Friday, December 21, 2018

Pamela's Products

Pamela's Products makes gluten-free mixes and ingredients and finished goods as well, and they sent me a big box of stuff to try.

I passed along the few items that had coconut in them (coconut just isn't my thing, but I have friends who are more than happy to take them off my hands), then moved quickly into tasting the cookies. Because, well, cookies.

I'm not gluten-free, but I'm always interested in trying what's out there. While the cookies weren't the absolute best I've ever eaten, they were tasty. I liked the shortbreads, the best, but the others (chocolate mint, chocolate chunk, and chocolate chunk with walnuts) were good, too. For folks who can't have wheat flour, these would be a good option.

Among the bags of ingredients, there was almond flour, which is something that I often use, and tiger nut flour, which I've never used before. That's the best of both worlds - the familiar and the new. I haven't open the tiger nut flour yet, but the almond flour made its way into cookies pretty quickly.

Overall, it was a fun box of stuff to try, and I was able to share goodies with a friend who avoids gluten, so that's always a plus.

Being totally honest, I don't think I'll be buying gluten free cookies for myself, but I appreciate that Pamela's Products makes them for folks who need them. Apparently their pancake mix is a best seller, if you're looking for that, and even if you don't avoid gluten, things like almond flour can come in handy if you bake a lot.

Meanwhile, I need to figure out what I'm going to do with that tiger nut flour. I'm sure it will be amusing.

Why yes, I did get this stuff for free.

Pereg Gourmet Zahtar

Pereg Gourmet sells a whole bunch of spices, and this time they sent me a free sample of their zahtar (sometimes spelled zatar or za'atar) which is a Middle Eastern spice blend. It can be used as an at-the-table seasoning, or for cooking.

Like many blends, the ingredients can vary, depending on who is making it, so if you've tried one zahtar, it's worth it to look around and see what others have to offer. This version include hyssop parsley, sesame seeds, chickpea flour, coriander, olive oil, salt, and citric acid.

The flavor is unique, and a little hard to describe, but somehow it reminds of of pizza. Interestingly, one of the suggested uses is to sprinkle it on pizza, but I think I'd be more likely to use it on hummus or pita bread.

The jar from Pereg Gourmet was larger than I expected (5.3 ounces), which isn't a bad thing, particularly for a spice that you will use on the table and in the kitchen.

Pereg Gourmet makes a lot of different spice mixes along with selling single spices, so if zahtar isn't on your must-have list, it's a sure bet you'll find something you have to have.

I got this spice for free, and I've gotten spices from them previously, as well.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

T-fal Sapphire-Infused Triangle Pan

I can still remember the first time I saw T-fal cookware. I was just a little kid, and someone was doing a demo in a store. I never saw a live cooking demo before, and I was enthralled. Someone was actually cooking right there in the store!

Mom didn't buy the magical cookware that made eggs slide around in the pan, much to my disappointment.

T-fal cookware isn't the same as it was back then. There are new materials, and, as you can see from this pan, new shapes. The pan I tested was infused with sapphire on the nonstick surface and it had pretty blue glints in it when it was in the light. It was from the T-fal Heatmaster Collection, and there are several different pans with similar features.

But I guess the pretty blue speckles aren't all that important. What is important is that it's nonstick and not terribly expensive. I tested the 10-inch triangle shaped pan, and I managed to fit 12 large pierogi in the pan all at once. I've also used it for sauces, steak, and other basic cooking needs.

Do you need a triangle-shaped pan?

I don't know. One good thing about it is that the shape makes it easier to pour things out of the pan. However, you won't have a lid sitting around that will fit it. But the few times I've wanted to cover what I was cooking, I used a round silicone cover and it did what I needed it to do.

By the way, if you don't already have a round silicone cover, you should go buy one. Or a few. It's nice to have them in several sizes, to fit your largest pots and pans, to fit the small ones, and maybe some small ones to put on top of your drink to keep the flying things from diving in. They're great for us in the microwave, too, to keep stuff from splattering.

But, I digress.

Overall, the pan I tested did everything I needed it to. The surface seems pretty durable - it's even metal-utensil safe. It's oven-safe to 500 degrees, which is great if you want to start cooking something on the stove and finish it in the oven. The stainless steel on the bottom helps distribute heat and it also means it can be used on induction cooktops. So you get a lot for your dollars.

If you're looking for a nonstick pan, consider the T-fal line. As far as the triangle shape, that's going to be a personal preference. I can see reasons why it might be useful, but on the other hand, it's not going to nest as well as round pans, if you're short on storage space.

Like many other products reviewed here, I received this at no cost to me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Nope, this isn't something that you have to catch. It's the tasty, saucey child of ...

... drumroll, please ...

Mustard and Ketchup.

When I got the pitch about this product, they talked about how Chicago folks don't use ketchup on hot dogs, but you could use this stuff instead.

I thought that was kind of funny, but perhaps it's true. Perhaps.

