December was about getting ready for Christmas, whether the fun, with festive cocktails, or the practical, with funky tea towels for the drying up ahead. Not to mention my usual roundup of options if you had forgotten that Christmas was just around the corner.
Definitely a year of contrasts, and new adventures on several continents, but some great eating with good company, at our own tables and away from home too. Here’s hoping for more of the same in 2016. What are your food memories of 2015? Would love to know.
There are those food lovers who just can’t have too many gadgets in the kitchen, and the latest one is always a thing of wonder and joy. At least for a week.
Sounds like kids at Christmas with the big toy of the year. Which they probably are, just on a different scale and might produce some good food in the interim. Here’s some ideas on what might be gadget heaven for them this year.
I can’t find a source for this in the UK, which probably gives bragging rights if you get one delivered (try Amazon.com, they have it and may deliver). But basically this has all the great features of a normal slow cooker plus you can adjust the cooking time and temperature, or switch it to just keep warm or even off from your phone. Although presumably it’s less impressive when you show you’re changing it from the office and no one can see what’s happening!
Again, scarcity might produce great bragging rights, as struggling at the moment to find a new one of these, but if you can, expect everyone to be in the kitchen to see it working! This breaks down the calories, fat, protein and carbs in your meals, whether you’re making them or bought them in. There’s a library of 300,000 items, you can track and store details of what you’ve eaten…can see them becoming easily obsessed!
Not everything needs to be wifi enabled, sometimes it just needs to be a different version of something classic that perhaps works better for the job in hand. These rasps from Cuisipro allow for grating of things like nuts, Parmesan and chocolate with ease, and with the built in plastic compartments with measuring units, you’ll have the right amount in no time. Available in fine or coarse, or a special one just for Parmesan.
Back to the wifi enabled! Now, I’m old enough to think this is a bit like an updated teas maid for coffee for the 21st century, but if they love coffee and gadgets then this might be the thing for them. The machine can be controlled from your phone or tablet, and can set the grind and the number of cups it makes. I like it for the Welcome Home mode, not to mention the Wake Up mode. Now, if only it made bread as well. But there’s a gadget for that too. This is from the same team that made the iKettle, so makes you wonder what next.
Now, this might not be the sexiest gadget around, but this sits on the bench in your kitchen, just waiting for when you’ve got a whole load of fat or used oil to get rid of. Rather than risk blocked drains by pouring it down the sink then this is a quick and easy way to get rid of it, in an unobtrusive way. Different as a gift, definitely useful. Depends how practical presents go down in your house.
This is a gadget for producing flavour and theatre, as this is the sort of smoker you see on things like Great British Menu, producing smoke filled cloches at the pass. This is for the food lover who likes flavour and drama, not to mention some serious cooking skills.
This has to be the ultimate toaster. It has an easy quick look function, a progress indicator (perfect if you’re making scrambled eggs or a fry up to go with it), and a beep for when it’s done. It’s got a deep and wide slot to adapt to different kinds of bread. It’s also more than £100 which is more than my last three toasters added together. But still…if it’s a gadget they want…it is Christmas after all.
Let’s hope they get more out of these gadgets than the average kid from the average toy of the year. Or at least you get some good coffee and toast through till New Year.
I love being able to write about, and support, small businesses which is why I love Etsy so much. It’s definitely a great source for something a little bit different, and is perfect for the cook who likes something with an interesting story behind it. Here’s some of my favourite choices:
Every cook needs a good apron, but there’s no reason why something practical can’t be beautiful too. I like this one, with its plethora of ducks, hens and geese.
Now, these can be a tricky kind of food lover to buy for, as they love to get into the nitty gritty of preparing food. They certainly aren’t going to love a pepper grinder. Here’s five ideas for gifts that might do the trick.
Smoking your own food has been a bit of a thing recently, and it would certainly give them plenty of options on different things to produce. The Pro Q Hot & Cold Smoke Kit means they can do things like hot or cold smoked salmon, smoked cheese, possibly even smoked vodka. It’ll certainly keep them busy through till New Year.
Sourdough starter can be a tricky thing, but is essential for making your own sourdough bread. If they’re keen, then give them some vintage starter with the 60 year old starter from Hobbs House Bakery. Complete with instructions, this should guarantee you some fabulous bread over Christmas and beyond.
