Quirky Verseur 4-in1 Wine Opener

In theory, corkscrews are great tools. In practice, however, they’re often either challenging to use, over-engineered, or prohibitively expensive.

But as I opened a bottle of wine on New Year’s Eve, I realized that the Quirky Verseur is by far the easiest, fastest corkscrew I’ve ever used.

Simply slide the flared plastic tube of this odd-looking device over the top of the wine bottle, squeeze gently to hold it in place, insert the corkscrew until the tip pierces the cork, and and start turning clockwise. The cork comes out with hardly any effort. No pulling, no prying, nothing but a clean, extracted cork 100% of the time.

But it’s not just one tool — it’s four tools rolled into one. In addition to being a great corkscrew, there’s a recessed foil cutter in the handle to help you swiftly get to the cork (it takes a few times to get the hang of using this), a pouring spout for drip-less wine delivery, and a minimalist bottle stopper to keep the wine you don’t drink fresh. Everything fits together in one piece for easy storing. It’s a wine-opening multi-tool.

Quirky Verseur 4-in1 Wine Opener
$17

Available from Amazon



Boska Holland Toastabags

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a good kitchen novelty, and it was certainly that affliction that initially drew me to the Boska Holland Toastabags, but it turns out they’re both practical and really useful too.

These “toasting bags” are synthetic envelopes that create a near-perfect grilled cheese sandwich using just your regular toaster. You can even add little a ham, or perhaps use a pita with some veggies instead. I was skeptical of these claims, as found on the product’s packaging, but they’re true.

You simply assemble your sandwich as usual, but sans butter, then slip it into a Toastabag. Insert the whole shebang in your toaster and drop the lever. After one medium-darkness cycle, your sandwich will be hot and the bread toasted — complete with little grill marks.

The secret is the envelopes, of course, which are made from some sort of conductive material that amplifies the heat from the toaster’s elements. (Apparently woven fiberglass coasted in PTFE, AKA Teflon.)

The bags work best with a wide-slot toaster, and slim bread, but I’ve managed to stuff even thicker slices in the bag with just a little effort. Be sure to monitor the “grilling” process, at least at first, as it happens a lot faster than you’ll expect. The bag is hot when it emerges; probably too hot for some children.

The manufacturer claims that the bags are free of any mess, and they certainly don’t muck up your toaster, but they do such a good job of melting the cheese that some will ooze out inside. No problem, just let the bag cool and turn it inside-out to clean the non-stick surface.

The video at the product’s website presents a fair and honest depiction of both the process and results. You get a pack of 3 or more bags in a set, each of which are reusable. I have yet to wear out my first one; they are said to be good for at least 50 cycles.

-- Gordon Meyer  

Boska Holland Toastabags, Set of 3
$9

Available from Amazon



Cuissential SlickFroth

I often mix stuff into my coffee: cream, coconut oil, medium chain triglycerides, taurine, even some resistant starches like inulin as part of my low carb life. Previoius to getting the slickfroth, I had to choose between a small hand blender or a spoon. I did not expect much (you know, a battery powered small toy) but I have found that this device works much better than I expected as a mini-handblender for liquids and powders. While it will not chop up the contents of thick smoothies, it will mix liquids together or powders into liquids very well. It offers a very useful tool in-between a hand blender (over-kill for many situations) and just mixing with a spoon (often not adequate).

-- Dale Simpson  

Kuissential SlickFroth 2.0
$18

Available from Amazon



Floppy Tube Garlic Peeler

When you are pulling together a meal, anything you can do to minimize prep time up front — or more importantly, along the way — helps make things run more smoothly and cleanly. I love garlic and often increase (or double) suggested amounts in recipes for the dishes I like to make. I don’t mind peeling garlic per se, but it can get tedious and slow especially when a recipe asks for a lot. Considering how sticky it makes your hands as well, doing this mid-cook can be a real time suck and throw off one’s rhythm.

This amazingly simple tool makes a huge difference. You can peel multiple cloves of garlic in just a couple seconds with no mess whatsover. Whether you are prepping for a recipe or realize you need more garlic once you are already going, this can save a great deal of time and energy. You just pop 2-5 cloves into the tube, roll it with the palm of your hand, turn the tube on it’s side and voila – the peeled cloves just fall out. At this point its just a quick mince, press or slice and you move on.

On top of the usage benefits, cleaning and storage are also exceedingly convenient. Just giving it a quick rinse under the tap releases the accumulated skins inside the tube and is a sufficient clean most of the time. After several uses — or each usage if you are germaphobic — you may give it a thorough wash as it is dishwasher safe.

-- Ali Kafshi  

Floppy tube garlic peeler
$7

Available from Amazon



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