Friday, July 8, 2016

Let's All Do the Corkscrew Two-Step

Le Creuset Waiter's Friend Corkscrew


Some time ago, one bottle of bubbly flummoxed every corkscrew in the house. It had a a muffin-top like a champagne bottle, but too small to “thumb” it out. The lady of the house liked the stuff enough to buy more, but mentioned the problem to a liquor-store clerk who claimed to have just the solution. He sold her a corkscrew he claimed would "open any wine bottle." He was pretty much right: the Le Creuset Waiter’s Friend may well be the king of all corkscrews.

Waiter's Friend Corkscrew from Le Creuset
Le Creuset's version modifies a typical folding waiter's corkscrew: you know, the kind that levers the cork out by propping a folding arm on the lip of the bottle. Their modification is a corkscrew with a "two-step" function: the levered arm has two positions based on a spring-loaded catch. You use position one to start the extraction, while position two finishes pulling the cork.

   The Waiter’s Friend folds into its handle to create a chunky package 5” long and about 1” wide. Our handle is black nylon (there are seven other colors available); the working parts are steel with a stainless steel screw. When you unfold it, the screw projects to form a T shape with a seven-inch crossbar and the two-inch screw as its vertical. A serrated, curved foil-cutter about 1” long folds from the plastic handle. Position one on the arm is about 1½” out; position two is another ¾” farther. When you fold it, the works are about the size of a bulky pocketknife.

No kidding, this screw will open just about any wine bottle. It’s great for long, skinny-necked bottles like Gewürztatraminer, and it made short work of that Italian bubbly with the weird cork. I rarely need the "two-step" function since it works fine without the extra “oomph.” The curved foil cutter is a definite improvement over a straight-edged version, and a little hook on the folding arm works for a bottle opener if you want a beer.

This solid little corkscrew is also compact, which is why it’s a favorite with waiters and bartenders. It may seem expensive, at least until you price a Rabbit set, but it’s already lasted us several years and is sturdy enough to last many more.

Summary


Plus: will open any wine bottle, excellent foil cutter design
Minus: rather bulky in a pocket or apron
What They're Saying: The Le Creuset Waiter’s Friend is a classic corkscrew that will open almost about any bottle with a cork.
  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Forget the Cheap Plastic Cutting Mats!

Progressive Prepworks Cutting Mats


In the age of bacteriaphobia – when the average homemaker douses every surface with antibacterial soaps, consumes antibacterial wipes like… like Kleenex®, and sprays Purell® as if it were air freshener – wooden cutting boards are, apparently, passé. Silly people, don’t you know your gut is full of bacteria?? In reality, though, cross-contamination between meats and raw vegetables can be a problem, so even the most bacteriophilic homeowner (that's be me) uses different knives and cutting boards for meat and vegetables, even if the veggies will be cooked.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Mini Ice Cream Sandwiches: I Scream with Delight!

Cuisipro Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Maker


We're (fairly) hardcore about watching weight at our house, but we still cling to one vice: ice cream. We both love the stuff so much we eat it almost every day, though we try to stick to low(er)-fat versions whenever possible. While trying to cut back even further, we started eating an occasional Skinny Cow® ice cream sandwich, which – unfortunately – aren’t all that great. But wait: there’s a way to make your own at home: the Cuisipro Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Maker. Not only are the results yummy, making your own is fun!


Design



The little maker is actually pretty simple: you have a hollow plastic (BPA-free, of course) tube with a piston in the top. The bottom edge is just sharp enough to cut through a soft cookie, which is the way you start making your sandwich. Cut a cookie (microwave it for 10 seconds or so if it’s too brittle), spoon in an ounce or so of ice cream, any flavor, then cut a second cookie. 

Now hold the bottom of the tube against a plate and compress the cookie by turning the handle. Lift the bottom off the plate and keep turning the handle to shove the completed sandwich out the bottom onto the plate. Voila! An ice cream sandwich in just a minute or so! Since the edges of the tube are only sharp enough to cut through a soft cookie, this is pretty much kid-safe. 

Use



The kit comes ready to make sandwiches in three shapes – heart, circle and star. A completed sandwich is about 1½ inches across, and can be up to about 2½ thick. They may be small for adults, but they’re a great kid-size treat. You can make up a plate in advance and freeze them for parties, etc.

Everything is dishwasher-safe (top rack) and disassembles pretty easily for adults (they’re designed to be tough for little hands to take apart). There aren’t any small parts to disappear or swallow, either. You may need to soak a maker for a while to get cookie crumbs out of them before washing by hand.

Making treats with a Cuisipro Ice Cream Sandwich Maker is yummy and fun – what’s not to like!?

Summary


Plus: fun to use, kid-friendly, yummy results
Minus: a bit hard to clean out crumbs, sandwiches small for grown-ups (eat two!)

What They’re Saying: When you cut the cookies to make your own ice cream sandwiches, all the calories leak out… you wish…

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

There are Foodpod People at My House

Fusionbrands Silicone Food Pod


We love silicone! Not because of those…because of the great silicone products that are cropping up in kitchens these days. It’s not just hotpads and trivets, though; once in a while there’s a product we’d never thought about, products like the Fusionbrands Foodpod from HIC (Harold Imports Company). 

