Fun food gadgets offer all-in-one wizardry

The Mukka Express is a clever stove-top latte and cappucino machine.
The Mukka Express is a clever stove-top latte and cappucino machine.Bialetti

Good chefs. Bad chefs. Doesn’t matter. They all love unique and sometimes time-saving gadgets in the kitchen. 

Anyone can do lots of research and find the best cookware, food processor or coffee machine on the market. Boring. I’ve been scouring catalogs and pertinent Web sites and think I’ve found a few interesting ones that you might not have seen — or heard of.

Oh sure, you can spend several hundred or even thousand dollars for one of those incredibly beautiful espresso/cappuccino machines that do everything but grow the beans themselves. But for less than $100, you can buy a stove-top all-in-one latte machine from Bialetti.

Bialetti is one of Italy’s largest stove-top coffee maker makers but the Mukka Express (retail price $89) is special even for them. It’s the first stove-top coffee maker with the ability to brew two cups of espresso coffee and froth milk simultaneously.

First, you put water inside the bottom of the cast-aluminum device. Next, you fill the interior basket with coffee and then screw on the top section and pour in milk. Place the contraption on your heat source and after a few minutes the water boils, passing through the coffee grounds. A special valve opens and steams the milk. Finally, everything combines in the top chamber to create your masterpiece.

What you get is two cups of good-tasting cappuccino. It’s a little light on the foam but flavorful and satisfying. Clean-up is pretty simple: There are few parts to wash, dry or lose. And don't worry, non-cow lovers — it comes in a plain stainless steel version as well as the one pictured above.

For those of you who like their cappuccino for breakfast, how about a combination toaster/egg cooking machine? I have just the thing.

The Muffin Man looks like an ordinary two-slice toaster with an added cooking chamber on the side. The toaster section is pretty straightforward. It’s the integrated steam cooker that fascinated me. 

While you toast your bread/English muffin/bagel, you can also steam cook an egg (poached or steam-scrambled) and warm-up a slice of pre-cooked ham or Canadian bacon. The Muffin Man makers claim you can even hard or soft boil as many as four eggs at a time in the steamer tray.

You can make toast or eggs separately or toast and eggs together at the same time. The Muffin Man sells for $49.95 at many fine locations, including the Herrington’s catalog.

Then there’s one of my all-time favorite kitchen gadgets: the pop-up toaster-based Hot Diggity Dogger.

This is a very simple device to understand and operate. The metal basket in the middle holds two hot dogs. The buns go in the semi-circular slots on either side. Push down the starter and a few minutes later, up pops two cooked hot dogs and nicely toasted buns.

There is a variable heat control that you’ll have to play with to achieve a perfect combination of browned hot dogs to toasted buns — and some brands of premium hot dogs are slightly too long for the basket and stick out the top — but it’s the kind of device that’s simple to figure out and to operate.

You can find the Hot Diggity Dogger for sale at a number of online retailers. It carries a retail price of $59.95 but this season is selling it for $29.99.

I’m intrigued by the sight of an electric mashed potato machine from Westinghouse, the Steam N Mash ($59.99 online or at stores such as JC Penney). It looks like a mad scientist’s invention — a cross between an electric steamer and rotating hand blender.

It seems simple enough: You add peeled potatoes and the machine steams them until they’re done (there’s a 60 minute timer with an auto-shutoff function). Then with the touch of a button, the mixer takes over, making a whipped puree of your potatoes — or any other vegetables. There’s even a blending switch for adding and mixing ingredients after you’ve mashed. Voila!

Finally, there’s one gadget that I’ve told you about before, but can’t let you forget as we approach the holidays. It’s the Wham-O Marshmallow Peeps Marshmallow Maker.

You mix the marshmallow powder with water, then squeeze the sticky mess into molds to give the peeps shape. Let them set and dry for a few minutes — and you have your ultra-sweet delights.

It’s meant for kids, but no one will stop you from trying it for yourself. You won’t find the Peeps Machine at your local gourmet kitchen emporium, however. Try a neighborhood toy store, or toy chain or online. The kits go for $24.99; refills for $7.99.

One last warning: Wham-O also makes gummy candy makers, frozen pudding dessert kits. These have not yet been tested. You’re on your own.