Posts with «food & cooking» label

Hitting the Books: In Russia, home is where the hearth is

Despite Russia being the world's third largest oil producer and exporter (at least until its invasion of Ukraine), its people have traditionally relied on the nation's monumental expanses of loggable forests for their cooking fuel needs. Access to an essentially inexhaustible firewood supply has deeply influenced Russian culture, governing how food is prepared, which impacts the form factor the home's oven and hearth takes, which in turn shapes the both home itself and domestic dynamics around it.

In her latest book, The Kingdom of Rye: A Brief History of Russian Food, prolific author and prominent food scholar Darra Goldstein turns her gaze onto a resourceful people who have overcome their climate, repeated famines, hunger, and political repression to establish a culture and cuisine of their own. If you are what you eat, Goldstein aptly illustrates what it means to be Russian.    

UC Press

Excerpted from The Kingdom of Rye: A Brief History of Russian Food by Darra Goldstein. Published by University of California Press. Copyright © 2022 by Darra Goldstein. All rights reserved.


Culinary Practices

Russia is not a quick-cooking culture. The nature of traditional Russian cuisine was in large part determined by the design of the masonry stoves that had come into use by 1600. These massive structures for both cooking and heating could measure up to two hundred cubic feet, occupying a good quarter of the living space in one-room peasant cottages. They were built of bricks or stone rubble covered with a thick layer of whitewashed clay. (For heating, wealthy families also had so-called Dutch stoves faced with beautiful tiles—even utilitarian objects provided an opportunity to display their prosperity and aesthetic taste.) Unfortunately, far too many peasant cottages fell into the category of “black,” meaning their stoves had no chimneys, and much of the smoke lingered in the air, to detrimental effect. More affluent peasants lived in “white” cottages in which the smoke was vented through a chimney.

Unlike other countries where fuel was scarce, resulting in the adoption of quick cooking methods, Russia boasted extensive forests and thus plentiful firewood. The thick walls of the stove retained heat very well, and many of Russia’s most typical dishes result from this property. When the stove was newly fired and very hot, with embers still glowing at the back of the hearth, cooks placed breads, pies, and even blini in the oven to bake. It took two to three hours to bring a cold oven up to temperature. Experienced cooks inserted a piece of paper to determine when the oven was ready for baking, based on how quickly the paper browned and burned. So central was bread to Russian life that oven temperatures were often described in relation to bread baking: “before bread, after bread, and at full blast” (vol’nyi dukh). As the heat began to diminish, other dishes took their turns: grain porridges that baked to a creamy consistency, followed by soups, stews, and vegetables, which were cooked slowly in bulbous earthenware or cast-iron pots. When the oven temperature had fallen to barely warm, it was just right for culturing dairy products and drying mushrooms and berries. During the winter, the stove was fired once or twice a day, and in summertime, only as needed for baking.

At the rear of the masonry surrounding the traditional Russian stove, high above the floor, is a ledge. This lezhanka (from the verb “to lie”) was the warmest spot in the peasant cottage. There, the elderly or infirm could find comfort, and children could laze like the beloved folk figure Emelia the Fool. Most stoves also provide recesses for storing food, kitchen equipment, and wood, as well as niches for drying mittens and herbs. The oven cavity itself is massive, large enough for uses well beyond cooking. The stove could become a makeshift banya when planks were set up along the hot interior walls of the oven, and this cleansing ritual endured well into the twentieth century. It usually took place on a bread baking day, when the oven was already heated, and was considered especially beneficial when steam from the hot water released the aroma of medicinal herbs. Some Russians took a “bread bath,” believed to have healing powers, by using diluted kvass instead of water to create the steam. In some regions of Russia women crawled into the oven to give birth, since it was the most hygienic place in the cottage. Beyond such practical uses, the stove played a highly symbolic role in Russian life, demarcating the traditional female and male spheres, with the cooking area to the left of the hearth and the icon-dominated “beautiful corner” to its right. And not surprisingly, given its importance in providing sustenance, heat, and health, the stove was believed to hold magical powers beyond the alchemy of transforming dough into bread. Mothers would sometimes place sick infants on bread peels and ritually insert them three times into the oven in hopes of curing them.

The masonry stove prevailed in Russian households both rich and poor until the eighteenth century, when Western-style ranges and the new equipment they required gradually came into use. Many Russian stoves were modified to include stovetop burners in addition to the oven, and in some households a cooktop range superseded the stove entirely. Saucepans and griddles largely replaced the customary earthenware and cast-iron pots perfect for slow cooking in the Russian stove. Cooktops also affected the way ingredients were prepared. In kitchens that could afford meat, large joints for roasting or braising gave way to butchered cuts like steaks, filets, and chops that could be prepared à la minute, often in more elaborate, if less natively Russian, recipes.

The Russian stove released deep, mellow flavors through slow cooking even as its low heat enabled culturing and dehydration, which produce intensified flavors that also characterize Russian cuisine.

What we bought: Our favorite small kitchen essentials

While we at Engadget are blessed with a passion for cooking, most of us are not blessed with spacious kitchens. But that doesn’t stop us – we use every inch of our tiny apartment kitchens as efficiently as possible. In doing so, we’ve found that some of the most useful cooking tools are the small things – items hiding deep in your drawers or sitting humbly on your countertop that you turn to often and may end up taking for granted. We wanted to highlight some of our favorite small kitchen essentials to remind everyone (including ourselves) that you don’t need to add the latest ultra-convenient unitaster to your kitchen to make great food. Ultimately, it’s the small stuff that matters, both when it comes to recipe ingredients and the tools you keep in your cupboards.

Thermapen One

ThermoWorks

If there was ever an essential kitchen gadget, an instant-read thermometer is certainly it. Not only does it help you cook things correctly, but aso safely. No one wants to serve their guests undercooked chicken. If you’re in the market, Thermapen’s One is the best your money can buy. It’s more expensive than your run-of-the-mill probe, but the One gets its name from its speed: it can provide readings in one second.

What’s more, the One is accurate to within half a degree and the IP67 waterproof housing means it will hold up to any accidents. The display auto rotates so you’re never twisting your neck to read the numbers. It’s also equipped with a motion sensor so that display automatically comes on when you pick up the thermometer. The Thermapen One will serve you well in the kitchen, at the grill and for many other things, making it a go-to for a variety of culinary tasks. – Billy Steele, Senior News Editor

Buy Thermapen One at ThermoWorks - $105

Instant Pot

Engadget

I was late to hop on the Instant Pot train. I picked up the three-quart Instant Pot Ultra on Prime Day in 2020, and even as I waited for it to arrive, I was slightly skeptical about how much I’d really use it. Fast-forward more than a year and the multi-cooker has become one of the most used gadgets in my laughably small kitchen. If I had enough counter space, it would stay out all the time – next to my other cooking MVP, my Vitamix – but sadly it has to sit in a lower cabinet when not in use. But I pull it out often to make soups and stews, to meal-prep large batches of dried beans and even to whip up rice. I grabbed the three-quart model because I mainly cook for myself and my fiancé, but since we always have leftovers, that leads me to believe that the smallest Instant Pot could make a decent-sized meal for up to four people or a big batch of our favorite side dish. While the Ultra model can be difficult to find right now, the newer Instant Pot Pro Plus has many of the same cooking modes along with a fancier display, plus app connectivity. — Valentina Palladino, Commerce Editor

Buy Instant Pot Pro Plus at Amazon - $200

Microplane

Microplane

I bought my Microplane after taking an in-store cooking class at Sur La Table where, admittedly, the hosts had an agenda to sell us stuff on our way out. I treated myself to this $15 hand grater, having just been introduced to it in my cooking demo. Today, I use it for everything from mincing garlic, to zesting citrus to grating parmesan over my pasta. The Microplane takes up less cabinet space than my box grater – and it’s never sliced my finger like traditional models either. The only annoying thing about my workflow is that the Microplane is often sitting dirty in the dishwasher when I need it. But at this price, with such a small footprint, it wouldn’t kill me to get a spare. – Dana Wollman, Editor In Chief

Buy Microplane Classic at Amazon - $16

Amazon Basics scale

Engadget

I love to cook, but I can’t say I’m terribly precise when it comes to following recipes. If something calls for a tablespoon of oil or a half cup of stock, I’m more likely to just dump it straight in than measure it out. So if you had told me a few years ago that one of my most-used kitchen gadgets would be a cheap kitchen scale, I probably would have laughed.

Then the pandemic hit and I quickly realized my lackadaisical approach would not cut it when it comes to baking. Baking bread, or just about anything else, requires precisely-measured ingredients, and a kitchen scale is far and away the easiest and most reliable way to measure out your ingredients.

