I believe that a major part of keeping your diet in check is having the ability to prepare great food at home. Of course, the occasional take-away or restaurant meal is great; but so is a Sunday Roast. Mmmm.
This series takes a look at several key tools and appliances for helping you prepare that perfect meal – whatever it is. First up, 7 Essential Kitchen Gadgets.
Over the past month the kitchen here was ripped out and replaced with a shiny new version. After a few minutes admiring the new cupboards, benches and major appliances; it was time to get out some of my favourite kitchen gadgets. 7, to be precise.
Note that when I say ‘gadget‘, I don’t necessarily mean that odd-looking single-purpose device you bought years ago at a kitchen show and never use. These are simply the tools and appliances in my kitchen that make life that much easier.
- Food Processor
These vary enormously in price (from the cheap ones in your local supermarket to the professional models found in kitchen stores), and this is generally determined by a couple of features. If you need these, get your wallet ready.
These features are :
- the ability to handle hot liquids (such as soups)
- the ability to handle hard objects (such as ice cubes)
If you don’t particularly need these functions, congratulations – you just saved yourself some serious cash.
Personally, I’ve always gone for the Magimix food processors – simply as these were favoured by several kitchen stores nearby when I initially bought one (a food processor that is, not a kitchen store). Highly recommended machines.
Cost : usually somewhere between $100 and $600.
Where to get them : these are often one of the first things to be marked down in a ‘Grand Opening Sale‘ of a kitchen or department store. At other times, the larger department stores generally offer a good range.
I’ve always eaten a lot of rice (usually steamed or boiled). For a number of years I suffered with the common boiling water or microwave approaches; not realising just how convenient a rice cooker is. Now, of course, I can’t imagine living without one.
With a lot of meals (such as stir-fries), a small amount of steamed rice is an ideal accompaniment. The rice cooker makes this such a pain-free process that you’ll be doing it all the time. In my case, once or twice a day.
Of course, a rice cooker enables you to steam much more than rice. It offers the usual steamer setup – a container of boiling water working away under the food of your choice. A meal of steamed fish, vegetables and rice is only 20 minutes away.
I’ve tried a couple of times to quit drinking coffee, with little success. Actually, there have been two major changes resulting from those attempts.
The first is that I now drink much, much less of it than I did a few years ago (I reduced a habit of 8-10 cups per day to a much more manageable 2-3 cups per week). The second is that I figured if I’m only going to have 2-3 cups per week, they’d better be good.
The gadget, then, is a coffee grinder. If you were getting ready for the words ‘espresso machine’, well, there’s something you should know. To me, the act of preparing coffee is half the fun.
If I’m out somewhere, chances are I’ll let someone else do things their own way. When I’m home, however, a simple cafetière (aka presspot, French press or plunger) is my friend. To find out how to work magic with one of these things, head over to Coffee Geek.
For the grinder itself, Coffee Geek again is the place to go.
I don’t know what it’s like around your area, but chest freezers are anything but common in homes here. Pity, really; because they can be great for those on a tight budget. Used properly, that is.
The general idea is to fill it with joints of meat, frozen fruit and vegetables. Buy these items in bulk (in season, of course) and pack them away for later in the year. Being able to add berries to almost any dessert feels very luxurious indeed.
Cost : anywhere from $20 (second-hand) to a few hundred.
Where to get them : many of the stores that sell whitegoods (fridges, freezers, washing machines etc) will sell them, but won’t necessarily put them on display. Just ask – they can often order them in.
I love the smell of fresh bread. Walking past a bakery at 4 in the morning (especially toward the end of a big night out) is heavenly.
Unfortunately, baking bread – although I love doing it – takes a fair bit of time and effort. For me, this usually means it’s a Sunday thing.
If you’re in the same boat – you love fresh bread, but don’t always have the time to make it – get a bread machine. They’re wonderful things.
The operation couldn’t be simpler. Pour the ingredients into the machine, select the desired finishing time and tell it how you’d like it (thick crust, slightly softer and so on). Press start and walk away. Several hours later the house will be filled with that wonderful fresh bread smell. Love it.
Note : If you set things up before you go to bed, you get to wake up to that bakery aroma. Set your alarm 10 minutes early, and enjoy.
Cost : Usually $100 – $200.
Where to get them : They’re a little heavy to ship, so the cheapest place is often your nearest department store. Most of the majors will have them.
When it comes to therapeutic items in the kitchen, the mortar and pestle surely tops the list. This exceedingly simple setup of a small bowl (the mortar) and a stick (the pestle) is much more versatile than many people realize.
The basic idea, of course, is to grind ingredients rather than slice them. This is the perfect way to prepare spice combinations such as Garam masala (once you’ve made your own, you’ll never buy the ready-made stuff again); mixing ingredients for foods such as guacamole and pesto; and making Japanese foods such as Mochi.
Cost : $10 – $30
Where to get them : These are available in any number of kitchen shops, department stores and online retailers; though my personal favourites are those found tucked away in tardis-like Asian supermarkets. Well-made and usually reasonably priced.
One of the tasks I had whilst working in a cafe was to prepare the fresh fruit juice. Each morning, several crates of oranges and a large bag of plastic bottles was carted over to the largest juicing machine I’ve ever seen. Just watching it in action was amazing.
Of course, there’s no need to go out and grab an industrial strength machine for home use. There are, however, several machines on the market that perform the same function – juicing your favourite fruits, minus the skins and seeds – without taking up the entire counter.
Now, there are three basic approaches at this point, and your decision will determine the amount of cleaning up you’ll need to do after each use :
- Simple mechanical devices that squeeze citrus fruits via a plunger action. These are the ones I usually go for, as they look great and require minimal cleaning.
- Simple mechanical devices that operate via a grinding action (much like a mincer). These are great for items such as wheatgrass. Once again, these require only a small amount of cleaning.
- More complex appliances that will take almost any type of fruit, remove the stones and seeds; neatly offering up a cup of fruit juice. These are great in terms of the end product – though there’s more cleaning up required.
Cost : anywhere from $50 to $200
Where to get them : the prices for these don’t seem to vary much between retailers, so any kitchenware shop or department store is a safe bet.
Kitchen Gadgets : Final thoughts
Whilst I enjoy a Chinese take-out or restaurant meal (or Thai, Vietnamese or Korean), there’s nothing quite like relaxing in the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. The 7 appliances listed above are a great start when I’m doing exactly that.