Monday, January 9, 2012

Kitchen Invasion!

by Barbara Early

Our long-time readers may recognize Monday as the day we set aside to talk about current events. It’s important to stay abreast of the news and newsmakers that influence our country, our families--our very lives.

Today I’d like to discuss the recent invasion.

During the holiday shopping season, our shores, towns and maybe our homes were invaded by... the kitchen gadget. The kitchen gadget often makes an appearance during that time of year--popular among glassy-eyed men wandering aimlessly during their annual trip to the mall. But this year, more than most, kitchen gadgets flooded department stores with new functions that are hard to live without.

(Note to husbands: There are two kinds of women. Women who sell kitchen gadgets on Ebay, and women who buy kitchen gadgets on Ebay. When considering a gift, you must know which kind of woman you are married to. A quick test would be to look for that kitchen gadget you gave her last year. If you can’t find it, consider the jewelry department.)

Perhaps the most universally sought-after gadget of the season has been the K-cup coffee maker. I placed one into my Amazon cart for a couple minutes, in advance of a party I was giving. What could be easier than placing a little cup or pod into the maker and waiting for it to brew a cup of perfect coffee--and any variety of coffee you chose? And so economical too, compared to the cost of buying coffee at your favorite high-end coffee shop.

And here’s where I came screeching to a halt. While this may be a valid money-saver for anyone who has been buying coffee from a high-end coffee shop, at anywhere from 40 to 60 cents a cup (and up), it’s hard for me to justify. Especially since I’m the lone coffee drinker in my house, and I managed to adjust to a weak cup of instant at about 15 cents per cup.

What’s a gadget lover to do? Well, with all the money I didn’t spend on K-cups, perhaps a different kitchen gadget?

I’ll admit to staring at a movie theater style popcorn maker in my local big-box store for several minutes. This brings back teenage memories of going to the local dollar theater, plunking down a dollar of my hard-earned baby-sitting money for admission, then spending five on popcorn. It would pop in the little metal kettle, and then they’d dump it into the clear glass case. Wow, that would be neat to have at home. I imagined fun movie nights with family and friends.
Only when I read the reviews, most said the machine pops about the same amount of popcorn you’d get from a microwave bag. So I’d be spending the whole evening popping popcorn. And then, when everyone goes home, someone has to clean it. Sigh. I think I’ll hold on to my smaller electric popper. Still…

Another gadget that caught my eye was those homemade soda makers. Pretty cool. And they come with flavored syrups so you can make your own sodas (in my neck of the woods, we call it pop) without lugging heavy bottles home. Only upon reading reviews--which were mainly favorable for the machine itself--I discovered that all of their flavored syrups contain Splenda. And since artificial sweeteners give me migraines, not to mention, I’ve pretty well weaned myself off of pop. (And my dentist thanks me.) But I could use one to make sparkling water and add a splash of juice. Hmm. Must go to the store and buy sparkling water to see if I like it. This one is still on my maybe list.

Another cool-to-have gadget that made its debut this year was the cake pop maker. This is a must-have for anyone with a desperate need to make cake in small round pieces that can fit on the end of a stick--which is like everybody. (And yes, I kind of slowed down when walking past these too. Is there a support group?) I can see where these would be a hit with kids, since the pops can be decorated to resemble anything roundish, including faces. And you can get the electric makers, or just the pans you can bake in your own oven. Hmm. (See also whoopie pie baker and doughnut hole baker.)

So this season has been a bit of a bust for me as far as kitchen gadgets go--not one under the tree! Unlike previous years which brought my long-sought pierogi mold (and yes, I use it). Or my homemade blizzard maker (a dud).  Or my rotisserie (I seemed to have set it somewhere and forgotten it.) Or the various attachments to my stand mixer (LOVE.)

Some of my kitchen gadgets save me time and money, and make my life better. Others just take up space and demand a periodic cleaning. They seemed like a good idea at the time, but they drain more than they give. If I were wise, I’d pull out every single gadget and ask, “Is my life better because of you?” (As long as I wasn't committed to a psychiatric facility for talking to my kitchenware.)

More insidious than that are habits and activities and attitudes that clutter my life and my relationship with God. It doesn’t have to be New Year’s Day to resolve to clear away the clutter of things which detracts from my spiritual walk.

Right after I’m done on E-bay.

Questions for discussion: What is the most interesting kitchen gadget you have/seen? Anything taking up space in your cupboards (or life) that has to go?

