Ice Cream, Thrice Tested

ice cream thrice testedTest three different methods for making ice cream? Yes please! When our kid tester pitched this idea to me, it didn’t take much convincing. After a little research, we decided to test the Young Chef Ice Cream Maker by Five Stars (retails for $20-$40), the Camper’s Dream Ice Cream Maker by UCO Industrial Revolution (retails for $25) and the Plastic Bags Method (2 plastic baggies! Woot!). Let the battle of the ice cream makers commence, Hope!

young chefHi everyone! First up is the Young Chef Ice Cream Maker by Five Stars. The ice cream maker came in separate pieces, which Dr. Dana hand washed and assembled at home. The set also contained 4 little plastic cups, 1 orange plastic serving spoon, 4 blue plastic “eating” spoons, 2 small containers with holes in the tops (for sprinkles, alas, none were provided in the kit! ☹), and directions in English, German, Spanish, Dutch, French, and Italian.

The machine consisted of a white, high-sided “bowl.” Suspended above the bowl was a resealable metal cylinder that sat on pegs. A blue plastic handle connected to one side of the cylinder. When you turned the handle, the metal cylinder spun on the pegs. There was also an orange plastic “scraper” that you could raise or lower to scrape your ice cream as it solidified on the cylinder.

young chef ice cream partsWe got started on the recipe. The directions were pretty hilariously translated from German. For instance, at the beginning of the directions it said: “Before starting, you have to read the instructions, which inform you about how to assemble your ice cream machine and use and clean it.”

Another example, from the end of the directions: “Put a biscuit, one you like, on a plate. Put a ball of your favorite ice cream on the biscuit. Put one more biscuit on top of the ice cream. You can now eat your ice cream sandwich or deep freeze it until another day.” PRICELESS!

The recipe was in milliliters and grams, so Dr. Dana had to use the handy dandy internet convert it to ounces and cups. Here’s the Young Chef Ice Cream Maker recipe:

4 oz cream
4 oz milk
2 tsp sugar
1 pinch of salt

Dr. Dana and I wanted to make sure that all of the ice cream recipes were as similar as possible. So even though the Young Chef directions called for regular salt in the cylinder, we used rock salt for all three recipes. We also used half and half in all the recipes as opposed to cream and milk in the Young Chef recipe. Once the ice cream ingredients were mixed, I put ice and 1/2 cup rock salt into the metal cylinder.

loading the cylinderThe directions said to pour hot water (!) into the cylinder with the ice. I was confused! Why hot water? But I followed the directions, and moved on. I put the cylinder in place above the bowl, which was holding the ice cream ingredients.

According to the directions, if I turned the cylinder around and around, the ice cream ingredients would freeze and solidify on the cylinder. When enough ice cream was stuck to the cylinder, the scraper could be used to literally undermine the ice cream, causing it to flake off into a plastic cup. Dr. Dana and I were deeply, deeply, skeptical of this method.

I started turning the cylinder around and around. It was VERY noisy. WHIR! CLANK! WHIR! CLANK!

The crank was kind of awkward, so Dr. Dana and I took turns spinning it around and around, until finally, the ice cream started solidifying. Yes, the machine worked! Basically, when the freezing cylinder passes through the liquid ice cream ingredients, some of it freezes and attaches to the cylinder. We used the scraper to ease the ice cream off the cylinder in a long, creamy ribbon.

ice cream ribbonOnce we had enough, we put it into bowls and grabbed some spoons, anxious to try our creation. Scooping up a spoonful we counted 1! 2! 3! Put it into our mouths, and…..

BLECH!!!! YUCK!!!!! GROSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT WAS DISGUSTING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The yellowish ‘ice cream’ had almost no sweetness, and was watery. To be honest, it tasted like frozen milk. Yuck. The ice cream consistency was a little weird too, because it came off the machine in a ribbon. Oh and there were a lot of parts to clean up afterwards. The actual machine was cute though, and it worked.

