Thursday, December 7, 2017

Uuni Cast Iron Casserole Dish and Sizzler Pan

I get a lot of offers to review things. But I don't accept them all. I always think about whether the item will be worth writing about.

First, I ask whether I've reviewed similar products before. It's fine if I've covered similar items, but I don't review products that are just knock-offs of existing items.

Next, I ask are whether the item could be better than other similar products. There are a bazillion whisks, for example, so if I get offered a whisk, I decline unless it has some new feature that will be interesting to write about, or that makes it better in some way.

Third, I'm always always always interested in things that are unique in the marketplace.

The cast iron casserole and sizzler dish combo from Uuni, is definitely the third. Yes, there have been cast iron pans for hundreds of years. What makes this one different is the design.

First, there's the casserole dish with two side handles. It's oval-shaped and deep, so it's great for slow braises on the stovetop, in the oven, or on the barbecue grill. Toss some mac and cheese in there, or a mess of greens. Or some cobbler.

The casserole has a lid, and the lid can be flipped over to use as a sizzle platter or for cooking or baking. The lid also has two side handles.

The third piece is a handle that hooks into the side handle of either the casserole or sizzle dish so you can move them around on the stove or in a hot oven or grill without needing pot holders.

The last piece is a wooden tray that either the casserole or sizzle pan can snuggle into, so you're not putting hot cast iron on delicate surfaces.

All together, this is a pretty unique collection of cooking tools, and well worth a look if you've already maxed out of cast iron frying pans or you're looking to add to your collection.

Since this is uncoated cast iron, it needs to be seasoned just like any other cast iron. So this is the kind of cookware that gets better and better with age.

Who's it for: People who like cooking in cast iron.

Pros: Unique shape.

Cons: Like any cast iron, it needs to be seasoned.

Wishes: I kind of wish the set included two sizzle pans and two wooden bases, for more options. But then again, they sell sizzler pans separately, so if that's what you're looking for, you can buy as many of those as you need.

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

Montgomery Inn Barbecue

Oy. I love food samples. I love trying new things that might not be on my radar.

The downside to food samples is that sometimes it takes me a while to do the sampling. I hate wasting food, and there's only so much that I can eat every day.

So when I got an amazing box of samples from Mongomery Inn, it took me a while to get through all the goodies.

Everything came frozen (well, except the sauce, which was just chilled from keeping company with the frozen goods) so it was safe for eating soon or for tucking into the freezer for later.

First, there was barbecue sauce in several flavors. Then, pre-cooked racks of ribs that just needed to be heated. A container of pulled pork arrived, too, as well as some baked beans.

I started with the ribs. They're seriously fall-off-the-bone, to the point where if I heated them and tried to cut them into individual ribs, they didn't hang onto the bones at all. Then I figured out that if I wanted to eat ribs on the bone, I could cut them while cold, then heat them to serving temp. The meat still fell right off the bone, but it was finger food rather than fork food.

I thought the rub was a little salty for my taste, but not terribly so. I slathered the ribs with the sauce before I heated them up, but I'm sure they would have been fine with just the rub. Yum!

The pulled pork was great for easy dinners, since all I had to do was heat it up and throw it on a bun. Since I like sauce ... I added more sauce to the top (did I mention that they sent me sauce? Yeah, they did). The meat was perfect for those sandwiches, and cooked to tenderness, but not dry or stringy. Seriously, all you need is buns and you're ready to go.

Last was the beans. I wasn't expecting much, but I was sooooo wrong. The beans said they included brisket, which had me imagining some dry shredded meat, but instead there were pieces of super-tender brisket along with some porky goodness as well. These were sweet with just a little kick. These are the beans that you order in bulk and bring to every potluck, where you tell people it's an old family recipe that you can't divulge. Seriously. These were insanely good.

The Montgomery Inn Barbecue Sauces are also available on Amazon, if you're looking for a new sauce to try for your own ribs, chicken, pork, whatever. But those beans ... so freaking good.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Dash Rapid Cold Brew System

I've fallen in love with cold brew coffee. It's smoother, not as bitter, and seems to be less harsh on my tummy. It makes cheap grocery store coffee taste good, and when I spring for the good beans, it's swoon-worthy.

I like to make the cold brew extra-strong, so I can add it to hot water to have drinkable coffee in the morning. Sure, sometimes I'll have iced coffee, but most of the time, I prefer it hot.

So when I got an email offering me the Dash Rapid Cold Brew System, I was very curious. When I make cold brew, I set it up in the evening an let it steep all night. The Dash system makes cold brew in 15 minutes or less.

What kind of sorcery is that?

Of course I asked for a review unit, and set it up right away. I ran plain water through it first to see how it worked.