Barbara Early grew up buried in the snowy suburbs of Buffalo, NY, where she developed a love for all things sedentary: reading, writing, classic movies, and Scrabble. She holds a degree in Electrical Engineering, but her penchant for the creative caused her to run away screaming from the pocket-protector set. Barbara cooks up cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance. Her holiday novella, Gold, Frankincense, and Murder was released in e-book format from White Rose Publishing in December 2011. You can learn more about her writing on her personal blog: or see what's for dinner on her recipe blog:


  1. Many a pleasant moment passed in the Marvin clan over Black Friday sales inserts on this very subject.

    I hope the person who needed a 'brownie maker' (apparently finds it hard to cut brownies in a pan and therefore must have them baked separately to reduce the workload) also has the extra room to store appliances.

    We saw at least 20 varieties of donut makers, because, Heaven knows, we all need more donuts, and who wants to wait to get them at the store?

    Okay, I HEART a KitchenAid stand up mixer like everyone else, but I'm pretty much up to max capacity on appliances right now, thank you.

  2. Oh, yeah, the brownie pan that makes individual brownies. Oddly enough, I've discovered you can make individual brownies in a mini-muffin pan.

    But the KitchenAid stand mixer...that's another story. I waited on that, thinking my hand mixer was perfectly adequate. But I finally got one for Christmas a few years back, and I am still in love. The mixer itself is great, but I find myself craving the attachments. The one hubby bought for me had a coupon for one free attachment, and I waffled over them for a while before deciding on the grinder--which I use fairly regularly for ham and nuts. Still, the pasta maker beckons...

    And I've also been walking slowly past those three-in-one crockpots. I seriously think I need a support group.

  3. Ha ha! The cake pop maker almost sucked me in too, and I haven't even been eating sugar lately. They just look so pretty.

    My sister got a Keurig for Christmas. The coffee is really good, but unless you're used to paying for Starbucks everyday, the cost seems ridiculous. It's close to $1 a cup.

  4. LOL! That's what I get for skimming then commenting. Barb pretty much said the same thing in the post.

    Some of my favorite kitchen gadgets that get used a lot: snow cone maker, Belgian waffle maker, sandwich griller, indoor grill. And then my two Pampered Chef items: baking stone (which I've used almost everyday for about 10 years) and garlic press.

  5. Not to mention the cost of the maker. Yikes. I suppose in a large family, if people drink different varieties...

    Oh, and if anyone wants to try the look of a cake pop without the cost of a pan, Wilton suggests taking cake and frosting, smooshing it together, and rolling it into a ball. Okay, that probably tastes better than it sounds.

  6. Snow cone maker--Dina, do you have to buy specialty syrups for that?

    And yes, I like my indoor grill and Belgian Waffle maker. I had one of those older style sandwich presses, but it was a bear to clean, so I was looking at the newer panini presses.

    And I sooo miss my garlic press. Stupid allium intolerance.

    I remember back in the 70s, my mother had an electric gadget that steamed hot dogs.

  7. Snow cone maker syrup: yes, easily obtained at Walmart in regular or sugar free.

    Belgian waffle maker: I add oatmeal and wheat germ to instant waffle mix for a healthier version.

    Sandwich griller: simple solution, just don't clean it.

    Although, I kind of have a love hate relationship with my indoor grill because it's such a pain to clean.

  8. I have my mother's version of the stand up mixer and can't get rid of it even though it smells like dying engine parts when I "Once" tried to use it.

    But my big love affair is the KitchenAid food processor my kids surprised me with a couple of birthdays ago. Can't live without that one now. Second most used item. Waffle maker or hot air popper???

    I wonder how many bread machines sit in lonely dark isolation.


  9. Thanks for the morning chuckle, Barb. I'm still giggling over the "glassy-eyed men" at the mall. (We get those at the grocery during hunting season.)

    My most recent gadget urge, notwithstanding the desire for a Kitchenaid stand mixer) was for the Baby Bullet make-your-own-baby-food set I saw on an infomercial at 3 a.m. Note to self: do not watch infomercials when you have insomnia.
    As for the mixer, I asked for one two years ago for Christmas. Hubs got me a blender instead. Guess who wanted a blender???

    I also own the original Ronco food dehydrator. It moved with us three times because hubs insisted he wanted to make beef jerky with it. He accomplished that once. This year I used it to dry all sorts of things from my garden. It's quite useful, to my surprise!

  10. Do the cake pops decorated like heads remind anyone else of Vlad the Impaler? Or is that just me? : )

  11. I use my bread machine about once a week. LOL.

    (Can you clearly see I have issues?)

    Anyway, I love it for pizza dough and for making homemade rye and pumpernickel breads (which cost a fortune in the store) And for homemade rolls which hubby loves right out of the oven.

    And yes, doughnut dough. LOL.

    The thing about bread machines is that they vary in quality. A lot of the cheap ones are dreadful, so they'll get used once and stuck somewhere. But a good bread machine is a treasure.

