red Wine Vinegar, Olive Oil, Port Wine, Pectin, Green Peppercorns, Mushrooms, Balsamic Vinegar, Salt, Spices. So simple!!) went on top of a grilled leg of lamb in place of our usual pomegranate reduction. With just the right amount of sweet with a rich, bold onion finish, this made our usual lamb a mouth-watering masterpiece. I can’t wait to mix it up and try these sauces on other foods. I’ve been told they pair well with cheeses on an appetizer platter, but so far, as a finishing sauce, we haven’t messed with perfection. I want to try every flavor!

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Made from top-quality ingredients and easily paired with a variety of dishes, a little of these sauces go a very long way, because they are just packed chock-a-block full of flavor! Available directly from Top Mates shipped for free or even on Amazon (Free shipping for a limited time!), and only $11.99 per 10.2 ounce jar, I can see myself picking up the entire line and taking all our usual dishes from familiar to “Yowza!”. Top Mates even has a special running where you can mix and match two jars of their amazing finishing sauces, shipped to your door, for only $19.99. There’s literally no excuse to not give them a try. And Top Mates believes in their product so much, they offer a 30-day 100% satisfaction guarantee. Not to worry, I’m satisfied!

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I received the above product(s) free of charge from Top Mates. I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion. My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

House Autry Mills Seafood Breader, 8 oz. Box

Here in this house, though we’ve never lived anywhere but the West Coast, we’re somewhat southern at heart, especially in the kitchen. Catfish? Check. Spicy Fried Chicken? Check. Po’ Boy Sandwiches? Check. Gumbo? Check. Etouffee? Check. The list goes on and on. And when I got the opportunity to give House Autry Mills’ Seafood Breader, I was ecstatic. I’m always on the lookout for a good, light batter for fried fish and shrimp, especially since that’s about the only way Hubby eats fish. I’m glad I got to try it, too.

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Too often, when something is sold as a breading, it’s just that, with bread crumbs or panko breading, and that’s so very different from a batter. It’s not light, airy, or truly crispy, just kinda crunchy and that’s just not the same thing. This House Autry Mills breading was just what I was looking for, and tasted like a million bucks. Lightly seasoned and crispy, it was dynamite on tilapia, pollock, shrimp, and made absolutely to-die-for onion rings. It’s just as economical for us as mixing our own batter here at home from scratch, and because it’s just the Hubby and I, one box went a loooong way. Want to mix it up? Add some buttermilk for extra southern tang, or mix in a little cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (Or both!!) to spice it proper! Dip some potato wedges. Any way we used it, we loved this batter. Right out of the box the instructions are simple, and easy, and your right down to business in about 5 minutes. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

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My markets sadly don’t carry this brand, but thankfully, you can find it on Amazon shipped to your door for a very reasonable price. The ingredients are simple, with 95% of the ingredients being things you probably have in your kitchen or pantry already. I so love when ingredient labels don’t read like some mad scientist’s experiment. And House Autry Mills has been around since 1812, so they probably know a thing or two about making a good product. I’m hoping to trying their entire line and seeing what other gems House Autry Mills has in store for me!

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I received the above product(s) free of charge from Creative Energy Group and House Autry Mills.  I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion.  My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

X-Chef 100% Silicone Basting Brushes, 4-Pack

There are some kitchen tools you can never have enough of. Spatulas. Spoons. Bowls. And basting brushes. When I got offered the opportunity to test out a four pack of 100% food-grade silicone basting brushes from X-Chef, you better believe I said yes with a quickness! And am I ever so glad I did.

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You see, despite the advertisements to the contrary, silicone does hold scents and can transfer them between dishes. And up until recently, I’d been keeping my one smaller silicone brush especially for sweet and neutral dishes, or for egg washes, and a separate one for my savory dishes in a separate drawer so they never got confused. Now, thanks to X-Chef, my brushes can all go in the same drawer because they came in four bright colors to easily tell one from another. The clear lucite handles means I can even label them with a Sharpie if I so desire. The handles are long and sturdy, and the heads can slip right off for easy washing. And being that the silicone brushes are dishwasher safe, I can just toss them right in after use. They’re also temperature safe for foods up to 500°, so basting right out the over or right off the grill is no problem. What I especially liked was that the silicone on these brushes was softer than my other brushes, which means I no longer had to brush very slowly or just dab, because the silicone bristles won’t whip or fling marinades or sauces all over the counter, stovetop or oven door.

