In 2005, a family owned business headed by inventor Larry Mackiewicz started to sell a tabletop cooling device called the CoolCover. The problem it solved was straightforward: how do you serve foods that should be chilled? The traditional answer to that problem is often unattractive and messy. Fill a large tub with crushed ice and place the chilled food in the ice. For foods that need to be kept below 40°F, the ice method is still the best around, but for foods that only need to be served chilled or kept lower than the ambient temperature, the CoolCover is certainly one of the better solutions. [IMG]
The CoolCover is simple in design, but well thought out. Essentially, it's just a lid that covers food and holds an ice pack. The lid is made out of a strong, clear plastic (GE Lexan polycarbonate) with two handles. The handles are placed in such a manner so that the lid can be tilted by lifting the front handle (pivoting on the back edge of the lid) with the second handle acting as a stable stand. This allows the CoolCover to be opened (and stay open) while someone is helping themselves to caviar hors d'oeuvres or proscuitto e melone. The clear plastic serves as an attractive viewing window to whatever food is being kept cool (and clean) under the cover. There is also a frosted area of the cover which can be written on with a washable marker to label the food. I suspect it's actually frosted to make it harder to see the CoolPack clipped to the underside of the cover. In any case, the frosted area does work to make the lid attractive. In fact, you don't really notice the CoolPack is there at all. [IMG]
The CoolPack is a liquid filled (actually a food-safe CMC, carboxymethylcellulose, based gel) plastic (polyethylene) container that needs to be frozen prior to use (if you intend for the CoolCover to keep your food cool). Obviously, the CoolCover can be used without the CoolPack if the intention is to simply keep dust, insects, or falling leaves out of the food being served (especially useful at a backyard party). Once the CoolPack is fully frozen, it is snapped into place on the underside of the lid. For me, it was a bit more difficult to snap in than I expected - the support bar needed to be flexed quite a bit before I could get the pack in, but once in it held very snuggly. Having used the device many times, I now realize that the CoolCover is very sturdy, and I just pop the CoolPack in without worrying about snapping off some plastic. One CoolPack lasts about four hours for me. It's actually still cold after four hours and stays cold for another couple hours, but doesn't seem to effectively keep food as cool as I would have liked after four hours. Additional CoolPacks can be purchased (for $5 as of September 2006) which can be swapped in after the first pack has warmed up. I did not have multiple CoolPacks to test. [IMG]
I used the CoolCover in a variety of ways in my testing. Mainly I used it to keep cool foods cool. Appetizers, dips, and desserts were kept cool much longer than if they had been standing out in the open. As expected, if you place something relatively large, dense, and cold under the CoolCover, it lasts a much longer time than a few small items. For example, the tiramisu pictured kept cold for more than four hours while being served in an office environment. We're not sure how long it could have lasted, because Tina's coworkers had consumed all of the tiramisu before the CoolPack had warmed up.
Because the CoolCover only reduces the temperature of the air under the lid, it's not efficient at cooling items placed under it. Items that need to be kept cold should be thoroughly refrigerated first before being placed under the CoolCover. The CoolCover then provides an environment about 10 F&176; lower than the ambient temperature. Not lifting the lid can allow the temperature to drop even further, but not by much. This means the temperature is not really low enough to chill anything, but it does lengthen the amount of time it takes for an object to warm up. To help matters, an insulating pad is supplied with the CoolCover that helps reduce thermal conduction through the surface (like the table or counter) the food is placed on.
I also used the CoolCover as just a clear cover (without the CoolPack). It was an attractive way to store and present pastries as well as pies. The cover is actually quite nice when serving semi-sticky foods (like Rice Krispies Treats) in a dusty or breezy environment (like a flowering garden). When used outdoors, you don't want to put it under direct sunlight or it becomes a GreenhouseCover. It might be interesting to see how people make use of the heat trapping properties, but I didn't play around with that aspect.
My only real complaint about the CoolCover is one that can't be solved by the designers. I don't have a place to store it. The CoolCover is around 16-in. by 12-in. and is almost 6-in. tall. This is a great size for serving food, but when I'm not using it I didn't know what to do with it. The top surface is not completely flat, so I can't easily stack other things on top of it while it is in storage.
If you like serving food buffet-style outdoors, this is definitely a device you'll want to look at buying. Imagine how your guests will react when they help themselves with hot food from a chafing dish and cold food from under the CoolCover! The cover is also really useful if you like to keep your food covered and away from settling dust. (A place to put prepared snacks for your kids where they can see it, perhaps?) It's currently available through order on their website at http://www.coolcover.us and as of September 2006 is $35 for the CoolCover, CoolPack, and foam pad. Not a bad price considering how much transparent buffet covers cost.
Posted: Sun Oct 01, 2006 3:59 pm Post subject: Cooler
Here's another option: Put on any cover that will go over the food--bowl, pan etc. Then get a frozen pac, wrap it in something to catch drips, and stick it under the cover with the food. I've done that often.
Instead of buying an ice pack or some fancy [and expensive] cold box just use a cake cover and a spare kitchen tile...
Freeze the tile 20 min before use. When serving, hide it under the food tray. Lasts about as long as a small cold pack (bit more if stacked). Tiles don't take up much room in a freezer and they won't leave a pool of water on the table like a cold pack will.