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Reviews

I have amassed a huge collection of all things about what I like or dislike about each one.  I invite comments from you on your experiences with these products, or questions, which I will answer to the best of my ability.


Susi or Zyliss Garlic Press 

These have changed shape and even size since I got my Susi Garlic Press, shown right.

Prior to owning this press, I had a generic garlic press that might manage to squeeze out a couple of drops of garlic juice. I figured garlic presses weren’t worth what they cost, so I just left it in the back of a drawer and forgot it. Then I discovered the Susi / Zyliss.

The first time I used my Susi garlic press, I was nearly in tears of joy, seeing the entire clove of garlic nicely and finely minced on the counter. I love using garlic, so this was a revelation. I use it nearly every day, and it is as easy to clean as it is to use, never even needing the little red cleaning tool shown.


Susi or Zyliss Garlic Press
Thermapen

Thermapen 

This is an amazingly fast instant read thermometer. There are many instant read thermometers on the market. Most are a lot less than instant. While you may be able to use one that takes a whole minute to display properly, sometimes the oven door should not be open so long when something is baking. From reading the internal temperature of a baking loaf of bread to the most expensive prime rib roast, the Thermapen gives a reading in about than 5 seconds flat.

This wonderful technology comes at a price, of course. At approximately $95, this is the high end of the scale, but once you have seen it in action, it is really hard to go back to those others. Anyone who is looking for a great gift for the chef of the household, think of the Thermapen.

 
 

The Jar Pop 

The Jar Pop is a little, inexpensive plastic gadget that just makes life simpler. That something so simple can do such a great job is a marvel. Any time I want to open a vacuum sealed jar, I pull out this little gadget. It hooks under the lip of the jar, you lift up a bit. The pop of the vacuum being broken is a delight to hear. Once the vacuum seal is broken, the jar is nearly always simple to unscrew. That little piece of plastic is almost worth its weight in gold.
The Jar Pop
 
 
The Ove Glove

The 'Ove' Glove 

This is an oven glove, not a mitt. It has places for all the fingers, so there is flexibility and ease for gripping. It can be worn on either hand. It is a heavy woven cotton glove with silicone stripes or ridges on the outside. This provides good grip when handling hot pots or casseroles. It also has a very deep cuff, so it protects the wrist and lower arm. It is great for barbecuing, or flambéing. Such a simple design, yet the best I have come across as a heat barrier. You almost need to try it out to believe it.
 
 


Knife HandlesChef and Santoku Knives
Left, bottom to top:                                 Right, left to right: 
Wusthof GP Santoku                               Cutco Chef  
Wusthof Classic Chef                               Hammer Stahl Santoku
Hammer Stahl Santoku                            Wusthof Classic Chef
Cutco Chef                                              Wusthof GP Santoku  

Chef and Santoku Knives 

Though I am not a trained chef, I cook and prepare gourmet meals, spending many hours with a knife in hand. The use of a good knife is highly important in the kitchen. The comfort in hand, sharpness of blade, how long the blade stays sharp, and balance in the hand are my criteria. These are my opinions only, and may not apply to how they are used by another. If possible, go to a store that sells high quality knives and try them out first. Decide what kind of knife you will use most and invest in at least one good knife. 

Wusthof Classic 8 inch chef knife
approximately $130 

I have had the Wusthof chef knife for 14 years. The first important thing about Wusthof Classic is that the handles are resin, and not wood. I am constantly cutting and chopping and washing the knives, though never in the dishwasher. Wood handles get dry and need oil, just a fact of life. I look for ease. This was a point in favor of Wusthof. Wusthof uses high carbon steel, which holds a sharp edge far longer than blades with a lower carbon content. With little work, the knife keeps a good sharp edge and cuts easily. The Wusthof chef knife has better weight than any knife I had held before, also a solid point in favor. It is relatively well balanced and has a full tang, meaning the steel extends the entire length of the knife, into the handle, where it is riveted in place.

 
 
Cutco 9.25 inch chef knife
approximately $150

About 3 years ago I bought the Cutco chef knife. First, it is far longer than most other chef knives. This is good when I am chopping a larger quantity of food, but generally it is just long. I am less accustomed to the length, so that is a minus. The weight or heft of the knife is light in comparison to the Wusthof Classic chef knife. It looks nice, but is less balanced in my hand. It does have full tang and the handles are riveted in place. It is a sharp knife, but the company wants it shipped to them for sharpening. This is nice, in the sense that one knows it will be sharpened properly. It is an aggravation to have to take the knife somewhere else. All in all not a bad knife, but not my first choice or recommendation.

Wusthof Grand Prix 7 inch Santoku
approximately $60

In 1998 the Wusthof Classic line did not have a Santoku knife, so I got the Grand Prix Santoku. It does not suit me well, though I use it occasionally. The Santoku blade has little wells cut into the blade, for the purpose of easy release of foods when chopping foods or carving meats. The Grand Prix line does not have the good weight of the Classic line, does not have full tang, and the blade has a straighter edge; less curve. For straight down chopping, this works fine. I do a lot of rocker chopping, using the tip of the knife as a pivot and coming down again and again. The Wusthof Grand Prix Santoku does not function well for this application.

