Facebook Twitter



On the menu tonight: linguini with pesto, grilled vegetables, fresh-baked bread, piping-hot espresso and hazelnut gelato with a dab of whipped cream - all at the touch of a button.

Yes, food lovers, Jane Jetson's space-age kitchen is here.From the machine that made the pasta to the one that baked the bread to the ones that purified the water, ground the beans, perked the coffee, chopped the basil, grilled the veggies, churned the gelato and whipped the cream, the culinary future has arrived.

Since the invention of the stone knife, nifty kitchen gadgets have caught many a cook's fancy. Some, such as the cherry pitter and apple corer, have gone the way of the whale-boned corset. Others, such as the blender and toaster, have evolved.

But from the now-indispensable microwave oven to the state-of-the-art magnetic induction stove, kitchen gadgets that help you do it better and faster are here to stay.

"Choosing appliances is one of the important steps my clients take when designing their kitchens," said Lilli Kalmenson, who owns Lotus Interiors in Tarzana. "Everyone has an area of interest, and we try to match them with the right machines."

A brand-new kitchen today may come complete with a built-in toaster, coffee maker, can opener, aluminum foil dispenser and paper towel rack. Microwaves are also standard equipment in most new homes. Convection ovens, which use powerful blowers to spread heat throughout the cooking area, are gaining in popularity.

Most cooks demand a food processor for jobs such as chopping vegetables, grating cheese, mixing sauces and stirring dough. Smaller hand-held processors grind and chop fresh herbs and spices, one of the newest areas of interest for modern cooks.

Food dryers are growing more common as cooks long for just the right sun-dried tomatoes or healthy snacks for the children.

Changes include the counter-top ice crusher, which has been relegated to the refrigerator door; the teapot, which is made redundant by the instant hot-water spigot; and the waffle maker, which gathers dust thanks to microwave and toaster varieties of the breakfast treats.

Health concerns make deep-fat fryers a slow sell, but portable indoor grills with vents that draw cooking smells down and out of the house are increasingly popular. Sandwich makers - which resemble waffle irons, but without the bumps - get a thumbs-up from kids, who often cook their own snacks and meals.

Which leads to the drawback to all this gee-whiz gadgetry: space.

"The main problem in anybody's kitchen today is storage," Kalmenson said. "You've got to have a place to put all the appliances when you're not using them."

One solution, a storage system that allowed cooks to lift appliances from a lower cabinet onto a counter top at the touch of a lever, is no longer produced by its maker. Undaunted, kitchen designers have taken a page from the auto manual. Literally.

"We use an appliance garage, which is something that exists between the counter top and the upper cabinet," Kalmenson said. "The machines can be stored on the counter but hidden from view."

Roll-out shelves help make efficient use of cabinet space, and old-fashioned Lazy Susans can double the usable space in corner cabinets.

Magnetic induction stoves, which cook without a heat source, are the latest wrinkle in major appliances, said kitchen designer Denyse Barbas, of California Kitchens in Burbank. The stove top has an energy source that converts electricity into a magnetic field. The magnetic field then excites the molecules in the cooking pots and pans, heating them until they reach temperatures high enough to cook food.

The pan and the food are hot, but the stove top isn't, she explained.

"You can put a piece of paper between the stove top and the pan while you're frying eggs, and the eggs will cook, and the paper will not be burnt," she explained.

Halogen cook tops, which have powerful halogen bulbs embedded in a smooth ceramic stove, run a close second.

Elisabeth Rocklin, a creative cook who takes her breadmaker and electric grill seriously, denies that gadgets take up valuable space better used by paper plates and takeout menus.

"Cooking is a great stress reliever," the Burbank resident said. "I love trying new recipes, just goofing around in the kitchen."

She laughed off the notion that gadgets may lead to a style of cooking untouched by human hands.

"No way," she said. "I mean, who do you think rips the top off the bread mix?"