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Your kitchen of tomorrow From scales to instant toasters to talking thermometers, technology has revolutionized cooking

Through the clatter of a chaotic kitchen, a flat, female voice speaks: "Your food is almost ready. Your food is almost ready."

The warning is coming from a thermometer. Really. It's the Remote Thermometer and it's a reminder that life as we know it -- in the kitchen, anyway -- is changing quickly.

It used to be that cooks would crank open the oven, get blasted from the heat, aim the thermometer into a thick part of the bird, then try to read the tiny, sometimes steamy numbers of a rapidly heating piece of metal.

Was it done? Overdone? Somewhere in the middle? It was hard to tell.

Now, thanks to technology, the Remote Thermometer probe stays in the meat, in the oven, with only a thin wire connecting it to a counter unit. Once programmed, you're free to run laps around the kitchen (at least within 150 feet) until beckoned.

As technology advances, so do our lives, and the kitchen is no exception. Peruse a cooking store and you'll find gadgets unheard of even 10 years ago: Tea kettles that heat water to exactly the right brewing temperature. Food scales that report nutritional information. Dishwashers with sensors that alter water temperature and pressure. And it doesn't stop there.
Wrestle away your kids' Nintendo DS and check out "Personal Trainer Cooking."

Learn what country a dish originates from (with a map!), get the recipe, a utensil checklist and calorie count. If you actually attempt to cook along (a la actress Lisa Kudrow in the TV commercial) the "DS Chef" -- a cute little cartoon icon -- will verbally guide you step-by-step. A hands-free voice control regulates the working speed.

The latest kitchen "gadgets" also include cell phones. An iPhone user can download applications like "Tiny Kitchen Cookbook" or "160,000 recipes -- Big Oven" and get a cookbook, recipe search engine, instructions and shopping list all rolled into one.

Too busy to even think about dinner? "Mobile Rush-Hour Recipes" sends a new dish to the phone every day from Holly Clegg "The Queen of Quick." For the pragmatist, there's "GroceryZen," an electronic shopping list preloaded with hundreds of ingredients.

Heck, the iFood Assistant by Kraft provides directions to the nearest grocery store.

>Changing culture

It's this food technology phenomenon that fascinates people like Dr. George A. Barnett, a professor of the University at Buffalo's Communication Department. He studies how technology and communication changes culture, of which food and eating are a big part.

Also a food lover, Barnett says one of the biggest factors working in our kitchens is that our society has moved from producing goods to producing information. Because of access and the sheer amount of information, global foods and traditions have made their way into our culture.

"When I was growing up, what did my mother and grandmother cook? They never heard of tofu or Thai," says Barnett of foods that have become almost commonplace.

As we taste and learn about these different food rituals, they eventually become part of our lives.

In his own kitchen, Barnett has three coffee makers -- an Italian espresso maker for him, a French press for his wife and a basic automatic "American" version.

Barnett says we've become "heterogeneously local and globally homogeneous" meaning our local food culture now comes from a variety of cultures, and this is happening all over the world.

"I've been in Singapore eating Mexican," says Barnett. "Visit a major city like Toronto, and you'll find any world cuisine. Drive down Elmwood and see all the ethnic food restaurants. We've come in contact with more of the world, now we want to bring these foods into our kitchen so how do we do this?"

But with all these advancements in technology and gadgetry, why is getting dinner on the table such a tough task?

"We are in a 'time recession,' " says Barnett. Basically, we are working longer not less, decreasing our time in the kitchen.

>Cook's computer

Of course, the biggest "toy" in the kitchen -- the computer -- has transformed the way that we access recipes, information, and ultimately, the way we cook.

Tanya Steel, editor-in-chief of Epicurious.com -- a destination food site with recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines, among others -- says the site started in 1995 as a basic recipe database. In 14 short years it's built up to a gigantic cooking resource "for people who love to eat," offering 100,000 recipes and changing daily content.

Cooking photos, slide shows and instructional video are now a huge part of the site.

"Food is very much a visual medium," says Steel, in an interview from her office in New York City.

The site was one of the first to give users the power to rate recipes, tell others what they thought and offer modifications. The addition of My Epi, what Steel calls "a Facebook for foodies," lets users leave comments on each other's "Fridge Doors," chat with other foodies and post photos.

"People who love to cook and eat love nothing more than to talk and engage each other about their mutual passion."

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>Gadgets galore

Some fun new tools for your kitchen:
Pandigital Kitchen Technology Center -- Touch screen controls, preloaded recipes and HDTV. Also a wireless Internet device. (amazon.com)

iRobot Scooba 380 Kitchen Washing Robot -- Cleans kitchen floors and comes with "virtual walls," meaning it won't venture to other parts of the house. (kitchencontraptions.com)
Salter Nutritional Scale -- Measures and reports nutritional data just by placing the food on the scale and entering its code. (kitchencontraptions.com and williams-sonoma.com)
Wine Preservation Steward -- Portable and uses a temperature management system to preserve wine. (www.hammacher.com)
One Minute Drink Chiller -- Can cool a can of soda to 38 degrees in one minute. (www.hammacher.com)
Philips Warp Drive Toaster -- Has a power range of up to 1,200 watts for fast toast. (www.consumer.philips.com)
Egg cookers -- Electronic egg cookers can cook several eggs at one time. Eggs within the same batch can be cooked to different levels of doneness. (williams-sonoma.com)
Beaba Baby Cooker -- All-in-one-unit steams and blends foods for homemade baby food in 15 minutes. (williams-sonoma.com)
EuroCuisine Yogurt Maker -- Make your own yogurt using this machine. (williams-sonoma.com)

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