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Cooking Gadgets for Burger Week!

It’s Burger week at Captivate.com – and in honor of the perennial summer BBQ season, I am offering you all a look into a different kind of gadget today – cooking gadgets!

My mom loves buying me these infomercial products – you know, the ones overly enthusiastic blondes hawk on cable channels when regular programming is off the air, and are packed onto the ‘As Seen on TV’ shelves in Kohl’s?

They’re revolutionary achievements in making our lives simpler, cleaner and lazier – but do they really work? Before you dial in an order (along with whatever free offer is being pitched to sweeten the deal) read on for my own experiences.

The Perfect Brownie Pan
“You cut, rip and tear – but your brownies never turn out square! And when they’re stuck, you’re totally out of luck! Need a hand? Now there's the perfect brownie pan!”

Really? I’ve never had a problem with my baked treats looking like slasher-movie rejects. Alas, mom wanted me to have the best brownies at my kids’ bake sales (assuming I’d ever participate in one), so I now own the whole set – including the ‘buy now’ sugar stencils still in their packaging.

Does the Perfect Brownie work? Sure, if you douse the entire apparatus with cooking spray before you even think about pouring in that ooey, gooey batter. I happen to love when my brownies are under-done and wet in the middle, but you can’t really accomplish this with the Perfect Brownie. Each little portion (and by little I mean embarrassingly small – that’s really the size of a brownie portion? Because if so, I’ve been eating, like, 4 servings every time I made them the ‘old’ way) is chewy and a tad on the dry side. But, even a bad brownie tastes kinda good.

You have to give the divider a helping finger when you remove the squares – if you don’t mind wrestling a bit (isn’t that what we are trying to avoid?), the disengagement is not an issue…

... Unless the Perfect Brownie fails, because that is a sad, sad, epic fail I’ve lamented on Facebook more than once. Brownie holes weren’t really on the menu that night, and we all learned a valuable lesson re: cooking spray.

Bottom line, though: The kids liked the brownies – my children, I mean, not bake-sale customers. The teensy (tiny) little squares were cute, easy to decorate with M&Ms and fit perfectly in lunch bags. And, throw two or three down as a base for some ice cream and hot fudge, and you almost forget the portion size and dryness.

Perfect Pasta Pot
“Do you love pasta, but hate that splashing, scalding mess? Pour out the liquid right through the lid – it’s a built-in colander with a non-stick surface!”

We’ve all had a pasta facial – and dread those few times we have to take the mondo pot over to the sink to drain. Does that mean we need a special pot/colander combo, though? Eh. Not really.

Metal, you see, conducts heat. It’s why you can boil water and cook pasta in metal pots so splendidly. So, it stands to reason that when you pour the scalding hot water out of a cover where you have to, in some supportive way at least, hold the lid on, your fingers are going to get scalded. And, moving the necessary colander up to the pot lid instead of the sink only moves your face closer for the facial.

Spoken from experience, locking lids will only get you so far. You tilt that big, heavy, burning hot pot in the wrong direction, the whole thing – pasta included – pours right out into the sink and splashes. And that’ll just ruin your dinner and your mood. Trust me – I’ve had it happen.

Then again, when did draining spaghetti/steamed veggies become such a cumbersome job, anyway, and why do the people on the infomercial have such a problem with it? If you can’t boil water and make pasta … well, then I’m not really sure you should be in the kitchen to begin with. You’re a 911 call waiting to happen.

The Magic Bullet
“What can you do in 10 seconds? You can start chopping onion for an omelet … Or you can chop onions, eggs, ham and peppers – even grate cheese! – at the same time for the fastest, easiest omelet ever with the Magic Bullet: the personal, versatile countertop magician!”

I’ll cop to it: I actually asked for this one. I mean, watch that commercial and tell me you don’t want a Magic Bullet! I love all those foods, and to have them made so quickly and with a high-powered, easy-to-clean, space-aged blender? Awesome!

Well, sort-of. My Magic Bullet only ever really worked for making homemade marinara sauce from my own recipe. Necessity breeds genius, and one night we were out of jarred pasta sauce, so I took a can of diced tomatoes, added in some dried spices and minced garlic to the Magic Bullet’s screw-on container and pulsed that baby for 30 seconds. The resulting sauce was tasty, simple and heated in the microwave in the same container in about a minute.

Here’s the thing, though (there’s always a thing): Those tomatoes were squishy. And the garlic was minced. And the spices were little. It only took 30 seconds because everything was already pretty malleable.

Days after delighting in my Magic Bullet, I decided to make homemade salsa from the fresh-from-the-organic-farm produce I’d just bought. I put in chunks of hot and green peppers, spices, onions and cherry tomatoes – just like in the commercial! – and hummed happily the whole time. You see where I’m going with this?

The vegetables were too crisp for the Magic Bullet to handle. The bottom-most parts were ground into mush, while the top parts barely moved in the blender. I ended up salvaging what salsa ingredients I could and hand-chopping the rest, which totally ended my love affair. I tried making an ice-based smoothie and ended up with something so chunky and gross I couldn’t sip it – I had to crunch it with a spoon.

To this day, my Magic Bullet sits on a cupboard under my counter. And, I make sure to have jarred pasta sauce on hand at all times.

Pancake Puffs Pan
“Perk up mealtime or snack time by making healthy, delicious new foods with the Pancake Puff pan.”

I swear these infomercials must hire the most daintily-handed actors on the planet to handle their food. These portions are so small! But, regardless, let me just say that, of all the products I’ve featured (and own) here, this pan is the best.

Genuinely, the Pancake Puffs Pan is simple to use and makes the most adorable (tiny) little balls of goodness you’ve ever seen outside a restaurant or that perfect soccer mom down the street’s kitchen. You know the one -- with her assymetrical bob and pressed khakis.

Based off the tried-and-true Nordic recipe and cast-iron design (but not made of cast iron), Pancake Puffs are hard to mess up. The caveat: The bottom of the pan isn’t flat – it’s shaped like inverted circles (of course), so the pan will not heat properly depending on your stovetop. I’m not sure why or what the parameters are, but my mom can’t use one in her electric flat-top, but my sister’s electric coil stove is fine. Speaking of my sister and her Pancake Puffs Pan: She made apple-filled pancakes that her boyfriend said were the best things he’s ever eaten.

OK, so I’m being a wee dramatic singing praises, but with so many tried-and-failed attempts at finding the golden infomercial product, spare me a little excitement!

One thing that will knock your socks clean across the room is my recipe for pepperoni balls. These are a throw-back to the treat we used to get at Grandma’s Bingo hall, and OMG are they delicious: Use the typical bread/roll recipe, but fold in a piece of pepperoni and a sprinkle of cheese right into the center before you flip them. When you’re done, the little pocket inside will be oozing with the most delicious (not healthy) filling you’ve ever tasted.

We've got a ton more offerings on Captivate.com for Burger Week -- be sure to check them out:

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“Cooking Gadgets for Burger Week!”