Gift Guide for the Holidays

These two small kitchen appliances are all the rage right now. With everyone looking for the best and healthiest ways to prepare meals at home, these gadgets make for the perfect holiday gifts.

AirFryer

This popular appliance is making its way into the homes of many, especially those looking for a healthier alternative to oily, fried foods. Airfryers come in many sizes catering to any sized household. According to online reviews, Phillips makes the best performing and easy-to-use airfryer.

The well-known brand sells three different models: The Compact, XL and XXL. These models all have the patented “Turbostar Technology,” meaning hot air circulates 360 degrees around the food as it cooks. This ensures the food is cooked evenly and has a crisp outside with a tender inside. And as the food cooks, any excess fat is simultaneously drained, which is 75% – 90% less fat than typical fried foods. You can also download the “Philips Airfryer app” for recipes, tutorials and tips.

Although the “Turbostar Technology” is used in all the models, the portion size and capabilities are what sets them apart. The basic Compact Airfryer model can easily fit on your countertop, has the ability to cook two portions (1.8 lb) at one time and has easy-to-use controls. The XL Airfryer model is the midsized option that can cook up to four portions (2.65 lb) at one time and features digital touchscreen controls with a preset button to remember your favorite foods. Lastly, the largest XXL Airfryer model is the most powerful model that Phillips offers. It can cook two bags of fries or even a whole chicken in one go, which makes this model ideal for larger families.

Anova Precision Cooker

The other gadget that would make a great gift this holiday season is the Anova Precision Cooker. With this simple device and your phone, you can cook professional level meals. The Anova Precision Cooker uses what is called “Sous-vide” (pronounced ‘sue-veed’) or precision cooking, a technique that uses precise temperature control to achieve perfectly cooked, flavor-filled results.

Here’s how it works. Grab any sized pot and fill it about half way with water. Place the Anova wand into the water and use the clamp to secure it to the side of the pot. Use the controls on the wand or the Anova app on your phone to select the temperature specified in the app or recipe book to achieve your desired doneness. Take a resealable plastic bag and place your choice of ingredients and seasoning inside and seal it. Place the bag in the preheated water and clip the bag to the pot. That’s it! The water will continue to circulate eliminating any hot or cold spots, and in no time at all you will have a perfectly cooked meal! Once the ingredients are cooked, you can use a pan to crisp up the outer layer.

The Anova wand can be used to cook anything from steaks and fried chicken to eggs and potatoes. There are over 1,000 recipes available on the app and online. Anova makes cooking so simple, you’ll never want to use anything else!

Mac and Cheese, Please!

The frozen meal industry is huge, with hundreds of types to choose from in every supermarket. The history of frozen food and the “TV dinner” is quite extensive. No one really knows who deserves the credit for coming up with the concept, but one company, Swanson, was the first to be successful with their frozen “Thanksgiving Dinner.” Clarence Birdseye deserves credit for developing the system for packing and “flash-freezing” food at its peak freshness. Swanson then used Birdseye’s system and combined it with the idea of compartmentalized meals and BOOM, the frozen entrée was born! One of the most popular frozen meals today is the always delicious, mac n’ cheese. We chose three brands to taste and below you can read our honest review with a brief history of each.

Stouffer’s
The first Stouffer’s restaurant named “Stouffer Lunch” was opened in Cleveland in 1924. Over time, the company continued to expand and the Stouffer’s restaurants served over 14 million meals a year while they began creating frozen entrées. Then in 1973, Stouffer’s was acquired by Nestlé and 8 years later, a new line of entrées called “Lean Cuisine” was released. By 1990 the Stouffer’s name was on 68 restaurants and 40 major resorts and hotels. However, in 1992 the businesses were all sold off to focus solely on frozen meals.

Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars

It was the consensus that Stouffer’s has the sharpest and cheesiest flavor of the three brands. The texture of the sauce is a bit gritty especially as the sauce cools, but the noodles were the softest. There is an adequate amount of sauce for the macaroni pasta. It isn’t as smooth as the others, but it is thicker and still very creamy.

Amy’s
Amy’s began in the small kitchen of Andy and Rachel Berliner’s when they were unable to find a premade organic, vegetarian meal that they liked. They began making pot pies to sell locally and at that time they had no idea how big the business would become. As things began to pick up, letters of thanks and requests for new recipes came pouring in. After much deliberation, it was decided that the company would be named after their daughter, Amy, born the same year. Business continued to boom and today, Amy’s continues to provide organic, vegetarian, non-GMO food that is handmade with the freshest ingredients. They offer hundreds of meal options including several for those with gluten and dairy dietary restrictions.

Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars

Amy’s definitely has the smoothest sauce, which floods the harder, chewier texture of the classic macaroni pasta. The sauce has a runnier consistency than the other two brands, but it adds a certain decadent creaminess. The flavor is milder than that of Stouffer’s, but it is still easy to pick out the sharpness of the cheese.

365 Brand
365 is Whole Food’s “Everyday Value Brand” known for being a great product and a high value for the price. The original Whole Foods Market was opened in 1980 with the goal of providing natural foods in the format of a supermarket. Since then the company has continued to grow and has acquired or merged with multiple companies. In 2016, they began opening their new store concept by the name of 365 by Whole Foods Market. This “smaller-store concept offers healthy, high-quality food at great prices.”

Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars

The 365 brand has the most unique flavor, though it wasn’t the cheesiest. It has more a of “spiced or peppery” taste and is much milder than the others. It also lacked in creaminess with a want for more sauce to go with the larger, shell-like pasta. The noodles have a good texture with not being too soft or chewy – somewhat in the middle of the Stouffer’s and Amy’s brands.

Get Your Best Sleep in Comfy Sheets!

How well do you know your sheets? What’s the thread count, and does it matter? Are they crisp or soft? Oh, and how often should you wash them?
All good questions and really it mostly depends on personal preference, but here’s some helpful information for the next time you’re in the market for sheets.

First of all, what is thread count, and does the number really matter? Well, thread count is determined by the number of threads that run vertically and horizontally on each square inch of the fabric. Some may say the number matters, but in a Consumer Reports test, some of the top-scoring sheets only claimed a thread count of 280. That’s a low number when you’re comparing it to sheets with thread counts of 1,000. So, what’s the difference? Thread count is more about how the sheets feel as opposed to their performance and durability. The higher the thread count, the more fragile the sheets will be and the more they are washed, the faster they will wear. The most popular thread count tends to be in the 400 to 600 range.

As far as crisp or soft sheets go, it’s more of personal preference and can affect your sleep quality depending on how they feel when you lay on them. The crispness or softness depends on the type of fabric. There are several different types of fabrics including, cotton, flannel, satin and silk.

Cotton sheets are the most popular fabric choice among consumers and there are many types to choose from. Combed Cotton goes through a cleaning process, getting rid of any impurities making it extremely soft and smooth to the touch. Supima Cotton also has a very soft feel and is a high-quality very durable fabric that is made in the United States. Muslin Cotton is the least soft of cotton sheets, but is the most durable of them all. They are ideal for kids’ sheets and will hold up through frequent washing. Egyptian Cotton is well-known for being the highest of quality by not only feeling luxurious and soft, but is also very durable.

Flannel cotton sheets are made with either a plain or twill weave making them soft and pliable. However, they are not a good sheet for the summer as they will be sure to keep you warm and cozy (ideal for those who are cold when they sleep). They are often made from wool and other synthetic materials, so individuals with wool allergies be aware!

Silk and satin sheets are popular for many reasons including the fact that they are hypoallergenic, making them a huge comfort for allergy sufferers.
Most silk sheets are made from mulberry silk making the fabric very durable, but just be sure to watch for snags. Lastly, silk sheets are ideal for those who tend to get hot when they sleep because they reduce sweating and make sleep much more comfortable, especially in the summertime.

Now that you have a better idea about what sheets are right for you, let’s talk about the best way to clean them and how often. It is recommended that you wash your sheets once a week to prevent any allergy and sickness causing bacteria from forming. It’s a good idea to have two sets of sheets in an effort to help prolong their life by allowing one set to rest while the other is in use. The best way to wash your sheets is to use cold water and a detergent made for cold water. For optimum results, start the water and throw in the detergent before adding your sheets. This will prevent the detergent from staining your sheets and will allow it to get completely washed out. It is also suggested that you NOT use bleach. Bleach will often wear out the fabric causing rips or tears and can even cause yellowing. Use a white distilled vinegar, which will remove any odors and will not leave a vinegar smell behind. To prevent wrinkles after wash, be sure to pull them out of the dryer promptly and fold them neatly if you’re not using them right away.