King Arthur Dough Whisk

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I try to bake by hand as much by hand as possible, because it’s a nice contrast to working in front of a computer everyday. But one part of baking I never used to enjoy was the mixing of the dough. At first, it gets all gummed up on the spoon or spatula. Then, once the dough comes together, it doesn’t seem as if you’re mixing the ingredients so much as pushing a big ball around the inside of the bowl.

For year, I’d seen the dough whisk in the King Arthur catalog. I never ordered it because I thought the wire part looked a bit fragile. I finally decided to give one a try, figuring I’d send it back if I didn’t like it. Well, I’m never sending it back.

The whisk’s wire is extremely stiff. I’ve yet to encounter a dough it doesn’t slice through with ease. I don’t know how much thought went into designing the twists of the wire, but it’s amazingly efficient at bringing a dough together. When I made a double batch recently, I was worried I might have given the whisk more than it could handle. Nope. Mixing took no more effort than a smaller batch.

Clean-up is a breeze: Only a little bit of dough adheres to the wire, which is easy to dislodge with a wipe of the fingers. After that, it goes into the dishwasher.

So far, I have the large model, but I’m planning to buy the smaller one to use in smaller mixing bowls. I suspect that once I also have the smaller one, I’ll never have to order another, unless it’s for a gift. I’ve seen similar-looking whisks on Amazon for a few dollars less, but I don’t know how well they’re constructed. King Arthur’s whisks have their logo on the wooden handles and feel very, very sturdy.

-- Tom Streeter  

King Arthur Dough Whisk
$17

Available from King Arthur



Onion Bag Scrubbing Hack

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Everyone knows the worst part about baking bread: Having to clean up the sticky, floury mess from counter tops, bowls, and utensils. The gluey mass refuses to come out of sponges, and gums up anything it touches.

I recently discovered a solution: The netting that onions and other vegetables come packaged in. By cutting up the stiff netting into about 6-inch squares you can make reusable super scrubbing tools. A few bags will produce more than you’ll need. When you’re finished scrubbing, just rinse off the gunk, recycle the netting, and marvel at your flour- and cheese-free sponges.

-- Pen Duby  

[As an avid fan of the previously reviewed No Knead Bread I can attest to the simple brilliance of this cleaning hack. No more ruined sponges! --OH]

Onion bags
Free



Kuhn Rikon Safety Lid Lifter

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It may be a terribly long and unwieldy name, but it is far and away the coolest can opener I have ever used.

Why? The blade cuts into the can *below* the rim so the lid never falls into the food, and the blade doesn’t touch the food either. You can use it to open “pop top” lids as well. A can opened with this tool will have no sharp edges. Apparently it works for both righties and lefties (not tried). Best of all you can challenge your friends by handing them the opener and a can and watch them figure out how to use it.

-- Marsh Gardiner  

[Note: This replaces the previously reviewed Starfrit Securimax that several people have had issues with.-- OH]

Kuhn Rikon Safety Lid Lifter
$20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Kuhn Rikon



Cuisinart Smart Stick Hand Blender

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I hate most kitchen gadgets with a passion. Seeing things like an avocado slicer, mango corer, or left-handed inverted egg whatsizinger give me the hives. For the longest time, I prided myself on being able to do the most with the least in the kitchen.

I’m saying all this because I wanted to convey just how hard it was to buy the Smart Stick a year ago on the recommendation of my wife. Normally blenders are hard to clean, bulky, loud, and can only be used for low-viscosity liquids; if the mixture is too thick, the blade just whirs uselessly.

The Smart Stick solves all that. It takes up virtually no space. It is easy to clean. Instead of scrubbing out a blender, you just pop off the Smart Stick’s head, so it can be cleaned in eight seconds under running water. It’s impressively powerful and can be jammed full force down into a glass of ice to chop it up quickly. Yet, it’s still much quieter than a blender. The measuring cup it comes with is also well designed to break up the vortex the blender creates.

The Smart Stick is the cheapest and most basic hand blender I could find. Others come with whisks and choppers and brushed metal finishes, but I think the regular head works just fine. I found that the Smart Stick did 150% of what I’ve used a blender for and 75% of what I used a food processor for.

It’s very versatile. No more “pour boiling hot broccoli soup into blender to cream it, then pour back into pot.” You can use the Smart Stick right inside a stockpot on the stove. You can use it on thicker foods because you can stir and mash while blending, continuously bringing new material into the blade as opposed to a stand blender’s reliance on gravity to find unblended parts.

Making hummus, salsa, applesauce, and pesto went from “giant mess” to “easy.” Making smoothies went from “big production” to “two minutes.” Guacamole and whipped cream turn out wonderfully smooth. Margaritas can be made right in the pitcher. Almond butter can be made without too much trouble. I imagine this would also be a lifesaver for making baby food.

