Kit

It’s all very well saying a bad workman blames his tools, but the reality is that if you don’t have the right kit, making dinner can take longer and be more difficult than it needs.

This comes from a woman who has spent two years making her cakes in a blender (It doesn’t work! Give up! Buy a bloody mixer and be done with it woman!) so I know what I’m talking about.

Here is a directory of the kit which has made our life easier.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please let us know – anything to make our lives easier! Emailclaire.m.mcdonald@hotmail.co.uk
(These are all real life recommendations – we don’t get any money from companies for suggesting things).

Cherry, cherry baby

Cherry stoner. What a lovely phrase. Is it a) a medieval fruit-propelling catapult? b) someone who gets high on cherries? or c) a gadget that no kitchen should be with out? The answer is c, although b sounds like fun too!   Stay with me…. I am a gadget lover, but I am also a ruthless thrower outer, a decluttering Queen. No gizmo that doesn’t pass the muster lasts long in my kitchen drawers. But this stoner – which takes the stones out of your cherries quickly and perfectly is extremely handy if you have a lot of cherries to get through, for  baking a cherry pie or clafoutis, say, and don’t fancy cracking any teeth on errant stones.   I have a cherry tree and so bought my cherry stoner when I was fed up of massacring beautiful fresh cherries, when cutting them in half to de-stone them. It takes about 3 seconds per cherry and if you get the angle right, removes the cherry‘s stone with almost surgical precision.  I know you can only use it for about one week of the year, but Nigella swears by hers, they only cost abut £2 and take up no room at all. If you want to see one in action took a look here at this film we made for our YouTube channel. It is part of a new series, dubbed tired and tested – testing gadgets so you don’t have to. Night night. xx  ...

Fridge Love

We have a new fridge. I know…. Stop the clock. Our old one broke and the household is now abuzz with the delights of the new model. It has a magnetic door! A chilled water dispenser! An ice maker! I am not sure how we lived without these things before. But most importantly it is much bigger than the old fridge, which was bought when we had little babies who didn’t eat that much. We now have a permanently hungry 8-year-old and a 6-year old who is not far behind (Some times I wonder if they have worms.) and found the old fridge was just too small for a family of four. Everything was stuffed in higgledypiggeldy, it was like a cave because the light was blocked out and you practically had to send search parties in to find a packet of bacon. I really wanted to buy one of these French antique ones, but didn’t because they cost thousands and regardless, it wouldn’t have fitted the rather odd-sized gap the old fridge left. So I got one of these instead. It is quite square, very shiny and capable-looking. An Alan Titchmarsh of a fridge. The old fridge stopped chilling things. So ended up just being a bit like a cupboard, that dripped water and smelt REALLY bad. Nothing was salvageable and I had to throw out the entire contents. Not just the mouldy lettuces and liquefied tomatoes lurking at the bottom, but all the jars of chutney, pesto and lime pickle that we had accumulated over the last few years. There were hundreds of them. Perhaps they were breeding.  Decluttering...

Kit: baby colander

This is one of those bits of kits which may not change your life. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this mini-colander will definitely not change your life. There, I’ve said it. BUT I think it’s a great way to spend a fiver. It’s cute, comes in lots of different colours and gives the illusion, at least, that you are in control of your kitchen/life. Tbh, that’s the most I can hope for.I came across this particular one in my mum’s kitchen this morning. It’s difficult to tell from the picture but the colander is about 15cm diameter, perfect for giving berries and veg a bit of a swish. At first I thought it was a kid’s colander from a mini-kitchen, but actually my mum bought it back from the US from one of her many trips abroad and it’s definitely for grown ups. I had a quick look online and there are loads available in this country too.The reason it’s so great (apart from looking cute) is that if you’re anything like me you use a colander about 10 times a day, to give berries a swish in the morning for porridge, drain pasta for lunch, rinse lettuce for tea etc etc. It means that my extravagantly proportioned colander is permanently on the side or the draining board, hogging loads of room in my extremely unextravagantly proportioned kitchen. This, on the other hand, is quicker to wash up, takes up less room, and, as I may have said before, looks really cute AND costs less than a fiver! I have a feeling it’s going to...