I got to sample three versions of MustKetch, the original, the zesty, and the smoky. It's hard to describe this stuff. At one moment, it's like a mustardy ketchup. The it's like a tomato-y mustard. It's different. And kind of orangy-red.

You're saying to yourself that you can just grab ketchup and then mustard and add them separately. Well, sure, you could do that. But this is somehow more than just a blend of two condiments. It has become it's own condiment, if that makes any sense.

So far, I've just used this on burgers and sausages, but I think it would be pretty awesome on a meatloaf sandwich. I'm also thinking about using it as a glaze on meat. The smoky, in particular, is on my list for slathering on pork. Maybe even ribs. Or for adding to a stew, perhaps.

Yup, is might actually be a must catch.

Hehe. I'm funny. But looks aren't everything.

By the way, I did get this at no cost to me. Freebie in mah belly.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Cosori Multi Cooker

I had a multi-cooker years ago, and I loved that darned thing. It was the replacement for a slow cooker, but it could also saute prior to cooking, which was totally awesome.

Eventually, it got shoved to a corner of the counter and finally it moved itself into storage when the pressure cooker invasion began. Sort of like the British invasion, but without shaggy hair and guitars. I started loving the idea of quick cooking, and they could slow cook when I was in that mood.

Then, I started missing it, because some things just don't fit well into a pressure cooker. So, when the nice folks at Cosori offered me a unit to test, I said yes.

I wasn't familiar with the brand, but after checking reviews online, I saw that users liked their products, and the features looked pretty good. The multi-cooker looked like it was solidly built, and when it showed up it looked like a quality product.

One thing that puzzled me was that the gasket that fits around the lid was not installed, but then it made sense. Users should remove the gasket to clean the lid completely, and having it packed separately makes it obvious that it can be removed and replaced easily. Kind of a smart thing to do.

This critter has a much slicker, shinier, more modern look than the one I had before, One knob selects the type of cooking and the other knob selects time and temperature. There are buttons to start or cancel the cooking process, to select time or temperature to be adjusted, to set the delay timer to start later, and to keep the food warm.

One nice feature is that the handles on the cooking pot have silicone covers, so they're not as hot as screaming hot metal. I'd suggest using pot holders, anyway, when you're removing a hot cooking pot, just to be safe.

First I tested the simmer function using plain water, and it was a nice, perky simmer. I steamed, roasted, and slow cooked, too. I haven't yet baked anything, nor have I made rice or yogurt, but I'm sure those functions are fine, too.

Overall, this is a really nice cooker. The shape is nice, so you can get a roast or a chicken in there, and the cooking pot is nonstick, so it's easy to clean. This came with a chrome-plated rack that fits the pot. The rack has reasonably tall handles, so you can get it out of the cooker easier, even if you've got liquid in the bottom of the pot. I used the rack for steaming and roasting.

Why yes, I did get to test this for free!

Monday, December 10, 2018

DiSaronno wears Trussardi

When they holidays come, it's a sure bet that liquor stores will have displays of a variety of products that are fit for celebrating or for gifting. Some of the most interesting are the limited-edition boxed products, some of which include extras, like fancy glasses.

When the nice folks at DiSaronno emailed me about their limited edition bottles, covered with a design by a fashion designer, I thought, well, sure, I'll take a free sample.

I've loved DiSaronno for a long time. It's great over ice, and there are plenty of cocktails where it fits the glass, too. It's sweet and a little nutty, and it has a nice warmth without being harsh. While I normally think if it as a winter drink, I've also seen it used in an "Italian Margarita" which included lime juice for a refreshing, summery cocktail.

Luckily, the bottles I got were full and not just samples of the design. Lucky, lucky me, right? Not only did I get a single boxed bottle, but also a set that included some pretty glasses, and some three packs of little bottles that would make awesome stocking stuffers. Look for 'em next time you're shopping for beverages - they'd all be darned easy to wrap.

Trussardi is an Italian fashion house, so it's a good pair for the liquor, and the colors are interesting with bright yellow, bright and light pink, pale blue, and orange, among other colors. My inner hippie approves. These are not your usual Christmas colors, so it will look good behind the bar long after the tree is kindling and the presents are no longer new and shiny.

Why yes, I did get these at no cost to me.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Stillhouse Whiskey

Oooooh, lookie here. It's hand packed for ME.

What could it possibly be?

Does it get any better? Okay, sampling is better. The smaller metal flask contains black bourbon that's been "mellowed in coffee beans." I didn't notice a coffee flavor, but this was definitely mellow. No harsh flavor. Smoooooooth. It would be great neat or over ice, but I'll admit that I've been spiking eggnog with it.

Since it's not actually flavored, you could use this in any cocktail that uses bourbon. I'd suggest something where the flavor comes through.

The Apple Crisp Whiskey is corn whiskey infused with apple crisp whiskey. It's got a nice green apple flavor and it's just slightly sweet. Not super sweet, but just slightly. So it would be good for mixing into fruity cocktails. I'm thinking perhaps something with a little lemon or orange. Maybe a bit of cinnamon.

