The typical Australian lifestyle is changing. No longer are we happy to "throw another snag on the barbie" - these days, we want our snags cooked in the healthiest way possible and served with professional restaurant-style presentation.
The latest fittings and appliances for kitchens reflect that trend. Our appliances also have to be convenient and easy to use, and have the stylish looks we've come to expect as well.
|The Gaggenau VP421 Teppan Yaki|
The popularity of celebrity chefs - Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Donna Hay and others - has led us to see ourselves more as entertainers; even performers, if you like. Thus recipes not only need to be easy, but presentation must be attractive as well. Open-plan living is the key trend right now, so our kitchens have become more of a large entertaining space, spilling over into other living areas of our home. Your guests might move around the kitchen as you prepare food, so naturally you want all your fittings and appliances to be as attractive as possible. Stainless steel is still popular, as it looks up-to-the-minute and is fairly easy to keep clean.
And anything you don't want out on display, you might want to conceal. Built-in sliding panels are perfect if you don't want your dishwasher or bar fridge out in full view all the time. If you're renovating your kitchen, sliding panels are something you should consider when you're drawing up plans.
This is all part of a trend towards flushline technology, which is a seamless, integrated approach to kitchen design. Cooktops and sinks meld with benchtops, while bigger appliances such as fridges and dishwashers are concealed behind matching cabinet doors.
But the good news is that many appliances these days are attractive enough to have as showpieces - you may even find yourself reluctant to hide them away.
Manufacturers have kept all these considerations well and truly in mind when developing the current crop of products available to us. So let us give you a glimpse inside today's smart kitchen - the latest in high-tech products will have you ready to update right now.
Today, the appliances you have in your kitchen speak volumes about your lifestyle.
"People are looking for appliances that are showpieces, trophy-style," says Breville's Marketing Manager, Peter Brewer.
What you have on display in your kitchen can speak volumes about your personality. For example, a professional coffee machine might say you enjoy long, lazy afternoons sipping cappuccinos al fresco, caf? society-style, while a juicer says you're health-conscious but busy, and find it easy to get your vitamin hit while on-the-go.
Sunbeam has several products for the health-conscious among us - SmartHouse loves its new Caf? Series, particularly the Juice Extractor (RRP$229.95) for professional juicing results, Blender (RRP$199.95) for preparing smoothies and soups and the Food Slicer (RRP$159.95) for salads and cold meats.
Not only do the Caf? Series products have a bent towards healthy foods, they'll also give you a professional shop-style presentation, such as the Breville HealthSmart Grill (RRP$129.95). Not only will you achieve the grill pattern you find in restaurants on your meat, but you'll also grill it in the healthiest way possible. You should also look for drip trays and other fat-collection methods when buying a grill, to ensure your meat is as lean and healthy as possible.
Steam cooking is also a key ingredient in today's healthy kitchen. Gaggenau's multi-function steam cooker (RRP$3799) is perfect for cooking a large variety of foods; including vegetables, fish, rice, meat and pasta. This type of pressureless steam cooking preserves the taste, aroma and the colourful appearance of your food.
The ultimate health-conscious kitchen of today should also include some sort of water-filtering device, to ensure your water supply is pure and clean. Many models today dispense both ice cold and boiling hot water. SmartHouse recommends the Zip HydroTap (RRP$2499, $799 for boiling-only model), which can be installed anywhere and boasts a minimalist design to fit in with the look of the rest of your kitchen.
If you are looking for perfect coffee, you'll need a coffee machine. Coffee connoisseurs will love the new Built-In Miele/ Nespresso model, the CVA 2000. The $2799 (stainless steel) and $2899 (aluminium) recommended retail prices might seem hefty, but it may well be the most professional coffee machine you can have outside your local caf?. The design seamlessly integrates into your kitchen's surroundings, and features include automatic capsule selection, digital programming and a milk-frothing device for cappuccino.
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|The Miele Nespresso CVA 2000|
If you don't want to spend that much getting your coffee hit each day, many manufacturers make less expensive models with fewer functions, right down to the likes of the Breville Caf? Cordfree Percolator (RRP$109.95), which keeps your coffee hot when left on its stainless steel cord-free base.
Experts tell us Asian-style cooking will help us stay healthy and live longer, and Gaggenau has several products for enthusiasts of this low-fat style of cooking.
The VP421-110 Teppan Yaki (RRP$4499) allows you to cook food in the traditional Japanese manner by griddling it on the smooth hard-chromium metal surface, while the VI411 Vario Induction Wok (RRP$6999) allows fast cooking on your benchtop surface. It can even be used as a single-zone induction hob, which recognises the size of the pan, and heats that area only. Because a small area is heated, burnt-on food spillages are minimised, making this unit much easier to clean than gas glass ceramic cooktops.
Many manufacturers have just released new oven ranges, cooktops and other "winter" appliances, just in time for the cooler months of the year. Winter is the perfect time to update the look of your kitchen and its fittings and appliances - we all tend to spend more time indoors during winter, and feel the urge to prepare more hot food and beverages.
Much sought-after luxury European brands Omega and Smeg have both recently released a range of products, suited for anyone looking for both good looks and ease-of-use in their kitchen fittings.