I like this one because it’s compact, but can handle up to 11 pounds of weight. And it’s easy to quickly switch between pounds, grams and fluid ounces. And even though my pandemic baking hobby was short lived, I’ve found having a scale handy is actually quite useful. From brewing the perfect cup of pour-over, to weighing out the cat’s food, to managing my own portion sizes, this little scale has earned a permanent place on my counter. – Karissa Bell, Senior Reporter

Buy food scale at Amazon - $10

Cosori gooseneck electric kettle

Cosori

There are very few items that have earned a permanent spot on my painfully tiny countertop, and my Cosori electric kettle is one of them. I’ve written about it before, about how I finally decided to move on from the dark ages of heating up water for tea in the microwave to something more civilized. But the kettle has proven itself useful in many other ways, like prepping stock by using Better Than Bouillon and boiling water, and making the occasional quick cup of ramen. I like that Cosori’s model has different built-in temperature settings for different types of drinks, and its gooseneck design makes it easy to use for Chemex-made coffee. I’ve thought about upgrading to a new kettle recently, but I always ask myself, why? Cosori’s is still going strong, just the same as the day I bought it. — V.P.

Buy Cosori electric kettle at Amazon - $70

Cuisinart DLC-2ABC mini food processor

Cuisinart

According to my Amazon records, I purchased this small-batch Cuisinart food processor for about $28 on Amazon Prime Day 2017, correctly surmising that I didn’t need anything larger or pricier. For small kitchens and occasional use, the size is right – and so is the price, even if you pay closer to the $40 MSRP. And don’t be fooled by the name “mini” either – the three-cup capacity is enough to whip up pesto, hummus and various other dips and sauces. The only time recently I had to work in batches was when I was grinding up Oreos for the cookie layer of an ice-box cake. No big deal, and certainly not a dealbreaker.

When it comes to cleanup, I like that the plastic cup and lid can go in the dishwasher, though I need to wash the blades and wipe down the base by hand. Fortunately, too, it’s short enough in stature that it can sit even in a cabinet with just 9.5 inches of clearance. And, because it’s so lightweight, pulling it down from above my head never feels like a safety risk. – D.W.

Buy Cuisinart mini food processor at Amazon - $40

Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch chef's knife

Victorinox

I have put this knife through hell.

According to my Amazon orders archive (a testament to how much I have, in my own small way, enriched an awful company) I purchased this knife in January of 2016. It had good reviews and was, I believe, less than $40 — my assumption being this would be a cheap, workhorse knife that, were it stolen or destroyed by inconsiderate roommates, would be no great spiritual or financial loss. I have chopped and diced with it; I've hacked into gourds, coconuts and lobsters; I've used it to cleave straight through chicken bones; I regularly run it through the dishwasher.

Over six years later, it remains the best knife in my kitchen — and with the help of a chef's steel, the easiest to cut with too. And no, I have never once given it a proper resharpening either. An 8-incher from trendy upstart Misen which retails for almost twice the price failed to take its place. (Personally I think the weight distribution is off.)

There's no fancy damascus patterning to the steel, and the handle is plastic. I absolutely do not know (or care!) if it features a full tang or what the edge geometry is supposed to be. It's an utterly proletarian knife that, in my many years of use, remains both irreplaceable and indestructible. – Bryan Menegus, Senior News Editor

Buy Victorinox Fibrox chef's knife at Amazon - $54

Magnetic Measuring Spoons

Prepworks

I’ve accumulated lots of measuring spoons over the years – plastic, metal, some with a key ring attached – but these are the only ones I bother to use anymore. This set, which includes five spoons ranging in size from a quarter-teaspoon to tablespoon, has a magnetic nesting design, ensuring the spoons take up as little space as possible. (I also never find myself ransacking the drawer to find the one missing spoon that I really need at that moment.) Equally important: Each spoon is two-sided, so if I need to use the tablespoon, say, for both wet and dry ingredients, I can keep the two separate and throw just the one spoon in the dishwasher when I’m done. – D.W.

Buy magnetic measuring spoons at Amazon - $28

A magazine rack

Engadget

Look, don't ask me exactly which one is hanging off the pegboard I installed in my kitchen — I don't remember and frankly, you're buying bent pieces of wire, so any distinction between different brands is likely trivial. The point is that, while I have the utmost respect for printed media, the best use for a magazine rack is for storing pot lids, a very necessary and otherwise extremely annoying-to-store kitchen object.

What kind you look for depends mostly on what sorts of pot lids you're trying to stash away. Handle-style (is there even nomenclature for this type of thing? I'm talking about these ones) lids work best with a straight rail. For those with knob-type handles, ideally seek out one like this that features a slight concavity in the middle of each rail, as it'll keep the lids from sliding around too much. This is also the best bet if you — like me, and probably most people — have a set of pots and pans cobbled together from a variety of manufacturers and your lid handles are a mix of both varieties.

The only word of caution I'll offer is that, while pot lids might not be as heavy as, say, a cast iron skillet, install your magazine rack securely, either off a pegboard (which I cannot recommend highly enough for its versatility) or make sure it's screwed down into a wall stud. Cleaning up broken glass and buying an entirely new set of lids is no one's idea of a good time. — B.M.

Buy magazine rack at Amazon - $25

Nespresso Barista Recipe Maker

Nespresso

Those puny stick frothers do not cut it. Beyond the fact you have to heat the milk yourself – yeah, I was out already – it doesn’t have the oomph to offer that thick velvety milk needed for your daily flat white. There are several more substantial milk frothers available now, but I swear by Nespresso’s Aeroccino series or its Bluetooth-connected Barista Recipe Maker. I have the latter, because, well, I work at Engadget.

The Barista can whip up hot and cold milk, depending on your selection. It uses induction tech to both heat up the dishwasher-safe milk jug and magnetically spin the whisk inside, which is substantial and also thankfully dishwasher-safe. The results are consistent and ideal for at-home caffeination – which is not a word, apparently.

It turned out to be the final piece of my homemade coffee puzzle, ensuring my brews more closely approximate the espresso-based delights I get in West London’s cafes. While the touch-sensitive buttons and ability to replicate recipes are nice, I could survive without them.

Nespresso has recently introduced its fourth-generation Aeroccino, which is designed to look like a Moka pot, which is cute. It’s also a touch cheaper than my Barista Recipe Maker. – Mat Smith, U.K. Bureau Chief

Buy Barista Recipe Maker at Nespresso - $169

Chemex

Engadget

If you love coffee, you probably already know all the reasons why a pour-over setup will produce a better cup. But even occasional coffee drinkers will benefit from ditching a bulky drip machine for a sleek glass Chemex. In small kitchens, you need all the counterspace you can get, and Chemex’s three or six-cup carafe takes up a lot less space than the typical drip machine. It’s also easier to clean and stash away in a cupboard when not in use (and easier on the eyes if you do leave it out).

Most importantly, it brews a far better cup than any machine. To the uninitiated, pour-over setups can seem intimidating, but a Chemex makes it reasonably foolproof: add grounds to a filter (you can use bonded paper filters or get a reusable one), add hot, but not-quite-boiling, water, wait a few minutes and you’ll have a surprisingly smooth cup of coffee. What’s great about a Chemex is you can put as little or as much effort in as you want. Like other pour-over setups, there’s room for endless experimentation: you can change up the grind size, water temperature and coffee to water ratio to get the “perfect” cup. Or, if you’re less fussy, you can do what I do most mornings and eyeball it — as long as you don’t pour your water too quickly even a hastily made Chemex cup will have a lot more flavor than whatever is coming out of your drip machine. – K.B.

Buy Chemex at Amazon - $50

What we bought: Why Daily Harvest became my go-to meal delivery service

Like many people, my food insecurity got pretty serious in April 2020. Cities and businesses all across America were shutting down, while grocery stores and delivery services started to run out of food. Everywhere I looked — whether it was Amazon, Instacart, Uber Eats or FreshDirect — it seemed impossible to find a reliable source of fruits and vegetables. I looked at my dwindling supply of canned soups and packets of ramen and almost wept.

Now, I know I’m immensely fortunate compared to a lot of people to be able to even consider my access to fresh food during the height of the pandemic. I know that there are people for whom a supply of canned food would have been a godsend, not to mention fruits and vegetables. That said, I think a lot of people can also identify, and felt the need to stock up.

Even as scarcity eased, I wanted to have a reliable source of fresh meals just in case we had to lock down again. I looked at delivery services like Blue Apron, Sunbasket and Purple Carrot. As a single person living on her own, I didn’t want to get too much food that would just spoil in my fridge. I also preferred meals that were ready made, rather than deal with raw meats.

