Top 10 Hero Gadgets

27.01.15

top10_gadgets  It goes without saying that there are plenty of useful gadgets on the market for the one-handed cook, but if you’re anything like me, you probably don’t want more clutter in your kitchen. (So says the woman who discovered a Lego man in the dishwasher basket earlier.) When it comes to gadgets, therefore, it pays to work out which ones are actually worth having and which ones you can relegate to the bin. With this in mind, I’ve decided to regularly share my Hero Gadgets – the ones that actually work and that are essential for making a decent family meal (IMHO).

1The One-Handed Can opener
superhero-e1351279946912The first of these is the chef’n ez squeeze one-handed can opener, as pictured, which I bought in Sainsburys and can be purchased online here from  Divertimenti. It truly is a Hero Gadget in my view; you simply push the little button to open the thing, slot it on to the top of your tin, and then – with just one hand (yay!) – you squeeze the handles together, up and down, until your lid is practically off, at which point it sticks to the magnet and you lift off the whole thing. So simple. So pleasing. It works every time. And, to top it off, you can stick it in the dishwasher. (Surely the inventor must be a mum?!)

2Tongs I love
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Is this the most useful gadget for the one-handed cook? Just think, with baby in one hand and tongs in the other so many tasks are possible. For example, with the aid of your trusty tongs you can remove hot toast/pitta breads/crumpets from the toaster without scalding your fingers, turn bacon on the grill, remove hot vegetables from their roasting tin, move hot scones/muffins/cupcakes onto the cooling rack, flip burgers on the barbecue, rescue lost Lego men from behind the microwave, and last, and perhaps most importantly of all, pretend they are pecking off your nose, which is guaranteed to make even the grumpiest baby smile.

If you have a whinging toddler who’s driving you a bit bonkers while you are trying to cook, sit him in his high chair with a pair of tongs and some pieces of cooked pasta and see if he can pick up a piece. This frustrating challenge is tougher than Mastermind for an 18-month-old and should hopefully keep him occupied for at least five minutes. (During which time you will, of course, be without tongs, but your sanity will remain intact as you will actually be able to think straight – hurrah!) I LOVE my tongs.

Tell me what you use your tongs for in the kitchen!

You can buy the gorgeous Colours pink silicone tongs (I do love a colourful gadget) pictured here from Waitrose for £8 at selected stores or online here or here. These ones are particularly good because you can close them neatly when not in use.

2Joseph Joseph Scoop Colander
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The minute I saw this, I knew I had to have it – it was gadget love at first sight. Some of you may remember I went shopping in Selfridges a couple of months ago, which is where I found this beauty. A Joseph Joseph Scoop Colander – the large one, not the small one, I must clarify. I know! How exciting!?
Now, I realise some of you may be less than giddy about a colander, but hear me out. This is a seriously stylish bit of kit, which not only looks nice in your kitchen, but is really useful. Remember, I am here to try and make life easier for you.  I only recommend good things. And I bring you the one-handed colander! Yes, you can drain things one-handed. Whatever you, as a busy parent, might be doing with the left hand while trying to cook with the right* (holding baby, jabbering on the phone, wiping a toddler’s snotty nose (eeew), making a packed lunch – ok, that one might be overstretching it a little… or perhaps not) you can still drain the pasta or the vegetables, without having to stop everything and carry cauldrons of boiling water to the sink and the colander, risking life and limb while doing so.

The blurb says:

–  Scoop and drain directly from the pan
– Ideal for straining pasta, vegetables and fried food
– Heat resistant for deep frying to 240˚C
–  Dishwasher safe

Frankly, what more could you want? This is a great gadget for the busy cook – it means you can strain and serve, and is particularly useful when you’re in a hurry or just cooking a smallish amount of pasta, say for the children’s tea.

You don’t have to go to Selfridges to buy one either, you can get one on Amazon, or fromDebenhams. Just make sure you get the large one as it is more capacious and you can fit more soldiers in. (I took the photo to give you a sense of scale; I knew you’d understand the soldiers!)

4 Le Creuset
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Buying my first very own Le Creuset felt like a giant leap. Having grown up with a Francophile French teacher mum, Le Creuset was a name I had known all my life. On holidays to France, mum would make a trip to the quincaillerie, or hardware store – for this was about the only place the heavy orange enamel pans were sold in those days – and stock up on heavy lidded pots. And so, buying a large red Le Creuset casserole at the age of 25 or so, marked a milestone for me. No longer a student, earning money, living with my boyfriend in London, owning a Le Creuset. I was a grown up! (How did that happen?) And now I have two children, and the red Le Creuset has a little brother, a smaller blue one, and I couldn’t live without (any of) them.