Take for example the Omega OA29X cooktop (RRP$1190), which epitomises flushline technology. It's one sheer, uninterrupted sheet of black glass; with no ridges, lips or controls anywhere within the stainless steel perimeter trim. The four cooking zones are operated by a fingertip touch to the sensor area, and microtherm insulation has been installed beneath the cooking zones to conserve heat and energy.
Meanwhile, Smeg has the PGFA95F gas cooktop (RRP$2350), a five burner, semi-industrial style gas cooktop, which once again uses flushline technology to seamlessly integrate into your kitchen. Smeg has also incorporated energy saving and noise control measures into its new line of semi-commercial rangehoods, which have been designed for use in homes. Dubbed the ENC range, these chimneyhoods have been specifically designed to eliminate grease-laden vapour from high-performance cooktops, thus ensuring the atmosphere in your kitchen is fresh and healthy at all times.
The new range from Omega also includes a microwave, the OA138X (RRP$450). Omega claims this 34-litre oven takes the guess work out of cooking, making it easier than ever before to whip up a healthy meal, and quickly. The plate-warming mode heats a pre-cooked meal without overcooking or leaving a cold spot in the middle, and frozen food can be thawed automatically by weight and consistency, using pre-determined settings stored in the microwave. If you've got young children in the house, there's even a safety lock included, which shuts down the control pad.
Or if you don't have much space, consider the Smeg SA987CX (RRP$850). It's one of the smallest ovens available, and yet can roast, grill, bake and microwave. It incorporates something Smeg has dubbed "3D" technology - the interior of the oven has a pattern of indentations, which increase the number of surfaces for electromagnetic waves to bounce off, improving efficiency and creating evenness of both cooking and defrosting.
Meanwhile, even Sharp's traditional microwave has had a makeover. The most recent model to be released, the R-397JS (RRP$362), not only has a stylish stainless steel finish, but also has a healthy menu feature incorporated.
The oven has ten healthy recipes pre-programmed into it, including Mediterranean chicken, chilli baby octopus and salad and vegetable couscous. The recipes are included in the manual. All you have to do is put it together and press a button on the microwave to cook your meal.
The latest in-built ovens have also been designed to fit seamlessly into the stylish good looks of today's kitchens. One brand new line worth investigating is Fisher & Paykel's Designer Series.
These iridium stainless steel appliances don't replace F&P's existing versions on the market, but allow more choice to the looks-conscious as they boast flat seamless door panels and stylish square-edged handles. Not only does the Designer Series feature ovens, but a unique-looking DishDrawer dishwasher and fridges as well.
No matter which model of oven you choose, look for pyrolytic self-cleaning technology to make life easier on yourself. This is the most effective self-cleaning technology available in ovens to date.
A warming drawer is also worth considering as a complement to your oven. We like Gaggenau's W262-130 (RRP$2099). A warming oven will preheat your plates, keep food warm or reheat meals, so you can keep your oven free for other cooking functions. This is particularly handy if you do a lot of entertaining.
Many high-end fridges today come with an array of features, including ice-dispensers and design tweaks. Models with the freezer mounted at the bottom are popular these days, as this minimises the amount of bending you have to do - most people use the freezer less than the fridge section. If ergonomics and posture are a concern for you, a bottom-mount fridge is the way to go. Meanwhile side-by-side models allow you to fit more in your fridge if you have a large family.
So what's "the ultimate" in refrigerators these days? LG's LCD TV Refrigerator (RRP$8199) is not too far off from being the top choice in that regard. While it incorporates a side-by-side design and an ice and chilled water dispenser (with filter included), these are not the truly outstanding features. That honour goes to the fridge's built-in 13-inch remote-controlled LCD television screen, which allows you to watch your favourite television shows when you're in the kitchen. The screen also displays room temperature.
Other features include a humidity-controlled crisper for fresh fruit and vegetables, a chamber for rapid chilling and freezing, a child-proof lock and a deodoriser to remove bacteria and odours. There are a number of ducts to circulate the cold air, which creates an even distribution of temperature, maintaining food freshness, nutritional value, texture and flavour for longer than your average fridge.
Something else you should keep in mind for your kitchen is a central (or ducted) vacuum system.
You can run this system throughout the different rooms of your house in a similar fashion to a central air conditioning unit. When you then need to clean a certain area, you simply plug the hose in to a nearby outlet.
This ensures the ultimate in convenience and the maximum in reliability, as all dust and debris is removed from your home.
Most central air conditioning systems include a self-cleaning filter and have longer lives than their portable cousins. A leading brand in this area is Volta.
Finally, don't forget to enable internet access in your kitchen as part of your home network. That way you can work from the kitchen as you prepare dinner, access the web to look up recipes or keep an eye on the kids as they sit in the kitchen and do their homework.
Another bonus here is that if you want to keep an eye on them when they're in another room, you could even set up a webcam from a company such as Logitech and have it streamed over the internet to your computer in the kitchen.
The latest and most convenient solution to networking your home for the internet is to go wireless. Belkin has a wide range of wireless products if you are looking for solutions.
These days it's easy enough to set up your home network yourself, though experts are always on hand if you need help.