My preference for convenient preparation limited the selections, and I narrowed down my options to Daily Harvest, Revive Superfoods and CookUnity. These companies all offered significant discounts on my first deliveries, and I rotated through them each week.

All three provided delicious, fresh food that was easy to prepare, and I appreciate that they all made an effort to use sustainable packaging. Daily Harvest’s packaging was almost 100 percent paper, with CookUnity a close second. The latter used plastic wrap on top of paper boxes for meals, with plastic containers for sauces, and meals were delivered in insulated bags that you could return with your next delivery. Daily Harvest, meanwhile, mostly used bowls made from molded pulp, as well as recyclable paper cups or pods where possible. Revive Superfoods also does a respectable job, with recyclable paper cups and plastic lids.

As my dietary needs shifted to focus on more protein instead of prioritizing fresh vegetables and fruit, it was critical that I could look up each meal’s nutritional info before my weekly orders. Again, all three websites offered at least basic data on macros and ingredients. The last time I ordered, only CookUnity allowed me to filter my searches by calorie count, which was one of my concerns at the time.

CookUnity also had an advantage in that it offered the greatest variety of meals, while Revive was the most limited in its options. I also loved that CookUnity’s food was chef-prepared and usually had more balanced macros. But they needed to be consumed within two to three days, while Daily Harvest’s and Revive’s could be stored in the freezer.

Ultimately, I quit Revive and CookUnity for the same reason. Both companies started to restrict how long you could skip upcoming deliveries, and trying to stay on top of my schedule got trickier and trickier. The tighter windows meant I had to check in to each service every two weeks to make sure I skipped an order, as opposed to a couple of months.

Daily Harvest

Daily Harvest, on the other hand, lets you skip up to nine weeks of upcoming deliveries, the company also sends you a reminder before it bills your account. It gives you ample time to consider if you need the food that week and cancel if you feel like it. Daily Harvest also provides helpful information about how its vegan meals taste, giving you a comparison to something more familiar.

That’s an important feature, by the way, since Daily Harvest’s meals are often vegetarian versions of other dishes. My favorites are the “Kimchi fried rice” made with riced cauliflower, the lentil-and-tomato bolognese and the spinach and shitake grits with nutritional yeast. Each of these consists of a handful of simple, mostly organic ingredients, and basically everything I’ve tried tastes fantastic. I loved the Broccoli and Cheeze bowl, the vegetable-crust flatbreads, the assortment of dessert bites, the vegan ice creams (especially the salted black sesame swirl) and the lattes, too. The only thing I didn’t really like was the chocolate and hazelnut smoothie, but only in comparison to something similar from Revive Superfoods.

I also generally picked bowls because they’re the easiest to prepare — just add a little water (you can skip this step) and throw it in the microwave. Many of the other options require either a blender or using your oven.

You can tell from everything I’ve mentioned, though, that Daily Harvest has a wide variety of food to offer. I haven’t even mentioned the breakfast-friendly forager bowls, the soups and the newly launched “Crumbles,” which are meant to provide a protein punch. Just looking at the menu again has me itching to send in an order for things I haven’t tried yet, like the Matcha and Murasaki bites.

In the end, though lots of meal delivery services can send you great-tasting food, few actually do so with the thoughtful approach of Daily Harvest. I don’t love that the prices of some of its dishes and lattes have increased in the last year, but at least it’s been very up front about these changes. I’ve received email notifications delineating exactly what was getting more expensive and when, as well as an explanation for the change.

I’ve since canceled my Revive and CookUnity accounts, not without hassle, by the way. After a few rounds of back-and-forth emails with customer service, Revive finally agreed to deactivate my account, rather than delete it and remove my payment and delivery details from their servers like I asked. CookUnity, meanwhile, simply had the typical process of offering you a discount and asking you to answer some questions after you manage to find the Cancel Subscription link. But at least I was able to actually cancel my subscription without having to talk to customer service.

Revive still emails me daily asking me to “Come back for more at 50% off” or “Reactivate with a 50% off offer” even after repeated emails in September and October saying “LAST CHANCE! Come back and save 40% x 2!” Typical marketing bluster, I know, but still annoying given I had asked in writing for them to lose my info. CookUnity’s last email to me was in January 19th, 2022, and when I signed back into my account, it showed me "Your subscription was canceled =("

I haven’t gotten a box from Daily Harvest in months, because these days I’ve been trying out a few more new services like Better Bagel, Farmer’s Fridge and Huel. So far I’ve loved the quality of food for the first two, and Huel is a little less appetizing. Regardless of the new options I add to my roster, I’m more than happy to keep ordering from Daily Harvest. Delicious, fresh food, a well-designed website and thoughtful customer service? Take my money.

It’s Cooking Week at Engadget!

If we're honest, we're kind of obsessed with food here at Engadget. Senior news editor Billy Steele is a backyard pitmaster and has the finsta to prove it. Editor-in-chief Dana Wollman treats her NYT Cooking recipe box the way gamers treat their backlog. Commerce writer Nicole Lee has channeled her passions into Instant Pot, sous vide and rice cooker experimentations. And my transition into an Italian grandmother is nearly complete with my preference for laboriously homemade pasta sauce over the stuff in store-bought jars. We turn to foodie YouTube and TikTok late at night; we trade recipes in Slack; and we often use this stellar Guy Fieri emoji when things are, as the kids say, chef's kiss.

We live for food when we're not living for tech, so many of us jumped at the opportunity to cook for work. Enter Cooking Week, our first kitchen-focused series, where we explore the intersection of cooking and tech, while also testing out some of the most popular — and wackiest — kitchen gadgets available right now. We dove into the worlds of grills, immersion blenders and, yes, air fryers, and tried out some high-tech appliances that were intimidating at first, but that we eventually mastered.

Long-time Engadget readers will know that we've written about kitchen gadgets before. We've been able to squeeze in mentions of electric kettles and pizza ovens over the years, but we see Cooking Week as our first official love letter to food on Engadget. We hope that you enjoy reading these stories as much as we enjoyed writing them (or, even better, as much as we enjoyed eating the spoils of our testing).

Check out all of the Cooking Week stories right here.

A beginner's guide to smart sous vide

Sous vide cooking has been the province of professional chefs for decades, and for good reason: A temperature-controlled water bath ensures perfectly cooked food. Instead of worrying about whether a steak is medium rare or whether that chicken breast will be dry, simply dial in the desired temperature, dunk in your vacuum-sealed food ("sous vide" is French for "under vacuum"), wait a while and your food will be done to perfection, with little to no guesswork required.

If you haven’t tried this method yet, it’s not as complicated as you might think. Wand-like immersion circulators have been on the market for several years now, making sous vide cooking affordable and accessible to home chefs. Several Instant Pot models even have a sous vide mode that holds the water at a set temperature, though it’s not quite as accurate as dedicated machines. If you’re curious about giving sous vide a go, we’ll walk you through the process of choosing the right machine for you and share some of the tips and tricks we’ve learned through our own experiments.

How to pick a smart sous vide machine

Almost all of the immersion circulators on the market work the same way, so you really can't go wrong whichever you choose. That said, there are a few criteria to keep in mind when comparison shopping. For one, you'll want it to keep an accurate temperature and to maintain that temperature for an extended period of time, especially for foods that take over a day to cook. (This isn't uncommon, especially for tough cuts of meat.) It's better if it's powerful enough to heat up water quickly, though you could always help it along by using hot tap water to start.

Engadget picks

Several Engadget staffers tend to prefer the sous vide devices from Anova, as the company has a strong track record for precision and the interface is intuitive. Anova offers several different models at varying power levels (and price points). The lower-end Nano, for example, won't heat up water as quickly and doesn't have an adjustable clamp, but it's only $129 and will likely suit most home cooks. If you're a little more ambitious or see yourself cooking a lot of things via sous vide , upgrading to the higher-end Precision Cooker or Precision Cooker Pro might make sense.

We’d recommend the Anova Precision Cooker Nano for most people on account of its affordable price, compact size and intuitive controls. The companion app is helpful as well, as it comes with hundreds of recipes that will get you started on your sous vide journey. The Breville Joule is our runner-up because, while it lacks onboard controls, it’s a little more compact than the Anova, while the companion app has a “visual doneness” guide that lets you know what the food should look like when it’s cooked.

