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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Holiday gift ideas part 1 - housewares

You know, Christmas season is just around the corner and if you are looking for the perfect gift(s) to get people, I have some suggestions myself.  This is going to be the first of several posts I make on holiday gift ideas.  By the way, if you are interested in buying these products I will share the links (Amazon.com) for them in case if you are interested.  Most of these products I would be interested in buying someday if I could.  In this part, I will talk about housewares and kitchenwares you might like that I have used and liked.

Product 1 - Keurig Coffee Maker

Above is a video I posted demonstrating how a Keurig Coffee maker works, though sadly I don't have my own Keurig coffee maker (my agency loaned me one for my demos in my event kits, though I usually had to donate them to the store after the demos were finished), though I do say that I would like to get one someday if I had the extra money.  It can be very convenient to have, especially if you like "coffee to go".  Here is how it works:
- Pour water into the water container
- turn on the power and let the water heat up
- pull up the lever (it will open up a slot with a pin on the bottom)
- Take a k-cup product (such as Tully's coffee) and put it in the slot and pull the lever down
- When the machine it is ready, a blue light will flash (like the ones seen on the buttons) and you can choose which one to pour (I think the one on the left is small cup and the other one is for a bigger cup).
- Usually within seconds, the machine pours coffee into the cup.
- By the way, you can also make iced coffee (though first you have to put ice into the mug or cup you want to use).  Warning: if you use plastic cups, you will need to put alot of ice in it, otherwise the cup can melt leaving you a mess to clean up (I've made that mistake before).
- If you want to brew more, you can take the used k-cup out of the slot and put another one in and brew that one too.
Note: you have to keep water above the sensor for it to work, otherwise you will have to pour more water in.

Personally, I find the product pretty convenient to have.  By the way, if you are in college they could definitely be good to have in a dorm room or apartment since then you can simply brew coffee pretty quickly before heading to class (saves you extra trips to the cafeteria or coffee shop if you want coffee).

Pros and cons to the Keurigs (based on my experience with the products):

- Convienient and easy to use
- Great for making single cups or mugs of coffee
- Many coffee companies now have k-cups they offer for the machines.  My favorite is probably Tullys, but there are other companies that have products for them too, including: Foldiers, Green Mountain, Nantucket Blend, hot chocolate mixes, iced teas, etc
- I think it is possible to use custom k-cups or filters, though I don't really know how to use those things.
- Great for apartments, offices, dorm rooms, etc.  By the way, at the Kohl's store I work at, they do have keurigs in the break room, though usually you have to supply your own k-cups to use them.
- usually brews coffee in less than a minute (unless the water is heating).
- pretty easy to clean up
- Only good for one serving of coffee at a time.  If you want to make coffee for multiple people at a time, a traditional coffee maker might be better
- If you want to make cappaccinos or lattes, a espresso machine might be better.
- Can be expensive to buy.  Also you do have to buy k-cups to brew coffee.  The first time I was promoting the Keurigs, they were selling at $75, but it appears that the prices have gone up since then.

For more information about Keurigs, you can find them on Amazon.com

Comparative shopping:
(coming soon)

If you decide to get a Keurig, here are some k-cups you might like on Amazon:
|| || || (for more k cups, you can browse for more on Amazon or check your local grocery stores)

Product 2 - Espresso Machines (too many different kinds to list).

While we are still on the subject of coffee, do you ever get cravings for lattes, cappaccinos, mochas, etc?  You can go to Starbucks or similar coffee shops to satisfy your cravings, or you can get your own espresso machines and brew your own (saves you about $5 every time you want espresso).  I have espresso machine myself (got one for Christmas back in 2006 and it is still pretty functional for the most part).  Espresso is actually pretty easy to learn how to make (at least in my opinion).  With espresso machines, you can make espresso, americanos (I usually make those myself), lattes, cappaccinos, mochas (my favorite are mochas with rum) or whatever you want.

Here is how espresso machines works (at least the one I use):
It is hard to really explain it without showing you, here is a youtube video showing how to brew espresso:

Pros and cons from my experience:

- Easy to learn how to make
- You don't have to use espresso roast coffee beans (though for best flavor you will probably want espresso roast).
- Usually brews coffee in minutes (mine usually brews within 5 minutes and you know when the espresso is almost ready because you will hear it dripping).
- Can be pretty convenient to have and it does save you extra trips to Starbucks (or similar coffee shops) whenever you want espresso or lattes.
- Can brew multiple shots if you want
Down sides:
- The steamer for steaming the milk and making lattes/cappuccinos does tend to stop working after a while.  I've had 2 espresso makers during my years, and with both of them, the steamer stops working eventually.  I don't really know how to fix that problem and they still brewed espresso for me perfectly but the steamers no longer work.  I am not sure if this happens with every espresso maker but this does to seem to happen with at least some models after a while.  You will know when the steamer stops working when you turn on the steamer and steam comes out of the top of the machine, but nothing comes out of the nozzle.
- Espresso makers require extra cleaning when finished.  Also you do have to replace the ground coffee beans whenever you want to brew more espresso (otherwise they are no longer fresh and it leaves a watery taste).

