“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.