Whether you love to cook or dread it, everyone can use some help around the kitchen.
Consumer reporter Betty Lin-Fisher and home writer Mary Beth Breckenridge tested products that promise to ease the tasks of shopping for and preparing food.
YOSHI GRILL & BAKE MATS
Anyone who grills has probably lost a pepper slice or a hot dog through the openings in the grate. Yoshi Grill & Bake Mats, which cost us $9.99 for two, are supposed to solve that problem while still giving you browned surfaces and grill marks.
We tried them out on Betty’s grill, which was larger than a single mat. We used only one for our test, but her grill surface would have fit both of the mats that came in the package.
The salmon we grilled turned out beautifully, with those signature stripes from the grill grate. Chicken cooked well, but without grill marks — probably because we got overeager and turned it too early.
We also grilled some sliced summer squash, which browned well.
Mary Beth liked the way the mat kept small pieces from falling through the grate. Betty, however, was less enthusiastic. She prefers her food cooked directly on the grill and didn’t see the value of the mats, other than using them on a public grill to keep your food clean.
The mats are dishwasher-safe, but they came out of the dishwasher with some residue that Betty had to scrub off in the sink. And they seemed too flimsy to hold up well to repeated use.
Betty: It Depends.
Mary Beth: It Depends.
Peeling hard-cooked eggs is a pain. But the Eggstractor, we discovered, is an even bigger one.
The $14.99 gadget takes advantage of the space that naturally forms inside an egg, between the egg white and the shell. It forces air into that space, separating the shell from the egg.
It does that, to an extent. But try as we might, we couldn’t get the gadget to do the job completely.
The Eggstractor works like this: You poke a hole in the pointed end of an egg, create some cracks in the other end, place the egg in a stand with the pointed end down and position a plastic baffle over it. When you push down on the baffle, air is forced into the egg through the cracks, blowing off the shell and pushing the peeled egg through an opening in the stand.
It sounds easy enough in theory. Practice is another matter.
The Eggstractor’s steep learning curve had us frustrated right from the start. We kept refining our techniques for poking and cracking the eggs and pushing on the baffle, which was a little like doing CPR and required a surprising amount of force. But still the eggs turned out looking ragged, usually with the shell still attached to one end and sometimes with the egg white broken.
Betty’s teen daughter, Becca, watched the fiasco unfold. “Why are there so many user errors?” she scoffed.
We even thought the problem might be the way we cooked the eggs the first time, so we cooked up another dozen using the instructions that came with the Eggstractor. It didn’t make any difference.
Most times the eggs would turn out about three-fourths peeled, with the shell still attached to the wide end. Sometimes the Eggstractor broke the egg, making it unusable for deviled eggs or any other use where appearance mattered.
And it didn’t take long for our arms to get tired from pushing on the baffle.
Mary Beth noted it wasn’t difficult to remove that small amount of shell, but Betty wisely countered that you shouldn’t have to do that.
Betty had the best idea.
“Just peel the egg,” she said.
Betty: Skip It.
Mary Beth: Skip It.
The Grab Bag is a reusable grocery bag that clips to the inside of a grocery cart, so you can put your groceries right into the bag.
Which immediately raised a question in our minds: What’s the point?
We couldn’t see why you’d want to bag your groceries while you shopped, only to have to take them out again to pay for them. But maybe we misunderstood the intent of the bag. Maybe it’s only supposed to be used after checkout.
We tried out a couple of Grab Bags (they came in a packages of two for $14.99) during a shopping trip to an Acme Fresh Market. Right away, Betty noticed we had to keep rearranging the items in the bags as we shopped so the heavy items we added wouldn’t squash the lighter ones. And, of course, we had to take the groceries out to put them on the conveyor belt at the checkout stand.
Still, we can see the benefit of using these bags at a store that doesn’t bag your groceries for you. Clipping a bag to the cart holds it open, making it easier to put your groceries in.
The bags might also be useful for people who have trouble reaching the bottom of a shopping cart. It’s easier to lift a bag of items out of the cart and put it onto the belt than to fish around for things in the bottom of a cart.
After we did our testing, Betty saw a man with a cane sitting outside a store with Grab Bags full of groceries in his cart, waiting for a ride. So the bags must have worked for him.
The bags are roomy, but that can be a drawback. When they’re loaded with items such as canned goods, they get pretty heavy.
Betty: It Depends.
Mary Beth: It Depends.
This $4.99 product is a plastic base that lets you slide a small appliance forward up to 9 inches without picking it up — for instance, sliding your countertop coffee maker out from under a cabinet to prepare a pot of java, and then sliding it back into place.
It comes in two pieces, which were easy to put together. Ours came with a small chip broken off the underside, but that didn’t affect the function.
We tried it out with Betty’s heavy KitchenAid mixer and found it slid easily. But we couldn’t see the point of using a Handy Caddy for a lightweight appliance like a blender or coffee maker, as the package suggests.
We’re also not convinced the plastic caddy is sturdy enough to hold up to daily wear and tear, but it worked well for a mixer that gets only occasional use. “And for 5 bucks, it was a bargain,” Betty noted.
One thing to note: The caddy is 1 inch tall, so if you put a taller appliance on it, the appliance might not fit under your cabinet anymore.
Betty: Snap It Up.
Mary Beth: Snap It Up.
ZOKU ICE CREAM MAKER
Maybe it was warm the day we shopped for items to try out for Does It Work? Maybe we hadn’t had lunch yet. But for some reason, testing a single-serving ice cream maker seemed like a good idea.
The Zoku is simply a bowl that stays cold long enough to turn a few ingredients into ice cream or sorbet as you stir them. The stainless steel bowl has a liquid within its walls that gets cold when you pre-chill it in the freezer and then stays cold for quite a while after you take it out to make your ice cream.
The bowl has an insulated sleeve, so you don’t have to hold a freezing-cold bowl while you work.
We tried out the Zoku with two of the recipes that came with it, one for lemon sorbet and the other for vanilla ice cream. While both were delicious and lived up to the product’s claim to produce a frozen treat in as little as 10 minutes, we discovered 10 minutes is a long time to stir one rather skimpy bowl of dessert.
“We’re really supposed to do this for 10 minutes?” Betty said after about 6 1/2 minutes of stirring. “My arm is tired.”
With both recipes, we made two single-serving batches, one after another, without refreezing the bowl in between. In both cases, the first batch froze to a soft-serve or slushy consistency in less than 10 minutes, but the second batch took longer. Putting the soft desserts into the freezer for about 15 minutes, as the instructions suggested, firmed them up nicely.
The Zoku produces one 5-ounce serving at a time, which is a little more than a half-cup — not an especially generous scoop, although the ice cream we made was rich. Each recipe makes enough for six servings, but the bowl doesn’t stay cold long enough to use it six times in a row without refreezing it. Betty stored the leftover mixtures and made more of the sorbet, but she ended up throwing away the extra ice cream mixture.
Bottom line: The Zoku is a lot of work for a little bit of ice cream. For the $25.99 we spent on it, we could have bought a whole lot of ice cream and saved ourselves some effort and waste.
Betty: Skip It.
Mary Beth: Skip It.