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By Emily Paster
This past weekend, I had the chance to attend the International Home and Housewares show as a member of the media. This annual event, which takes place at Chicago's McCormick Place, is the premier home products show in the world featuring the best in kitchenware, tableware, specialty foods, home storage, cleaning solutions and more. With thousands of exhibitors spread over three different halls, the show offers far more than I could see in one afternoon. I wish I had time for more! As it was, with my limited time, I concentrated my efforts in kitchenware in order to see the new tools and gadgets I couldn't live without.
If you love to cook and bake, the IHHS is sensory overload. Everywhere I went, I saw my favorite brands from OXO to Le Creuset to Kitchen-Aid to Pyrex to Wilton and many more. There were booths with beautiful knives, shiny pots and pans, colorful tableware, gleaming appliances and ingenious gadgets. In the cooking theater, there were appearances and demos from famous chefs and television personalities. I was like a small child let loose in a giant toy store.
One of my favorite booths was OXO, one of the great innovators in housewares known for their ergonomically correct handles. The friendly brand representative wanted to show me their latest and best cleaning products, but all I wanted to see was the kitchen tools. I will say that the new Water Bottle Cleaning Set caught my attention. I am a heavy user of my SodaStream machine, which turns ordinary tap water into fizzy water with the push of a button. But cleaning the bottles in between uses is a bit of a challenge because the opening is so narrow. This three-piece OXO set is not only useful for cleaning the water bottles that our kids carry with them everywhere, but it would be perfect for cleaning my SodaStream bottles as well. OXO, of course, manufactures a wide variety of BPA-free water bottles in different sizes and colors that won't leak in kids' backpacks like so many others will. This is a company that is all about solving problems.
I also really enjoyed my visit to the Demarle booth, and not only because I got to speak French. Demarle is the company that makes the ingenious Silpat baking mats. There are many, many imitators of the Silpat products, but I truly believe that the original are by far the best. Cheaper nonstick baking pats will start to deteriorate over time and lose their nonstick powers, whereas my Silpat mats have lasted for years. I not only use Silpat mats for baking cookies but also for roasting vegetables and even chicken. By lining a baking sheet with Silpat before roasting vegetables or meat, you save time on clean-up at the end and it is more environmentally friendly than using and then discarding foil.
The Silpat reps gave me one of their new Entremet pans to take home. This casserole-style silicone baking pan is flexible, non-stick and specially formulated for even browning. It can be used for sweets like brownies or jelly rolls but also savory dishes like macaroni and cheese or potato gratin. I imagine it would also work well to make candies, such as caramels or fruit jellies. I am very excited to try mine out! Silpat also offers special perforated baking mats for baking breads, called Silpain, which allow for air to circulate around the bread, even the bottom. This is the key to getting that crusty texture that we all want in our homemade breads. I don't have a Silpain baking mat but I absolutely plan to get one for bread-baking.
One of the best parts of the IHHS is discovering new brands, especially those from overseas because this is truly an international show. One of my favorite booths at the whole show was the one belonging to UK company Kilner. This 150-year-old company makes beautiful glass bottles and jars for preserving and storage. I was particularly charmed by the jars and bottles with the blue gingham twist-tops and the colored glass jars. I could just imagine Mrs. Patmore and Daisy making jams and marmalades with these vintage-looking jars. Kilner's website has a treasure trove of information about preserving with lots of great tips, pictures and even trouble-shooting advice. And its all in that adorable British spelling! You can find some Kilner products in the US through Williams-Sonoma and independent retailers. They are quite pricey however. I gather from the adorable Irish brand rep that I spoke to that Kilner is hoping to expand its US presence. I will certainly be on the look-out for these handsome products in the future. Although I am certain that I will stick with my beloved Ball jars for the bulk of my canning and preserving, Kilner jars and bottles would add an elegant touch to special gifts or food swap products. Also at the Kilner booth were beautiful Mason Cash mixing bowls and bakeware. The heavy pottery bowls and pans from this 200-year-old company look like they just stepped out of the kitchens at Downton Abbey. Someone I just know my bread dough would rise perfectly in one the Mason Cash proofing bowls — how could it not?
As a huge Top Chef fan, I could not resist going to see Chef Gail Simmons, one of the judges on the show, do a cooking demonstration. She is just as personable and down-to-earth in real life as she is on Top Chef. She made a chicken dish marinated in yogurt and harissa with Israeli couscous on the side. I was so charmed that she picked this recipe to demonstrate because I have yogurt-marinated chicken on the menu for this week! In fact, I am using the leftovers from a yogurt dip that I served at a party this weekend as my marinade. Thanks to Gail, I think I will add some harissa to my marinade to give it a North African flair. Harissa, for those of you not familiar with this condiment, is a Moroccan hot sauce made with garlic, cumin and hot peppers. But its heat is not overpowering at all. I find prepared harissa at my local Whole Foods and it has become one of our favorite condiments. Gail was at the IHHS promoting her new book Talking with My Mouth Full. I, of course, picked up a copy for Gail to sign. I'm looking forward to reading it this week.
What are some of your favorite home and housewares brands?
Full disclosure time: I received a free media pass from the IHHS to attend the show. I did not receive any promotional considerations from any of the brands mentioned with the exception of Silpat, which did give me a free Entremet pan (a $50 value) to sample and use. I was not asked to write about any products and all opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.
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