appliances + gadgets

Makers and Hackers: Here’s Your Refrigerator



The FirstBuild co-creation community debuted a really smart refrigerator at CES 2015, the giant, global consumer electronic fest that landed in Las Vegas this week.
FirstBuild‘s industrial designers, scientists, engineers, and fabricators partnered with GE Appliances to reimagine household appliances. The ChillHub is the collaboration’s first community-generated product launch.

The ChillHub refrigerator isn’t just smart; it’s hackable.
It’s got WiFi connectivity, 8 USB ports, and is compatible with a Best Buy-full of other appliances, gadgets, sensors, and control systems like Nest and OneCue. But the real draw is that it’s all open-source. The source code, circuit board, and the mobile app are free and available to anyone that wants to tinker, modify, or customize the fridge. In keeping with the open-source spirit, creators are encouraged to design 3-D printable ChillHub accessories and share the templates with other owners who can download, print, and assemble their own products.

Dozens of different accessory components are currently in various stages of production, some still in the concept phase and others that are already distributed through the FirstBuild website. There are diet trackers, bacteria-killing lights, an egg tray that hard boils your breakfast, and an in-fridge safe to keep medicine out of a child’s reach. Coffee brewers and smoothie makers are big, as are dispensers (milk, beer, soda), butter (softener, stick cap), and anything that makes bad refrigerator smells go away.

Visit to see the the ChillHub and its many user-created accessories, from the frivolous to the functional.




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Cannabis Cooking: the new haute cuisine

image via jantoo

image via jantoo


Cannabis edibles have emerged as a legitimate culinary pursuit.
Now that recreational and/or medical marijuana is legal in 23 states plus the District of Columbia, marijuana cookery is looking increasingly mainstream. No major food manufacturer or restaurant chain has jumped in yet, but hundreds of small producers are turning out a wide range of products. There are cannabis cookbooks in the works from major publishers, and cannabis cooking classes are taught by well-known and classically-trained chefs.

Chefs and marijuana go together like salt and pepper.
Many (many) restaurant workers and chefs blow off steam after a long shift in the kitchen by smoking a little dope, and naturally they’re adept at feeding their own munchies. Anthony Bourdain, who famously chronicled his own taste for drugs and debauchery, claims “There has been an entire strata of restaurants created by chefs to feed other chefs. These are restaurants created specially for the tastes of the slightly stoned, slightly drunk chef after work.”

The munchies are a well-documented phenomenon.
Generations of stoners, chemotherapy patients, and now a scientific study conducted under rigorous, double-blind controls can all confirm that ingesting weed makes you hungry. Marijuana perks up the taste and hunger receptors in your brain and body. Flavors are heightened on the tongue as happy-making mood compounds course through your body. Traditional munchies leaned toward big flavors that go down easy. You didn’t want to be fussing with little fish bones or seeds or sorting through too much tableware. Outstanding examples of the form cited by many chefs include the cereal milk soft-serve ice cream at Momofuku Milk Bar (a dessert based on the slightly sweet flavor of the milk left at the bottom of a cereal bowl) and the fleet of Kogi Korean taco trucks that circulate through Los Angeles.

In the cannabis kitchen.
Legalization has opened up culinary frontiers. Chefs aren’t just feeding the sugar-salt cravings of stoners; they’re exploring marijuana’s gastronomic potential for sophisticated palates, and they have the freedom and the ingredients to do so. Instead of grinding marijuana leaves, professional kitchens cook with cannabis extracts that reduce the psychoactive cannabinoids into a tincture that can be added to just about anything. Pastry chefs can buy CannaFlour and CannaOil, line cooks slather the flat top with cannabis-infused olive oil and compound butters, and deglaze pans with pot-infused brandy. Everything from pesto to sushi to cold-brewed coffee can be steeped in a few drops of extract.

Ganja goes gourmet.
Chefs and gastronomists are studying the art of matching food to marijuana varietals and pairing weed with wine. Restaurants (even the Michelin-starred) have constructed elaborate cannabis-imbued tasting menus, and the multi-city supper club organizes pot-themed, farm-to-table dinners that create “a carefully calibrated experience from start to finish… isn’t about getting high — it is about haute cuisine.”
It’s all a far cry from the gritty Alice B. Toklas creations of yore.

For the home cook:
The classic Stoner’s Cookbook is coming out with a new volume focusing on the haute end of high cuisine. You can help bring HERB to the masses through the project’s crowdfunding endeavor.
The indispensable tool of the cannabis kitchen is the pot crock pot, which comes to us from one of MSNBC’s top entrepreneurs of 2014The MB2e from Magical Butter is a botanical extractor that produces cannabis-infused butters, tinctures, and oils suitable for cooking. It’s available on Amazon where it can be found in the sub-category of Specialty Cookware-Butter Warmers.




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Top Food Inventions of 2014

It wasn’t just cronut-inspired pastry hybrids.
2014 brought the doughssant, the doughscuit, and the crookie. You could even call the Taco Bell waffle taco a direct descendent of the trendy pastry mashups. But it’s good to know that the year’s food innovations didn’t stop there. Many addressed the pressing problems of climate change, world hunger, public health, and animal welfare.

Whether you’re a Luddite, a technophile, or something in between, here are some of the  year’s coolest, useful, and tastiest developments that came out of the overlapping spheres of food and technology.



A banana that prevents blindness
Young children in Sub-Saharan Africa eat a lot of bananas. They also go blind at a frightening rate—30% of kids under age 5 are at risk—due to the lack of vitamin A in their diets. Scientists have engineered a souped-up banana, enriched with alpha and beta-carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A. It could prevent 1 million cases of blindness a year.



Electronic tongue
Researchers have developed a device that can scan food for additives, impurities, and even taste. It works like a human tongue with sensors that detect substances and send signals to a computer for analysis, much like the way taste buds transmit flavor messages to the brain. Ultimately it will be used to detect toxins and bacterial contamination at food inspection and processing sites. It’s already in use in Thailand where restaurants earn a Thai Delicious designation when the e-tongue verifies the tastiness of their ingredients.


