Every now and then I come across a kitchen gadget that I just LOVE. It’s not often I stumble upon three. Three gadgets that this busy mama loves – and why? Because they Make Life Easier. Which we like. I recommend you get your hands on these, and quick.
Wooden toast tongs
Utter genius for anyone who likes toasting awkwardly shaped bread-related items with a tendency to get stuck in the toaster, or else be finger-searingly hot once they’re done: think hot cross buns, bagels, waffles, odd crusts and so on. So how do you get them out? You need slim, bamboo tongs with a cunning magnet on the side TO STICK THEM TO THE TOASTER SO YOU DON’T LOSE THEM (yet more genius) – and enable you to make toast one-handed – of course. Get through breakfast with panache. Buy them Lakeland for just £1.99.
Spice jar measuring spoons
Frankly, I can’t believe I’ve lasted 39 years without a set of these. Slimline measuring spoons that fit into narrow spice jars. They will actually help make cooking quicker, easier and less messy, I promise. There’s not much more to say really, other than these are completely brilliant and I consider them essential! Available from Amazon, John Lewis and Lakeland and made by the brilliant guys at Oxo Good Grips.
Sparkling wine opener
I’ve never been a fan of opening prosecco or champagne bottles – I have an innate fear of the cork literally exploding out of the bottle and causing a major incident. So I tended to always get a friend to do it. No longer with this little gadget, the Sparkling Wine Star, brought to you by Le Creuset (www.lecreuset.co.uk) – simply remove the foil, attach star to cork and twist. Pour and relax. An absolute must for every knackered parent out there.
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.
I thank you *takes a bow*
I will soon be following this up with the Top 5 Things to Keep in Your Freezer.
Happy freezing, folks!
I am writing this while listening to The Ministry of Sound 90s Anthems CD. Oh yes. Not my usual Saturday afternoon listening choice, but it sure as hell is taking me back to student days, badly lit discos, getting ready to go out clubbing, and road trips across the country with mates in small cars. It’s funny how certain music can take you back to a certain moment in time. It’s almost as if I am still 20. Almost.
So, weirdly, no clubbing for me tonight, but I am going out for dinner here, and am muchly looking forward to it. In the meantime, I wanted to share one of my current favourite bits of kitchen kit, which helps me do things one-handed in the kitchen.
I recently discovered these one-handed pepper mills and salt grinders from David Mason Design in Waitrose. It is impossible to use a pepper mill when you have a baby in one hand – no matter how much you want to add a grinding of pepper to your pasta sauce, you can’t until you’ve put baby down. Which is sometimes not an option, as we know. But don’t worry, Things Can Only Get Better.
With one of these brilliantly designed mills, you can add pepper with one hand. With the aptly named ‘Triga’ you just pull the ‘trigger’ and you’re off. With the ‘Pepperpod’ you simply squeeze the handles together. I did find that the Triga salt mill doesn’t grind your salt fine fine, however, and is probably more suitable for adding salt while cooking than using at the table. However, they also have the ‘Triga Combi’, which is a pepper grinder at the bottom, and a salt shaker at the top. This is the Rhythm of the Night… sorry, I mean the ultimate in one-handed seasoning! Oh yeah.
So we had Harvest festival at Big One’s school last week. I confess, I am very fond of Harvest festival, I think primarily because it brings back such vivid memories of growing up in the countryside in Kent, and of the Harvest festival at my primary school which always entailed displays of gigantic plaited loaves, us singing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ at the tops of our voices, and taking baskets of produce round the village to the OAPs.
I decided to ask my son what Harvest actually means, and I have to confess, he looked at me blankly. Despite the celebration, he hadn’t really grasped that it was about bringing in the crops and the produce from the fields. This little city dweller didn’t know his orange pippins from his coxes. Something had to be done! And so we trundled off to pick apples and get back to nature at Pippins Farm in Kent. Raymond Blanc, who has been in the media recently, talking about how important it is to teach children where food comes from, would be proud of me. I was so pleased we did it – the children both picked and ate apples fresh from the tree and their enthusiasm was evident. It was such a success!
One supermarket that has a great awareness of the seasons and of local food is Waitrose. This spring they launched the national ‘Grow & Sell’ campaign with schools across the land to encourage schools to grow fruit and veg at school and help kids understand the journey from field to plate. And now British apples are in season – and this is apparently the best harvest season in years, making the apples even more delicious than usual – they are keen to celebrate apples with me and my readers.
So in honour of National Apple Day next Monday 21 October, Waitrose asked me to share my love of apples with you. They are stocking 50 apple varieties this year, of which 70% will be British. Hooray!
I made their wonderful Deep Filled Bramley Apple Pie using Waitrose Bramley apples and their Best of British apples. The pie was a rip-roaring success, with my husband declaring ‘Amazing pastry’ – high praise indeed from a man renowned for his homemade quiche (no, I am not kidding), and the children devouring it – they especially liked the addition of raisins . I served it with double cream, and for the time of year, it was just perfect.