Another popular choice is the Breville Joule (formerly known as the Chefsteps Joule, until Breville acquired the brand), which is a personal favorite of mine due to its small size. It's a little more powerful than the aforementioned Nano and can heat up water a few minutes faster. I also like that it has a magnetic base, making it easier to attach to certain pots. The one downside is that it lacks onboard controls; the only way to use it is via the companion app. I personally don't find this to be a problem, but if you simply need to be able to see the temperature at a glance and dial it up or down with ease, this might not be for you.

It's also worth mentioning the Monoprice Strata, which is the cheapest of the lot at only $70. There's no WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity here, but it gets the job done all the same.

What else to consider

At a minimum, the other items you need to cook sous vide are a large metal pot (big enough to fill with water) and zipper-lock freezer bags to put the food in. Alternatively, you can use reusable silicone bags such as these from Stasher. Rather than using a vacuum sealer to get rid of air, you would use the water displacement method: Immerse the bagged food in the water while partially unsealed, and water pressure will push the air through the opening. Once everything is mostly underwater, you can seal the bag and it'll stay submerged.

If it still floats, you can stick one or two spoons in the bag, and that will hopefully weigh things down. (J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats also suggests using a large binder clip attached to the bottom of the bag along with a heavy spoon.) If you're concerned about water getting in the bag, you can attach the bag tops to the pot with binder clips, thus keeping the bag upright.

If you're really serious about sous vide, you might want to invest in some specialty equipment. Instead of pots, for example, you could opt for large restaurant-grade plastic containers by Cambro or Rubbermaid. Not only is plastic a better insulator than metal, but there's generally more space for more food, which is handy when you're cooking for a crowd.

Whether you use a pot or a plastic container, it's best to cover the vessel with plastic wrap when cooking for long periods, to keep evaporation to a minimum. Some companies, like Chefsteps, offer custom silicone pot lids that are made specially to accommodate their sous vide cookers. Alternatively, Lopez-Alt offers a much cheaper and more ingenious solution: cover your water in ping pong balls. They'll slow down evaporation.

Additionally, while zipper-lock bags work well for most tasks, it's still not a bad idea to get a vacuum sealer along with thicker plastic bags designed specifically for sous vide. For one, this lets you sous vide vegetables or braised meats, which typically require a higher temperature. (Zipper-lock bag seams might fail when it's that hot.) This also lets you freeze a bunch of food, vacuum seal them and sous vide packets straight from the freezer, which is convenient for batch cooking.

You likely already have this at your disposal, but another handy tool is a good skillet to sear your meat. That sous vide device might be able to cook your steak to medium rare, but it won't be able to brown it. A cast iron skillet, on the other hand, will. You could also consider a torch like the Bernzomatic TS8000, and we've seen others use a Searzall — but a cast iron skillet is far more affordable than either option. Of course, if you have a grill, you can use that too.

There are other miscellaneous items that could prove useful. Lopez-Alt likes having a pot lid organizer immersed in the container to help separate several submerged bags. If you want to make custard, yogurt or breakfast cups with your sous vide cooker, you should get yourself some mason jars too.

One more indispensable item worth considering: a trivet to rest your water vessel on so you don't destroy your countertop.

Sous vide recipe resources

Since affordable sous vide cookers have been in the market for a few years now, there’s no shortage of recipes and guidelines online to help you figure out what to do with your newfangled kitchen gadget. The links below are some of our favorites, though bear in mind that a lot of this is based on personal taste. Your mileage may vary.

Anova

It only makes sense that the maker of one of the most popular sous vide machines also has a deep library of sous vide recipes. If you're ever at a loss as to what to make via sous vide, simply peek at this website, where you can search for recipes from professionals and amateurs alike.

Serious Eats

We've mentioned it several times here already in this guide, but Serious Eats truly is a remarkably useful resource for all things sous vide. Its guide to sous vide steak is a favorite among Engadget staffers, as is its take on slow-cooked sous-vide style eggs, which results in some of the best eggs I've ever had.

Chefsteps

Years before making the Joule, Chefsteps made a name for itself as a cooking school with a heavy emphasis on food science, tech and molecular gastronomy. That's probably why the sous vide recipes from Chefsteps are some of the more creative ones we've seen. One recipe, for example, teaches you how to make that perfect chicken breast along with the perfect accompaniment for said chicken breast — perhaps a crunchy apple fennel salad and a buttery carrot puree. Other favorite recipes include wonderfully tender salmon filets, juicy pork chops and Chefsteps' own interpretation of the "sous vide egg bites" you sometimes find in certain Starbucks shops.

Sous Vide at Home

This is actually a cookbook from the people behind the Nomiku WiFi sous vide machine (which has since been discontinued), but the recipes in it will work with any sous vide device. Not only does it have beautiful photographs, but it also offers fantastic recipes like jerk chicken wings, duck confit and chocolate pots du creme.

Other noteworthy recipes:

Sous vide alternatives

Instant Pot / Best Buy

Aside from immersion circulators like the ones mentioned here, you could also opt for multi-purpose appliances that offer sous vide-like functions. Several Instant Pots, for example, offer such a feature. They include the Instant Pot Pro, Duo Plus, Pro Plus, Duo Crisp and Max. Unfortunately, however, they do not circulate the water like the aforementioned immersion circulators, and the temperatures aren’t quite as precise (which is a definite downside if you need something cooked to a specific temperature). But if you don’t really care about that, or you just want to dabble occasionally in sous vide, this might be a viable option.

If you’re dead set on a multi-tasking appliance and you have the money to spend, consider the Anova Precision Oven. Thanks to its use of steam, you can indeed use it to cook foods via sous vide but without the need for plastic bags. It also uses a fan to circulate the moist air around the food and a probe thermometer helps keep foods at a precise temperature. And, of course, the Precision Oven can be used as a regular oven as well, and is great for baking breads and bagels. It is, however, quite expensive at $600 and takes up a lot of counter space.

Images: Will Lipman for Engadget (Anova / holiday light background)

The best kitchen gadgets you can buy

At the most basic level, the only kitchen equipment you really need are a knife, cutting board, a heatproof vessel of some kind and perhaps a utensil or two. But if you really want to take your cooking to the next level – and who doesn’t? – you’ll want to invest in a few accoutrements. From pressure cookers to toaster ovens, these are our favorite kitchen must-haves that will make cooking easier, faster and maybe even more enjoyable.

Best multi-cooker: Instant Pot Duo Plus

Instant Pot

If you haven’t yet hopped on the bandwagon, a multi-cooker like the Instant Pot could become part of your regular rotation. This cult favorite can perform multiple tasks, including pressure cooking, slow cooking, sautéing, rice cooking, yogurt making, steaming and warming. The combination of all these features make it easy to prepare stews, soups, braises and more. You can make cheesecake in it too! Our favorite model for most people is the Instant Pot Duo Plus because it’s simple to use, with several quick-cooking modes for soup, eggs, porridge and grains. It has sterilizing and sous vide cooking functions too.

Want a smarter Instant Pot instead? Consider the Instant Pot Pro Plus. It not only has updated features like a canning function and an oven-safe inner pot, but you also get WiFi connectivity and a companion app, which offers step-by-step guided instructions for over 800 recipes. Plus, you can use it to release the Instant Pot’s steam remotely. You can also use the app to set a timer to release the steam automatically.

Buy Instant Pot Duo Plus at Amazon - $130Buy Instant Pot Pro Plus at Amazon - $200

Best thermometer: Thermapen One

ThermoWorks

Nobody wants to eat undercooked meat, but it’s pretty inedible when it’s overcooked as well. One way to avoid either extreme is to use a thermometer to monitor the temperature. Our favorite is the Thermapen One from ThermoWorks. It gives readings instantaneously, and the screen rotates automatically depending on how you’re holding it. The auto-wake and sleep feature is useful for quick temp checks, and its IP67 waterproofing rating means you don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping it in the sink.

The ThermoPop is a more affordable option in ThermoWorks’ lineup. It’s not quite as fast as the Thermapen One, and it doesn’t have the rotating display or backlight. But it still measures temperatures accurately and while it’s not waterproof, it is splash resistant.

Buy Thermapen One at ThermoWorks - $105Buy ThermoPop at ThermoWorks - $35

Best food scale: Escali Primo

Escali

Bakers everywhere know that the most precise way to measure ingredients is with a scale. A “cup of flour” can be wildly different depending on how you scoop it, while a scale can tell you exactly if you have 120 grams. A digital scale is best for the most accurate measurements, and we especially like the Escali Primo. You can switch between grams and ounces with a single press, and importantly, there’s also a tare button that zeros out the weight so you can keep measuring in the same container. One reason we like the Escali Primo over other models is that it has a very long auto-off timer, allowing it to stay on for four minutes before shutting off. That’s important for when you need the extra time to chop up vegetables or gather other ingredients without having to worry about the scale resetting to zero.

