Category: kitchen gadgets

Jeni vs. A Coconut: Reviewing Melissa’s Coconut Punch

This kitchen gadget review was a tough nut to crack.

Beth of It’s Just Life found a display of lovely Midwestern coconuts and Melissa’s brand Coconut Openers at one of our local Mason City grocery stores and sent it to me to review. I’ve lived in the upper Midwest my entire life. Although I have traveled to warmer states where palm trees grow free, I honestly don’t recall ever touching a coconut before. Coconut curries are some of my favorite foods in the entire world, but I can’t get into the coconut water trend. I’ve tried at least three different brands of coconut water and can’t stomach its flavor or texture. I won’t even tell you what I think it tastes like. This gadget is supposed to make it easy to punch a hole in the coconut for easy coconut water sipping.

This particular product is called a “Young Coconut Punch.” I’m guessing it’s intended to be used on young coconuts, making me wonder if there was an “old” coconut punch, too. When I searched for this product online, I only found one version of this product ($5.49) that looked like this punch.


The package depicts a coconut with all of its skin shaved off, however the instructions don’t offer any information about removing the skin or requiring that it’s removed. I even found this article on Melissa’s website demonstrating how to open a skin-on coconut with their opener.


Here’s a close-up of the “Quick Crack Coconut.” Again, the instructions say to use a Melissa brand opener to punch a whole through one of the eyes which are supposed to be softer.


The tool consists of a handle and a sharp, hollow screw with a safety cap. One is supposed to puncture the coconut by pressing the sharp end into an eye and wiggling the tool.


Here’s a close-up of the instructions:


First, I tried to use the tool as demonstrated on the website. My attempts to puncture the tool through one of the coconut eyes were unsuccessful. All of the eyes were as hard as rocks and my tool slipped causing me a scare. Seriously, do not try this at home without safety gloves and/or a towel to stabilize the coconut! I should have known better.

Still 1

I tried puncturing the coconut a second time, but wrapped it in a towel so it would have less chance of slipping.

Still 2

Still, I had no success even when holding the nut with a towel. I Googled how to remove the coconut skin and articles instructed me to freeze or bake the nut, neither of which I had the time or patience for this day. I was afraid that even if I did attempt these methods, I’d still end up sending myself to the emergency room with coconut injuries.

I gave up on the coconut punch tool and took it outside with a big, rubber mallet.

Coconut Cracking Still watermark

Without too much effort, I easily cracked the coconut. unfortunately, I lost most of the water. I collected enough in my hand to take a sip. If you watch the videos, you can hear my garbled. “ughhhhh yuck.”

coconut water still

This kitchen gadget review pitted me against a coconut and the coconut almost won. A broken coconut sits in my fridge. It looks like I still have to bake it in order to separate the meat from the shell. Once I do so, I can toast the coconut meat or even grate it and make it into coconut milk.

Do you have any tips for easier coconut peeling and opening? What would you do if someone gave you a whole coconut?

Video Review: Chef’n Vibe Onion Peeler

Video production has always intimidated me.

I barely passed video production class in college, over-relying on the help of my talented friends. On our final class project, I was assigned to edit the class news production project and goofed up with the timing. I’ve always felt embarrassed about this and avoided video until recently.

I’m proud to say I’m revisiting videos in the form of simple iPhone videos and am having a lot of fun.

In my first edited video, I review the Chef’n Vibe Onion Peeler. My friend Beth of It’s Just Life gave it to me for Christmas as a gag gift. She knows I’m skeptical about expensive, single-use kitchen tools and it was sitting on the clearance shelf at Target. Having never seen this tool, I tested it on an onion following the printed instructions and compared it to peeling an onion with a knife.

This short video is about 2.5 minutes long and with oooo’s like mine, there’s no mistaking me for anything but a Minnesotan.

Jeni Eats Reviews an Onion Peeler Tool from Jeni Flaa on Vimeo.

After posting my video, I found another review of this same tool produced by Sur la Table. Of course, they do sell it for $5.95. . .

Either way, I still think peeling an onion with a knife is most efficient. What do you think?

