For Christmas my 7 year old daughter decided to ask her Nan for a popcorn maker from the Junior Ready Steady Cook range, she'd already asked me and when I checked the price I told her I'd rather buy a couple of bags of microwave popcorn but she wasn't convinced this was a good alternative! My mum (who I'm sure has taken a shine to Ainsley Harriot) arrived on Christmas morning with the usual bagfuls of presents and a suspiciously large box.
Inside the box was something which looked like it was fresh out of Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. The popcorn maker is basically a garish red plastic affair with a clear dome at the top. Blatantly kiddie orientated, the colour scheme is red and yellow while the dome makes it look a bit spaceship-like. It's a nice design but the height of it makes it impossible to fit into any of our cupboards for storage and is relegated to the very high shelf in the kitchen so as to avoid it cluttering up the work tops. Ready Steady Cook also provide you with a plastic bowl (also yellow) to catch your cooked popcorn, a plastic spoon (you guessed it, red), a 24v mains adaptor, a recipe book and 75g popcorn kernels to start you off on your popping adventure.
Once the popcorn maker is plugged in, the 80-watt light bulb which is concealed inside the red base comes on and starts to heat the dome through a small metal grill which is placed over the light bulb for safety. You're advised in the instructions to add 4 spoonfuls of kernels through the funnel which is located on the top of the dome. This is the first stumbling block because the base of the funnel (where it joins the dome) has plastic strips running across it and unless a kernel of corn goes in pointed end down it gets stuck and you have to get the end of the spoon and coax the kernel into a position where it can drop through the slots. And sods law makes more than half of the kernels go in completely the wrong way. There's a wide chute at the front of the popcorn maker which is where the popcorn will slide out when it's lovely and fluffy and well, popped so I place my bowl underneath and wait.
Both the instruction manual and the write up in Argos says *and I quote* 'In less than 10 minutes your delicious popcorn will be ready for eating.' Twenty minutes later I hear a faint noise which could be the sound of corn popping in another country and glance at the popcorn maker. Yep, it's definitely doing something but very, very slowly. If you've ever made popcorn in a pan or used a sachet of microwave popcorn you'll know once the first kernel pops the whole lot starts and it sounds like a slightly muted firework display. Not in this popcorn maker. The kernels pop quietly and the four spoonfuls I added in the beginning took ages to pop. And this was the ones that did pop. There is no way my pop corn maker could create the seemingly endless flow of popcorn shown in the advertisement, it struggled to make a single bowl full and took just over an hour. Another problem with it is every time it slides a single popped kernel down the chute it also delivers a further three that haven't been popped and then you have to sort these out (carefully because they get very hot) and put them back in the top to continue heating. After around 30 minutes, the light bulb turned itself off because the popcorn maker got too hot and this safety feature is built in to allow it time to cool down. Twenty minutes or so later the popcorn maker decided to turn itself back on and then warm up again before anything would pop. By this time the popcorn in the bowl was stone cold and had gone a bit hard too.
All in all I was really disappointed with this. Not only could the kids not have a go because the funnel is so fiddly to pour the popcorn into and they certainly couldn't help with the actual popping process because the kernels that came out of the machine unpopped were so hot they would have burned their little fingers. Not that this should form the basis of a complaint about the product as if you're going to buy a popcorn maker then you should already have realised that to pop popcorn takes a lot of heat, so the kernels WILL get hot whichever maker you decide to purchase. And this is where Ready Steady Cook's popcorn maker falls short. There simply isn't enough heat thrown out by the 80-watt bulb to produce the amount of popcorn the average child is going to expect sliding into the bowl after being so patient! You're advised to use the popcorn maker on a flat hard surface because it's even slightly tilted the safety feature will kick in and the light will refuse to come on until the maker is on a stable area. The recipe book was also a bit of a let down containing two (count 'em!) recipes, including one which tells you how to salt popcorn. If I'd had enough popcorn in my bowl to justify walking across the kitchen to get the salt then I think I could have worked out how to do it myself!
Cleaning the popcorn maker is simple enough, simply wipe over with a damp cloth and then wipe dry with a kitchen towel.
This popcorn maker cost my mum £29.99 from Argos and it's been used twice in the 15 months the kids have owned it. I feel a bit guilty about the thing if I'm honest because it's a lot of money to spend for something which has basically turned into a kitchen decoration. A friend of mine recently brought her son the Ready Steady Cook Toffee Apple Maker and Candyfloss Maker in a double pack from Macro for £35 and she informs me that although the candyfloss maker works quite well the toffee apple gadget is just as useless as the popcorn maker. My advice would be to either use a pan to pop your corn kernels (100ml of hot oil in the bottom of a heavy based pan will make oodles of popcorn within 2 - 3 minutes) or invest in a Prima popcorn maker which costs roughly £20.
Wonderful quote from the instruction manual - 'Never use your popcorn maker near water to avoid unpleasant electric shocks.' I should imagine this simple step would also prevent *lethal* electric shocks?
Thanks for reading.