The 10 tools a modern kitchen needs
An iPad is the ideal plaything for the adventurous cook.
Our kitchens are changing. New technology, new family dynamics and new cooking trends have caused a slow evolution in our kitchen cupboards and on our benches. We will always need a sharp knife, good pans, a stockpot and trillions of wooden spoons, but other tools come and go as our needs evolve.
Here are 10 that are now appearing in the most modern kitchens in town. Whether you succumb to their lure this Christmas depends on how and what you like to cook and eat. Modernists will leap at having their own personal sous-vide machine and cold-smoking gun so they can have a go at all the cheffy recipes found on their iPads.
Those more interested in going backwards than forwards will relish the chance of making rustic corn tortilla with their own tortilla press. The time-poor will finally overcome their fear of pressure cookers to speed-cook slow food. The health-conscious will ask Santa for both a mandoline, so they can finely slice and shred raw vegetables and fruit all summer long, and an oat miller, for their porridge oats and grains.
The barbie boys and slow-braisers will be tempted by a digital probe meat thermometer to field all those plaintive weekend queries (is the meat done yet, dad?), and the early adapters will fall in love with the Himalayan pink salt block, on which they can salt-cure their dinner in the time it takes to toss a salad and make a vinaigrette. Oh, that means you'll be needing a whisk. Some things don't change.
1. The oat miller
The tapered steel rollers of the table-mounted KoMo Flocino beechwood oat miller transform unprocessed oat kernels (groats) into rolled-oat flakes at the turn of a handle, ready to become the ultimate health-giving breakfast porridge, muesli or crunchy granola. Eco-preneur and zero-waste evangelist Joost Bakker says that once you've tried freshly rolled oats, there's no going back.
''It not only saves an absolute fortune, it makes the best porridge, with sun-dried raisins, banana, honey and biodynamic milk,'' Bakker says.
Designed and made by Wolfgang Mock of Germany to a high level of craftsmanship, it's popular with children, who get a real kick out of milling their own oats for breakfast.
Flocino Oat Mill, $199, available at byjoost.com.
2. Microplane grater
It's basically a rasp with tiny scalpel-sharp ridges, and it is infinitely superior to the old box grater (which still has its uses). Made by Grace Manufacturing in Arkansas, which specialises in ultra-sharp wood-working tools, the Microplane is one of the few kitchen tools to have been improved in our lifetime. Use it for orange and lemon zest, cheese, nutmeg and chocolate. It turns parmesan and gruyere into light, fluffy clouds of cheesiness, and fresh garlic and ginger into fragrant purees in seconds. It also means you can grate things directly into mixing bowls, saucepans and over salads and finished dishes without any mess. And it's easy to clean - the perfect kitchen tool.
Microplane medium grater, $45, The Essential Ingredient, 731 Darling Street, Rozelle, 9555 8300; and Kitchen Kapers Commercial, 160 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest, 9906 4655. Accoutrement, 611 Military Road, Mosman, 9969 1031, stocks a Microplane box grater, $89.95.
Standard equipment in the modern, tech-friendly kitchen, the iPad helps you track down strange ingredients, pick up tips, watch technique masterclasses and step-by-step videos and explore the wonderful world of food online. With it, you can source whatever recipe you need on the spot without leaving the kitchen, store and edit your own personal recipes and share and synchronise them across all devices - handy for that moment when you're caught in the supermarket aisle and can't remember what you need for that night's recipe.
You can photograph or video your efforts with ease, or just perch on the bench with a cuppa and browse through the latest Jamie, Donna or Nigella app for inspiration. Special kitchen stands and wall mounts are available to keep it out of the danger zone.
Apple iPad, from $539, apple.com/au.
4. Himalayan pink salt block
These heavy blocks of beautiful Himalayan pink salt are appearing in forward-thinking restaurants, such as Michael Moore's O Bar and Dining, where the fine slices of raw salmon are lightly ''cured'' by the chilled salt block on their way to the table. Other uses include the serving of butter, cheese, rice, guacamole and steak or tuna tartare (just remember, the higher the moisture content in the food, the faster it will be affected by the salt).
Edoardo Perla of Salt Meats Cheese in Alexandria suggests prawns and scallops. ''It's very visual,'' he says. ''Beef is also beautiful, but should be sliced thinly.'' You can heat cooking-grade blocks over gas or electricity (the oven is not recommended) and use them for ''hot rock'' cooking.
From $11.95 to $45.90, The Essential Ingredient, 731 Darling Street, Rozelle, 9555 8300; and from $20 to $35 at Salt Meats Cheese, 41 Bourke Road, Alexandria, 9690 2406.
5. Mexican tortilla press
Mexican food is hot, hot, hot, and the fastest and most delicious way to capture the spirit of it in your kitchen is with a simple, rustic cast-iron tortilla press. First, make your dough from masa flour and water, then flatten it into the traditional tortilla shape in the press and slip it straight into a hot comal, or tortilla pan. Thirty seconds either side and it's ready to serve with chipotle en adobe sauce, black beans or guacamole.