Buy Escali Primo at Amazon - $25

Best air fryer: Instant Vortex Plus

Instant Brands

The hottest kitchen gadget right now seems to be the air fryer, presumably because the idea of “frying” foods without the oily mess is an easy sell. Really, though, air fryers are just miniature convection ovens. They’re typically pod-shaped and often come with a removable basket. There are also toaster ovens with an air-frying function – see our recommendations below – if you prefer to have a multi-purpose appliance.

Though both have their own merits, if you think you’re going to be air-frying a lot, we actually recommend a dedicated pod-shaped air fryer. These devices tend to result in crispier food, plus they’re easier to clean. One of our favorites is the Instant Vortex Plus with ClearCook and OdorErase. As the name suggests, it has a window so you can see what you’re cooking, as well as odor-eliminating filters that help reduce cooking smells – not many other air fryers have both. It also doesn’t take up as much space as a large toaster oven and it has easy to use controls.

Buy Instant Vortex Plus at Amazon - $150

Best stand mixer: KitchenAid Artisan series

KitchenAid

Sure, you could probably mix together a batch of cookie dough by hand, but it’ll take time and quite a bit of upper body strength. That’s even truer if you want to knead bread dough or whip up a meringue. Save yourself the trouble by getting a stand mixer. The favorite among bakers and amateur cooks for years have been KitchenAid’s Artisan series. It’s durable, powerful and it comes with your choice of paddle, hook and whisk attachments. We also like that the KitchenAid mixers are compatible with a variety of accessories and attachments that can turn the machine into an ice cream maker, a meat grinder and a pasta machine just in case you want to expand your culinary horizons.

Buy Artisan stand mixer at KitchenAid - $449

Best blender: Vitamix Explorian series

Vitamix

It’s hard to beat the Vitamix in this space. The high-performance blender brand makes machines that do more than just prep smoothies, but can also make sauces, batters and soups. It’s especially handy if you have a habit of adding tougher ingredients into your recipes – things like nuts, dried fruit and frozen produce. Whereas other, less powerful blenders may leave chunks once you introduce hardier ingredients, the Vitamix won’t, leaving you with a silky smooth final product.

Depending on the model you get, you can also buy different attachments to make the most of the blender’s powerful base. You can pick up 64-ounce containers for making smoothies for your whole family at once or a “dry grain” container that’s outfitted with a blade specifically for grinding up things like whole grains so you can make your own flour.

Vitamix currently has four series of blenders: the basic Vitamix One, which comes in at $250; the slightly more advanced Explorian series, which starts at $350 and is arguably best for most people; the Legacy series, starting at $400; and the advanced Ascent series, which will set you back at least $500. Yes, these are expensive machines, but it’s worth investing in if you do a lot of blending or like to experiment with making things from scratch.

Buy Explorian at Vitamix - $350

Best toaster oven: Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro

Breville

A toaster oven is a surprisingly versatile appliance. Yes, you can use it to toast bread, buns, and all manner of baked goods. But it’s also a great alternative when you don’t want to warm up your whole house with your full-size oven. It heats up far faster too, which makes it a more efficient choice for warming up leftovers.

We love the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro as it’s big enough to roast a chicken and it also has other functions like dehydrate, proof and air fry (thanks to a super convection mode). It also includes presets for baking pizzas and toasting bagels. A step up from that is the Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro, which adds WiFi connectivity so you can control it from your phone. The app has lots of recipes, too, and there’s an “autopilot” feature that automatically adjusts the temperature during cooking.

If you don’t want something quite so large, a smaller and more affordable alternative is the Panasonic Flash Express. It’s roomy enough to handle a slice of pizza but definitely won’t take up as much space as the Breville. It’s definitely a great option if all you want is a toaster oven for heating up frozen snacks or toasting several bread slices at once.

Buy Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro at Breville - $400Buy Panasonic Flash Express at Amazon - $170

Best sous vide machine: Anova Precision Cooker Nano

Anova

If you want to make sure your expensive steak is perfectly medium rare without having to constantly monitor its temperature, consider getting a sous vide cooker. These machines let you cook anything inside a temperature-controlled water bath so that it’s done to perfection. We’ve successfully made steak, chicken, burgers, eggs and even yogurt in a sous vide cooker, and the results have been perfect every time.

Our favorite model is the Anova Precision Cooker Nano. It’s relatively affordable, it’s compact enough to store in a drawer and the controls are easy to use. The companion app is thoughtfully designed as well, with hundreds of recipes and the option to control the machine remotely. There are other sous vide cookers that might be more advanced, but the Nano is the only one that combines affordability and precision in this compact of a form factor. And even though there’s a companion app, you don’t have to use it; you can easily adjust the temperature with the on-board controls and the large digital display.

Another option we recommend is the Breville Joule. It’s a little more expensive and it lacks the digital readout that the Anova has, but it’s even more compact. Plus, it has a magnetic base that makes it a little easier to attach to certain pots. We’re also a fan of the Joule app, which has a “visual doneness” guide that shows you photos of how the food should look when it’s done.

Buy Precision Cooker Nano at Amazon - $129Buy Breville Joule at Amazon - $200

Best smart displays: Amazon Echo Show 8, Google Nest Hub

Google

Though they’re not made specifically for the kitchen, smart displays from either Amazon or Google make wonderful cooking companions. Searching for recipes is as easy as using your voice (you can say “Look up recipes for tomato soup,” for example). Each recipe features a list of ingredients that you can easily add to your phone, plus step-by-step instructions that you can follow along on screen as you cook. Some recipes even have photo or video guidance, which is especially helpful for beginner cooks. Additionally, you can use smart displays to set timers – a must-have feature for kitchen use.

As for which smart display to choose, we recommend going with either the Amazon Echo Show 8 or the 7-inch Google Nest Hub. They each have a decent screen size for reading through recipes and are fairly affordable as well. We generally prefer the Nest Hub because we like YouTube (there are plenty of great cooking shows on there), but the Echo Show 8 does offer apps for Food Network Kitchen and Allrecipes. Of course, you should pick the smart display that best aligns with your preferred ecosystem regardless. You can read more about picking the best smart display here.

If you prefer a more portable device, tablets are also fantastic options. You can look up recipes from any source you like, including blogs and social media, which aren’t always accessible on smart displays – be sure to check out our guide on online cooking resources for some examples. Sure, you can use your phone as well, but a tablet’s larger screen can make all the difference when you want to read a recipe at a glance. We probably wouldn’t suggest a super high-end tablet for kitchen jobs – you don’t want to cover your $1,000 possession in flour do you? – but a model with 720p resolution is fine for watching recipe videos. For iOS users, we recommend Apple’s 10.2-inch iPad, while we think Android users will be happy with Amazon’s Fire HD 8.

Buy Nest Hub at B&H - $100Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon - $130

Valentina Palladino contributed to this report.

Almond Cow provides a quick and (less) dirty way to make plant milk at home

As part of Cooking Week, we set out to test some of the most niche (and, in some cases, ridiculous) kitchen gadgets we could find. We wanted to know if these impressive-looking appliances actually do what they claim and if they’re worth the splurge. These are our findings.


I’ve been drinking non-dairy milk almost exclusively for about eight years, but only recently did I think to make my own. Even since I made the transition from cow to almond milk, many more non-dairy milk options have hit the market. Just go to your local supermarket and you’ll find different varieties and flavors of almond, cashew, soy, oat and coconut milk, and even the occasional pea and flax milk choices, too.

With all that choice, it may seem counterintuitive to make your own non-dairy milk at home, but Almond Cow believes that there are plenty of people who would rather take that route. Almond Cow is a company that makes a milk-maker machine that shares its name that removes a lot of the work involved with making your own non-dairy milk. It’s essentially a big, high-powered blender with just enough moving parts to make alt milks at home, including an attached blade, a filter basket, a big base and a motor inside that makes all of the magic happen.

Before I get into my time with the Almond Cow, it’s worth mentioning that plant milk machines aren’t new, but they aren’t as ubiquitous as standard blenders either. In addition to the Almond Cow, there are a number on the market from companies including Nutr, ChefWave and Tribest – all more niche than a regular ol’ blender, which is exactly why I wanted to give one a go.

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

And I should say: You could easily make plant milk using a blender (the more high-performance, the better), but it requires a few additional steps, namely filtering your blended up ingredients through a nut milk bag. It’s time consuming and messy, and honestly it’s one of the main reasons why I never wanted to try to make my own alt milk at home. In testing the Almond Cow, I was hoping to figure out if making plant milk would actually be worthwhile and if it could help me reduce the amount of store-bought plant milk I buy.

