I confess -- I'm addicted to kitchen gadgets. I have a large stoneware crock on the counter next to the stove filled with all types of spoons, spatulas, tongs, whisks and microplanes.
The gadgets and gizmos that are too short to stick out of the top of the crock rest in a rather wide drawer around the corner from the stove.
When I first got married, my sister-in-law tried convincing me I needed an old-fashioned, hand-cranked, cast-iron food grinder that clamped onto a counter or tabletop. She spent weeks scouring tag sales for one, insisting I needed it to make bologna and olive salad, a Button family delicacy -- no family trip was complete without bologna and olive sandwiches packed in a cooler. (Think ham salad, substitute bologna for the ham, and olives for the green peppers or pickles, and you get bologna and olive salad.)
"I have a food processor," I pointed out. "It's faster and easier to use."
"It doesn't taste the same," she said foisting a grinder on me.
I never used it, although bologna and olive salad became part of my culinary repertoire. I put the grinder in the cupboard under my sink, where it rested -- and rusted -- for many years before I tossed it out. And, as far as I could tell, my food processor bologna salad tasted the same as her hand-ground one.
I love watching demonstrations at fairs, but have little sales resistance. (I have to stay away from all TV infomercials and shopping channels.) My husband, Guy, found out early on that taking me to the Big E every year was not a good idea. I came home each time with a Ginsu knife, super-duper chamois wipes, a sippy spout that popped onto an orange for instant fresh orange juice, or a handy-dandy vegetable peeler (which really was all the demonstrator claimed it would be and more).
There have been many gadgets I felt I couldn't live without and then found I could. I bought a device that was made to open plastic bags, like on salads and shredded cheese, and quickly found out scissors do the same thing and work better. The same for the egg separator; my fingers worked better.
I love my apple corer and slicer, but quickly gave the hand-cranked apple peeler (which sadly reminded me too much of the grinder) to the church white elephant sale -- along with the electric veggie peeler.
I wouldn't part with the wire rack that allows me to roast a chicken vertically in the oven or on the grill, or the meat tenderizer that stabs the meat with 20 razor-sharp micro-blades. The gizmo that looked like a huge hypodermic needle for King Kong, for injecting for marinades into poultry and meat, was a flop and I said good-bye to it with no hesitation. But those pop-up plastic "meat thermometers" for chickens or turkey are an essential.
One of the gadgets I have is an old-fashioned cookie press. I originally had my mom's, but one of the legs broke off a few years ago. I bought an electric one and then a newer manual one, but the results just weren't the same. After many, many tag sales, I found one just like it -- which I lost in a house fire a few years ago. The search is on again ...
For those who don't know what a cookie press is, it is used for making pressed cookies, such as spritz. It consists of a cylinder with a plunger on one end, which is cranked to push cookie dough through a plate at the other end. Typically the cookie press has interchangeable plates with the holes in different shapes, such as a star, flower or dog, or a narrow slit to push out the dough in ribbons. It's a little tricky to learn how to use, but well worth the effort -- the cookies are buttery and melt-in-your mouth good.
The recipes I use came with my mom's original Mirro cookie press when she bought it. The instruction/recipe sheet is in tatters, stained and yellowed, but I cherish it. To make the cookies a bit more festive, I usually sprinkle them with colored sugars or candy sprinkles before baking them.
Yields about 6 dozen
1 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon extract (I use vanilla)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cream the shortening and then gradually add the sugar and cream well. Beat in egg and extract. Gradually add the flour, sifted with the salt and baking powder.
Fill the cookie press and form the dough into the desired shapes on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. (Watch carefully, it's been my experience they burn really quickly!)
Yield 7 dozen
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg, well beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 squares melted unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted cake flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream the shortening and gradually add the sugar. Add the egg, salt, chocolate, milk and vanilla. Gradually add the flour. Put the bar plate in the cookie press and fill press. (I prefer to use the shapes plates instead.) Make long strips on an ungreased cookie sheet and cut into desired lengths. Bake 8 to 10 minutes (again, watch them carefully).
Margaret Button is the city editor of the North Adams Transcript. Send recipes for inclusion in future columns to the North Adams Transcript, 85 Main St., Suite 2, North Adams, Mass. 01247 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.