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Vitamix makes powerful blenders.

Updating Mom’s kitchen

Cooking appliances returning to vogue with makeovers

Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Ramona Hanzel owns a number of old pressure cookers, which she and her husband use to can foods. Newer pressure cookers don’t carry the same safety concerns that older models do, says daughter Suzi Hanzel.
Staff illustration
Your mother’s kitchen appliances have undergone a makeover and are showing up in kitchens again.

You know how it is. Throw out that fondue pot from the ’70s, and suddenly a trendy new restaurant serving only fondue makes it all the rage. Ditch that old hinged George Foreman mini-grill, and the family begins craving panini, for which the grill just happens to be perfect.

Sometimes it seems that everything old in the kitchen gets to be new again.

Listen to QVC foodie host David Venable of “In the Kitchen with David” gush in a blog post about one of his favorite kitchen appliances: “They’re incredibly user-friendly. And, they cut cooking time by as much as 70 pecent.”

Is he promoting some brand-new, super-duper microwave-infrared-induction-steam-cooking machine?

Nope. He’s talking about something your mom or grandmother probably had in her kitchen: a pressure cooker.

Suzi Hanzel, 60, of Fort Wayne has fond memories of chicken paprikash and bean soup that her mother, Ramona Hanzel, made in a pressure cooker, a staple in a kitchen where the devices were used to can food and make Slovenian and German ethnic dishes that required tenderizing tougher cuts of meat.

But Hanzel, who substitute-teaches consumer science classes in Fort Wayne Community Schools, says she hasn’t used one lately. “I believe part of the reason is the convenience of microwaves,” she says. “I’m not home a lot and to plan to use the pressure cooker – I never think of doing it.”

Plus, she adds, there’s a nagging worry about safety. “I think that’s part of why people don’t pressure cook,” Hanzel says.

But today’s pressure cookers aren’t much like the one that sprayed beet juice all over grandma’s harvest-gold cabinets when Richard Nixon was president. The appliances have undergone a makeover that’s brought them back into vogue.

And so have several other kitchen helpers.

Pressure cookers

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and health pitchman Montel Williams are among those who have new-fangled pressure cookers in their TV-touted appliance lines.

Health-conscious cooks like that no fats or oils are needed in many recipes. People pressed for time like that two-hour chicken-and-dumpling dinners can take only 20 minutes. Today’s models have multiple locking systems, auto-release valves and features including removable non-stick interiors, intuitive digital controls and multiple settings that allow the same appliance to be used for browning, slow-cooking, steaming, warming and time-delay cooking.


What could be stodgier? Face it, when your vintage Crockpot has two settings, low and high, and you’ll be away at work too long for “high” and not long enough for “low,” it’s an appliance with limited usefulness.

Enter updated slow-cookers that are programmable and multi-cookers, which will slow cook, steam rice and vegetables and might even have a special setting for oatmeal. Some slow cookers will now hold your food at warm after it’s done cooking. And the “pot” usually is a removable insert – not a piece of ugly brown stoneware that became a burnt-on sticky mess to clean, after you lugged the whole nonimmersible appliance, cord and all, over to the sink.


This isn’t the blender with the plastic pitcher from behind the bar at Kappa Mu Mu. With the current crazes for smoothies, raw and whole foods and nutrient-dense juices, professional-strength blenders such as Blendtec and Vitamix are making it into home kitchens.

The blenders look like their vintage ancestors, but, those in Vitamix’s line, according to the company’s website, have the power to whiz beans into gluten-free flour, flour and associated ingredients into bread dough, almonds into almond butter, vegetables into heated soups and fruits plus ice or milk and sweetener into ice cream and sorbet.

“And with just a drop of dish soap and warm water, the Vitamix self-cleans in 30 seconds,” its advertisements promise. With a price tag above $400 to $600, it should.

Toaster ovens

Yes, a conventional toaster is a snooze, but models by KitchenAid, Cuisinart and others are eye-openers that toast, roast, bake, broil and reheat – and all while keeping summertime kitchens cooler and energy bills lower than heating up the big oven. Most of these new countertop ovens are big enough to hold a 12- or 13-inch frozen pizza, a 9-inch pie, a small chicken or a 13-by-9-inch cake pan. Prices start about $100 more than a standard two-slicer.