Too many cooks spoil the broth, so the old saying goes, but in our hectic modern world most of us would welcome some extra help in the kitchen. Whether your loved ones are culinary artists looking for some exciting new toys to play with, or well-meaning amateurs who could use some high-tech help, New Atlas rounds up some of the best giftable gadgets for the kitchen.
Click & Grow Smart Herb Garden
Herbs can make all the difference between a "meh" meal and an "mmm" meal, and while grocery store jars will do in a pinch (pun intended), they don't stack up against the freshly picked, homegrown option. But that takes time, effort and a backyard, right?
The Click & Grow smart herb garden helps even the most neglectful black-thumb grow their own tasty plants, since the device works best when you ignore it. All it takes is a few minutes to insert the plant capsules, fill it with water, and plug it in, then the system automatically makes sure the plants have enough light, water, and oxygen. Four weeks later, your meals will probably start inspiring a lot more "what's in this?" questions.
The Click & Grow smart herb garden is available for US$60, which includes three basil capsules. Refills and different plants are available for about $20 a three-pack.
The molecular gastronomers in the crowd are probably familiar with the idea of spherification, but for the non-foodies, it's a process of turning sauces, drinks and blended foods into gelatinous, caviar-like spheres. Picture cheesecake topped with pearls of strawberry sauce, or a mojito with mint spheres floating in it, and you'll get an idea of the kind of dinner party wizardry the Imperial Spherificator can pull off.
The process usually requires a food syringe and a steady hand, but the Spherificator is designed to fool your guests into thinking you've put in much more effort than you actually have. Pour the liquid to be spherified into the 7-oz (200-ml) flask, and the device drips it out into a bowl of water, through one of two nozzle sizes and at varying speeds.
The Imperial Spherificator is available for $125, which includes the device, a user guide and recipe booklet, and enough of the required chemicals to create about 15 lb (7 kg) of pearls.
The Clever Cutter is one of those ideas that makes you wonder why you didn't think of it first. It's essentially a pair of scissors for cutting meat, cheese and veggies, but the kicker is that the lower "blade" is a mini chopping board – complete with a tiny handle at one end, just for show.
The Clever Cutter can easily slice through most small foods, and if used over a bowl it won't make a mess. Afterwards, the device can be washed by hand or thrown in the dishwasher.
For around $14, the Clever Cutter makes a nice little stocking stuffer.
Anova Precision Cooker
The last thing we usually want to do when we get home after work is cook dinner, but grumbly stomachs don't take no for an answer. The next best thing to a robot chef is probably the Anova Precision Cooker, which can be instructed remotely, via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, to start slow-cooking your dinner, sous vide-style, and have it ready the second you walk in the door.
Before leaving for work in the morning, simply clamp the Precision Cooker to the side of a pot of water, throw in the carefully-bagged meat and veggies, and set the desired temperature and time. Then, from work, you can set it on your phone to start cooking at just the right time, safe in the knowledge that it will adjust itself if things get a little too hot. When we tried it out, the device cooked our steak and asparagus to perfection, with the end result both moist and flavorful.
The Anova Precision Cooker is available for $170.
PancakeBot 3D Food Printer
Delicious as they are, regular round pancakes can get a little boring. Sure, you can shake things up with a Mickey Mouse shape or a stencil, but that only goes so far. The PancakeBot 3D Food Printer is designed to make pancakes in just about any shape, sometimes with a crazy amount of detail.
The first step is to either use the included software to draw an image, which can be as simple or complex as you like, or download some from the website. Stick them on an SD card and slot it into the PancakeBot and it takes care of the rest, with a dispenser that traces the image by precisely squirting the batter onto a large electric griddle.
The PancakeBot is available for $295.
Here's one for the fussy foodies. From Breville and PolyScience, the Control Freak is an induction cooker that allows a chef to cook a dish at exactly the right temperature, and hold it there for days at a time, if need be.
Say a dish calls for a precise temperature of 185° F (85° C). The vague settings of low, medium and high just won't cut it, but the Control Freak can heat the food to exactly that temperature, with two different heat monitors constantly checking in and making adjustments as required. What's more, it can hold a temperature between 86° and 482° F (30° and 250° C) for up to 72 hours at a time, to slow-cook something or keep leftovers warm.
The Control Freak is available for $1,800.
My Cafe Multi-Use Brewer
Pod-based coffee machines may be handy for mornings where you just need a quick cup on the way out the door, but nothing beats ground coffee with a lazy weekend brunch. And what about tea? The My Cafe Multi-Use Brewer is compatible with all of those, so you don't have to choose.
The Brewer gets its versatility from swappable drawers. There's a drawer that fits K-Cup pods of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, there's another for ground coffee, and one for "soft pods" and tea bags. If you just need a burst of hot water for oatmeal or soup, there's another drawer for that.
The My Cafe Multi-Use Brewer is available for $160.