“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris
‘Buy cheap, buy twice.’
After David Cameron’s bread maker confession, I was reminded of a rumour about Ed Miliband. He is reputed to have thrown away the Aga that came with his house because it wasn’t ecological. I could never vote Tory but a man who chucks away an Aga is not my kind of politician. So I thought I’d ask him. But he never replied.
Can you judge a person by their kitchen? By their kitchen gadgets? Is it ok, in fact, to ‘sweat the small stuff’?
Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that my own particular paraphilia is kitchenware. I can spend hours in cookware shops, hardware shops and peering in the ‘everything for a pound’ random box under the table at car boot sales, searching out a new kitchen gadget. I’ve bought lobster crackers although I don’t eat lobster and wooden butter curls but I never curl my butter. I want to buy wooden butter pats which is ridiculous as I know I’ll never use them. So you see, it is a real addiction.
Earlier this year I was sent an intriguing book ‘Essential equipment for the kitchen’ by Charlotte and Peter Fiell. Declaring itself “a sourcebook of the world’s best designs”, I took pleasure in ticking off all the items I already possessed.
For you can spend a lifetime searching for the perfect peeler or grater or nutcracker. How many times have we bought a cheapo gadget and it didn’t work or fell apart on its first use? Sometimes it’s worth buying a brand: well designed, sturdy, classically attractive.
The following list is in no particular order, most are small items that are not necessarily the cheapest but are built to last. These will make life in the kitchen easier. Regard this also as an early Christmas present list for cooks.
1. Microplane grater (£18.99)
Buy two, a fine one and a coarse one.
I couldn’t believe it when I met a chef last summer who didn’t know what they were. These are pricey when compared to cheaper graters, but won’t graze your knuckles. And let’s face it, as comedian James Acaster notes, most of us only ever use one side of our cheese graters. If you want it to last, buy the slightly more expensive, professional microplane with a metal handle. I broke my plastic handled one after only a year.
2. Silpat (£19.99)
This non-stick baking mat prevents anything from sticking to your baking tray and reduces washing up. Any silicon baking mat is good but Silpat is particularly heavy duty.
3. Digital scales (£9.99)
Any serious cook will already have these. If you haven’t yet, you need to. They aren’t expensive and will make you ‘gram perfect’. Salter do a good brand.
4. Digital thermometer (£36.00)
Want to check if your meat or fish is properly cooked inside? Don’t cut it open, check with a digital thermometer. Want to work with sugar, not sure of the difference between hard crack and soft crack? Buy a digital thermeter. Thermapen is a colourful, accurate, well designed brand.
5. Rubber spatula ($19.99)
I’ve got a few of these but I can always do with more. It’s not just for doling out cake mix, it’s for stirring, scraping down the sides. They are heat proof. I agree with the book, Good Grips Spatulas (2007 design) are an attractive example of the genre.
6. Pyrex measuring jugs
8. Jam pot funnel (£3.50)
Sooo glad I bought one finally. Endlessly useful whether you make jam or not. Want to fill a jam jar full of beans without having them roll all over the floor? Use a jam pot funnel.
9. Rex model peeler
A good peeler shortens the job and saves fingers and knuckles. They have good ones at the Japan Centre. But the classic 1960s design Rex from Switzerland (£2.99) is a kitchen standby.
I’ve been through so many nutcrackers and possessed so many that weren’t up to the job. This type, pictured, works well and hasn’t broken. I got mine in France and I can’t find any online like it, but this Kitchen Craft one (£9.84) would do the job.
11. Cheese slicer
The Dutch and the Scandinavians love a cheese slicer. So do I. Great for thinly sliced cheese in sandwiches. Or shaving off slices of parmesan for a rocket salad or to top a pizza. Naturally a Norwegian invented the first in 1925. The delivery on this Boska slicer is quite steep, actually more expensive than the item itself (£9.95 + £12.95), but the short one (£9.50) seems to have no delivery cost for Prime members.
12. La Cafetiere
This is not a gadget really. But the simplicity of this design works for me. I’m not a coffee geek but the ‘french press’ produces good enough coffee. I have this one (£39.95), as pictured, but the retro one (£17.28) also by La Cafetiere is very attractive.
13. Zigzag corkscrew
Love these. Again, simple and classic, the ZigZag corkscrew works really well. You can get antique ones at French flea markets for around 35 euros if you are lucky. Here’s a new one (£41.50).
You need thin slices? Some chefs recommend the Benriner mandolin (£16.32). I don’t have one of these yet, I have an old fashioned antique wooden one, the Swiss Waefa slicer (£45), which is still being made.
15. KitchenAid mixer
Most bakers prefer Kenwood and certainly I grew up on a Kenwood mixer. But I love the retro look of the KitchenAid (1937), the curves, the enamel, the colours, the sturdy Americana of it. There is the classic white (£301.06), which is cheaper but perhaps not as pretty as the Artisan range with a variety of colours (£369 – £449.95). In terms of functioning, I find the fact that the speed is on the left and the lifting up mechanism is on the right side rather counter-intuitive. Does anyone else?
I have used a Vitamix for years. It’s dependable and my latest one, the cream-coloured Professional G-Series (£499), pictured above, is pretty and also comes in red and black. It grinds things so finely, you can even make your own icing sugar and rice flour. I made gooseberry curd in it, which took 5 minutes rather than half an hour.
