Some people call them labor-saving devices. Others bluntly describe them as tools for the lazy cook or human energy savers. A host of these modern motorized gadgets-- kitchen toys, I like to name them--include, say, a battery-operated pot scrubber or a cordless potato peeler. Now there's even a rechargeable corkscrew--so what's next?
Manufacturers like to call them time-saving conveniences. What's happening is, for many housewares producers, luxury--rather than necessity--has become the mother of invention. The consumer target being the double-income affluents, or the dinks (double income, no kids).
Could this be what Spice Express is all about? Frank Ferreri, president of Kitchenetics, the company that recently introduced this motorized spice rack, explains: "The product is innovative, not just a toy or gimmicky. Nowadays there is a lot of discretionary income, with both parties working. Our attitude is to get things they want."
For Serious Cooks
The Spice Express ($50) is designed to reduce clutter on a cabinet shelf and put all herbs and spices in view. With the touch of a finger, the Spice Express rotates 22 spice bottles in left or right, exposing up front whatever spice is wanted. Complete rotation of the the bottles occurs in about 13 seconds. "Judging from the positive feedback we get from the warranty cards that come back to us from owners, the product is for serious cooks. . . . It surprised us that many of them have 30, 40, 50 spices in their shelves," Ferreri said.
Finished in soft, neutral ivory, the carrier base holds the bottles by the lids. The rack can be easily mounted with four screws inside the cabinet under a shelf or outside, underneath the cabinet. Spice Express operates on four D-cell batteries. Nicely packaged, the unit comes with 22 clear plastic bottles and 50 labels (no spices, of course). It's also made to accommodate most standard-size store-bought bottles of herbs and spices. Ferreri recommends replacing the caps of some bottles like Spice Islands with the provided caps for better grasp.
Perhaps one appliance that best fits the category of time- and labor-saving devices is the chopper/grinder. Several years ago, the tiny SEB chopper gained favor for its efficiency in mincing foods like parsley and garlic, which somehow would get lost in the larger bowl of food processors. Cuisinart's MiniMate also took advantage of this consumer preference but managed to make the category even more prevalent.
Also, two years ago, the Sunbeam Oskar food processor set a revolutionary pace in the compact processor category. Next came Big Oskar with a slightly larger capacity. Lo and behold, Baby Bear arrives in the form of Oskar Jr. chopper/grinder ($35.95), retaining the image of its predecessors but on a much smaller scale. Standing only 9 3/4 inches tall, the 200-watt white unit chops without mushing onions, and does a good job with nuts, beef and Parmesan cheese. And like the Oskar, all it takes is a simple twisting of the cover for turning on and off. A little hole in the cover allows liquid to be added while chopping or grinding.
A Chopper and Grinder
Another small but powerful chopper/grinder comes from Black & Decker as part of its HandySeries line of time-saving food preparation appliances. Called the HandyChopper mincer/chopper ($29.98), the low-profiled unit differs from other units by way of its big, red pulse button. Another new feature is its telephone-type curly cord that prevents cord clutter, yet stretches to 3 1/2 feet. An optional wall-mount bracket is available for purchase by mail.
I never thought a concept like this would materialize but here it is: the Black & Decker HandyKnife cordless slicer/peeler ($42.98). The unit has a rechargeable power handle with three attachments that store in a compact recharging base that can be wall mounted or left on the countertop. The attachments are one stain-resistant peeler and two stainless-steel paring knives for slicing fruits and vegetables, which include a fine-serrated-edge and a scalloped-edge blade. The handle is water-resistant so peeling can be done under a running faucet.
A third addition to the Handy-Series line is the HandyBlender cordless blender ($51.98). Now you can make a slushy drink, cocktail or milkshake right on the beach or boat. Rechargeable in 24 hours, the push-button blender will chop, blend, mix, grate, puree and liquefy. Its compact lightweight design makes toting as well as storing easy. The 32-ounce Lexan plastic jar has a handle and no-drip pour spout. A lock and carry feature locks the jar into the base, and the charge adapter is detachable.
The Kitchenetics Spice Express is available at Gelson's, Robinson's and Williams-Sonoma. The Sunbeam Oskar Jr. is available at Best Products, May Co.
The Black & Decker HandyChopper, HandyKnife and HandyBlender are all available at the Broadway.