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Reviews of essential kitchen tools and gadgets that I use.

Avocado slicer

Very decorative, but useless. One of those things you get for Christmas if you cook, and then it knocks about the drawer with Other Useless Utensils. I don't have that many I must admit - this just doesn't add much value. Once you've cut the avocado in half and picked out the stone, it's much easier to just scoop the flesh out with a spoon and slice or cut any old how.

For: slicing avocadoes neatly, apparently

Try: using a spoon instead

Buy it: don't buy

Cake mixing spatula

This John Lewis spatula is probably the cheapest and the best in the world. I’m on my second one and it’s already showing signs of wear and tear from working hard.

For: beating cake mix when you don’t need heavy duty mixers, folding flour into those delicate genoise batters or stirring melted chocolate into a cake mix, scraping every last bit of mixture into a tin.

Try: using it as a bread dough scraper if you don’t own a specialist one.

Buy it: here

Cake wire cutter

Much better than you'd think, works fantastically well. The wire position is adjustable, so no more thin top and stodgy bottom layers - you can slice a cake perfectly in the middle. Just hold the cake gently and push the cutter through it forward in sawing motion.

For: slicing cakes into layers. Good with sponges, genoise, sticky toffee, Victoria and chocolate buttercake.

Try: baking just ONE cake and slicing it horizontally in half - instead of baking those silly separate layers that will never gel together.

Buy it: here

Cast iron pans

Cast iron pansCast iron makes the most fantastic pans, skillets and griddles. You need to look after it properly, that's true, but it will pay you back in perfect heat distribution, non-stick surface with no artificial coating and lower hob temperature needed to create high heat.

It needs to be seasoned - some brands, like Lodge, come preseasoned. Otherwise just bake the pan in very high oven for an hour, then coat with a thin layer of oil. Washing is simple - no detergents, just very hot water and a good brush, then dry the pan and coat with a little oil again. If you're worried about not sloshing your washing up liquid about - the temperature you heat the pan to next time you use it will safely do away with all possible bacteria.

For: steaks, chops, burgers, fish, stir-fries...

Try:pancakes. Fry like a dream.

Buy it: Lodge is excellent value, from Amazon


What a nifty gadget! I grow tomatoes and when the (not so many in England) good summers gave me a surplus, I'd dry them in the oven. Low gas, on oiled cake racks, door kept a little open all the time, turning the tomatoes every now and then, watching they don't burn... what a palaver! This - is great. Nothing will ever burn, fruit dries beautifully and probably cheaper to run than having oven on for hours on end.

For: drying tomatoes, strawberries, herbs, mushrooms, bananas, anything you can think of.

Try: grapes. Home made raisins - something else...

Buy it: here but there are significantly cheaper ones around.

Global knives

Basic fact: good knives are indispensable and worth paying a fair whack. Mine are Global – derived from the Samurai swords making tradition, the fact I found hugely appealing…  They are light and sit in hand well, sharp as laser when new (expect finger casualties at first), need to be sharpened as they get older – best on a whetstone.

For: cutting, chopping, carving, dicing and self-defence.

Try: not to cut yourself when first using one

Buy it: here

Japanese mandoline slicer

Japanese mandolineBenriner Japanese mandoline slicer is a league above all the ordinary mandolines on the market. It has adjustable slicing thickness and three extra insterts for julienning. There is a finger guard and what can I say? You'll need it...

For: slicing and shredding vegetables unbelievably fine,

Try: vegetables for a stir fry will never again be too chunky

Buy it: from Amazon

Kenwood Chef

What can I say? It's the wizard of whizzing. It does bread, cakes, gateaux, biscuits, with only a little help from me. I'd wanted one for years and the main reason against getting it was the question of space - where to keep it in my small small kitchen. As it turns out, it happily lives on the worktop as it's used on at least a weekly basis. It might not be as iconic looking as the KitchenAid, but hell - this goes up to eleven...

For: making bread dough, cake mixes, batters and frostings. Be careful with whipping cream - it turns to butter in no time at all.
Try: making mayonnaise, as the fantastic thing is you can add ingredients - pour in oil - while mixing on high speed!

Buy it: here

Kenwood mini chopper

This used to be #1 bestseller among small kitchen appliances on Amazon and no surprise. I originally bought mine for a tenner, now it costs a bit more but it’s still incredible value for money. I don’t really need a large blender as I’m not big on soups or baby foods but I do use the chopper all the time – see below.

For: mixing marinates, chopping herbs, making pesto, puréeing fruit, grinding nuts or almonds – the list is endless.

Try: mixing butter with icing sugar in equal quantities then add some flavouring (fruit purée or melted chocolate) for quick buttercream. Especially if you don’t need huge amounts of it.

Try: making ice cream! Yes indeed – if you don’t have an ice cream maker or, like me, the maker produces far too much at one go, you can make your mix, pour it into the Kenwood, stick the container in the freezer and give it a whizz every half an hour. Works for frozen yoghurt and sorbets, too.

Buy it: here

La Cloche

La Cloche is a clay bread baking dome, performing the same function as Dutch oven creating the baking environment high in moisture and temperature, similar to authentic brick bread oven.

Excellent piece of bread baking equipment albeit pricey. You can use it both for cold proving as well as preheat it in the oven, then plonk the risen loaf into the hot Cloche. The latter method makes better use of the dish I think - when proved in the Cloche, the bottom of the bread didn't get quite so crusty.

