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American cooks go gaga over kitchen gadgets

| Wednesday, May 1, 2002

If it's true that too many cooks spoil the broth, do too many gadgets clutter the kitchen?

Not according to some local kitchenware specialty shop owners and managers. They all feature fairly new timesaving items on their shelves, and they're more than willing to talk up their favorite selections.

David Stefanik, manager of Kitchen Wizard in Squirrel Hill, says there appears to be an increase in the number of people who are staying at home to eat. "Many people who shop here seem to be entertaining a lot," he says. "They want their food to look like it came from a caterer. They want functional items that make it easier to cook or bake."

Carrie Cirelli, manager at Williams-Sonoma in Ross Park Mall, agrees.

"I really believe the trend after Sept. 11 is that people are going back to their homes," she says. "The art of cooking and entertaining is coming back. People see what's new and how easy items are to use, and they're really excited about trying them."

Cirelli anticipates that this year is "going to be about family, homes and enjoying each other's company," especially for the upcoming summer outdoor living season.

For mixing and baking, new products include pastel or brightly colored plastic spatulas that are heat-resistant to 500 degrees. These will not melt or discolor. One item, called a "spoonula," is a larger, concave spatula designed for scraping.

Amco makes a new Artichoke Cooker that sells for $5, Cirelli says, "a great new tool for a great summer vegetable." The cooker is shaped like a cylinder instead of the bowl-like standard vegetable steamer so the artichokes are held perfectly for placing into a pan for cooking.

One item that first became popular at Christmas time and Stefanik says still is a good seller is a set of wine charms that fit over the stem of wine glasses to distinguish one guest's drink from another. There's a copper set with tags that tell your company — in a diplomatic yet assertive way — that your wine glass is off-limits to everyone but yourself.

Messages on the tags include "Private Property," "All Mine," "Don't Touch," "Not Yours" and "Paws Off." Another version of the tags is a set of six silver wine charms for $7.99; these are intended for more polite company: "Host" and "Guest," for example.

Stefanik maintains that cooking should be fun. "Things can be whimsical and cartoonish yet serve a function and even make a great gift," he says. There's a functional little mushroom brush — its handle resembles a mushroom — and a potato-cleaning brush with a fake potato handle that looks good enough to eat.

"Speaking of whimsical," he says, "we have a timer ($19.99) in the shape of an old-fashioned black telephone that actually rings. It's very clever."

At Crate in Green Tree, owner Linda Wernikoff offers a variety of new kitchen gadgets. One of her favorites is HotSpots from LamsonSharp, 7-inch-square potholders with raised spots for gripping. They are made of silicone to resist heat and staining. Dishwasher-safe, skid- and slid-resistant, the heat beaters come in seven bright colors and sell for $7 each.

Another popular item is a new pasta roller attachment for Kitchen Aid mixers to cut dough for fettuccine and spaghetti ($109.99 each). "The motor does all the work; it's hands-free," Wernikoff says.

She also likes a new line of aluminum cookware from Doughmakers with nonstick properties. Cookie sheets, pie pans, jellyroll pans and pizza pans are part of the collection. "It's best for baking," she says.

Among "hot" new merchandise are angled liquid measuring cups from OXO that allow the cook to view the amount of contents from the top, relieving him or her from bending over to read the markings on the side. "It's a very clever item and not expensive at all," she says. The 1-cup measure is $5.50; the 2-cup is $7.

Carolyn Moorhead, manager and buyer for Wholey Balcony Cookware in the Strip District, also praises OXO for its new spice and pepper mill sets, among her favorite items. With interchangeable jars for cumin seed, garlic seed and other spices, the grinder sells for $19.99; refill jars are $4.99.

For barbecuing or camping, Moorhead recommends a Mountain Pie Maker ($19.99), a device with a long handle that holds two slices of bread. You make a "pie" with your choice of peanut butter or other filling.

Krups sells a rice cooker, she says, that automatically shuts off when the rice is done and keeps it warm. "It's nice for stir-fry." The 8-cup capacity cooker sells for $39.99.

"We also sell a stainless-steel rectangular deep-fryer by Nesco for $99.99 (with) a lid and filtering system that keeps oil hot enough yet doesn't saturate food," Moorhead says. Fried food from this appliance tends to be less greasy.

Wernikoff says that with all the kitchen gadgets on the market, it's easy to overbuy and end up with useless tools that just take up space, so choose carefully.

