Friday, January 13, 2006

Factory-Reconditioned iRobot Roomba 4210 Discovery Floorvac Robotic Vacuum: iRobot Roomba Is Cool!


I am not much of a gadget person - I still have a cassette deck in my van. But I just had to say - this is a very cool machine! We have 2 cats and two dogs, so fur is always floating around. The Roomba Discovery does a great job of cleaning it up. I turn it on, and it does the rest - it even plugs itself back in when it gets "tired."

The Roomba runs itself under furniture! How cool is that? I doubt my dust bunnies are happy, but I can live with that!

There is always a downside, and this machine does have a couple. While it is easy to clean and detangle hair etc. from the brushes, it does have to be done a lot. Note that no tools are required though - the brushes snap on and off easily.

While it is an excellent supplement to the dirt fighting arsenal, it will never replace the traditional vaccuum. First and foremost, it doesn't do stairs. Second, there are a couple of places in my house where it simply can't reach. It doesn't clean carpets as deeply as the "real" vaccuum does, so high traffic areas still require a little extra attention. And for localized spills, the traditional vac is just plain ol' faster.

Despite all the cons, I can say my house has probably never been cleaner. This does a great job of picking up dirt and pet hair, and it is so accessible and easy to run that I end up using it every day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Very Nice Appliance: Back to Basics TEM500 Egg & Muffin 2-Slice Toaster and Egg Poacher


I have only had this lovely toaster for a brief time, but I am very pleased. It does everything as advertised and it does it well.

I already have a great Black & Decker toaster-broiler that I continue to use. I consider this item in a different class. They have different strengths.

*First Impressions:
It smells like new plastic and chemicals out of the box. Up close it's easy to see that the pretty shell is made of black plastic, but it's not cheap-looking. After thoroughly wiping down the main unit, running the removable pieces through the dishwasher (top-shelf) and running the toast-cycle a few times, the odors went away. I wasn't sure whether the little measuring cup was going to be much use.

*First Cooking Trials:
I made hard boiled eggs. The eggs weren't boiled so much as steamed in the shell, but that's being picky. The eggs came out perfect on the first try. The little measuring cup was very useful as the amounts of water needed for different yolk-hardness were clearly marked on it. The process was almost idiot-proof.

The eggs went from refrigerator to sandwich in around 10 minutes and cleanup took another minute or so, consisting of rinsing the steamer tray and lid and wiping the heating tray with a damp paper towel.

A poached egg sandwich takes about 5 minutes from fridge to plate. It's a simple matter of placing the food on the appropriate tray (with a good bit of oil for the egg or else it will stick), pressing the right buttons and then coming back when you hear the toast pop up. The tray for heating sausage is more than large enough for a Garden Burger veggie patty if that's what you prefer and if you don't mind it soft and steamed. The toaster-slots can fit a wide range of breads, but perhaps not a thick bagel. The toaster has a clever timer so that toast is done at the same time as the egg.

The black plastic shell on the oven turns out to be an excellent heat-shield.

*Cleaning:
The trays can get messy -- in particular, the heating tray ends up with hard water deposits. Everything is easily cleaned with the exception of the steaming tray used for hard-boiling eggs, which has little bits that protrude to catch a sponge or a paper towel. The trays are made of plastic and are already showing scratches after just a few uses, but it's not noticeable from 3 feet away.

*One Annoying Thing:
If you cook something in the sausage tray, you'll find that its juices will drip down onto your egg and pool on the surface of the egg. Keep a bit of paper towel handy to swab the top of the egg before you remove it from the poaching cup.

*Usefulness:
Quickly hard boil eggs for tomorrow's lunch while you prepare for bed. Have it make your breakfast in the time that it takes you to make your morning cup of coffee. Make the kids a quick after-school snack. Make yourself a quick late-night snack. Any time you're in the mood for eggs and want them quickly. And it also makes toast.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Oneida Flight 53-Piece: Used almost 10 years


I bought a 52-piece set at Costco in Jan 1996. It is a beautiful setting which I've used virtually every single day since I bought them for both daily and company use. In fact, I'm looking for a good price on a second 53-piece set! When I read the last post I just had to add my review...