Very eeeenteresting. *mustache twirling optional*

The device pumps water through the grounds rather than just letting the water sit and steep. It goes from the carafe to the grounds and then back into the carafe. What you end up with is cold brew coffee that has been agitated to release more flavor in much less time.

There's a timer that you can set for up to 15 minutes, but if you haven't reached the right strength, I don't see any reason why you couldn't start it over again for another round.

The pump on this is a little noisy. Not as noisy as a blender, but it definitely makes more noise than the pump on something like a desktop waterfall or my Aero Garden. But of course, this isn't meant to be soothing, and it's not on for a long time. Just long enough to make the cold brew.

I've used this several times now, making larger batches to store in my fridge so I can make my usual hot coffee. I haven't yet found exactly the right ratio of coffee to water to the most concentrated brew, but I'm getting close. For someone who doesn't want concentrate, it's just a matter of adjusting the ratio to make your preferred drinking strength.

I have to say that it's nice to be able to make the coffee so fast. There have been a few times I've forgotten to set up my overnight brew, which led to a sad, coffee-less morning. Now, the worst that can happen is a 30-minute wait.

Since the brewer pumps both clear water and coffee, I've been cleaning it between brews by running clear water through it. One cycle seems to be enough, but if it was putting it into storage, I'd probably do two brews for more complete cleaning, so there would be no coffee residue at all.

This takes about the same amount of space as my other cold brewer, although it's a different shape, and it's smaller than many standard coffee makers. On the downside, it requires electricity. Not a big deal, but you still need to set it up somewhere near an outlet. Since it's relatively small and lightweight, this is easy to move around or store.

Overall, I like this a whole lot more than I expected. And I like the idea that if I want a quick cup of afternoon cold-brew decaf, I can have it ready to drink in a very short time.

The Dash Rapid Cold Brew System is available at Target.

Who's it for: Pe0ple who drink coffee and prefer cold brew.

Pros: Yay, it works!

Cons: It's a tad noisy.

Wishes: With appliances in the kitchen that are made in so many colors, this one is only available in black. For now.

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

GelPro Mat

A few years ago, I bought a gel floor mat for use in my kitchen. It was great at first, then the edges starting curling up, and the whole thing got a little wonky. I still kept it in the kitchen, and somehow trained myself to not trip over it.

Recently GelPro offered me one of their Elite mats to test.

Oh, heck yeah. Bring it on!

Then they asked me to pick a color and pattern. There are a freaking LOT of colors and patterns, and I'll admit I got lost in there for a while before I decided to go with a natural-looking option. But there are a ton of cool colors and patterns.

I opted for the Grasscloth pattern in Harvest Grain color. Not only does it blend well with my kitchen, but the pattern means that I can spill a little flour on it and it won't look horrifying.

By they way, the actual color is a little warmer than the photos. Lighting in my kitchen isn't particularly photo-friendly.

I mean, yeah, I clean up spills, but for that time between spill small amounts of flour and clean it up, it won't look like I disemboweled the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

When it arrived, I couldn't wait to compare it to the mat that I previously had. And there were a lot of differences. A lot.

The first and most obvious difference  between the GelPro mat and the one I previously bought - even before I got it out of the box - was that the GelPro mat has a soft-feeling, non-sticky-plastic surface. It almost feels like fabric, but it's not.

The construction of it is also very different, with edges that are nicely beveled rather than having flat, flappy bits around the perimeter. Those were the bits that first curled up on my previous mat before the rest of it started warping.

The GelPro mat is also thicker and sooooo soft to stand on.

Not quite like standing on a mattress, but much nicer than a throw rug or thin mat.

The only problem with this mat is that it makes the other one seem so ... awful ... in comparison. So now I'm probably going to buy two more mats, so I can have one at each place where I tend to stand a lot. I won't put one in front of the fridge, but for sure I want squishy feet by the stove and sink.

Who's it for: People who spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

Pros: Sooooo comfy. Well made.

Cons: More expensive than the super-junky one I bought previously.

Wishes: Can I line my entire house with this stuff?

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

Note: You can buy GelPro mats on Amazon, but there's a wider variety of colors on the GelPro website, and it's also a bit easier to browse through all of the selections.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Housmile Electric Pressure Cooker

I've owned quite a number of pressure cookers, including both stove top and electric, so when Housmile contacted me and asked if I wanted to test theirs, I figured it would be pretty easy to put it through its paces.

I mean, I've used so many different ones, this couldn't be too hard, right?

So let's look at that front panel, shall we?

It has a warm/cancel button, a pressure setting button, and presets for rice, cake, soup, bean (hopefully not one at a time), porridge, fish (in a pressure cooker? I think not), ribs, and poultry.

There's a Time Preset button in the center, with plus and minus buttons.

