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Are these kitchen gadgets worth your money?

  • Beacon Journal
  • Published Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, at 12:33 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, at 12:59 p.m.

Wondering about those hotly advertised kitchen gadgets? Thinking about purchasing them? Akron Beacon-Journal home writer Mary Beth Breckenridge, consumer writer Betty Lin-Fisher and I put them through their paces to see whether they’re worth your money and, most importantly, whether they work. Here are our findings:

Pop Chef

We’ve all seen those beautiful, professionally made fruit bouquets, either in person or in commercials. But if you’ve ever actually purchased one, you may have gotten sticker shock when you realized that they start at $35. The Pop Chef, for just $10.99, seems like the perfect solution to make the fruit bouquets yourself. It claims to “pop out treats in seconds!” Take that literally. We had melon cubes flying across the room at times with this one. The device is part syringe and part cookie cutter. The trick is getting the fruit pieces to pop out of the device the way they are supposed to. Sometimes they got stuck. Sometimes they popped out across the table. Much of its success depended on the ripeness of the fruit, as the shaped cutters aren’t all that sharp. Too unripe and the fruit got stuck in the cutter; too ripe and sometimes it would fall out. When we used it to make stacks of finger sandwiches, the process was tedious and didn’t work well. Mary Beth noted that regular cookie cutters would probably work just as well. “I like the cutters. I just don’t see the point of the pop,” she said. “It’s barrels of laughs when you launch a cantaloupe across the kitchen,” Betty said. Once we got the hang of it, Betty thought it was inexpensive fun. I think it’s cute, fun and inexpensive, but agree with Mary Beth that cookie cutters would do the job.

Verdicts:

Betty: Snap it up

Lisa: It depends

Mary Beth: Skip it

Precision Nuwave 2 Induction Cooktop

Unless you never watch television, it’s hard to imagine you haven’t seen at least a snippet of the infomercial selling the NuWave cooktop. We’ve tested products from NuWave before and found them to be of good quality. This cooktop is no different; it works fine. Like all induction cooktops, the NuWave relies on an electromagnet to heat iron or steel pans for cooking. Induction cooking is faster than traditional gas or electric burners, and as a result is more energy efficient. However, because it’s portable, it uses the same electricity as any countertop appliance. It comes with a warning that it should not be used by anyone with a pacemaker. All induction cooktops require compatible cookware. The NuWave we purchased came with a 9-inch skillet. The easiest test for determining whether cookware is compatible is to see if a magnet sticks to it. Unfortunately, this eliminates a lot of cookware that you may already have in your cupboard. There are other benefits – the cooktop stays cool, and it allows you to set the burner to a specific temperature, something you can’t do on a gas or electric stove. We cooked a steak in the skillet on the sear setting and it produced beautiful results. However, we cooked a steak in a pan over a gas burner in the same amount of time with similar results. While the NuWave worked fine, in the end, we all began to question its necessity when we already had cooktops in our homes. “It’s a hot plate,” Mary Beth observed. But at $99.99, it’s a pretty expensive hot plate, we agreed. We were all bothered by the added expense of having to purchase induction cookware to use with it, and Betty didn’t see the benefit over her stovetop at home. “I don’t see anything extra-special about it,” she said.

Verdicts:

Betty: It depends

Lisa: It depends

Mary Beth: It depends

Stone Wave Microwave Cooker

This cooker claims that its secret to producing gourmet meals in minutes is its “unique steam-release chimney and domed lid design.” Few gourmet meals have ever come out of a microwave, and we found that this cooker is no better than any others we’ve tried with steam vents on their lids. There are advantages. Every recipe is designed to cook on high power, which makes it easy to use without having to worry about specific power settings. However, its instructions never note which wattage microwave it works best with. Many of the included recipes fell short. An omelet came out with the eggs still liquid in the center, and when cooked for a longer time, it was rubbery. A recipe for a baked onion failed, with the onion not cooking through and the bouillon cube not dissolving the way it was promised. A chocolate souffle was spongy. “What you expect from a microwave,” Mary Beth noted. There were other issues, too. The box touts its “stay cool handle,” but the instructions warn that the handle can get hot. Mary Beth noted that some people have health concerns about microwaving in plastic containers, so this could be a good alternative for them. However, the product is made in China, which gives me concerns of my own about its safety. Betty doesn’t like food cooked in a microwave, which, she admits, influenced her opinion. With a $9.99 price tag, it’s cheap enough to try if you are looking for a single-serving microwave cooker. But it doesn’t perform any better than other microwave cookers do, and in some cases, it was worse.

Verdicts:

Betty: It depends

Lisa: Skip it

Mary Beth: It depends

EZ Pockets

This pair of non-stick, sectioned baking pans claim to produce “perfect, personal pies and pockets, every time!” We paid $19.99 for the set, which includes a plastic rolling crimper. We were all pleasantly surprised with how well they worked and how easily. You place pie dough, pizza dough or puff pastry dough in the pan, fill the pockets, cover with another layer of dough, and use the crimper to seal and cut the dough to form the pockets. Both pans have grooves, and while it can be tricky to get the crimper lined up over the grooves when they are covered with dough, once in the grooves, it worked fine. I thought the crimper could have been a little sharper, but it did the job. As is the case with many of these products, we found some of the recipes included were not to our liking, but that didn’t affect the performance of the pan. The pockets baked to a perfect golden brown and came out of the pan neatly and easily.

Verdicts:

Betty: Snap it up

Lisa: Snap it up

Mary Beth: Snap it up

Ice Cream Magic

It’s easy to see how a plastic cup shaped like a giant ice cream cone, with the promise of homemade ice cream in 3 minutes, will lure the kids. This personal ice cream maker is $9.99, with the claim that you “just shake it to make it!” As in a full-size ice cream maker, there is a place to put ice and salt, and another compartment for the cream, sugar and flavoring. Put the lid on and start shaking. Like any manual ice cream maker, it takes some work. After 3 minutes, the cream was frozen around edges but the center was still liquid. After another minute, it had reached milkshake stage, and after 5 minutes, it was about the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. Betty thought it was still too runny. The end result is about 3/8 of a cup of ice cream, which Mary Beth noted was a very small serving, even for a child. The parts were a bit tricky to clamp together, but otherwise the plastic was sturdy and worked fine. It uses table salt, rather than the rock salt needed in most ice cream freezers, which makes it convenient. In the end, we were divided over whether it was worth the price. Mary Beth felt it was inexpensive enough to be a fun diversion for kids, and it did produce ice cream in a matter of minutes. Betty thought it could make a fun stocking-stuffer. I could see kids using it once or twice and then it getting shoved to the back of the cupboard, never to be used again.

Verdicts:

Betty: It depends

Lisa: It depends

Mary Beth: Snap it up

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