Kit – egg timer

There are few things I love more than a perfectly cooked poached egg. A runny yolk and a neat white are a short road to happiness. Frustratingly the perfect poached egg eludes me. Straggly and waterlogged whites hide a pale yellow bullet of yolk, and yes, I add vinegar to the water, swirling all the while with a wooden spoon. If I was still on my quest to make the perfect poached egg I’d probably use one of these, as my sis swears by them. But I’m not. I’ve given up. There are only so many times I’m going to attempt poached eggs, and I’m afraid I’ve reached my limit. Life’s too short. Instead I’ve embraced the soft boiled egg and I think life’s much better for it. They are equally delicious on toast, topping asparagus soup, or giving some added protein to a plate of zingy refried beans.  And with one of these timer widgets, they are so damn easy. Just whack it in the saucepan with the eggs you want to boil and turn the heat up. A black ring will start around the edge of the eggtimer, showing you how cooked the eggs are. Keep simmering until you get the level you want, soft, medium or hard. The clever widget will adapt the cooking time according to how many eggs and how much water there is, so you don’t have to do any of the complicated maths. And all this for a modest £1.75. The only proviso is that you do have to keep an eye on it as there is no alarm ping. Several online reviewers...

Kit – potato ricer

When I first discovered that potato ricers existed, I wondered what was wrong with the world? Who would spurn the potato masher – such an effective piece of kit? And what kind of kitchenware addict would welcome the additional clutter of a clumsy ricer in their cutlery drawer? People with too much kit and too many drawers, was my answer.But, people, I do not have much kit (hardly any) and just three drawers in my ENTIRE kitchen, and I have to confess that I have converted. I am now a potato ricer lover. Yes. It’s not an easy thing to confess to. It’s not an easy thing to say. Potato ricer lover. People don’t always take me seriously. More fool them.Not only does the ricer mean I have smooth, chef-quality mash potato in seconds, but I don’t have to peel the potatoes either. Take that you non-potato ricer lovers. I have no idea how the ricer peels the potato, but that just adds to the doe eyed mystery of it all. I pop the boiled potatoes in the ricer, exert a little pressure and, ta da! Perfect puree in the pan. The only fiddly bit is taking the peel out of the ricer before I put more potatoes in it to be riced, but that is far less fiddly than actually peeling them. There is also less washing up – one ricer vs a peeler and a masher. I’m sure the ricer is quicker, it certainly requires less exertion than a masher, and the end result is infinitely better than your normal mashed potatoes. Just remember to mash the potatoes back into the...

Kit – ice lolly maker

I consider myself a bit of a whizz when it comes to making ice lollies, as you can see here, so when someone suggested I try a Zoku lolly maker I got quite excited. It takes around 10 minutes for the whole lolly to freeze, and that means it’s possible to do layered lollies in minutes rather than hours. What I didn’t realise is that you have to keep quite a hefty machine, similar to an ice cream maker, in your freezer. Also, I feel that maybe my natural affinity to making ice lollies is because they are so damn easy, and that this machine, with its instruction booklet, complicates that. Anyway, I made them (with yoghurt, a mistake as it doesn’t go into the allotted slot smoothly enough) and they were far too big for my little 2 and 4 year olds. And then I realised that actually, what we had here wasn’t an appliance failure, but my kids were just the wrong age for it. Then, by coincidence, a day later, I met up with two friends and one of them started to sing the praises of her lolly maker. A Zoku. Here’s what she said:“Last summer I gave my 8 year old daughter a Zoku machine (I really wanted it for myself, but felt less guilty splashing £35 on a lolly maker, loosely disguising it as a birthday present ). £35 seemed like a lot of money to spend on a frozen water machine, but the website looked so inviting and promised to make magical ice lollies in a matter of minutes (no waiting 24 hours for...

Kit: silicone spatulas. Oh the joy!

My fridge is full of half-empty jars. In fact half-empty is probably generous. My fridge is full of virtually empty jars because I’m too tight to throw anything away. I can’t bear to chuck a mustard pot away when, in theory, there is still a scraping in there. In practise that scraping is only available to someone with very small bendy arms. So the pot stays in the fridge until it looks so unappetising that I feel within my rights to put it in the bin. So, imagine my delight on one of my many, many visits to John Lewis, when I discover that Le Creuset have created a silicone spatula for just such a situation. It’s long and thin, with special sticky-outy things and nubbins to get in those awkward curves, where the mustard, jam, Nutella, get caught. And it’s Le Creuset! So I’m not pikey and it’s not about saving money, it’s about saving the world for future generations by not wasting what we’ve got. It’s a good thing it’s not about saving money, as the spatula cost me £9.50. Which, when you consider the mustard cost £1.39 and the scraping is probably a maximum of one percent of the total, a saving of 1.39p. Which means that’s around 683 and a half jars of mustard before I turn a profit. Bargain. Claire...

