Microplane Professional Extra Coarse Grater

This cheese grater has become essential in my kitchen. It won’t take up extra space and grates better than any others I’ve owned. Cheeses ranging in hardness from Parmesan to mozzarella transform almost effortlessly into shreds perfect for nachos or pizza. Though I have a food processor with a cheese grater attachment that works well, I prefer using the Microplane grater since it’s quick, doesn’t crumble the cheese, and is a breeze to clean up.

While there is just one grating surface, I don’t miss the others that were on the Kitchen-Aid box grater I had before the Microplane grater. I also own the Microplane zester/grater, and find that the two sizes are all I need. Even together, they take up much less space in my kitchen than a box grater.

Made entirely of stainless steel, the grater features 35 extra-sharp cutting blades. Fortunately, it comes with a plastic guard for when it’s not in use. I’ve owned this grater for almost two years, and even with almost daily use, it’s still incredibly sharp.

-- Abbie Stillie  

Professional Extra Coarse Grater
$22

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Microplane



 

Ultimate Tutorials: How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken

Melissa Clark of The New York Times shows how to cut up a whole chicken. Why do it yourself when you can buy cut-up chickens? Three reasons: 1) It’s cheaper; 2) You can cut it the way you want it; 3) You get the backbone (which usually doesn’t come with cut-up chicken) to make stock. At the end, Clark explains how to make stock.

 

[Cool Tools is interested in learning about great online tutorials. If you know of one, please tell us about it!]



30-Ounce Oil Pourer

We’ve had this glass oil pourer for over two years. The tapered spout allows for easy control when pouring. Drips and dribbles fall into the wide collar (that also acts like a funnel when filling) instead of on the kitchen counter or down the side of the container. The drip-proof nozzles that come with olive oil bottles aren’t nearly as good. Other advantages over using the bottle the oil comes in:

  • It has a low center of gravity, making it unlikely to tip over if knocked.
  • The shape provides fantastic balance for precise control.
  • You can buy your oil in bulk for savings.
  • You can run the whole thing through the dishwasher.

It’s extremely durable: I’ve bumped it more than I’d like to admit, as well as accidentally banged it onto the tile counter top when setting it down.

It’s become our go-to wedding gift.

-- Jason Huebsch  

Chef’s Planet 30-Ounce Oil Pourer
$20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Chef's Planet



Ultimate Tutorials: Make a Solar Oven

Follow along as Bill Becker perfects his backyard solar oven.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

[Cool Tools is interested in learning about great online tutorials. If you know of one, please tell us about it!]

Sample Excerpts:

NewOven_43

Here it is in all its painted glory. Today I will not cook, but will simply see how hot the empty oven will get.

10:45. The sun is normal to the empty oven, and the oven is at 462 degrees. Air temperature in the shade: 98 degrees. (A bit on the cool side, actually. Again, I live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, at Latitude 36-28.)

13:15, just after the sun’s peak elevation. I should have taken a picture of the thermometer at 10:45. A high layer of cirrus clouds has covered the sun and reduced the temperature to just over 375 degrees.




Cerama Bryte Cooktop Cleaner

I’m no neat freak, but nothing looks more disgusting than a stove caked with splattered grease, melted cheese and old marinara sauce. And while I don’t think I’m exactly sloppy, my wife would argue that I don’t do a good job of cleaning up after myself. And so, without fail, our “easy to clean” glass cooktop is a perennial mess.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to keep it clean. The Windex/409 combo that I tend to use on every other surface in the house at least removes the loose stuff from the cooktop, but at best it’s only passable. Even if I did manage to get the thing really clean, every solution I’ve tried leaves some form of unsightly haze on the surface, which prevents it from ever looking truly clean.

So the other day when I was shopping for appliance parts for an unrelated kitchen catastrophe, I was pleased to discover Cerama Bryte on the store shelf. Wary of the descriptive yet unfortunate name, the friendly sales associate assured me that products like this tend to work well. So I bought it, used it and loved it.

The starter kit I purchased consists of three parts used in a three-step process. Part one is a standard razor blade scraper, used as step one to easily remove any cooked-on mess. (Any razor blade scraper would do the trick, I’m sure.) Part two is the Cerama Bryte liquid cleaner, used in conjunction with part three, a Cerama Bryte cleaning pad. The cleaning solution itself is similar in consistency to liquid car wax. It goes on in much the same way too — spread in circles via the cleaning pad (step two), then left to dry before buffing with a soft cloth or paper towel in step three.