There is a difference between the "Satin Flight" and the "Flight"... Satin Flight is a lesser quality of the same design from Oneida, and unless you've done a search, or been into an Oneida store, it is very easy to not realize this... I didn't. I suspect this may be the case with the previous reviewer because it certainly does not match my experience. I've also noticed that there is a "satin" version of a number of the popular Oneida patterns...

My set still looks new after countless dishwasher cleanings and hard use. If you are looking for a pattern that you can use everyday, holidays, parties, whenever, this is really the perfect pattern. I also like it because I've changed my dinnerware since I bought the stainless setting and they look as beautiful with the new dish pattern as they do with my older dishes!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Rectangular Griddle: Vast Cooking Area Over Two Burners!


This is a delightful piece of cookware. The ability to span two burners allows for making enough pancakes to feed a family or to cook and keep warm at the same time! The heat is spread very evenly without any hot spots. There is absolutely no need for oil or butter (I use butter/olive oil for flavor!) as the nonstick works wonderfully. There are two corners that are "crimped" which allow for the easy pouring off of bacon/sausage grease without it running to the underside of the griddle (a really nice touch). There is a depression which runs all the way around the griddle and collects the grease of bacon or sausage.

It is very easy to clean but does require some special handling. First, never put this griddle in a dishwasher (I doubt it would fit). There will be significant discoloration of the anodized aluminum. Second, use only non metal utensils, the metal ones WILL SCRATCH the surface.

Overall, this griddle is as good as I have ever used (in my 40+ years of cooking). This griddle is a real pleasure to use .

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Calphalon Nonstick: great for student budget


Very practical, versatle for the oven and the stove top. Great heat distribution at a great price. I got it because I can't quite afford the commercial line but it serves my purpose so I am very happy with it!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Excellent Food Processor


This food processor is extremely well designed and well constructed. It makes my food preparation much quicker. One word of caution, unless you need to prepare food for more than 2 people, this is not for you. Quantity of food makes a difference in your experience. I don't chop my green onions or mince one or two carrots in there. It won't work.

The free videotape is very well presented and helpful. Good job.

Cleans Acres of Carpet and Mile after Mile of Tile


I'll admit that I'm one of the worst when it comes to sweeping the floor with a broom. No matter how hard I try, there always seems to be some elusive dustbunny that resists all efforts to corral it in the dustpan. So, when my wife and I went shopping for a vacuum cleaner, we zeroed in on models that were capable of vacuuming the acres of wall-to-wall carpeting in our home and sweeping the tile and vinyl that make up the rest of our floors. A HEPA filter and disposable dust bags were necessities because of her allergies (your allergist will tell you that bagless cleaners are an exercise in futility unless you take the cleaner completely out of the house and shut the door behind you when emptying the dirt container).

After we pared down the list, we consulted the leading consumer reporting magazine and bought the highest rated model we could afford. And that's how we came to own this cleaner.

I vaguely remember reading that Eureka's engineers cobbled together the prototype for The Boss SmartVac series by actually mounting a classic "torpedo" canister cleaner and its motorized carpet brush on a wheeled rig with a handle. Once they determined that it COULD be done, they refined the design into a unit that really does combine the suction power of a canister with the carpet cleaning ability and easy mobility of an upright, with the added convenience of having the cleaning tools along for the ride. You can see the "canister cleaner on wheels" inspiration in the larger photo here on Amazon.com.

In operation, the cleaner is surprisingly quiet, producing a breathy drone that still permits conversation. Though not self-propelled, the cleaner's brush roller turns so rapidly, it almost propels the cleaner for you. A headlight helps you spot obstacles in the cleaner's path.

The 15-inch wide cleaning path shortens your vacuuming time and offers right-up-to-the-baseboard edge cleaning ability. For more stubborn debris, you can put together the extension wand and attach the crevice tool. The upholstery tool does an admirable job on carpeting under, say, a bed that can't be moved. One notable feature: When the handle is returned to the fully upright position, as when cleaning with tools, the brush roller stops, preventing worn spots on your carpet. A brush roller switch lets you turn off the brush roller at other times for sweeping bare floors.

A few engineering features are worth mentioning. The cleaner's motor is completely isolated from the suction path and protected by its own final stage filter, meaning small hard objects like coins, nutshells and buttons won't damage the fan blades or jam the motor. The micron filtration dust bag, motor filter and HEPA filter equal 3 stages of filtration before the air is expelled. The brush roller belt follows a twist-free path, extending its life and reducing the risk of belt breakage. Should debris actually clog the suction path, all of the hoses can be detached and cleared. If a particularly nasty item has damaged the hose or pipe, the parts can be easily replaced by the consumer.

