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The best cheap stuff in my kitchen

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Through the course of learning to cook there have been a lot of purchases necessary. Well, maybe not necessary, but having the right tools has made everything else so much easier. There are things I don’t like (or have learned not) to skimp on: Good sauce pans and skillets, good cast iron cookware, a few awesome knives, a decent food processor, blender, and mixer. You know, the kind of things where you regret not spending enough the first time around because they only make life harder if they suck.

On the flip side, there are dozens of inexpensive tools around my kitchen that I’ve picked up either out of need or curiosity, and am repeatedly amazed at both how durable they are for the price and how much they’ve helped make my kitchen life better.

I took a look around my kitchen after cooking and noted the top things that I got for $20 or less that I use almost every time I cook. I thought it might be worth compiling a list.


Ozeri digital scale ($12.73)
You can spend a lot on a digital scale. Simply an accurate scale that can hold a variety of containers on it suits my needs. This little one has a digital readout and touch buttons. Like any similar implement, it tares when you turn it on, and you can choose whatever measurement units you need. Turns itself off after a timeout period, and stores easily in my rack with my cutting boards.
Jenaluca herb scissors ($13.97)
This is one of those things I never thought about needing and tried on a whim. It’s a 5-bladed pair of scissors (a 5-pair?) that lets you quickly chop up fresh herbs like chives, cilantro, basil, etc. without using a cutting board. There are plenty of times I’m happier wadding up a bunch of leaves and chopping with a chefs blade, but these have come in handy many times.
The Jenaluca is the one I’ve used, but the Utopia Kitchen version is half the price on Amazon and looks to be just as good.
Prep Solutions by Progressive medium hand grater ($10.42)
I am not a fan of box graters. Hard to clean, annoying to use. But I also rarely need to grate entire blocks of cheese, so I’ve never invested in a big rotary grater. After falling in love with the microplane (zester), I got a medium and large hand grater. I do not regret this.
Manual Coffee Bean Grinder By Homiry ($16.99)
I don’t use this for coffee. It would probably be great for it, but for me it’s a great spice mill. A large-radius crank, friction based assembly (not a lot of threading to slow things down), and it helps with cleanliness for me because it’s self-contained, grinding the contents into a removable chamber at the bottom.
Lansky QuadSharp Carbide/Ceramic Multi Angle Knife Sharpener ($13.98)
This little knife sharpener has 4 different angles and a stone for ceramic blades. It just works. Two passes on this and my chef’s knife is razor sharp and free of nicks.

A note about OXO

I see the OXO brand all over Target. And Amazon Pantry. And everywhere. Its ubiquity was a sticking point for my snobby instincts (“a house brand at Target could never be the best you can get”). But when it comes to simple implements that are comfortable to use, you can’t beat the price. I’ve had a few items break thus far, and in some cases have gone ahead and replaced them with stainless steel versions, but a few things have held up amazingly well and saved me a lot of money versus the competitors.

OXO Zester ($9.46)
For ten bucks, this thing changed a surprising number of habits for me. Zest an entire lemon in under a minute, plus it works great for finely grating cheese over pasta, adding a few scrapes off of a nutmeg to a sauce, or anything that just needs a good scrape.
OXO Handheld Mandoline Slicer ($14.99)
I never realized how useful a mandoline slicer could be in the kitchen until I just went ahead and bought this on a whim. At its widest setting, I can slice an entire onion for caramelizing in 30 seconds, with perfectly consistent widths to the slices. Just make sure you use the guard and watch your fingers. Seriously.
This is one of those OXO products I’m assuming will wear out. It’s not terribly well constructed, but it’s held up through many a slicing and dishwasher run. If I replace it, it’s going to be with a stainless Steel mandoline slicer for about $30.
OXO Bench Knife ($9.99)
If you’ve ever watched cooking videos and seen the chef use a handy little scraper thing to move chopped veggies into prep bowls but then couldn’t find the right search term to buy them, then you’re like me and the phrase you’re searching for is “bench knife.” Beyond its intended purposes, it’s an excellent transport tool and also good for getting dough off your fingers. This one has an occasionally handy ruler on it too, for when you’re instructed to dice something in unintuitive dimensions and you have to double check for sanity.

