Friday, April 3, 2009

DIY hot chocolate

When there's snow on the ground, I practically live on hot chocolate. However, I'm not a big fan of most of the mixes. They're just not as smooth as hot chocolate made from the real thing. Real hot chocolate is more work, of course, you have to melt chocolate, mix in your milk, and froth the drink. Firebox has a Hot Choctail Maker on sale, though, that can do all that, and more.

The Hot Choctail Maker is a blender combined with a coffee pot, with a few extra features added on for good measure. You pour in your favorite chocolate, milk, and other tasty treats, heat things up so that the chocolate melts, and blend it all together. Just think, you can make your own dark chocolate drink with a touch of Irish cream for those really cold nights--or mix up around of hot chocolate drinks for the children. By flipping one switch, the Hot Choctail Maker can even mix cold drinks.

It's easy to clean up the Hot Choctail Maker, and it even has a convenient tap for dispensing your drinks to cups--rather than attempting to pour hot liquids. That tap can come in handy if you have a kitchen full of children ready to serve themselves.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

You can mash potato and do the twist

Don't tell my kids, but it turns out that some people make mashed potatoes by actually mashing potatoes. My children, like all good children, have been brought up to believe that mashed potatoes come from flakes in a box. Add water, and like magic, they grow up to be a beautiful (if a bit bland) "close approximation of mashed potatoes."

Right. So, anyway, if your children have learned that there is another way, you may want to look into spudnik, an innovative masher from ?utensil, a brand created by high-tech design studio And Design to bring to life its own kitchen gadgets.

With spudnik, you use a rolling, rotating motion instead of the typical pounding, to quickly and efficiently mash your potatoes. The idea is that you'll use significantly less effort, and get better results. And, you can also leave the funky piece out on the counter as a conversation starter.

In addition to the regular version, spudnik comes in the lovely limited-edition colors featured here. You may have to head over to the U.K. to get yours--they're about ?8 there. Or, put your Google skills to work and find one a little closer to home.

Need some laptop advices? Are you looking for USB resources ?

Electric vegetable peeler

My family loves mashed potatoes. When the whole family gets together for the holidays, we have to cook up 10 pounds of potatoes to make sure there's enough to go around. That adds up to a whole bag of potatoes to peel. This year, though, I have a secret weapon: the Presto Peel-A-Meal Electric Peeler.

This little gadget is easy to use. All you need to do is drop in your potatoes, snap on the cover, and turn on the power. It automatically peels the potatoes with no further help. Once you can see that your potato is peel-free through the clear cover, you can move on to the next potato. The Peel-A-Meal can handle other produce, as well: it peels apples with no problems and even has a salad spinner attachment that can quickly dry lettuce and other leafy vegetables. No mess--and no more accidentally peeling your knuckle, either.

The bowl and peeling disc--the area in which all the mess occurs--are both dishwasher safe, and the base can be wiped clean. The Peel-A-Meal is priced at $34.99.

Healthy lunch, health lunch box

Most days I can't remember how many servings of fruit I'm supposed to have, let alone the correct serving size. I don't have a food pyramid poster handy and, as much as I'd like to make sure I'm eating all my food groups in the correct proportions, it's not particularly easy to determine just what should be in a healthy meal. The Pyramid Lunch Box simplifies matters. Designed by Li Jianye from Yanko Design, the Pyramid Lunch Box is a triangle divided into three compartments of varying size. The largest is meant to hold bread and other carbohydrates--the foods that the food pyramid suggests we should eat the most of. A slightly smaller compartment is for fruits and vegetables and the smallest is for meat and other proteins. No compartment for sweets, I'm afraid. Not only does the Pyramid Lunch Box help you plan your meal to make sure that you're including items from all the necessary food groups, the compartments are also sized to match serving requirements, helping to keep portion size under control. The Pyramid Lunch Box has a matching triangular lid. While I do think that the Pyramid Lunch Box is a perfect tool for packing a lunch, I'm not so sure I'd want to eat out of it: I like mixing up my grains, vegetables and proteins.

Use a gun in the kitche?

I'm a big fan of spices and seasonings: they can really change a dish from bland to amazing. I like to have fun with my spices, though, and I think the Spice Gun is just the ticket. A Chinese designer, Zhu Fei, came up with the idea of the Spice Gun: instead of shaking out your preferred spice, this gadget 'shoots' it out, using compressed air to push seasonings out of the gun.

