Megan McArdle has been publishing her Christmas gift guide
for years and years and one has to wonder why. Most of the items on her lists are the same. Sure, she tweaks the list a little to fit criticism or suggestions and adds a few items. Her sales patter changes slightly; some old anecdotes are replaced by new anecdotes, but there is very little reason to repeat the entire list year after year.
Maybe the items are must-have, and McArdle thinks everyone should know about them? Or maybe not.
List of superfluous items:
Most of these tasks can be done by a more universal item, are more trouble than they are worth, or are unnecessary if you have a little common sense.
Salt pig-I do not want to root around with my (wet or food-covered) fingers in an open container of salt in my hot, humid, buggy climate.
Disposal genie-Use the drain that comes with the sink.
Pizza mesh-Turn over your food half-way through cooking or use wire cooling rack, which you already have.
Surgical tongs-Who wants to use giant eyebrow tweezers to eat their food? If you can't use chopsticks you already own forks.
Giant ice cube trays-A gimmick. Learn how to mix drinks and don't let them melt. Does anyone ever have to encourage McArdle to drink up?
Twine Dispenser-Use your kitchen scissors to cut it and put the twine on a shelf out of the way. You don't use it every day.
Ball whisk-Too hard to clean, which McArdle would care about if she didn't have P. Suderman do the dishes after her little cooking experiments. You will also need giant stainless steel bowls if it is large enough. McArdle doesn't run a gastropub, no matter what she tells her liquor store.
Egg separator-McArdle's excuse for including this item is that some people have never separated eggs before but want to make an angel food cake from scratch. The egg separator will rock their world.
Gravy separator-These are handy but it doesn't really matter whether or not you pour the fat from the juice or the juice from the fat. You could also put it in a measuring cup and put it in the freezer, then lift out the fat to use to make gravy while the meat is cooling. McArdle says, "Great for anyone who does a lot of roasts and braises." Being a "vegetarian" she probably does not use it much herself.
Splatter guard-Use your silicon mitts to protect your hands.
Spill stopper-Do you know what else keeps water from boiling over? Turning down the heat.
Butter boat-I've already mocked that thoroughly.
Hand chopper-It has no control over size or shape of chop and dulls quickly.
Mandolin-Good for experienced cooks, but you can also use the Kitchen-Aid attachments, Cuisinart, or a knife. Not for the faint of heart.
2-cup saucepan-Use the microwave, which you already own.
Paderno spiralizer-use your Kitchen-Aid attachment.
Rabbit corkscrew-Use the smaller, cheaper Screwpull.
Food mill-Use a strainer, colander, or food processor.
Pourfect bowls-Use small bowls, custard cups, and portion cups, all of which you actually need/have.
Cusinart electric kettle-A Japanese or knock-off hot water pot can be left on all the time; fill it when you make coffee in the morning and have hot water all day.
ISI gourmet whip plus-I will never foam soup and I prefer soft, pillowy whipped cream, not aerated. It is a nifty gadget, especially for someone (if anyone) who will use it all the time, but I seldom used mine and a cream aerator did not improve by sitting around for years.
Chinois pestle and stand-Look at the picture. I would never use this and I doubt it does anything in McArdle's kitchen either, besides impress guests on her Kitchen Tour. It would be a nightmare to clean.
Not everything in McArdle's list is useless; as if by accident she has about a dozen items that anyone would want or need. Rice cookers, crock pots, good pans, cast iron pots, grills, and some others are all good things. But they are vastly outnumbered by the marginally useful.
Sometimes McArdle displays a basic ignorance of cooking in her recommendations.
OXO basting brush Bulb basters are basically useless for the task of basting; they fail to draw or come apart at the worst possible moment, bathing your hand in boiling animal fat. They're also no good for barbecue sauce, marinades, mop sauce or any of the many other liquids you might want to transfer onto a savory piece of meat. The answer is a basting brush, but in recent years, they've become terrible -- the bristles start coming out almost before you start using them, which is great for adding fiber to your diet but not so good for your culinary reputation. Most of the silicone substitutes keep their bristles but don't do very well at actually transferring liquid to meat. OXO has finally solved this problem, to my immense relief. I like the longer-handled model particularly -- excellent for grilling or reaching into a hot oven.
