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Is fun your goal? Score!

June 18, 2008|Emily Dwass | Special to The Times

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'etre. Surely their inventors were just as focused on entertainment value.

Clever and quirky, the gadgets I tested, which also included a jalapeno 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 jalapeno 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.

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food@latimes.com

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Special delivery

Grease and flour this for-the-grill pizza pan before putting on the dough and toppings. Be sure to position the rosewood handle so it's away from the fire. Without the handle, this pan also works indoors in a conventional oven.

What we thought: Gives pizza a truly special flavor. You may have to experiment with your grill to figure out the best temperature. I used indirect, medium-high heat (375 degrees) for about 20 minutes, then finished with direct heat for another five minutes to get the cheese bubbly.

How much: About $25, available only at www.surlatable.com or Sur La Table stores.

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Stand at attention

The new stainless steel jalapeno pepper roaster has 18 one-inch holes that keep peppers upright. Use medium-high, indirect heat, with the grill cover closed. I also got good results using the roaster indoors in an oven.

What we thought: This is a terrific addition to your outdoor and indoor cooking tools. The compact size makes for easy storage. This could be a unique hostess gift when you're invited to a barbecue, especially if you bring it filled with peppers ready for the grill.

How much: About $20, only at www.williams-sonoma.com or Williams-Sonoma stores.

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Patio wok

The stainless-steel Cuisinart grilling wok, with a depth of 4 inches and an 8-inch-diameter cooking surface, holds a lot of food, about a pound of cut-up chicken and 3 pounds of chopped vegetables. Hand wash only.

What we thought: The handle is somewhat difficult to attach and remove. But this was just a small glitch, and we would happily use this wok all summer long, enjoying the smoky flavors picked up on the grill.

How much: About $40 at cuisinartwebstore.com or at Bed Bath & Beyond.

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Out on a limb

Rome Industries calls this 43-inch tool a Marshmallow Tree. Made of steel wire covered with nonstick coating, it has 10 branches, one for each marshmallow, and a rosewood handle with a leather strap.

What we thought: Any tool that improves the fine art of making s'mores is to be applauded. One person can be responsible for roasting all the marshmallows at once, while someone else readies the graham crackers and chocolate squares. Just don't let kids use this unsupervised.

How much:

About $10 at www.basspro.com or www.amazon.com.

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Play ball

This plastic ball by Industrial Revolution is a portable ice cream maker designed for campsite or backyard. It comes in two sizes, pint or quart. After mixing up cream, sugar, flavoring and add-ins, you pour this into an enclosed container at one end of the ball, with ice and rock salt going into the container at the opposite end. Shake, roll or pass it around for about 30 minutes.

What we thought: A ball to play with that makes ice cream, frozen yogurt or sorbet? How cool is that? The ice cream was some of the best we've had. But the quart-size ball was really heavy when it was filled up. We were happy there were some weight lifters in our group who took over the shaking. Also, once the freezing process got going and it was time to scrape the sides, the ball was difficult to open.

How much: The pint version is about $30 and the quart about $40 at www.llbean.com, at REI stores or www.rei.com.

-- Emily Dwass

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