Monday, September 14, 2009

Today's Kool Idea: Breadman TR520 Programmable Bread Maker

Has anyone ever taken a look at the ingredients in a typical bag of bread sold in your local supermarket? Yikes! We shudder just thinking about all of the emulsifiers and preservatives on the nutrition label. Granted, it keeps the price down to a reasonable level and allows us to keep our store-bought bread in the fridge for a lengthy stay without getting moldy. But when it comes down to it, The Daily Kool is a big believer of feeding our family foods with simple ingredients that aren't a struggle to read. Unfortunately, buying healthy (yet expensive) artisan-type bread at the bakery every day is a pipe dream for most of us, especially in today's economy. What's a parent to do?

There is nothing (and we mean nothing) as amazing as the smell of home-baked bread in the morning...and afternoon...and evening. Who are we kidding? We love homemade bread, regardless of when it's made. Okay, so our obsession will clearly never place us on the cover of one of those low-carb diet books. But, we like to think that we get enough fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet to indulge in what we believe to be one of life's most delectable culinary pleasures. We have to admit though, that as adventurous as we are in the kitchen, homemade bread has always been an intimidating process for us. It can take a long time to create a perfect loaf of bread, between mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough, letting it rise (once or twice), punching and kneading again (and again), then finally putting it in the oven to bake. Whew...we could probably use a bread maker.

We have always heard great things about bread makers, but have always resisted the impulse to purchase one for ourselves. We're not quite sure why...well, maybe we do. Have you ever considered what a stress reliever punching and kneading dough is? Think about it. Let's face it though, either our schedules are fuller or we're just getting lazier with age, but we just don't have the time anymore. A bread machine would definitely simplify our lives, especially one that is as reasonably priced as the Breadman TR520 programmable bread maker.

We saw a demo for the Breadman TR520
programmable bread maker on QVC yesterday and were really impressed with how easy it seems. They made a big deal about the cost, but with shipping, it winds up only being a couple of dollars less expensive than the one featured on Amazon. Regardless, for the typical family, this an absolute bargain at under $60, especially compared with others on the market. If eight functions with 39 programmable options weren't enough, the Breadman TR520 has a host of other features that we love. The digital display with viewing window also includes a crust color control, one-hour warm cycle and (our favorite) a 13-hour delay timer. Imagine putting the ingredients in your bread machine before you go to sleep and waking up to a luscious aroma in the morning...not that we are ever able to get 13 hours of sleep in one night (don't we wish), but that's just us being fickle about it. Add a fruit and nut add-in beep, a recipe booklet and a viewing window to keep tabs on our creations (yes, we're anal), and we've got everything we need to bake a perfect loaf of homemade bread.

The biggest complaint that we have come across with the
Breadman TR520 is that the digital display is kind of hard to read. What the company's executives were thinking when they put white lettering on a yellowish beige panel is anyone's guess. Maybe there was something in the yeast that day, but it was really a pretty dopey move on their part. Also, watch out for the kneading is likely to come out of the machine with your bread. Oh, and make sure to put your Breadman TR520 far enough back on the counter so it doesn't "walk" off and smash itself to bits. Overall, the issues seem pretty minor for what you're getting with this great machine. The Breadman TR520 programmable bread maker is clearly a convenient and practical way to create yummy loaves that are affordable and healthy for the entire family. How "kool" is that?

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Today's Kool Idea: Utensil Pot Clip by Trudeau

Cooking is a very popular but messy affair in The Daily Kool household. We tend to favor many one-pot wonders for our meals, like soups (especially from our Daily Soup Cookbook) and stews. Most of our dishes require lots of loving attention, and yes, plenty of stirring. There's only one problem. For some strange reason, we have always had an aversion to using a spoon rest. We hate the thing...who knows why. Just chalk it up to one of many, many little quirks that our psychologist would have a field day with...yep, we've definitely been avoiding him these days. Anyway, we usually just settle for setting our stirring utensils right there on the stovetop, cringing at the mess, but resigning ourselves to just dealing with it later. Okay, so we're a little strange.