I’ll admit, the Almond Cow is a bit intimidating when you unbox it. It’s basically a big stainless steel jug with a removable top that has the machine’s blade attached to it. A bit larger than your standard pitcher of lemonade, it can make five to six cups of plant milk at a time. It doesn’t take up too much counter space and I found it easy to clean as well. It also comes with a “collector cup,” which is just a plastic vessel with grooves on the bottom that perfectly cradles the machine’s removable top, making clean up easier and way less messy than you’d think.

After washing all the included parts first, I dove into my first endeavor: making cashew milk. The machine comes with a book of recipes, which I followed almost to a tee. Five cups of water went into the base of the Almond Cow, while the following went into the filter basket: one cup of unsoaked cashews, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and two pitted dates (the recipe called for three, but I prefer very lightly or unsweetened plant milk). I twisted the filter basket into place so that the machine’s blade was submerged in the ingredients and then placed the whole top back onto the base.

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

After that, it’s literally a one-button process. With the machine plugged in, you only need to press the top button on the Almond Cow and let it go. The device automatically cycles through three blending modes, which infuse the water with your ingredients while grinding them down into a fine pulp that stays in the filter basket. The blending process takes maybe 90 seconds, tops, so the whole process from ingredients to finished plant milk takes maybe three to five minutes. If you have the necessary ingredients at home, this is much faster than popping out to the grocery store to pick up a new carton of plant milk.

The results were impressive. My first batch of cashew milk was subtly sweet with a creamy, smooth texture. Cashew milk has a pretty neutral flavor and my homemade batch tasted similar to the cashew milk I get at the grocery store. The biggest difference I noticed came a couple days later when the cashew portion of the milk settled to the bottom of the mason jar I was storing it in. Settling will happen with almost any non-dairy milk – that’s why every carton advises you to “shake well” – so I only noticed a hint of graininess when I drank the very last portion of my homemade milk (something I’ve never experienced with industrially made alt milks, even when I neglected to shake the carton). That’s not to say the last cup or so of my cashew milk was bad; rather, it just required more vigorous, continuous stirring into my coffee that morning.

I also made coconut and pistachio milk, with similar results: light and pleasantly creamy milk that required a good shake before pouring after it sat in the fridge overnight. One of the great things about the recipes in the Almond Cow book is that almost all of them call for unsoaked nuts, so you can make batches of non-dairy milk without any prepping ahead of time. You can also control the exact ingredients you put into each batch, so if you’re like me and like to experiment with different recipes, the Almond Cow will be a great machine for you.

There’s also a compelling reduced-waste aspect to the Almond Cow that I’m sure many will appreciate. Making your own plant milk at home means you may not buy as much pre-packaged milk at the store, thereby reducing the amount of packaging you consume regularly. Also, Almond Cow’s website has a bunch of nut pulp recipes, too, so you can further cut down your waste by conserving the nut pulp from each batch and using it to make cookies, muffins, pies and if you’re feeling adventurous, even vegan cheese.

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Undoubtedly, the Almond Cow is best for tinkerers, home chefs and those who care about reducing waste. I fit into all of those categories, but I can still see the drawbacks to this $245 device. First, as you could probably guess, the Almond Cow isn’t going to save you money on non-dairy milk in the short term. The device itself is expensive, but the real cost comes in when you consider how many ingredients you’ll need to keep on hand to make alt milk regularly. Nuts aren’t cheap and you’ll need a half-pound (eight ounces) to make one batch of milk in the Almond Cow. And you’ll likely need to make at least one, maybe two batches each week, depending on how much you drink, because homemade plant milk lasts for only three to five days in the fridge – a paltry shelf life when compared to the weeks you’ll get from a carton of the store-bought stuff.

Also, it’s worth noting that the Almond Cow is designed to take the guesswork out of making your own plant milk. That means it’s less flexible than, say, your own blender when it comes to customization. The baseline ratio of nuts to water is 1:5 (cups), so what that produces is the creamiest milk you’ll get. The included cookbook does provide a few “creamer” recipes, which uses the limited area of the collector cup to make a small amount of thicker, nut-milk creamer for you to use in your coffee. However, you’ll be able to experiment with more than creamier consistencies of plant milk if you use different nut-to-water ratios in a high-powered blender.

One thing I have grown to love over the past decade or so is make my own common foods from scratch. I’d rather make my own pasta sauce than buy a jar for $5; I have a go-to granola recipe that I prefer over any pre-made types; and I have a signature pesto recipe that I’m now attempting to mess with to make it vegan. That’s all to say that the Almond Cow is a unitasker that’s designed specifically for someone like me. And I do love using it, but will it totally replace the plant milk I love from my grocery store? No – at least not immediately. I’ve tried so many plant milks over the years that I now have my favorites and it’ll take a lot to get me to give those up. But I do relish the opportunity to make my own plant milk at home in the hopes that maybe, someday, I’ll craft a concoction that comes close to my store-bought favorites.

The best online resources for cooking at all skill levels

A key part of adulting is learning to feed ourselves. Some might opt for restaurants or takeout for sustenance, but that can get expensive. The best option is to learn to cook your own meals. That might sound harsh, especially if cooking doesn't sound fun to you, but there are a plethora of resources online for cooks of all levels. Be it beginner how-tos or deep-dive YouTube videos, we hope this list of Engadget staff favorites will get you started on your path to culinary confidence. Oh, and if you’re ever confused about measurements, a tool like this recipe converter is a good reference to keep on your bookmarks tab.

Recipe sites

Serious Eats

If you self-identify as a nerd and you’re also into cooking, you probably already know about Serious Eats. The site rose to prominence several years ago under the helm of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who often takes a decidedly scientific approach to cooking. Lopez-Alt has since transitioned to a consulting role at Serious Eats (he has his own vlog, which is well worth following as well), but the site remains strong under new leadership. It offers tips on basics like food prep and storage, as well as a slew of how-tos and step-by-step instructions for everything from breaking down a chicken to kneading your own bread.

Try this: Quick and Easy Pressure Cooker Black Beans with Chorizo

NYT Cooking

This is the only recommendation on this list that requires payment — $1.25 a week or $40 a year — but I personally think it’s worth it. The site and accompanying app (for iOS and Android) is well organized and intuitive to use, with bright and colorful photos along with an ever-changing list of curated recipe recommendations and suggestions. I especially like the search function, where you can not only enter in the ingredients you have on hand, but also filter by the sort of meal you want to make iIs it for breakfast? A snack? Or dinner?) along with any dietary restrictions. If you don’t want to cough up the subscription fee, however, NYT’s YouTube channel is a great resource as well.

Try this: Spiced chickpea stew with coconut and turmeric (YouTube)

The Kitchn

The Kitchn is a daily food magazine that’s been around since the mid-2000s, and it frequently serves up not just recipes but also fun features like a celebrity recipe showdown (check out this one that compares the pot roast recipes between Alton Brown, Ina Garten, Taste of Home and the Pioneer Woman). Of course, The Kitchn also publishes plenty of tips and tricks to help readers be a better cook. 

Try this: Maple Corn Cakes

YouTube channels

Food Wishes

“Hello, I’m Chef John, from Food Wishes dot com” is the familiar refrain that you’ll hear at the beginning of every Food Wishes video, and it never fails to warm my heart. His tone is so welcoming and cheerful that it cheers me up every time I hear it. A YouTube favorite (he has over four million subscribers), he’s also a favorite among a few Engadget staffers, and for good reason. Not only is he goofy and charming, his recipes are also almost always geared toward the novice chef, with clear and concise instructions. He also encourages viewers to experiment, use their senses, play around with food, and to think of cooking as art as much as science.

Try this: No-Knead Country Bread

Binging with Babish

Binging with Babish is a popular YouTube channel (over 9.6 million subscribers) that’s primarily focused on recreating foods from TV shows and movies. Some famous examples include the Krabby Patty from Spongebob Squarepants and ratatouille from, well, Ratatouille. But host Andrew Rea can cook “normal” foods too, and the popularity of his channel led him to host a spin-off series called “Basics with Babish” that’s geared toward the beginner.

Try this: Chickpeas

Food52

The Food52 website can be considered a one-stop shop for cooking enthusiasts, as there’s an online store along with recipes and a community board. But the real highlight for me is its YouTube channel, which features excellent shows such as Sweet Heat by Rick Martinez (the former Bon Appetit editor showcases recipes with both a sweet and spicy element), Big Little Recipes (focuses on recipes with a short ingredient list) and Genius Recipes, which, well, shows “genius” recipes created by notable chefs.

