Inspect my gadget!

May 1, 2010

I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to kitchen equipment. Give me a good sharp knife and a wooden spoon, and I’m happy. However, I have recently been introduced to the delights of the mandolin.

Now, all I previously knew of this gadget is that it regularly slices off the ends of chef’s fingers. But when the nice people at Oxo Good Grips sent me one and I tried it out once or twice, I did wonder what I’d been doing all these years without it.

This one has a very useful wedge-y bit at one end, which hooks over the edge of the bowl you’re slicing into, so it’s super-steady. Plus, my stress levels at using this dangerous kitchen weapon were somewhat reduced by the grip thing that sticks securely to whatever you’re slicing – so your fingers don’t have to go anywhere near that scary-looking blade.

And, most importantly – it’s really fun!

Last night, I used the mandolin to slice some marrow, which I sautéed with mint, lemon zest, pul biber (a Turkish red pepper spice) and lots of garlic.

Once soft and a little browned, I chucked in a grated carrot that needed using up, some leftover roast chicken I’d had in the freezer, plus a handful of parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. A little salt and pepper was all that was needed to make a delicious, fresh, tangy supper, that conveniently used up some more of my freezer stocks.

A spurtle of activity

April 4, 2010

Until very recently, I was not a morning person. So much so that I couldn’t even entertain the thought of eating before midday. Consequently, breakfast played little part in my morning routines.

So, of all the things I thought would change in my life as I got older, the one I least expected was how much of a morning person I would become. I now happily bound out of bed before 7am – even at the weekends – and before I do anything else, I must have my bowl of porridge.

There’s something very calm and soothing about standing at the stove stirring a pot of creamy porridge. And the job is made all the more pleasurable by the fact that I have this lovely spurtle, given to me by my friend Lene.

When she gave it to me, I was still living in breakfast denial. So, although I looked at it and thought, “Oh yes, very pretty,” I really didn’t expect to ever use it.

Now, however, it is very much a kitchen essential for me. My Scottish father would be proud…

Measure for measure

February 5, 2010

I think it says something about my family and their attitude to food and cooking that I consider my old Tala measuring cone to be something of an heirloom.

It was pretty ancient even when my mum owned it, and I remember clearly her forbidding us to wash it or – god forbid – put it in the dishwasher if it was only being used for dry goods, just in case the measuring marks started to wear off.

For a long time, it was the only measuring device I owned – no glass jug with millilitres marked up the side, or even a pair of scales to weight out grams and ounces. Just my trusty Tala.

And, even now, when I have everything from the tiny shot-glass sized measurer pictured here (another weeny gift from my sister. Hmm, I’m beginning to see a pattern here…) to a trusty 2-litre Oxo Grips jug, my Tala is often the first thing I reach for.

Hopefully, one day, it’ll be passed on to another generation of foodies.

Small ones are more useful

January 27, 2010

A couple of Christmases ago, as a last-minute stocking filler, my sister gave me this teeny tiny grater. And, despite my initial thoughts being something along the lines of “Er, okaaay…”, it’s actually been one of the most useful things in my kitchen.

I have discovered that it is the only way to deal with fresh ginger, grating it into perfect little shreds, while leaving those nasty stringy bits behind. And, as for garlic… well, you’ll never use those difficult-to-clean presses again.

So, in case I didn’t sound grateful enough at the time – thanks Sis!

One of the advantages of having a tiny kitchen is that I’m much less tempted to fill it with useless gadgets. Pretty much everything that has a place in my kitchen is something I use on a regular basis. In fact, last year, when Ailsa and Roland gave me my beautiful KitchenAid food processor for my birthday, David Herbert, the food editor at the magazine I work on, gave me some very good advice. He told me not to keep it in its box, to make sure it had a prominent place in my kitchen. And he was absolutely right. By having it out on a work surface means I use it much more than I think I would have done had it been tucked away somewhere.

However, having said all that, there is one thing in my kitchen that I have never used and probably never will. But I will never ever get rid of it and will always love it. And it is this beautiful wooden baguette slicer that my mum bought me in a brocante in France, near where she lives. There was a time when every French restaurant had one of these, but I think you’d have to search pretty hard to find one nowadays. However, it is such a thing of beauty (and history) to me that I can’t imagine ever being without it.