They are expensive, I admit, but boy, do they last. And boy, are they versatile. Which is why we love Le Creuset, and why these amazing enamel, heavy duty pans get a mention on the blog. Every busy mum – or dad – trying to get dinner on the table needs a Le Creuset, I think. I use mine all the time, and can’t imagine what I’d do without them. Whether it’s to make soup or a stew (the heavy enamel base conducts heat really effectively), to make Bolognese sauce (get all your ingredients in, in the usual way, bring to a simmer and then transfer straight from the hob to the pre-heated oven for 45 mins), or for casserole that goes straight from oven to table, they are simply unbeatable. Perfect for the one-handed cook … Yes, you can even stir them one-handed – they don’t tend to move when they’re on the hob – they’re so darn heavy!

To buy or not to buy a Le Creuset: weighing up the options

Pros
- Heavy, solid, a Le Creuset is a quality bit of kitchen kit that will last you for decades (they make a great wedding gift)
– Transfer your dish straight from the hob to the oven, and back again if needs be, and then straight to the table (less hassle, fewer dishes to wash)
– They conduct heat really efficiently
– Le Creuset pans look really attractive and come in an array of beautiful hues to match any kitchen colour scheme, including yellow. (And if your enamel chips, they look even more rustic!)
– They have their own Pinterest page! www.pinterest.com/lecreusetuk

Cons
- They weigh a ton. Not for the feeble.
– They are pricey, but they do last for ever, practically (see above).

So there you have it. Le Lowdown on Le Creuset.

5 Microplane Grater
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It’s been a while since I featured a Hero Gadget on the blog. It suddenly struck me that I had not yet featured my beloved Microplane grater, and I’ve been writing this thing for almost a year (er, how the hell did that happen?). So it is time to put things right.

Put simply, any kitchen worth its salt has to have a Microplane grater. For a start, it works. Every time. It doesn’t bend. It won’t buckle. It is rigid and unyielding (a bit like my six-year-old when it comes to eating broccoli). It looks good; it is robust; it is multi-functional. It stays sharp. It goes in the dishwasher. It is the king of graters. This is truly a gadget for a time-pressed parent who just needs things to work.

I have two Microplane graters: a fine one and a coarse one. The fine one is brilliant for grating Parmesan, or any other hard cheese, nutmeg, chocolate etc. It is also completely brilliant for zesting oranges, lemons and limes. The coarse one is also good for Parmesan, but can also be used for fruit and vegetables – onion, celery, carrot, apple – all have seen the rough side of the grater in my house.

Now of course, it is physically impossible to grate something one-handed. So this is a gadget to use quickly, while baby or toddler is content and occupied. Pop him or her in the bouncy chair or the sling, and pick up your Microplane. It won’t let you down, I promise. In fact it will work so well, the only thing that might let you down is over-zealous grating… watch those fingers, folks.

You can buy a vast range of Microplane graters on Amazon and on the Divertimenti website.

In other news, the oldest one goes back to school tomorrow. Where oh where have six weeks gone? Yes, I was that mum frantically buying school uniform in my lunch hour today. Amazingly, they had trousers in his size. Nothing like leaving things to the last minute…Oh lordy, now I need to sew a name tag on them…

6 The Spatula
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It’s time to celebrate another hero gadget – something I truly could not get by without in the kitchen. It is time the spatula got its moment of glory. I like a spatula. I like scraping out every last bit of mixture, every last drop of soup, it makes me feel thrifty; I don’t like waste. Spatulas can be used one-handed. Spatulas are colourful. They are cheap. They are friendly. God bless ‘em.

I have five spatulas: one big yellow one made by Oxo Good Grips, which is perfect for scraping out every last bit of cake mixture from the bowl, and flexible and slim enough to lift and turn omelettes and pancakes. The two medium-sized ones – one red Le Creuset one with a wooden handle, one cheap and cheerful all-plastic – are both frequently grabbed at critical moments while cooking, for turning, scraping out the food processor bowl, or folding in an egg white or two. The fish-slice spatula (not pictured) I have is this beauty made by Chef’n – it is razor-thin and makes flipping burgers, fish, fried eggs etc a doddle. But my most favourite spatula is my tiny turquoise one. It measures no more than 15cm but is super-flexible, and so tiny it can be used to extract the last bit of jam from the jar, or the last bit of yogurt from the pot.
I also have a spoonula (yes, this is a word – apparently) which is a heat-safe silicone spatula with rounded edges and has a scoop like a spoon. Hurrah for the spoonula.

spatulasI looked online for spatulas. Wow. There are mini icing spatulas, double-ended spatulas, pastel-coloured spatulas, spatulas with faces, spatulas that look like fried eggs – they come in every shape and size. I think I am in love with this set of mini ones from US company Williams-Sonoma… (oh dear, what has happened to me?)

No one-handed cook should be without one – they are truly the mother of all utensils.

7 My Cafetiere
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It’s time to reveal another of The One-Handed Cook’s all-time favourite bits of kitchen kit. This week my hero gadget is the cafetiere.