Coffee bean brands you might like:

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Product 3- Quesadilla Makers

Do you ever get cravings for Mexican food?  How about Quesadillas?  I tend to get cravings for chicken quesadillas sometimes myself.  There are multiple ways to make a quesadillas.  The old school way is to get a frying pan (preferably a good one), then take 2 large flour tortillas (or whatever kinds of tortillas you use), add shredded cheese, add meats if you want meat (like chicken, steak, pulled pork, etc), add spices and/or salsa if you want, and then using a frying pan and spatchula to make it.  Of course a down side to that method is that it can get tricky sometimes (for example, can you flip them over without messing them up?).  Quesadilla makers like the El Paso kind (I have that kind) or similar makers make cooking quesadillas much easier.  They operate much like forman grills (for those of you who are familiar with those).  Here is how it works
- Take 2 tortillas (a top one and bottom one)
- put on shredded cheese
- Add meats of your choice (I usually use chicken or steak)
- Add spices and salsa if you want (as well as other fixins of your choices
- Then put a tortilla on top of the bottom one
- Open the quesadilla maker
- Feel free to add cooking spray to keep the tortillas from sticking
- put the tortilla on the grill
- close the grill and plug in the machine (I don't recommend pluging in the machine until you are ready to cook the quesadilla, as it heats up fast and you can burn yourself if you are not careful when placing the tortillas on the grill)
- The quesadillas usually cook within 5 minutes.  You know when it is done when the tortiallas start to turn brown.  Warning; be careful not to cook for too long, otherwise the quesadillas will get burnt.
- By the way, I recommend using a pizza cutter for slicing the quesadilla (pretty efficient way to cut it up).
Yeah, it is pretty easy and convienient to use.

- great for making quesadillas efficiently.
- Pretty easy to set up and put away
- Usually not quite as messy as using a frying plan

- You still have to clean the quesadilla maker after using it, and it can be greasy (especially if you use cooking sprays or oil), which can make cleaning a bit tricky
- There is no timer on the machines and it is possible to overcook the quesadillas if you are not paying attention.  I recommend checking in on the maker every 5 minutes to ensure your food is not over cooked.
- Be careful when adding salsa, guacamole, etc when using the quesadilla makers since sometimes the sauces can boil over grill, leaving you an extra mess to clean up.  Also, quesadillas can fall apart if you used too much sauce.

Warnings and disclaimers:
- Be sure to use hot pads when opening the machine after the quesadilla is cookedn and I recommend using tongs or spatchulas to help get the quesadilla off the grill when done.  Otherwise you might burn yourself since the surface of the machine will likely be very hot when it is done.
- You will need to let the machine cool off before cleaning it since it will be hot at first and will take time to cool
- Never leave the machine unattended while cooking quesadillas.

Product 4 - Waffle Makers (like the black and decker kind)

Do you like waffles?  I know I do.  I remember back when I was in college (particularly at Northwest University), in the cafeteria sometimes they had a waffle maker bar set up (not always of course) where you can make your own waffles.  You can spray the machine with cooking spray (to help prevent sticking), pour waffle mix on the hot waffle iron, and let it cook for several minutes and valla, you have a nice belgian waffle.  Of course, you can always add syrup, fruit, etc if you want too.  I made waffles earlier this week myself.  Waffle makers come in many different shapes, forms and sizes, but they are all pretty similar in my opinion.

Pros about Waffle makers:
- Great for making home made style waffles
- Can be pretty easy to use (though sometimes there can be a learning curve when it comes to using waffle makers effectively.
- Usually cooks the waffles in minutes.
- Can be a good alternative to making pancakes or french toast

- Can get messy.  Sometimes waffle mix can stick to the waffle iron (even when using cooking spray) and leaves you a good size mess to clean up.  Sometimes, you can lose an otherwise good waffle that way too.
- Waffles can burn if you leave the machine unattended for too long
- Sometimes waffle batter can overflow (especially if you use too much), so you will need a pan or something underneath it to help contain the waffle batter that overflows.
- Can be tricky to clean too.

(stay tuned for more products, will try to add to the list over time).

Do you know of products you want to recommend?  Feel free to share them below.  Have you used these products?  Feel free to share your experiences with them.

FTC disclosure: my opinions and recommendation on the products are based on my own experiences with them and may or may not reflect the experiences everyone else has, and the products might not necessarily be for everyone.  As an Amazon and Linkshare affiliate (for example, Cafe Britt is part of the Linkshare affiliate network), I might earn a commission if you buy any of these products listed on this page.

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