The Deep Filled Bramley Apple Pie recipe is here – it works an absolute treat, and using the food processor meant the pastry was made in moments. The only thing that is a faff – and definitely cannot be done one-handed, folks, is peeling the apples. If only I had the miraculous apple peeler which the wonderful Margot Darling from Margot Tries the Good Life recently featured! Now, that would make life easier for this busy mama.
Waitrose.com is a magnificent source of recipes for everything under the sun, including apples, in fact they recently teamed up with some top food bloggers who contributed their own apple recipes,– they include recipes from the marvellous Becky from English Mum (Apple & Caramel Pie), Helen from Fuss Free Flavours (Estivale Apple & Blackberry Steamed Pudding) and Michelle from Utterly Scrummy (Michelle’s Utterly Scrummy Estivale Apple Cake). Take your pick! http://www.waitrose.com/content/waitrose/en/home/recipes/food_glossary/apple.html
Waitrose has even teamed up with online garden gurus Crocus, to sell apple trees online – they have a wonderful tree called ‘Scrumptious’ which is perfect for smaller gardens as it doesn’t need another apple to tree to pollinate it, and can even be grown in a pot! So, city dwellers with kids, there’s no excuse to not PYO apples next year J
What do you like making with apples? Pies? Cakes? Chutney? I’d love to hear!
Happy Apple Day everyone,
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.
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…
Happy Back to School everyone 🙂
So, it’s back to earth with a bump after our first ever family holiday in Denmark. It really was the perfect fortnight away. We saw family for a few nights – husband’s mother is Danish so he has cousins over there – and then spent time just the four of us, which was much needed.
After seeing the Danish relations in their beautiful house full of lovely Danish-designed furniture and kitchenware (I had serious kitchen envy… am now saving for an Alessi kettle), we spent time on the northernmost tip of the Jutland peninsula – a beautiful headland called Skagen (pronounced ‘Skay-en’), a place famed for its beautiful light, enormous sand dunes and vast sandy beaches. From there we headed to the west coast, to Henne Strand, where were lucky enough to stay in a traditional wooden summerhouse nestled in its own sand dune, surrounded by wild heather, just a 10-minute walk from the beach. The stars were beautiful, and the silence very welcome. We rounded it all off with three days in Copenhagen, which teems with bicycles, wonderful restaurants, trendy districts and beautiful harbour views. Oh, and I almost forgot – of course, we went to Legoland in Billund, which was superb – perfect for the little one and the big one, and us even bigger ones. We were all captivated by Miniland. Overall, it was organised, fun, nice vibe, hardly any queues. Loved it.
Spending time together as a family is like a tonic. Yes, of course, travelling with young children can be stressful at times, but being together, finding a new rhythm, not rushing to school, or checking the clock all the time, discovering new things together, having time to just potter around our surroundings, taking a breather from the city… holidays are the moments memories are made of. So I will be making a holiday photo album, and remembering Denmark with fondness.
In the mean time, particularly food-wise, I will have to make do with Signe Johansen’s wonderful Scandilicious cook books, the occasional trip to The Scandinavian Kitchen in London, and maybe a trip to the Scandinavia Show later in the year.
While we were away, I compiled a little list of Good Danish Things and Bad Danish Things. See below.
Good Danish things:
– Smørrebrød (open sandwiches topped with things like pickled herring, potato and dill, or little slices of cheese, or Danish salami). Son (6) astonished everyone by announcing that he ‘loves’ pickled herring.
– Individual duvets – there are no duvet-hoggers in Denmark, because everyone has their own! Even on a double bed, you get a duvet each. Heaven.
– Cycle lanes – they are everywhere and they are amazing. Makes us look rather backwards in the UK, frankly. Cycling keeps you fit, the whole family can do it together, and it’s safe. Top marks.
– Mini shopping trolleys – we visited a few supermarkets and they all had them for the kids to push around. A godsend. Why don’t we have in the UK?
– Cheese slicers – the breakfast buffet at the hotel in Copenhagen featured an amazing wheel-like cheese cutter with a wire that you rotate by hand and it slices the cheese. Soooo cool. I wanted to slip it into my suitcase. Called a ostekærer it looks like this, and is completely awesome.
– Trendy kitchenware shops – I discovered Danish kitchenware brands Eva Solo (available from John Lewis, Rig Tig and Rosti Mepal, all of which feature beautiful designs and useful gadgets and products. I was in heaven (again!).
Bad Danish Things
– Charging for tap water – this seemed to be the norm in restaurants, and was a bit of a shock given that it’s always free in the UK of course.
– Nearly being run over by a bike every five minutes 😉
If you fancy a trip to Denmark, I suggest you visit Visit Denmark as a starting point.
Hope you’ve had a great holiday with your family,