Hush, I'm thinking here.

So many cocktail ideas. So many.

But it could also work well all by itself, over ice.

Wait, could I make a margarita with this? It's not tequila, obviously, but it would pair well with lime. Oh, the possibilities!

The Apple Crisp Whiskey came in a box that would be nice for gifting, and included two shotglasses, plus a pourer that fits the metal flask. Aside from being a unique container, the metal flask and metal accessories also makes this whole thing a lot more sturdy for gifting and sending. If it drops, nothing's going to break.

This is a fairly new company founded in 2016. They've got a bunch of other flavors, too, including spiced cherry (yum), mint chip (yum) and coconut (the dreaded coconut!)

I'll be looking for these at the liquor store. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying my free samples.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Dave's Sweet Tooth Toffee

One of my favorite candies is toffee. It's just sooooo good. So when the folks at Dave's Sweet Tooth asked me if I wanted samples, I said "heck no."

No, I'm kidding. Of course I said yes.

This stuff is really good.

The toffee was the perfect texture. Crisp and crunchy, but not so hard that you feel like you're going to crack a tooth. And the flavors were nice.

I'll be honest. I was a tad skeptical about the pumpkin spice, but I was very happy munching on it. The warm spices work well with the chocolate and sweetness. Nothing to complain about here.

But ... I think my favorites were the traditional milk and dark chocolate, along with the coffee toffee. Or maybe I just like saying coffee toffee. Coffeeeee tofffffeeee.

You can order these either in plastic jars or in bags that sort of look like jars. I think I like the bags better. The jars seem sturdier at first glance, but the toffee moved around in the jar and smudged the inside, so it wasn't particularly pretty. The same thing probably happened inside the packages, but you couldn't see it.

Then again, if you need some plastic jars for storage, they could be a pretty good option.

Oh, and these aren't all the flavors. So go check 'em out. Great stocking stuffers. Or stuffers for people who are stuffing stockings.

I got these at no cost to me from Dave's Sweet Tooth.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Spiced Ghee

Ghee eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee heeee he eeeeeeeee

It's just a fun word. It's butter that has been heated and the solids have been removed so you've got the clarified pure fat that's just a bit toasty. Sure, you can do it yourself, but it's easy to buy these days, too.

One of the cool things about ghee is that although it's made from butter, it doesn't have to be kept refrigerated. You can, if you want, to but you could also tuck it into a convenient cabinet or store it in your pantry.

I recently got a sample pack of spiced ghee from Pure Indian Foods. Interestingly, one of them was called Italian ghee, and it smelled a bit like oregano, but it also had rosemary and thyme. I can imagine using it for toasting gnocchi or other pastas, or for vegetables.

The garlic ghee was appropriately garlicky. I used it on some roasted cauliflower, but it would be pretty awesome for sauteeing shrimp or chicken. Of course, there's always the very obvious garlic bread. Herbs de provence ghee was pretty self-explanatory. Lots of uses for that.

Digestive ghee smelled vaguely minty to me, but the ingredients listed cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. Hmmm. This could be good in a dessert, perhaps. Speaking of dessert, the Indian dessert ghee included fennel, cardamom, and saffron. That could be good in shortbread cookies, Or maybe just on toast.

Last, we have Niter Kibbeh ghee, which for sure I've never heard of. It had cardamom, ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and nutmeg. Each jar has suggested uses, and this one suggests using it for a curry. I could see that.

The sample pack included small jars, so this would be an awesome stocking stuffer or part of a hostess gift. Or, you know, if you want to taste a bunch of flavored ghees before committing to a larger jar of one of them.

I got these at no cost to me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Wusthoff Charcuterie Set

Did you ever get a cheese knife set and then need to read the instructions to see what each knife is used for? And the you lose the instructions and you have these odd knives that you're totally not sure about?

Yeah, me too. A cheesemonger might know, but my cheese needs aren't quite that finicky.

This set is different. It's dubbed a charcuterie set, no doubt because of the robust serrated knife that's supposed to be used for sausage. It's pretty darned obvious that's what it's for. It's got mean teeth. It can handle your pepperoni and your salami and your bratwurst.

The paddle-shaped knife is the perfect device for scooping and spreading pate or soft cheeses onto bread or crackers. It's nice and wide, so you can make one decisive swoop to cover a cracker instead of a bunch of small smears.

The third knife in the set is the one with the holes in the blade. This isn't some kind of metal-saving tactic. The holes are there so that when you slice the cheese, there's less blade surface for it to stick to, so it will release from the knife easier.

While these would look lovely nestled together on your charcuterie platter, that's not what my life is like. I'm more likely to be cutting cheese for a snack, not lovingly placing it on a platter. Schmears of food on a cracker might be pimento cheese or it might be herbed cream cheese, or it might be (gasp!) peanut butter. And that toothed knife? Sure, I might slice sausage, but I might also grab it for slicing a crusty sandwich.

The point (haha, knife pun) is that all of these knives will find uses in your kitchen aside from displaying them on the cheese board once a year. You'll use them a lot.