After vacuuming the carpet in the master bedroom and some of the living room, we already noticed a measurable level of dirt in the first bag, an indication of the dirt left behind by our aging Hoover Decade 80 upright. We expect bags in the future to last a tad longer.

If you expect to use the cleaner a lot, you can upgrade the disposable HEPA filter to a washable CleanStream HEPA filter. Details are at www.cleanstreamfilters.com.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

How to buy knives for a lifetime of cooking


First, a caveat: These knives, while trash by Henckels' traditional standards, are still better than the huge majority of knives sold each year. They are not, however, comparable in any way to the "real" knives made by Henckels, Wusthof, or other top manufacturers.

Want performance from your knives? Here's what to look for:

1. "Made in Germany." There's not much to say about this; the Germans make no compromises when it comes to making steel, and their manufacturing technology is among the finest as well. Ask your favorite surgeons where their scalpels come from; ask the most knowledgeable machinists you know where the tool bits they respect most are made; ask the best mechanics you know what "country of origin" is listed on the boxes containing the finest bearings. You'll get an occasional "Japan" in there -- and the Japanese certainly deserve recognition, though they have yet to enter the cooking knife market in earnest -- but Germany usually dominates.

2. A name of distinction. It's true, there are many good knives made by lesser names, at lesser prices. The trick is, which ones? I have to tell you, I have been selecting knives for over 20 years, I use them every day and have studied their characteristics carefully, and I still am fooled sometimes by promising-looking knives with concealed but nonetheless tragic flaws. Make sure your brand is made by a manufacturer who stands behind their products, so you can exchange or return your knives if you are unhappy. It is YOUR satisfaction that matters, forget all the reviews written by "experts," how do they know what will make you happy?

3. Buy knives whose handles fit your hand and whose weight distribution fits your strength and style. This might sound obvious, but most people skip it. There is no substitute for this point. My grandmother is a German native, my inspiration for entering the culinary profession, and one of the greatest geniuses of kitchen wizardry I have ever known. She also curses my beloved collection of mostly Henckels and Wusthof knives when she visits -- despite her loyalty to all things German! -- because nearly all the knives I've chosen fit my large masculine hands, not her dainty, nimble feminine ones. I would never dishonor her by saying she's wrong...and she means me no disrespect by saying my knives are lousy. They are...for her. Free wisdom, if you are tempted to discard Grandma's good advice, ask yourself: What's more malleable, a steel knife or my hand?

4. Consider your use habits. Are you going to toss them in the dishwasher? Make sure your steel is as stainless as possible (not all "stainless" is equal, or even close, so do your homework). Are you the type who is disciplined about using a steel and skilled enough to do his/her own sharpening, or at least inclined towards this goal? (Most people, including the majority of culinary professionals, are not. I acquired the interest over time, but initially I was like most cooks, more interested in what a fine knife could do than in what made it capable of doing.) Stay away from "stay sharp" knives, the hardness of the steel will only frustrate you -- and you probably know this already. Are you going to use them with wet hands? Share them with youngsters? Display them as a showpiece for visitors? All these things factor into your decision, be honest with yourself about what you want and you'll have a better chance of getting what you need.

5. Buy fewer fine knives rather than many lesser ones. Most people don't know what the various knives are actually intended for; even fewer understand that the intended uses are just guidelines, and that individual skill and preference will sometimes make selection different than conventional wisdom would suggest. More knives means more maintenance; it doesn't necessarily mean more versatility. I once had a young cooking student who stubbornly stuck to a single small knife for everything, a habit I tried to dissuade him of until I noticed that he could cut nearly everything better with that one little knife than any of the other students -- or, sadly, his instructor -- could with ANY knife! He explained that he had inherited his love of whittling with a pocket-sized knife from his deceased father, and spent nearly all his time creating things out of wood as his father had taught him. Well, no wonder! This young man still found a couple of tools he had use for -- a cleaver and fillet knife among them -- but the huge sets of cutlery would not have improved him one bit. You may be a bit more diverse but you're probably not infinitely wealthy; given constrained funds, you would be smart to concentrate them where they can do you the most good.

