WHEN IT comes to summer food, the more fun it is to make, the more fun it is to eat. The best ice cream ever just might be the stuff made by throwing around a ball -- yes, a plastic ball -- filled with cream, sugar and vanilla in one half and rock salt and ice in the other.
The best pizza is made -- surprise! -- on the grill. The best evenly browned 10 marshmallows -- what, you didn't know you needed 10 matching roasted marshmallows? You haven't seen the Marshmallow Tree.
That's the thing about silly summer cooking utensils. Practicality is the lesser of their raison d'être. Surely their inventors were just as focused on entertainment value.
Clever and quirky, the gadgets I tested, which also included a jalapeño roaster and a pizza pan and a wok for the grill, were just too tempting to resist.
And, as it turns out, they deliver surprisingly good results.
There are certainly easier ways to make pizza than by firing up the grill. But the new Sur La Table 14-inch stainless steel pizza pan is perforated, which lets the crust get crisp while the topping gets a wonderful smoky flavor. A thin-crust pie is delivered from fire to table in about 25 minutes.
Another offbeat new item is the Williams-Sonoma stainless steel jalapeño pepper roaster. I filled the 18 holes with colorful stuffed mini bell peppers. The roaster let the skins char nicely, creating a very appealing appetizer.
It sounds crazy to stir-fry on the grill in a wok filled with holes -- the marinade drips out into the fire. But what you lose morphs back as savory smoke, for a flavor you'll never get indoors. Cuisinart's backyard-friendly wok is a winner.
The Marshmallow Tree from Rome Industries looks like a work of wall art, a slender tree limb with 10 twigs on which you spear marshmallows. This tool requires adult supervision, because in the wrong little hands, this could become a weapon of mass destruction. That said, it's a delightfully goofy and effective way to perfectly roast a bunch of marshmallows at once.
The first time I tried the soccer ball-style "Mega Ball Play & Freeze Ice Cream Maker," I would have gotten better results if I had followed the directions, which clearly instruct you to mix up the ingredients in a separate container before putting them into the ice cream maker. This could explain the uneven freezing that followed.
On the second try, I played ball by the rules and was rewarded with lovely dollops of delicious, soft vanilla ice cream. After I scooped out servings, the sides of the container remained coated with a layer of solidly frozen sweet stuff. I'm not complaining. Scraping out the ice cream left behind was fun too.
Are there more practical ways to make pizza, stir-fry, peppers, s'mores and ice cream? Sure, but sometimes, offbeat is the way to go.