As a keen foodie living on her own, there are always going to be times when it’s impossible to make a one-portion sized dish. Roast chicken being a case in point. Well, any roast really, but as roast chicken is one of my all-time favourite meals, that’s what comes to mind. (When I was a kid, I used to say that if I was a princess, I would have roast chicken for breakfast every day. Clearly, I learned young…) And that’s why the freezer is the single foodie’s best friend.

Here are a few of my favourite uses for my friendly freezer:

  • Bread. I’m not a huge consumer of bread, but when I do buy a loaf, like a nice crusty sourdough from The Flour Station in Borough Market, I’ll cut it into quarters and freeze what I’m not going to eat that day. Once thawed out, pop it in the oven to crisp it up a bit.
  • Cakes. I haven’t really experimented too much with this, but so far I have successfully frozen my homemade biscuits and cupcakes (without fillings and icings), and my date loaf cut into slices and wrapped individually in clingfilm. I’ve also frozen some leftover chocolate ganache, which was fine to use when I thawed it out.
  • Herbs. Pretty much all herbs freeze well. I don’t usually bother freezing parsley as I use it up so quickly, but rosemary, basil, thyme, sage and mint are permanent residents in my ice-box. Do not attempt to thaw herbs before using – they’ll just turn into slimy mush. But straight from the freezer they’re nice and brittle, and crumble easily into your cooking.
  • Tinned tomatoes. Not in the tin, obviously. But often I’ll use half a tin of tomatoes, and if I don’t think I’ll want to use the rest of it within a day or two, into a tupperware pot it goes and into the freezer. And the best thing is you can use it straight from frozen.
  • Frozen veg. I think all frozen veg is pretty horrible except peas – so that’s the only vegetable that graces my freezer.
  • Fresh meat and fish. If I buy two or three items at the market on a Saturday, I’ll usually eat one of them at the weekend, and put the rest in the freezer to cook during the week. I also use a fair bit of pork and lamb mince, so I’ll buy, say, 300g, divide it into 100g portions and freeze them. And, again, you can cook mince from frozen, if you don’t remember to take it out in time to thaw.
  • Leftovers. The above-mentioned roast chicken is not as extravagant a meal as you might think for one person. Once the leftovers are cold, I remove all the meat from the bones, divide it into portions and freeze. Perfect for risottos, soups, salads, stir fries, and, most delicious of all, fried in olive oil to crisp it up with a side of oven chips. Mmmmouthwatering.

So, am I missing any tricks here? What’s in your freezer?

Blast from a kitchen past

December 10, 2009

Chances are, if you grew up in the 1970s, your mum had one of these. And, if your mum was anything like mine, this clay crock pot languished at the back of a cupboard for most of that decade. After being carefully packed and unpacked, and moved from London to Scotland to Brighton to France, finally, 40 years after my mum first bought it, this one found its way back to London and my kitchen. Where it, ahem, languished on top of a cupboard for several years.

It was a major kitchen clear-out that eventually inspired me to use the pot. I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw the thing away, so I decided if I was going to keep it, I’d have to use it. A phone call to my mum and some intensive Googling, and it was clear that this could become my new favourite utensil. Although you can apparently cook pretty much anything – from potatoes to prawns – in it, I’ve only used it for chicken. And, I have to say, I now don’t roast a chicken any other way.

The pot is soaked in cold water for about 10 minutes before you put the chicken in, and the steam that this creates in the hot oven effectively poaches and roasts the meat at the same time. The result? The juiciest, most succulent roast chicken you’ll ever taste. (If I’ve tempted you at all, I think you can still buy these clay crocks in Habitat. I certainly recommend giving it a go.)

Isn’t it funny that, despite all those high-tech gadgets available to the home cook nowadays, the old ones seem to still do the job just as well – if not better? What things do you remember from your childhood kitchen?

UPDATE Some more research has led me to discover that this thing is actually called a chicken brick. And apparently Habitat first started selling them in 1966 – which must be about when my mum bought hers. Ooh, I have an antique in my kitchen.