17. A Dutch oven
This is a cast iron, sturdy lidded saucepan. The nearest equivalent for a domestic kitchen rather than on a dusty cowboy trail is Le Creuset casseroles (£128) which are beautiful, made of cast iron and enamel, and a favourite of Elizabeth David. I only have small one which I found in a bin in the street. Maybe one day I’ll get some more.
This is deffo not a gadget. In fact if you possess one, you don’t need many gadgets at all. You don’t need an electric kettle, a toaster, a sandwich toaster or an iron. I have a classic 3 oven Aga in cream. Worth the investment, I’ve never regretted it.
About Bristol Vintage
Re the Kitchen Aid – yes, I agree – I have to reach around it when I'm using it just because of where it fits into my kitchen …. but I still adore it. I got mine at a car boot sale for an unbelievable £20!!! Bargain of the century I think! xx
Sometimes when I have alot of dough in the kitchen Aid bowl and it starts to work it's way loose from it's moorings, I go to switch it off and I ALWAYS reach for the wrong side, the lifty uppy side. I've noticed other people doing that too. Is it intrinsically for left handers?
Puss N Boots
Odd felt slightly ashamed when as I scrolled down the page I realised I had all of the above, then sl proud. I only disagree with the corkscrew choice. I have a zig zag but prefer the simple jointed arm style waiters corkscrew. Never see them in the shops was given one by a wine merchant acquaintance and never use anything else. my only addition to the list is my magnetic knife rack and all the knives thereon.
Oh mi god! You are right, magnetic knife rack and knives. I was thinking of adding knives but yes I have two magnetic racks…one above the draining board and another on the other side of the kitchen. I'm a big believer in counter space, so anything magnetic and on a pulley, I'm a fan.
great post i am using this Sandwich Toaster
from last few months i never face any kind of problem from the date of the purchase it.
I love my microplane!! I would definitely also include a pressure cooker, cast iron griddle pan big enough to fit over 2 burners, and a salad spinner (especially for drying herbs so they dont turn to mush when you chop them)
Yes I was going to add a cast iron crepiere but felt I was straying off the kitchen gadget brief I'd set myself. But then I strayed anyway.
Salad spinner. deffo.
Pressure cooker, I don't have one so….but certainly Catherine Phipps is a big fan.
I love my rice cooker, kitchen aid, zester, juicer, but need an age!
Rice steamer, yes. All Asian households have them. Perfect fluffy rice every time.
Tongs! I have at least four sets – silicone tips, plain metal – you can stir with them, serve out with them, reach into the back of the grill and turn things over with them, fish out bouquets garnis from the bottom of the giant saucepan of simmering whatever with them – would not be without mine.
Yes tongs as well. But they've got to be tongs that don't spring out as soon as you release your grip…
Ah yes, so true!
Hmm.. my simple grater, for starts. We're still operating with our 'before' kitchen so I keep thinking 'come the Renovation' but at the moment, this little mini chopper thing works as our blender. I grew up on Kenwood blenders – they're brilliant – but like you, I can't let any more things live on our counter space.
I remember my friend Annie had an Aga – big house in Notting Hill, near Stella McCartney, and it was the bane of her existence. She couldn't figure out how to use it – it seemed to have only two settings – and I remember visiting on a (rare) hot summer day. Every door and window open, the nanny was melting from the heat, all because apparently you can't turn the Aga off. Is that true? If so – I can see how it might contribute to Global Warming.
Love your blog – I can't believe I only just discovered it when my husband sent me a link to a TimeOut piece on supper clubs. From 2009.
Oh and sorry I can't help you with an ice cream maker! If I find anything good I'll let you know. And how wild that Deborah got back saying her friend has Ed Miliband's old Aga! What are the odds.
Thanks Jill. Yes you can turn the Aga down/off in the possibly 2 weeks of the year that we have hot weather!
Yes Ed still hasn't replied to my twitter question. Bugger the economy and the Labour conference, why did you get rid of your aga ed? eh?
AH!! I've got a gadget. My cast iron griddle pan (similar one here: http://www.johnlewis.com/simply-perfect-by-raymond-blanc-cast-iron-griddle/p519535) I got it in 1998 when we moved here from NY, someone cheffy said they couldn't live without it, but it filled the place with smoke, so I hid it away. I discovered by accident – trial and error – that you don't put the oil in the pan, DUH, but just on the food – just a bit. I now use it for everything – toasting bread – and it's as close to BBQing as I can get in a city.
I knew if I tried I'd come up with a gadget! Besides my trusty zester.
The microplane is a brilliant zester so I feel I have that covered on a gadget level. Cast iron griddle pan: yes I agree with that most definitely.
Thanks for sharing this post ,,i am using this Sandwich Toaster from last few months i never face any kind of problem
Sally - My Custard Pie
Completely with you on the microplane – brilliant for Parmesan alone, but citrus zests, nutmeg, ginger all done painlessly. Mandoline is firmly on my list. I have a love/hate with my KitchenAid – love the look, the sturdiness, the few working parts but dislike the clunky switches and how any attachments are bolted on. It hasn't evolved at all – it's defiantly old-fashioned. A 'chicki' egg boiler is the most pointless but treasured gadget in our house. Soft, medium or hard to perfection and a salt shaker in the chicken's head – German made and designed, brilliantly kitsch.
This is interesting kitchenware products first time i saw this Zigzag Corkscrew how to use this one?