Truly inspiring: Some nifty new gadgets foodies will want to get their hands on

Every year, I look forward to attending The Inspired Home Show, where I glimpse trends coming our way, from pepper mills and cast-iron pans to home pizza ovens and the latest in dessert decorating and displays. It is absolutely huge and can be overwhelming, but I love it. After a day of looking, listening and registering more steps than I logged in a long time, here is a peek into my experience, complete with some items I thought worthy of highlighting.

The folks who organize the Inspired Home Show are good at researching how people live their lives and the trends they see. This year, they expect 54% of us to eat at home more frequently than in the past, and when it comes to entertaining, they report 35% of us plan to entertain at home more often than last year. For those of us who are ecology-minded, it is interesting to note there are strong trends toward purchasing refurbished appliances instead of new ones whenever possible. There is great interest in trendy colors and designs when purchasing appliances in general.

One of the highlights of the show is the Cooking Theater, where celebrity and award-winning chefs demonstrate their recipes. I was fortunate to see Chicago’s own Chef Rick Bayless this year.

Chef Bayless shared that he had longed for a chocolate version of the familiar tres leches cake with a proper balance of chocolate for many years. So, after much trial and error, he found his answer in his Pastel de Tres Leches de Chocolate Obscuro, or Dark Chocolate Tres Leches Cake, made with extra dark cocoa powder and other traditional ingredients. The recipe is straightforward, but Chef Bayless offered one caution: Spoon the milk mixture onto the cake slowly so it absorbs evenly. Frost the cake with freshly whipped cream and some shaved chocolate, and you’ll have a delicious dessert for your upcoming Cinco De Mayo party. It is rich and chocolaty, but somehow also light at the same time.

Even though I enjoyed the food side of the event, the beautifully displayed products are the real stars, and among the thousands of products featured at this year’s show, there were some that I thought you might like to know about:

Build an edible Fantasy Castle with this specialized waffle-making kit. Courtesy of Waffle Wow

Check out these multiplate waffle makers. Instead of simple square or round waffles, these makers come with themes like Auto Body Shop and Fantasy Castle and produce waffles in the shape of car and truck parts or everything you need for a castle, including bricks for walls, a royal family and even a fire-breathing dragon. So cute and something most little ones I know would love for breakfast. These and many other varieties can be purchased on the Waffle Wow website or from various local and online vendors and retail for about $40. Visit

Cook four whole eggs, shells and all, in the microwave using the Egg Boiler. Courtesy of Nordicware

Sticking with the breakfast theme are two egg cookers, both made by Nordicware. With the $18 Egg Boiler, you can cook four whole eggs, shells and all, in the microwave for just 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how you like your eggs. Cleanup is almost nonexistent, and the eggs are cooked consistently every time. On the other hand, if you’d rather crack your eggs and then cook them, the $9 Egg Bite Pan may be your choice. Crack an egg into a bowl, add your favorite mix-ins, and pour the mixture into the four cups and in about 4 minutes, depending on your microwave, you will have custom-made egg bites for a fraction of those you purchase at the store. Both can be found online and at local stores. Visit

The Egg Bite Pan makes on-the-go breakfast snacks easy. Courtesy of Nordicware
Kitchen scrubbers made from recycled plastic bottles. Courtesy of Once Again Home Company

You use napkins while eating and maybe a towel for cleanup, so be sure to look at Once Again Home Company’s multiuse products. Made from recycled plastic bottles, they offer washable items like sponges, napkins, dishtowels and even hair towel wraps in a variety of patterns and colors that are said to be ultra-absorbent and quick-drying. Once Again Home is located in nearby La Grange, and prices start at about $16. Visit

Make homemade sauces using the Kilner Sauce Press. Courtesy of Kilner

Have you ever wished you could quickly make homemade apple sauce or sauce from whole tomatoes? If you answered yes, the Kilner Sauce Press is for you. Don’t worry about peeling your tomatoes or apples, either. Just place them in what reminds me of a small food mill and crank the handle. The 34-ounce bottle beneath catches everything you are making for easy cleanup. There is no need to drag out the food processor or large food mill. It’s also great for making mashed potatoes or other pureed vegetables such as baby food. The set retails for about $37 at Home Depot but is available elsewhere too. Visit

Silicone jar opener or hot pad Courtesy of Andreas Trivets

In case you need the help of a jar opener when working with a jar, Andreas Trivets offers a wide range of silicone jar openers and hot pads. Owned by Shirley and Ron, Ron noticed Shirley’s trivets and pot holders were stained and decided to create something that would be practical and beautiful. And the product line was born. All products are dishwasher-safe, made in the U.S., heat resistant up to 600 degrees, nonslip and flexible. Their display at the show was beautiful — if you have a hobby, favorite dog breed or flower, they have a product for you. And, if you don’t see what you like, they will work with you to customize a product to match your photo or theme. Do you need a bridal shower favor? Prices start at $8.99. Visit

The Verticooler wine cooler bag makes transporting wine or other beverages easy. Courtesy of Geckobrands