Try this: How to Make the Easiest Beefy Mac Rice Cakes

Dessert Person

Have a sweet tooth? Then look no further than Claire Saffitz’s YouTube channel, where she bakes up everything from apple pies to oatmeal pecan cookies. Her personality is a combination of cranky and lovable, which I adore, but more importantly, her recipes are excellent. She gives very detailed instructions and the results are almost always delicious. She makes a lot of savory baked goods as well, such as sourdough bread and quiche.

Try this: The Best Oatmeal Cookies

Maangchi

Maagchi has been referred to by The New York Times as the Julia Child of Korean cooking, and the description couldn’t be more apt. Not only does she have a friendly and bubbly personality, she does a wonderful job of demystifying Korean cooking and making it approachable to beginners and advanced cooks alike. From Korean classics like kimchi jjigae and bibimbap to sweet treats like Korean doughnuts, she makes it all seem within reach. 

Try this: Korean Street Toast (Gilgeori-Toast)

Dietary concerns or special diets

101 Cookbooks

For a site that is entirely dedicated to vegetarian cuisine, I highly recommend 101 Cookbooks by Heidi Swanson, which has been an online favorite for decades. I’m a huge fan of her simple, straightforward recipes that are able to turn a carnivore like me into a lover of plant-based meals (a personal favorite is this cauliflower soup).

Try this: Chickpea and Rice soup with Garlic Chile Oil

Nom Nom Paleo

You don’t need to be on the paleo diet to fall in love with Nom Nom Paleo, a mini-empire that consists of a food blog, two award-winning cookbooks, and a podcast, among other things. The New York Times has referred to Michelle Tam, the creator of the site, as the Martha Stewart of Paleo, because of how accessible she makes it seem. After perusing her site and trying her recipes, you'll no longer think of the paleo diet as restrictive; instead you might find yourself eating more than ever. Tam has also tailored some of her recipes to fit Whole30 or keto diets as well.

Try this: Garbage Stir-Fry with Curried Cabbage

Clean and Delicious

If you’re not strictly vegetarian or paleo, but you still want a healthy diet, check out the Clean and Delicious food blog by Dani Spies. A wellness and weight loss coach, Spies believes in a balanced diet and “clean eating,” but without foregoing the foods you love. For example, there’s a recipe for lemon bars on her site, but it’s made with whole wheat flour and doesn’t have dairy or refined sugar. All of the recipes on her site reflect this philosophy; they’re either gluten-free, paleo, vegan or vegetarian and they are also often low-carb, keto, dairy-free or nut-free. I also like her Instagram and YouTube channel, where she also shares tips on mindful eating and healthy living.

Try this: Healthy Banana Bread Muffins (YouTube)

Staff recommendations

There are simply way too many food sites on the internet to list them all, but here are a few more that were recommended by our staff that you might find useful.

Chinese Cooking Demystified

This is one of the best YouTube channels for learning all the ins and outs of authentic Chinese cooking from people who actually live in China. It’s very detailed, well-produced and offers great advice on recreating these dishes in a Western kitchen. I also love that it teaches technique in addition to just recipes. To this day, I still come back to this video on how to stir-fry any vegetable.

Minimalist Baker

The blog Minimalist Baker features recipes that use 10 ingredients or less and only take about 30 minutes to make. Weekend Editor Igor Bonifacic is a big fan as well, mostly due to the site’s wealth of vegetarian recipes, like this curried cauliflower lentil soup.

Budget Bytes

Budget Bytes is a great resource for those watching their wallets, as each recipe gives you a breakdown of estimated costs for each ingredient. Commerce Editor Valentina Palladino said that the site is also really good for beginners.

Rainbow Plant Life

If you’re looking for vegan recipes, Rainbow Plant Life has a ton of them. Palladino loves the cashew cream recipe and appreciates that the site’s founder, Nisha, has a trove of vegan-friendly Instant Pot recipes to try as well.

Pick Up Limes

Another staple for accessible vegan recipes is Pick Up Limes. Palladino says that the Healthiest Ever Granola recipe is one of her favorites, and she likes that the Pick Up Limes website makes it easy to filter recipes by type of ingredients, preparation time, allergens and more.

Richard Bertinet’s White Bread Masterclass

Richard Bertinet’s video on white bread comes highly recommended for its sheer simplicity. It proves that all you need to make bread is bread flour, yeast and salt. Senior Reporter Dan Cooper says the video is also a sure-fire way of calming him down when stressed.

Half Baked Harvest

Editor-in-Chief Dana Wollman and Senior News Editor Billy Steele frequently trade Slack messages with dinner recommendations. (What’s for dinner? Ask a coworker, of course.) The answer from either person is often a Half Baked Harvest link. The site is home to a vast library of free recipes that, in our experience, tend to work as advertised. We’re fans of her nightly Instagram Story cooking demos as well, not to mention her tacos.

Joy the Baker

Wollman says she discovered Joy by accident through her warm, self-effacing Insta Stories, only to discover she has an equally clever blog offering a mix of sweet and savory baking recipes.

The best air fryers you can buy, plus tips and tricks for newbies

Are you tempted by an air fryer, but fear you might just get another ill-fated kitchen gadget that takes up space in your tiny kitchen? We’re here to help you out. The air fryer, which comes in several different shapes and sizes, can be a versatile addition to many kitchens, once you know what it’s capable of.

First of all, let’s clear one thing up: it’s not frying. Not really. Air fryers are more like smaller convection ovens, ones that are often pod-shaped. Most work by combining a heating element and fan, which means the hot air can usually better crisp the outside of food than other methods. They often reach higher top temperatures than toaster ovens – which is part of the appeal.

For most recipes, a thin layer of oil (usually sprayed) helps to replicate that fried look and feel better. However, it will rarely taste precisely like the deep-fried version. Don’t let that put you off, though, because the air fryer, in its many forms, combines some of the best parts of other cooking processes and brings them together into an energy-efficient way of cooking dinner. Or breakfast. Or lunch.

What to look for in an air fryer

Convection ovens

You can separate most air fryers into two types and each has different pros and cons. Convection ovens are usually ovens with air fryer settings and features. They might have higher temperature settings to ensure that food crisps and cooks more like actually fried food. Most convection ovens are larger than dedicated air fryers, defeating some of the purpose of those looking to shrink cooking appliance surface area. Still, they are often more versatile and most have finer controls for temperatures, timings and even fan speed.

You may never need a built-in oven if you have a decent convection oven. They often have the volume to handle roasts, entire chickens or tray bakes, and simply cook more, capacity-wise, making them more versatile than the pod-shaped competition.

The flip side of that is that you’ll need the counter space to house them. It also means you can use traditional oven accessories, like baking trays or cake tins, that you might already own.

Pod-shaped air fryers

Pod-shaped air fryers are what you imagine when you think “air fryer.” They look like a cool, space-age kitchen gadget, bigger than a kettle but smaller than a toaster oven. Many use a drawer to hold ingredients while cooking, usually a mesh sheet or a more solid, non-stick tray with holes to allow the heated air to circulate. With a few exceptions, most require you to open the drawer while things cook and flip or shake half-cooked items to ensure the even distribution of heat to everything.

That’s one of a few caveats. Most pod-shaped air fryers – there are a few exceptions – don’t have a window to see how things are cooking, so you’ll need to closely scrutinize things as they cook, opening the device to check progress. These machines also generally use less energy – there’s less space to heat – and many have parts that can be put directly into a dishwasher.

Some of the larger pod-shaped air fryers offer two separate compartments, which is especially useful for anyone planning to cook an entire meal with the appliance. You could cook a couple of chicken wings while simultaneously rustling up enough fries for everyone. Naturally, those options take up more space, and they’re usually heavy enough to stop you from storing them in cupboards or shelves elsewhere.

As mentioned earlier, you might have to buy extra things to make these pod fryers work the way you want them to. Some of the bigger manufacturers, like Philips and Ninja, offer convenient additions, but you’ll have to pay for them.

Fabián Ponce via Getty Images

Air fryer pros and cons

Beyond the strengths and weaknesses of individual models, air fryers are pretty easy to use from the outset. Most models come with a convenient cooking time booklet covering most of the major foods you’ll be air frying.

One of the early selling points is the ability to cook fries, wings and other delights with less fat than other methods. As air fryers need to circulate heated air, the trays and cooking plates have holes that can also let oil and fat drain out of meats, meaning less fat when you finally plate things up. For most cooking situations, you will likely need to lightly spray food with a vegetable oil. If you don’t, there’s the chance that things will burn or char. The oil will keep things moist on the surface, and we advise refreshing things with a bit of oil spray when you turn items during cooking.