Food-Related Odds And Ends

Enjoy these food-related odds and ends from my winter break.

Jake’s grandma passed away this weekend so we will head to the Twin Cities for the memorial service next weekend. When we return, winter break will end and classes will resume.

Ole and Lena’s Pizzeria, Westacres Mall, Fargo, ND
A blog reader recommended the original Ole and Lena’s in Rothsay, MN, about a half hour away on I-94 towards Minneapolis. There is a smaller version at the mall’s food court.

I enjoyed a piece of plain, cheese pizza. The crust had nice texture. Firm where it was supposed to be firm, chewy where it mattered, and floppy in all the right places. It also tasted a little sweet.

The slice was large and was topped with high quality cheese. Perfect for when I’m craving Cosetta’s-style pizza.

Citizen Cafe, Minneapolis, MN
During Christmas week, I met a friend for dinner at Citizen. She mentioned Citizen Cafe’s commitment to locally sourcing ingredients.

I arrived a little early and the staff was more than happy to let me pause at a table and sip a glass of wine until she arrived.

Our server brought a complimentary bread basket. The bread was served warm and accompanied by soft, whipped butter and a mysterious, vegetal/nutty spread.

We both ordered the portabella sandwich which was a steal at $9 (add .75 for goat cheese). The mushroom, onion, roasted red pepper, and squash were cooked nicely and the balsamic provided tang. The ciabatta was toasted and tender. Following the large holiday meals I had recently eaten, I ordered the sandwich without goat cheese, which I immediately regretted.

Sandwiches come with fruit, coleslaw or homemade potato chips. I ordered the chips and they were thin, unseasoned waffle crisps.

Overall, the restaurant had a weird vibe. Not unfriendly, but maybe reserved or curious? Our actual server had a warmer demeanor than the woman who seated me.

Nelson Bros., Clearwater Travel Plaza, Clearwater, MN

On our drive back to the Twin Cities, we wanted to grab a non-fast food lunch. A blog reader once recommended the deli sandwiches at the Clearwater Travel Plaza. I stopped for a caramel roll earlier this year and wasn’t impressed because it didn’t taste of butter.

I found the sandwich counter next to the bakery. The ordering system initially struck me as slightly overwhelming. I think I expected to order from a larger menu of set sandwich combinations, but the deli encouraged customers to pick their own bread, meat, cheese and sauce. Sort of like Subway. Eventually, I noticed a small sign advertising sandwich combination.

I ordered chicken salad but discovered I got tuna in the car. Fortunately, I like both equally.

The tuna salad was a little wet, but tasted fine. The vegetables tasted fresh and there were many to choose from. I liked the spicy mustard sauce and the bread was notably fresh. I ordered Jake a creation involving roast beef and horseradish sauce and he was pleased.

All in all, the deli serves very large sandwich for about $6. Ideal for those who like to customize, but putzier for those who are in a hurry or don’t feel like making a lot of decisions that moment.

Cafe 21, Fargo, ND
A fellow Fargo food blogger, FMFare, discovered a new Asian restaurant serving a fusion of Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese foods. Cafe 21 seems to have replaced Yuki-Hana, a Japanese/Korean restaurant. They serve pho and might be the only restaurant who makes bahn mi. The Asian and American Market sells bahn mi from the Twin Cities in their refrigerated section. I tried one once, and thought the freshness got lost in transit.

We enjoyed spring rolls, spicy ramen with vegetables and egg, eel sushi, beef pho, and flan. Fresh and affordable. Friendly service. Would not hesitate to return.

My only suggestion: Do something about the microwave prominently displayed by a large window facing the parking lot.

But more on this dinner later.

A New Knife Set
Jake’s uncle is active and successful in the Minneapolis-St. Paul restaurant business. He generously gifted me with this metal suitcase O’ Wustoff knives. He said someone had done the same for him when he began his culinary career. 

Carrying the suitcase makes me feel like an assassin.

I just bought a diamond steel so I can try to maintain them. There are two layers of knives and cooking tools such as a zester, channel knife, melon baller, and sewing needles. There are even a couple keys to lock the whole thing up.