Hammer Stahl 7.5 inch Santoku
approximately $160

This year I bought a Hammer Stahl 7.5 inch Santoku knife. I have been using it almost exclusively ever since. This knife is also made of high carbon steel. The weight of the knife is impressive, though extremely well balanced in the hand. The weight makes chopping seem effortless. The shape of the handle fits well in the hand. It is a Santoku blade, though the little wells are much farther back from the blade edge. The line of the blade has more curve, unlike the Wusthof Grand Prix Santoku, allowing great ease with pivot chopping. The blade has full tang, and the handle is a thing of beauty with the resin impregnated Pakka wood. For great grip, weight and balance, this is the best knife I own. It is still very sharp after half a year of constant use.


Mini Ice Cream Scoops 

I do not know how I ever managed before I got these scoops. The two I own are 1¼ inches in diametter (about 2 teaspoons capacity) and 1½ inches in diameter (1 tablespoon capacity). So far these two are amazing and versatile in use. The first I got was the larger one, and I use it for meatballs.  I like small meatballs, since I usually make them for parties and I want them small for ease at the buffet. They are small, but not too small. Scooping and releasing directly onto a baking sheet or into boiling water is a snap.

The other thing I use the smaller scoop for is making cookies.  I dislike making cookies, with all the individual work, and then no matter how you try you get different sizes.  With the little scoop I get evenly sized cookies and they bake evenly.

Other possible uses for the two I have would be scooping soft cheese into balls for rolling in a coating, scooping cake batter into mini cupcake tins, scooping out perfect truffle portions and so much more.  I highly recommend them to anyone - they are such a tme saver, above and beyond their many uses.

I do not know what brand these are.  There is absolutely no writing anywhere on them, inside or out, though they look like the Norpro or Farberware types.  They have great spring action and I have been using them for years.

Cookie Scoops against my hand
Top photo: against my hand for size reference
Below: full sized photo
Cookie Scoops full view

 

Kitchen-Aid Mixer, 600 Pro Series * * * * *


When I got my first Kitchen Aid mixer, back in the '90s, I thought I'd just hit the best thing I could ever have found.  Now I could make my Mom's bread - a large recipe, without all the work of kneading.  It did everything I hoped.  It was very strong.  I used it all the time.  I made bread regularly, as well as cakes and cookie doughs.  It never faltered, and lived up to every promise.  Why did I get rid of it?  Because a bigger model came out!

Blue wasn't the color I desired, but it was the 600 Professional Series 6 quart size, and on sale for $100 off!  Couldn't pass that up.  I gave my old model with the 4 quart bowl to one of my daughters, hoping she continues in my footsteps.

On the serious side: I cannot find fault with anything on either of the two Kitchen Aid mixers I have owned.  The one thing that is a lot better about this 600 Pro Series is the "Stir" setting, which is truly helpful when adding in flour or confectioners' sugar to a recipe!  As a matter of fact, I have the plastic shield to put around the bowl, so flour doesn't go flying out, but haven't needed it with the Stir setting.  I had gotten a grain mill attachment and pasta rolling attachment while I had the first Kitchen Aid, and they fit perfectly on this new model also.  I love the grain mill - I grind my own grain to make whole wheat or rye bread, and buchwheat for pancakes.  I make bread regularly, and it kneads with no difficulty for the 10 to 12 minutes.  It is a strong machine and I strongly recommend it! 
 



Kitchen-Aid Mixer
The "bigger model", 600 Professional Series


Original 15 year old All Clad pots and pans
My original 15 year old All-Clad pots and pans.

Original pans plus extra pieces
Original All-clad pots and pans with extra pieces in front.

Nonstick pan edge wear
Nonstick edge wear from dishwasher.

Pan bottom comparison
Pan bottom comparison:
Bottom of 15 year old pan, left;
bottom of newer pan, right.


All Clad Stainless Steel Cookware 

I got my first All-Clad set of pots and pans around 1996 and have been using them almost exclusively ever since.  I did not buy a pre-determined "set", but bought the pieces I would use most, and then various extra pieces since.  The first pieces I got were the 1, 2, 4 and 8 quart saucepans with lids, the 8-, 10 and 12-inch frying pans, nonstick.  

I had used many other types of pots and pans prior to the All-Clad, such as Revere Ware, Club Aluminum and one Calphalon frypan.  I liked the Club Aluminum best, prior to trying All-Clad but decided against keeping them for health reasons because of the aluminum.  The Calphalon was, in my opinion, awful.  The surface stained right off and nothing I tried could ever get the stains out.  It is packed away somewhere, unused.  

On to the All-Clad.  I have never been happier with a set of pots and pans.  The thick walls of the pans hold heat really well.  Things do not burn, because it is easy to keep the pans simmering on very low heat.  The handles are all stainless, so they can be placed in the oven, as chefs will do to finish off a dish. I use the large 8 quart pot in the oven to slow simmer a meal all day. They are the easiest pots too clean, ever.  If the bottoms get stained over time, a little "Bar Keeper's Friend" works like a charm to restore them to a nice shine.  I had never cooked with anything like these pots!  I cannot say enough good things.