For: sourdough above all

Try: baking no knead bread in it

Buy it: from Bakery Bits or Amazon

Le Creuset casserole

I'm flaunting the brand here. Le Creuset range is pricey, but it's worth the money. The beauty of a cast iron dish is of course that it lets you brown/sear stuff on the hob and then stick it in the oven without worrying that those plastic handles will melt. I have got a cheaper cast iron dish but you do get what you pay for: the cheapie is scratched inside all over and it heats unevenly after only a few months. The Creuset on the other hand might withstand a nuclear explosion and a Brillo pad. And aren't the colours just so cheery?

For: roasting, casseroles, stews, osso bucco, cassoulet.

Try: using it as Dutch oven and baking bread! Astonishing results, see malthousesourdough and no knead recipes.

Buy it: herehere or in main department stores

Meat thermometer probe

It's meant to be a meat cooking probe but I use it more widely - to check the temperature of oil for frying, or even water (beer making...) A very useful gadget - but it does tend to understate the temperature so should not be relied upon in 100%, especially if you're aiming at nice rare meat. Refer to the cooking times recommendation too. It will reliably tell you though if the meat is cooked through so stick it away into sausages, chicken, burgers or anything you might be worried to undercook. Mine is a Mastrad and it's more precise than the cheaper, fork-like probes that I had before.

For: as above!

Try: low temperatures roasting. Very exciting, stick the probe in, put the oven on very low and watch the temperature slowly rising. That's only if you're lucky enough to have the wire, ovenproof connecting cord.

Buy it: here

Microplane graters

Those graters apparently use NASA technology - and I'm very grateful to NASA. I used to hate grating, usually resulting in a casualty of a finger or at least some nail varnish. These tools are razor sharp and stay sharp - I've had them for years and no blunting discernible. I have a set of coarse, mega-coarse and a zester. The zester/parmesan grater is especially ace.

For: grating vegetables, potatoes for rosti, cheese, ginger, zesting citrus fruit

Try: it even if you have a food processor - sometimes you just can't be bothered to set up the machine for just a handful of carrots

Buy it: here but there are significantly cheaper ones around.

Mini sauce whisk

This little whisk is dirt cheap, not a very impressive piece of kit, but I couldn’t be without it. Only washing is a bit of a pain, especially when bits of egg white gloop get stuck among those spirals.

For: beating eggs for an omelette, making salad dressings and sauces.

Try: basic dressing
You usually need 1 part mustard, 1 part sweet stuff, 3 parts acidic stuff and 5 parts oil for any dressing. How about Dijon mustard, sweet plum sauce, white balsamic vinegar and good olive oil?

Buy it: here

Pastry brush

Excellent little thing, so much better than the ordinary hairy brush - infinitely easier to wash and can go in the dishwasher. I've not worked out which side works better, or if there is indeed a diffrence - no matter, both equally good.

For: glazing pastry with eggwash, speading icing or runny topping on a cake

Try: brushing and basting fish with melted butter when grilling

Buy it: I have no idea where mine came from but here they are probably as good

Poultry scissors

Indispensible for what it says on the tin - cutting poultry. Both cooked, to serve, and raw - to divide into portions to go into a casserole, cassoulet or coq-au-vin. Handy for cutting fish into portions or steaks, too. The best thing is they come apart for washing!

For: chicken, game birds, duck, goose and turkey

Try: using it for cutting off the fins on a fish before filleting

Buy it: here

Proving baskets

Proving baskets are also called bannetons and as far as I can tell come commonly in two types - made of cane (like the one in the middle) or a sort of compressed woodchip material (the other two). No telling which is better, I'm pleased with either type and the only differentiation is the size.

They need to be thoroughly floured, otherwise the dough will stick and the whole purpose of it goes out of the window. I use a little tea strainer to generously cover the basket in flour.

For: clearly, proving bread dough. Especially useful for sourdough or no knead bread. Any recipe or method that will call for tipping the dough out onto tray or dish after proving.

Try: you can always use it as a bread basket if you give up on baking...

Buy it: here

Thermapen food temperature probe

Thermapen probeThermapen digital probe for measuring internal temperature of cooked food. Mine is a Superfast Classic Thermapen 3, there are newer (and vastly more expensive) ones that measure surface temperature on touch.

It's very quick indeed - the measurements will appear within seconds. It's extremely precise and that might be my only gripe: too precise. How is it possible? When probing a joint the readings change a bit too quickly to establish what the lowest temperature is and how much longer to cook the meat for. For those who like to err on the overcooked side - it's perfect. Never again sausages raw in the middle. But for rare and medium-rare - a bit tricky.

For: probing meat, cakes, bread, oil, jam, caramel...

Try:probing fish. Fish is notoriously easy to overcook and it should not read internally more than 55-60C/130-140F

Buy it: from Amazon

Vegetable peeler

This is better than those swivel ones because it has two sides, one to peel and the other to finely julienne vegetables. Brilliant - years of heavy use (so it looks a little worse for the wear) and I have no idea what make it is - but make sure you get a double sided, or universal one.

For: peeling potatoes, carrots, apples, pears, shaving strips off courgettes and cucumbers

Try: cutting julienne strips off carrots for your stir fry - so much better than chopping them with a knife and will cook quicker

Buy it: here or elsewhere, cheaper


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