We bought Dexter Sani Safe knife sets for class. The handles may be safe, but not particularly sanitary. They are indented with tiny grooves that may prevent slippage but trap debris. In class, it’s not uncommon for students to grab knives from cutting boards while the owner’s back is turned. Knives and other tools are borrowed, never returned, and run through the dishwasher.

These will never see the light of class.

An Ice Cream Maker
Our good friend gave us her ice cream maker. She had only used it once and just never got into it. I am excited to give it a whirl.

As always, your dining suggestions are always appreciated!

The Saddest Santa Bear Cookies: Cookie Fail, Frosting Win

The other weekend, I brought home this amazing Santa Bear Sandwich Cookie Pan, circa 1986.

So many of us who grew up in the Twin Cities have fond memories visiting Dayton’s 8th floor Holiday displays in Downtown Minneapolis.

Jake and I both remember cuddling with lots and lots of Santa Bears in our childhood rooms.  My mom did not collect as many Santa Bears as Jake’s, but accumulated this heavy, cast iron Santa Bear sandwich cookie pan around Christmas of 1986.  I have no idea where my mom stored this cookie pan as I have never seen it before.

I stayed in my apartment with a cold on Saturday and spent the morning seasoning my unused, cast-iron pan by heating it and brushing it with oil, letting it cool, and repeating.

I made homemade frosting and followed the cookie recipe on the box, making a double batch.

The recipe seemed strange and included a large proportion of flour, corn syrup, orange juice, and both vanilla and almond extracts.

The directions instructed me to press the dough into the mold.  Therefore, I assumed my dough was made correctly even though it seemed dry.  I tend to be flighty but made sure I doubled all of my ingredients.

The flour would not fully incorporate into the dough so I kept adding orange juice until it held together.  Then, I pressed the dough into the molds.

 I baked each pan for 17 minutes and removed the cookies to cool.

Santa Bear cookie butts, all in a row.
Uh oh.  
The Santa Bear halves were extremely large and heavy as rocks.  With a double batch of dough remaining, I persevered through my doubts that anyone would want to eat two of these giant rock cookies sandwiching anything.  
After making enough Santa Bear front and backsides to make nine, enormous sandwich cookies, I gave up.  
With lingering shreds of hope, I optimistically filled the sandwich cookies with a homemade buttercream icing.  
Then, I took a bite.  
The cookies tasted as dense and they felt and were blandly floury.  How one would ever want to eat a whole cookie is beyond me.  I passed my maimed sandwich cookie to Jake.  
After one bite, he handed it back.  We agreed that the cookies could not be redeemed.  They all had to go, as well as the leftover dough.  
I accidentally dropped a cookie on the floor and was mildly amused when it did not break, let alone dent.  Or chip.  
Lonely, unwanted Santa Bear sandwich cookie
Dear Dayton’s Company, circa 1986. . . did you actually test these horrible cookie bricks?  Not only do they taste unappealing, but pose as a hazard in the kitchen.  
And in life.  
Just one half of these sandwich cookies could severely injure a small individual or maim a large beast, if tossed in their general direction.  
I will not re-post the recipe because it’s truly craptastic and I would hate for any of my readers to accidentally make these cookies, Santa Bear mold or not.  
What I will post is the yummy frosting recipe I found on this thread on Chowhound.  It may not be authentic buttercream, but it’s good enough for frosting haters like myself and easy to make.  The original recipe came from the a poster named Axalady’s grandmother.  
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting: The only redeeming element of my Santa Bear cookies

4 Tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup of butter (two sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
Place the flour and milk in a saucepan and slowly heat over medium low-medium heat.
Whisk constantly until the liquid thickens into a paste.  
Set the paste aside to cool.  
In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.  Stir in the vanilla extract and slowly beat in the cooled milk-flour paste, little by little.  
As you beat the mixture, the sugar will continue to dissolve.  I used granulated sugar and my finished frosting was smooth except for a few, stray sugar granules.  
Enjoy your Santa Bear-less frosting.  

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