There are some downsides: It only has one speed (high!), so you have to be careful and use it in bursts if chopping ice, as it will happily sling iced coffee circumferentially around your kitchen in a ten-foot radius if you get too enthusiastic. You also have to be careful using it with plastic bowls as the metal head can punch through the bowl bottom if you push it too hard. The blade is SHARP. It’s not really suitable for use by children (or klutzy adults). If you need to clean around the blade’s backside with a finger, REMOVE the head from the motor first.

Again, I really really wanted to hate this thing and didn’t buy one for the longest time because I considered it useless. Now it’s the only electric kitchen tool that remains permanently plugged in on my counter other than a Kitchen-Aid six-quart mixer.

-- Jon Braun  

Cuisinart CSB-76 Smart Stick Hand Blender
$30

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Cuisinart

Note: Several readers pointed out that corded models can be safer when cleaning because it necessitates unplugging which prevents accidental activation. And for those looking for added attachments and functionality, I heartily recommend the corded KitchenAid Hand Blender Kit. -- OH



Waring Pro YM350

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I’ve been making my own yogurt for the past couple of years. Not only is it much tastier than store-bought yogurt, but it’s also much cheaper. At my local supermarket, an 8-ounce container of yogurt costs $1. That adds up to $16 per gallon. At the same supermarket, one gallon of low-fat organic milk costs $4.

Since I’m a believer in the power of probiotics (i.e. bacteria is good for your immune system), I usually eat three cups of home-made yogurt a day. That translates to a savings of $2.25 per day, or $67.50 per month — which means my $89 Waring Pro YM350 yogurt maker paid for itself in just a few months. Even if you don’t eat as much yogurt as I do, I recommend you try making it yourself. It’s so easy, and even fun.

Here’s how…

1. Pour 4-6 cups of low fat milk into a microwave-proof glass bowl, and heat it until the milk begins to boil. (Boiling changes the milk’s composition so it will solidify when mixed with the starter culture.) If a skin forms on top of the milk, that’s a good sign you boiled it long enough.

2. Let the milk cool to the point where you can tolerate holding your hand against the bowl. Remove and discard the milk skin. Add one tablespoon of your previous batch of yogurt (or plain store-bought yogurt if you’re just starting out), and mix together with a whisk. Do NOT add more starter yogurt to the mix in an attempt to speed up the process. Paradoxically, it will only slow down the fermentation (I’ve read that too much starter crowds out the bacteria from doing its job).

3. Pour the yogurt into 8- or 16-ounce containers. Do NOT put on the lids yet. If you have an older-style oven with a pilot light, you can stick the glass jars in there and allow the warm oven to act as an incubator. Otherwise, use the yogurt maker or a seed-starter warming pad to ferment the milk into yogurt.

4. Wait 8-10 hours, then screw the lids onto the jars and place them in the refrigerator.

Tip: I like to mix my yogurt with nuts, blueberries, and honey from my beehive. My kids love yogurt, banana, and berry smoothies.

[Watercolorist Jana Bouc has put together a great set of illustrated instructions on how to make yogurt using the Waring Pro YM350. -- OH]

Waring Pro YM350
No longer manufactured

Note: It appears that Euro Cuisine is producing a nearly identical model.–OH

Euro Cuisine YMX650 Automatic Yogurt Maker
$50
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Waring



Quick Snap Ice Tray

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These ice trays aren’t glamorous or costly, but they do the job. Below each cube’s compartment is a button that releases the cube. The trays are very easy to use. My husband has very little hand strength. As such, we’ve tried aluminum, plastic and several other different ice trays. These are the only ones he has been able to use in several years.

-- Laurie Gelb  

Joseph Joseph Quick Snap Ice Tray
$8

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Joseph Joseph



Super Peel

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So you’ve decided to make pizza at home. But you quickly discover there’s no substitute for a crust baked on brick or stone. No problem: You get a pizza stone! But then you find out that sliding a 12″ pizza from a peel onto a 14″ stone or wooden board is possible, but just not so easy. After multiple messes, overshoots and fold-overs, you retire the stone. :(

Now, suppose you had a peel with a built-in conveyor belt? The Super Peel is, as difficult as it is to picture, exactly that: A baking peel with a conveyor belt that lifts the delicate, sticky dough from a surface and transfers it onto a board for easy transport.

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Place the corner of the pizza onto the peel. Then, slowly retract the peel while pushing the board forward and — voil√†! — the sticky dough simply slides on. To put it back on any surface or stone, simply lower the board until it touches and reverse the process.

Don’t get it? I didn’t either at first, but this short clip is worth thousands of words:

More video of the Super Peel in action can be found at Breadtopia.

