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A few more notes from the International Home and Housewares Show, which ended Tuesday at McCormick Place (and what you won't read about in today's Food section):

* Green Toys, an eco-friendly California toy company, has ventured into kids' tableware made from curbside-collected milk jugs. The pastel-colored line of plates, utensils and cups ($5.99 to $12.99) are BPA-free and dishwasher-safe. Sales director Steve Markey says the company was getting so many requests from parents who confessed they were letting their kids use the toy dishware at the actual dinner table. I have no clue what they're talking about . . . Perfect-Portions-Food-Scale-Nutrition-Facts-Photo-1.jpg

* For weight watchers, Design Manufacture Distribution, based in St. Louis, exhibited a Perfect Portions digital food scale ($49.95) that incorporates the familiar Nutrition Facts panel on its surface. It comes with a book listing USDA values for about 2,000 foods (more than other similar scales, says inventor Chris Chupp); you plug in the code for whatever food you're weighing, and it gives you the nutritional breakdown. "What's really valuable is it's re-training people's eyes so they know how much a serving size is," Chupp says.

Scoot - cutting pizza.jpg * If you're in the market for a $15 pizza cutter, Joseph Joseph, a London company whose products have a Michael Graves feel to them, has just the thing. The Scoot does away with the handle of the typical pizza cutter. Push the center button, and the blade cover opens; the cover rotates back and locks in place for safe storage.

* I always try and stop by the Lodge cast iron booth to see what's new but also, I think, because I'm in love with cast iron. And Lodge is this Tennessee company that's been around for more than a century. And the first pan I bought with my own money was a Lodge skillet.

Two years ago, the company came out with these adorable mini-pans. They're got a petite guitar-shaped pan this year (a carryover from a promotion country singer Alan Jackson did with Cracker Barrel, spokesman Mark Kelly tells me), as well as the obligatory silicone in the form of pot holders and trivets. My eyes, however, were drawn to Lodge's ever expanding line of enameled cast iron, the same stuff sold by the deluxe French company Le Creuset. Lodge's 6-quart Dutch oven is $97; the Le Creuset 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven retails for as much as $315. Good to know.

* These candy eyeballs from Wilton need no description. It's just hard to believe someone at the Woodridge-based company didn't already think of these.


photo.jpg Do you remember how you celebrated your 23rd birthday? Did it involved beer, a beer-soaked bar, beer-soaked friends -- or perhaps, all of the above?

Go on and keep repressing that memory, if you even have one of that night. Jennifer Petrusky's 23rd birthday, on Friday, will be nothing like yours.

Petrusky is a sous chef at Charlie Trotter's -- so we could just end the story right there, because clearly her life is nothing like yours, or mine, or even that of other sous chefs in other restaurants around town.

But let's keep going: On her birthday, Petrusky will be competing in the Bocuse d'Or USA at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Translation: she will be cooking her ass off.

The Bocuse d'Or is the closest thing to the Olympics in the culinary world. The winner of the national contest will represent the United States in the world competition next year in Lyon, France.

In Europe, the Bocuse is a huge deal. Huge. To place or win the Bocuse d'Or is a point of national pride. It's front page, above-the-fold news. But here in the States, outside of certain culinary circles, the competition registers but a blip. Perhaps not coincidentally, no American chef has never finished in the top three in the world contest.

Also: No female has won the Bocuse d'Or.

Petrusky's boss believes -- says -- she is the one to finally do it.

"It's a foregone conclusion," Trotter said Tuesday with his signature wry smile. "I told her she has a one-way ticket."

We have a cherry pitter. It was a wedding gift and why we even registered for one back then is befuddling now, but we were young and dumb and not very practical.

31M22ESKS6L._SL500_AA280_.jpg And yet ... it makes about dozen or so appearances every summer, when cherries are ripe for the eating. Our girls literally squeal at every punch of the handle. Whether it's the actual punch that delights them so or the knowledge that the slowly growing mound of seedless, juicy burgundy orbs will soon be theirs is beside the point. They love the cherry pitter. And we love the cherry pitter.

We had this in mind as we went about today's story on setting up your first kitchen. What do you need -- really need -- to be able to cook decently? You certainly don't need a cherry pitter. You don't need an ergonomic cake cutter, nor do you need about 80 percent of what's in the Williams-Sonoma catalog.

Chris Koetke (below), the dean of Kendall College and a great source for our story, told us he is a knife junkie, with a collection numbering in the hundreds. This was right after we admitted to him we have a drawer jam-packed with barely used gadgets (where the cherry pitter happily resides).

9-8-09 Hein kitchen 2.jpg

We're conditioned to want more, more, more. In Koetke's view, you need three knives and a sharpening steel. We might even argue that you only need one knife, a pot, a spoon. The rest is icing on the cake.

That said, the cherry pitter isn't going anywhere.

Let's hear it -- what can't you live without in the kitchen, and what won't you ever give up?

Attention Germophobes

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Ah, were but Howard Hughes still alive. He would love this device.

When you take a can of soda from the shelf of your local convenience or grocery store or even from your home or work fridge, do you immediately open it and drink? Do you tap it a couple times to disperse the carbonation? Or do you run a finger or napkin along the top to collect any of the dirt, visible and invisible, before you put your lips on the can?

Do you wonder about what accumulated dirt and unseen things may be lurking on the top and around the rim of your soda can? Do you get creeped out thinking such things? Well, maybe the Cole Cleaner is for you.

The Cole Cleaner, designed by Leon Peng, is just a concept right now, but what an intriguing concept it is. It's a countertop device that uses ultraviolet radiation to disinfect any can, supposedly within 1 to 5 minutes. You stick a can in it, and wait for the LED lights to tell you it's working and that your can is now ultra-clean and much safer to drink from than it was just minutes ago.

As germophobic as I am, I can't imagine ever owning a device like this. I can't imagine who would; perhaps the same people who in addition to having you take off your shoes as you enter their homes also provide you with disposable operating room booties. Maybe this could catch on, though, at high-end/high-concept restaurants, which could charge two or three times the usual cost of a soda or soda-based drink because it's been zapped clean. Stranger things have caught on, though. Cole_Cleaner.jpg

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.



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