Enjoy!

I'm looking for something to beat up...love this thing


Here's an instance of bad luck turned good; we moved and of course, the box of kitchen stuff failed to turn up and my older model Braun hand blender was gone. I had to purchase a new one, so I got another Braun because I loved my old one.

Well, this is certainly an improved model over the one I bought 10 years ago. IMMENSELY improved, and I love it so much I am, well, looking for things to beat up. Like pureed vegetable soups, frozen yogurt mix for the freezer, you name it.

Here's what has been made so much better:

1. The attachments that used to come with the Braun were run by the actual cutting blade. With this model, you can remove the blade portion of the stalk and screw the motor shaft onto the mini-chopper or whisk. I just love that!! The older chopper was hard to use because you had to hold it carefully in the socket designed for the blade to run the shaft. That's not a problem here --now the shaft of the blades are directly connected to the motor. A huge improvement.

2. The removable stalk means you can thoroughly clean the blade portion without worrying about submersing the motor part (a no-no for any electrical appliance.)

3. Because the motor is able to be detached from the blades, it is now more powerful--before, the motor seemed "dumbed down" to be able to run the mini-chopper. This new model motor kicks serious batter. In fact, it is so strong, make SURE YOU HAVE IT SUBMERGED in the puree before you run it or you will be spewing gazpacho all over your white kitchen. (I made gazpacho. I have a white kitchen. I know whereof I speak.)

4. The price, for this gem, is incredible. You get a whisk, a mini-chopper, the blender and a mixing beaker and a hanger for the wall if you want to mount it.

5. The one bad point: the motor is VERY strong, so if you have muscular weakness, carpal tunnel syndrome, or some kind of disability that challenges your hand control, I would recommend the variable speed model which goes from slow to fast. It is more money, but if you are physically challenged, it will prevent you from splashing hot soup as you puree it in the pot.

Otherwise, I can't recommend this enough. It is the most-used item I have in my kitchen.

Beautiful pan!


I'm tired of those non-stick pans that eventually lose their coating and thought that I'll try stainless steel pan for almost everything but frying an egg. Boy did I pick the right pan to start with! This pan, besides being beautifully made, is the perfect size for almost everything I cook. It's very heavy, but the helper handle helps. It conducts heat very well, so I no longer use the high setting on my gas stove or the food would burn. Despite being made in China, the quality is excellent. I'm sure it will last decades. My only complaint is that sometimes I wish the stainless steel cover is made of glass so I can see through. But, I'll still give it 5 stars because I'm very very happy with the design and quality.

This is a Keeper


You may have seen these sheets like these on cooking shows or at fancy stores under the Silpat name selling for huge sums of money and were discouraged. Well, let me end any confusion and tell you that these work the same way! They are like having permanent non-stick surfaces for baking, roasting, and even candy making. You may be a bit scared to put this plastic looking sheet into the oven at first, but don't worry, as your pie would be charred before it would ever melt.

You may have been very frustrated by candy making in the past because the hot sugar would stick to anything that wasn't caked in non-stick spray. Fear no more, as this slippery wonder is a great working surface for kneading it while it's still hot or after it has cooled. If you want to keep it maleable for a longer period of time, set up a small heat lamp over the work surface.

What about cookies? These shocked me with how well they cook. Needless to say, nothing sticks (I was even able to just pick it up and slide them onto a plate), but the surface also helped for even heating of the bottoms in our wonky oven that normally burns them. This was the most even browning I've ever seen, and required less effort than normal. It makes me much less nervous about putting baked goods into the oven.

A bonus feature is that you can place this on a cookie sheet underneath a pie that might boil over in the over. This can save hours of cleanup for those messy pastries.

Then comes the cleaning. All you do is rinse it with warm soapy water, as I've never seen anything actually stuck to it. It can tend to feel a bit slimy, but that's just the nature of the material. Storage is very convenient as well, as you can roll it up and even stick it in your silverware drawer!

I really have no reason not to recommend this product. It saves time, is cheaper that less effective sprays, and is convenient. I wouldn't cook without one... or two.

