New Look in Food Preparation 'Servants'

Times Staff Writer

Power in the kitchen? It comes from what we call kitchen servants: time- and labor-saving electric appliances. Without these convenient cooking, mixing and cleaning helpers, the time spent in the kitchen would seem endless.

What's new in kitchen electrics? There's a continuous stream of products flowing in but as far as what's different--there seems to be nothing at all this year.

Color is playing a major role. Although black and white are still dominant, we're seeing spots of pine or hunter green as well as red in mixers, coffee makers and grinders. New products usually have old beginnings, some of them revived from plans that failed. And some are sequels to items that continue to sell successfully, with revisions.

There's the toaster. Once a crude wrought iron gadget before it became electric, the popular device was played upon in later years to offer more than one function. From the early '20s combination toasters started to evolve. Armstrong Products, for example, unveiled a toaster and percolator combination; Sunbeam had a toaster and table grill combo; Acme Electric produced one with a corn popper. In the '30s, Merrit-Made introduced a toaster/coffee-maker model. The longest-lasting appeal, and still going strong today, came from GE's toaster-oven 1956.

All these plus one toaster model that became a broiler when turned upside down could have inspired the new Flip-Over Plus Mini Oven ($89.99) from Tefal Appliance Co. of Fairfield, N.J. Compact in design with simple controls, it has clean white styling with a striped gray-black trim.

In its upright position, the appliance is a wide-mouth toaster with self-centering gates for thick and thin bread slices. It'll also hold bagels, muffins, waffles, turnovers and pop-up tarts. Turn it 90 degrees and the unit becomes an oven that will bake, broil and defrost. Equipped with a non-stick baking tray with a handle, it can cook or grill small dishes such as boneless chicken nuggets, lasagna, stews, pork rolls and steak on the bottom position. When raised to the upper level, the tray may be used for top browning, thawing, baking pizzas, grilled cheese sandwiches and heating dinner entrees (if package instructions permit cooking in a toaster oven).

Many popcorn enthusiasts have switched to the electric hot air poppers from the pot-on-the range method for some valid reasons. First of all, the power poppers cook without oil and don't pose problems with scorching; secondly, the popcorn produced is fluffier and thirdly, cooking and clean up are easier. For the avid popcorn fan, however, nothing beats the taste and texture of oil-popped corn.

One big complaint with popcorn popped in hot-air poppers is that popped kernels are too dry. Producing a moister but fluffier batch of popcorn is Black & Decker's Handy Pop 'N Serve Corn Popper ($29.98). Compact in size, the hot-air popper looks like a small white blender with clear dishwasher-safe plastic jar. It's easy to use with a single on and off control. The lid can be used as a kernel measuring cup, and as a tray for the bowl to protect tabletops from heat damage as well as a butter-melting cup.

Since caveman times, the most basic implement for food preparation, fishing and hunting has been the knife. Although the electric knife has been a great helper for slicing a turkey or roast, most cooks still utilize a good knife. The important thing is to have a razor-sharp knife. But not many cooks know how to sharpen a knife.

In 1986, Daniel Friel, a retired engineer from DuPont whose pet peeve was dull knives, introduced the first compact, electric diamond-hone knife sharpener exclusively for home use. It eliminates guesswork with its magnetic guides that controls sharpening angles. Overwhelmed by the response of his testers (chefs and professionals in the cooking field), Friel called his invention the Chef's Choice knife sharpener (Professional Model 100: $80).

After that product success, Edgecraft Corp. (Friel's company) moved on to create improved versions. Listening to comments about having too many sharpening and honing stages in his first model, which had three stages, Friel came up with a variation, Chef's Choice Model 300 ($49.95). More compact, it involves a two-stage process. The first stage sharpens the blade at a 45-degree angle while the second stage hones at a 50-degree angle for a razor-sharp edge.

The latest model from Edgecraft goes beyond the razor-sharp edge. Called the Chef Choice Professional Model 110 ($79.95), its three-stage sharpener is geared for sharpening a much wider variety of knives all the way to the handle. It can sharpen all lengths of kitchen knives (including short paring knives), pocket knives, fillet knives and most hunting knives. In addition to the original white color, the unit is available in red or black.

Tefal Toaster Plus Mini-Oven is available at Bullock's. Black & Decker Handy Pop 'N Serve Corn Popper is available at Adray's and soon at Broadway and Home Express.

Chef's Choice sharpeners are available at Robinson's, Broadway, Bullock's and most specialty cookware shops.

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