Handy-dandy foodie fun tantalizes tastebuds

Couch potato heaven: the connected Sobro coffee table features a refrigerated drawer (holding two dozen bottles), bluetooth speakers to amplify your TV's sound, charging ports and LED lighting.

Intrigued by those “wait, there’s more” commercials for handy-dandy food-prep products? If so, you’d love attending -- as do I -- the annual International Home + Housewares show, which again took over the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago this past week.

Not only do visitors get to see the newest and trendiest home gadgets before they hit the market (most will be out by summer), but they also get to sample the foodstuffs and beverages that these kitchen, bar, and backyard devices can conjure up. (Which explains how this cheap date came home with a zero to show in the “meals” column on my expense account.)

Caffi-nation: With a bazillion look-alike, act-alike automatic coffeemakers vying for attention, it’s hard to get excited about the bazillionth and one. That's why some purveyors were putting so much attention at this show on the rarer, cold-brew brewers that make a summertime fave -- iced coffee -- in surprisingly efficient, non-watered-down fashion. Cuisinart’s 7-cup capacity DCB-10 ($99.95, available July) offers three strength settings and a “ready-to-drink” time of 25 to 45 minutes. The “soon-coming” Dash Rapid Cold-Brew System (“under $100”) pumps the liquid back and forth between two holding tanks/pitchers to brew a batch in all of 10 minutes. 

On the hot-coffee front, our favorite high-end, custom-tunable Behmor Connected Brewer ($299) had a new enhancement to tout. “Amazon approached us to integrate Alexa voice control,” explained company founder Joe Behm. “Flattering, at first. But then we had to sign nondisclosures and invest $40,000 for software integration.” All so at-home Behmor baristas with an Alexa-compatible smart speaker, such as an Amazon Echo or Dot, can soon ask Alexa to brew their favorite coffee, check on the brew cycle status, or order more of a roast before it runs out.

Play with your food: As healthy as they are, crisp apples and carrots can be hard for little kids to chomp on. Maybe that’s part of the thinking behind all the new fruit and vegetable spiralizers -- mechanical marvels that super-slice produce into cute, easily chewed strands and curlicues that’ll have the young ’uns singing “On Top of Spaghetti.” A 2017  IHHS award winner, the manually operated Oxo Good Grips Hand-Held Spiralizer ($15) is a compact, low-cost introduction to the species, turning out uniform, curly vegetable noodles with the texture and mouthfeel of pasta. Starfrit’s new $59.99 electric spiralizer features interchangeable blades with a safety interlock while the soon-coming Bella Electric Spiralizer works four different transformative shapes on fruits and vegetables: ribbon, linguine, spaghetti, and fettuccine/curly fries.

Camera icon JONATHAN TAKIFF / Staff
Philips Compact Pasta Maker is fun to watch in action, and there’s no denying the freshness.

Me, I’m champing at the bit to taste test the output of a real spaghetti maker -- the snazzy Philips Viva Compact Pasta Maker ($199.99 at HSN, Williams-Sonoma, Kohl’s, Philips.com, and Bed, Bath & Beyond, “coming soon” to Amazon.com.) While capable of processing and spewing forth up to 14 ounces of fresh, super-fast cooking spaghetti (2 to 3 servings), this small-footprint motorized processor hardly takes up any shelf or counter space. Pasta shape and flavor can be customized. And the see-through ingredients compartment offers quite the entertaining mixing/kneading/extruding show.

More in Less: Also responding to limited counter room, many a manufacturer (such as Kalorik, Fagor, Karrsem, Yedi, Nu-Wave, Nesco) were touting “7-in-1” cooking options in “one-pot solutions.” Devices that start life as a slow cooker or pressure cooker and build from there.

Camera icon JONATHAN TAKIFF / Staff
Cuisinart merges multiple products into one with the TOA-60 Air Fryer Toaster Oven, coming in May for $199.

By growing vertically (to 18 inches tall) and cranking up the convection fan, the Cuisinart TOA-60 Air Fryer Toaster Oven (available May, $199 at kitchencapers.com) manages to add a terrific low-fat cooking option (air frying) to a can-do list that includes roasting, baking, broiling, and simply making toast.

Gourmia’s lid-flipping, “9-in-1” Fly High Auto Rotisserie Multi Fryer qualifies as an air fryer, halogen-powered vertical rotisserie oven, stir fryer, and countertop grill. And with a smartphone app, you can control temp and cook time and even share snaps of what you’re making on social media. Woo-woo!

Camera icon JONATHAN TAKIFF / Staff
LotusGrill brings the "smokeless barbecue experience" to the United States. And with its cool exterior, the compact cooker can be grabbed and moved even while the inside floating coal compartment is still hot, demonstrates Mischa Ohler.

Smokeless Grilling: Already a hit in Germany, the just-landed LotusGrill is the answer to an apartment dweller’s prayers, suitable for balcony use, claims technical developer Mischa Ohler. These “virtually smokeless” grills suspend a covered charcoal container in the center of a dual-walled, cool-exterior round metal cooker. Coals are heated fast (by a small, battery powered fan) and shielded from grease droppings that cause flare-ups, smoke, and neighbors’ aggravation. The smallest 14-inch diameter grill model is newly on sale at Sur La Table for $200.

Camera icon JONATHAN TAKIFF / Staff
Couch potato heaven: The connected Sobro coffee table features a refrigerated drawer (holding two dozen bottles), Bluetooth speakers to amplify your TV's sound, charging ports, and LED lighting.

Fridge fun: Hate to make a beer run to the kitchen, for fear of missing a big play? The Sobro Coffee Table from Storebound.com has a pullout, refrigerated drawer that holds two dozen bottles of your favorite beverages. Currently on Indiegogo at an early-bird $599 price, this tempered-glass-top table also sports LED lighting, stereo Bluetooth speakers that can relay sound from your TV (with a supplied transmitter dongle), plus two AC power ports, and two USB ports for recharging gadgets. From the folks who brought us the pancakebot!

Eating all week: “This is not a vacuum sealer,” warned signage at the Vacuvita booth. Well, no and yes. Designed in the Netherlands for singles or couples who cook for four (with leftovers in mind), this vacuum food storage system ($199 and up) starts with a sizable, AC-powered “home-base” box wherein you can store baked goods “up to five times longer” in air-extracted fashion just by closing the lid, super simple for the kids. The system then grows with sturdy, plastic storage containers (for the refrigerator or freezer) that get the air sucked out of them through a hose connection to the home base. Vacuvita also works with old-school vacuum storage bags, if you’d rather.