NOT quality cutting boards, but serve my purpose


I think it must be clear from the cost (and other reviews) that these are not what one would call "quality" cutting boards. Some of the flaws right out of the box were:

1. The largest had splinters (actually shavings half attached to the surface which would create an irregular surface once I'd pull it off.) The smaller ones have some irregularities too.
2. Also, they're coated with some sort of a material so that they don't absorb oil when trying to oil them initially. Dunno if that's good or bad, though.

I was not under any illusions when I bought them, but I'm giving them four stars because they serve the purpose I had in mind for them. I actually use them under flexi-plastic cutting sheets. Why use both together? Well, the flexi sheets let me transport the cut food to the stove (or wherever) easily, are cheap enough to replace periodically, and are dishwasher safe. The wood cutting board provides a surface underneath the flexi-sheet that is not as hard as my counter, thus protecting my knives' edge. And as I don't use the wood surface directly, I don't have to expose it to moisture etc. Sometimes stuff does trickle down to it, but that's different from cutting ON it, and can be taken care of by wiping it off. Hopefully, this will prevent the board from splitting apart, and the way I use them, small cracks won't bother me too much.

As an aside, I find the smallest board too small to cut anything on, so I usually use it as a trivet.

The Perfect DustBuster!!


Being a college student, I am very conscience of price. Though this dustbuster was a little more than the cheaper models, I am extremely glad that I went with the higher 14.4 volt model. I bought the dustbuster mainly for my small carpet in my room. WOW!! This dustbuster got up so much hair and dust that I didn't even know was there. I found myself dusting up everywhere and lending it all my roommates. It was the first dustbuster that cleaned what it promised and so much more. Highly recommended and a great value to price ratio!!

An excellent blender

I know there are others out there like me: when I want to buy something, I want to buy the best. Naturally, I go for the top of the line. That usually means paying more for better quality. My reasoning is to spend a little more and I won't have to buy another one for years to come.

I'd been meaning to buy a blender for sometime now. After some hunting through the most well-known "consumer reporting" magazine, I discovered that this $50 blender, mixed, chopped and crushed ice better than models that were EIGHT times as much. This model is the best I've ever used.

Ice crushing was the key factor in the purchase. This baby crushes it in a few quick pulses. Frozen drinks are ready in less than 30 seconds. I use mine for protein shakes and it's a snap to clean. The key is cleaning it immediately.

I must stress that you can't find a better value for your money. This blender is amazing!

What's not to like?

Like all Calphalon Commercial pieces, you are getting a high-performance, sturdily constructed tool that will make you a better cook.

This saucier is wider and shorter than a typical stockpot, ensuring maximum heat transfer from the burners. It's great for such dishes as making chicken stock -- You can brown the chicken on the stovetop, then deglaze with water, etc., for a darker stock. Great for making soups, cooking squash, chili, etc. (Consider topping with cheese and sticking under the broiler for a few minutes to brown -- it's over safe to 700!!!)
The combination of Calphalon's superior aluminum heat conduction and a wider top reduces liquids quickly, while cooks enjoy easy access into the pan -- something that can be tricky in a tall, narrow stockpot. Keep in mind that space can be an issue -- this stockpot can crowd out other pans on a small cooktop, and does take up an awful lot of space in your cupboard.

One caveat: As with all Calphalon, you can not put this in the dishwasher (even if you could fit it in). The machine will leach out the Calphalon coating, causing pits and discolorations and void the lifetime warranty to boot!

To clean, I find a little Bon Ami or Dormond cleaner and a Scotchguard green scrubber gets out anything without much fuss. Cleaning will be aided by proper deglazing. Also, you will find your food will stick less if the pan is preheated and if the food isn't ice cold when tossed in.

Enjoy!

A multi-purpose kitchen essential


This has to be one of the best deals around, even at twice the price, because it replaces so many other things, and is so durable.

The containers work nicely for food storage, but they also can be used for cooking. They go from freezer to oven or microwave, and are dishwasher safe as well. Pyrex is practically unbreakable. With normal use, this set could easily last a lifetime. At the current price, they actually cost less than plastic containers, which do not have either the durability or versatility.

If all that's not enough, consider the health benefits. Glass will not leech plasticiser into your food, and there's no dioxin to worry about when microwaving.

I don't usually rave about kitchen items, but after I recieved this set, I rushed back to order another. I'm getting rid of most of the plastics in my cabinets today!