For so long, one man called our name in the night, a siren insomniac cry we could not deny. His name was Ron Popeil, king of the 3 a.m. infomercial, and he held both our heart and our Visa Gold hostage in his suave, oven-mitted hands. Oh, the willpower it took to refuse his Showtime Standard Rotisserie Oven, his combination Electric Food Dehydrator/ Yogurt Maker. (What we would have given for just one hour with his Inside-the-Shell Electric Egg Scrambler!)
A recent effort to abstain from such witching-hour appliance acquisition has led us, however, to a wider world beyond Ron and his fellow midnight marauders. For true kitchen-gadget freaks willing to brave daylight, they're merely the tip of the iceberg. A vast network of television, Internet, catalog, and mall retailers is full to overflowing with every culinary doodad known to man. (Grind a better peppercorn! Grill a better pancake! Roast a whole small piglet on your countertop!) at a variety of price points.
First, let us distinguish between the necessary (it's all relative, of course) and the decorative. Sharper Image (1501 Fourth Ave., 206-343-9125, www.sharperimage.com), the store and catalog for the Guy Who Really, Really, Really Has Everything, offers many fun objets in the latter category. A mere $700 buys you a Vienna Digital Espresso Maker, which goes from beans to brewed in 45 seconds and looks like art doing it. For those on a slightly smaller budget, the All-in-One Grill Fork ($29.95) with digital readout meat and fish thermometer, built-in bottle opener, corkscrew, and flashlight just might come in handy for a hike through the Andes once barbecue season is over. Or how about the Automatic Pepper Mill ($34.95), with a light that "turns on automatically for better portion control during candle-lit meals"? God protect hardworking Americans from over-peppered, poorly lit canap鳮
Havetohaveit.com, a more plebian outpost, also offers a battery-driven meat thermometer, its Bar B Fork ($19.35), although in this case the lights are used to indicate varying degrees of done-ness, not to illuminate your meat. The multifunction prize must go to Havetohaveit's LePresse Food Styler ($58.15): It "dices, rices, juices, chops, cores, quarters, and more." According to its own glowing press, it makes everything from coleslaw to homemade sausage, and subsequently disassembles for easy cleaning. On the other end of the specialty spectrum, their Eggwave Microwave Cooker ($14.65) focuses on one target item, done multiple ways. The beloved ovum can be hard-boiled, soft-boiled, scrambled, poached, or omeletted (who knew it was a verb!), with no grease or added fat, in a dishwasher-safe contraption. Maybe eggs fresh out of a microwave taste a lot like Nikes, but you won't care, so fun and versatile is your cheery little Eggwave.
Of course, for those less inclined to gimmicks—those whose George Foreman Grill merely gathers dust in a cupboard corner—there are always proper, classy places like Crate and Barrel (555 Bellevue Square N.E., 425-646-8900, www.crateandbarrel.com) and chefscatalog.com, where lovely, non-gimmicky gadgets (caramelizing cooking torches, garlic roasters, easy-lock tongs) come in understated Teflon and stainless steel, at reasonable-yet-not-insulting prices. But they'll never keep us company on a lonely, sleepless night.