Category Archives: User Reports

Smokin’

The ingredients in this small bottle of Wright’s Liquid Smoke? Water and hickory smoke. That’s it. The all natural stuff makes for quick and delicious smoky flavor in your favorite foods. A little bottle doesn’t cost very much and because it is concentrated it lasts and lasts.

Not long ago I wrote a post about a kitchen gadget called a Chef’n which is a small, hand operated vegetable chopper that we use around the RV kitchen and our home kitchen as well. As I wrote in the opening remarks of that post it was a departure from the kinds of things about which I usually write. The same can be said about this article too because when it comes to most things that have to do with cooking I’m a dumbass.

I do know a thing or two, however, and today I’m writing about something I never thought I would: smoke flavoring. There’s not a whole lot to know about it, but when Diane, my wonderful partner confessed she hadn’t heard of it I figured there may be others in the same boat.

Smoke flavoring, or liquid smoke, if you don’t know, is a seasoning that imparts that delicious, smoky, BBQ flavor to foods. Amazingly, it’s not a gimmick. The stuff is made by burning wood chips, often hickory, applewood or mesquite, and running the smoke through a condenser. As the hot smoke runs through a pipe that is chilled it cools which causes moisture in the smoke to form as water droplets on the inside of the pipe. These water droplets are full of the smoke flavor and are drained from the condenser, concentrated and packaged for sale. The stuff I use is Wright’s Liquid Smoke, hickory flavor.

Besides the fact that it does an amazing job of imparting that delicious smoky flavor, easily, there is no junk to be found in the stuff that I use–nothing artificial, no preservatives. Here are the ingredients as stated on the bottle: “water, natural, hickory smoke concentrate”. That’s all.

I’ve been using liquid smoke for years and love it. Wright’s is super concentrated. Just a few drops is enough to give a delicious smoky flavor to a large pot of soup or a half dozen hamburgers. The stuff seems to keep really well too. The fact that it is so concentrated and has a long shelf life means that the smallest, 3.5 oz. bottle usually hangs around in my fridge for years. And it isn’t expensive!

There are hundreds of recipes that use liquid smoke. AllRecipes.com alone has 290! I like to use it in my lentil soup. (This is a really great recipe from Jane Brody, BTW. Easy too. Everybody to whom I’ve served it has raved about it and you probably will as well.) Using liquid smoke in soups, for example, allows you to create a smoky flavor in foods that you otherwise might not be able to. How would you BBQ soup, for example?

Whether or not you’re on the road in your RV or hanging around in your sticks and bricks home, when you’ve a hankerin’ for something smoky tasting and can’t manage the BBQ, a little liquid smoke may be just the ticket.

“It slices, it dices…”

The Chef'n VeggiChop is had powered. It's surprising how fast it chops things up.
The Chef’n VeggiChop is hand powered. It’s surprising how fast it chops things up. This shot gives you an idea of its size.

I’m hardly the kind of person from whom you’d expect a review of a kitchen gadget–usually I write about things like solar panels, batteries, GPS units, motorcycle clothing and the like–but this review is in fact about a kitchen gadget which hints at the influence a certain wonderful woman has had over my life 🙂

Now, to be truthful, most people would be and should be alarmed should I write about preparing food. Why? Just taste my cooking… and I use the word cooking very, very loosely. Fear not, however, because I cannot take credit for this review. It was written by Diane after using the Chef’n for many months. While I am the chief bottle washer in the RV my lovely companion, Diane, is the head cook, always making delicious and healthy meals for the two of us. Thank you, Diane!

Diane has used the Chef’n many times. I think it fair to say she recommends it because it does a good job, is small, lightweight, uses no batteries or electricity, and doubles as a storage container: all things which are plusses when operating in the cramped quarters of an RV sometimes without a ready supply of household electricity and where the weight of things can really matter. Available for under $20 it’s also inexpensive.

Now, to be honest, not everything I touch in the kitchen turns to mud. Although there may be some debate about it, I do declare that I’m pretty darn good when it comes to making a peanut butter sandwich. There is one other dish I can do a bang up job with, and that’s lentil soup. For that I use the Chef’n to chop up the carrots and onions which it does quickly and easily saving me quite a bit of slicing and dicing, not to mention all those tears.

The four parts of the VeggiChop.
The four parts of the Chef’n VeggiChop.

PRODUCT REVIEW
by Diane

Chef’n VeggiChop Hand-Powered Food Chopper

THE CLAIM:
Chop large pieces of fruit, vegetables, boneless meats, herbs, nuts, and even ice without electricity; perfect for pesto, hummus, salsa, guacamole.

WHY YOU MAY WANT THIS:
Small, lightweight, no batteries or electricity, doubles as a storage container, works well.