Levitating cocktails
A British inventor has come up with a levitron that lets you sip a Bloody Mary out of thin air. Soundwaves lift cocktail droplets out of a glass and suspend them in space. He’s hoping to have a floating rainbow of jelly beans by Easter.


 la-dd-eco-friendly-froyo-edible-packaging-20140312Edible wrappers
WikiFood (the company), is making WikiPearls (the product), out of WikiCells (the material). These are all-natural, water-tight, edible shells made from things like dried fruit, coconut, and seaweed. WikiFood casings reduce packaging waste; they provide a protect barrier against contaminants and temperature swings; and they can be enhanced for improved nutrition. They’re a natural for humanitarian food aid, but you can also buy them at Whole Foods filled with Stonyfield yogurt.


article-2530195-1A29DF9E00000578-358_634x4243D Printed Food
The futuristic fantasy became a reality in 2014. The Foodini is a home printer that produces pasta and burgers to cook at home, and The ChefJet prints desserts in sugar and chocolate. 3DPrintingIndustry explores the outer limits of printed edibles, like foods that can double as biomedical sensors or electrify your insides with conductive jello. Recipes and other matters of modern gastronomy are discussed at 3Digital Cooks.

The innovations will keep coming.
Food startups are attracting significant venture capital as we look for solutions to society’s ills and explore viable, sustainable alternatives to our current model of industrialized food production. Insect-based foods, customized nutrition, laboratory-grown meat analogs—these are some of the developments we’ll be seeing in 2015 and beyond.

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Things To Do with a Freezer During a Polar Vortex


Move over, freezer. You’ve been replaced by a polar vortex.
The weather phenomenon has spawned an online craze for homegrown science experiments that exploit the frigid temperatures. There’s the boiling-water toss (I’ll spare you the frozen urine iteration), the frozen egg on a New York sidewalk, the shattering frozen t shirt, and everyone’s favorite frozen bubbles.
How can a household appliance compete with that?!

Here are some alternative uses that will restore your freezer appreciation:


Clean a pot
Stick pots and pans in the freezer to remove stuck-on, burned-on messes. It works even better than soaking.





Extend the burning time of candles
Frozen wax burns more slowly.




Open an envelope 
A minute in the freezer and a sealed envelope pops right open. Snoop with impunity with none of the telltale rippling marks left by steam.


Harddrive on Ice


Revive a hard drive
A few hours in the freezer can be a temporary fix. It won’t bring a crashed drive back to life but it will buy you a few precious minutes to copy files.



Unstick gum
Sticky gum and candy will flake right off. Freeze the host object—clothing, shoes, upholstery—long enough for the gum to harden.



Eliminate musty smells
A day or two in the freezer kills molds, mildew, dust mites, bacteria, and other nasties that come along with old books and attic-stored clothes.


Even in a polar vortex your freezer can come in handy. Anyway, winter can’t last forever.


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Could This Be The World’s Most Perfect Coffee Mug?








Scientists call it the Goldilocks Principle.
It comes from the children’s story The Three Bears in which a little girl named Goldilocks finds a house owned by a family of bears. Each bear has its own porridge bowl, chair, and bed. Goldilocks tests out all three examples of the items, always finding that one of them is too extreme in one direction (too hot, too large) or the other (too cold, too small), and the one in the middle is just right.

In science, the Goldilocks Principle states that something must fall within certain margins, as opposed to reaching extremes. Astronomists call Earth a Goldilocks planet because it’s not too near or too far away from the sun, but it’s just right to support life. In medicine the Goldilocks Principle defines the ideal dosage of a drug—too small and it’s ineffective; too large and side effects will harm the patient. And now a chemical engineer and an industrial designer have applied the Goldilocks Principle to coffee cup technology. They’ve created what could be the world’s most perfect travel mug.

The Temperperfect mug makes use of a phase changing material sandwiched between thermal walls. It alternates between a liquid and a solid as it absorbs, stores, and dissipates heat. Dean Verhoeven, one of the mug’s inventors who spent the last 15 years making, testing, and improving prototypes, describes its groundbreaking temperature regulating mechanism:

This project was born of my frustration with not being able to drink my carefully-brewed, but too hot, coffee right after I made it, and it then getting cold before I had time to enjoy it. I wanted it just right.
I thought about this problem and had an inspiration: why not take the excess heat out of the too-hot coffee, store it in the wall of the mug, and then use it later to keep the coffee at a pleasant drinking temperature? I realized that this could be done simply by adding an extra layer of what I call active (“Temperfect”) insulation to a standard mug. This extra insulation layer absorbs the excess heat from your drink, and brings it quickly to a comfortable temperature. Later, it slowly releases that heat back into your drink to keep its temperature just right.

It seems that the world has in fact been waiting for hot—but not too hot—coffee.
The creators found an enthusiastic audience when they turned to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. They were hoping to raise $23,500 to cover the cost of the production tooling that’s need to manufacture the mugs. Instead, that amount was pledged 10 times over by more than 4,000 backers and it’s allowed them to move straight from tooling to production.

The first Temperperfect mugs are planned to ship next summer. The company’s website can hook you up with a pre-order.

Temperperfect: a prototype

Temperperfect: a prototype




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A Hacker in the Kitchen

image via Beauty Through Imperfection

[image via Beauty Through Imperfection]


Hackers have a bad reputation.
We think of disaffected teenagers looking to circumvent security measures and wreak a little havoc on society, and of bottom-rung hoodlums in former eastern bloc countries trolling online for passwords and credit card accounts. 
Actually, that kind of nefarious tampering is not hacking. It’s more properly referred to as cracking.