Did you ever get one of those goofy little kitchen gadgets that you suspected doubted would ever rise above the bottomless pit of your junk drawer? We admit it, we were convinced the utensil pot clip by Trudeau completely fell into that category...until we used it for the first time, that is. It's colorful, it's cute and it's one of the "koolest" kitchen gizmos we've come across since um, the widget or something. Who knew this little guy could become so indispensable? Designed to clamp securely to the side of most saucepans and stockpots, the
utensil pot clip features an arced slot to hold the handle of a spoon, turner or ladle. It is heat-resistant up to 600 degrees and prevents drips on the stovetop, keeps utensils handy and eliminates the need for that darn spoon rest.

utensil pot clip is such a simple, yet innovative solution to a common problem...we're just steamed that we didn't think of it first! We have a couple and we really use them all the time, especially when we've got a crowd coming for a big meal. Keep in mind that unless you find them at your local Bed Bath & Beyond or other kitchen store, the company selects the colors at random so you won't likely get your preference. Our pots are black, so it didn't make a difference to us. Also, though we've never, ever had this problem, we did come across one person who complained that the silicone bumpers kept coming off in the pot. Nouvelle cuisine, perhaps? Anyway, there's a whopping five-year warranty on this $7 item, so if you ever have a problem, Trudeau will take care of it.

utensil pot clip by Trudeau is an absolute must-have for anyone who likes to cook, but dreads the traditional spoon rest. Okay, so it's great regardless of whether or not you have the same wacky pet peeves that we do here at The Daily Kool. It has truly become one of those practical, space-saving kitchen gadgets that we now wonder how we ever got along without. Easy to use, easy to clean and oh so convenient, the utensil pot clip has permanently found it's place of honor far, far away from our infamous junk drawer. Man, we really have to clean that thing out one of these days.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Today's Kool Idea: Nickelodeon Family Suites, a.k.a. Nick Hotel

The Daily Kool family has just returned from our little Labor Day getaway in Orlando, Florida. Our son really really wanted to go in lieu of his eighth birthday party, but we always have trouble justifying a trip out there this time of year. As much as we love Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, it is much too hot to walk around the amusement parks. Yeah yeah...Mickey's okay too, but even the lure of Disney World is not enough to spend our mornings passing out from the stifling heat and the afternoons drowning in Florida's typical afternoon storms. We've even tried heading for Orlando just for the water park adventures...Wet & Wild might be the best one out there, but boy is does the ground burn our poor feet...we need a vat of ointment just for the blisters!

A friend of ours had recently enjoyed a week-long stay at the Nickelodeon Family Suites, otherwise known as the Nick Hotel in Orlando. After hearing her enthusiastic reviews and high recommendations, we just had to check it out for our son's family birthday celebration weekend. Seriously, folks...the
Nick Hotel has to be one of the most amazing places you can take your kids. We were lucky enough to get a very reasonable rate, and once we saw how much there was to do, our vacation was set. Who needs those pesky theme parks, anyway? We were gonna get slimed!

Imagine our kids' faces when we drove up to the massive
Nick Hotel, complete with their favorite Nickelodeon characters pictured right on the outer walls. There's Dora & Boots, Diego, the Wonder Pets, Backyardigans and the Rugrats...just to name a few. Oh, and let's not forget the quirky and colorful SpongeBob SquarePants...he's all over this place. That's okay, we're big fans...though some of us admittedly root for Plankton. We were given a room in the Jimmy Neutron building after refusing to cave in on the $25 per day up-charge for a Dora or SpongeBob themed room. The kids got over it quickly though, when they checked out the bunk beds in their own room...we appreciated the king-sized bed in ours. They were kinda bummed that the PlayStation wasn't hooked up (apparently the hotel is phasing them out), but once we told them about the two full-sized pools equipped with water slides, they were eager to head right outside.

The rest of our weekend was spent enjoying the included amenities, like the Nick Live shows at night and at the pool, the daily mass slimings and character meetings. Unfortunately, Ming Ming (from the Wonder Pets) got her schedule mixed up with Aang the Avatar, but other than that slight disappointment for our youngest son, our stay at the Nick Hotel went without a hitch. We even splurged on many of the extras...the kids tie-dyed their own Nickelodeon shirts by the pool, partied with Dora, Diego and Boots, did the limbo with SpongeBob and Patrick, and even had a 4-D movie marathon with all eight showings. Our days were so full, we never had to leave the, there were plenty of activities we didn't participate in!

Nick Hotel gave us a perfect family vacation, and one we hope to repeat sometime in the near future. What an amazing place to take the kids! When it was sunny and warm, we stayed "kool" by the pool (sorry, couldn't resist the rhyme), and when it rained, we still had plenty to do indoors. We did venture out one night to go NBA City at Universal's City Walk for dinner as a special birthday treat for our son...but that's a kool idea for another post. In the meantime, if you're ready for a break from the traditional Orlando vacation, just shout, "Aye aye, Captain" and head out to see SpongBob at the Nick Hotel. It's definitely worth the trip.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Today's Kool Idea: Toy Box Storage Benches

Our kids have way too many toys. Seriously, our house is literally overflowing with games, stuffed animals, action figures, legos...well, you get the idea. We don't know quite how it happened...well, that's not entirely true. Think about it. We have two boys who are three years apart, creating two separate groups of age-appropriate toys. Add a couple of doting grandparents, uncles and aunts, and suddenly our quaint little home has become its own virtual Toys R Us. Sheesh...imagine if we added a little girl to the mix!