I have an array of OXO peelers, scissors, spatulas, etc. around as well. The items without moving parts (e.g. spatulas) are unquestionably durable. I’m a little more wary about anything with multiple parts, though the Y Peeler with potato eyer has been great.

Prep work

Prepworks collapsible measuring cups ($7.96)
I’m including this because I work in a small kitchen. Space is at a premium. I have one good set of stainless steel measuring cups, but don’t have room to keep an auxiliary set around. These plastic measuring cups collapse to flat and take up very little space in a drawer.
I only learned about collapsible measuring cups because this set ($23.19) was already around in the kitchen. I haven’t used the Prepworks ones, but I listed them because that’s what I would buy if I didn’t already have the Food Network set.
2LB Depot Premium 18/8 (Narrow) Stainless Steel Measuring Spoons - Set of 6 ($13.95)
I’ve been through enough measuring spoon sets to know where my primary frustrations lie. First, I want to be able to stick it into narrow cap spice jars. Second, I want it to be stainless steel because they can be dried faster when switching from liquid to dry measure. These fit the bill perfectly, and I love them. One of those things that I can smile and take pleasure in every time I use them.
The set even comes with a level that hangs with them on the ring, so you can stick the measure into a spice jar, place the level across the opening, and have it level the scoop as you pull it out of the jar.
Totally Bamboo 3-piece cutting board set ($12.99)
For $13 you have a set of lightweight yet durable cutting boards in three sizes. They don’t gouge or scratch easily, so you’re not risking bacterial growth as you would in most wooden cutting boards, but they’re not so hard that they’ll dull your blades. They don’t stain easily, and they dry quickly. A quick wipe with soap and water, swipe with a hand towel, and they’re ready to store. Plus sustainability of resources…
Pyrex 6-Piece Glass Food Storage Set with Lids (Glass, 12-Piece) ($19.00)
I love glass prep bowls. Almost too much. I have a variety of sizes available, but I’ve come to love these 2-cup Pyrex bowls because they’re big enough to hold a chopped onion but not big enough to take up my whole counter. They have lids, so sticking prepped food (or leftovers) in the fridge is a one-step process. And they’re Pyrex glass, so they don’t retain odor, they’re dishwasher safe, and you can heat them in the microwave or oven, should that be a necessity.
I also purchased the Pyrex 18 Piece Simply Store Food Storage Set ($29.25), so I’m really never short on glass storage containers.

Tidying up

Kitchen pantry organizer ($16.99)
In case I haven’t mentioned it, I have limited space. A vertical rack makes good use of counter space and frees up significant drawer space. I use this rack for the cutting boards, the digital scale, and my rocker blade pizza cutter.

Abundant Chef In-Drawer Bamboo Kitchen Knife Storage Block, Organizer and Holder ($9.76)
My knife set is not a set. It’s a motley collection of individually purchased blades with no knife block (and one set of 3 ceramic knives that defeat the purpose of a magnetic strip). So I found this flexible solution, which will hold between 10 and 16 knives depending the combination of lengths and how you configure them. It’s designed to fit in a drawer (17” x 5.25”), but I’ve been using it on the counter top where my knives are always within reach.
SpiceStor Organizer Spice Rack ($12.07)
I bought this because it looked like a really good idea, like a filing cabinet for spices. I didn’t like the execution in the end, for reasons I don’t remember now, but I took the strips of jar clips and put them on the inside of the spice cupboard door. I had to space them so that they wouldn’t collide with shelves or rows of taller spices, so it’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, but it became the perfect spot for an array of paprikas and things like whole cumin, hazelnuts, and coriander seed (because I organize thematically, in ways that probably only make sense to me).