Hacking is in fact a higher calling.
In the classic sense of the term, a hacker is a fixer, a tinkerer, a lover of processes. The original Internet Users’ Glossary defined a hacker as ‘a person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.’ Wikipedia’s definition goes so far as stating that ‘Hacking entails some form of excellence.’

Hackers are everywhere.
The term has been co-opted by groups outside of the tech community to describe any kind of clever, non-traditional improvement to process and productivity. Pick a noun, follow it by ‘hack,’ Google the combination, and you’re bound to find a community sharing tips and hints and suggestions.

Kitchen hackers are hacking in the pure sense of the word.
They devise elegant solutions to clumsy processes. 
The following is a sorted, selected, and edited list of websites offering food, cooking, and kitchen hacks. Think of it as a kind of list hack.

Life Hackery claims to ‘hack your life into shape.’ It offers up time-tested kitchen wisdom with its list of 50 Amazingly Helpful Time-Tested Tips for the Kitchen.

Tip Nut has 34 Handy Kitchen Measurement Hacks & Tidbits that free you for improvisational cooking.

Instructables offers step-by-step instructions for esoteric projects like making rainbow vodka with Skittles and edible shot glasses from gummi bears.

DIY Life will whip your kitchen into shape with its instructions for things like stove top tuneups and new uses for aluminum foil.

Cooking for Geeks and Cooking for Engineers are full of clever cooking shortcuts. Both are pitched toward the seriously enquiring mind as they delve into the why along with the how.

Food Network Magazine rounds up the best hacking advice from the network’s roster of television chefs.

Did you know that you can make perfect hard-boiled eggs in the oven or that a rubber band can keep apple slices from turning brown? Kitchen Hacks is brimming with pragmatic saves and shortcuts about buying, growing, cooking, preserving, and eating food.

Table Matters hacks into kitchen appliances and equipment, breathing new life into muffin tins, crockpots, and immersion blenders.

The granddaddy of life hacking sites is, of course, Lifehacker, which tackles a wide range of food, cooking, and kitchen topics.

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Rice Cooker Owners: What do they know that you don’t?


image by anomalous4

image by anomalous4


Few things divide the cooking community like the rice cooker.
If you don’t own a rice cooker…
You can’t imagine why any self-respecting home cook would. We’re talking about rice– boil water and you’re there. Why squander precious counter space on a single-purpose appliance that takes over such a basic function? And doesn’t even do it any faster than the stovetop?

If you already have one...
You smile knowingly, patiently. You remember when that was you.

It’s true, it’s a glorified water-boiler.
Manufacturers add in all manner of functions and features and upgrades, but at its core, every rice cooker is a bowl to hold rice and water that’s set inside a housing with a heat source and thermostat. The cooker heats the water to boiling, and when the temperature reaches 212° F, it switches to  a prolonged simmer. The thermostat recognizes a second temperature change when all of the water has been absorbed, and it switches to a lower setting that holds the rice in a perfect state at the perfect temperature for serving.

Perfect rice?
Perfect. Short-grain, long-grain, sushi, and brown rice; grains like quinoa and barley; beans and lentils; all perfect. In countries like China and Japan, where they know a thing or two about rice, you’ll find a cooker in every kitchen. Every Asian restaurant everywhere has a huge commercial version in its kitchen. You can even get a travel rice cooker that plugs into a car’s power sockets.

Rice cooker advocates will speak of its versatility in the kitchen, its ability to cook so much more than rice. Think dumplings and fish, custards and hot cereals, soups and stews. They’ll praise its safety and ease of use, with no open heat source and an automatic shut-off, so well-suited to children, seniors, and dorm rooms. They’ll tell you how it doesn’t heat the kitchen in the summer, humidifies it in the winter, and is easy to clean.

All true. But that’s not why I love my rice cooker.
There are so few certainties—in the kitchen as in life. Cakes don’t always rise and toast can burn. Phone calls aren’t returned, cars don’t get the mileage they should, and children don’t always listen.
But I can always count on the rice that comes out of my rice cooker. It might only do the one thing, but it does it perfectly.


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The More We Spend On Our Kitchens, The Less We Cook In Them

Julia Child in her pegboard kitchen

Julia Child in her pegboard kitchen


Are you looking or are you cooking?
According to Remodeling Magazine, the average cost of a midrange kitchen remodel in 2013 was $53,931 and the average upscale project cost $107,406. For all that expense, we’re not cranking up the six-burner Viking rangetop very often. About half of our food spending is in restaurants, and as incomes rise, cooking drops off even more. Just 11% of Americans eat two hot, home-cooked meals a day, and in households earning more than $120,000 a year, a mere 2.4% have those two hot meals at home. And presumably the higher earners represent the households with the pricey remodels.

We salivate over acres of gleaming granite and stainless steel and 22-slot blocks of Japanese knives from a hot new bladesmith, even when the dual door Sub-Zero is stocked with nothing more than red-boxed Stouffer’s, Trader Joe’s burritos, and pints of Ben & Jerry’s. Kitchen square footage has doubled over the last 30 years to give ample space for high-end appliances and specialized cookware. We spend giddy hours online drooling over the design possibilities on display at Houzz and Pinterest, and we’re consumed by choosing among the 55 different shapes and sizes of whisks for sale at Sur la Table. We love everything about our kitchens except for the actual cooking.

We love to watch others cook.
There’s a tv set in 35% of American kitchens and it’s probably tuned to a cooking channel. When it comes to our own cooking, we spend an average of 27 minutes a day on food preparation —less than half the time it takes to watch a single episode of Top Chef. Even when we do cook, the Viking’s 30,000 BTUs of firepower are sitting idle. In fact the stove is only our second favorite kitchen appliance with first place going to the microwave. Entrées are prepared from scratch just 59% of the time, down from 72% in the 1980’s, and we’ve even decreased the number of ingredients per dish, from a 1980’s average of 4.4 to a current 3.4. One in ten adults will literally never turn on their stove or oven.