    Except if you've given up white flour. But then there's wheat flour...

  12. LOL--Niki--Vlad the Impaler!

    I remember coveting (and I guess that's what it is) the dehydrator a few years back. What did you dry?

    And do you need to add sulfites? I know they add them to dried fruits, which is why I cannot eat them. But wondering if that's just to lengthen shelf life.

  13. I have a problem with the power usage of the bread machine. Hours of doing the work I SHOULD Be doing by hand and then the funny little baking process. When I was making bread without sugar (I made these big heavy whole grain whole wheat loaves) I made one a week. House smelled great that day.

    but then I started thinking I'd just as well make two loaves by hand and only use the oven to do the baking. Can you see I am pennywise (and maybe pound foolish?)

    I might just have to bring that big boy out of the cupboard again soon.

  14. I dried zucchini and squash, and green onions, and carrot tops (which I use like parsley) and a half a bag of apples that were "too wrinkly" to eat.
    I didn't add anything, but I dry everything until it's crispy dry to avoid mold issues, so the apples aren't soft and chewy like the ones from the store, and they lose color. I think that might be what the sulfites do.

  15. WHen I was 'earth mother' I wanted a dehydrator so I'm not surprised you have one (though hubbies sometimes get them for drying venison --to make it chewier than it already is).

    I think the cupcakes on a stick will be used at some occasion as Niki suggested. Only with terrorized faces, no stinkin clown smiles.

    Yes, we are here to entertain and edify our readers, and now I must get back to my book with more corpses than usual.

  16. I have a bread machine, an ice cream maker, and a panini maker. I've used the bread machine once about ten years ago. The ice cream maker is still unopened as has been in my garage for many years. I've used the panini maker a few times. It actually works pretty good.

    I did not buy any of these items. Though I love gadgets, I do not love those of the kitchen variety. They require spending more time in the kitchen than I'm willing to give.

    Oh, on that little pan that makes brownies in individual pieces - I think it's for people who like the corner pieces of the brownie.

    My mom uses her muffin pan to make tiny meatloafs, then she freezes them for later use. She's very clever, and must be quite ashamed of the daughter who spends minimal time in the kitchen.

  17. Deb, I'm thinking the terrorized heads of cake might be a perfect snack/centerpiece for your book launch party. LOL.

  18. Suzie--

    I know--so many of the gadgets are designed to make things at home you can buy much easier--and sometimes more inexpensively (especially when you figure in the cost of the gadget)

    But I must try your mothers's muffin pan meatloaf idea. Although I also use my meatloaf recipe to make meatballs.

  19. Dehydrating venison is the worst smell on earth. Kicked our dehydrater to the garage. Yuck!!!

  20. Oh Barb, we do think alike! how sweet of you to think of me.

  21. yes, Suzie, you're right. The corner brownie effect.

    And I make mini meatloaves too. (I call them meatballs yuk yuk yuk)

    Of course nowadays you are supposed to have three sizes of muffin pans anyway, right?

  22. Oh, yeah. We've got kitchen gadgets galore. The dehydrator has been used both for meat and fruit. We also dry the stuff until it grows crunchy and have done all kinds of fruits from kiwi to pineapple, strawberries, to wrinkly apples.

    This year we got the three-in-one crockpot that swivels and has places to hold spoons or whatever. We also got the mini pie maker. Just made little deep-dish pizzas in it the other night that were very tasty. And it cooked them really fast. Like 5 minutes.

    Of course we have an indoor grill/panini press, which is awesome. And I join the rest of you in saying All, Hail the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. (Mine is pink!)

    I do not have the new cake pop maker, but that's because we make ours old school style. What's not to love about cake and icing smooshed together? You can take it from me, it's delicious!

  23. Deb, when you launch your book, I'll even drive over to help make them. How's that?

  24. Lisa! Nice collection. Do you like the three-in-one crockpot?

    Will now have to try the smooched cake pops--when I'm not trying to watch calories.

    Am now googling mini pie makers...

  25. Barb you just keeping using those three little words!!

    Can someone remind me what a three in one crock pot does?

  26. Deb, it's basically three crockpots wired into one unit. Great for buffets. They vary in size from ones that would be great for sauces and large ones about the size of a regular crockpot.

  27. I need one of those Star Trek food replicators. Just push a button and your meal appears. No fuss, no muss. Now that would be perfection!

  28. LOL, Suzie. It certainly would be a popular gadget. Although we come pretty close with Lean Cuisine and a microwave.

    Although I'm pretty much barred from most processed food because of my intolerance issues. Perhaps that's why I do so many things from scratch. Like pierogis. I can only eat my homemade ones. Of course, there's a mold for those. But I guess they can be hand cut.

