Of course you’ll also need a chopping board, a wooden spoon or three, and a couple of decent knives, as well as a few cheaper items, but you don’t need to spend a fortune to start with, just what you can afford. Look in supermarkets and IKEA for saucepans, chopping boards, colanders etc. You can always upgrade when you have more cash.
Why? The spiralizer (aka spiralschneider) is a monument to retro design. Spare in detail, 1970s avocado in colour, but highly efficient at what it is supposed to do.Three different cutting blades turn out spirals of ‘spaghetti’ and long curls of shaving. Courgettes, carrots and potatoes all go through easily, the veg are gripped firmly and the handle makes turning the veg effortless. Be warned though, the sharp blades and spikes need careful handling and washing – pronging yourself is easy.
Cost: £29.99, lakeland.co.uk
Why? To cut wafer-thin radish slices for Japanese pickles, shave fennel for a salad and make light work of a potato dauphinoise you need a mandolin. This will also shred carrot and celeriac into fine matchsticks and speed up stir-fry chopping for a realistic 30-minute meal. I like this Japanese mandoline because it is compact and fits in my kitchen drawer, plus, I can sharpen the blade in my knife sharpener.
Cost: These cost around £20, but you may find one marginally cheaper on ebay.co.uk.
Why? You can use it to chop garlic and onions, or anything else for that matter. It will purée chickpeas to make houmous, make mayonnaise with the emulsifying blade, chop nuts and whizz together a batch of pastry. The blade is very efficient, so purées are smooth and chopped items evenly sized and lump-free. The bowl comes off so cleaning is simple and it’s heavy enough to stay steady.
Cost: About £55, and a worthwhile investment.
Why? A sauté pan with a lid has many uses. I like copper, and I don’t mind cleaning it, so this is my favourite at the moment. The non-stick surface conducts and distributes heat really well, it fries an egg and cooks bacon without trouble. I use it to make stews, tagines and curries and also paella, and because the handle goes in the oven (it is oven safe to 180C) I can start a piece of meat in it and then transfer it while making only one pan dirty. Its only downfall is that it won’t work on an induction hob.
Cost: In the world of good quality pans this is not expensive at £60, and occasionally they come up in sales so keep your eyes peeled.
Why? If you plan on making your own spice blends (freshly ground garam masala beats the pants off ready-bought) or curry pastes, grinding nuts or flavouring sugars with herbs, a decent grinder will save you lots of time. It does the job of a pestle and mortar and is more efficient than a mini chopper when you want a fine grind. You won’t know how you managed without it.
Why? This will zest a lemon, lime or orange perfectly, turn garlic cloves and lumps of ginger to pulp, convert parmesan to fine shavings and grate nutmeg freshly. It is the original kitchen helper and, with its super sharp etched blades, really does have the edge on others. Buy a coarse one as well and you’ll have cheese and chocolate grating covered too.
Cost: At £14.99, the Home Series is cheaper than some of the other microplane series.
Why? If a coffee first thing in the morning is essential to you, a decent coffee machine will be paid for very quickly. The ECZ351 can be used with ground coffee or ESE pods, has a team pipe for milk and a cup warmer on top. It isn’t fully automatic, so you have to control the strength of your coffee but it gives a good crema.
Cost: £199.95, which, versus cost of coffee bought by the cup over a year, is very reasonable. johnlewis.com
Why? A hand whisk is essential for baking. You can use it for small amounts of batter and a stand mixer won’t do justice to 1 egg white, so unless you are planning on making wedding cakes, a hand mixer may well be enough for you. Plus you can use it for other things; potatoes can be whisked to fluffy mash still in the saucepan, or a zabaglione knocked up in a bain marie. This Bodum mixer has a good motor and is comfortable to hold.
Cost: The best price I’ve found is Tesco Direct’sat £29.95.
Why? A lot of recipes rely on precise weights, so if you want to get it right, you can’t function without scales. These fit in a drawer and the zero-weight mechanism means you can put whatever you want on them – I weigh straight into bowls, plastic boxes and saucepans or straight onto the stainless steel top. They also measure liquid in ml if you need them to.
Cost: RRP £12.95 but often much cheaper on Amazon.