Description


There’s no way to be nice: this thing is weird-looking. It resembles a collapsed balloon with lots of holes torn in it plus a thick plastic stem like a pumpkin. The basket is 6” in diameter and about 3” high; made from translucent silicon. The stem is 6” long and ends in a hook.
The top comes off for an opening about 2½ to 3” in diameter. It closes simply: the stem is attached to a hard plastic disk that has prongs matching holes around the opening. The basket’s surface is covered with oval holes, some as much as 1” long.  It’s about the size of a 3-quart saucepan, but will fit into something smaller if needed. 

A foodpod is designed to use when blanching or boiling foods like greens, eggs and potatoes. Because the holes are fairly large, it doesn’t work for small vegetables. We’ve used ours to boil eggs and potatoes; and to blanch beans and sugar peas. The small pieces leak out the holes and into the pot, so a skimmer or strainer may be necessary. We clip the hook over the pot’s rim, or let it stick out the top of smaller pots.The hook doesn’t get hot, even when the pods dunked in boiling water. All those holes allow for good water circulation, and the long handle means it’s easy to swirl in hot water and then pull out the basket and drain off excess water. 

The silicone material won’t pick up color or flavor from foods boiled in it, and it’s definitely dishwasher-safe. Around our house, it’s been a useful, though not essential tool to have. 

Using the FoodPod

Just drop in whatever and close the lid, then dunk the whole thing in hot or boiling water. When the time is up, pull it out by the handle. With most foods, excess water drains off quickly. I might like it better if the holes weren’t this big, but I’ll overlook the occasional floater ‘if it means fewer singed fingertips. 

Summary

PLUS: easy to use, strange-looking kitchen conversation starter
MINUS: holes large enough that small stuff falls through
What They're Saying: A Fusionbrands Foodpod can be handy for boiling and blanching. Small items will slip through the holes, however, so be prepared.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Great Scale for Cooking and For Watching Your Weight

Cuisinart KS-55 Weight Mate Digital Kitchen Scale




There used to be a commercial that said (of prunes, no less), "Is two enough? Is three too many?" It may be easy to count your prunes and bowls of All-Bran, but have you ever tried eyeballing six ounces of pasta or three ounces of cream cheese? So many recipes giving measurements in weight instead of volume, we decided a kitchen scale was pretty much a necessity. That’s why a Cuisinart KS-55 Weight Mate Digital Kitchen Scale now lives on our kitchen counter.


What’s to like about a Cuisinart KS-55

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Now You're Grinding in Style!

Kenmore 60572 3/4-HP Garbage Disposal


My first clue was water on the floor of the cabinet under the sink. It didn’t go away after I replaced the faucet (I’d have done that anyway) – that was my second clue – so I pulled the old InSinkerator Badger, I found a hole in the grinder chamber – on the back, naturally – and that particualr mystery was solved: another bottom-of-the-line plumbing fixture bit the dust, no thanks to the sleazeball who sold us this house.

Around our house we don’t use what the industry calls a food-waste disposer very often, since we compost a lot of our scraps. Every once in a while, though, one of us finds a science experiment hidden at the back of the refrigerator, and that’s when a disposal comes in handy.  Since any house on a municipal sewer system is expected to have one of them these days, re-plumbing without a disposer wasn’t an option. We didn’t want to spend a lot of bucks on something we only use a time or two a week, though, do we didn’t go looking for a “silent” model. On the other hand, we wanted one that had a good capacity and would last for a while. After the usual online research, I picked the Kenmore 60572.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

They're Right About the “Perfect” Part

Emsa Perfect Beaker 16-ounce Measuring Cup


It was bread-baking day at our house yesterday – you could tell because the dogs were drooling more than usual. The recipe of the week came from a cookbook with recipes for three different loaf sizes, meaning that while one says "1¼ C water," the next larger size calls for "1½ C + 2 Tbsp." Rather a pain, eh? Well, it isn't a pain for us, because we have an Emsa Perfect Beaker measuring cup. Not only is this two-cup beaker marked in cups, it's also marked in tablespoons, so it’s simple to hit the correct mark: you fill it to 1½ cups, switch to the tablespoons scale, and add two more tablespoons... or just fill it to 26 tablespoons.

It seems rare to find a product that lives up to its name, but the Perfect Beaker comes close. It measures up to two cups, dry or liquid – that’s nothing new, since an ordinary Pyrex measuring cup does the same thing. However, it’s also marked in pints, ounces, tablespoons, teaspoons, and milliliters, all in one cone-shaped clear plastic beaker. Scales with six different units are spread around the margin of the Perfect Beaker, clearly marked in bold black letters. On the cup scale, it’s marked off in different increments for more complex recipes: ounces, eighths of a cup, and thirds of a cup. It also works great for mixing liquid ingredients: need three tablespoons of vinegar and three of oil? No problem: just pour! I use it for measuring almost anything, with the possible exception of boiling water.

The beaker tapers to allow more precise measurements at small volumes, so you can measure accurately down to a couple of teaspoons. In that, it’s better suited to liquid measure. The cone-like beaker rests on a broad, stable base; with an hourglass shape that makes it easy to grab and hold when your hands are wet. The opening has a broad lip so you can pour from any direction: no spout necessary.