A Ninja, A Food Bar, And Three Mini Cocottes

It sounds like the start to a bad joke. We tried hard to think of a punchline, as they walk into a bar- the kind with alcohol, as opposed to the edible kind we've got on hand today. But we couldn't really think of anything that would involve a cocotte, as we weren't precisely sure what a cocotte was until recently. And why a trio of them? And why are they miniature? These questions, and many more, will be answered soon enough. For now, we ponder Perfection.

That is to say, Perfect Foods Bars. Skeptical at first from the name alone, we were a bit taken aback when we noticed that they suggested refrigeration. These can't just sit for weeks in the depths of your backpack waiting for use, but instead require a bit more care. They hit many of the bullet points we were interested in: gluten free, organic, high in protein. But we've tried so many, and kept coming back to the basics ones that are tried and true, like Clif and Larabars on occasion. Our variety pack included a few flavors: Fruit and Nut, Almond Butter, Cranberry Crunch (Lite), and Peanut Butter. Each was actually surprisingly good- tasty instead of tasteless, moist instead of throat-chokingly dry. So often, you need to drink a gallon after having a power bar, but these were much easier on the lips. The Peanut Butter were quite possibly the best of that flavor we've ever tried, and with honey used as the sweetener, tasted better and fresher than competitors. Though harder to find and handle, the Perfect Foods bars are worth the trouble, and run about $20 for a box of 8.

Nothing goes better with summer than a good blender. Smoothies, milkshakes, malts- if these drinks are in your near future, you might want to look at your blending implement. There are plenty of models out there, and we've tested a few at several price points. And, we have to say, you generally get what you pay for- a cheap blender from Costco will get the job down, but is best for occasional use and simply won't look that good or offer a ton of power. For more serious users, you could look at models costing a few hundred dollars (Vitamix and Blendtec, we're looking at you)- they feature commercial quality at commercial prices. In between, we're happy to report on a blender that offers much of the power- 1000 watts in fact- but at a much more reasonable price point.

The Ninja NJ600 is an excellent blender. In some ways, that doesn't seem to difficult to achieve- it's a technology that has been around since the 1920's. But, this model is fast and furious at cutting things into tiny pieces. It doesn't quite get the super-smooth texture that you might want when using greens- they offer another model that does a bit more including juicing. But for frozen drinks and our purposes, it was perfect- not too loud, especially compared to a less-powerful model operating next to it. It doesn't offer as many speed options as some, a mere three speeds. But, really, we didn't miss the others at all, even if all three did seem similar. The fact is, this thing whipped our smoothies into shape, and even ice blocks as well. It looks good too, doesn't take up too much space, offers a fairly unique blade system, and a super-solid and BPA-free plastic pitcher. We loved that you can easily take the blade out from the top- safer and more convenient. This also meant clean-up was a breeze compared to some other models. Pouring was good- the spout was solid, as was the handle, and balance wasn't an issue. And the pitcher is plenty large at 72 ounces. The Ninja is the best blender in it's class- and it's only $100.

Finally, what is ceramic, French, and apparently Farm Fresh? The Le Creuset Farm Fresh Mini Cocottes Trio, nicely packaged in a cute box. Instead of getting some boring color, or having them all be the same, you get three different shades: fennel, cassis, and cherry. As usual with Le Creuset, these are well-made stoneware, and perfect for a variety of uses. We checked out their recommended recipes (an entire book for them!), each offering dishes with individually-sized portions- though we had to modify the portions to fit inside these cocottes. Our dinner party for three was perfect- egg casseroles, but each a little different. Handy for flan, custards, French onion soup- the only downside is that these felt a bit too small. At $60, they are also not cheap- but as of press time, we couldn't actually find this particular set.

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