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Archive for the ‘terrific tools’ Category

Instructions for the Ampia 150

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timeless, elegant, essentialCooks are always wonking on about this or that great piece of equipment and now I’m joining the fray on account of this sexy beast.  Sorry folks, but just look and learn.

What makes this not-tiny-at-all tool terrific is the depth, fit and grip of its bowl, allowing me to pound and grind to my heart’s content without everything jumping out, flying around and splashing me in the face before I’m finished.  It’s pestle as pile driver, its own weight and impressive girth providing enough crushing power to take care of most comers; I just grip it tight, lift a couple of inches and drop – it hits the spot every time, saving my wrists for erm, other activities.

This is no sausage-in-a-bucket hog-the-kitchen-countertop and splatter-it-all-around Jamie Oliver-style mortar (and who grinds uncooked black-eyed beans anyway?).  It’s hunky-chunky, good-looking and it gets the job done: more of a Rowley Leigh – or newcomer Valentine Warner for that matter.  Solid, unpretentious, down to earth.

granite mortar and pestleThe granite interior provides a bit of rough grip too, fluffing creamy aïoli and red rouïlle to peaks of perfection.

With this monochrome monster I’m never looking back, but even so I’m holding on to my mini marble mortar for small quantities of spices or rough salt – that’s about it tho’.

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Now here’s one thing over which Canadians and Americans do see eye to eye: a mini toaster oven.  It’s the tops.  And now, in the UK, it’s here at long last.  As with the best things in life, it’s a study in brilliant simplicity: just look at those nuclear-bunker knobs. Gasp at the no-nonsense controls: 2 elements with 3 cooking combinations plus a clockwork 15-minute timer  – ping!  – I use it all the time, she cooed.Hinari table top oven

Brother didn’t want so it’s my mini-oven now: and sure, it can crisp up a croissant,  toast a teacake, gratinate a – well, gratin, but it has huge potential, limited only by the rather less than huge capacity.  So no, I will not be roasting the turkey within its cute confines, but it did cook a hunk of topside to rare perfection – dark & crusted without, juicy red within – a feat achieved never by that cavernous and fatuously fan-assisted Neff.table top toaster oven
Popular with North American students for its portable economy, if not snappy retro styling, it’s surprising this darling device hasn’t caught on before in Britain but, with the cost of fuel spiralling to the heavens and the ever-dwindling dimensions of a modern household, it’s about time it did.

Here it is taking care of tapas; no doubt it’ll knock the socks off a microwave for reheats and ready meals.  And before you ask, my entire smug-parade of stuffed olive oil flatbreads was baked in this 280C furnace (an inconceivable temperature in the iNeffectual one) on its own little oven tray.  This latest: a prosciutto, rosemary and sage fouace ready to go.

parma ham and rosemary fougasse

So if you’re not constantly cooking for a crowd, take a tip from American collegiate culture and get hold of a table top toaster oven.  I paid an unbelievably paltry £12 at – whisper it – Poundstretcher.  With a fortune saved on the leccy and wide new avenues of experiment opening up, not to mention the odd old-fashioned baked potato, I just need to work out how to clean it…

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Nothing so good as pure old-style, old-school pesto.  Particularly when made in the old-fashioned way, with a mortar and pestle and while sitting outdoors with basil’s best friend – summer sunshine – for company.

Because the basil leaves are not cut as they would be in a food processor they preserve so much more of their aromatic oils; similarly the garlic eludes its usual sulphurous fate and the pine nuts retain their delightful savoury mealiness.

And as if that weren’t good enough news, considering the time and hassle it takes to assemble, dissemble, scoop-out-without-wasting, clean and finally put away a food processor, a mortar and pestle is downright quicker, greener, altogether simpler … and infinitely more satisfying.

I ♥ my mortar & pestle!

pesto recipe

  • a fistful of pine nuts
  • 3 or 4 or 5 small cloves of wet (young) garlic
  • a large bunch of fresh basil
  • about 50g fresh parmesan (or pecorino romano if you have it)
  • a few slugs of extra virgin olive oil

Pound the pine nuts and garlic together in your mortar until they form a paste, then strip the basil leaves from their stalks (chop or tie these together and use in a tomato sauce) and add them in small handfuls. Keep pounding and grinding, adding more leaves as they pulverize down.  When all the leaves are used and you have a rough paste, grate in the parmesan and then let down (thin) this now thick compound with olive oil, glug by glug and stirring the while, to your desired consistency.


Satisfying stirred into linguine or spaghetti: the coarse texture clings to the pasta, providing substance and savour

Delectable atop a slice of artisan bread – lovely rough consistency
Decant into a jar and keep in the fridge for a taste of summer, whatever the weather does

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If you’re at all interested in olives you may be aware of the continual reminders to buy them unstoned for good flavour. I used to take such advice with a pinch of salt, but that was in the bad old days before I acquired this magnificent beast: a sturdy olive stoner. Solidly built, sprung at the pivot, it made short work of pitting a jar of Kalamatas the other day and reminded me of how glad I am to have it. Stoning cherries should be a piece of cake also. £5.35 at Mottram’s on The Pantiles (I’ll let you know when their website is up – in the meantime check this blogpost for a decent description).

Mottram’s
35-37 The Pantiles
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
01892 538915

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