10 cool tools
1. The oat miller. Photo: James Brickwood
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 in order 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.
Explore the wonderful world of food online ... an iPad is a kitchen essential for adventurous cooks.
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 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 bio-dynamic 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. The 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, $39.95, from The Essential Ingredient, Prahran Market, Elizabeth Street, South Yarra, 9827 9047. Also from Chef's Essentials, 138 Ryrie Street, Geelong, 5229 9923.
3. The iPad
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, where fine slices of raw salmon, say, are lightly ''cured'' by contact with 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). It's visually very arresting, especially for seafood and beef. You can also heat cooking-grade blocks over gas or electricity (the oven is not recommended), and use them for ''hot rock'' cooking at the table.
From $12.95 to $53.80, from The Essential Ingredient, Prahran Market, Elizabeth Street, South Yarra, 9827 9047.
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 own 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, Prahran Market, Elizabeth Street, South Yarra, 9827 9047. Also from Casa Iberica, 25 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, 9419 4420, along with masa flour, chipotle sauce and other products.
6. Pressure cooker
It may sound old-fashioned, but the pressure cooker has been taken into the 21st century and is now much safer to use. They remain the fastest way to cook slow food, particularly base stocks and soups that retain all the flavour that is normally lost to evaporation. Not only that, it's the home of the 40-minute lamb shanks and the amazing seven-minute risotto.
Maria Tsihlakis of the Essential Ingredient recommends the 7.5-litre Silampos pressure cooker. ''We love it because it has two levels of pressure and is tall and narrow in shape,'' she says. ''So it's great for a whole chook.'' Must-read: A Pressure Cooker Saved My Life by Juanita Phillips (Harper Collins). ''Everyone has to feed the kids'' she says. ''Even feminists.''
7.5-litre Silampos pressure cooker, $175.95, from The Essential Ingredient, Prahran Market, Elizabeth Street, South Yarra, 9827 9047; Silit 4.5-litre in green, red and black, $229, from The Chef's Hat, 131 Cecil Street, South Melbourne, 9682 1441.
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.
French mandoline, $300, and German mandoline, $80, from Scullerymade, 1400 High Street, Malvern, 9509 4003. De Buyer mandoline in Ferrari red, $165, from The Essential Ingredient, Prahran Market, Elizabeth Street, South Yarra, 9827 9047.
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.
''They're hugely popular with the industry,'' says Vanda Luzza of The Chef's Hat. ''But most home cooks are stopped by the price.''
It's a technique that appeals to the lover of precision, the control freak and the health-conscious. The current flock of chef-driven cookbooks are big on detailing specific instructions for the particular equipment they use, setting up gnashings of gadget-envy in the breasts of home cooks.
Heston Blumenthal, for instance, calls for one in his book Heston Blumenthal at Home (Bloomsbury). He maintains it will revolutionise the domestic kitchen.
PolyScience sous-vide machine, $984.50, from The Chef's Hat, 131 Cecil Street, South Melbourne, 9682 1441.
9. Digital probe meat thermometer
No more checking of watches or double-guessing about whether the roast is cooked. Insert the metal needle into the thickest part of the meat and check the internal temperature from the easy-to-read display.
There are many different versions, but they can generally be pre-programmed. The Culinart digital probe is radio-controlled, alerting you when the meat has reached optimum temperature. ''Very handy for when you've got the gin and tonic going and have wandered off,'' says Susie Hawes of Scullerymade. 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.
Culinart digital probe, $80, from Scullerymade, 1400 High Street, Malvern, 9509 4003; Digi Stick, $29.95, from The Essential Ingredient, Prahran Market, South Yarra, 9827 9047.
10. 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 smoking device means you can get the joy of smoking without the major kerfuffle of an outdoors hot smoker. Luzza says it sells well because people love experimenting by smoking meat, seafood, butter, cocktails and desserts. ''With so many cooking programs on at the moment, people get very influenced by the chefs,'' she says. ''They're really keen on getting different flavours from their food,'' she says.
Just sprinkle a teaspoon of woodchips in the 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 Smoking Gun, $126.50, from The Chef's Hat, 131 Cecil Street, South Melbourne, 9682 1441.