Now for test #2, the Camper’s Dream Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker by UCO Industrial Revolution.

camper's dreamThis ice cream maker was a blue plastic sphere with two chambers. One chamber was the outer part of the sphere (where the ice and the rock salt was poured in). The other chamber was a metal cylinder within the sphere (where the ice cream was going to be made). The sphere had two openings that lead to each chamber. I packed ice and 1/2 cup rock salt tightly into the outer chamber. It was hard to shove the ice in – I had to do it one cube at a time.

stuffing the iceI mixed up the ice cream ingredients and poured them in the inner chamber. Here’s the Camper’s Dream recipe:

1 pint half & half
1.5 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

Then it was time for the fun (and noisy) part.

The whole point of the sphere shape was to play while making the ice cream.  I quote: “Shake, roll and pass it around as you mix and freeze the ingredients. You don’t need electricity, just have a ball!” Sadly however, Dr. Dana and I had to crouch on the floor and roll it back and forth, back and forth, because you could not (the directions stated) bounce or kick the ice cream ball. This was slightly disappointing, because rolling the ball around was a tad anticlimactic. However, the ice cream chamber had a little ‘window’, so I could check the progress of our ice cream, which was cool!

rolling the ballAfter rolling the ice cream ball around for about 10 minutes, we opened up the metal cylinder and scraped the sides as best we could. The directions called for a plastic spatula or wooden spoon. I used a wooden spoon, but the sides were super hard to scrape! I had to use the handle of my wooden spoon!

wooden spoonThen, as the directions suggested, we replaced the ice and rock salt in the outer chamber, as it was melting. We rolled the ball around for 7 more minutes. And shook it up and down too! (At this point, Dr. Dana and I were convinced that it was really a giant maraca with anger issues. It was SO DANG LOUD.) Nervous, (because of our past taste-testing experience) we unscrewed the inner chamber. Inside, we found a soft-servish liquid (it probably would’ve been thicker if we had shaken it longer). Scooping it into some bowls, Dr. Dana and I raised our spoons… and…

YUM YUM YUM YUM YUUUUUUMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The ice cream was delicious, delectable, enticing, exquisite! Dr. Dana and I gobbled up a whole bowlful each.

Then we started to clean up our mess to prepare for the next (and final) testing. But when we tried to open the ice chamber, it was frozen shut! We tried to use the tool that came with the kit to open it. Not strong enough. We had to ask a passing gentleman to open it for us! Then we had to dump everything out of the ice chamber. NOISY! And messy. We had a glob of ice and rock salt sludge in the sink. Also, ice cream ‘puddles’ formed on the exterior of the maker.

getting messyIt was… messy. No. Not a little messy. It was catastrophically messy. Not a camper’s dream!!!! After finally finishing off the titanic disaster of a mess, grinning and licking up the excess ice cream in our bowls, we moved to the final ice cream method…the Plastic Bags Method.

plastic bagsSimple, and easy, all we had to do is put 1 pint-sized plastic bag inside 1 gallon-sized plastic bag. We put ice and 1/2 cup rock salt in the gallon bag, and here’s what went into the pint-sized bag (the recipe is from wikiHow):

2 tablespoons white sugar
1 cup half & half
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

ice cream bagWe zipped the smaller bag inside the bigger bag, and…noticed that the small bag was leaking. So we double bagged it. Then, as the directions suggested, I started shaking it up and down, while holding it inside a towel. The recipe calls for a towel or gloves and THAT IS DEFINITELY A GOOD IDEA. Holding an ice bag for 10 minutes is COOOOLD!

shaking the bagWe shook it for 7 minutes. Then 10 more. Then we pulled the smaller bag out and stuck our spoons in. It definitely had the best consistency, and it had decent flavor (we maybe could have used more sugar), but the winning super wowsie recipe was the Camper’s Dream Play and Freeze. Dr. Dana and I returned to our hoard of Camper’s Dream ice cream, and chowed down. By the way, cleaning up the Plastic Bags Method was a snap. Just toss everything in the garbage!


Young Chef Ice Cream Maker by Five Stars: 2 OUT OF 5
How ironic. This ice cream was not five stars, nor was the machine.

Camper’s Dream Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker by UCO: 4 OUT OF 5
Delicious ice cream, kind of fun, the lid froze shut, SUPER LOUD!

Plastic Bags Method: 5 OUT OF 5
Good ice cream, fast to make, easy to do, cheap, quick clean up, good ice cream consistency.

