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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.

house09wilton.jpg

Not enough room in today's Food pages to feature every product at the Housewares Show that prompted me to jot down a few notes. The trade-only show closed Tuesday at McCormick Place.

So, from the notebook:

The elves at Bodum and OXO elves are the James Pattersons of the kitchen industry. Bodum debuted an astounding 28 products, including a snazzy travel French press with a screw-top lid. I loved the look of the handheld blender and hand mixer, both part of the new small electrics line introduced at last year's show (the hand mixer, however, was way too bulky and heavy for my hand).

At OXO, well, I lost count, but there are something like 63 new products (not all for the kitchen), including a pretty fabulous and yet non-intimidating stainless steel mandoline. I was nearly sold on the OXO pepper mill, which has a clever drop-down opening for refilling. To its detriment, it's white plastic. I like the look and feel of my classic wood grinder too much.

Messermeister's take-apart kitchen shears have consistently been a top seller for years now, and now they come in the same bright red, orange and green colors that every other company seemed to be featuring. I'm of the mind that shears are indispensable in the kitchen; the Messermeister version has a built-in bottle opener, ice pick and screwdriver, and comes apart with the turn of a notch, so you can easily clean the blades AND keep them sharpened.

I'd wanted to write about Fred and Friends' M-Cups -- nesting measuring cups in the same spirit as those little Russian tchotchkes -- for our holiday gift guide in December, but they were sold out. Same story now, a representative at their booth said Sunday, but at least I got to see them up close (p.s. I still covet them). Fred and Friends does a fine job with quirky kitchenware that you don't need but your friends might. Anyone who wants to gift my toddlers with a set of these Lego-inspired Snack & Stack utensils, step right up!

kidutensil.jpg

And finally, the faux vs. real cast iron catfight... or something like that. I was intrigued by the phrase "lightweight cast iron," so I headed over to the Starfrit booth. The company says its pans are made from forget metal molds as opposed to sand molds of traditional cast iron, which means nothing to me.

At the booth, I was told the pans have a "forged iron base with a ceramic coating" which makes them nonstick -- and made me all the more skeptical, even as the chef demonstrating the pans cooked me a sunny-side up egg. What's the point of adding a nonstick coating when properly seasoned cast iron is itself nonstick, I wondered? "It's so easy to pick up and clean. You can run this through the dishwasher," the chef enthused. More red flags.

So I wandered over to the Lodge booth. The Tennessee company has been making cast iron - the heavy stuff most of us are familiar with -- for more than a century. I described what I'd just seen at the Starfrit booth to a company rep. He already knew; Lodge has tested the Starfrit cookware. "We tried cooking a piece of bacon... it cooked in the middle, but not the edges," he said.

He told me Lodge has looked at "every possible way of lightening cast iron." No dice. "When you grind iron like that, it inhibits the seasoning," he said. "Putting nonstick on it -- it's not cast iron anymore."

A 12-inch Starfrit pan costs $49.99; a 12-inch Lodge pan costs $34. Starfrit pans carry a five-year warranty. Traditional cast iron will last literally a lifetime.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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

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