This tool definitely prevents needless baking and pizza disasters.

-- J. P. Roosma  

Super Peel
$37

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by EXO Products



Nesco Food Dehydrator

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The Nesco Food Dehydrator is a simple, affordable, and well-built tool for drying foods quickly and thoroughly. Though not an every-day-use item for most people, it becomes absolutely essential when it is needed.

I recently went on a weekend trip hunting for morels and returned with far more than I could eat. Luckily, this dehydrator made short work of the excess. The stackable trays easily fit 60 whole small morels and many of the larger ones which I’d cut in half. Altogether, I fit about three pounds of mushrooms in fivetrays.

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Like the previously reviewed Excalibur Food Dehydrator, the Nesco model has a temperature control, fan, and heating unit. The Nesco’s heating unit is built into the top (cheaper models heat bottom-up) that sits atop the stack of trays and blows air through a central column allowing for better distribution and airflow throughout.

I used a temperature of 110F when drying morels, and left them to dry over night for about 8 hours. Since any moisture can lead to a ruined batch, I made sure to let them dry out for a little longer than necessary. They were perfectly dried the next morning, and ready for storage in an airtight container.
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While I have mainly used this model for mushrooms, the large trays and variable temperature dial (95-160F) allows for a wide range of dried foods to be made. This particular model is also expandable to 12 trays if you need to dry a truly astonishing amount of food.

The Nesco, when compared with the Excalibur, has the benefit of being nearly $125 dollars cheaper combined with a smaller (though expandable) footprint, a relatively-quiet fan, and similarly adjustable temperature.

– Oliver Hulland

I have experience with both the Excalibur and the more recently-reviewed Nesco, a smaller and less expensive dehydrator. The Excalibur is a superior product if you are a heavy user and tend to be drying large batches of produce at once. It has quite a bit more capacity due to the design (no center hole and square racks make a big difference). The horizontal airflow system does dry large batches more uniformly. Although you can add racks to the Nesco, it dries less efficiently, and once you add in the cost of extra racks you are approaching the same price as the Excalibur.

Having said that, the price on the Nesco has really dropped and the top-down heater/blower is a nice upgrade over the older bottom-fan models. Heck, you could almost get three of them for the same price as an Excalibur, although that would take up a lot of storage space and use more energy to power 3 units.

– JC

 

Nesco 700-Watt 5 Tray Dehydrator
$60

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Nesco



Dexas Pop Silicone Colander

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After a year of regular use, I’m still struck by how much of an improvement this collapsible colander is over traditional ones. For small apartment or galley kitchens this colander brings serious space savings.

The bowl section folds flat and the legs swing under, clicking into place. When collapsed, the colander is 1.5 inches thick. It can be easily stored upright like a book between cupboard items or behind a counter-top appliance. It even has a hole, if you prefer to hang it on a rack.

Though the colander is compact, it’s well-designed. The legs are set broadly apart, making it extremely stable. The tall legs give ample clearance underneath the colander, which can be handy if there are dirty dishes in the sink and the pasta needs to be drained right away. The wide handles offer a solid grip. Also, it’s dishwasher safe.

The only benefit to another colander would be volume. I rarely cook for more than a few people, so the 2.5-quart Dexas suits my needs fine. If you’re cooking larger portions, I’d recommend one from OXO.

-- Aaron Scrignar  

Dexas POP Ware Collapsible Silicone Colander
$30

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Dexas



Sweet Maria’s

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My particular enthusiasm is home-roasted coffee and Sweet Maria’s is my go-to supplier. Not only do they offer everything you need to roast your own coffee at home, but they also carry a great range of products from inexpensive entry-level roasters to top-of-the-line home roasters. (I’ve been using the Hottop roaster for many years now and am very satisfied).

The best thing about Sweet Maria’s is that it is also a great source of information about coffee, roasting, brewing, and drinking. I’ve been a coffee nut for quite a few years now and have learned a fair bit about the subject. As far as I can tell, everything on the Sweet Maria’s site is either correct or clearly marked as opinion. What more could you want?

– Dudley Irish

For Canadians, a good analogue to Sweet Maria’s is Green Beanery in Toronto. They sell roasting, grinding, and coffee-making equipment, as well as beans from small-scale farmers in Africa, Asia, and South America. Everything’s available online. I’ve bought a few things from them and visited their shop once during a trip to Toronto. They do good work.

– Brad

 

[For Canadians, a good analogue to Sweet Maria's is Green Beanery in Toronto: http://www.greenbeanery.ca/bean/. They sell roasting, grinding, and coffee-making equipment, as well as beans from small-scale farmers in Africa, Asia, and South America. Everything's available online. I've bought a few things from them and visited their shop once during a trip to Toronto. They do good work. -- Brad]