Like all Wusthof knives, these are well made, and with that comes with a price tag that's not cheap. Honestly, though, I think these are worth it. I have a set in my Amazon cart right now, waiting for Santa to press the button.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Horseshoe Brand Hot Sauces

My relationship with spicy foods is interesting. I don't eat spicy foods all the time, but when I start, I go a little crazy. Spice on everything!

The nice people at Horseshoe Brand sent me some samples of their hot sauces just in time to scratch my spicy itch. I got four bottles, but they've got a LOT more flavors. Which is very cool.

Different peppers have different flavors and different types of heat. And different amounts of heat, too. So, just the choice of peppers makes a difference.

And then they add other flavors, like garlic or kiwi. Some of the sauces are smoother and some have bits of stuff. And there are a ton of different colors of sauces, so you can pick the perfect one to be the right garnish for whatever you're making.

To be honest, I'm kind of enamored with these. They're spicy, but the flavor really comes through. They're not so spicy that one drop is too much. And the multitude of flavors and colors made me happy.

Horseshoe Brand is a small company, and these are said to be handcrafted, and these taste like it. There's just ... something ... about them that made them really appealing. I'm slurping my way through the ones they sent me, and there's a darned good chance I'll be ordering some as well, or seeking them out at my local stores that carry the brand, like Whole Foods.

They also seem to have barbecue sauce, but I haven't had a chance to try those yet. The hot sauces, though ... yum.

Yup, I got these fer free. I'm lucky like that.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Thermoworks Signals

I got my first Thermoworks Thermapen some years ago, when I bought it as a Christmas present for myself. It was a bit of an indulgent purchase. It wasn't quite a budget breaker, but it was a budget stretcher, to be sure. But I'd been wanting one for years.

I was tired of cheap thermometers, like the one that told me that my turkey had reached the internal temperature of an active volcano.

So, I bought the Thermapen, and since then I've added to my collection of their devices When I got an email about the Signals thermometer, I decided that I had to have it, and they offered it to me at a discount. I whipped out that credit card so fast, my wallet didn't even notice the intrusion.

It arrived in record time and I tore open the box.

I'm all about the box tearing.

So, this is a leave-in remote thermometer with space for four different probes. FOUR. It's supposed to be targeted toward professional barbecue folks, but it could be really handy in a lot of kitchens. And it's not like you need to use all the probes at the same time.

One probe is designed to measure air temperature, and it comes with a handy clip that keeps it above the grill grate or oven rack. The other three probes are basic probes like you'd use for meat. But they also have other probes you can buy separately, including one that's waterproof. I might be buying that one, for sure. There is also a probe extension wire, so you can move the base unit even further from the grill or oven.

Oh, but four probes isn't the coolest thing. The coolest thing (puts on geek hat) is the app that you can use to monitor and control the thing. No matter how easy a thermometer is to set, an app can make it easier AND an app can have more features. Like, you can NAME the four different things you're measuring. So, on Christmas, you can have one probe testing the air temperature, one probe in the turkey breast, one probe in the turkey thigh and one probe in the stuffing bread pudding or the ham loaf, and you can tell which is which, because you named all of them. Bill, Joe, Fritz ... no, I mean you'd name them oven, thigh, breast, and side. So when you glance at the app or the thermometer, you wouldn't have to remember if the breast is #1 or #4.

They also included eight little silicone rings, two in each color. I wasn't sure what they were for, so I sent an email to them, and they responded quickly. The idea is that you put the rings on the probes, one on the end that connect to the thermometer, and one on the probe end. That way, if you mix up the wires, you can match the colors to know which probe is in the casserole.

Each probe can be set for minimum and maximum temperatures, so you could use it to see if your ice cream base has chilled enough (I really do need that waterproof probe) or it could warn you when the gravy is starting to take a chill and it needs a little reheat.

Setup on this thing was simple. I mislaid the instruction sheet (okay, it was right under the molded holder for all the stuff that came in the box) but I still was able to turn it on and mess with the temperatures. Then I went to the Google Play store and typed in Thermoworks and the app was right there. I installed that, it suggested that I hadn't added a device, and it walked me through the setup. Easy peasy.

There are no batteries to change. This has a USB connector on the thermometer base and it came with a cord and a plug that you use for charging, so that's pretty convenient. And this comes in several colors, so you can pick a color you like. I got purrrrrple.

This has pretty much everything I could need or want in a remote thermometer. The only thing I can think of that would be nice to have is some kind of pouch to hold all of it. Once the probe wires are unraveled from their very neat packing, they're not going to fit back into the molded plastic holder they were packed in, and I'd rather not have them loose in a drawer. I ended up tossing the plastic and put the thermometer, probes, and the charging plug and cord into the box for storage. That works well enough for now, but I might find them a decorative little box or container instead.

I paid for this, but got a discount.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Degusta Box November 2018

Yikes, I'm really late on this one, which is crazy because these were so easy to sample. Heh.