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As if all that wasn’t enough, X-Chef guarantees their silicone brushes with a 1-year, “No-Hassle” money back guarantee. It’s not just convenient, it’s essential to have multiples of some tools in your kitchen. A silicone basting brush in and of itself is very essential, but having a few on hand at all times will make a day’s worth of cooking and baking a little less of a mess and hassle. At $8.99 shipped from Amazon, I don’t see any reason for your kitchen to be without them!

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I received the above product(s) free of charge from X-Chef.  I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion.  My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

 

Ozeri Deluxe Stainless Steel Frother with 4 Attachments

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I have been disappointed time and time again by frothers, because they’re made so shoddily and don’t last. I’ve bought several, from big national brands to smaller, lesser-known brands and to a one, they’ve all failed. I think, finally, I’ve found a frother that will be with me for the long haul. And I have Ozeri to thank.

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Most frothers seem to made to be uni-taskers, as well as disposable. Use it to froth milk and then put it away, hoping it works the next time you need it. Ozeri, however, made their Deluxe Stainless Steel Frother to be used all over the kitchen , for multiple jobs, and to last and look good doing it. The frother comes with 3 different attachments, and a spare frothing head. The beater and whisk heads seem dainty, but the whisk held up to a couple of eggs in a cup for an egg wash, and the beater did just fine for a small amount of ganache for a cake. Ozeri refers to it as a “cocktail mixer”, but I’ve retasked it in this house since we don’t drink cocktails. It was dynamite, however, for a vinaigrette for my salad. Yay. Powered by two AA batteries, it has two settings (low and high, up to 15,000 RPM’s!!) to meet the needs of whatever task you throw at it. And the stainless steel body is a cinch to clean and feels solid in your hands. The top mounted clicker to turn it off and on is easy to use and reach as well. It comes with a matching stainless steel stand, but it’s a little finicky about placement and because there’s heft to the frother can become unbalanced easily, so I don’t always use it. But that’s a minor quibble about what I consider a bulletproof product. After a soild 2 weeks of use, this frother has had nary a hiccup and I foresee it becoming a long standing member of our little family. Ozeri even included the batteries this time (How I love that!) so you’re good to go right out of the box.

Frothers come and frothers go, and anyone who’s had one can attest to that. Nothing’s more frustrating than a product you come to depend on and it fails you. Ozeri understands this and makes their products top-notch and made to last. But I know that Ozeri would stand behind their products 100% if for some reason it failed you, and for that, as well as the above reasons, I recommend this product highly!

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I received the above product(s) free of charge from Ozeri.  I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion.  My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

X-Chef Easy Flex Silicone Spatula Set

 

I cook and bake a lot, and one thing I’ve learned, aside from you can never have enough mixing bowls, is you can never have enough spatulas. I usually buy them 2 or 3 at a time, and when X-Chef offered me their 4-pack, I was soooo game. They’ve been a blessing in the kitchen, but their not without their faults.

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Silicone spatulas are ubiquitous in the kitchen, so much so that I don’t know a single person without one. And yet, there’s good ones, and bad ones, and the line that delineates them is often very easy to cross. To rigid and they won’t flex, to soft and they won’t hold. Too short and you end up with schmutz on your fingers, too long and you can’t get the fine control you need for nooks and crannies. Handle shape, build quality…It seems like I’m really overthinking this, but until you’ve used a bad one and been so frustrated you wanted to hurl it across the room, you realize I’m not just picking nits. X-Chef’s spatulas are almost there. There’s a lot to love here, too. They’re long enough, with good rigidity without being too stiff. They’re different colors, so you can essentially “color-code” them for different mixes when doing more than one dish. They’re dishwasher safe, non-stick, and heat resistant to over 500 degrees Fahrenheit. But then they sort of start to fall apart, figuratively speaking. The shape of the spatula is did not have enough curve on the end, and there was no tip for whipping up peaks or getting into corners. The handles are thin and not too ergonomic, so prolonged use will be a pain in the hand. And the palstic the handles are made from is the kind that clouds and gets brittle after a few trips through the dishwasher. I don’t know about you, but after spends a couple hours mixing and making int he kitchen, the last thing I want to do is stand there for another 30 minutes hand washing everything.

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Maybe I’m being too picky. A four pack of these X-Chef spatulas with only run you $6.99 shipped. At that price I would look at them as disposable, because they certainly aren’t going to last a very long time. So in the end, you could do much worse. You could also do a lot better. They do have a ” LIFETIME NO-HASSLE FREE-REPLACEMENT GUARANTEE!”, but when mine discolored and cracked, I asked them about it through the “contact us” potion of the website and didn’t get a response yet.

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I received the above product(s) free of charge from X-Chef.  I am not obligated to provide a positive or favorable review, just my honest opinion.  My review is based on my experience with the product and/or brand, which may differ from yours.

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