Most air fryers are easy to clean – especially in comparison to deep or shallow fryer. We’ll get into cleaning guidance a little later.

With a smaller space to heat, air fryers are generally more energy-efficient than using larger appliances like ovens. And if you don’t have an oven, air fryers are much more affordable – especially the pod options.

There are, however, some drawbacks. While air fryers are easy enough to use, they take time to master. You will adjust cooking times for even the simplest things – like frozen fries. If you’re the kind of person that loves to find inspiration from the internet, in our experience, you can pretty much throw their timings out of the window. There are a lot of air fryer options, and factors like how fast they heat and how well distributed that heat is can – and will – affect cooking.

There’s also a space limitation to air fryers. This is not a TARDIS – there’s simply less space than most traditional ovens and many deep fat fryers. If you have a bigger family, you’ll probably want to go for a bigger model of air fryer – possibly one that has multiple cooking areas.

You may also struggle to cook many items through as the heat settings will cook the surface of dishes long before it’s cooked right through. If you’re planning to cook an entire bird or a roast, please get a meat thermometer!

The best accessories for your air fryer

Beyond official accessories from the manufacturer, try to pick up silicone-tipped tools. Tongs are ideal, as is a silicon spatula to gently loosen food that might get stuck on the sides of the air fryer. These silicone mats will also help stop things from sticking to the wire racks on some air fryers. They have holes to ensure the heated air is still able to circulate around the food.

Silicone trivets are also useful for resting any cooked food on while you sort out the rest of the meal. And if you find yourself needing oil spray, but don’t feel like repeatedly buying tiny bottles, you can decant your favorite vegetable oil into a permanent mister like this.

yulka3ice via Getty Images

The best way to clean an air fryer

We’re keeping things simple here. Yes, you could power cleaners from the grocery store, they could damage the surface of your air fryer. Likewise, metal scourers or brushes could strip away non-stick protection. Remember to unplug the device and let it cool completely.

Remove the trays, baskets and everything else from inside. If the manufacturer says the parts are dishwasher safe – and you have a dishwasher – the job is pretty much done.

Otherwise, wash each part in a mixture of warm water, with a splash of Dawn or another strong dish soap. Use a soft-bristled brush to pull away any greasy deposits or bits of food stuck to any surfaces. Remember to rinse everything. Otherwise, your next batch of wings could have a mild Dawn aftertaste. Trust us.

Take a microfiber cloth and tackle the outer parts and handles that might also get a little messy after repeated uses. This is especially useful for oven-style air fryers – use the cloth to wipe down the inner sides.

If Dawn isn’t shifting oily stains, try mixing a small amount of baking soda with enough water to make a paste, and apply that so that it doesn’t seep into any electrical parts or the heating element. Leave it to work for a few seconds before using a damp cloth to pull any greasy spots away. Rinse out the cloth and wipe everything down again, and you should be ready for the next time you need to air fry.

How to find air fryer recipes

Beyond fries, nuggets and – a revelation – frozen gyoza, there are a few ways to find recipes for your new air fryer. First, we found that the air fryer instruction manuals often have cooking guides and recipe suggestions for you to test out in your new kitchen gadget. The good thing with these is that they were made for your air fryer model, meaning success should be all but guaranteed. They are often a little unimaginative, however.

Many of the top recipe sites and portals have no shortage of air fryer recipes, and there’s no harm in googling your favorite cuisine and adding the words “air fryer” on the end of the search string. We’ve picked up some reliable options from Delish, which also has a handy air fryer time converter for changing oven and traditional fryer recipes.

BBC Good Food is also worth browsing for some simple ideas, as is NYT Cooking, with the ability to directly search for air fryer suggestions.

And if you have a killer recipe or unique use for your air fryer, let us know in the comments. What’s the air fryer equivalent of the Instant Pot cheesecake? We’re ready to try it.

Engadget picks

Best overall: Instant Vortex Plus

Instant Brands

You probably know the “Instant” brand from the line of very popular Instant Pot multi-cookers, but did you know that the company makes great air fryers too? We’re especially impressed by the Instant Vortex Plus with ClearCook and OdorErase, which features a clear viewing window so you can see your food while it’s cooking, plus an odor-removing filter. In our testing, we found that it didn’t completely eliminate smells, but it seemed significantly less smoky when compared to our Breville Smart Oven Air. We love the intuitive controls, the easy-to-clean nonstick drawer basket, plus the roomy interior – it’s big enough to fit four chicken thighs. Plus, it heats up very quickly with virtually no preheating time.

A slightly more affordable option is its predecessor, the Instant Vortex Plus 6-Quart. It lacks the viewing window and the odor-removing filters, but it still has the same intuitive controls and roomy nonstick interior. If you want an even bigger option, Instant also offers Instant Vortex Plus in a 10-quart model that has a viewing window and a rotisserie feature.

Buy Instant Vortex Plus at Amazon - $150

Best budget: Cosori Compact Air Fryer

Cosori

If you don’t have a lot of space or money to spare, Cosori’s Compact Air Fryer is a great option. As a 3.7-quart capacity machine, it doesn’t take up too much counter space and it can easily fit into a cabinet when you’re not using it. It has a traditional, square-ish pod design with a touch panel on the top half and a removable cooking basket on the bottom. I was impressed by how easy this air fryer was to use from start to finish. Learning how to program cooking modes and times was easy and using the basket is simple as well. It also has a handy release button that disconnects the basket from the base, which makes cleanup quick and simple. (Plus, the basket is dishwasher safe as well.)

This is a true air fryer in the sense that it has presets rather than a bunch of different cooking modes. It does have toast and bake, which are different from air fry, but otherwise you can choose from different food-specific presets like french fries, shrimp, frozen foods and more. While that’s not so great if you want a multipurpose device, it’s ideal if you’re just looking for an air fryer that can do exactly that very well. Not only was the Cosori machine fairly quiet, but it also only took between three and five minutes to preheat in most cases, and everything I cooked in it – from tofu nuggets to french fries – came out crispy and flavorful.

Buy Cosori Compact Air Fryer at Amazon - $100

Best dual-zone: Ninja Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer

Ninja

Most air fryers can make one thing at a time, but Ninja’s Dual Zone machine can handle two totally different foods simultaneously. Available in 8- and 10-quart capacities, the machine isn’t compact, so it won’t be a good option for those with small kitchens. However, if you have the counter space, it could be a good one to invest in especially if you cook for a large family. You can prep two different foods at the same time with totally different cooking modes, or use Match Cook to prepare foods in both chambers the same way. The heating zones are independent, so if you only want to fill up one side with french fries and leave the other empty, you can do that as well.

We appreciate how quickly the Ninja heats up (there’s little to no preheating time at all) and how it runs relatively quietly. It also has a feature called Smart Finish that will automatically adjust cooking times so that your chicken thighs in the first chamber and asparagus in the second will finish cooking at the same time, so you don’t have to wait for one part of your meal to be ready while the other gets cold. In general, dual-zone air fryers aren’t necessary for most people, but those who cook often will get a lot of use out of machines like this Ninja.

Buy Ninja Dual Zone at Amazon - $230

Nicole Lee and Valentina Palladino contributed to this guide.

No one asked for a hamburger vending machine, and RoboBurger answered

If a startup from New Jersey has its way, the next Ray Kroc will be a robot. In the last week, a company called RoboBurgerinstalled an autonomous burger chef in Jersey City’s Newport Centre Mall. Over on its website, RoboBurger breathlessly describes its vending machine as the “biggest innovation in hot food vending since the invention of the microwave.”

Inside of a frame that occupies about 12 square feet, the RoboBurger features everything it needs to make a complete – if somewhat visually unappealing – burger in approximately six minutes. And while there may not be any humans involved, the machine uses the same five-step cooking process employed by many quick-service restaurants. An automated griddle grills the patty at the same time the machine toasts the bun. When you order your burger, you can decide whether you want ketchup, mustard and cheese on it. There’s even a built-in cleaning system that is up to the standards of the National Sanitary Foundation. Oh, and you can pay for your burger with both Apple Pay and Google Pay. Handy that.

And while we can’t speak to the taste of the burger, RoboBurger claims it only uses the best ingredients possible. The patty is made from grass-fed Angus beef that isn’t subjected to antibiotics. As for the bun, it’s a potato one that comes from a local bakery. If you can’t make it to New Jersey for a taste test, fret not. RoboBurger says it plans to bring its automated burger chef to airports, malls, colleges and other similar venues across the country in the coming weeks and months.