Who wouldn’t want a spacious, good-looking, well-equipped kitchen? But real cooks know how to make the most of whatever they’ve got, and some of the best cooks work their magic with the least impressive batterie de cuisine.

Author, cooking tool expert, and home cook extraordinaire Michael Ruhlman shares his equipment recommendations in My Essential Kitchen Tools
Food writer Mark Bittman, formerly of the ‘Minimalist’ column in the New York Times, gives us the flip side, sharing his picks for 10 non-essential kitchen items in A No-Frills Kitchen Still Cooks.



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Will 3D Printers Really Be Making Our Dinner?

Jetsons image courtesy of Hanna-Barbera

Jetsons image courtesy of Hanna-Barbera


Jane Jetson pushes a few buttons on the food-a-rac-a-cycle and there’s dinner for four. No shopping, no chopping, no sauté pans to wash.
We got a little closer to that futuristic fantasy last week when NASA announced funding for the construction of a 3D food printer. NASA has scheduled the delivery of its first 3D printer to the International Space Station for late 2014. Initially it will just be running experiments on printing in a microgravity environment, but eventually the astronauts will use it to fabricate their own meals.

How is it possible to print food?
A 3D printer works a lot like an inkjet printer. Instead of ink, a food printer sprays edible liquids out of the print nozzles, and it keeps spraying layer upon layer until it’s built up a solid object. Take pizza, which the NASA contractor plans as the first printed meal in space: the ‘ink’ nozzles start the recipe by printing consecutive layers of liquid pizza dough; a switch to sauce cartridges and the printer applies layers of a tomato base; then cheese and toppings are printed on top of the crust and tomatoes, and the whole thing bakes on a heated surface of the printer.

Maybe it sounds better when you’re in orbit 230 miles from Earth.
An astronaut’s mother could transmit a favorite recipe to the Space Station’s pantry of powdered and pureed foods and flavorings that would be 3D printable in infinite combinations. Sure, the ingredients are limited to reconstituted liquids and other sprayable and extrudable consistencies, and the ground beef in Mom’s meatloaf has been replaced with a laboratory-cultured, 3D printable meat stand-in known as ‘shmeat’, but with their tiny larder of freeze-dried foods and only occasional access to fresh ingredients, it gives the astronauts a taste of home to break the tedium and cabin fever.

It won’t be replacing Pizza Hut anytime soon.
I’d hang on to those takeout menus. Nobody expects that 3D printed food will replace the real deal for most of us, but there are some promising Earthbound applications.
CMYK_color_swatches.svg150px-SubtractiveColor.svg3D printers can match nutrition like regular printers match colors.
Think of the way that CMYK four color printing takes four ink colors-cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black)-and applies them in pre-set proportions to create a a particular palette. A 3D printer can use nutrients like colors, and print them in specific proportions to create customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals. Data-driven food can factor height, weight, body mass index, and exercise regimens to tailor calories, proteins, enzymes, and minerals to dieters or athletes, or use health records and lab results to create sterile printed meals infused with medication for hospital patients.

steakMeat can’t sustainably feed the planet, but printable meat substitutes can.
A steak doesn’t have to be printed from beef protein. The ‘inks’ could be made from other protein sources like algae, insects, or lab-grown meat analogs that don’t take the same environmental toll as raising cattle. The meat ink is also shelf stable for years and can be shipped anywhere on the planet where need exists.

Solving world hunger and customizing nutrition are still a long way off.
For now 3D printed food is just a novelty used to create previously unachievable food textures and shapes. There’s an edible desk lamp and a bacon mobius strip; you can get a full body scan to replicate yourself in gummy bear candy or render your beloved’s face in chocolate for a Valentine’s Day bonbon; and Google’s employees can order any shape or flavor of pasta printed in the kitchen of the company cafeteria.

When the 3D printing revolution comes, you’ll be able to eat it.


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A Little Microwave Magic

image via Cargo Collective

image via Cargo Collective


The microwave oven is entirely redundant.
It does nothing more than duplicate cooking processes, and it almost never performs them as well as other appliances.
It’s known as a coffee warmer, a butter melter, a popcorn popper, and a leftover heater-upper. Yet 95% of us have one.
Because when it comes to convenience, it’s tough to top the microwave oven.

The following shortcuts play to the oven’s strengths. They’re are all about convenience. There’s nothing here that can’t be done elsewhere in the kitchen. But all of them rely on the microwave oven for ease, speed, and minimal cleanup afterward.

Make skinny potato chips: Lay thin potato slices in a single layer on a plate. Season (salt, pepper, vinegar- whatever you like). Microwave for about 5 minutes until they reach the desired point of brown and crispy done-ness. You can also revive soggy chips with a few second blast on a paper towel.

Dry fresh herbs or grated citrus peels: Spread herbs or peels on a paper towel. Microwave for 1-2 minutes or until dried, stirring every 30 seconds. Cook another 1-2 minutes for thicker peels and herbs.

Make scratch chocolate pudding: Mix 1/3 c. cornstarch, 1/4 c. cocoa powder, 1/2 c. sugar, pinch of salt, and 2 1/4 c. milk. Cook for 2 minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir in 1 t. vanilla and 2 T. butter. Let stand for about 5 minutes until it’s pudding-thick.

Get twice as much juice from a lemon: Give it 30 seconds in the microwave and then roll it around a few times on the counter. Double juice.

Roast a whole head of garlic: Put a whole, unpeeled bulb of garlic on a paper towel. Microwave on high for 1 minute, turn it upside down and give it another minutes. The soft, roasted cloves will squeeze right out.

Need some melted chocolate for a recipe? Snip the corner off of a bag of chips. Microwave for 20 seconds and knead the bag to mix. Keep repeating in 20 second increments (you’ll need a potholder as it heats up) until fully melted. Squeeze the chocolate out of the cut corner for a completely bowl-less, spoon-less experience.

