Last year, Berkshire Hathaway acquired Pampered Chef, which sells high-end cookware through parties featuring "kitchen consultants" who prepare food using the company's products and ingredients. Because I know the difference between a roux and a remoulade, BusinessWeek asked me to evaluate some products.
Pampered Chef sent some of its best-selling items: a manual Food Chopper, the Easy Accent Food Decorator, a Deep Dish Pie Plate, and its All The Best cookbook. I chose as my test cases two dishes from the cookbook, the chicken club sandwich wreath and the peanut butter and jelly pie.
The Food Chopper has a zigzag cutting edge set inside a plastic container. By pushing down on it, you can chop nuts and vegetables. I used it to prepare the nuts for the pie, but chopping them took more than a "few quick presses" as advertised. The pie plate comes with an unglazed interior, which Pampered Chef says will create a flaky crust. I cheated a bit by using an unbaked store-bought crust, and after assembling the filling, I used the decorator to extrude lite CoolWhip on top. Then I tackled the chicken club wreath, a circle of Pillsbury crescent rolls filled with cooked cubed chicken, bacon, Swiss cheese, low-fat mayo, Dijon mustard, fresh parsley, garlic, and tomato.
The meal was better than I expected. The wreath was spicy, and the parsley and tomato gave it a fresh taste. Even with low-fat cream cheese and white chocolate pudding mix (as opposed to the full-calorie versions in the recipe), the pie was richly satisfying. The biggest surprise was the flakiness of the crust, just as Pampered Chef promised.
So how did the products hold up? The cookbook is a keeper for those who like simple recipes. Because I can be fanatical about my baking, I would splurge on the $27.25 pie plate. But I don't think the chopper is worth $28.50, and the $18.50 food decorator was a big disappointment. I'll just stick to my knife, cutting board, and $3 pastry bag and piping tip, thank you. By Kathleen Madigan