Culinary tools to please, pamper mom

La Mer plates

Women once yearned to get out of the kitchen. Now, time-crunched and tethered to their jobs, more than a few want to get back in.

Cooking is chic again, driven in part by television chefs who make it look so easy and deliciously fun. The "slaving over a hot stove" stereotype of generations past has been recast as culinary adventure, not drudgery. Consequently, the tools of the trade are getting more stylish and clever, even playful.

Which leads us to ask: Mother's Day gifts, anyone? We went shopping at five Charleston area stores in search of food-related goodies for moms. Here's a sampling of what we saw in a range of prices, from modest to splurge.

Williams-Sonoma, downtown Charleston

MODEST: Microplane Ultimate Citrus Tool, $12.95.

A multitasking tool for citrus that zests, scores or cuts strips for garnishes. Dishwasher safe, too.

SPLURGE: La Mer plates, set of four, $54.

Each porcelain plate bears the image of a different fish, replicating watercolor paintings by French artist Marc Lacaze. Microwaveable and dishwasher safe. "Great for coastal living," says Sherry Falotico, store coordinator.

Le Creuset, downtown Charleston

MODEST: Petite stoneware casseroles, $25 (set of 4, $90).

Holds 8 ounces; use for dips, soups or individual servings of anything; or for storing garlic or sea salt, perhaps.

Vegetable shapes are tomato, artichoke, eggplant, pepper, pumpkin or garlic; fruit shapes include pear, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry or apple.

SPLURGE: 3 1/2-quart buffet casserole, $190.

Heavy, all-purpose pan can go from the stove to the oven to the grill. Enameled cast-iron should last a lifetime, and is pretty enough to serve in.

Le Gourmet Chef, Tanger Outlet Center, North Charleston

MODEST: Apron, $19.99.

Black-and-white with either green or pink accents and rhinestones. Stitching proclaims the wearer "Queen of Everything" (pictured) or "Domestic Diva."

SPLURGE: Keurig Special Edition B60 Single Cup Brewing System, $149.99.

Three brew-size choices for coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Permanent filter allows use of ground coffee in addition to pods.

"They're still very popular. People like the idea of one cup at a time. It's fresh, it's hot," says store supervisor Linda Wilson.

Charleston Cooks!, downtown Charleston

MODEST: Herb shears, $14, or Toss 'N' Chop cutters, $22.

Cut fresh herbs into small pieces quickly and cleanly with one or make a chopped salad or salsa in the bowl with the other.

SPLURGE: Waring Pro Professional Wine Chiller, $100.

Preset temperatures for 33 varieties of red, white and Champagne. "It's kind of foolproof," says retail manager Mary Coveney.

Coastal Cupboard, Mount Pleasant

MODEST: Bodum Ceylon iced-tea maker with filter, $19.95 (small) or $29.95 (large).

Brew iced tea using any loose-leaf tea, tea bags or make fruit- or veggie-infused waters. "People love them because they can be so creative," says Joy Pitner of Coastal Cupboard.

SPLURGE: Decorative, handcrafted pewter measuring cups on a pewter post. Cups, $139.95; post, $49.95.

"People like them to pass down as heirlooms because they are solid pewter. ... They see them on the Paula Deen show," says Pitner.