We are forever in search of multi-purpose solutions to store things in a way that maximizes the limited space in our home. Take a look at some of these adorable toy box storage benches from a wonderful company called Levels of Discovery. Hand painted, heirloom quality and so unique, these toy boxes are truly special. This musical version is our personal favorite. It has an entertaining backrest that combines an eight-note xylophone with two wooden mallets and two spinning bell drums for hours of entertainment for your little one. The slow-closing metal safety hinge prevents little fingers from being crushed, while the bench holds up to 100lbs and provides a perfect spot for some quiet time...yeah, our kids don't know what "quiet time" is, either. Add plenty of storage space for musical instruments, stuffed animals or other toys, and suddenly you can see the floor of your kids' room again!

Of course, there are several other toy box storage bench themes besides the musical one. Whether your theme is firefighters, princesses or even alphabet soup, Levels of Discovery is sure to have a creation to match your child's decor. We won't mislead you...these whimsical toy box storage benches are quite pricey. But, it's "kool" to know that in this case, you are really are getting what you pay for.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Today's Kool Idea: EZ Steam Grill Universal Steaming Insert

The Daily Kool has fallen in love again...with hot dogs! Hot dogs, you ask? We recently took a trip back to New York City and relived a tradition from our younger professional days. You guessed it. The "dirty" dog. You know what we're talking about. Those amazing hot dogs you get on the street corner for a couple of dollars...piping hot dog, freshly steamed buns and all the luscious toppings you can get on top. Getting hungry yet? There's just something about the "dirty" New York City water that makes those hot dogs taste absolutely amazing. We can't figure out what it is, but a "dirty" dog is an experience that everyone who visits the city should have. Your life will never be the same. We just wish we could recreate this hot dog nirvana at home.

Thanks to a local Atlanta inventor, now we can get pretty close. We came across
Chris Schutte on QVC last week, demonstrating his innovation, the EZ Steam Grill universal steaming insert. We were intrigued enough to go out and do a little more research. Frankly, the man himself is as inspiring as his invention. It seems that after becoming a victim of today's struggling economy in 2008, the suddenly unemployed father of two was able to turn adversity into profit with a dream fifteen years in the making. And it all started with a typical man's love for the stadium hot dog.

This two-piece combination set comes with two universal steaming inserts (6.5" and 8.75") that are adjustable to fit any medium to large pot to make a perfect hot dog in less than five minutes. Simply place the insert in the pot and boil some water. The "grill" rack design allows you to slip a couple of hot dogs into the water through the cross-shaped center opening to boil, place the buns on top of the EZ Steam Grill, cover and cook for a few minutes. That's all there is to it, folks.

Not ones to be impressed with a one dish wonder (no matter how addicting), it's nice to know that we can use the
EZ Steam Grill universal steaming insert to prepare a host of delicious meals besides the hot dog. Imagine the ease of preparing a yummy dish of steamed salmon, tender-crisp broccoli and fettuccine alfredo in a single pot. Or spice up some chicken and asparagus to steam and plate with already prepared brown rice. Love steamed lobster tails with melted butter? A little creativity is all it takes to get a beautiful and healthy meal with the EZ Steam Grill. We love how much versatility this product adds to our existing pots. Keep in mind though, this product does not seem to be designed to feed a larger family at once. Plan on cooking for about 2-3 people for the more complex meals, unless of course you use two pots and both inserts. Hot dogs only take a few minutes, so you could probably do a quick batch for a larger crowd, doing two or three at a time (per insert).

EZ Steam Grill universal steaming insert guarantees a perfect hot dog every time. Easy to use, reasonably priced (around $15 for the set of two) and oh, so convenient, this "kool" idea is the next best thing to having your very own New York or stadium hot dog vendor. Now, if we could only arrange to have the city's "dirty" water shipped to us regularly, our lives would be perfect...well, almost.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Today's Kool Idea: Personalized Hometown Map Jigsaw Puzzle

The Daily Kool family is going through a puzzle phase, thanks to our children. If you have been reading our blog, you probably already know about our obsession with technology-free family time. Puzzles are not only a great excuse to bond with your kids, but it also is a great way to encourage concentration, increase problem-solving skills and demonstrate the reward of project completion. We haven't seen our kitchen table cleaned in about a's always covered with a puzzle we're working on together. So, when our son mentioned that he wanted us to find an unusual puzzle for his birthday (that and a new bicycle), we set out to find one that he would really enjoy doing.

