Mastrad Orka Silicone Oven Mitt

The modern method of roasting a turkey calls for roasting breast-down for the first hour, then turning the bird. “Turn the bird using tongs” the instructions say. (Yeah, right. Tongs. Sure, I’m going to try to pick up and flip a 20 lb piece of hot, moist meat using tongs. Not!)

Fortunately, I have Mastrad Orka oven mitts instead.

With these silicone mitts on, I can just pick up the turkey with my hands, and turn it over! Solo! No tongs. No worries about dropping it. And even though the oven was at 400 degrees I did not feel any heat on my hands, not when taking the roaster out of the oven nor when picking up the bird and turning it over.

With a quick swish with soap and hot water, toss them into the drying rack and they are clean and ready to be used again.

I did not buy these mitts, they were purchased by a former housemate. I would not have bought them, I thought traditional quilted style oven mitts did everything I needed. I had no idea I’d ever need these silicon mitts. But they are here in my kitchen this morning, and I’m ever so thankful on this Thanksgiving that I have them! I’m going to recommend them to everyone now.

-- JC Dill  

Mastrad Pro Silicone Oven Mitt 11-Inch
$25

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Mastrad



Wide Mouth Canning Jar Accessories

I was planning to write a review of the Norpro Wide Mouth Funnel, because it’s one of my favorite kitchen tools and has revolutionized my food storage process. But then I realized the funnel is a small a part of a larger system of jars in my kitchen.

The iconic canning jar — better known as the Mason or Ball jar — is the only cheap, standardized storage solution I know. There are, of course, fancier, more expensive jars available, but buying enough of them to be truly useful is cost-prohibitive, and with new designs you run the risk the company will stop making them after you’re heavily invested. Weck, Fido and Bernoulli jars, while classic and useful for specific purposes, lack full standardization: you take apart the lid for cleaning and then wonder which jar that lid belongs to. Not so the canning jar.

Usually around $1 apiece (or 25 to 50 cents in thrift stores), canning jars are cheap enough to build a collection. I have at least a dozen of each size in regular rotation in my kitchen, pantry and fridge and use them many times a day:

  • In the morning I pull out a few 4oz jars and dole out my vitamins for the day.
  • I pack lunch items, including soup, tea, pudding, and nuts or seeds, in half pint and pint jars which then go into an insulated lunch bag (available at your local thrift store).
  • We use the pint size as drinking glasses, of course. At our wedding we had an assortment of jars and colored sharpies for guests to label them with. (Classy, I know.)
  • My immersion blender fits snugly into a wide-mouth jar to make shakes, mayonnaise or whipped cream. Leftovers can be easily capped and stored.
  • When I make sauerkraut or other anaerobic ferments, I use a 4oz canning jar as a weight inside a wide mouth or bail-top jar, to keep the veggies under the brine.
  • Straight-sided jars can be used in the freezer without breaking. Put them in warm water for a few minutes and the food slides right out.
  • Their usefulness is by no means limited to the kitchen.

funnel

The website Food In Jars has a useful taxonomy of canning jar sizes.

Presumably because the patent has long expired, the canning jar is fair game for all kinds of innovative accessories. My favorites are the aforementioned funnel, which works elegantly with a small strainer in both wide or standard mouth jars. One-piece lids are also handy.

There are a myriad of other innovative accessories, including the Cuppow (previously reviewed on Cool Tools), Kraut Kaps, ReCAP, Tattler lids, and the Holdster. So far none of these have proven themselves indispensable, but they’re all evidence that the magnificent canning jar continues to inspire.

A couple of caveats:

Unless you have tiny hands (or an excellent dish washer), stick to mostly wide mouth jars. Standard jars are hard to clean (except for the shallow 4oz size).

Although “salad in a jar” is a thing, canning jars don’t make great lunch containers if you pack sandwiches or just want a “bowl like” dining experience.

As far as I’m concerned there really isn’t a perfect non-plastic lunch container on the US market. I’ve tried many, from Indian tiffins to Ikea glass lunch containers. Inevitably they aren’t leak proof, or they are but then they get a dent, or you lose the lid, or the seal gets filthy or wears out, and then the parts aren’t replaceable, or the company stops making them and you have to buy a new set. I dream that one day someone will design a standardized, open-source, leak-proof travel bowl. I already have a name for it: the extra-wide mouth.