I love coffee. I love coffee made at home in my cafetiere, and I love coffee in cafés. When my children were babies, it was such a treat to pack up their little tubs of food and bags of rice cakes and retreat to the warmth of a cosy café with another mum for a chat and a coffee THAT SOMEONE ELSE HAD MADE FOR ME. Such a joy. It almost made the lack of sleep worth it, just for that first sip of dark bitter liquid enlaced with creamy milk. Oh yes.

At home I always use a cafetiere for my coffee. It’s an absolute must-have for any tired parent in need of a coffee to keep them going at home, and has four key benefits:

  1. It’s cheap to buy (take note, Nespresso fans – you’ll soon get bored of forking out for those pod things).
  2. It makes decent coffee. Experiment with the amount of ground coffee you put in; you can make a really good cup. Trust me.
  3. You can make a cafetiere of coffee one-handed; simply just boil the kettle, add scoops of coffee (how many depends on what ungodly hour your little one clambered in to your bed in for a cuddling/wriggling/head-butting session), wait for a bit, and then push down the button, and pour into favourite cup.
  4. You can buy little cafetiere jackets to keep the coffee in your cafetiere hotter for longer – an essential purchase for all parents – you’ve made the coffee, but who knows when you are actually going to be able to drink it? When you do get to it, you want it to actually be hot! I got mine on Amazon, and it really works.Enjoy your coffee this fine November morning. Even better, enjoy it with a friend

8My Freezer
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It’s been a while since I wrote about a hero gadget of mine, so I started thinking about equipment in the kitchen I literally could not live without. It dawned on me that of course, I had to write about my freezer. Duh. It is singularly the most useful thing that any busy parent can own. Make friends with your freezer. Feed your freezer. Fill it with food. It will repay you with unimagined riches!

In my 20s my ‘freezer’ was a small box at the top of the fridge, in which we kept ice cubes for gin & tonics, a tub of Häagen-Dazs and maybe a small bag of peas. Fast-forward 15 years or so, and while ice cubes and the peas are still there, my relationship with my – much bigger – freezer has taken on a whole new dimension.

The joy of being able to reach into it and pull out a labelled container full of homemade soup, or a little tub of pasta sauce or a casserole, carefully divided into portions (some adult sized, some kid sized) is truly a thing of wonder. Of course, it requires some work in terms of stocking it, and labelling it all, but it still honestly feels like magic sometimes. You forget the time spent making the dish, and just feel a huge sense of gratitude that tonight’s dinner is already made. All you have to do is remember to take it out of the freezer in the morning. (It also gives me a reason to buy clip ‘n’ lock containers – hurrah!)

I don’t tend to batch cook specifically for the freezer, although I do sometimes if we have a glut of vegetables from the Riverford box, when I’ll make some butternut squash soup or a veg curry or whatever. But when I cook a one-pot dish, I’ll squirrel away a portion here, or a couple of portions there, knowing how handy they’ll be when we are late home from after-school and Biggest is ‘starving’.

The other thing I have learnt in recent years is that you can freeze practically anything. Between my freezer-obsessed mother-in-law (she has two) and this brilliantly practical book, How to Freeze by Carolyn Humphries, (I have the old edition) I have been merrily freezing all kinds of things. And so, I give you my Busy Person’s Top 5 Things to Freeze list. Wild.

1.  Cheese. Can you freeze cheese? Of course you can. I have discovered that most cheeses freeze really well, particularly soft French ones (Brie, Camembert etc). They should be just ripe when you freeze them, and need to be really well wrapped. Defrost and bring to room temperature before serving. Cheddar cheese is best frozen grated. A handful or two is perfect for a quick cheese sauce for cauliflower or pasta – just use from frozen!

2. Soup. Don’t forget to leave a little headspace between the top of liquid foods and the rim of the container when you freeze liquids, as they expand by about 10% when frozen. Soup freezes really well – just cool it quickly and get it in the freezer as soon as you can.

3. Smoothie ice lollies. Make or buy 100% fruit smoothies and freeze in ice-lolly containers. Instant healthy frozen goodness. No added sugar.

4. Onions. Sometimes you get on an onion-chopping roll. Sometimes. If you’ve got to chop some for a dish you’re making, do a couple of extra ones, then blanch the chopped onion in boiling water for one minute, then drain and plunge immediately in a bowl of iced water. Drain again and dry on sheets of kitchen roll. Freeze in small portions in freezer bags. Next time you can’t face chopping onions, you don’t need to – just use straight from the freezer.

5. Purée for baby. Probably lots of you are doing this already, but it really is very simple. Cook if necessary (juicy fruit can be puréed raw), freeze in ice-cube trays, and once frozen, turn out into freezer bags and label. Defrost on the side or in the microwave.

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