The only problem I had was that I placed the two larger frying pans - nonstick - in the dishwasher a couple of times, and unfortunately, this damaged the nonstick surfaces.  They are dull and not the nice slick surface they had been, and the surface began to peel away at the rims.  This has not stopped me from using them, although while they are still stick-resistant, not quite as they were when new.  The tiny 8-inch frypan is rarely used, as I just usually need the larger sizes, so while it too had gone into the dishwasher one time, I caught on to what was happening.  The surface of the small frypan is mostly undamaged and nicely nonstick, except for a little pulling away of the surface coating at the rim. 

The frypans did not come with lids, so lids for those were a later purchase.  I also bought a 1 quart saucier pan with lid, and later a 2 quart saucier with lid.  I got double boiler and steamer inserts for the 4 quart pot.  I bought one 12 inch frying pan without the nonstick coating.  I also got the braiser pan with lid and 2 side handles.  

I use these pans daily, and after these 15 years, I am more than satisfied that they really stand up well.  Foods cook easily, cleanup is easy and they last.  My only recommendation is do not put the nonstick pieces into the dishwasher - but that is my own fault, and not the fault of the pans.  The one that was not placed in the dishwasher so often is still in great shape. 

 



Pepper Mills 

Discovering the joys of freshly ground pepper is an amazing venture, but finding a pepper mill that really works smoothly was a long road to travel.  My first pepper mills were sadly useless.  Some would catch so badly that they broke on the very first turn.  Some, though touted as adjustable, just did not adjust, leaving large, nearly whole peppercorns to pass through. Conversely, if tightened to fine grind, some are so hard to turn that again they are useless. Some hold a lot, some hold very little.

What makes a pepper mill good?  In my opinion, a smooth grind is the highest imperative.  Having to force a crank to turn to get it to crack a peppercorn is too much.  Having too much variance in size of the pepper that is ground is annoying.  Ease in opening up to refill and putting back together is another criteria.


Pepper Mills

The grinders shown here are all ones that I keep and use, although only two are really good at what they do.  The absolute best is the second, the Atlas brand brass mill. It is a workhorse.  These brass mills were originally intended as Turkish coffee mills, and this one reflects that use, with the bottom half a receptacle for the ground product. It is the best at grinding large amounts quickly, evenly and finely.  When you want a teaspoon of pepper for a recipe, this one is your best bet. About 16 to 20 quick grinds and you are done. Many of the Atlas brass coffee/pepper mills come with a flared base and the entire mill's inside space is put to use. Either way, this is the best, top of the line. It will grind the best Tellicherry peppercorns with their larger size, because it is originally meant for coffee beans.  I have no complaints at all on this one of mine.  I have had it for 22 years and it works perfectly every time.

The other mill I am most pleased with is the first one on the left. I first saw these mills on TV when Mario Batali used his orange one.  I looked it up and found they are Vic Firth brand, come in many colors of laquered finishes, some wood finishes and various styles.  The mechanism is easy to take apart and put together, easy to adjust to just the right grind and has consistent results.  For a crank type mill, it works exceptionally well, grinds relatively quickly and evenly, though not with the output speed of the brass mill.  The only sticking point is that with damp or wet hands on the laquered surface, it is nearly impossible to turn!  Other than that, I love this mill best, after the Atlas brass mill. 

The other mills shown here work less than optimally for my criteria.  Why do I have them all? I use some of them for different peppers.  If you notice the clear acrylic mill, number five in the lineup, is filled with white peppercorns.  I do not use white pepper alone for too many dishes, but when I want only white pepper, this is the one I use.  The third one from the left, a stainless model, is possibly the third favorite of all as it does grind evenly.  It does catch during grinding, but not as severely as the 4th, 6th or 7th mills.  The stainless one holds a blend of green, white and pink peppercorns (no black).  The next to last mill here holds Tasmanian Pepper Berries; not real pepper at all, and slightly hotter.  The berries themselves are a bit larger than even the best Tellicherry peppercorns, and this mechanism accomodated that size best.  Some mills will not even pass the slightly larger Tellicherry peppercorns through.

The 6th mill from the left is pretty, and that is about all.  It is more wood than mill, and holds a tiny amount of peppercorns.  It grinds okay, but is more for show than grinding pepper.  And finally, the tiny one on the far right is a travel size peppermill.  I got it for its cuteness factor.  I love pepper, and use a lot.  This tiny mill will last me one to two days, on the road.  It is difficult to get back together once opened up to refill, as it almost requires 3 hands.  Luckily it is tiny.
 
If you are looking for a great mill, go for the Atlas brand.  They are pricey, but not nearly so much as they were 22 years ago. Being brass, they are difficult to keep clean, so I gave that up long ago. The Vic Firth model is also pricey, but it has the added beauty of its looks to go with a good grinding mechanism and ease of use, plus a quick wipedown now and then leaves it nice and clean.