-- Reanna Alder  



Dorkfood DSV Temperature Controller for Sous Vide

Works flawlessly, controlling temperature to one degree. Using it with my 25-year-old Proctor Slo-Cooker (Original cost $19). Best thing so far is 48-hour short ribs. Cooking them at 140 degrees for two whole days makes the best tasting beef dish I ever had. The meat is totally different texture than what a braise gives you and they still are pink on the inside.

It sure beats spending $400 for a sous vide water oven. I just set it up in the garage and let it go. I do use it with my vacuum food packer but you can use it with regular zip lock bags, (just remove the air using the archimedes principle).

-- Bruce Johnson  



Vacuum Stainless-Steel Coffee Press

For French press coffee geeks who also happen to be klutzes like me, no more broken carafes with this bad boy. I’ve had mine for years and it is still like brand new. Also for whatever reason, the plunger mesh is MUCH tougher than on the Bodum products and does not shred nearly as easily. Next time you smash your carafe on your Bodum just buy one of these.

-- A.T. Salzman  

Thermos 34-Ounce Vacuum Insulated Stainless-Steel Gourmet Coffee Press
$40

Available from Amazon



Induction Hot Plate

Induction does for cooktops what microwaves do for ovens, but with the added safety that low frequency inductions fields won’t heat human tissue.

Induction heating works by inducing eddy currents into conductive heating containers, usually iron or stainless steel. Titanium works great too. Copper and aluminum pans do not work because they are TOO conductive. In effect they short circuit the stove’s power coils.

Induction cooktops are very efficient because the heating energy is directed directly to the heating container and none to the surrounding environment. They are also much safer in that, other than the container, no high temperatures are generated, and in particular, no combustion temperatures are generated, eliminating the risk of a fire.

I’ve own this cooktop for about a year. I bought this single cooktop to evaluate the technology prior to purchasing a full size kitchen cooktop. I could not be happier with it and my wife loves it because it boils water as fast or faster than the microwave.

The picture above is a titanium camping pot with boiling water in it, with post-it notes and my hand on the stove. (It’s a good that I wasn’t wearing a metal ring on my finger in the picture, although I probably would have noticed it pretty quickly.)

-- Bruce Bowen  

Aroma AID-506 Induction Hot Plate, Black
$89

Available from Amazon



Pizzeria Pronto Outdoor Pizza Oven

The most important aspect of pizza is the crust, and a conventional home oven does not achieve the high temperatures needed to cook pizza crust properly. There is a whole subculture of pizza enthusiasts seeking a solution to a higher temperature cooking environment short of buying a wood-burning pizza oven.

Everyone acknowledges the wood-burning oven is the best choice but it costs thousands of dollars and requires hours of preparation time when you want to use it. One shortcut gaining in popularity has been to modify outdoor grills with pizza stones. The Pizzeria Pronto oven is essentially a purpose-built outdoor grill. It contains a gas burner beneath a double pizza stone — the company sells the same stone combination for conventional grills — with a top that is open in the front so you can slide the pizza onto the stone.

The oven will “only” get up to 700 degrees while a real wood-burning oven can reach 800 degrees. However, it is ready in 15 minutes — you just connect it to a propane tank and turn it on. The results are quite good — much better than anything I’ve been able to achieve with a conventional oven (and I’ve tried every trick out there). Because the oven is fairly small, you’ll only be able to make a plate-sized pizza and it takes some practice to negotiate the pizza through the short opening. However, the small size is a plus since you can take it with you on vacations, and the clever design allows it to sit on a table so you aren’t forced to slide pizzas while on your knees.

Other than the oven, pizza-making requires little infrastructure, so I like to think of this little thing as a tool that enables vegetarians to compete with the portable outdoor cooking fun that was previously the exclusive province of meat-eaters.

Here are a couple of additional thoughts:

I use two pizza peels with the oven. They have to be less than 13” in width in order to fit inside the opening. When the uncooked pizza is first slid into the oven, I use a very smooth wooden peel made by Epicurean.

Even when you coat the peel in flour, pizza dough tends to stick to the peel — one of life’s major frustrations as attempting to liberate it with more flour often means you end up poking a hole in the dough. The Epicurean peel gives you the best chance for a pizza to slide properly of any I’ve tried. I don’t know how anyone gets an uncooked pizza to slide off of a metal peel. By contrast, to remove the pizza, you want a peel with an extremely thin edge to liberate the crust from the stone. Since in the Pizzeria Pronto the stone is extremely hot, you also want one made of metal, so you don’t burn or discolor your wooden peel — charred wood does not add to the flavor of your pizza. I use this 12” one. Two peels also allows a bit of pipelining in the pizza-making process.