Peel tomatoes for sauce: 30 seconds of cooking plus a two minute rest and the skins slip right off.

Cook corn on the cob right in its husk: Put unshucked ears of corn on damp paper towel. You can microwave 4 or so at a time, adding a little under 2 minutes cooking time for each ear. Let the corn stand for 5 minutes before serving. The husks and silk will slip off easily.

Make a little cake in a mug: Coat the mug with nonstick spray. Add to the mug 4 T.  flour, 9 T. hot chocolate mix, and a pinch of salt. Give a stir and add an egg, 3 T. water, and 3 T. oil.  Mix it up well and microwave for 3 minutes. It will rise to alarming heights and then settle back into the mug. It’s not the best chocolate cake you ever tasted, but not-the-best is better than no chocolate cake.

Steam an artichoke: Place a rinsed and trimmed artichoke in a dish deep enough to hold it, cover it with a damp paper towel and top with a sheet of waxed paper. Cook on high for 7 minutes.

Clean-Microwave-Wall-Sign-SE-1723_buUse the microwave to clean your microwave: Boil a bowl of water with a few added splashes of vinegar for five minutes, then wipe. The acidic steam removes odors and loosens any stuck-on bits.


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Double Dipping: Fondue Makes a Comeback


So there you are at a dinner party.
The crowd is sharp, the charcuterie is local, the cocktails hit all the right notes with their craft bitters and small-batch whiskeys, and there’s a docked iPod playing the latest buzzed-about band from SXSW.
Dinner is served. It’s fondue?!

Yes, fondue.
That relic of the 1970’s that you thought had gone the way of streakers and shiny polyester shirts. It’s like a flashback to a decade that most food lovers would rather forget. While the roots of a new cuisine were sprouting in a handful of restaurant kitchens in places like New York and Berkeley, for most Americans, a Tequila Sunrise and water chestnut rumaki were the height of sophistication.

You’re not sure how you should respond.
You could laugh and say something clever about postmodernism. Treat it like an inside joke that you are hip enough to be in on, because you know that no self-respecting foodie would serve fondue without a side of irony.

Maybe it’s supposed to evoke loving nostalgia.
You could say how much you enjoyed Argo and that Ben Affleck was robbed by the Academy. Maybe share a childhood memory of spying on your parents’ cocktail party with its highballs and mini quiches and your mother presiding over it all in her elegant palazzo pants.

Or you could enjoy cheese fondue at its face value.
It’s not tough to do. The cheeses available are a lot better this time around. The bread too.

So many people are rediscovering the pleasures of fondue that we have the makings of a full-fledged revival.
Vintage fondue pots are a hot commodity on sites like Etsy and eBay. Roshco, one of the largest brands of fondue sets, saw sales increase by 40% last year, and expects to see another 50% rise in 2013. The wedding and gift registry site is rushing to expand its assortment now that fondue pots are among its top selling items. And the media (yes, all of us) are having a field day with punny headlines about ‘dipping into’ the latest ‘cheesy’ fad.

Fondue pots for the 21st century
Sterno’s gone green with plant-based bio-fuel and zero carbon emissions; otherwise there’s not much that’s different this time around. A fondue set is still just a vessel over a heat source. Here are a few modern twists:




Cuisinart makes a most undemanding fondue set. It’s an electric cheese melter that rotates on a Lazy Susan. It even goes in the dishwasher.



The world’s first desktop fondue set warms your lunchtime fondue by tapping into a computer’s power supply with a fireglow USB cable.





We think of fondue as a communal dish, but you can go solo with a fondue mug for one.



As seen on TV: the NuWave induction cooktop comes with a fondue set. It heats fondue by generating a magnetic field that warms the pot while the heating element stays cool.




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Home Soda Maker Goes After the Big Boys


You drink too much soda.
Last year Americans consumed 50 billion liters of soda. That comes to 216 liters for every man, woman, and child. Not you? Well, someone is drinking all that soda.

This is not like pineapples from Hawaii or lobsters from Maine—it’s water and flavoring and some CO2 for carbonation—the stuff could come from anywhere. And sparkling water? We haul San Pellegrino from Italy like it’s Prosciutto di Parma. Oceans of corn syrup; mountains of glass, metal, and plastic waste; money; fossil fuels; canned and bottled soda is wrong on so many levels.

Who wouldn’t want to cut the waste? That’s why home soda makers are so appealing. And that’s why the giant soft drink manufacturers just might be looking over their shoulders.

One home soda maker, SodaStream, is itching for a showdown.
It was supposed to happen during the Super Bowl. SodaStream had saved up its pennies and purchased one of those big-money ad slots during the game. They prepared an ad touting their reusable bottles that showed rival Coke and Pepsi trucks racing to make a delivery. As the delivery men push their carts loaded with soda bottles toward the supermarket’s entrance, the bottles spontaneously explode into a sticky mess. It cuts to a home SodaStream user while a voice over intones ‘With SodaStream, we could have saved 500 million bottles on game day alone.’

We had the duration of the Pepsi-sponsored halftime to ponder this one.
The ad wasn’t aired. CBS, which owns the broadcast rights to this year’s Super Bowl, rejected the spot. Too ‘controversial’ for the network, it crossed a line that apparently wasn’t approached by the soft core content of the Mercedes-Benz wet t-shirt car wash or the explicit GoDaddy make out session.

You can see the banned commercial and its milder replacement at Fast Company’s Co.Create blog.


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Not Cooking in Our Really Nice Kitchens

Julia Child in her pegboard kitchen


It’s an oft-told tale: acres of gleaming granite and stainless steel, a six-burner Viking range pumping out 30,000 BTUs of fire power, the 22-slot block of Japanese knives from a hot new bladesmith; and the dual door Sub-Zero is stocked with frozen pizza and Hot Pockets, red-boxed Stouffer’s, Trader Joe’s burritos, and pints of Ben & Jerry’s.
It’s not just an amusing anecdote. The more we spend on our kitchens, the less we cook in them.