I’ve found that the “quarter sized” dollop recommended on the back of the bottle is almost sufficient, and that a heavy hand with the stuff only makes for longer drying times and more challenging buffing.

Cerama Bryte works wonderfully, creating a spotless, haze-free, factory-fresh shine in just a few minutes. It’s easy to apply, cleanup is fairly simple, and the cleaner itself is biodegradable and phosphate free. (I still wouldn’t rub it in my eyes, though.)

I can’t imagine anything cleaning my stove better than Cerama Bryte. If you’re searching for a cleaning solution for an unsightly glass-ceramic cooktop, this is probably it.

-- William Sawalich  

Cerama Bryte Cooktop Cleaning Kit
$8

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Cerama Bryte



Silicone Spoon Spatula

I’ve had this spoon spatula about four years and it’s the single kitchen utensil I use the most.

It’s perfect for mixing brownie batter, stir-frying vegetables, scraping jars, serving food from the pan into bowls, and pretty much anything and everything you can think of. I spread butter, jelly, and peanut butter with this thing. I use it to cut brownies, break apart cooking cauliflower, scoop cookie dough onto pans, scrape cut veggies off the cutting board, and I’ve even flipped pancakes with it (though I recommend the turner for that).

The seamless design is super quick to clean, doesn’t hold food flavors, and it’s never melted or deformed despite years of constant use and abuse (like being left on a cast iron pan of smoking olive oil). It can be cut though, as I found after carelessly stuffing it into my Vitamix!

Avoid using this with sharp blades and it’ll last a lifetime.

I also highly recommend the Silicone Slim Spatula and Silicone 13 Inch Turner as a complement to the spoon spatula, but the spoon spatula is really my go-to tool and rarely leaves the countertop.

-- Ian Hall  

iSi Basics Silicone Spoon Spatula
$10

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by iSi Basics



“Reverse French” Coffee Making

Many coffee aficionados prefer the French press method of making coffee. It and the Aeropress method are the only two methods that immerse all the ground coffee in hot water, then removes all the ground coffee all at once (the French press pushes the grounds to the bottom of a carafe, while the Aeropress pushes the coffee through a small paper filter into a cup.)

The French press method gives a uniquely syrupy, rich cup which I personally prefer. But the carafe is usually fragile glass. Also, some coffee-gentsia don’t like the idea of the grounds remaining in the bottom of the carafe; they suspect brewing may continue after the plunger has been pressed down. So after breaking my fourth carafe, I decided to try another method. This is what I hit on.

To make a single cup of coffee: Grind coffee beans at a medium grind. Pour into a two-cup measuring cup (because it has a pouring spout. I use a heavy Pyrex model.) Pour hot water, just off boiling, over the coffee and stir. Start a timer running, and after two minutes or whatever you think is appropriate, pour into a cup through a fine tea strainer.

So instead of pressing a filter through the coffee, the coffee flows through a filter. Hence “reverse French.”

For the tea strainer I use something like the model shown here, though all that matters is that the mesh is fine enough to catch the coffee grounds. I use two tablespoons of beans per cup, and the strainer is big enough to catch nearly all of the grounds. Use a bigger strainer if you want to brew more coffee at a time.

The advantages over a French press should be clear. All the parts are durable, cheap, and do not have to be any particular brand or model. Indeed, you can use them for other things than brewing coffee! You do get a bit of silt in the bottom of your cup, just as with French press coffee, but that has a lot to do with your grinder also.

The Aeropress produces a different style of coffee (thinner and to me, not as satisfying) but the reverse French method has the advantage of avoiding contact between plastic and hot water. The Aeropress doesn’t have BPA or phthalates, but if want to be especially careful, the reverse French method might be for you.

-- Karl Chwe  

Stainless Steel Tea Strainer, 2 1/2″ diameter
$9

Available from Amazon



Fagor 3-in-1 Multicooker

Last summer I tried some carrot soup that tasted like buttered toffee. It had been made in a pressure cooker, which heats water vapor above boiling temperature, greatly reducing normal cooking times. I told my parents I was going to get a pressure cooker, and they recommended the Fagor multi cooker, because unlike most pressure cookers it has an electric browning feature, which lets you brown beef, fish, or chicken right in the pot before you pressure cook it, greatly improving the flavor.