Why? Because bread-making, baking and anything else with a precise liquid measurement requires a jug rather than guestimating with a wine glass. This is a jug you can use looking down into, as well as through the side, which makes it ideal and it starts at 10ml which is great.
Cost: A bargain at £6.99, lakeland.co.uk
Why? This can do the job of a mini chopper if you don’t own one, and if you’re a heavy consumer of soups, you’ll find it a godsend. Efficient at making smooth purées, it has three blades instead of the usual two, a motor with plenty of welly, and the purée attachment means it’s not splashy (some brands are more so than others). The basic model is cheaper, but if you spend more you can have a whisk attachment for whipping egg whites and cream and a bowl for chopping nuts, garlic etc.
Cost: The basic model is around £29.99 and the one with attachments £59.99.
Why? An efficient, well-made pepper grinder will last you a lifetime. This has the added joy of being very easy to refill: the rubber knob pulls out of the top and the peppercorns pour straight in. Mine is 10 years old and as good as the day it was bought.
Cost: £59.95. Ask for it as a present.
Why? If you’re a gadget fan, the Pebble Time smartwatch is great fun. The novelty doesn’t wear off, functionality isn’t compromised, and for usability it’s excellent. The pedometer apps (there are many) are handy – the FitCat app even doubles up as a tamagotchi. You can set daily goals and adjust the sensitivity in case you’re running or sat at a desk.
The yelp app is perfect for quick bar reviews. It picks up your location and suggests nearby restaurants, bars and cafes, including a star rating, any reviews, and how close they are from where you’re standing. Select the one you’re interested in and the phone number and address pops up, too.
Beware if you have small wrists – the watch face and strap are quite large! But the anti-scratch glass held up really well when we put it through its paces in the olive test kitchen. Plus although there’s no text function, you can reply to messages using emoticons – just sending a straight forward yes or no, happy or sad face was great for quick responses.
Cost: From £79.99
Reviewed by Anna Glover, olive magazine cookery writer
Why? In terms of design, we love Jawbone bands. They’re flexible, comfortable to wear and – to the best of our knowledge – waterproof; we soaked it accidentally once and it was fine. It’s also easy to hook around your belt or ID badge, for people who need bare arms from the elbow down (like doctors).
The UP24 band is pretty accurate at measuring steps (although just moving your hand sometimes registers as a ‘step’) and the information you get from the generated activity charts is also useful – especially the ‘total burn’ calculations. An inbuilt sleep tracker tells you how well you slept each night (match the results to what you did that evening/what time you went to bed), and the band also works alongside the MyFitnessPal app to log food and exercise – the two work together harmoniously.
The only drawback we found with this wireless, Bluetooth operated band is the fact that constantly keeping it synced with your phone soon runs the phone’s battery down. Just something to keep an eye on.
Cost: From £89.99
UNDER A TENNER
U-SHAPED POTATO PEELER: Lakeland has one at a bargain price that is sharp and efficient and has a big U which makes peeling easier. £2.49, lakeland.co.uk.
FISH SLICE/TURNER: Buy a nylon one if you have non stick pans. You can often buy a set and get a big spoon and slotted spoon too.
SAUCE WHISK: These are cheap as chips and are great for belting lumps out of sauce, whisking eggs together and making dressing quickly.
MIXING BOWLS: Stacking bowls are easier to store. I like stainless steel or polypropylene as they are lighter than glass or ceramic.
TIN OPENER: Although some tins have ring-pulls, plenty don’t. Buy one that suits your grip and consider electric if you find turning the key difficult.
KITCHEN SCISSORS: Snip herbs, cut up pizza, joint chicken (buy ones with a groove for cutting through bones). A good pair of kitchen scissors can be used instead of a knife on lots of occasions.
MEASURING SPOONS: Essential for baking when guessing isn’t good enough. Buy a set that ties together.
A COLANDER: The JosephJoseph square colander has a good handle, knobbly feet on the base so you can put it down, and a shape that helps disgorge the contents easily. £9.50, johnlewis.com.
A RUBBER SPATULA: I like spatulas with handles that won’t pull off easily, otherwise the top gets stuck in the mix.
TONGS: Tongs are dead useful for turning things over, lifting pasta out of pans and moving hot ingredients around. If you have non-stick pans buy ones with rubber edges.
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