Overall, the easiest and most effective method of ice cream making was plastic bags. The most delicious recipe came from the directions of the Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker. Even so, the plastic bag recipe could be tweaked to match the Play and Freeze one. All in all, this was a most delicious testing! SPOONS UP!

(Hey Dr. Dana, I heard we had some ice cream left over….?) ;)
(Wait! Don’t tell the readers! They might invade the staff lounge!)

If you’re looking for a more earth-friendly version of the Plastic Bag Method, I spotted a cool, kid-friendly technique at a Colonial America demo. Stick a tall canister (or pot) with lid in a bucket of ice and rock salt. Add your ice cream ingredients to the canister, cover, and rotate briskly for 10-15 minutes (or until the liquids solidify). You might need to take the lid off once in a while to scrape the sides of the canister. No plastic needed!

Dragons & Catapults

dragons and catapultsEnter the realm of mythical beasts, sieige engines, and truly stunning Medieval headdresses…it’s time for more kid-tested product reviews! Today, Hope is taking on the Aquarellum Junior paint kit by SentoSphere (ages 7+, retails for approximately $20) and the Tabletop Catapult kit by Sterling Innovation (ages 8+, retails for approximately $25). Have at thee Hope!

Hi everyone! I’m back… and this time, with a Medieval twist! First, I’m going to review the Aquarellum kit.

aquarelleum kitOpening the box, I found four pieces of light, thin, cardboardy canvas, referred to in the instructions as “Aquarellum Board.” The face of each board had a rendering of a dragon outlined faintly on the surface. One of them looked like a Chinese dragon, and the other three were a jumble of Viking and Medieval. There was also a plastic paint palette, six watercolor paints in bottles, a paintbrush, a plastic eyedropper, and a set of instructions. Dr. Dana thought the instructions were beautiful, and their bright colors captured my attention too.

french instructionsThe instructions were a 3 page, double-sided foldout. I started reading them hoping to glean a bit of information on using the product. But the instructions were written completely in French! Scouring them, I finally found a miniscule paragraph written in English. Sadly, it offered me only a vague idea of the procedures of the project. It described the board and how to paint on it, how to mix and dilute your paints, gave a few application tips for the paints, and then… nothing. But I got the “picture” (hahaha). However, I was sad that I couldn’t read the rest of the lovely illustrated instructions. Ah well. C’est la vie!

Basically, each Aquarellum “canvas” had a picture of a dragon outlined in wax. Since the paint was water-based, any messups would be deflected by the wax. What an epically cool concept! It was almost impossible to mess up!  Choosing one of the canvases, I assembled the extra materials recommended for the project.  And I quote…

  • a blank sheet to test mixed colors on
  • absorbent paper
  • A glass of water in which to rinse your brush, dilute inks, and clean the dropper used to dose the inks
  • Direct light (sunlight or a desk lamp), allowing you to clearly see the designs, since the varnish is very pale.

Setting up the materials, I readied the brush and paints.

prepping the paintI used the plastic dropper to place the paint in the cavities of the palette, tested the mixed colors on a piece of paper, and washed the dropper and the brush off in a cup of water.

paint testsThen I started to paint. Oh! What fun!!! The colors were vibrant, the paint easy to use, and it was nearly impossible to mess up!

wax outlines I finished one dragon, and moved onto the next. I found that the paint dried super quick, which made it easy to layer more colors onto the canvas, creating new shades. It was awesome! The only downside was that the paint dried so quickly, it sometimes dried on the wax, creating smudges. Here’s a finished canvas:

finished red dragonOverall, I really enjoyed this project! It was super fun, and my results turned out beautifully, even though I am not an expert at painting. The only downsides of the product were that if you went outside the main outline of the dragon, the smudges dried so fast that they could permanently mar your art.

Also, the bulk of the instructions were in French! This was especially frustrating because the French instructions were beautifully illustrated and clearly had more detail than the paragraph written in English. Also, Dr. Dana and I could not figure out the correct way to pronounce the product name! Aquarellum? What a tongue twister!

And the Scores Are In!


PROS: Fun to use, vibrant colors, easy, entertaining, beautiful results.
CONS: Directions mostly in French, smudges dried too quickly.