$39.95 from The Essential Ingredient, 731 Darling Street, Rozelle, 9555 8300. Tortilla press ($21.95), comal pans, masa flour and condiments also available from Fireworks Foods, 0432 507 521, fireworksfoods.com.au.
6. Pressure cooker
It might sound old-fashioned, but the pressure cooker has been taken into the 21st century and is now much safer and easier to use than those of our mother's and grandmother's generations.
They remain the fastest way to cook slow food, particularly base stocks and soups that retain all the flavour that is usually lost to evaporation. Not only that, it's the home of the 40-minute lamb shanks and the amazing seven-minute risotto - a boon to busy workers during the week. Must-read: A Pressure Cooker Saved My Life by Juanita Phillips (Harper Collins). ''Everyone has to feed the kids,'' she says. ''Even feminists.''
Kuhn Rikon six-litre pressure cooker, $399, from Chef and the Cook, 28-33 Mallett Street, Camperdown, 8004 6085; Silit six-litre, $286, from Accoutrement, 611 Military Road, Mosman, 9969 1031.
7. Mandoline slicer
Modern food magazines and cookbooks invariably show beautiful images of finely cut, shaved and julienned vegetables. There's no magic to achieving them, just good old-fashioned knife skills and a bit of time - or a mandoline. Mandoline slicers were big in the 1980s and '90s, then disappeared into the back of the cupboard for a decade or two.
Now they're back with a vengeance, ready to finely and precisely slice anything in sight, including potatoes for chips and for perfect gratins. They are particularly useful for Asian salads, where the magic is all in getting a little bit of everything in every mouthful, and for preparing finely shaved daikon, radish and carrots for pickling or preserving.
Edgeware mandoline, $299.95, from Chef and the Cook, 28-33 Mallett Street, Camperdown, 8004 6085; Benriner Japanese mandoline, $62.35, The Bay Tree, 40 Queen Street, Woollahra, 9328 1101.
8. Sous-vide machine
Sous-vide is a popular method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath at low temperature, typically about 55 degrees.
''I've got people asking for them who can't even pronounce them,'' says Colleen O'Keeffe, of Chef and the Cook in Camperdown, who suggests the use of such high-tech wizardry on cooking series such as MasterChef has led to the demand. ''At the same time, a lot of chefs are bringing out cookbooks with specific instructions of particular equipment. People hear about them and want to cook how their favourite celebrity chef cooks.''
Heston Blumenthal, for instance, calls for one in his book Heston Blumenthal at Home (Bloomsbury). He maintains it will revolutionise the domestic kitchen, making it easy for any cook to produce precisely and perfectly cooked food consistently.
PolyScience sous-vide, $600, preorder from Chef and the Cook, 28-33 Mallett Street, Camperdown, 8004 6085, for delivery by Christmas.
9. Digital probe meat thermometer
No more checking of watches, beeping of timers or double-guessing about whether the roast is cooked. Insert the metal needle into the thickest part of a large side of beef, leg of lamb or whole fish and check the internal temperature from the easy-to-read display unit, held outside the oven.
You can pre-program it but, generally speaking, look for 55 degrees for medium-rare meat, 50 degrees for fish and 68 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the chicken leg.
It's a clever and relatively cheap response to the more precise temperatures called for by today's chef-driven recipes. It's also handy for confectionery and chocolate work.
Blumenthal warns that they quickly become indispensable to a good cook.
$49.95, Chef and the Cook, 28-33 Mallett Street, Camperdown, 8004 6085; Salter digital probe, $27.25, The Bay Tree, 40 Queen Street, Woollahra, 9328 1101.
10. The Smoking Gun
Who wouldn't want to own something called The Smoking Gun? With one of these in your holster, you'll be able to drop lines such as, ''I did that with my Smoking Gun,'' and, ''Have you seen my Smoking Gun?'' over dinner.
This hand-held indoor smoking device means you can get the joy of smoking without the major kerfuffle of an outdoors hot smoker. O'Keeffe of Chef and the Cook reports it is being purchased for the smoking of cocktails, desserts, butter and, of course, seafood. Just sprinkle a teaspoon of woodchips in the little basin and the battery-operated device heats them to smoking point. Place some salmon in a zip-lock bag, insert the tube, add a little smoke and leave it for five minutes, and you have some beautifully cold-smoked salmon.
Frank Camorra of MoVida uses it to infuse mackerel with a lingering smoky aroma.
PolyScience The Smoking Gun, $169.95, Chef and the Cook, 28-33 Mallett Street, Camperdown, 8004 6085.
... and five things you don't need
1. Vertical grill
Looking very last century. And let's face it, they made the meat a bit steamy.
2. Garlic press
Why bother when you can Microplane it?
3. Every modern toaster
They make the toast too crisp, too fast.
4. Electric knife
When was the last time you made a salmon mousse terrine?
5. Electric bread baker
Really? You've used it more than twice?