The plus and minus made sense, but I had no idea what the time preset was. Turns out, it's for setting a time delay. So you can throw stuff in the pot and have it start at a later time. But it only works with certain presets, because throwing meat in there and leaving it at room temp for many hours would be a spectacularly bad idea.

There's also a "Taste" button with selections for hard, perfect, and soft. I figured that was for rice.

What was missing from this layout was anything said manual - you know, for setting pressure and time manually. If you do want to set something aside from the presets, you can choose one of the presets and then change the cooking time.

Aha! After some fiddling around, I figured out that the Pressure Setting button didn't actually set pressure to high or low, as many electric pressure cookers do. Instead, it sets the time for pressure cooking when you're not using a preset. So this is the manual time setting for pressure cooking at whatever pressure it cooks at.

The box as well as online information claims that this cooker can slow cook and saute, but there are no buttons for those functions. The instruction manual is very sparse, and didn't include any information about how to invoke those functions, so I decided to do more testing to see if I could make magic happen.

I found out that I could press a preset and the cooker would heat up without the lid on. Okay then, that's one way to get it to get it to brown some foods. I didn't test all of the buttons to see if they'd ALL work with the lid off, but it's an easy experiment if you own this pot. If I was going to live with it long-term, I'd test all the buttons to figure out what temperature each one reaches for the best saute.

As far as slow cooking, since it doesn't need the lid on to cook, you could test the presets to see if any of them would cook at a simmer. Or you could put the lid on and leave the steam release open so it can't reach pressure. It might not be a slow cook, though, if the cooker is trying to reach pressure.

But really, most people who have a pressure cooker don't bother with slow cooker functions, anyway. Maybe it's not all that important? But since the box and online information say it can slow cook, I wish there would have been better information on how to make that happen. If it can happen. I'm really not sure.

The Housmile pressure cooker page on Amazon describes the inner cooking pot as "Healthy, aluminium alloy inner cooking pot made from food grade 304, no chemical coating," which isn't accurate. First, "grade 304" refers to a grade of stainless steel rather than aluminum. And second, while the pot is made from aluminum, it has a nonstick coating. Which makes sense because cooking in an uncoated aluminum pot wouldn't be a good idea. I have a feeling they copied and pasted some of this from another one of their models and didn't check it for accuracy.

There is also a 1000-watt Housmile pressure cooker on Amazon that has more functions and might be a better buy for people who don't want to experiment with settings. I haven't tested that one, and I have no idea if the instructions are better, but just the fact that the buttons are more logical makes it more appealing to me if I had to pick one of the two.

Overall, this works well enough. I used it to make stock and to make soup, and it performed pretty much like I expected. But it would be a much better product if the instruction manual was complete, or if the company's website or Amazon information had better instructions. People who don't want to experiment or who aren't familiar with this sort of cooking appliance are no doubt going to be frustrated with scant information provided.

One thing I really do like about this is how easy the lid seals. It's not quite as clunky as other cookers I've used. The pressure release is also quite nice, since you press a button and the steam releases at a valve that's a little distance away.

Whether that's enough to make up for the lack of instruction ... you decide.

Who's it for: People who want a pressure cooker.

Pros: Nice lid and pressure release functions.

Cons: Instructions are lacking.

Wishes: This seriously needs a saute button and a slow cook button if it's supposed to have those functions. Also, I'm still not sure if it uses different pressure settings and/or different temperatures for different cooking functions. That would be useful to know, since there isn't a manual way to set both time and pressure level and since there are no saute or slow cook functions on the control panel.

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Gourmia Garlic Crusher

Most garlic crushers operate by squeezing the garlic through little holes, so I was really curious about the Gourmia garlic crusher that has, for lack of better description, teeth.

The cloves go into the device and you twist back and forth and the teeth - not sharp knives, but plastic teeth - sort of tear at the garlic and shred and mangle it apart.

The result isn't like chopped garlic, nor is it like garlic that's gone through a traditional crusher. I'm not saying it's bad or good, just that it's different.

This also works better with super-fresh garlic than with the stuff that's feeling a little wilty. You know, like if you bought more garlic than you needed, and now you're using it up.

One interesting thing is that there are devices much like this sold for processing certain dried herbs - the kind that are legal in some states, but not in others. I don't suggest using the same one for your garlic and your smoking product, though.

While the garlic ends up spread inside the crusher, it wasn't terribly hard to get out, but I did have to pick around the teeth a bit to get all of it. For complete cleaning, it's dishwasher safe.

Who's it for: People who have a need to crush garlic.

Pros: Super easy to use.

Cons: A different result than normal crushers.

Wishes: I wish there was an easier way to empty it, but I have no idea what that might be.

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