The Fagor is also a slow cooker and a rice cooker. Because it is so versatile, I use it almost every day. The throw-everything-in-the-pot-and-push-a-button approach has broadened my cooking horizons. I’ve made rib roast in the slow cooker that had my in-laws coming back for thirds. I’ve made mouth-watering chicken stuffed with sun-dried tomato pesto, basil and goat cheese in a matter of minutes. I’ve made salmon with spinach and lemon sauce, fennel and Italian sausage, creamy risotto, and spicy Bolognese sauce. Thanks to an online army of pressure-cooker devotees, I’ll never run out of recipes.

The only negative thing about the Fagor is that the user interface doesn’t make it clear when it is cooking. A couple of times I’ve set the timer and forgotten to press the start button, only to find out twenty minutes later that it never started. I’ve learned not to do that.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Fagor 670040230 Stainless-Steel 3-in-1 6-Quart Multi-Cooker
$90

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Fagor



Puro Caff

Puro Caff is a powdered concentrate that is used for cleaning coffee related appliances. I first heard of Puro Caff from a friend who was a barista at a coffee shop. I was able to purchase a 20oz bottle of the powder from my local Cash and Carry, and quickly went to work on all of my home coffee gadgets. Puro Caff cleaned my well-used Sigg Metro coffee mug to brand-new looking status, and removed the coffee residue and old coffee taste and smell from the mug, leaving me with a fresh clean new looking travel mug. Puro Caff also works very well to freshen up your home drip coffee maker, or stove top percolator. I don’t have an espresso machine myself, but I do know that many coffee shops use Puro Caff to clean their espresso machines, grinders, and air pots. While it’s somewhat expensive to buy, in my experience a little goes a long way, and for the price it’s worth every penny and extends the longevity and enjoyment of everything coffee related.

-- Patrick C  

[Note: For those looking to use something you might have around the house, denture cleaners like Fix-A-Dent have worked well for me in the past (a hold over from when I had braces).--OH]

Puro Caff
$13

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Puro



EasyStill

I’ve been brewing beer on occasion for over 20 years, starting when I was in college. Always lurking out beyond the homebrew scene was the idea of making spirits. More complicated than making beer or wine and requiring the use of a still, it seemed out of reach. Being officially illegal didn’t help either. But the idea lingered on in the back of my mind.

Then I stumbled upon a device called an Easystill. Basically, it is a water distillation unit that can also be used to distill alcohol as well. The idea of spirit distillation is simple. Alcohol boils at a temperature less than water, so if you get temperature above 78 °C but below 100 °C, the alcohol becomes vapor, leaving the water behind. A still captures the vapor, cools it enough to turn it back to liquid, allowing you to capture it.

The EasyStill does all that in a 110-volt tabletop device that you can store in the closet or garage when you are finished. The still handles about a gallon of mash at a time, so if you make a small 5 gallon batch of fermented mash, you are running the thing at least 5 times to produce a liter of alcohol. The process is slow to start but does work. I’ve made drinkable moonshine. It’s not for any serious distilling, but for cooking up a batch on occasion.

I’d recommend EasyStill for someone that wants to see if distilling is for them. If they like it, they’ll want to buy a real still with bigger capacity and full features. If it’s not for them, they haven’t spent a lot. Most people getting into ‘firewater’ have already tried homebrewing beer and likely already had all the stuff for the initial fermentation. I did.

[Making beer and wine at home in the US is perfectly legal. Owning a still (for water or making fuel) is legal. But making distilled spirits at home is currently illegal in all countries of the world except New Zealand. However, technological advances, local craft breweries and artisian spirit-making is rapidly shifting the legal landscape in in the US in favor of home production. In the meantime, if you don't sell it and don't kill anyone, no one will likely mess with you. The best source for home distillery information, including legal updates, advice about all types of stills, recipes, what gear works, aging caskets, flavorings, and so on, is a really great website (based in New Zealand) called Home Distiller. It will probably answer any questions you may have about making your own liquor. --KK ]

EasyStill
$199

Available from Brew Haus

Manufactured by Easy Still