Living and Eating is a blueprint for deliciously simple cooking and an uncluttered kitchen. Its co-author Annie Bell tests two pieces of new equipment, and recommends the best kit for the gadget-phobic cook

While I do not worship at the altar of minimalism, I work hard to get rid of anything that seems superfluous or unnecessary. Be it ingredients in a recipe, a step in the method that can be omitted without harming the outcome, or kitchen equipment that rarely gets used, has just one function and is generally more trouble than it is worth. My nightmare scenario is this: I have just won the Generation Game and am sitting glassy-eyed in front of a never-ending conveyor belt of new and shiny can't-live-without gadgets and electrical appliances. And the game show host is saying, "Yours if you can remember... a julienne cutter, a cappuccino frother, a blowtorch, a cordless tabletop hot tray, a refillable pump n'spray, a microwave egg-poacher, a popcorn maker, an easy squeezy sauce dispenser." And on and on. And I remember all of them and have to take them home and find cupboard space for every one.

While I do not worship at the altar of minimalism, I work hard to get rid of anything that seems superfluous or unnecessary. Be it ingredients in a recipe, a step in the method that can be omitted without harming the outcome, or kitchen equipment that rarely gets used, has just one function and is generally more trouble than it is worth. My nightmare scenario is this: I have just won the Generation Game and am sitting glassy-eyed in front of a never-ending conveyor belt of new and shiny can't-live-without gadgets and electrical appliances. And the game show host is saying, "Yours if you can remember... a julienne cutter, a cappuccino frother, a blowtorch, a cordless tabletop hot tray, a refillable pump n'spray, a microwave egg-poacher, a popcorn maker, an easy squeezy sauce dispenser." And on and on. And I remember all of them and have to take them home and find cupboard space for every one.

So when I heard about Tefal's new liquidiser and food processor in one, an eminently sensible merger, I couldn't wait to plug it in. A liquidiser is indispensable because I like my vichyssoise and chicken liver parfait as smooth as a pair of five-denier tights. I can't live without a processor because I am too lazy to make pastry, cakes and grated Parmesan by hand, and in any case it does a better job. But, if I could chuck out one of these two, I would.

To its credit, the Tefal Kaleo (£79.99) sits on top of a box containing all the little gizmos beloved of food processors that otherwise get lost in the vast arsenal of spoons and spatulas that rattle freely around the drawer, rearranging themselves at whim. So often, in the time it takes to locate the grating disc, you could have done the job by hand. So one notch for Tefal's good design. Another for the brilliance of one 2-litre bowl, two functions. You need only switch blades depending on whether you want to liquidise or process, plus there are four discs for slicing and grating, a dough hook and a kneading attachment. Unfortunately though, while inspired in concept, the liquidiser fails to render truly silky results. In which case, you might find yourself itching to get the separate liquidiser out of the cupboard.

Kenwood's latest all-singing, all-dancing multi-system, the FP 690, goes even further than the Tefal Kaleo in multi-tasking. What it doesn't do is cut out clutter. There is just one electrical base, with a separate 2.9-litre food processing bowl and liquidising jug, both of which went about their tasks efficiently. The problem is that it also comes with a coffee grinder, a citrus juicer, a vegetable juicer, a whisk and endless other bits and bobs that amount in total to no fewer than 25 pieces.

And there is no box to put them in. I am a great fan of Kenwood, a name as familiar from my childhood as Kitchenaid is today. But with no call for a juicer or half the other functions, and having become entangled in more bits than I had hoped to rid myself of in the first place, the Kenwood FP690 hardly qualified as a bare essential. At £119.99, this was not the system for me.

For some time there has been a trend – which I've resisted as impractical – to equip domestic kitchens with light industrial machinery. In my experience of alternately wearing out some of the flimsier gadgets and grappling with unnecessarily large pieces of equipment, the most useful appliances are those which are just big and just powerful enough to cope, but no more. Magimix seems to have cornered the market in these. As a combined liquidiser and processor wasn't the answer, I returned to the quiet purr of a Magimix 3100, the next up from the mini in its range of processors; small but solidly built (£129.95).

With a bowl capacity of 2.5l, the 3100 is easily big enough for the average cook and kitchen, and its tools – a couple of blades and a dough hook – come packed in a box that you can spot a mile away. It blends with considerable precision, though this still doesn't take care of those ultra-sheer soup days and the need for a liquidiser. But until someone comes up with a compact all-rounder, I'll settle for a Magimix and use a separate liquidiser when I have to. It'll take up no more space than the Kenwood.

The underlying principle of the minimal kitchen is that equipment performs several tasks as opposed to just one. Hence I do not possess a wok, a deep-fat fryer, a rice cooker, a fish kettle, a pasta cooker, a double boiler or a sautée pan. I manage with four saucepans from 16-24cm and a 13-litre maslin pan, which doubles for making chutney or feeding a multitude. Saucepans demand considerable technical wizardry to maximise their performance, the best consisting of a variety of metals. Mine are essentially stainless steel, with a base of other metals to improve conductivity, made in Belgium by Demeyere (stockists: 01282 613 644).

I have to admit to a personal interest here, as my co-author John Pawson has designed a range, currently in production, for which I supplied the practical advice. Until these take the UK by storm, my pans from its Atlantis range perform tasks beyond the brief of any specialist pan, are easy to maintain and sufficiently pleasing in design to move seamlessly from the stove to the table. This is equally true of the enamelled, black cast-iron casseroles (two's an indulgence; one is enough) from Staub (stockists: 01782 207 755) and roasting dishes (from £22.95 and £35.95 respectively) that make up the other half of my pots and pans. Chasseur's Invicta roasting pans (from £18.99) and Hackman's Dahlstrom frying pans (from £63) won't shame you either (stockists: 01730 811 811). They'll all happily travel from the top of the stove, into the oven and on to the table.

Demeyere's stainless steel apart, my pots and pans are all cast iron, an age-old material that is unique in providing a slow, nurturing heat. It takes time to heat up, but retains the heat; frying pans have no hotspots, casseroles produce succulent braises. But cast-iron saucepans aren't just heavy: they don't respond quickly enough to changes in heat. I don't recommend untreated cast iron, either. It rusts. Having "the kit" makes cooking more pleasurable and go more smoothly. Paring down, not to a skeletal minimal but seeking the best, applies just as much to knives as to pots and pans.

Regardless of the ever burgeoning number of high-tech knives with equally groovy high-tech handles, I am unashamedly wed to Wusthof-Trident (stockists: 01782 207 755). Instead of abandoning the traditional hot-drop forging of their blades, they have honed down and perfected the art. Its Classic range (starting from £22.95 for a peeling knife) combines the timeless beauty and style of the riveted handle with the very finest cutting edge. So, now all that is needed is a chopping board. A big, solid, dark wooden board. Get it right and it's one board, one knife, one pan, one lifetime.

 

'Living and Eating', by Annie Bell and John Pawson, is a blueprint for the uncluttered kitchen and cooking, with recipes by Annie Bell that reflect a philosophy of simplicity, and recommendations for equipping a kitchen beautifully and practically. Published by Ebury Press £25

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