THE FACTS:
Performance:
The product description on Amazon is accurate in that it REALLY does chop food. As its name implies, it is designed to chop, not puree. It’s absolutely wonderful for things like onions, carrots and egg salad. I was able to make cauliflower rice (but not mash), my hummus and guacamole came out more grainy than creamy, and soft fruits and tomatoes had more texture than blender smooth. That being said, I didn’t mind the compromise because I could boondock and have my hummus too!

Ease of Use:
It is not too tough on the hand as far as gripping the handle, but pulling out the cord does take some back and forth arm movement that requires average mobility. It has only a 3 cup capacity, so it’s good for about 2 servings depending on your recipe, but I didn’t find any problem in making things in several batches for a larger crowd. I even made my regular double pie crust recipe in it! I just had to divide the recipe and reload the Chef’n a couple times and then combine the batches. In fact, this gadget is so quick and easy to use, I often opt to use it even when I have a full-sized blender/food processor available!

Nice Features:
•Comes in 3 colors: red, black or green
•Non-slip ring on the bottom keeps it stable
•Storage lid

Tips:
Adding ingredients – The top of the blade mechanism has a recessed hexagon for connecting to the lid. It can collect finer ingredients like flour and prevent the lid pin from engaging properly. Put a finger over the hexagon when pouring into the chopper.
Cleaning and Storage – Take care hand washing the very sharp blades! Make sure the chopper is completely dry before storing it to discourage mold, especially if you are on the road. The care instructions do caution not to submerge the top because the cord is enclosed and won’t be able to dry out, but otherwise it’s even dishwasher safe. (The Chef’n VeggiChopper is available here.)

I also really like this sturdy multi-use dish brush with a useful suction handle to keep fingers safe when cleaning the blades.

[Editor’s note: the article titles “It slices, it dices…” is taken from a very old TV commercial which as I recalled has many times been parodied and as such is intended to be humorous. The Chef’n chops.]

Too Much of a Good Thing – Electricity

EMS Remote IMG_5169_1200
This remote display panel supplied with the Progressive Industries EMS-HW50C alerts you to any errors, voltage for each leg as well as current draw for each leg. A bypass switch on the left allows you to easily use generators that don’t work with the EMS or to bypass the EMS for other reasons.

When we bought our new RV it was for us a sizable expenditure. Such being the case we considered things we could do in order to protect it. A good polymer treatment for the paint was one thing. Another was a Progressive Industries 50 amp hard-wired electrical management system (EMS) in order to protect the electronics from, among other things, power surges, high and low voltages sometimes encountered at campgrounds. Progressive makes a number of EMS systems, some intended to hang on the power pedestal and some to be hard-wired into the RV.

Another measure of protection we purchased was a 50 amp voltage regulator, a Hughes Autoformer. This device can boost campground voltage when it falls dangerously low allowing you to safely use equipment that might otherwise be damaged by the low voltage. They also make a 30 amp model. [READ MORE…]

DIY 1000 Watt Inverter Installation

110 volt outlet and remote on/off switch installed.
The red 110 volt outlet dedicated to the inverter and inverter remote on/off switch installed.

In my previous RV I only had 110 volt household current when I was plugged into shore power at a campground, when I ran my disturbingly noisy generator, or when I turned on my inverter to power the single, dedicated outlet I had installed along with it. This last method involved running extension cords from that outlet to other points inside (or outside) the RV where I wanted or needed household current–inconvenient and a tripping hazard.

Upon getting a new RV my plan had always been to have an inverter installed that would supply power to all of the RV’s existing 110 volt outlets so that power would be available throughout it without needing to run extension cords–a more convenient and aesthetically pleasing arrangement that would also eliminate the hazard of tripping over extension cords.

When I started looking at all that was involved in wiring an inverter into the RV’s electrical system it soon became apparent to me that it was outside my wheelhouse of skills. So, I decided to have that done professionally later on, but until I could hire it done I was comfortable doing a more simple trip-over-the-extension-cord style hookup that would at least provide us with some AC until the professional installation could be performed. [READ MORE…]

Good Sam. Bad Actor?

This is the reimbursement check I received from Good Sam in its original envelope showing a postmark date more than 2 weeks after I was told it was mailed. My address has been redacted.

This is a short saga (the oxymoron is intentional) of my recent experience with Good Sam Roadside Assistance.

I have Good Sam Roadside Assistance for my 5th wheel. Recently while backing my RV into my parking spot where I store the rig I got myself into a jam and couldn’t move forward or backward without a high probability of damaging my RV or the one next to mine. Don’t ask…

I called Good Sam for some suggestions or help. The agent I spoke with asked me some questions, one of which may have been key to deciding whether or not they would help me. He asked if there was any risk of damaging my vehicle or another and I said yes. After all, that is why I called them. When I answered that question I was thinking about towing it forward or backward with my pickup truck, not having it dragged sideways by a tow truck with a winch. I’m not used to thinking in those terms. Why would I be? I didn’t know that could be done.