Anyway, as you probably already know, I get a box from Degusta Box every month so I can tell you about the goodies in the box. After getting these for ... oh, a long time ... there are always some surprises, along with some familiar items.

So here we go!

Popcorn Indiana Black and White Drizzlecorn
This is kettlecorn drizzled with dark and white chocolate. It's sweet and a little salty and crunchy, too, so it hits all the right craving notes. They've sent other flavors before, but I think this is the first time this one showed up.

Pearson Candy Company
I got mint patties, which I'm really familiar with. I recall buying these one at a time from a drugstore when I was a kid. Now I have a whole bag of 'em. These are nice as an after-meal snack, although I'm tempted to chop a few up and mix them into home made ice cream. They also sent coconut patties, but coconut and I don't get along, so I passed these along.

Bauducco Panettone
I know this is traditional, but it's not my favorite cake, so I found a new home for it. The size they sent would be a perfect stocking stuffer without it being a commitment to a whole giant cake.

Grand Belgian Specialties
Hey, come on! It's a box of chocolates. There's absolutely nothing that could be wrong with this. Yum, chocolate. And it's in a box, so it would be a nice little gift. Not that I'm giving this away. Nuh uh. This box is for me.

I got these a while back in a box and went out and bought them afterwards. They taste like popcorn but are in a triangular chip shape. And they don't have the husks that get caught in your teeth. Yummy stuff.

Chickapea Mac and Cheese
If you love mac and cheese but you're avoiding gluten, this one's for you. The pasta is made from chickpeas and lentils, which also adds to the protein content. It's certainly an interesting idea.

Wholesome Goodness Tuxedo Mix
This is a little snack-sized pack of yogurt covered raisins and peanuts along with soy nuts covered with dark chocolate and roasted peanuts. Raisins happen to be the other food that I'm not fond of, so these found a new home. This looked tasty, though.

Bush's Best bean dip
I've been buying all kinds of Bush's products for a long time. If it's beans, they seem to know what they're doing. So, now there's bean dip.

Nutiva oils
These were little packets of cooking oils. Mmm. Coconut oil. Good sample sizes for people who want to try them out.

In case you didn't notice, I got this free from Degusta Box.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Davidson's Organic Tea: Chai

Want chai?

Davidson's Organic Tea recently sent me samples of three of their chai teas, along with a sweet mug. Yes, that's a ginormous mug. And there's a fox inside. Yup.

But back to the chai.

To be honest, I'm not sure what makes tea chai or not chai, but I'm okay with that. They called these chai. I drank. Job done.

They sent Cardamom Macchiato, S'mores Chai, and Pumpkin Chai. All three were quite different from the usual teas that are, well, tea leaves or "tea" that is actually herbs and stuff.

The Cardamom Macciato included coffee beans, among other things; the S'mores Chai included marshmallow and chocolate, and the Pumpkin Chai included pumpkin flakes and caramel.

Which was the best? Yeah, that's personal taste, but I think the S'mores might have been the winner for me, although I wouldn't turn down any of 'em.

These would be great stocking stuffers for anyone you know who likes tea and who has already tried all the ones at the grocery store. Or, you know, grab yourself a ginormous mug and settle in on a cool evening to enjoy some chai.

Why, yes, I did get these from Davidson't Tea at no cost to me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

American Heritage Chocolate

Seriously, if someone asks me if I want samples of their chocolate, there's only one sane answer.

Yes, I want to sample your chocolate. Send it now.

I'm not exactly sure why this chocolate is historic or heritage, but the website says it's made from authentic heritage recipes. So there you go.

This wasn't just plain chocolate, there was a bit of a spice component - maybe cinnamon? Some kind of warm spices were in there, for sure.

While these are great as-is, if you want to cook with them, I think they'd work well in Mexican recipes where you want the earthy spices but not the chile flavors. Or, you know, just snack on them. Or chop them up and use them like chocolate chips in cookies. Or use the drink mix as a substitute for cocoa in recipes.

These would also be nice stocking stuffers for people who like to try different types of chocolate. Yup, it's that time of year. Stuff the stockings!

Did I mention that I got these at no cost? Yup.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Goya Olive Oil

Them: Do you want to sample our olive oils?

Me: Yup.

The company was Goya, who I'm very familiar with, and I've used their olive oils before. I'm a fiend for olive oil, and I love sampling different ones, so I was curious about what they were sending.

The clear bottle with extra virgin olive oil is readily available at my grocery store, so it was a good baseline oil. This is the one I'd use mostly for cooking. Not over super-high heat, but for pretty much everything else.

Then there was an organic premium and an ultra premium.

I have to say that none of these were bad, but they were all different from each other. Yes, I actually did sample all of them. The ultra premium was my favorite of the three. This is the oil you use when you want to taste the oil. Like when you're drizzling it over fresh tomatoes or using it for dipping bread.

The premium was nice, too. I'd be happy to use it on salads or drizzled over vegetables and in other situations where the oil is a flavor component, but it's not the primary focus of the dish.