Rubbermaid FG8020RDWHT Pull Down Spice Rack, White ($22.45)
This is possibly my favorite spice cabinet improvement I’ve ever made. The 3-tier rack pulls forward and down to eye level. The front row of it can even be top-labelled jars, then, which is great for the stubby little containers that fit better packed together and you can read the fronts anyway. The shape of it leaves space behind it when it’s collapsed up into the cabinet for a row of less frequently-used spices. Like some kind of secret stash, shrouded in mystery.
Self adhesive Spice Jars Labels, 80 pcs ($17.00)
I buy spices in the bulk section, and I try to reuse containers. This gets ugly fast. I’m working toward a unified set of spice jars, and unified labelling to make it easier to scan. This set of stickers, while pricier than I think stickers are actually worth, has covered every need I’ve had. I think there was one spice that it didn’t have a sticker for, but I’ve forgotten which.
Clean/dirty dishwasher magnet ($9.99)
You already knew this, and my mom always tried to teach it, but keeping the kitchen from becoming an overwhelming mess means cleaning as you go. Washing (or at least soaking) bowls and boards and knives and measuring spoons as you use them. And unloading the dishwasher before you cook so you can load it as you finish with items. If you share a kitchen, knowing the simple state of the dishwasher (clean or dirty) can be a hassle easily solved by the tried and true Clean/Dirty magnet. This is the one we have. It’s not fancy, and there are probably cheaper versions and it’s likely there are more expensive options. I like this one. It’s funny.

So, what else should I get?

A Hyper Key with Karabiner Elements, full instructions

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Yesterday I posted excitedly about full Hyper key functionality being available in macOS 10.12+. I included a snippet of a config file that has apparently led to some confusion, so I’m elaborating here on the full configuration.

The first thing you need is Karabiner Elements, and you need what is currently the bleeding edge version, 0.91.3. If you don’t already have Karabiner Elements installed, grab the latest version at pqrs.org/latest/karabiner-elements-latest.dmg. Open Karabiner Elements and go to the Misc tab, you can check your version and update if needed by clicking the “Check for beta updates” button.

Once it’s running, there’s a configuration file at ~/.config/karabiner/karabiner.json that you can edit. The options required for this are not available yet in the GUI, so they have to be added into this hidden config file.

The file is JSON, and breaking the formatting will cause Karabiner failure, so be sure to do any editing with care. Below is a complete version of my config file. It has no significant changes from the default other than the Hyper Key functionality. If you don’t have any other settings in Karabiner (e.g. Simple Modifications beyond one that, say, maps caps lock to something for Hammerspoon…), you can overwrite the contents of the karabiner.json with the code below.

If you do have other settings, you’ll need to follow different directions, so skip to the next part.

To edit just the Hyper key chunk into an existing config, you’ll add the chunk below into the “profiles” array in the first element:

Here’s the chunk that you’ll paste in. Be sure to keep the trailing comma after the last curly bracket.

Karabiner Elements should immediately detect the change and your Hyper Key should start working. You can test by going into any app that lets you assign keyboard shortcuts, such as BetterTouchTool, and adding or editing one. Holding down Caps Lock and hitting a key should give you the result ⌘⇧⌥⌃X. Hitting Caps Lock once should give you (Escape).

Note that you should be able to modify the Escape part of the key to maintain Caps Lock functionality by changing to “to_when_alone” value in the JSON to “caps_lock”. Then hitting Caps Lock with no other key should still allow it to function as normal.

If you have issues, be sure to check that in System Preferences->Keyboard->Modifier Keys you’ve disabled Caps Lock (set it to No Action). Note that if you use multiple keyboards (like the internal laptop one and an external Bluetooth one), that screen will have a dropdown where you’ll need to set this for each available keyboard. Also ensure that you don’t have any “simple modifications” set in Karabiner Elements that would be trapping the Caps Lock key.

Hopefully that’s a bit clearer…

Full Hyper Key functionality restored in Sierra

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If you saw my note in yesterday’s web excursions about Karabiner Elements adding the necessary tools to recreate the Hyper Key, you might have gotten excited. If you’re like me, though, a major component of that trick was that if you hit the caps-lock key and nothing else, it functioned as the Escape key, and that part wasn’t working.

