There was a time I would have preferred coal in my stocking to some odd little kitchen gadget. I believed, in my icy chef's heart, that a fully stocked kitchen drawer contained a paring knife, a chef's knife and an off-set spatula. Tutti basta.
The truth, and my three drawers full of various contraptions, tell a different story. I have two microplane graters I would never give up. There's an adorable lemon squeezer shaped like a bird that was my mother's. I've also got a pizza cutter shaped like the Starship Enterprise, which was a gift and I would like to get rid of it. (If you'd like it, let me know.)
The perfect stocking stuffer must initially amuse or shock but then prove itself a useful and durable companion in the kitchen. Here are a few of the more interesting items out there, guaranteed to please cooks and wannabes alike:
Bananza Banana Slicer
"1. Insert; 2. Squeeze; 3. Enjoy." These instructions alone make the Bananza worthy of inclusion. This yellow plastic banana-shaped implement has six shiny circular slicing blades that look like a cigar cutter, or dare I say it, a controversial device for circumcisions. Place the banana in the middle of the slicing ring, squeeze and a neat pile of perfect banana slices falls out. Kids love this thing. Kids also want to stick their fingers in there (Don't worry, it can't break the skin. They tried.) You will however have to peel the banana yourself; they haven't come up with a gadget for that yet.
3-in-1 Egg Separator
I'm beginning to figure out that many kitchen gadgets are for folks with (a) lamentable knife skills or (b) an aversion to touching raw food. This gizmo, from the folks at OXO, hangs politely on the side of your mixing bowl, has a raised edge to crack the egg on and a sieve that allows the whites to run through. The well-behaved yolk stays behind. This is a far cry from my foolproof (and repulsive) method of cracking the egg into my hand and letting the whites run through my fingers.
Mock me if you wish but a pancake batter dispenser that lets you make pancakes in the shape of numbers, planets, or the om sign is must-have for the chef who has everything. Fill the 11-inch bottle with batter, or dump the ingredients in, and shake it until it becomes...batter. The nozzle lets you control your unruly mixture and create perfectly circular pancakes or heart-shaped ones worthy of Hallmark. I was even able to write my kids' names in cursive. (Not that they can read cursive, but that's for another column.) The pen is especially useful if you've been the recipient of one of those ridiculously ornate Williams-Sonoma pancake molds, which in the catalog photo turn out whimsical elves and reindeer, but when you try to fill them at home with a spoon produces a plateful of half-cooked zombie pancakes.
3-in-1 Avocado Slicer
The inventor who created the 3-in-1 banana slicer must have shared a cab with some gadget guru at OXO, and thank god. After an encounter with a devilish little avocado (and the knife she was cutting it with) this past Thanksgiving, a friend of mine ended up in the ER where she received five stitches in her finger. She'll be getting the 3-in-1 Avocado slicer from me. This funny-looking little wonder has a beak-like plastic knife to slice open the avocado, three prongs that let you impale and pop out the seed and an avocado-shaped slicing area to make pretty, pretty slices with. A bit fiddly with smaller avocadoes but no blood was shed.
For those who hate contact with food, or whose conditions of parole prevent them from being near sharp knives, the chopper is a small clear plastic holder that resembles Cinderella's glass carriage - if it had been outfitted for the chariot race in Ben Hur, with two-inch plastic wheels on each side and sharp rotating blades inside. Simply drop in some peeled garlic cloves, close the lid and roll the little machine back and forth on the counter. The wheels cause the sharp steel blades inside to turn. Although it takes a few stern pushes to get it through the clove the first time, about 20 seconds later you've got a nice pile of minced garlic. No smelly cutting boards or stinking fingers, either.
The cupcake corer makes quick, tidy work of removing the fluffy insides of a cupcake so they can be replaced with denser, creamier, better things, like more frosting. The core pops out of the contraption with a little push, making it is easy to surreptitiously pop into your mouth. Honestly, I really wanted to hate this thing. It's easy enough to remove the center of a cupcake with a paring knife. But this gadget made it - fine, I'll say it - more fun. And I've learned that these gadgets are toys for the kitchen. The dozen Nutella-filled cupcakes I made, topped with chocolate ganache were that much more enjoyable thanks to the cupcake corer. Mind you, I'd find a stocking full of Nutella-covered coal enjoyable.