  29. Well, gals. You have ended up making me feel really good about myself. I have so many obsessions, but not one has anything to do with the kitchen! So, now I can reason with myself along these lines, "Self, its okay to buy buttons, baubles and books until the house explodes because most women are filling their kitchens with "stuff" they might or might not use and you are smart enough to realize that the kitchen is just a backdrop for displaying old flow blue china."

    Back to ebay for me - I have an eye on an antique watch and some twinkle buttons.

  30. LOL, Kathy. See if anyone has topped my bid on that commercial popcorn popper while you're there, OK?

  31. Oh man! Is it confession time?

    I too will slow down and pause when a kitchen gadget catches my eye. Thankfully, I've learned to admire...and keep walking. In the early days of marriage, I succumbed many times too often.

    But I do like the movie-style popcorn machines and the cake pops. I figure the latter might help me get just that mouthful I crave without overeating, assuming I could stop at just one.

  32. I really don't have a lot of kitchen gadgets -- especially of the electrical variety -- but I'm with Barb on the bread maker. I researched them for quite a while and then waited a year because the one I wanted was expensive. But because I knew what I wanted and how I'd use it, mine gets a lot of use.

    Now, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've made a loaf of bread from start to finish in it. When I do make ordinary loaf bread, I usually bake it in the oven because I like the way it bakes better. Mostly, I use the machine for dough -- pizza (probably once/week), bagels (almost did that this morning), cinnamon rolls, baguettes (for with Italian meals), etc.

  33. Patricia--the portion control angle on the cake pops has already crossed my mind. (Great minds think alike!) But I guess that only works if you stop at one. And apparently I don't have that self control.

    I've kind of trained myself that cake is only for birthdays and weddings. Only it's almost always somebody's birthday, right?

  34. CJ--

    Come to think of it, I don't often go from start to finish in the bread maker either. I do my rye and pumpernickel that way, since I generally cube it and serve with dill dip. For almost everything else, I use it as a dough mixer/kneader.

    Only I have to admit, I didn't spend a lot of time researching the various models. After one failed attempt--which I returned to the store, I found a friend who had just done her research and I picked her brains. She did a nice job. :)

    One thing that makes it even more convenient is that I bought a bunch of quart size canning jars at a garage sale, and I buy the large bags of bread flour from Sam's Club. I measure all the dry ingredients ahead of time and store them in the jars. That way I'm not spilling flour all over my kitchen every time I make bread. I just dump the jar, add the oil and water, and put the yeast in the dispenser. Lovely.

  35. Seriously? A Pierogi maker? That I have to see. Can it make empanadas too?

    We are having too much fun talking about gadgets. Do you think it really just has to do with FOOD?

  36. It is really just a pierogi mold. Very low tech, but wonderful just the same.

    I suppose you could try making empanadas in it, as long as you don't mind risking a war between Poland and Mexico. ;)

    Or large ravioli--if you want to bring Italy into the fracas.

    And yes, I think it might be about the food.

  37. Sounds like one of our family meals. We tend to eat like the United Nations.

    You did bring up a pasta maker, right? I used to want one but I hardly eat pasta anymore. It just looks like fun.

  38. Loved the post, Barb! I think those cake pops look adorable, too, but I KNOW what they'd look like if I tried to decorate them like those pictured cute animals. And it would be nothing like the picture. Once I made a Barbie cake--baked in a batter bowl, inverted, cored so a Barbie can stand in the middle, frosted--and one of the moms at my daughter's birthday party told me with no humor whatsoever that the Barbie looked a bit slutty. Guess the frosting was slipping.

    Anyhoo, I have rec'd gadgets that I honestly never used, including a plastic thing that looked like a toy Easter could break an egg into and microwave it.

    I love my lemon zester, my Pampered Chef scrapers, my mini spatula, and my juicer.

  39. Deb! That's it! Fun! I'm a little girl who never grew out of playing with her Easy Bake oven.

    Gadgets are toys. That's a breakthrough.

  40. Susanne--LOL on the Barbie comment. I remember those cakes too.

    Every now and then I go into the store and look at different Wilton cake pans. After the basic shapes (which include round, square, dolls, and candy canes) I usually avoid them. Although I have been known to grab and hold them tightly when I find them at garage sales.

    And there have been so many gadgets designed for the egg, including electric egg cookers. One simple food--so many gadgets.

    My oddest gadget impulse? Once in a store, I picked up a corkscrew. I don't drink.

  41. There are some pretty fancy corkscrews out there, Barb, so I can't blame you!

    I forgot to mention how much I love my emulsion blender. I make a lot of soup and I would not do nearly as well without that baby!


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