Yup, three nice Goya olive oils. One of the bottles is already empty. Did I mention that I use a lot of olive oil?

I received these at no cost to me.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Zoku Jack

Yeah, you're wondering about that title, right?

Zoku, known for their ice pop freezing gadgets, recently sent me a sweet ice cube maker set. It makes giant cubes that are so popular these days because they melt slower in drinks.

Or not cubes, actually. We seriously need a better name for ice that's frozen into small pieces for drinks, don't we?

Anyhoo, this was a set of two ice molds that were supposed to look like the jacks that kids play with. To be honest, I thought they looked more like molecules, which I think is much cooler than a jack. Bonus for me.

These were super-easy to fill, and the two halves held together tightly, so I didn't need to worry about water spillage in my overcrowded freezer. I hate when that happens!

They were also easy to pull apart when the ice was frozen and it was easy to get the ice out of the mold half. Easy, easy, easy. I mean, ice should be easy.

What I thought was funny was that the first glass I wanted to put ice in had a narrow top, so the fancy ice jack didn't fit. Yup, these are pretty big, so they're not going to fit in your teeny tiny glasses.

On the other hand, I think they'd be awesome floating around in a punch bowl, like a bunch of molecules wandering the universe. Or something like that.

I received these at no cost to me.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Work Sharp Culinary E5 Sharpener

Folks who sharpen knives professionally will sometimes use a belt sander sort of setup. My dad actually used that type of thing for sharpening drill bits and other machine tools. That method of sharpening requires a whole lot of experience, lest you grind off more blade than you mean to.

Until I saw the Work Sharp Culinary E5 Sharpener, I had no idea there was a belt system for sharpening knives at home. Unlike my dad's machine that was about the size of a human, this is a little machine, no larger than other styles of home electric sharpeners. Easy to tuck into the pantry when it's not in use.

When you're using it, this feels a lot like other electric sharpeners, possibly a little softer because the belts have a little flexibility, but the action against the knife is different. More like sanding/polishing than grinding.

Guides on both sides of the machine make sure you're holding the knife at the right angle, which is the hard part about sharpening knives at home. It's just plain difficult to eyeball a precise angle. Here, you just snuggle the knife against the guide, and slide it against the belt.

Lights on the front of the sharpener let you know whether you're in shape, sharpen, or refine mode, so you can sharpen you knife aggressively if it requires it, or you can just give it a gentle touch to maintain it.

For basic maintenance, the sharpener also includes a steel. Which is actually ceramic. But anyway, it's the thing that you use between actual sharpenings.

Along with the sharpener kit, the company sent me some dull knives along with a knife roll, so I could practice sharpening, and then have a place to store my knives.

I also touched up some of my own knives that were due for a little care.

I have to say that the whole process was easy, and the machine is much quieter than those that use grinding stones.

The really cool thing about this cutting system is that while the basic model is designed for the most common knife styles with a 17-degree angle, you can buy an upgrade kit that includes both east and west guides (15 and 20 degrees) as well as a selection of different belts. It's all pretty easy to set up, too, so you can swap from one angle to another without a lot of grumbling.

Extra belts are also available for purchase, so you won't need to replace the whole machine if the belts are worn.

I received this at no cost to me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Burnout Travel Tumbler

There are a lot of people who want to send me coffee mugs, travel tumblers, and other drinking devices that are meant to take your beverage on the go. Mostly, I say "no" because I don't see a lot that are truly different.

Then I heard about the Burnout, and I had to give it a try.

Have you ever poured coffee from your pot into your to-go insulated tumbler, then opened it 10 minutes later to take a sip, and it's too darned hot for sipping?

The Burnout is designed to solve that problem.

When you pour hot coffee into the tumbler, it immediately starts getting cooler. The temperature drops, then levels out, and it stays warm for quite a while.

I was skeptical, so I tested it, measuring the temperature in short intervals until it stopped getting cooler, then I checked it every hour or so. Eventually, like any insulated drink container, it got a little cooler than most people would like for drinking, but if your coffee has been sitting around for three or four hours, maybe it's time for a fresh cup, anyway.

What voodoo is this?

I'm not really sure, but it seems that the tumbler first absorbs the heat, which cools the coffee to a reasonable drinking temperature, then that stored heat helps to keep the coffee at a reasonable drinking temperature.

This is a really cool thing! Seriously. I'm impressed, and I don't say that very often about tumblers.

I received this at no cost to me.

Friday, October 26, 2018

DiamoTech Skillet

So many skillets, not nearly enough eggs.

The nice folks at DiamoTech sent me one of their 9 1/2 inche skillets to test, and I've left it out on the stove since it arrived, so I remember to use it every time I cook something.

This is a nonstick skillet with an interesting finish. It's extremely smooth and it's very dark gray with tiny glitter-like spots that look blue and purple in the light of my kitchen. When I took it out of the package, I thought, oooh, that would be a cool look for fabric. Or jewelry. Or some kind of decorative vase.

Alas, it's just a skillet.

