They will make your life so much easier.
You can get a healthy dinner on the table in half the time.
Those are some of the promises made by "As Seen on TV" kitchen products, often enticing enough to consider calling the flashing phone number on the spot. No need, though — many of the gadgets are also available at local supermarkets and superstores. We purchased 15 food- or kitchen-related devices and asked members of our Taster's Choice food panel to try them out. Some really are nifty. But for the most part, our testers were disappointed. Here's what they had to say.
$9.98 at Walmart
Turning vegetables into spaghetti is the idea behind the Veggetti. The handheld slicer can cut veggies like squash or zucchini into thin or thick slices that look like twirly strings of pasta. We used a large cucumber to test the utensil. Judges liked this slicer and a couple said they definitely would buy one.
"This is a splendid way to eat more healthy," said one judge. She would even buy a larger size of this device, which is also available at some stores.
"It's very simple to use and you are unlikely to cut yourself," said another tester. "I like that there are two settings for thickness."
$19.99 at Walmart
Judges were disappointed in the amount of labor these shelves used to house spices required. For starters, they needed to be installed inside a kitchen cabinet. For that reason, we didn't finish the assembly.
"It's way too complicated," said one panelist. "The packaging isn't clear that you have to attach it to the inside of your cupboard."
"There are 42 pieces to assemble," said another tester. "I don't even have 42 spices at home."
He went on to say: "Any product that has an online video to help you with assembly is suspect. The directions also caution this should only be used under adult supervision. Huh?"
Perfect Loaf Pan
$14.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond
We tried a couple of the Copper Chef pans, and the loaf pan was pretty nice. None of them needed much fat like butter or cooking spray added to the pan during cooking, yet the foods still came out easily. The packaging shows a picture of a meatloaf, so we tried it out with our favorite meatloaf recipe. The loaf pan was very easy to use and the meatloaf cooked to perfection. The problem came after it was removed from the oven.
"It would be much better if it had taller tabs on the bottom so the meatloaf didn't rest too close to the bottom of the pan," said one panelist. While the pan had an insert, the only height was from some perforations in the bottom. "Without more height, the meatloaf is dripping when you remove it and it sits in its fat too long during the cooking process," said the same tester. Judges acknowledged this would also happen in a regular loaf pan. "But if you are going to buy a special one, you would want that problem resolved," said a judge who suggested she might bake banana bread in the pan instead of meat.e_SClBGotham Knives
$14 at Walmart
The Gotham Knives came in a two-pack with a 7-inch Santoku knife and a 4-inch chef's knife. The larger knife is designed for slicing, dicing and mincing. The smaller knife was for general chef needs, which our testers concluded also could be for slicing, dicing and mincing. Both knives were very sharp and had a nice grip handle. Our judges did not like the smaller knife. "Simply, it doesn't cut well," said one. But the larger knife felt comfortable in their hands and sliced with precision. "I love this," said one panelist. Judges said the larger knife would be especially good for slicing fish or meats as well as vegetables. "I wouldn't mind having this in my kitchen," said a judge who would buy the product. All of the testers questioned the ability to resharpen the knives once they become dull. "I prefer a carbon steel blade that I know I can sharpen," said one who was skeptical of the longevity of the Gotham Knives.
Brownie Copper Pan
by Gotham Steel
$10 at Walmart
Promotions for this pan show perfectly cooked and portioned brownies that can be easily removed from the pan after cooling. It's more akin to a muffin pan, with compartments for each individual brownie. The manufacturer boasts "perfect crispy edges" for each brownie. We baked a pan of fudge brownies according to package directions. The edges were crispy for sure — a bit too crusty for some of our judges. What they really liked were the evenly sized brownies.
"This produces perfectly scored brownies without having to cut them," said one fan of the pan. "And it's very easy to clean." All of the "copper" pan products required a simple swipe of a damp cloth to clean, although all of the ones we tested are advertised to be dishwasher safe.
What judges didn't like with this pan was the brownie batter that slipped underneath the divider during cooking.
"That was a waste of batter and made it hard to get all of the brownies out intact," said one judge. "It might be good for other recipes like bar cookies that have a thicker texture and wouldn't seep through the bottom."
Tornado Can Opener
$18.99 at Publix
Our judges advise that shoppers skip this gadget and buy a regular can opener.
"This is hilariously ineffective," said one tester. "It's hard to figure out and it works so slowly. It has to go around a can before it takes the lid off, and it takes off the lid from under the rim."
Advertised as "faster and easier" than a handheld or electric can opener, the Tornado was neither in our test.
Asked if they would buy this, all of the judges said: "No way!"e_SClBPotato Express
$5.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond
For cooks who prepare a lot of baked potatoes, the idea of Potato Express seemed appealing. This product is a pouch large enough to cook up to four potatoes in the microwave, each "in four minutes." It is washable and reusable. Admittedly, our judges did like the potatoes prepared in the pouch.
"You know, I think this does actually produce a potato that is much fluffier and more akin to a 'baked' potato," said one judge who really liked the texture of the cooked potatoes.
A couple of other judges also said they would consider buying the pouch. "I like the color and the little hook on the top, which would make it easy to store," said one. It also can be used for corn on the cob and tortillas, and to revive day-old bread.
Panelists who would not buy the product said it was because it takes too long to cook the potatoes. (The four minutes is for one potato.)
