I've owned a number of blenders in my life. One might even have been harvest gold. Some have had multiple speeds, some had toggle switches for fast and slow. Some had glass jars, while others were plastic. But all of them shared one common trait: my hope that they'd perform better than the last one, followed by disappointment.
Most of the blenders I've owned have been able to purée things, if the liquid ratio was correct. But I've never had one that could do a decent job crushing ice. Not one. And most of them had other tragic flaws that relegated them to very occasional use and much shaking and scraping to get everything well blended.
But no matter what, smoothies weren't smooth because of the ice problem.
Ice crushing was the first test I performed with the Ninja Kitchen System 1100 ($140). A tray of ice went in, much noise ensued, and I had a beaker full of snow-like ice. Hmmmm... So what else does this thing do? My new Ninja friend came with a short and a tall beaker, and five different blade/paddle things: two tall ones for the tall beaker, and three small ones, and I wasn't sure what they were for.
One thing you'd notice immediately about the Ninja is that rather than having blades at the bottom of the beaker, there's a shaft with a series of blades spiraling up it. I thought that might be yet another gimmick until I saw what it did with ice. And bananas, strawberries, mango, and everything else I put into it. My fruit intake has increased just because the blender actually blends. Smoothies are actually smooth.
But that's not all. The whipping paddle for the tall beaker can be used to whip cream or egg whites. Huh? Yes, I was skeptical. Yes, I tried it. Yes, I made whipped cream. Well, that's different.
The small beaker has a dough-kneading blade and the manual claimed it could be used to knead bread. I had to give that a try. The instructions note that the blender should be pressed down on the counter so the suction cups adhere. Did I mention the suction cups? Four suction cup feet, and a lever at the side to release its grip from the counter. It's a good idea, even when you're not making bread dough. I hate it when appliances wander around the counter like lost puppies.
I made a test batch of dough, and watched the Ninja bounce up and down gleefully on its suction cup feet like some sort of animated cartoon robot. In no time, I had dough. Just like a food processor, but with more happy bouncy action. And the feet held it firmly in place.
The blender has three speeds—dough, blend, and crush—and a pulse button. That's plenty.
The one downside to the blender is that the lid can be a little hard to remove until you get used to it. It seals with a gasket, and it has to be locked in place before the blender will start. It makes sense since the top of the shaft is anchored by the lid. Having that shaft spinning out of control would probably be bad. That gasket seal keeps the contents from spewing out, but it also makes the lid a little tight. But, hey, I'll take that over having to clean up smoothie ooze.
Besides crushing ice, making smooth smoothies, kneading dough, and whipping cream, the Ninja also performs more mundane blender tasks like mixing batters. But unlike normal blenders that are only happy with crepe or pancake batter, this will handle cake batter and cookie dough as well.
I've used the Ninja at least once a day since it arrived, blending everything from frozen Margaritas to iced coffee to milkshakes and smoothies, along with the test batches of dough, whipped cream, and mayonnaise. So far, I haven't found anything it can't do. Finally, a blender that I like. It's about time.
About the author: Resident yeast whisperer and bread baking columnist Donna Currie also has a serious gadget habit. When her father-in-law heard about this column, he upgraded the nickname for her kitchen from "gadget world" to "gadget heaven." You can find her on her blog, Cookistry or follow her on Twitter at @dbcurrie.
Disclaimer: Testing samples were provided to Serious Eats.