So, I lived with this glittery skillet for a while, cooking everything from eggs to meat to sauces. After a couple of nonstick pans that failed after a short time, I simply don't trust the first test. This one, however, is still nonstick, still not scratched, and still very glittery.

I've only washed it by hand, because that's the way I wash all my pots and pans, but this is supposed to be dishwasher safe. Good to know, if I ever actually have space in my dishwasher for cookware. It's also oven safe which is actually more important to me than dishwasher safe. If I'm cooking something on the stove and want to finish it in the oven, it's nice to be able to do it in the same pan.

On the other hand, nothing sticks to it, so hand washing it isn't all that much of a chore. These new nonstick cooking surfaces are kinda spooky, right?

It's fairly lightweight, so it's good for flipping vegetables, and it has good balance when holding it. It's also on the inexpensive end, when we're talking about cookware, so even if it only lasts a couple years because you backed over it with your car, it's still a good deal.

This stuff comes in single pieces, there are lids, and there are sets. Overall, it's a nice pan. I'm going to keep using it and see if it starts getting weird after many months. But for now it seems like it should last.

The one downside of this pan - and it's not a big one - is that you're supposed to season it before the first use. The instructions are on the label, and you just need to wipe a little oil on, and put it in the oven. To be honest. I'm not sure if that's actually necessary (skeptical that I am) since the oil didn't actually want to stick to the surface of the pan, so it kind of beaded up ... but I did it anyway. If it helped the pan, that's great. If not, I wasted a couple drops of oil. No big deal.

I got a sample pan from DiamoTech for testing, at no cost to me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Field Company Lightweight Iron Skillet

I've been using cast iron skillets since I was a kid using my mom's cookware, and I'm a big fan. Properly seasoned and cared for, a cast iron skillet will be just as nonstick as your modern nonstick cookware, and it can last for generations.

Aside from extreme thermal shock, I can't imagine how you could seriously damage a cast iron pan. Even if you left it out in the snow all winter and it started to rust, you could sand off the rust and re-season the pan and it would be just fine.

Speaking of thermal shock, I'm not talking about the kind of shock that can break a glass casserole. More like heating it red hot, then pouring liquid nitrogen into it. And I'm not sure that would actually damage it. Not that I want to try. I like my cast iron.

So anyway, the folks at Field Company offered to send me one of their lighter weight cast iron skillets.

Let me be clear here. There's no voodoo involved. It's still real cast iron, just like your foremothers used. The metal is the same. But the skillet is just a little thinner, so it's lighter. It's also smoother, so you don't have a bumpy surface. I'm guessing that rather than just casting it and doing some rough finishing, these are machined to get that smooth surface and thinner metal. But, I'm just guessing. It could be voodoo.

Now, when I'm saying that this skillet is lighter, it's lighter than a standard cast iron skillet of the same size. It's not as light as aluminum. Because that would be actual voodoo.

I went through my usual seasoning process, using the skillet in between. Mostly searing steaks, because that's something that cast iron is excellent at.

As far as performance, there's a slight difference between this pan and my other cast iron pans. Cast iron is desirable for its ability to retain heat, and this did that very well. When I was first heating it, it heated a little unevenly, getting hotter faster right above the flame. However, once it was hot, it all evened out. Since I always preheat cast iron pans, I can't even say this was a drawback. Just something that I noticed. You know, with an infrared thermometer in my hands. Otherwise, I'm not even sure I would have noticed.

Overall, this is a nice pan and I can definitely feel the difference in weight, so I'll be keeping it handy for cooking. And baking. And roasting. And in the grill. And pretty much every way I use cast iron pans.

Like many of the things I review here, I got this pan at no cost to me.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Quick Peek: Ninja Foodi

Ninja has made some innovative products, and I've reviewed a few of them over the years. Their slow cooker was on my kitchen counter for many years, and their blenders are real beasts.

The latest from Ninja's warped mind is the Foodi. As soon as I saw it, I pre-ordered the danged thing because I just had to try it. I had to.

And then I waited for it to show up.

And then it arrived. I had the box ripped open and it was on my counter running through a test before the delivery guy had gotten to the end of the block. puff, puff

The Foodi is the mutant stepchild of a pressure cooker and an air fryer. Yeah, you heard that. It pressure cooks AND it air fries.

That's why I had to have it. This is a new category of product, and it actually makes sense.

I've owned pressure cookers of all types, and I use mine regularly. Air fryers, though ... I've used them, I've liked the results, but I never loved them enough to keep them on my counter top long term. The idea of combining an air fryer with a machine I use often just made sense.

I did a quick pressure test to make sure the pressure cooker function was working correctly, then I browsed through the recipe book that came with the machine to see what I could make right away. I settled on potato wedges because I had a bag of potatoes and I knew I liked them in an air fryer.

The instructions were a little different than what I made in the air fryer. These were pressure cooked for a short time, then I drizzled on some oil, and then I air fried them. The result was very much like what I'd gotten from the previous air fryer, but faster.