"I can cook these without the pouch in less time," said one tester.
$14.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond
This gizmo required a lot of assembly that took some of our panelists more than a couple of tries. The package included a garlic peeler that, while it required a good amount of pressure to roll, did make it easy to peel the garlic gloves.
"I like the peeler, but the cutter takes a lot of intensity and the garlic pieces are too large," said one judge. "It's just an overly complicated design."
"If 10 foodies can't figure out how to use it — it might just not be worth it," added another.
Our judges will stick to their sharp knives and cutting boards to mince their garlic.
$9.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond
We bought these reusable bags by Debbie Meyer about four days before we tested all the products. We stored some fresh, unwashed Plant City strawberries in one of the bags for several days in the refrigerator alongside a small bowl of the same berries. Both were still fresh, although the berries in the green bag did seem to hold up a little better.
"They are plump, red and they smell fresh," said one tester. "I'd say they work."
We bought a pack of 20 bags and probably would use them once, although the packaging does say each bag can be reused. We weren't sure how much we would like cleaning the bags to reuse them.e_SClBChef Tony's
Pasta N More
$9.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond
It took longer to use this contraption in the microwave than it does to boil a pot of water on the stove. For that reason, our judges agreed they would not buy this product.
We prepared two servings of pasta according to package directions. In fact, the device has pasta-measuring portals on both sides to make sure servings are precise. The directions said to cover the pasta with water and cook it in the microwave for 18 to 20 minutes. When it was done, we slipped on the strainer lid and poured out the remaining water. In our case, the pasta was very gummy. Apparently, the cooker is useful for preparing corn on the cob, poaching eggs or steaming fish and vegetables, although we did not try those options.
"This is easy to use but there are too many parts," said one judge. "It's bulky, and 18 minutes is a very long time for cooking in the microwave. I think it would be easier to use a pot."
Another said: "It was good for a laugh."
I won't be surprised if this turns up in December at the Taster's Choice pink elephant gift exchange.
$9.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond
We liked the coverage of the Tuff Glove and the true protection it gave us when removing our hot meatloaf and brownies from the oven. Only problem was, when we had the gloves on, we couldn't open the oven. They were too bulky to allow us to wrap our hands around the oven door handle.
"It's much too thick and cumbersome," said one tester. "I would drop things out of the oven."
Another said: "I'm not sure one size really fits all, but this would be perfect when I am frying corn tortillas for tacos — I'd definitely be safe from the hot grease splatter."
A couple of judges said they would buy these, although regular pot holders might be easier since they wouldn't need to be removed and put back on every time the oven door is opened.
$19.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond
Eggs cooked swiftly in this pan, and cleanup was a breeze. Judges liked the reliability of the pan and appreciated that they could prepare foods without adding fat to the pan. The eggs we fried did have kind of ruffly edges that looked like lace. We figured that was a by-product of not using added fats. A couple of testers said the pan also would be good for a small stir-fry dinner.
Only one judge said she would not buy the product, "Because I really like my foods flavored with butter." e_SClBGotham Steel
Titanium and Ceramic Nonstick 11-inch XL Deep Square Pan
$40 at Walmart
Gotham Steel says this pan is made of "high-grade titanium and ceramic" finishing, giving it a "high-heat threshold" for searing foods like steaks. The four-piece set included the deep pan, the lid, a deep fryer basket and a steamer tray. We steamed some broccoli and the pan performed perfectly. The florets were crisp and bright green. We sent the pan home with a panelist who was convinced it would be perfect for frying doughnuts. Judges liked the pan for its versatility. It can go from the stove to the oven. All of them said they would consider buying the pan.
$19.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond
Marketed as a robotic opener that twists off any hard-to-open jar lid, this seemed like a good idea. It wasn't quite as easy at it looked. The product had to be sized to fit the jar we were opening, and then it slowly clamped to the jar and twisted it open while making a whirring sound. One of the complications was the design: The battery cover kept falling off. It also was a bit bulky.
"Here's a case where applied technology isn't needed," said one tester. "I think I would rather just bang on the lid with a knife instead." He added, "Where do you store something like this? It's as big as a yam."
While opening jars can be a challenge for those of us beginning to lose some of the strength in our hands, it might be easier to bang the lids on the counter or floor to release the pressure. After the test, I gave the RoboTwist as a gag gift to a friend who broke his wrist that same day.
$14.99 at CVS
Clever was the perfect name for this product. All of our testers enjoyed taking turns slicing veggies over a bowl with this device. It's easy to handle, lightweight and fun to use.
"It's really easy to use and it would be hard to hurt yourself with this," said one panelist. "Kids could easily cut stuff up for a salad with this."
Besides needing a little more space than a regular knife for storage, this was a winner.
Panelists: Julie Henderson, catering coordinator at Cafe Ponte restaurant in Clearwater; Mary Jane Park, retired executive director of the St. Petersburg Warehouse Arts District Association; Jeff Jensen, public information officer for the city of Treasure Island; Elaine Cloud Goller, writer, director, performer and Realtor; Nan Jensen, registered dietitian; Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of Studio@620; John Hehn, foodie and owner of All Brite Lighting & Power Design Inc.; Laura Reiley, Times food critic; and Kay Hodnett, personal chef.