I was told there was nothing they could do if there was risk to my vehicle or another. The conversation ended. Flustered and frustrated, dead in the water so to speak, blocking traffic at the storage facility, in desperation I called an independent tow company. A tow truck was dispatched and about 10 minutes after it arrived my RV had been dragged sideways, without risk of damage to neighboring vehicles and I was able to move again. I was handed a bill for $281.

After thinking about it over the next few days it seemed to me Good Sam should have dispatched a tow truck and handled this on their dime. After all, wasn’t that what I was paying them for? I called them and asked if the kind of tow operation used to rescue my rig (something called a “winch out” I learned by reading the invoice) was covered under my policy. I was told yes, it was and that the agent I spoke with on the night of the problem didn’t ask enough questions to properly determine the correct course of action.

I was informed I could file a request for reimbursement online and I did. After doing so an email arrived  on Nov. 28 saying I would hear from Good Sam in 5 days. I didn’t.

On Dec. 23 I called Good Sam to follow up on the situation. I was told that a reimbursement check had been mailed on Dec. 4 and that it could take 3 weeks to arrive. 3 weeks? I asked. Why would it take 3 weeks. I was told it was sent 4th class mail. What? How much money could they save sending a letter to me with something less than 1st class postage? How much is a stamp nowadays? 50¢?

I’d never heard of 4th class mail so I decided to do a little checking. What I found is that there is such a thing for items over 8 ounces, but not for a letter. Was the agent with whom I spoke misinformed? Lying to me?

The check arrived a couple days after I spoke with the agent and it was postmarked Dec. 22, not Dec. 4, although it was dated Dec. 4. It was sent first class mail not 4th class as I had been told.

I was originally denied service to which I was entitled. Had I not had the wherewithal to look further into the situation I would have been stuck with a bill for $281. How many people I wonder are told by Good Sam they aren’t covered for something when they should be and wind up paying out of their own pockets for something they shouldn’t have to?

Next, I was promised a response in 5 days which I didn’t get. After that I was misinformed about when my check had been sent and the mail service used.

In my estimation, nothing about my experience with Good Sam in this instance except for the eventual reimbursement went right–Good Sam fumbled the ball at every possible opportunity. That’s my opinion anyway. What do you think? Is Good Sam a bad actor?


Coming soon, a report of my DIY installation of an AIMS 1000 Watt Pure Sine Wave Power Inverter.


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How to Get the Best Deal on a New Car or Truck Without Ever Talking to a Salesman, Part IV

Mr. BigAss B. Blizzard (don’t ask me what the B. stands for–I forgot), my 2017 Ford F350, 6.7 liter Powerstroke diesel, dual rear wheel, 4×4, pickup truck.
Part Four

In the first three parts of this article my energies were focused on providing readers with information about finding the best deal possible on a new vehicle, in particular when ordering one from the factory. Part One was on the basic principles. In Part Two I wrote about helpful web sites, collecting price information and going or not going to dealerships. Part Three addresses the right and wrong people to talk to–who to deal with and who will waste your time–and how to request a price bid. There are better and worse ways of doing these things and I gave voice to my thoughts about them.

Here in Part Four, the final installment of this article, I expand on my previous remarks about titles given to dealership personnel, I’ll have some things to say about the dealers with whom I interacted along the way, relating my experiences with each (negative and positive alike, mostly negative–surprise, surprise). I will also write about my final moments at the dealership where I made my purchase and how things almost fell apart, hoping that by doing so it will help equip you toward avoiding similar scenarios. For good measure I’ll toss in something counterintuitive about how financing may in some cases actually save you money, if handled properly. READ MORE…

 

How to Get the Best Deal on a New Car or Truck Without Ever Talking to a Salesman, Part III

Ford Fusion
Ford Fusion

Part Three

The Right & Wrong Way to Find the Right & Wrong People

When it came time to chase down the dealer at which I would get the best price for the truck I was going to buy I soon learned how not to go about contacting dealers. Most if not all dealerships have some sort of Contact Us page on their web sites where you fill out an email form, field by field, entering your name, email address, sometimes phone number and finally your message. Do not do this! If you do you will find yourself bombarded by absolutely idiotic, automated replies that completely ignore what you’ve written, mindless salespeople trying to sell you whatever they have on the lot, or somebody that will say anything they think you want to hear in order to get you to come to their dealership. If you give them your phone number you will get phone calls from dealers who will press you and press you again and again to come down to their dealership because they know people they can get through their doors represent their best chance at making a sale with the largest profits. If you fill out those forms you will also find yourself subscribed to promotional mailing lists where dealers send you advertisement after advertisement about things in which you have absolutely no interest–you are going to get SPAMMED. [READ MORE…]