Basting brushes are usually used for spreading something thick, such as BBQ sauce on chicken or egg yolk on a piecrust. Oxo utensils are high in quality and usefulness but McArdle should tell everyone the name of the low-quality goods so they can avoid the bad and make the Free Market Fairy happy; she doesn't think of that fundamental aspect of her job.
Bulb basters suck up juice from the bottom of a roasting pan to transfer to the meat. They do not come apart in my experience, unless they are old. They fail to draw when there is not enough liquid in the pan. McArdle's brush is not made for and will not solve that problem. She could use a large spoon when she needs to scoop up juices in a shallow pan and a ladle when the pan is deeper.
Amco refrigerator magnets These are very handy references of kitchen information. My favorite is the easy guide for doubling or splitting recipes, but there are several other good ones. Yes, you can look it up on your phone, but not without getting your phone dirty.
Ordinarily I would say that this need demonstrates a lack of cooking experience but it might just be that McArdle can't divide 1/2 by 2 or multiply 1/3 by 4 no matter how many times she tries.
Let's not forget McArdle's most elite appliance, the Thermomix: It is difficult to figure out exactly how the Thermomix works. There are no cooking demonstrations on the site but you can find some on YouTube. It seems you have to follow recipes geared towards the machine. You may not have to chop up the vegetables but you still need to cut up food to the correct measurement, and because the blade is short. You also seem to spend a lot of time punching in numbers and waiting for beeps, which might or might not be an accurate impression.
There's nothing wrong with a machine that does your work for you but it's an antiseptic approach to cooking and gives no leeway for natural variations in the food, the amount you need to cook, or more flavorful cooking methods.
Often called “the world’s smallest, smartest kitchen”, the Thermomix is more than just a blender and food processor. Designed and engineered in Germany, and with more than 40 years of innovation, the Thermomix TM31 is the most unique product of its kind on the market today, combining into one the functions of at least 10 kitchen appliances. It crushes, juices, whisks, whips, emulsifies, weighs, mixes, kneads, grinds, chops, purees, grates, mills, blends, sautés, cooks, stews and steams, all in one bowl that even washes itself!
In other words, when it comes to kitchen utensils and appliances McArdle is redundant many, many times over.
For cutting she has a zester, knives, a mandolin, a pizza cutter, kitchen shears, hand chopper, spiralizer, food processor, Kitchen-Aid attachments, Vitamix and Thermomix, the latter of which is supposed to replace most of the others.
For mixing, blending and whipping she has a ball whisk (and no doubt other whisks), stick blender, food mill, whipped cram aerator, food processor, ice cream freezer (which mixes as it freezes), Kitchen Aid mixer, Vitamix and Thermomix.
For cooking she lists an electric kettle, deep fryer, pressure cooker, rice cooker, gas grill, toaster oven, sous vive, Vitamix, and Thermomix.
So what's the point? Why the yearly List? Why not just list the new items? Why a very, very long list of kitchen gadgets and appliances, many of them utterly mundane, if not ugly, as a special Christmas gift-giving recommendation?
When it comes to McArdle, the simplest answer is usually the best.
As far as we know McArdle still receives a cut of the action from Amazon. Almost all of her suggestions are routed through Amazon. Christmas time is approaching and McArdle believes in gains from trade. Surely it would be utterly appropriate to make a few hundred or thousand bucks from her readers for all her hard work. Everyone must be paid by someone, and why get paid once for writing an article when you can be paid dozens of times? Why should McArdle pay for her Christmas when she can get someone else to do it for her?
No doubt her husband would agree. After all, why should Reason's employees work hard selling ads when they can be put with a bowl to beg instead?
As far as disclosures go, well, pish-and-tush. McArdle disclosed her profit motive a long, long time ago which in her mind means that the little matter of conflict of interest is settled and done.
It is possible that McArdle severed her relationship with Amazon; in this case we heartily congratulate her for refusing to slyly use her readership to enrich herself. It's the ethical thing to do.
If you are curious, the entire list (minus an item or two with no price) comes to $6, 672.12. (A few of those items are very deeply discounted for Christmas.)
In our next post we will discover another little goodie in McArdle's Christmas stocking: Torture.