Thursday, August 25, 2016

Insink 4-in-1

When a product offers to make my dish-washing and sink usage more efficient, I perk up just a little bit. I can always use a little more efficiency in my life.

The Insink 4-in-1 device includes 6 pieces - a container with holes at the bottom for draining, a similar container with no holes, two suction devices to keep the containers in place in your sink, a funnel-like attachment that fits either contain to help you get things into the container (or it can be flipped to hold either of the containers upright without the use of the suction things), and a scrub brush.

That sounds like a lot of stuff, but the important parts are the two containers. The one without holes is intended for holding soapy water so you can just dunk your sponge or dishcloth in there to keep from wasting soap when you wash dishes. You can also use it as a pre-soak if you have sticky foods on your spoons and knives.

I've been living with these things in my sink to see if I actually use them. I haven't yet used the non-holed container to hold soapy water. but I have put silverware in it while they were waiting to be washed.

I did find a genius use for the draining container. The suggested uses are for putting washed silverware to let it drain, or to wash and strain berries. That's not what I've been using it for. Instead I've been using it for food scraps that are destined for the trash. Particularly wet scraps. I can let them drain before throwing them in the trash so that I don't end up with a soggy trash bag.

While I wouldn't rank these as a must have item (knife, spoon, cutting board, fire, pot ...) they are handy if you have sink-space to hold them. If you have a tiny sink, you might not want something extra sitting in it at all times, but since they nest, you could store under the sink and pull them out when you need them.

Please note that these are a Canadian product, so the price will be different than what you see. As I'm writing this, the price in US dollars is lower.

Who's it for: People who want better sink organization.

Pros: They're tall and thin, so they don't take as much sink space as a bowl or strainer.

Cons: They might not fit all sinks. If you decide to keep them in the sink at all times, you'll need to remember to wash - or at least drain - the container with no holes.

Wishes: Colors to match people's kitchens would be nice. These are white with green accents.

Source: I received this from the manufacturer for the purpose of a review.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ronco Pasta Maker

I've been wanted a stand-alone pasta machine for some time, so when the folks at Ronco offered me a product to review, I checked out their website and said, hey, how about that pasta maker instead?

Yup, Ronco makes a pasta maker.

I mean, what the heck. Might as well play with something I'm curious about, right?

Here's the thing. I've got a pasta attachment for my stand mixer, so in theory I could use that. And I do, sometimes. But I've always thought it would be interesting to have one machine that would do the kneading and then just extrude the pasta. One thing to clean.

So, the pasta machine arrived and I took it apart, washed it, and put it together again. The first time I assembled it, I had a little trouble figuring out which part went where, but now that I've done it a number of times, it's really pretty simple.

I took it for a test run at home, then brought it to a friend's house where we made pasta from some freshly-milled flour along with all purpose flour.

My first impression of the machine was that there was a lot of plastic. Would it hold up? Pasta dough has to be pretty dense, particularly for extruded doughs. For some reason, the extruding process always makes the dough a lot softer (not just this machine, but my other extruder as well), and the dough tends to stick together. So ... the starting dough needs to be pretty tough to start off.

The mixing chamber did seem to flex a bit, or maybe it's just that I was mesmerized at watching it knead. But it held up. Flexing is better than cracking. The motor didn't seem to strain at all, so that's pretty impressive.

I have no idea how durable this machine will be over the long run. For now, it's working fine, but I've only made about a half-dozen batches of pasta in it. The motor is a tad noisy - not as loud as a blender, but not as quiet as a stand mixer, but this isn't a machine that's going to be running all the time, so the noise isn't a deal-breaker.

The controls are simple. Flip a button one way and the dough gets kneaded. Flip the other way, and the screw-like kneader spins in the opposite direction, to feed the dough through the extruder. It's ingenious, really.

The machine comes with a variety of extruding dies (spaghetti, fettuccine, rigatoni, linguini, and lasagna) for different shapes of pasta.  I haven't tried them all yet, but the ones I tried worked just fine. There's also a tube that's used when you want to fill sausage casings with sausage, so this isn't a one-trick pony. Two tricks, basically.

Speaking of tricks, making fresh pasta can be a little tricky. To start with, you have to get the dough the right consistency, and you have to let it knead long enough. That's something that comes with practice.

But then there's the cooking. Fresh pasta cooks really really really fast. Like, it sees the hot water and it's done. The last batch of pasta I made was beautiful coming out of the machine, but I made the mistake of turning my back on it when it was cooking, and I overcooked it. To death.

Not at all the pasta machine's fault. Just poor attention span here. Oopsie.

Who's it for: Pasta people.

Pros: It's one machine for kneading and extruding pasta. Flour and water are really cheap ingredients, so you can afford to make some test batches and if they don't work, you haven't wasted a lot of money. Then when you get good at it, you can add a more expensive item. Like an egg. Splurge!

Cons: It takes a little practice to get the recipe right. Not the machine's fault, but it might take a few batches to achieve perfection. It will take even more practice if you decide you want to add extra ingredients to the pasta, like tomato, basil, squid ink, saffron, or anything else. But, hey, it's fun.

Wishes: An integrated cutter for slicing the pasta into desired lengths as it exits the machine would be great. I use a knife, swiping from bottom to top, and it works fine. But a cutter would be awesome.

Source: I received this from the manufacturer for the purpose of a review.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

50 Strong Bottles

There are sooooo many water/hydration/bike/exercise bottles on the market these days? How do you choose?

Or, more important to me, how do I choose when I want to review one?

The answer is pretty simple. I like to look at bottles that have something different about them. And these days, that's getting harder and harder.

When the folks at 50 Strong contacted me, the one bottle that I thought was different from all of its peers was the Tornado Bottle. It contains a plastic tornado-shaped curly thing that's meant to help blend things in the bottle. Like if you add protein powders to your drinks.

I thought that was different. I had some stuff I was going to blend. And then ... my attention wandered.

I set the bottle aside until the day I was trying to make a salad dressing and it was lumpy and I was annoyed. And then I thought, hey, I have that tornado thing.

So I dumped the dressing in the bottle and gave it a shake. Then I made a salad. Flipped the top on the bottle, and I poured. And then I thought, hey this thing would be just fine for storing the salad dressing in the fridge, and it's easier to pour the dressing out of this than to try to pour from a canning jar, which is usually what I use.

Am I a genius, or what?

If the Tornado Bottle can handle salad dressing, it can surely hand a protein powder in some juice, right?

The 50 Strong people sell a LOT of different kinds of bottles. They sent me one of the Ice and Go bottles that has an integrated straw. I haven't tested it yet, but it looks study, and I like the straw for sipping.

If you don't like straws and you don't like the pink and gray bottle I got, there are a lot of different colors, shapes, lids, and ways to drink from them. You might as well just go look. Seriously. I'm not going to describe them all. Go. Look.

Best thing is that these aren't super-expensive bottles that you have to guard with your life. They're well-built and should last a long time, but if you happen to forget one at the beach, it's not like you need to take a loan to buy a new one. Very affordable.

The company also has a charitable component, so you can feel good about buying these bottles. Ten percent of the profits go to the 50 Strong Foundation, which awards scholarships to people pursuing careers in manufacturing.

Who's it for: People who carry drinks to go.

Pros: Nice bottles, not expensive, lots of colors and designs to choose from. Made in AMERICA. You don't see a lot of that these days.

Cons: If you go to a lot of events, you might already have free promotional bottles lying about.

Wishes: Um ... it's a bottle. There's not much I ask of it.

Source: I received this from the manufacturer for the purpose of a review.