SCORE: 5 OUT OF 5!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Setting aside the dragons, I turned to the weaponry….BEHOLD!  A catapult!

catapult kitOpening the box, I found a book titled The Art of the Catapult, wood pieces, wooden pegs, directions, a chunk of brown clay in a plastic baggie, metal washers, white twine, a wire, and some glue. Unfolding the directions, I discovered that they were mostly illustrated. While I liked that they were so precisely illustrated, the text directions were vague, which confused me. The directions also called for a “Healthy Snack,” which was funny, because we only had marshmallows handy (more on those later)!

I used the inventory sheet on the first page to make sure I wasn’t missing any pieces, and started building the catapult. It was pretty straightforward. Use the wooden pegs to connect the wood pieces together to construct the base of the catapult.

base of catapultHowever, some of the pegs were loose. I used some glue, which (thankfully) seemed to help. Other pegs were too tight and had to be hammered in with a piece of stone that Dr. Dana had in her office!?! It was ludicrous, but equally hilarious, to see me pounding pegs into the wood with a huge chunk of stone. Rock dust flew everywhere, and the noise… let’s just say it was painful.

hammer timeAfter I had finished building the base and support structure, I had to construct the torsion string. When I saw the word torsion I thought, “WHAAAAAAAAT?!?!” (Torsion means “to be twisted” or “the act of being twisted”).

In a nutshell, to make the torsion string, I had to coil the string several times and use a wire to thread it through two washers and two holes in the catapult base. Then I wound the ends of the string loops around two pegs (called the “tensioners”). The catapult’s swing arm was inserted in the center of the torsion string and I used the tensioners to tighten it. Dr.Dana assisted, using her knightly muscle.

torsion stringThe directions for this part definitely could’ve used more clarification. The picture/word combination was just too weak for the complexity of the task. I couldn’t figure it out, so I called in Dr. Dana, who also had to carefully inspect the directions and fiddle with the catapult. But figure it out we did!

finished catapultWe made a ball out of the clay…but there was another problem. The wooden peg on the “trigger” was too weak to hold the catapult arm back – the peg just kept popping out. So Dr. Dana reinforced it somewhat with masking tape.

taped trigger pegBut there was another problem. Now the entire trigger would flop over, releasing the catapult arm. It just wasn’t strong enough to hold the arm down. So we ignored the trigger and used our fingers to hold down catapult arm while we loaded it.

But it was fun to use! It was just so utterly entertaining to watch stuff fly through the air! First, we launched the clay ball. Later, we launched a marshmallow and a ping pong ball. The clay ball had the lowest altitude when launched, the marshmallow went the farthest distance, and the ping pong ball went the highest.

Then we decided (of course) to try to launch a marshmallow into curatorial staffer Ellen’s mouth. First, we made sure she was wearing proper head and eye gear:

ellen's awsome headgearEllen sat in a chair approximately 65” away from the catapult. We tried again and again, moving the chair all over, but missed every time! Finally, Ellen took matters into her own hands:

Needless to say, we had fun!

The kit also came with a book called The Art of the Catapult, by William Gurstelle (Sterling Innovation, 2004). The book was broken up into nine chapters. Each chapter contained at least one or two additional catapult-like projects you could build. However, they were far more complex and difficult than the catapult that came with the kit.

The rest of the book was information about the evolution and variation of catapults around the world. To me… well, some of it was cool. Alexander the Great, Saladin, and Richard the Lionheart. But the rest of the projects and history of the catapult…. frankly, it felt like too much dry detail.

In addition, the writing style seemed to change throughout the book. Sometimes it felt like an adventure novel, sometimes a history textbook, and other times, translations of ancient writings, like the Torah, Bible, or Koran. It was odd, because the book was by one author. But maybe the author’s interests were also varied, and his writing simply reflected that. It just didn’t flow very well.

The catapult kit was kind of fun, but overall it was more confusing than excellent. The directions were annoying with their briefly captioned illustrations. The project was recommended for ages 8+. Yet I had to use a rock to hammer pegs into the catapult. To me, it suggests that something is wrong. And so…

The Scores Are In!


PROS: Fun to use (because of laugh factor. It was so fun to launch marshmallows at Ellen), good excuse to eat marshmallows, sturdy materials, came with a book (yay!), built a catapult!