Our older son has always been fascinated with geography, particularly maps...he just loves reading them. When he first showed an interest, we purchased a local area map to keep in the car so he could follow our path to wherever we were going. What an inspired idea, if we do say so ourselves! Finally, we have someone in the family with a good sense of direction. So, when we came across this personalized hometown map jigsaw puzzle, we knew he would be thrilled.

The personalized hometown map jigsaw puzzle features your own home as the centerpiece. Made from a United States geological survey map, this 400-piece puzzle shows named main roads, contour lines, transport infrastructure, water features, vegetation and notable buildings and structures...all centered around your address! Seriously, how "kool" is that? The personalized hometown map jigsaw puzzle covers six miles East-to-West and four miles North-to-South, with a house-shaped piece (yours) right in the middle. When completed, it measures 18 1/4" x 12 1/4". We really love the beautiful presentation box that comes with this amazing puzzle. There's even a space on the box lid to write a special message.

A personalized hometown map jigsaw puzzle is a truly exciting and unique gift idea for any puzzle aficionado. What a fun way to teach kids more about their neighborhood. Once finished, we're going to frame this one with the others and add it to our wall of puzzle fame. It will be interesting to compare it to a local map of the area 20-30 years down the road. If giving as a gift, just be very careful to get the address exactly right, including the zip code. Someone in our household keeps forgetting that we live on ## Place and not ## Street (for the past eight years)...we won't mention names, but it caused quite a stir with the Fedex guys last week when they delivered our parents' anniversary present to the wrong house. Nope, we're never letting him live that one down! The personalized hometown map puzzle, though a bit pricey at around $40, will certainly make our son's birthday one to remember for years to come..especially when we spend time as a family putting it together. Now that is the very best gift we could ever give him.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Today's Kool Idea: TykeLight Portable GloMate by Mobi

When our youngest son turned three, he suddenly developed a huge fear of the dark. And we mean huge! He was nervous driving in a dark car at night, insisted on being carried at night (the moon was scary, also), and refused to go into any room that didn't already have a light on. He has always shared a room with his big brother...this helped him feel a bit more secure at bedtime, at least. Unfortunately, if he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, he would become hysterical crying when big brother refused to wake up to take him (our oldest is a very sound sleeper). Our poor son was having a very difficult time maintaining his typical independence and we had to find some way to help him.

Much of our son's fear of the dark (yes, he still has it) is a result of his overactive imagination. We didn't have this challenge with the first child..he's very "black and white" by nature. But our youngest one has always been more creative, telling us fanciful stories of magical creatures and faraway places almost from the time he started speaking. He sees unicorns and dragons in the shapes of the clouds...our oldest tends to envision the state of Missouri (go figure). So, it's not hard to understand that our little boy sees all sorts of scary stuff lurking in the shadows of the dark.

The TykeLight Portable GloMate from Mobi has become a lifesaver for us and our now four year old son. They don't come much cuter than this little guy! This portable nightlight is a cuddly plaything with a friendly, silky feel that he can snuggle up with on a dark night. Mobi has really done a great job with this one...our son hardly ever puts it down, even during the day. The kid-friendly, grab-'n-go design make it really easy. The different color options have actually made our
TykeLight Portable GloMate a four-in-one toy for our son. "Greenie" checks hallways and dark rooms to make sure they're safe to enter. "Tiki" (she's a girl, and the solid red mode) loves to play with stuffed animals, often disciplining them when they deserve a time out. "Bud" (blue mode) likes to hang out and watch TV, while "Mobi" stays on the nightstand to cycle through the rainbow of colors to help him fall asleep at night. Seriously, folks...we have to be the only family that has a GloMate with a split personality!

Future psychological bills aside, the
TykeLight Portable GloMate nightlight has really helped our son overcome his fears. It stays on the charger base, where he can take it off whenever he wants to play with it. We love that it doesn't need batteries or power, the safe and efficient LED's keep it completely cool to the touch. It gives off just enough light to keep the monsters away, but not so much that keeps him awake at bedtime. Our only complaint is that the 15 minute timer only works with the solid blue mode...we would have liked that options with all of the colors (particularly the rainbow one). Regardless, the adorable TykeLight Portable GloMate is kid-tough, works great and is perfectly safe for even young ones. What a great gift idea for a baby shower or anyone with smaller children. Ours is definitely a welcome addition to The Daily Kool family.

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