Kitchen tools – we can’t live without them, but we can end up with a whole kitchen full of things that we can’t even remember using. I love a good kitchen tool or gadget, but I have a few rules they must follow:
1. They should be high-quality, made to last and work well.
2. They should do more than one job, or if they only do one job, they must do it significantly better than any other method.
3. They must be something I will use regularly, not just once or twice a year.
For the life of me, I cannot understand the need for standalone brownie machines, donut makers, or quesadilla machines. For example, I love homemade tortillas, and I know that a tortilla press makes forming the tortillas so much faster and easier. However, the chances of me making enough tortillas at home to justify the cost of a tortilla press, both in money and storage space, are minimal. But recently I became the owner of a single-purpose kitchen tool that I have fallen in culinary love with.
This little wonder is the ZOKU Quick-Pop Maker. Now, let’s be clear here: I don’t have any connections to the company that makes the ZOKU, I don’t get any benefits for telling you about this tool, and no one asked me to write a review. This is my own excitement bubbling out into the blogosphere. I just love popsicles. I fell in love with creative, unusual popsicles at the Charlottesville farmer’s market in Virginia, and at LocoPops in Durham, NC. But back to the ZOKU. If you’ve never seen one, the way they work is that they have a chamber that contains a special fluid, which makes the machine super cold (you store the unit in the freezer so that it is always ready). There are three popsicle mold slots. You put in a plastic, reusable stick, fill it up with your pop liquid, and in less than 10 minutes, hey presto, you have 3 beautiful popsicles. You can repeat the process several times before your ZOKU gets tired and needs to go into the freezer for a nap. I have six reasons I love this machine:
1. You don’t have to plan ahead. I already loved making popsicles before I got my ZOKU, But I needed to give myself at least 4 or 5 hours of lead time to let things freeze. I know that patience is a virtue, but sometimes you just need a popsicle, and you don’t have 5 hours to wait for it to freeze!
2. The ZOKU is an environmentally friendly way to treat your family to icy goodness. If you buy commercially made popsicles, you are creating paper, cardboard, plastic and wood trash, the box has all kinds of dyes, inks and chemicals in it that will end up in the environment, there are the shipping pollutants from moving those boxes of pops across the country, and there is the pollution produced by the factories they are made in, not to mention all the energy used in producing, transporting, and storing the pops. The ZOKU, however, uses reusable sticks and is cooled with the energy you are already using to run your freezer. Because you are not putting the pops in the freezer to set up, you are not taxing the freezer or drawing any extra energy. No trash, less energy and pollution…I’m all for that!
3. You have control over what goes into your pops. You can use whatever ingredients (within reason) that you like. You can control the amount and kinds of sweeteners, you can use organic or local produce, you can eliminate artificial colors and flavors, and you can experiment and try out new combinations, ones you would not be able to find in the freezer section of the grocery store.
4. You can make the most amazing things. With regular popsicle molds, you are limited by long freezing times. Layers, swirls, centers, add-ins are all either difficult or impossible. But with the ZOKU, you can easily use all of those techniques because of quick freeze times. I really enjoy the recipe book that the company published to showcase the abilities of the ZOKU.
5. Eventually, the ZOKU will save you money. While the unit is a little expensive (around $50), if you are a popsicle lover, you will break even fairly quickly. High end pops can cost 50 cents or more each if you buy them at the grocery store, or $2 or more if you buy them from a specialty store or stand. That can add up pretty quickly for a family of 4.
6. The ZOKU is made to last. I had seen my mom use hers last summer, and thought it was pretty neat, but I wasn’t ready to spend $50 on one. When I found a lower-end one on sale at Walmart for $15, I picked up and tried it out. It worked pretty well a time or two, though it was not quite as fast as the ZOKU. Then, when I went to get it out of the freezer one day, I noticed a huge crack and all of the fluid had leaked out. It had never been dropped or abused, it just cracked from the strain of living in the freezer. However, my mom has had her ZOKU in the freezer for 18 months, and not had a single problem with leaks.
Now, is this an essential kitchen tool? No, definitely not. If you don’t eat lots of popsicles, there is no reason to get a ZOKU. And you certainly can make tasty popsicles without one. But if you eat popsicles fairly often, especially in the summer (though there are some great fall and winter pops to try!), like to experiment and be creative, and are concerned about what’s going into your frozen treats, I would highly recommend a ZOKU unit. The 3-slot size that I have is great for families or for stocking up. If you’re single or a couple who doesn’t want to commit to 6 pops of one flavor, ZOKU now sells 1- and 2-slot versions at lower prices.
And now, to share with you one of my favorite pop recipes:
Avocado Lime Pops
Makes about 6 pops
3 ripe avocados
Juice from 3 limes
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
Pinch salt (really – this is critical to getting the right flavor)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
Mixing bowl, measuring cups, blender (immersion/stick or standard), popsicle molds (I used my ZOKU, but you could freeze these in regular molds)
Mash the avocados a little with a fork. Add the juices, water, sugar, and salt, and then blend until smooth. I used my immersion blender:
Pour your avocado mixture into the molds. If you are using regular pop molds, let them freeze for 3-4 hours, or until set.
If using the ZOKU or a similar unit, these will take about 8-9 minutes to freeze for the first batch, and about 10-11 for the second.
If you’re using the ZOKU unit, you’ll then use what they call the “super tool” to crank the pops out of the unit.
If you’re neater than me, yours will look a little better. I have a lot of skills in the kitchen, but neatness is not one of them.
If you’re not going to eat them right away, you can store them in a zip-top bag. ZOKU sells a fancy-dancy storage unit, but I don’t see the need for it.
Tell me what you think. What is your favorite kitchen tool? Do you have a favorite popsicle recipe? Please share with us!