CONS: Confusing directions with not enough written description, aiming was hard, trigger not effective, clay projectile a bit disappointing, book was a little dry.


Postscript: Dr. Dana here! Last night, I took the catapult home to my 2 children (ages 4 and 6). For 3 straight hours, they launched ping pong balls around the house. The little catapult held up beautifully, even though the trigger never worked. We ended up removing the trigger and just using our fingers. For extra fun, use a Sharpie to draw silly faces on the ping pong balls.

Top Secret Fooj

foojA recent re-reading of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang inspired today’s post! This highly entertaining and action-packed book was written in 1964 by Ian Fleming. Yes, THE Ian Fleming. Who knew the book would lead us on a mission of the chocolate variety?

Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang follows the adventures of the Pott family and their fabulously magical car, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. At one point in the story, some gangsters force the Pott twins, Jeremy and Jemima, to assistant in the robbery of Le Bon-Bon, the world’s most famous chocolate shop. The clever children manage to save the day, and, as a reward, the shopkeepers reveal the secret recipe for their famous fudge (which they pronounce “fooj”). The recipe is included at the end of the book (click the image to enlarge it).

recipe in book

From Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Random House, 1964.

So…what does the famous fudge taste like? Does the recipe hold up after 51 years? Katie decided to test drive it in her kitchen. Take it away Katie!

With my trusty sous-chef son by my side, we gathered and set out all of the ingredients for the “fooj.” There were only a handful of items needed to make the fudge and most we had on-hand in our pantry. We did have to purchase corn “sirup” (we went with the clear corn syrup, not dark) and a bar of unsweetened chocolate (from Ghirardelli, yum!). We also had to figure out a few measurements, like how many ounces are in a tablespoon (the answer is 0.5 ounces).

We took a wild guess at how much evaporated milk to use because the recipe called for one small can, so we used a 5 ounce can rather than the 12 ounce. Trusting our guts and confirming measurements courtesy of Google, we set forth to make our own batch of fudge.

adding milkWe followed the recipe exactly as it was written. It took some time to slowly melt all of the ingredients together, but this step probably would have been faster if we hadn’t used frozen butter. It didn’t take long for the mixture to start boiling, and we were careful to not let the chocolate burn on the sides of the pot. Incredibly, the fudge did form into little balls when dropped into a glass of cold water! I was skeptical of this description listed in the recipe, but was amazed when we watched it happen.

water testWe even beat the boiling hot fudge mixture with a wooden spoon instead of the silicone mixing spoon we had been using earlier.

wooden spoon Once we decided it had been appropriately beaten, we poured the concoction into a greased pan to cool. I used a toothpick to draw lines and mark the fudge into small squares. This is when I had my first inkling that something was not quite right. The marks immediately disappeared. I figured the fudge just needed to harden and then I could redraw the square lines.

scored fudgeHowever, the fudge never hardened. It remained a gloopy, runny mess. I put the fudge into the freezer to see if that would help the hardening process. Freezing it worked great, but then the fudge was rock solid and nearly impossible to cut. Once it cooled, it was back to its original state.

Cue sad music. Fudge failure.

However, the fudge didn’t completely go to waste. We asked a number of kids to try the fudge to let us know what they thought of it. Here’s what they said:

Boy, age almost 9: I think it looks like fudge. It tastes good, really good! Can I have more?

Girl, age 10: I think the fudge kind of looks like brownie batter. Mmm, it’s good!

Boy, age 8: The fudge does not look like fudge. It’s not square. It’s flat and round, like a pancake. It tastes sweet, but it doesn’t really taste like fudge. It tastes like a Hershey chocolate bar.

Girl, age 9: It tastes like chocolate. I can’t tell if it’s milk chocolate, but I like that it is creamy. It doesn’t look like normal fudge, but I like it!

Monsieur Bon-Bon’s Top Secret “Fooj” recipe remains a secret because somewhere between the written page to my kitchen, the recipe got lost in translation. In an effort to discover what I may have done wrong, I again consulted Google and learned from experienced bakers that making fudge can be quite a difficult task. It has to be boiled to a certain temperature after slowly melting the ingredients together, and it has to be beaten for an exact amount of time before pouring it into a pan. Apparently I failed at one or both of these steps.

Perhaps the fudge needed to be shaken, not stirred.