Kit – poached egg pods

Ok. The party’s over, the bunting’s down and it’s back to work/school/whatever. What with all these four day weeks you’ve probably slipped into bad habits and are looking to turn over a new leaf. I know I am. So I’ve binned the chocolate eggs, conceded that – although very similar to yoghurt – custard is not a good breakfast alternative and dug these funny looking pods out of the drawer. I bought them in September. Both my daughters started school (reception and nursery) on the same day and I wanted them to have something more substantial in their tummies than their normal Cheerios. So I expanded our breakfast repertoire to include pancakes, French toast and poached eggs. Does anyone remember the 1950s ad campaign: ‘Go to work on an egg’? It starred Tony Hancock and the slogan was supposedly written by Fay Weldon. As I am not sending my little ‘uns up chimneys just yet, I thought going to school on an egg instead would be a good start to the day. Eggs are full of B-vitamins and protein and contrary to popular belief – they aren’t as cholesterol-high as once thought. It may sound like a faff cooking eggs before the mad school dash, especially poached ones which are supposed to be notoriously hard to get right, but these little pods make it even simpler than boiling an egg. They are literally fool-proof and only cost a fiver for a pack of two from Lakeland. You just lightly oil each pod (we use sunflower oil), crack an egg in and lower into boiling water, stick the pan lid...

Kit – ice cream maker

I bought my husband an ice cream maker for his Christmas present. It was kind of against my will. I have to move the many pieces of his juicer every time I want to get to the butter beans, so I knew this would mean further clutter in what is already a very spacially challenged kitchen. But selflessly, I bought it. And, I am SO glad I did, I’ve had a good ice cream or sorbet pretty much once a week ever since. Last night was probably one of the best. Blood orange and rose water sorbet. I’m not very good at talking about the “intense flavours of this…” and the “superb texture of that…”. All I can say is that I ate everything on my plate, then seconds, then scraped out the container and finally went into a separate room and drank the remnants from the frozen bowl of the ice cream maker. Yep, it was good. All that pleasure for about £30. I initially did an enormous amount of research, scouring Which? and online reviews, trying to decide which ice cream maker to buy. I ended up with a Kenwood which broke in the first week, so now we have a John Lewis own make and it’s fine. Also, although ice cream is very rich and a bit expensive to make, because of all that double cream, sorbet costs virtually nothing. My husband is the king of odd flavour combos, using up wierd things leftover in the fridge, but they always work. Kiwi and coriander; beetroot, apple and ginger. It’s opened up all sorts of new culinary avenues, and...

To mix or not to mix

I’ve wanted one of these for as long as I can remember. Well maybe not that long, but certainly for a good few years which in my see-it, buy-it mindset is practically forever. But it is an eye-watering amount of money (around £400) that I have never felt able to justify for something that essentially just makes cakes. I’d have to bake a lot of buns, just as many meringues and whip a few thousand egg whites for it to earn its keep and I am just not sure I can eat that much. In their defence everyone who has one says they are worth their weight in gold (although that would possibly be cheaper) and last for years. It is comical to think that people get so het-up over food mixers but bizarrely it is a divisive topic amongst cake-heads – along the lines of the Mac versus PC debate. In this case it is KitchenAid (more expensive, more beautiful) versus Kenwood (cheaper, still pretty, but better at the job according to some). Either way in order to get my money’s worth, I need to decide soon. Lucy Claire says: “At the moment I am borrowing my brother-in-law’s Tesco Value electric beater, as I have given up on my own RUBBISH Dualit handheld blender – it sprays cake mix everywhere, despite the 5 litre mixing bowl I bought especially to contain it. I think, in the style stakes, the KitchenAid wins, although the Tesco beater has a very natty blue and red Tesco Value box. But, it does the trick and costs very little. However, if money wasn’t an...

Cutting the apron strings

This is the most beautiful apron I have ever seen. It looks almost too pretty to contemplate getting sticky fingers on it and would happily double up as an outfit to a wedding. All you’d need is a hat. But no an apron it is – a traditional American one no less. It wraps around and comes in oatmeal or white linen with contrasting sashes. I imagine just by wearing it life would not only feel more orderly but my cooking would improve tenfold. It’s from the stylish homeware store Natural History who also have some elegant table linen (read more about my table cloth love here) and sweet children’s aprons. Had it not been my birthday last week, the apron would be top of my list. Instead I may have to treat myself. Lucy Claire says: “My god, it’s beautiful! And I never thought I’d say that about an...

