Down-to-the-Wire Gifts For Gadget Gurus

What says Christmas like Rudolph, Green Bean Casserole, and the Salad Shooter?

Along with Chia Pet and the Clapper, we can always look forward to Salad Shooter TV ads running each year before Christmas: Simply assemble that plastic assault weapon, load it with a cucumber, plug it into the nearest socket, and you're set to ambush that unsuspecting bowl of lettuce.

How simple, how quick, how utterly ridiculous.

And when you're done with target practice, look how snugly it stores in that extra garage. (Anybody here have a chef's knife?)

Recently I stopped at three nationwide stores - Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, and Lechters - searching for stocking stuffers for the cooks and gadget gurus on my Christmas list. Some gadgets are new, some have improved during their evolutionary process, and others are selling particularly well, or, at least, are more practical than the perennial Shooter.

Then came the fun part; finding the Salad Shooter Award winner, for the most unnecessary gadget. Competition was a nail-biter right down to the wire whisk. It, and some better findings, follow:

Stainless Steel Baster

Glass ones break; plastic ones can melt; but this stainless steel baby should last through the next millennium. It comes with a cleaning brush and a needle attachment for injecting juices back into your roast or turkey where they belong. $7.99

Misto Olive Oil Sprayer

Load this little environmentally friendly pressure pump with your favorite oil and spray away. A big seller this year. $19.99

Safety Can

This can-opener cuts the tops off cans with an edge so smooth, "you can run them over a balloon without popping it!" I struggled with this one, finding it difficult to use, until, duh, I read the directions. Safety Jar opener included as a "bonus." $19.99

Stainless Steel Oil Cruet

Pretty but pricey, this attractive oil pourer looks like something plucked from a Turkish bazaar. It's actually made in Italy. Handsome in any kitchen. $44.95

Stainless Steel Stopper

If you're into gourmet designer olive oils, and you want to show off those labels, this convenient, inexpensive pourer is the way to go. Another Italian import. $5.00

Cheese Knife Set

Set of four small cheese knives from Snowline Housewares in England. These stainless and wooden knives are the perfect way to cut the Parmesan, Stilton, and brie. What, none for Velveeta? $14.95

Copper Cookie Cutters

Stars, angels, snowmen, Christmas trees, all as bright as a new penny are attractive, practical cutters and make fine tree decorations for the cook on your list as well. $5.95 each

Instant-Read Chef's Thermometer

When the first instant-read thermometer came out about 10 years ago, it was an instant hit. It's now been improved with an easy-to-read, larger dial. It's dishwasher safe. A must for every home cook. $8.95

Mickey Pancake & Egg Ring

Place this Mickey Mouse-shaped metal mold in a frying pan, pour in some batter or an egg, and you'll put a smile on every Mouseketeer around the kitchen table. $2.99

Twinsharp Knife Sharpener

If Henckels, the renowned German knife company, can't build a good sharpener, who can? This small device is equipped with ceramic and steel rollers to give your knives the cutting edge. A bit awkward for lefties. $19.99.

Pastry Brush

Even the simplest items can be improved. This stainless-steel, long-handled brush is dishwasher safe and long lasting. $13.00

* John Young is the Monitor's food editor.

And the Envelope Please...

My pick for the best kitchen gadget goes to the Polder Cooking Thermometer/Timer. Jab the needle into your roast, and place the adjustable, magnetic thermometer/timer on top of the stove for easy viewing. An instant digital readout shows the temperature, and a timer goes off when your roast reaches the preset temperature. No more excuses for overcooking your turkey. $30.00

What the...?

Winner of the First Annual Salad Shooter Award for the most unnecessary gadget goes to... Best Flour Duster

I passed this little baby ($10.50) around the office to see if anyone could figure it out.

"It's an egg beater-type-thing. You know," said one perplexed co-worker.

"It's something you put in your toilet bowl," said another.

"A slinky on a stick?"

"An arm exerciser?"

Give up guys.

Actually, you squeeze the handle, push the device into some flour (sugar, cornmeal, breadcrumbs or cocoa), then shake it over whatever you want dusted with the appropriate dried goods.

But you knew that.

A human hand is more readily available, has passed the test of time, and is cheaper.

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