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Clever little--well, OK, big slow cooker. (Updated)
on December 5, 2013
This just arrived yesterday and today was only my first use. From what I can tell it does what it is supposed to do, though the instructions might not be completely clear.
"Best you know this" announces the back page of the included booklet, and the "Times" chart suggests that rice and grains need five minutes on the stove and at least 45 minutes in the bag. It would be clearer to understand that it means five minutes on the stove *after* bringing the rice to a boil. Expect at least 10 minutes, possibly more for larger quantities.
I brought a pot of short grain rice to a boil, then simmered for 5 minutes to be sure that the rice was heated through. I opened up the Wonderbag, put a dish towel in the bottom (since the rice had boiled over a bit) and put the pot on top of the towel. Then I covered the pot with another towel, put the Wonderbag lid on the pot, and closed up the bag. I set the timer for an hour.
After an hour I opened the bag (and got a blast of steam) and checked the temperature of the rice. It was over 182°F, definitely hot enough to cook a grain. The rice was cooked perfectly.
The exterior of the bag was cool to the touch, and the countertop under the bag was cool. The interior was very hot, which tells me that the bag insulation is doing a great job of retaining the heat.
Since my pots have long handles, I picked up two pots with short handles and tight fitting lids to use in this bag. A 2 quart pot and a tall 8 quart pot both fit in the bag (individually--not at the same time,) and it's easy to arrange the bag to fit around either pot.
With all this insulation the bag is LARGE. It's going to take up a lot of space when not in use. I'll probably air it out and store it in a garbage bag in a closet somewhere. There's no room in my kitchen for something this large.
There's also no way to wash the bag. You can spot clean it if something spills, but you can't toss the bag into the wash. Wrapping the pot up in clean dish towels is a very good idea.
The Wonderbag is big and bulky and takes up a lot of space, and it's difficult to clean. But it does what it is supposed to do. It saves energy and it's going to keep my kitchen cool in the summer. In a hot place that last reason is good enough for me.
02/04/2014 update: It turns out that storage hasn't been a problem. I never store this bag. It gets used almost daily, and when I'm done with it I drape it over a bar stool to air out. I've even left it there when friends visit--no one sits on the bar stools anyway, and it creates instant conversation.
I've made lots of different things with this bag, but my favorite is rice. With a pot on the stove or even a rice cooker, there's always an overcooked layer of rice stuck to the bottom. Not with the Wonderbag. I'm still amazed when I open the lid and the entire pot of rice is perfect. I cook rice in the bag for an hour, but I've left a pot of rice in the bag for nearly two hours once, and it was still very hot and not overcooked.
Two days ago I started some dried kidney beans just before bed. I boiled them for half an hour before putting them into the bag for exactly twelve hours. They were just slightly firm, so they could have cooked a little more, but even after 12 hours they were warm enough to serve. I'll probably soak the beans next time. (Thanks to David Garcia for reminding me to point out that kidney beans must be boiled for several minutes!)
I've got my share of impulse buys and kitchen gadgets that seemed like a great idea at the time and that never get used. This bag isn't one of those. It saves me money, since the stove and oven aren't on for hours; it's easy, because no stirring or attention are required at all; and it does a great job of cooking food for hours. It keeps food hot enough for long enough that I'm not worried about food safety. It's such a simple thing and a really great idea. Since my concern about storage has turned out to not be a problem, I guess I should upgrade my review to five stars.
10/25/2014 update: Some suggestions have been made in the comments. Here are a few:
yakoanders has washed the Wonderbag, but puts a dishtowel under the pot to keep the bag clean (comments page 1)
Someone suggested Scotchgard, but 3M said no, don't use it on the Wonderbag (comments page 1)
I pointed out that if you're going to buy this bag (or any other item) from Amazon, you can go to http://smile.amazon.com/ and have part of your purchase price donated to the charity of your choice (comments page 5)
HeartofAvalon has instructions for making yogurt (comments page 6)
I also loved Jeri P. Cary's answer to a question about storage space:
My storage solution might not work for everyone, but I just put it on the couch. It looks like a stylish round pillow. :-)
6/17/2015 update: Someone just reminded me of another advantage. I live in an area that has frequent power outages. Most of the time it's for a second or two, just enough to make all the clocks blink. Sometimes they last for hours.
I used to get home and wonder about the food in the crock pot. How long was it sitting on the counter without power? Is it fully cooked? Has it spoiled? I've tossed a few meals because it wasn't worth the risk.
Because the Wonderbag is just an insulated bag, this isn't a problem. The temperature when I open the bag is the coolest it's been all day. And if the power is still off when I get home, dinner is ready anyway. This probably isn't a problem for a lot of people, but here, especially in the summer, it's a regular thing.