Kit – oven proof individual dishes

I was given these Le Creuset heart-shaped bowls for my wedding a few years ago, and it was love at first sight. They are a deep ruby red, beautifully shaped and I’m a sucker for anything heart-shaped. But, I admit, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them. The kind of thing I used to make in individual bowls was chocolate mousse, and even I couldn’t manage that much chocolate mousse (they hold a third of a litre). So they sat in the front of the cupboard where I could admire them, take them out, contemplate them, and then put them back again. But suddenly, I get it! The thing I find most annoying about cooking for kids is the ‘their tea/your dinner’ scenario. I still can’t quite believe that you have to cook twice, but it’s difficult to see a way around it. Sometimes I even end up cooking the same thing twice in the same evening, such as carbonara, because it won’t taste nice after sitting around for several hours, but I’ve got enough ingredients to feed all the family. So…oven proof individual dishes are the answer! Rather than reheat the lasagne you cooked for their tea for your dinner, you just make the lasagne in four individual dishes and cook them when you want them. This has worked really well for meals such as pasta bakes. I’ve also done it for cottage pie, so my and my husband’s dinner isn’t half a slightly dried out pie, instead it is two perfectly formed heart shaped individual pies, which is so much more appealing. I’ve also found...

Kit – freezer pens

Now, I don’t have a freezer pen. If I did I would probably have avoided the sweet crumble topping on macaroni cheese incident last week. Our guests were very polite, saying they thought it added a certain something, but I think I’m going to try and stick with bread crumbs on my macaroni from now on. So, I’m going to invest in a freezer pen. Ideally it would be one that would write on and rub off again, but apparently these don’t exist. Instead you have to buy special freezer stickers which peel on and off. It seems like an additional layer of hassle, but I think in the long run it will be worth it. At the moment I defrost stuff and hope for the best. When I tell our childminder (aka Uncle Brendan) what’s for the children’s tea it’s usually a case of “The brown stuff in the blue container.” If he asks what it is, I have to confess I’m not entirely sure. Lentils? Mince meat? Hopefully not chocolate...

Kit – toastie bags

When I was a student I pretty much lived on Breville sandwiches, pasta, pesto, and cheap white wine. The cheap white wine has morphed in to (slightly) more expensive red wine, the pesto no longer comes out of a jar, but the toastie is no more. We don’t have the room for a Breville toastie maker in our kitchen, and without it a toasted sarnie never quite works.However a recent visit to the local Pound shop (God I love the pound shop!) led to the discovery of toastie bags. What a revelation! Just make a cheese sandwich (go on, bung a tomato in there too), put the whole thing in a toastie bag (see left), pop in your toaster (we’ve just got a normal toaster, doesn’t have to be super-wide) and voila, two minutes later you have a toastie. I won’t pretend it is as perfect as the Breville version, but it’s fast, tasty and the toastie bags are reusable, just pop over the prongs in your dishwasher to clean. If I give the kids a bowl of soup I’m not always sure that they’re full. If I give them a bowl of soup and a cheese toastie I feel like I’m super mum! And the absolutely best thing of all is you can put fishfingers in the bags too! No longer do you have to heat up a grill, spend 12 minutes cooking and then clean the grill pan afterwards (or remove foil). Instead bung them in the bag (3 fit in each), put in the toaster for a couple of sessions and bob’s your uncle. I get very...

Kit – vegetable peeler

It’s the little things in life that can bring real happiness. Little children, babies, cute furry kittens, vegetable peelers. Yes, vegetable peelers have recently made me really happy. Admittedly not the warm glow I get from cuddling a kitten or someone else’s child, but a punch the air, “this is so eeeasy!” kind of happiness. Until recently I had a common or garden vegetable peeler, it was long and thin and did the trick. But often I couldn’t be bothered to peel my fruit or vegetables, telling myself that the skin is where many of the nutrients are stored, so it was probably good to eat it, and I wasn’t just being lazy. I also felt that if my children were given the choice of apple crumble with the apple skins on and no crumble because I didn’t have time to peel, they’d probably choose the former. And I stand by all that. However, I was at my sister’s house yesterday, faced with two sweet potatoes. “I don’t need to peel these do I?” She looked at me, slightly appalled, and handed me her peeler. So I peeled, and what a revolution! It took seconds! It was a vegetable peeler like the one in the picture (this one is from Lakeland, £4.99) and it made peeling so easy I wanted to peel more! I think it can be quite easy to get carried away with buying kitchen gadgets (we’ve just got an ice cream maker) but it’s the little things you use everyday that really make a difference. Next time, in this occasional Kit series – the knife...

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