There are three barrels in the Spice Gun, allowing you to load it up with the spices of your choice--you can change up your ammo by spinning the barrel. The gun only shoots dried spices, and it looks as if ground herbs are easier to load.

While the Spice Gun was created as a fun twist on the seasoning shaker, I've already thought of a few practical applications. When I'm cooking my Thanksgiving turkey, for instance, I like to put some spice on the inside of the bird. I usually wind up using my hands because I'm worried about getting my spice shakers dirty. However, if I could just shoot the spices into the cavity, I don't think there would be near as much mess.

Electric wine opener

I have a hard time with most corkscrews. I can generally get a wine bottle open without mishap, but it always feels like I have to do a lot of work for only a little result. With the Oster Inspire Wine Opener, however, I can get the cork out and the party started in a matter of seconds. This bottle opener even includes a foil cutter to remove seals.

The reason the Oster Inspire Wine Opener is so good at speeding up the process is the fact that it's an electric opener. It's cordless--the wine opener comes with a recharging station--and it just pops corks out with a touch of a button. This wine opener can handle big parties, as well. If you start with a full charge, you can open up to 30 bottles before you need to recharge.

One of the real benefits of this bottle opener is how easily it fits in my hand. It's also designed to fit all traditional wine bottles--I haven't seen too many nontraditional wine bottles, so I'm confident this bottle opener can handle any wine I plan to buy. After all the pain and pulling of traditional bottle openers, an ergonomically designed grip is a relief. The Oster Inspire Wine Opener retails for $27.99.

The water filtration system

Everybody loves water. In fact, it's one of those things that you pretty much need to love. Except, there are those few people who don't like "the taste" or find it "boring". (Yes, you know who you are). Regardless, for the rest of us "normal" folk, we are left to decide between tap, filtered, bottled, or delivery (even bigger bottles).

Municipal water is regulated by the EPA and is held to a stringent set of standards. (Bottled water, FYI, is safeguarded by the FDA). However, many people opt to add an extra level of purification and choose to filter the stuff that comes out of the tap.

The Cuisinart Cleanwater Countertop Filtration System is an easy and convenient way to keep filtered water on hand. The reservoir holds two gallons of water. The filter has the ability to remove contaminants such as chlorine, mercury, and lead for up to 80 gallons. Two spigots deliver hot, cold, or room temperature water at the press of a button.

The filtration system will be available on January 23, 2009 at Sur La Table and will cost $169.00.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A cool fridge

There are some places an LCD screen makes no sense, like on a vent hood. But there are other places where the inclusion of an LCD screen is so natural that it practically seems obvious once you see it. Like on the fridge.

Samsung isn't the only one to come up with this idea, but it is a nice addition to the company's new French door fridge, announced on November 3. The RFG299 has a 7-inch LCD screen just above the ice and water dispenser. The screen offers one-touch access to calendars, schedules, showcase photos, nutrition facts, and unit conversions, as well as controlling the fridge temperature and monitoring the water filter status.

In other words, you can clear off all the artwork, invitations, photos, and sticky notes all over your fridge and enjoy the sleek look of, well, a clean fridge front. (Hint: Take snapshots of your to-dos and kids' artwork and incorporate them into the photo slide show.)

Although the fridge fits in a standard footprint, it offers 28.5 cubic feet of internal storage; that's the industry's largest. By using high-rate urethane insulation technology, the company was able to reduce the refrigerator walls from 2.04 inches to 1.38 inches, leaving you with an extra 3.5 cubic feet for your favorite foods.

Interior LED lighting lets you see clearly, and the fridge and freezer sections are cooled separately to prevent odors from spreading. The fridge comes in stainless steel and retails for about $3,100.

My favorite knife block

I've always thought that the scariest part of the circus was the knife thrower. It's so easy to imagine the knife thrower's assistant going home minus an ear--but that isn't a worry for the little guy in the middle of Throwzini's Knife Block. This knife block really does spin, making putting away your cutlery a little more exciting. Luckily, you can get the thrill of the knife thrower's wheel without the worry that goes with the full-size version.

The block itself is handcrafted from wood, with a small red figure--or target--in the center. The five stainless steel professional chef knives that accompany the block are held in place with magnets in their individual protective sheaths. It's built solidly to guarantee that, while your knives might get a thrill from spinning, you won't get any unpleasant surprises. The knives included with the block are described as "razor sharp" so the designers made safety a priority.

Throwzini's Knife Block was designed by Urban Trend, a consumer products company with a flair for the dramatic. It retails for $99.95, a small price to pay if you have some frustrated ambitions as a knife thrower yourself.