According to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost Vs. Value report, the average cost of a midrange kitchen remodel in 2011-2012 was $57,494 while the average upscale project cost $110,938. Kitchen square footage has doubled over the last 30 years, giving ample space for high-end appliances and specialized cookware. We spend giddy hours online drooling over the design possibilities on display at Houzz and Pinterest, and are consumed by the choice of whisk from the 55 different shapes and sizes for sale at Sur la Table. We love everything about our kitchens, except we’re not so hot on the actual cooking.

For all that expense, we’re not cranking up the Viking very often. About half of our food spending is in restaurants; just 11% of Americans eat two hot, home-cooked meals a day. And cooking drops as income rises, so a mere 2.4% of households earning more than $120,000 have those two hot meals at home—and presumably these higher earners represent the households with the pricey remodels.

That home cooking ain’t what it used to be.
We spend just 27 minutes a day on food preparation— less time than it takes to watch an episode of Iron Chef America. Our entrées are prepared from scratch 59% of the time, down from 72% in the 1980’s. We’ve even decreased the number of ingredients per dish, from a 1980’s average of 4.4 to a current 3.4. Scarily, about 10% of adults use the microwave for virtually all of their cooking.

When it comes to your kitchen, are you looking or are you cooking?


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20 All-Time Greatest Food Inventions

Electrolux Refrigerator Ad, 1931 


What’s the greatest thing since sliced bread?
The Royal Society— the UK’s national academy of science whose Fellows include Prince Charles, Stephen Hawking, and more than 80 Nobel laureates—betters that by 20.

The Royal Society Fellows challenged themselves to answer the question What are the most important inventions and innovations in culinary history?
They looked at discoveries and developments that changed the way we eat, but to make the list, an invention also needed to change the way we live.

Based on contributions to accessibility, productivity, aesthetics, and health, these are the Royal Society’s picks for the top 20 innovations in the history of food and drink, from the dawn of time to the present:

  1.  Refrigeration
  2.  Pasteurization/sterilization
  3.  Canning
  4.  The oven
  5.  Irrigation
  6.  Threshing machine/combine harvester
  7.  Baking
  8.  Selective breeding/strains
  9.  Grinding/milling
  10.  The plow
  11.  Fermentation
  12.  The fishing net
  13.  Crop rotation
  14.  The pot
  15.  The knife
  16.  Eating utensils
  17.  The cork
  18.  The barrel
  19.  The microwave oven
  20.  Frying

I do hate to quibble, especially with the eminent scientists and technologists of the Royal Society Fellows, but clearly there are more Nobel laureates than cooks in that group. The microwave oven? The cork?

Personally, I can’t imagine life without my immersion blender, although I do recognize that it’s not exactly a building block of civilization. But even using the standards of the Royal Society, based on the criteria of accessibility, productivity, aesthetics, and health, I would juggle the list to make room for the thermometer, recipe standardization, the advent of restaurants, and maybe coffee brewing.

Think about the ways in which the personal computer and the internet have transformed modern cooking and eating in just the last decade. Only time will tell which of our modern innovations will really matter in the larger scheme of things, and which will be relegated to cluttering the kitchen cabinets of culinary history.

Posted in appliances + gadgets, Science/Technology | 2 Comments

Shouldn’t Robots Be Serving Us Dinner By Now?

(Rosie from The Jetsons; WA-7 from Dex’s Diner, Star Wars II Attack of the Clones; robot Woody Allen from Sleeper; Mr. Waiter concept design)

Where are our kitchen robots?
From Isaac Asimov to The Stepford Wives, there’s been the fantasy of an anthropomorphized household domestic to make our lives easier.
Then last week we watched while a robot performed a daring, elaborate landing sequence that put us on Mars. Since then the Mars Rover has been scoping out the planet and sending pictures and status updates from its own Twitter account (@MarsCuriosity).
I’m just looking for a little help around the house. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Here in the U.S. we’ve kind of stalled at the Roomba vacuum and the dancing robot mouse at Chuck E. Cheese. There is far more enthusiasm for the kitchen robot concept in Asia.

Harbin, China’s Haohai Robot Restaurant has 18 robot waiters and cooks that perform nearly every task in the restaurant. Most are single purpose: there are dumpling bots and noodle bots, a host bot that greets and seats, and a bot that scrubs the pots. Each can work a five hour shift on a single battery charge. takes just two robots to run FuA-Men Restaurant in Nagoya, Japan. But then again, the menu has just one item—a bowl of ramen in pork broth. Named for its Fully Automated Men, the owner claims that it’s a perfect bowl every time because of the robots’ “accuracy of timing in boiling noodles, precise movements in adding toppings and consistency of the taste and temperature of the soup.”

At the MK Restaurant chain in Thailand, about a dozen of the franchise owners opted to staff their restaurants with Yumbo. The Linux-based robot simulates a young teenager with an after-school job; he’s shorter than average with a youthful voice and big bright eyes on a video screen head. He carries trays of food from the kitchen and buses tables afterward. Dalu Robot Restaurant in China’s Shandong province didn’t need a traditional serving staff but just a delivery system to get the raw food to the tables. It’s a hot pot eatery where diners select their ingredients and cook their own meals by dipping various vegetables and meats into pots of broth, oil, and chilis. The robots, which resemble a gold-plated Klaatu from ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,’ circulate through the dining room on bicycle-powered food carts, pausing for deliveries when diners flag them down.

A robot in every kitchen? If these restaurants are any indication, I’d say not so soon.
At this point, robots are no different than bread makers and pasta machines—nice to have, but they’re still just the one-trick ponies of the kitchen. Like all too many appliances and gadgets, they’re uni-taskers. I’m sure electric crepe pans and strawberry hullers have their devoted fans, and they make perfect sense for a restaurant with strawberry crepes on the menu, but they have no business squandering space in most people’s kitchens.