"There are some gadgets you can do without," she says. "There are so many pieces of equipment. You don't want to buy something, use it once and say to yourself, ‘Why did I do that?'"

Hot new kitchen tools

Thanks to modern technology, you don't have to be a seasoned cook to find your way around the kitchen — you just need to know in which drawer the latest kitchen miracle lies in wait.

These days it seems there's a gadget for every culinary need, from apple corers to banana peelers, from cheese graters to lemon zesters, from vegetable steamers to rice cookers. With so many conveniences as close as the cupboard, cooking from scratch doesn't have to be a chore: It's almost as easy as whipping out a packaged frozen dinner and popping it in the microwave.

At the International Housewares Show earlier this year in Chicago, many of the newest kitchen tools designed to simplify or enhance the pleasures of cooking were previewed. Here are a few:

  • Microplane offers several models of its rasp , which is used for grating chocolate, coconut, hard cheeses and other foods. Resembling a file, it consists of a frame with two interchangeable blades (fine and coarse). Retail price is $28.95. For $9.99 each, additional blades (fine ribbon, medium ribbon and spice) are available.

  • A new kitchen scale by Terraillon can convert weight to volume measures and metric to U.S. weights. For $59.99, it also has a built-in timer.

  • Catering to trendy coffee drinks, Froth Au Lait is an electric appliance that froths and heats milk for cappuccinos, lattes and other beverages. The froth also can be used to top desserts. It has a "flavor hatch" for adding syrups, flavorings and powdered mixes while whipping the milk. The price is $49.99.

  • Just the right size for a dorm or apartment, the 1.8-cubic-foot pizza fridge from GE is wide enough to hold a large-size pizza box and 12 beverage cans. It sells for $99.

  • Le Presse is a versatile tool that dices, slices, juices, presses, mashes, rices, cores, extrudes and cuts french fries by merely setting the appropriate attachment into the base, adding food and pressing down the cover to process. The cost is $59.99.

    — The Associated Press

    Top 10 Kitchen Gadgets

    Looking for something different but useful to give your favorite cook• Most home cooks have a drawer crammed with unused gadgets. But here are selections sure to be appreciated:

    1. Kitchen thermometer from Pyrex , $19.99, is a digital probe/oven thermometer and timer that includes an outside monitor that keeps track of internal temperature in Fahrenheit and Celsius degrees. A timer sounds an alarm when the food is ready. It comes with a lifetime warranty.

    2. Black & Decker Gizmo Cordless Can Opener , $29.99, is rechargeable. It clamps onto cans, opens them and automatically turns off. Lids stick to the opener until released for hands-off disposal.

    3. Zyliss Susi Garlic Press, $11.95, eliminates the need to peel garlic cloves before pressing them. It comes with a cleaning tool, but cleans easily without it.

    4. Silpat Baking Mats fit in the bottom of baking sheets to provide a nonstick surface. They replace standard parchment paper for baking, are washable and reusable and are handy for rolling out dough. By Martha Stewart. Varying sizes: $24 to $38.

    5. Butter Bell butter crock , $21.99, keeps spreadable butter on the counter at your fingertips. Soft butter is packed into the top crock and inverted in the lower decorative crock of cold water. The water creates an airtight seal. From Chef's Catalog.

    6. Miniature Measuring Spoons are a trio of tinies that measure a dash, a pinch and a "smidgen." For those afraid to take the leap using their fingers to measure these amounts, these spoons are the answer. From Harriet Carter, , $3.98 per set; and The Home Marketplace,, $5.95.

    7. A gadget called the Garlic Peeler easily lives up to its name: Place garlic cloves inside the rubber tube. Roll on the counter with the palm of your hand. Shake the cloves out from the tube and simply separate the skins from the cloves. By Williams-Sonoma. $8.

    8. The Pyrex heat-proof rubber spatula , $6.99, can withstand temperatures up to 600 degrees — or more — making it perfect for all the nooks and crannies in the frying pan.

    9. A push-up measuring cup, Wonder Cup Measuring Cup , solves the problem of measuring liquid ingredients accurately. From The Baker's Catalogue. $5.95 (1-cup) or $7.95 (2-cup).

    10. The Vegetable and Fruit Refrigerator Preserver is a small disk from Extra-Live that you place in your refrigerator vegetable and fruit crisper bin to neutralize ethylene gas given off by ripening food. This process retards the ripening process and keeps foods fresher. It's nontoxic and odorless and lasts about three months. $3.99.

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