The cooking bowl of the Foodi is wider than any of my other electric pressure cookers - a bit over 9 inches in diameter - so it will fit larger accessories and larger hunks of food, as long as they're not super tall. And for sure it can hold more than the air fryers I've used, so that's a bonus. It also seems to be willing to work with less liquid than some pressure cookers I've used. For the potatoes, I only needed 1/2 cup of water, which isn't much at all.

I'm kind of curious about that wide bowl, particularly for cooking cheesecakes. I've made cheesecakes in my other pressure cookers before, but they were pretty small, since larger pans wouldn't fit. With this wide pan, I can fit at least an 8-inch springform pan, and possibly even a 9-inch pan. I guess I'll be experimenting with cooking times.

Besides the machine and the nonstick cooking pot, this comes with a "cook and crisp" basket that I used for the potato wedges. And I have to mention that the potatoes got brown and crisp on both the top and bottom. It also includes a rack that can be used in two different ways, either as a steaming rack to keep food low in the cooking pot, or as a broiler rack, holding the food close to the top where the heat is generated.

It has one lid that's permanent - that's the air fryer lid. And there's a removable lid for pressure cooking. When you use the pressure cooker lid, you simply flip the fryer lid up.

I plan on doing some more testing with this, but I wanted to give you a heads-up on it, since it's so new and weird.

So far, I like it. Next, I'm going to try some chicken. There is a recipe in the book for a whole "roasted" chicken that is first pressure cooked, then air fried, and that's kind of fascinating. This could also be great for ribs, since they could be pressure cooked, then slathered with sauce and air fried or broiled.

I haven't tried all the buttons yet, so I'm not sure how they all function. Unlike many of the electric pressure cookers that have buttons for everything from cake to poultry, this doesn't have presets for different foods. And that's fine with me. I seldom use the presents on my pressure cooker.

When you're ready to press buttons, this senses whether the fryer lid is in place or not, and the cooking options change based on that. If you're already cooking with the fryer lid in place, the lid will turn itself off while you check the food. Then it turns on again and cooking resumes when the lid is down again.

But back to buttons ...

With the fryer lid down, you have options to air fry, bake/roast, or broil. With the fryer lid lifted, you have your choice of pressure cook, steam, slow cook, and sear/saute. It won't actually pressure cook without the lid, but the settings are there. Up and down buttons let you change the temperature and set the time. There's also a keep warm function, a start/stop button, and a power-off button.

So, yeah, I have a lot of testing to do. Lots of buttons to press. But first, I need to buy a chicken.

I bought this. Nada freebies.

Note: as I'm writing this, Amazon only has these from third-party sellers at a considerably higher price than I paid. Wait until the price comes back down if you're as crazy as me and you need one of these.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Drinkmate Spritzer

A while back, I reviewed the original Drinkmate carbonator, and gave it my thumbs up.

This time, they sent me their new Spritzer, which is a smaller, more compact unit.

Basically, they got rid of the stand, so it's just the head that attaches to the bottle you're going to carbonate, and a connector to the CO2 tanks.

It's not quite as industrial looking as that sounds, as you can see from the photo, although if you found it in someone's kitchen drawer, you might not know exactly what it is.

The Drinkmate Spritzer came with the smaller water bottles, rather than the larger one that came with the original Drinkmate. It also included two 3-ounce CO2 canisters for carbonating.

First, the operation of these two devices is nearly identical, and they use the same type of bottles, so you can swap between the two devices - for example if you have one at home and one at work. When using a small 3-ounce CO2 canister with the Spritzer, the canister is completely enclosed. The Spritzer can also use the larger 60-liter canister, but then it would be much bulkier. If you're making a lot of fizzy water, the larger canisters might make more sense even though it wouldn't look quite as sleek. But if you want to take the carbonator along on a picnic or tuck it in your desk drawer, the smaller canister, enclosed in the device, might make a lot more sense.

One of the main selling points of the Drinkmates is that you can use them to carbonate any beverage. With other carbonators, you can only carbonate water, then add flavor. That means you can't carbonate things like wine or juice or tea. While I mostly use mine for water, it's kind of fun to carbonate other things.

After I used the Spritzer a few times, I realized there were some distinct advantages to the smaller bottles. For one thing, that's a nice serving size for me. When I used the bigger bottles, I poured the fizzy water into a glass. With the smaller bottles, I drank straight from the bottle.

So I bought extra bottles. And that was even a better idea. You see, cold water carbonates better than cool water, so now I just leave filled bottles in the fridge and I carbonate them when I want them. When I'm done drinking, I clean the used bottle, refill, and tuck it back into the fridge.

Do I like this better than the original Drinkmate? Hmmm. I think I do, since it's smaller. But that's a personal decision.

Since the operation of the two is pretty much the same, I'd say that it's really a tossup as to which is better. The original carbonator doesn't take a lot of counter space, so if you want it handy at all times, you might like that better than a device that you'll tuck in a drawer.

Either way, it's a cool device.

Here's my original review.

I received this as no cost to me; I bought extra bottles.