Give me a humanoid version of the smartphone and an app store stocked with dishwashing, table setting, and onion chopping. Then we can talk.
Until then, I’ll stick with my Twitter relationship with the Mars Rover.




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Cool New Cooling Gadgets

How do you cool the drinks when it’s hot outside?
Mankind has wrestled with this one from the beginning of time. From fire and ice, radiation and resistance, to exothermic and endothermic reactions, we’ve tried it all. We’ve put a man on the moon, so why does it still take hours to chill a can of PBR or a bottle of Pinot Grigio?

Here are the latest gadgets to cool down your summer beverages.


Cool on the go with the Koolatron mobile wine chiller. It plugs into a car outlet with a 12V plug and 5-foot power cord, and chills a standard sized wine or champagne bottle down to 40 degrees F in about half an hour.

Japan’s Kirin Brewery has created the world’s first frozen beer foam. It dispenses from a tap like soft serve ice cream. It tops draft beer with an ice cold frothy head and creates an insulating lid that keeps a pint cold for up to 30 minutes. The foam is made by aerating and freezing regular beer to 23 degrees, so there’s no dilution as it melts.

The Instant Wine Chiller cools the wine instead of the bottle. Pull the gadget out of your freezer and attach the pourer to the neck of a bottle. Best for reds, as the wine passes through its internal coil system it’s cooled by 15 degrees— taking wine from room temperature to cellar temperature instantaneously. The chiller is made from the same stainless steel used for fermentation tanks, promising to maintain the wine’s taste and characteristics.

The Corkcicle also targets the wine, not the bottle, and does it a bottle at a time. You pre-freeze the Corkcicle, a BPA-free plastic icicle filled with non-toxic freeze gel and attached to a cork. Open a bottle and replace the cork with the apparatus.

The Beer 90 Chiller promises a cold one in 90 seconds. Fill the chiller with ice and drop in a can. Crank the handle to spin the canister. It creates a whirlpool effect inside the can that accelerates cooling by exposing all the beer to the now-chilled surface of the can. By the time you work up a thirst, the beer is icy cold. Alternatively, you can go with the Tinchilla; it operates on the same principle of thermal conduction, but a pair of AA batteries will do the work for you.


With Wine Chill Drops you can have a glass while you wait for the rest of the bottle to chill. Their manufacturer claims they cool a single glass in one-twentieth the time it takes to chill a whole bottle in the refrigerator. Place one pre-frozen drop in a glass of wine and remove it when the wine reaches the desired temperature.


The beverage industry has long considered the self-cooling can to be the holy grail of chilling technology.
Pepsi Cola thought it had cracked the code in 1998 with the Chill Can, but cancelled its plans when the can was challenged by environmentalists over its use of a greenhouse gas-contributing refrigerant coolant. Then in 2006, Miller Brewing launched its I.C. (Instant Cool) can. After much celebrating and fanfare, it was also scuttled due to environment and design concerns.
They’re at it again.

The Chill Can will be re-introduced this spring. West Coast Chill will be shipping its all-natural energy drink in a new and improved version in which the harmful refrigerant has been replaced with an environmentally innocuous process involving activated carbon derived from organic renewable vegetable materials, and carbon dioxide reclaimed from the atmosphere. Press a tab on the can and the temperature of the liquid inside will decrease by 30ºF within three minutes.

West Coast Chill has not publicly released details of its patented technology, but the website has an explanation of the science behind heat exchange units. The company is promising to provide special recycle bins wherever the drink is sold since traditional recycling can’t be utilized.


Posted in appliances + gadgets, beer + wine + spirits | 1 Comment

The Coolest Kitchen from the International Consumer Electronics Show

Jetsons via Hanna-Barbera

The toasters really did tweet at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.
The ovens downloaded recipes, the refrigerators were on Facebook, and the dishwashers chatted with the washing machines about the hot water.
The kitchen of the future is here, and can be summed up in one word: connected.
You talk to your appliances, they communicate with each other and the outside world.

The LG ThinQ refrigerator has a smart food monitor that texts you updates when you run out of groceries. It recognizes each family member through voice-recognition software and suggests dishes appropriate to each diet. The refrigerator can cue the ThinQ oven to the appropriate cooking time and temperature, and the oven will text you when it’s preheated and completed the cooking cycle.

The app-enabled Samsung refrigerator tracks the expiration dates of groceries and will soon be upgraded with an e-commerce app that will allow you to shop for food straight from a screen on the front of the fridge. For now, the LCD monitor can be used to stream TV and Facebook or download recipes.

You can ring up the internet-connected Jura-Capresso coffeemaker from your smartphone to start brewing before you even get out of bed. It stores individual preferences for coffee strength, water amount, temperature, and milk-frothing steam.

There are features to appeal to the tech-geek inside us, but the real smartness of the appliances fits into the broader conversation around the connected home and overall home management. Connected appliances can minimize down-time and waste by running their own performance diagnostics, and they can connect to the manufacturer for repairs and upgrades. They can tap into signals from power companies and use the data to adapt their cycles to optimize energy usage and shift their energy consumption to off-peak times.

Smarten up your old appliances.
There are devices out there that let you create your own connected home without replacing your old appliances.

The Wifi-connected Twine is loaded with temperature, pressure, moisture, current, RFID, and motion sensors. It knows when the refrigerator door is opened and closed, when the ice maker is jammed, and when your oven thermostat needs recalibration; and it can report on status via emails and tweets.

Remember the Clapper? Belkin’s WeMo is the 21st century version of ‘clap on, clap off.’ You plug in any appliance that has an on-off switch and control or schedule its operations via smartphone or tablet computer.

The connected home is not exactly the futuristic utopia of The Jetsons, where a hungry Jane pushes a few buttons on the food-a-rac-a-cycle and there’s dinner for four. But we’re getting closer.