I love Paul A Young’s approach to chocolate in all its forms. If you think they’d love some time trying some of his creations and then learning some of the secrets behind them then this could be for them. From a vertical chocolate tasting of bean through to bar, and then learning about tempering and ganache making, they’ll come away with not only a taste for the good stuff but new skills too.
This is the perfect book for MIY food lover, it covers how to make everything yourself from sausages to smoked salmon, bacon to buns, sloe gin to sourdough. So if you know they love to make, or the idea of it, but just aren’t sure where their interest lies, then this might well be a perfect gift as they decide what to tackle next.
Choose right, and you may not see much of them through the rest of the festive period as they get seriously into making mode.
Every food lover starts somewhere, not even Heston arrived into this world as an incredible cook. And the fancy to learn to cook, or improve your skills, can strike at any age. So, in case you have someone on the Christmas list this year who has just got the bug, here’s my suggestions of seven great gifts to get them going.
I know there are newer chefs, newer writers, but in my book, you can’t beat Delia particularly for getting all the basics right and then building on them. I still have the forerunner to this, Delia’s Complete Cookery Course, and refer to it to this day. Great gift for both a food lover at the start of their cooking journey and for a more experienced cook just to enjoy revisiting or even improving techniques.
I appreciate this is not the cheapest gift, but in terms of cost per use mine has been the best investment I ever made. I bought it about 25 years ago, use it regularly and it’s still, other than the knob on the top having given way, as good as new. That said, I’ve just bought a version from Sainsburys which seems reasonable, but will have to come back in 25 years time to see if it’s still as good!
I think there is no shame in following recipes, we don’t all instinctively know what’s the right thing or amount. Digital scales are a must to me, particularly if they move onto baking, and I love add and weigh ones. There’s a huge variety of them around, I like these simple ones from Salter.
Measuring cups and spoons
I think these are useful to have, particularly as your repertoire grows, and you may end up with American cookbooks and recipes. I have a long standing, very dull but perfectly functional set of stainless steel ones, along with some measuring spoons, and use them endlessly. There are all kinds of sets, from the functional, to the very pretty, to the most popular ever. Take your pick, you can probably find a set to match their interests. I’ve even found Star Wars ones.
Whatever you’re learning to cook, you’re bound to need mixing bowls. You could go old school Mason cash or imitators, although I find they are too heavy for me now. I really like just decent plastic bowls or some stainless steel ones (good for marinading meat). Small, medium, large, any combination will be useful.
Wooden Spoons and Silicone Spatulas
You can never have too many of either in my view. Be generous and get a few of each, they’re available everywhere at every kind of price point.
Again, a bit like the measuring cups, you can find something for everyone in this very necessary bit of kit (even real cooks can’t pull blisteringly hot pans from the oven bare handed). I’ve written about all kinds before, from plain to pretty and everything in between, including ones attached to your apron. Although I can’t find a Star Wars one. Surely a Darth Vader oven glove would be a winner?
With all of these you could combine to make your own interesting starter kit, making a very personalised gift for a food lover starting out. You don’t even have to buy new, vintage versions of some of these could be very appealing.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to be bringing you suggestions for Christmas gifts for different kinds of food lovers. Titles might be slightly tongue in cheek, but you might recognise some characteristics of those on your shopping list.
So, I’m starting with the competitive food lover. For them, it’s all about the bragging rights. Newest, biggest, dearest, weirdest…oh yes, somewhere tastiest might come into it too! It’s about ticking things off to show off what a great food lover they are. Here’s six that might do the trick:
So, this is gadget bragging rights, as this has been one of the gadgets of the year, and does practically everything except get the shopping in! It says it creates incredible meals at the touch of the button, making it sound like something out of Star Trek to me. It apparently chops, whips, mixes, kneads, cooks, steams, blends, stirs, emulsifies, whisks, sears, crushes, mills, sings, dances…oh, hold on, made the last bit up. But they’ll love showing off just what this can do.
Oh, they’ll love this kind of book. Probably not really for ideas but for the satisfaction on Christmas Day of going through it and ticking off all the ones they’ve been to. It’s all about the stories they can tell, good or bad, about why they agree or not with those included. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll bring up one or two new ideas, in which case they might feel a bit miffed that they’ve not been there already!
They’re probably going to have great wine, good tea and coffee, even brilliantly mixed cocktails. So, when they’re heading into the great outdoors, then not just any flask is going to do the trick. The Vinnebago is not just stylish in design, but will keeps cool for 25 hours. This apparently has 3 layers of insulation and is apparently unbeatable on the keeping cool or warm front.
