San Francisco In the spring, the home cook's fancy turns to the kitchen. It's time to get busy cleaning out those drawers and cabinets, tossing out old, rarely used tools to make room for shiny, new replacements.
With the season's bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables on their way to market, consider tools that will simplify, enhance or intensify the pleasures of cooking.
Some of the newest were previewed for the retail trade earlier this year at the International Housewares Show in Chicago. Here's a look at some of the notables.
Warmer weather signals the return of fresh herbs. OXO Good Grips has a spinner to spin them dry after washing. The spinner also can be used for a small salad or for berries. The suggested retail price is $17.99.
Salads always seem to taste best when topped with grated cheese. "Microplane" is both the name of the manufacturer and the brand of high-quality food graters.
A maker of woodworking tools, Microplane began selling its rasp in cookware stores after the tool gained word-of-mouth acclaim as a food grater. Today, Microplane has several models, including one that consists of a frame with two interchangeable blades (coarse and fine), sold at a suggested retail price of $28.95. Additional blades are available for $9.99 each.
Every good cook needs a scale to weigh ingredients accurately. A new scale by Terraillon has some added features. It can convert weight to volume measures. It also can convert metric to traditional weights and back again. The handsome scale can be wall-hung as kitchen art and has a built-in timer for good measure. Suggested retail is $59.99.
Silicone is a popular material for spatulas because it resists heat and staining. Now LamsonSharp is using silicone to make potholders that can double as trivets.
Called HotSpots, these 7-inch-square potholders have raised spots for gripping. They come in bright colors, are skid- and slip-resistant and dishwasher safe. Retail price is $7.
Need to get a handle on your kitchen tools? According to Resourceful Products Inc., the most ergonomic shape for gripping and squeezing is the egg. So the company introduced a line of tools called Nestlings, under a new division called, appropriately, Hatch.
Instead of handles, the tools are egg-shaped, enabling the user to exploit the strength in the palm to produce the action. Tools include a garlic press, cheese grater, ice-cream scoop and pizza wheel.
Small hands may have some difficulty in grasping the egg; test the tool to gauge your comfort before purchasing. Most tools have a suggested retail price of $9.99; the garlic press has a suggested retail price of $11.99.
Le Presse is a food-processing "machine" that dices, slices, juices, mashes, presses, rices, cores, extrudes and cuts french fries. Simply set the appropriate attachment into the base, add the food and use the handle to press the cover down to process Â no electricity involved. Suggested retail is $59.99.
Plug and play
The best part of today's trendy coffee drinks is sipping the froth. Now it's easy to make rich, thick froth that holds its shape for up to 45 minutes even when using fat-free milk.
Froth Au Lait is an electric appliance that heats and froths milk for lattes, cappuccinos and other drinks. The froth also can be used as a topping for desserts.
One cup of milk makes about six servings of froth; it takes about three minutes to do it.
The appliance has a "flavor hatch" for pouring in syrups, flavorings and powdered mixes, if desired, while the milk is being whipped. The suggested retail price is $49.99. Syrups are sold separately.
If style is your priority in selecting small kitchen appliances, consider a collection of sleek choices designed by car maker Porsche.
Created for Bosch, a German appliance manufacturer, the coffeemaker is a sculpted brushed-aluminum tower. Because function is as important as form, the coffeemaker has a stainless-steel heating element and unique heating system to ensure a quality cup of coffee.
High style comes with a high price, however. Suggested retail is $350. Also in the Porsche-designed line are a citrus juicer and a blender.
When family members eat dinner at staggered times due to conflicting schedules, the toaster oven joins the microwave as an indispensable kitchen helper.
Panasonic uses infrared cooking techniques for its FlashXpress toaster oven. The oven heats frozen pizza up to 40 percent faster than conventional toaster ovens, and no preheating is needed. It can accommodate four slices of toast or a 9-inch pizza. Manufacturer's suggested retail price is $119.95.
Mini refrigerators and mini dishwashers are providing added convenience to dens, recreation rooms and cabins. A 1.8-cubic-foot pizza fridge from GE ($99 estimated retail) is wide enough to hold a large-size pizza box and 12 beverage cans.
Electric dishwashers are available as countertop models. One by Haier features three automatic wash cycles and can accommodate four place settings of china.
Making the good better
Several manufacturers now produce stockpots with lids that have holes for straining, eliminating the need for a colander.
Just keep the lid on and tip the pot into the sink, enabling the water to drain.
One such product by Circulon Classic is a 5-quart straining colander stockpot. The lid has two hole sizes to strain small or large foods. Suggested retail is $100.
Fondue pots are popular again as a new generation of young people take to them for informal entertaining. An interactive dining appliance less familiar to Americans is the raclette grill.
Among the manufacturers of raclette grills and fondue pots is Swissmar, a designer, manufacturer and importer of housewares from Europe. Swissmar's raclette grills sell for $100 and up, depending on the model.
Linzer cookies are two cookies sandwiched together with jam in the middle. A cutout in the top cookie allows the colorful jam to show through. It used to require two cookie cutters; one for the basic shape and a smaller one to cut out the center of the top cookie.
A new linzer-cookie cutter affixes the small and large cutters together. Press the injector to bring out the smaller cutter; or take the cutters apart and use small and large separately. From Kaiser Bakeware, the cutters have a suggested retail price of $5 and come in 12 classic linzer shapes.
An all-purpose food steamer is good, but special-purpose steamers can refine the process. Joyce Chen Products has introduced a microwave fish steamer. The three-piece steamer also can be used for vegetables. The base is an oval dish, topped by a rack that allows steam to circulate, with a cover to trap moisture. Made of plastic and dishwasher-safe, the suggested retail is $12.99.