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2011 Food App Award Winners

image via National Post

Talk about understatement.
Do you cook? There are apps to plan a menu, find a recipe, convert to metric, shop ethically, analyze nutritional content, pair a wine, and donate your leftovers to a soup kitchen. Maybe you feel  like eating out. You can get cuisine- and location-based restaurant suggestions, read reviews, book a table, preview the daily specials, map your route, figure the tip, and calculate the excercycle mileage that will burn off the meal.
There are food apps for travelers, for fans of street food, and apps that will let you know when to take a cake out of the oven. They stop short of washing the dishes for you, but there is a house cleaning hypnosis app that promises dishwashing enjoyment through the power of suggestion.

The food app category has grown so large that it has its own, dedicated awards. Toque, the online magazine of food journalism, has just announced the first annual Food App Award winners. Entries came from multinational media giants, independent web designers, and everything in between. They were judged on creativity, technical excellence, and the ability to solve a problem (that we often didn’t even know we had until the app came along).

Here are this year’s winners:



Posted in appliances + gadgets, phone applications | Tagged , | 2 Comments

New Uses for Microwaves

Happy microwave via Chazzyllama

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but I’d cast my vote for convenience.

Take the microwave oven.
It’s entirely redundant in our kitchens. It does nothing more than duplicate cooking processes that are nearly always better-performed by other appliances. Yet every one of us has one. Why? Because it’s convenient. It’s quicker, easier, and usually requires less cleanup than other cooking methods.

Most of us use our microwaves to defrost, reheat, and boil water. But why stop there? With a little know-how, we can do so much more with our microwaves.

Make skinny potato chips: Lay thin potato slices in a single layer on a plate. Season (salt, pepper, vinegar- whatever you like). Microwave for about 5 minutes until they reach the desired point of brown and crispy done-ness.

Soften brown sugar: Microwave the package of brown sugar on high for 15-30 seconds. Voila!

Dry fresh herbs or grated citrus peels: Spread herbs or peels on a paper towel. Microwave for 1-2 minutes or until dried, stirring every 30 seconds. Cook another 1-2 minutes for thicker peels and herbs.

Freshen soggy peanuts: Spread in a baking dish and microwave, uncovered, on high for 3 minutes per cup. They’ll crisp up as they cool.

Make scratch chocolate pudding: Mix 1/3 c. cornstarch, 1/4 c. cocoa powder, 1/2 c. sugar, pinch of salt, and 2 1/4 c. milk. Cook for 2 minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir. 2 more minutes and stir in 1 t. vanilla and 2 T. butter. Let stand for about 5 minutes until it’s pudding-thick.

Get twice as much juice from a lemon: Give it 30 seconds in the microwave and then roll it around a few times on the counter. Double juice.

Roast a whole head of garlic: Put a whole, unpeeled bulb of garlic on a paper towel. Microwave on high for 1 minute, turn it upside down and give it another minute. The soft, roasted cloves will squeeze right out.

Need some melted chocolate for a recipe? Snip the corner off of a bag of chips. Microwave for 20 seconds and knead the bag to mix. Keep repeating in 20 second increments (you’ll need a potholder as it heats up) until fully melted. Squeeze the chocolate out of the cut corner for a completely bowl-less, spoon-less experience.

Cook corn on the cob right in its husk: Put unshucked ears of corn on damp paper towel. You can microwave 4 or so at a time, adding a little under 2 minutes cooking time for each ear. Let the corn stand for 5 minutes before serving. The husks and silk will slip off easily.

Ripen an avocado: Microwave an avocado on medium for 2 minutes. Turn over, and microwave for 1 minute more.

Make a little cake in a mug: Coat the mug with nonstick spray. Add to the mug 4 T.  flour, 9 T. hot chocolate mix, and a pinch of salt. Give a stir and add an egg, 3 T. water, and 3 T. oil.  Mix it up well and microwave for 3 minutes. It will rise to alarming heights and then settle back into the mug. It’s not the best chocolate cake you ever tasted, but not-the-best is better than no chocolate cake.

Read Gigabiting’s Kitchen Hacks for many more kitchen shortcuts and helpful tips.




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Your 12-pack Toting Days are Numbered

[image via the Purple Sprout]


Why are we buying all those bottles and cans of soda?
Oceans of corn syrup, mountains of glass and plastic waste, money, fossil fuels; this is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.

Americans consume about 50 billion liters of soda a year. That comes to 216 liters for every man, woman, and child, most of it sealed in plastic or aluminum. It’s labeled and packaged and packed into cartons. It’s shipped around the country, passes through distributors and wholesalers and retailers, before it’s toted home in 12-packs loaded into the trunk of a car.

All that for water and flavoring and some CO2 for carbonation. The stuff could come from anywhere, and we’re importing it like it’s lobsters from Maine.

You can (and should) make soda at home.
It’s economical and green and better for your health. The easiest way to go about making soda and sparkling water is with a home system. The newest versions are light years away from the old-fashioned, cumbersome seltzer siphons. All you do is fill a bottle with tap water, pop it into a soda maker, and in 3 seconds you have seltzer. You can make sparkling fruit juice, adjust the bubble size to your preference, or add extracts and syrups to make soda.

The initial investment (machine, carbonation, bottles, a few syrups) starts at around $100, but quickly pays for itself. You only have to give up a few inches of counter space, and it works without electricity.

Slate’s Get Busy with the Fizzy marvels at the home carbonation phenomenon, and details the perfect storm of economics, health concerns, environmental awareness, and nostalgia that shaped it.

You can make classics like homemade ginger ale, root beer, and cream soda, or experiment with herbs and seasonal ingredients like strawberry-rhubarb, chai tea, and orange-lemongrass. The Homemade Soda Expert has tips and links to suppliers and recipes.



Posted in appliances + gadgets, sustainability | Tagged , , | 3 Comments
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