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5 Ways to Be a Great Gadget Chef

Move over Iron Chef, here comes Gadget Chef! We all know that there's not a room in the house with more gadgets than the kitchen, but they tend to be wimpy devices designed for fussy little tasks. Does the world really need a new melonballer?

If you're holding out for that cool Star Trek device that could synthesize any food or beverage on demand, realize you're going to have to wait a bit longer (though scientists are getting closer). In the meantime, your kitchen gadgets need should actually help in the kitchen. Here are five that will make life more enjoyable -- and more automated -- as you cook up your next culinary creation.

Brainy Assistant Chef: Let's get cooking! First, you'll need a timer. Actually, you probably need two timers since you'll probably have more than one dish going at a time. But how about a device that is much more than a dual timer? The KitchenCalc's Pro Master Chef's Edition is also a calculator, designed specifically for scaling the ingredients for recipes. Got a great chicken cacciatore recipe that serves six, but there are only two of you? It automatically scales amounts, and even displays using fractions so you don't have to figure out which measuring cup to use. 

It can also convert standard measures, such as teaspoons, tablespoons, and ounces. It will even convert metric recipes into English measures. The calculator has a large display and buttons, covered by a protective clear vinyl cover that will protect it from your sticky messes. Oh, and if that's not enough, it also functions as a traditional ten-digit calculator. Now there's a kitchen gadget with some brains.

Hands-Free Hand Soap: You've just finished slicing the chicken or segmenting the orange slices, and your hands are a sticky mess. The next step is to wash them, but by definition, this requires that you transfer the sticky mess to the soap dispenser's handle. Wouldn't it be great to have an assistant ready to squeeze out just the right amount of hand soap? 

The SimpleHuman automated soap dispenser will do just that. Place your hands under the spout, and a sensor makes the pump deliver the soap to your hands. Choose from four settings to adjust the amount. And all it takes is a set of four AA batteries to make it do its magic.

Hands-Free, Part Two: Now how do you now turn on the water without transferring the aforementioned sticky mess -- or the hand soap, or both -- to the faucet? The EzFaucet PRO Model converts any kitchen faucet into an automated hands-free water dispenser. Just hold your hands under the infra-red sensor and you get a stream of water to wash your hands. No wires are required; four AA batteries should power it for more than a year. You save water and your faucet handle stays free of sticky mess and hand soap.

Speak to Me! Of course, you may have to deal with some distractions while you're cooking. You may not hear that timer beep if you're concentrating on separating a dozen egg yolks from their whites or keeping your hollandaise from breaking. At times like that, it's helpful to have someone just tell you that your food has finished cooking. And it would be great if it could also track the temperature of whatever it is that's in the oven. 

The Voice Alert Anticipation Thermometer from Maverick can do all that and more. It's a timer and a thermometer, and it can show the target and actual temperatures at the same time. And best of all, it talks to you. It will tell you how much time remains until the dish will be done using preset alert intervals, it will announce when it's ready. If you're roasting a turkey, it can even remind you to baste it! (You can also turn off the voice alerts, and just rely on traditional beeps or no sound at all.)

Listen to Me! Talking thermometers are certainly a great gadget idea for the kitchen, but don't we really need a device that understands spoken instructions? And where could this feature be more useful than an automated coffee maker? I don't know about you, but waking up to the aroma of fresh brewed coffee is a wonderful way to start the day. And a miserable start is getting up to find that you didn't program the coffee pot correctly, and the pot's just sitting there, cold and empty. 

The Speak n' Brew from Primula may be the greatest culinary advance since Mae West commanded, "peel me a grape!" This coffee maker has speech recognition: just press a button and answer when it asks you when you want your coffee ready. It even repeats your instructions back to you, so that you know it got the details right. It also shows the target time on its LCD screen. The Speak n' Brew has a 10-cup capacity, and can even pause while brewing so you can grab a cup before it finishes.

Alfred Poor writes the daily "HDTV Almanac" about home entertainment technology, and spends the rest of his time surrounded by gadgets.