Because this oven heats the air by heating under the stone, the bottom of the crust can burn unless you use the right recipe. I’ve had excellent results with the pizza dough recipe in the book Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish, owner of Ken’s Artisan Pizza in Portland, Oregon. (This book, by the way, is a Cool Tool in and of itself. Absolutely stunning results using only four ingredients, your hands, and a plastic tub.)

Combine Ken’s recipe with this oven and you can achieve a crust with a crisp exterior and puffy interior you might have thought was completely beyond your grasp.

-- David Zicarelli  

Pizzacraft Pizzeria Pronto Outdoor Pizza Oven
$300

Available from Amazon



Bialetti Stovetop Percolator

I originally bought this classic Italian coffee maker for camping, but the coffee was so good I use it every day. It is so simple to use and the result is superb. I prefer French roast coffee in this coffee maker. It comes in 1,3,6,9 and 12 cup versions. The 6 cup version gives you enough coffee for a good mug of strong/bold coffee. It is very sturdy and well made in Italy. It does require hand washing and not dishwasher safe, but the simple process of pouring water in the well and putting the coffee in the filter cup and screwing it together and putting on a stove, makes enjoying the end result a rewarding experience.

-- Angus Miller  

Bialetti Moka Express 6-Cup Stovetop Percolator
$28

Available from Amazon



Refillable K-Cup For Keurig K-Cup Brewers

We love the convenience of a Keurig, but aren’t crazy about continually buying pre-filled K-cups. So, we purchased the stainless steel, refillable Ekobrew k-cup. Comes with a metal hinge so it won’t break after being heated and cooled over and over. And, it allows us to buy a pound of coffee of our choice and use it in the Keurig. Also, it’s much better from an environmental perspective in that we aren’t throwing away all those once used k-cups.

-- Tom Eggert  

Ekobrew Cup, Refillable K-Cup For Keurig K-Cup Brewers
$15

Available from Amazon



Stainless Steel Flexible Paring Knives

I inherited a paring knife, shown rightmost in the photo, with an unusually thin, narrow, flexible, 2.5-inch blade. It’s excellent for removing labels from cans before putting them into a recycling dumpster. (I’ve heard that recycling organizations prefer that these labels be removed.) Its flexible tip bends in under the lower edge of the label at a shallower angle than other knives. This, plus its thinness and narrowness, keeps the label’s tear-line from ripping all the way up to the tip while the knife is removing the label. Thus, it is rarely necessary to have to dig the knife in under the label a second time (to restart a rip).

Another advantage is that less force is needed to do the job than what the thicker, wider, stiffer blade of an ordinary paring knife (leftmost in the photo) requires. The latter mostly tears the label with or near its tip, rather than slicing it further down its blade. This extra force means that the blade will sometimes slip and skid along the can, which is irritating and discouraging.

In order to gift my sister with a similar one, I searched online and discovered the inexpensive ($1 each) item shown second from left. It is is superior to an ordinary paring knife, but it isn’t ideal “out of the box,” because its tip is so sharp that it digs into the can, and because its blade widens too suddenly near the tip, tearing the label too soon. So I spent a minute on my bench grinder and rounded over the tip and ground back the surge in the blade, with the result shown in the third photo from the left.

Finally, I put an inch of the blade into a vise and bent it to about a 10-degree angle. This allows it to slide under the label at the start without having to hold the knife at an awkward angle. (You should try to slide the bent tip under the label all the way to the top, at which point it should pop loose, rather than trying to tear the label near the tip.)

You can grind and bend the other three knives similarly, and gift your friends and relatives with them.

-- Roger Knights  

Stainless Steel Flexible Paring/Garnishing Knives – 6 Inch
$6 / 4 knives

Available from Amazon



Swing-A-Way Can Opener

It seems so simple and obvious. And I recall when just about every household had one of these somewhere in the kitchen. But now they are rather hard to find. But I still have not found a better or neater way to open cans. Mounts on the wall, the magnet catches the lid. Swings out of the way so you don’t bump into it. Even if you don’t eat much canned food, everyone opens a can now and then. It worked for your granny, it will work for you.

-- John Coate  

Swing-A-Way Can Opener
$10

Available from Amazon