Go into Karabiner elements and hit “Check for beta upgrades,” and you’ll find an updated version (0.91.3 or higher), which adds a “to_if_alone” key to a manipulator config block. See the code below to enable the good old Hyper key with full Escape functionality.

Running 0.91.3 or higher, remove any existing reassignment of the Caps Lock key, then open up the configuration file at ~/.config/karabiner/karabiner.json in an editor. Add the block below, probably right below “simple_modifications” to make sure the nesting is correct. (If you already have a complex_modifications block, you’ll want to insert just the appropriate portion within that, not create a second block.)


Web Excursions for June 13, 2017

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Web excursions brought to you by MightyDeals.com, featuring great deals on software, training, and design resources.

Hyper Key in macOS Sierra with Karabiner Elements
Top story: Karabiner Elements can once again provide the Hyper key we all loved before Sierra.
If you like TV, and you like music, this is awesome. It’s a site with an index of music and songs appearing in every episode of popular shows (and movies). You can find what song was playing in the end credits without having to rewind and Shazam it, or search by artist to see where they’ve been featured in the world of television and film.
What we learned evolving an App through 20 Alphas and 10 Betas
Daniel Alm writes about the development of Timing 2, tracking progress over 13 months. A well-documented look at the process of UI and functionality changes from start to finish.
Songstack - discover new music
I found 10 new bands this week. This may be my favorite music discovery service/Spotify integration yet. There’s also a web version.
Declawing: A new study shows we can’t look the other way
This isn’t my normal kind of link, but the AVMA has hesitated to oppose the practice of declawing domestic cats and I think people (especially Americans) are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to being provided information on and understanding the effects of the procedure. This post is enlightening, even for me, and I’ve always opposed declawing cats…

Trading Cryptocurrencies Video Course (+giveaway)

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If you’ve ever been curious about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies —and perhaps wondering how to make some money with them — my friend Andreas Zeitler from zCasting 3000 has a new video course documenting what he learned getting into Bitcoin and turning a profit.

Andreas has brought us some great lessons at Mac OS X Screencasts including useful tutorials on Hazel and Scrivener, and is a host of Der Übercast as well as a guest writer here. He’s a very smart guy.

Last year he was looking for investment opportunities but became frustrated with typical investments. His interest in Bitcoin was sparked after the OPEN 2016 conference in Stuttgart.

Starting from scratch with a low buy-in, he’s already made 100x his initial investment. This 4-hour course details everything he learned over a year of trading Bitcoin. It moves from beginner to advanced (because he’s a veteran producer of educational materials) and covers everything you’d need to get started for yourself, as well as a PDF with annotations and links to deep-dive information.

The course is available for $50. Andreas has provided me three copies to give away, which you can enter for below. Winners for that will be drawn on Friday, June 9th at 12pm CST.

If you don’t want to wait, you can use the coupon code brett-5off to get a discount on a copy right now (good until July 9th).

Also check out the Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain group that Andreas runs on Facebook.

Sorry, this giveaway has ended.

Web Excursions for June 5, 2017

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Web excursions brought to you in partnership with Udemy. Learn Anything.

Mavo: A new, approachable way to create Web applications
This is cool. Lea Verou heads up a team to present Mavo, an extension to the syntax of HTML that allows developers to describe Web applications that manage, store, and transform data without any backend programming.
Board For GitHub
A native app overview for GitHub projects.
Makers - IFTTT platform - IFTTT Platform
If you love IFTTT but have always wished for more advanced control over your applets, check out the Makers platform.
Screens 4
Screens has long been one of the best VNC clients for Mac. The newest version adds a few features that were notably missing versus Apple’s default screen sharing app, including drag-and-drop file transfer support. It also got a speed boost, resulting in reduced screen lag and ultra-sharp image. If you have Setapp, you already have it!
HYPER Glass iPhone screen protector
This is fascinating. A couple of touch areas on the lower left and right allow you to tap areas in the upper left and right of a plus-size iPhone screen. I haven’t tried it, and I’ve gotten quite used to the fact that my phone is not going to be a one-handed device anymore, but I’m very curious.

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