Now this is going to look impressive when people come round and they get to carve some of their own Iberico ham. I mean, this is the good stuff, a real treat, but they’ll love not only the story of how great this ranks in the world of great ingredients but the theatre of it. Brindisa would be my supplier of choice in the UK.
I was thinking about an experience you could get them, as then there are stories to be told again. So I chose not just any Michelin starred venue but The Three Chimneys. There’d be the tale of getting there, of crossing the water to it, the beauty of its surroundings, and that’s before you even get to the food. And if you’re going for it, then book a night there as well, as the rooms look incredible too. Not cheap, so this would need to be a special gift for a special Christmas.
So, whatever you choose for them, think about the stories that their gift will enable them to tell. Hopefully not endlessly though. Buy yourself earplugs if that’s a risk.
I think it must be my age, but I rather sneakily enjoy Good Housekeeping these days. I don’t have a subscription, that might be a step too far, but I do read them when I come across them.
This month’s has an a to z, best of the best of their tried and tested household gadgets, and I was fascinated, obviously, by those they had chosen for our kitchens:
The Boss Blender from Sage by Heston Blumenthal – blimey, at only a penny off £500 I’d want this to be damned good! To be fair, it is a bit more than just a blender, as it will heat your soups or smoothies that you make if you want to. Still, I’d have to really like soup a lot to spend this kind of money. I’ve got a £30 bog standard blender, and a pan. That’ll do me for now.
De’Longhi Nespresso Latissima+ -I’m not a massive fan of pod machines, though I get that they are easy, convenient and mess-free. Apparently if that’s key for you, then this apparently is the business.
Magimix Cuisine System 5200XL Food Processor – gosh, this one seems to have lots of accessories, not to mention three bowls with it, which is perhaps what you’re paying £339 for. But sounds like it’s well built, so it should last you well through lots of processing.
BrevilleVKJ595 Spectra Illumination BRITA Filter Kettle – not sure how I feel about this one, and even Good Housekeeping say that the illuminating kettle casing “adds an element of fun”. It’s a kettle, I’m not sure I need it to be fun. Built in filter is a good thing, only 1 litre capacity is ok for me on my own, but possibly not quite so much when the hordes descend.
Le Creuset Toughened Non Stick Pan range – I love my Le Creuset casserole dish, I’ve had it nearly 30 years and it’s still going strong. I can see why these pans might well have come out on top of the testing, even though they are heavy. I’d pick these as well.
KitchenAid 2 Slice Toaster -ok, on principle I am not having one of these. I’m a Kenwood girl, not a KitchenAid. And I don’t care how good it is, I’m not spending £100 on a toaster.
I am sure that all of these are as fantastic as the testing proves them to be, although I think for many of us they are going be out of range from a budget perspective. Their website gives more reviews of all the items in each category, so you might be able to find something within whatever your budget is.
Now, I’m just off to check out the secrets of the GH Kitchen.
Well, Bank Holiday Monday seemed to be a bit of a wash out in most places across the UK, so ice cream sales might have been reduced. But if you wanted to make your own, then I highly recommend “The Art of Making Gelato” by Morgan Morano.
Now, I’ve not tested out any of these recipes, but my, the flavours sound amazing, I wouldn’t know where to begin. From the basics, including chocolate and espresso, through Italian classics like cherry and cinnamon and onto more unusual things like jasmine, biscoff and apple pie.
I am mentally clearing space in my freezer as I write!
It’s five years since I wrote the original post, and it was funny to look back on what was on the list then, and what I’d take off now and put on now. I mean, the breadmaker moved out a few years ago, and I’ve never missed it. Whereas the Kenwood Chef arrived three years ago, and I’m never giving that up.
No, KitchenAid, not even if you send me one!
There’s a Magimix food processor in the house now, replacing the one that was here five years ago. I don’t use it so much but it does come in useful from time to time. I did upgrade my scales to digital ones, and have a fabulous pestle and mortar since those days.
In fact I would say there are two gadgets now on the list that weren’t on it then that absolutely earn their place. First off would be my slow cooker, which I love and use on a regular basis, and for more than just stews. Pinterest is an endless source of ideas on that front.
My spiraliser is a relatively new piece of kit, but for something that seemed a bit gimmicky I’m really enjoying using it, on a regular basis. Now whether it’ll still be there in five years time is anyone’s guess.
But I guarantee the slow cooker still will be!
What new to you gadgets have become indispensable in your kitchen?