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Originally published Wednesday, July 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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This year's top kitchen gifts are geared toward entertaining

Puget Sound-area kitchen stores say frozen-margarita machines, ice-cream makers, fondue sets and slow cookers are joining the venerable KitchenAid stand mixer and Le Creuset cookware as surefire gifts for any wedding or housewarming.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Summer in the Northwest often means a frenzy of weddings, housewarmings and other celebrations, crammed into these fleeting weeks of 80-degree days and balmy nights.

To maximize your outdoor time, we checked on the most-popular kitchen items on gift registries around the Sound and asked local cooks what gifts they love to get and give (all prices by store, current as of this week).

What are this year's bread machine and George Foreman Grill? Shops from Sur La Table to Amazon.com say entertaining is huge this year, with frozen-margarita machines, ice-cream makers, fondue sets and slow cookers joining the venerable KitchenAid stand mixer and Le Creuset cookware as surefire gifts. Also, check out our tips for making the most of smaller gifts.

This year's favorites

"The Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker ($299.95-$379.95). People love that," said Rebecca Burgess of Sur La Table, a Seattle-based kitchen chain. Ice-cream makers are also big (she recommends the Cuisinart Red Classic Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker, $59.95). "They are an item you don't want to buy for yourself because you think it's a little frivolous, but it's a great gift," Burgess says. Silicon cookware and gadgets are becoming more popular as space savers, she said, since many fold up small.

"Anything to do with bar stuff. That's big. Corkscrews and barware," said Nancy Deonigi, manager of Kitchen N Things in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood. Copper cookware is another trend (starts around $185). "For some reason, it's going through a revival. It's incredibly pricey, but people are still wanting it. It's wonderful to cook with, and the more food-oriented we are, the more significant it is," she said.

"Everybody's registry has a hollow-ground santoku knife," ($89.99-$124.99) said Amy Pomp Lorette, a buyer at Mrs. Cook's, a cookware shop in Seattle's University Village. "Everyone sees the cooks on TV using them, and they have to have them." Other items back in style there include slow cookers ($79.99-$149.99) and fondue sets ($26.95-$129.99).

Popular gift ideas at Bed Bath & Beyond include the Simplehuman Spout Sensor Soap Pump ($39.99), for those kitchen moments when our hands are covered in food, and the AeroGrow Aerogarden ($149.99), an indoor herb-growing apparatus that requires no soil, said spokeswoman Bari Fagin. A popular entertaining item: B. Smith's line of white porcelain serveware (starts at $19.99) in a variety of heights and dimensions.

The margarita-maker is a top seller on Amazon.com's Pacific Northwest region gift registries as well, says Chris Nielsen, vice president of the Web site's home-and-garden store. Also big: the Krups Home Beer-Tap system that keeps Heineken keg cans chilled and classy (starts at $279), Cuisinart ice-cream makers, wine-pourers and stoppers, and the Bakers Edge Nonstick Edge Brownie Pan ($34.95), a labyrinthian-looking piece of bakeware designed so each brownie from the pan gets a nice, crisp edge.

Perennial favorites

Le Creuset enameled cast-iron cookware is popular across the board. Pomp Lorette recommends a 5.5-quart covered Dutch oven ($199.99) as a good basic she sees on most gift registries. All-Clad cookware and Emile Henry bakeware and dinnerware remain popular at her shop.

Amazon.com's top kitchen-related seller is the Cuisinart Pro Classic 7-Cup food processor at $99.95 (though the Wii Fit video game is the most-requested registry item overall, perhaps because of all this cooking going on at home?). The KitchenAid stand mixer (starts at $198) still ranks high. This classic often emerges in fresh, new colors and with an expanding range of attachments for tasks like pasta-making, Nielsen says (he's a fan of the ice-cream-making attachment, $69.99).

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"It's always the Riedel glassware [starting at $19.95], the porcelain white plates [Revol, starting at $72 for four] and the basic white tablecloths [starting at $29.95]," at Sur La Table, Burgess said. Cuisinart food processors, immersion blenders and conventional blenders remain popular.

Gotta-have-'em gifts

"My Le Creuset enameled cast-iron cookware," says Leon Bloom, of Seattle, who is celebrating his first anniversary with wife Salwa this month. "It's so versatile. I can brown my chicken in the skillet and throw some vegetables in, throw a lid on and throw it in the oven and have some French-style food." Bloom also loves his Le Creuset casserole baker, just the right size for lasagna for two. He has yet to take his deep fryer (also a wedding gift) out of the box, though he hopes to when Monday Night Football returns.

Scott Staples, chef/owner of Restaurant Zoë and Quinn's pub, is still using a Misono knife that he and his wife, Heather, received as a wedding gift from her sister 20 years ago. Now, all his knives are Japanese. Beyond the knife, Staples is proud of the Osterizer blender he inherited from his parents' wedding-gift collection. "It's just amazing that it still works after all this time."

Newlywed Janice Parker Theiss, the administrator of PCC Natural Markets' board, can't wait to try her Danish dough whisk ($8 at breadtopia.com), an oddly shaped tool she received from a friend who swears by it.

"It looks like somebody just threw some metal in the air and attached itself to the handle," Parker Theiss said. "The person who gave it to me was the manager of our cooking program and is a fabulous cook and great baker who's been baking for many years; she does these great breads. She's used this style whisk for 20 years now."

Good gifts for giving

"I give digital thermometers that have alarms on them," Staples said. One example is Sur La Table's Remote Wireless Meat Thermometer/Timer ($49.99). "Since most people don't really know how to take care of their temperatures with meat, it's just fail-safe. You can set an alarm if you know you have to cook your steak to a certain time."

"White porcelain platters. You can dress them up or down and they're always useful," said Pomp Lorette of Mrs. Cook's. A pizza stone is great as a gift, she says, since most people don't buy one for themselves. She also suggests melamine bowls by La Table Limone ($25.50) that resemble Italian pottery (sans the weight), a bright tin Blyton Picnic Basket ($175) and a GurglePot ($39.95), a glazed, fish-shaped pitcher by a local company that's reproduced from a French mold: "Air is captured in the tail of the fish so when you pour it makes this great gurgling sound."

Parker Theiss likes to give blenders and mixers to friends who lack them and Microplane graters (starting around $10). "Another thing I would give is great bowls, platters and things like that, something that has a really beautiful or artistic sensibility if you know the person and their style and colors."

Creative grilling items are a safe bet, Deonigi says, such as wood planks ($49.99) or a fish basket for grilling fish ($30). She also recommends the local Chef'n line of bright, cheerful kitchen gadgets, especially its flexible silicone steamer baskets ($9.99) and its Chef'n Dual Grind salt and pepper grinder($27.99). For a special occasion, she likes to give high-quality serveware, such as an Emile Henry pasta bowl ($38).

For a special touch

Left with nothing on the gift registry but kitchen tools? Bundle them into a bouquet, tied with ribbon or kitchen twine.

Combine gadgets like graters with a hunk of good cheese, artisanal chocolate or a sack of citrus for zesting.

Include a recipe with any type of bowl, pot or piece of cookware, or bundle in the ingredients if possible.

Consider rallying friends to get one big gift. "Most everyone registers for a food processor or a stand mixer, although sadly most people don't get them, since they're a big-ticket item," Pomp Lorette said.

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618

or kgaudette@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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