"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." William Morris
'Buy cheap, buy twice'. Unknown.
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.
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 it's 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 which 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
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. 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.
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
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
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
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
Get a half litre and a litre. I probably use one of these for every recipe I make. Good for rough measurements of liquid. Zero the jug on a digital scale to accurately weigh liquid. I've even eaten dinner in mine to save on washing up. Heat proof.
You need one of these. To fill bottles, to drain off stock into a jar. For stuff. I've got a couple of retro enamel ones. I'm always on the lookout for one. Try not to buy a plastic one, get stainless steel instead.
8. Jam pot funnel
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 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 but you can buy them here too.
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.
12. Le 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.
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.
You need thin slices? Some chefs recommend the Benriner Jumbo Japanese mandolin. I don't have one of these yet, I have an old fashioned antique wooden one, the Swiss Waefa slicer, which are still made.
15. Kitchen Aid mixer
Most bakers prefer Kenwood and certainly I grew up on a Kenwood mixer. But I love the retro look of the Kitchen Aid (1937), the curves, the enamel, the colours, the sturdy Americana of it. 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?
16. A Waring blender
Again an American design reminiscent of soda jerks and Cadillacs. If you need a blender then this is certainly the most stylish. I'm using a Vitamix which doesn't look so great but grinds things very finely, you can make your own icing sugar and rice flour. I even made gooseberry curd in it, took about 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 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.
18. An Aga
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.
I'm still looking for a great icecream maker. Any recommendations? What are your favourite kitchen items?