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Kitchen helpers - What's New? Small Appliances, Tools, And Gadgets

Recent studies have discovered that the kitchen is arguably the most-important room in the house, whether for families or busy singles striving to expand their vistas beyond a refrigerator full of leftover take-out food. To confirm that more appliances are needed than just a microwave oven, Applica Consumer Products, Inc., Shelton, Conn., a division of Black & Decker, has a wide variety designed to make life easier in the kitchen.

For versatility, efficiency, and ease of operation, it is hard to top the countertop Toast-R-Oven Plus ($99). This solidly built, large-capacity machine seemingly does everything but wash the dishes after the meal, as it toasts, broils, and bakes with topflight ability, handling anything from an English muffin to an entire chicken or roast. A simplified, easy-to-read trio of control knobs ranging down along the face allows you to establish function, temperature, and timing with a mere click. The oven can be regulated by the Worry-Free-Timer, which automatically turns the appliance off at the designated time desired, the sole drawback being that it only has an hour-and-a-half window to work within, so you cannot preset a dish that requires more time.

The toaster has a wide range of settings from light to dark and everywhere in between, a belt signal to let you know when it's done, start and stop buttons, and a top-browning setting for melting cheese onto a homemade bagel pizza and other inventive quickie recipes. Meanwhile, the baker does a great job on cookies, pies, potatoes, and meatloaf. A slide-out crumb tray makes cleaning a snap, especially since the entire inner surface can be wiped easily with a soap-and-water-coated sponge or nylon pad. The outer surface is treated at the top and sides with ThermaGuard to prevent burns should you accidentally touch them while the device is on.

Once you are done eating, leftovers can be preserved neatly and efficiently with the Seal-Away Vacuum Bag Sealer (about $50), which creates its own plastic bags for virtually any size you might need, sucks the air out to form a vacuum, then seals the bag closed for storage in freezer or refrigerator. When ready to use again, the bag can either be slit open and emptied or popped into a microwave or boiling water to reheat the contents, The Seal-Away allows you to package meat, fish, or poultry for the freezer; retain crispness of fruit and vegetables; retard mold; and ensure greater shelf life for dried foods. It also can be used to reseat packages of cookies, pretzels, etc. to maintain freshness. Refill rolls, each containing approximately 60 bags, are available for around $9.99.

Coffee aficionados will appreciate the SmartGrind Coffee Bean Grinder (about $15), which allows them to brew their favorite beverages from fresh beans. Those who are serious about coffee insist that prepackaged kinds from the supermarket don't hold a candle to that prepared from freshly ground beans, and those who are really serious about it delight in exotic blends from all around the globe. Once the proper beans have been carefully selected, they can be fed into the sleek, compact SmartGrind and, within a matter of seconds, freshly ground coffee is ready for the pot, urn, electric coffeemaker, or whatever other implement will do justice to it. A push-button pulse control and clear plastic safety lid allow you to watch the beans being ground and determine how fine you want them made. The versatile device can be used for any number of other purposes as well, such as grinding fresh peppercorns and other spices, nuts, sea salt, etc.

A clever variation of an old favorite is tire Gizmo Cordless Can Opener (around $29.99), which nestles comfortably in the hand while it "walks around" the can, then turns itself off automatically when the lid is completely separated. For a change, you will have the ability to take the opener where the can is, instead of vice versa. The strong magnetic grip allows you to carry juice-filled cans like tuna fish over to the sink and tip them to drain off the liquid, often a messy chore with stationary openers. The charger can be mounted under a cabinet, kept on a counter, or even stored in a drawer, and the Gizmo will hold a charge good for up to a month's can opening.

Each of these handy devices can be found wherever electronic kitchen appliances are sold. With such convenience, we may never eat out again.

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