If you head to Ravinia or an outdoor event this summer, be sure to pack your wine in the Verticooler wine cooler bag. If wine isn’t your thing, that’s OK, as you can pack nine regular or 11 slim cans instead. In addition to the obvious benefits of this bag, it also has a long strap so you can carry it over your shoulder or as a crossbody. It will fit into a golf bag’s side pocket and keep ice for up to 8 hours. Made by Geckobrands, the bag comes in a wide range of solid and seasonal patterns. It can be found on the Geckobrands website and at local retailers, including Meijer, for about $25. Visit

Satin Ice Cake Drip Courtesy of Satin Ice

Have you admired the drip cakes you see in bakeries? Well, now you can make one at home. Apply a bottle of Satin Ice Cake Drip to the edge of your frosted layer cake. Finish by filling in the top of the cake. But you really don’t need my instructions as they have their own YouTube channel that provides tutorials on how to make your cakes look amazing. The cake drip comes in a variety of colors and dries firm, making them good for decorating other desserts like cookies or bars. An 8.8-ounce bottle, which retails for about $14, can be found at Michael’s. Visit

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the interesting products I came across at the show. I have already added a Waffle Wow waffle maker to my wish list.

• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge. Contact Penny at

Rick Bayless shows off the finished Dark Chocolate Tres Leches Cake at the recent The Inspired Home Show in Chicago. Courtesy of The Inspired Home Show

Rick Bayless’ Dark Chocolate Tres Leches Cake

Pastel de Tres Leches de Chocolate Obscuro

For the cake:

½ cup (60 grams) extra dark cocoa powder

½ cup (114 grams) hot espresso or strong coffee

1 tablespoon (18 grams) coffee liqueur such as Kahlua or Mr. Black

3 tablespoons (42 grams) vegetable oil

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon (125 grams) sugar, divided

¾ cup (105 grams) all-purpose flour

1¼ teaspoons (5 grams) baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

5 eggs

For the tres leches soaking liquid

7 ounces (½ 14-ounce can, 180 grams) evaporated milk

3 tablespoons (60 grams) sweetened condensed milk

¼ cup (55 grams) whole milk

2 tablespoons (15 grams) extra dark cocoa powder

2 tablespoons (28 grams) hot espresso or strong coffee

1 tablespoon (18 grams) coffee liqueur such as Kahlua or Mr. Black

1 teaspoon (6 grams) vanilla

For finishing the cake:

1½ cups (340 grams) heavy whipping cream

A couple of tablespoons of sugar, if desired

Garnish for decoration (I like sifted cocoa powder, chocolate curls or cigar-style chocolate cookies)

Prepare the pan, oven and wet ingredients. Cut a 9-inch parchment circle and lay in the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. (Important: Don’t use a nonstick pan and don’t grease the pan.) Heat the oven to 325 degrees and adjust a shelf to the middle. In a large bowl with a flexible spatula, stir ½ cup hot espresso or coffee with ½ cup cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon coffee liqueur until smooth. Into the cocoa mixture, stir the oil and ¼ cup (55 grams) of the sugar, then set aside to cool completely.

Make the cake batter. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Separate the eggs, putting all of the whites into your mixer bowl and three of the yolks into the bowl with the cocoa mixture. (Refrigerate the extra yolks for another recipe or to scramble with more eggs for breakfast.) With the whisk attachment, beat the whites on medium speed until foamy. Increase the speed to medium-high and, when the whites look like they will hold soft peaks, add the remaining sugar 1 tablespoon at a time (you have 5 tablespoons left), beating for 15 or 20 seconds after each addition. Once all the sugar is incorporated, continue beating until the egg whites are nearly stiff. Use a spatula to thoroughly stir the dry ingredients into the cocoa mixture, then gently stir in about ¼ of the whites to lighten the batter. In 3 additions, fold in the remaining egg whites, stopping when there are no visible streaks of white.

Bake the cake. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, slide into the oven and bake until springy to the touch (a toothpick inserted near the middle should come out clean), 35 to 40 minutes. Don’t underbake the cake (an extra minute or two is preferable to a cake that’s too moist in the middle. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan (timing is important here), then run a thin knife around the edge and turn the cake out onto a serving plate.

While the cake is cooling, make the tres leches. In a small saucepan over medium-low, whisk together all of the ingredients for the tres leches soaking liquid. Heat just until warm to the touch.

Finish the cake. Carefully remove the parchment from the bottom of the cake. Poke about 20 holes in the cake with a skewer or large fork (I haven’t found this to be mandatory, but some believe that these holes promote even soaking). Slowly and evenly begin spooning the warm tres leches liquid over the surface of the warm cake, letting one addition be absorbed before adding the next. Have patience: It will take 10 to 15 minutes for the cake to absorb all the liquid. However, if you notice liquid seeping from the bottom of the cake, don’t add any more (the cake has absorbed its max.) Refrigerate until completely cold.

With your electric mixer, beat the cream until it forms stiff peaks. I like unsweetened whipped cream here, but feel free to add a little sugar or sour cream if you want a tangy contrast. Spread the whipped cream over the cake, covering the sides and smoothing the top. A sprinkling of cocoa powder is a beautiful, simple garnish, but you may want something more elaborate like chocolate curls or Pirouette cookies broken in half and piled “pick up sticks”-style in the middle.

Serves 8 to 10

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