I'm not a hopeless kitchen gadget addict, as you've probably noticed. But when I do fork out for a mixing machine, blender, food processor and the like, I tend to buy a piece of kit that's going to stay the course and look good on the work top.
Remember those hand whisks you held upright over the bowl, turning the handle until your wrist ached and your arm went numb? Now electric stick blenders with attachments make light work of whisking and blending, while those super-cool glass jug blenders that look like they belong in a trendy West End cocktail bar - oops, I've got one myself - are bloody good. I've had mine for 12 years. A good blender or a really solid, built-to-last food mixer will outlive any number of dodgy plasticky models.
New bits of equipment have changed what we cook and led to the invention of certain modern dishes. Food processors, such as Magimix, came along and made purées infinitely easier. And they can also be held responsible for all sorts of slaws and shredded veg in the 1990s. Now foamy soups and frothed sauces crop up everywhere thanks to those hand blenders, or stick blenders as we call them.
Other bits of kit are so specialist you have to be pretty sure you're really going to use them regularly to make it worth investing in them, though I have to admit I've become attached to my ice-cream maker. Maybe it's because it doesn't have too many attachments.
Blackberry and apple crumble ice cream
Makes about 1 litre
Children love ice cream and if you get an ice-cream maker and make your own you can persuade them to help you. Once you have a good basic ice-cream mix you can really push the boundaries and turn your favourite puddings into ice cream. By adding leftovers such as crumbles, chocolate brownies, treacle tart and so on to a vanilla base, they become unusual cool desserts, too.
I've made this recipe from scratch and kept the topping separate from the apple filling to give the crunchy bits more impact. What's more, the ice-cream base represents the custard, so you have the full dessert monty.
Depending on the size of your ice-cream maker - some have their own built-in freezing mechanism, and smaller ones need to go in the freezer first - you may need to make this in two batches. Blackberries have lasted longer than usual this year, but you could use frozen ones for this, or simply leave them out.
For the vanilla ice-cream base
300ml creamy milk, such as gold top or Guernsey or Jersey
One vanilla pod
300ml Jersey or clotted cream, or a mixture
5 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
For the fruit crumble base
250g cooking apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
60g caster sugar
For the crumble topping
30g cold butter, diced
60g plain flour
20g brown sugar
11/2tbsp ground almonds
1tbsp oat flakes
First make the ice cream: put the milk into a saucepan, split the vanilla pod lengthways with a sharp knife and scrape the seeds into the milk with the point of the knife, then add the pods as well. Bring the milk to the boil and simmer very gently for a couple of minutes, stirring a couple of times, then remove from the heat.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together (using a hand whisk, not the electric type) then pour the milk on and whisk well. Return to the pan on a low heat and cook for about five minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk, but don't let it boil. Remove from the heat, whisk in the cream and remove the vanilla pods.
Leave to cool. This can be speeded up by standing the mixture in some cold water chilled with a frozen ice pack. When it's cool churn the mixture in an ice-cream machine. Some machines need putting in the freezer first so make sure you've done this in time. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 200C/Gas mark 6.
To make the topping, rub the butter into the flour with your finger tips until the mixture has a breadcrumb-like consistency. Mix in the sugar, almonds and oats. Spread the crumble on to a baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden, then leave to cool.
Meanwhile put the apples in a heavy-based saucepan with the sugar and cook on a low heat with a lid on for 6-7 minutes, stirring every so often until the apples are soft but not disintegrated. Stir in the blackberries, remove from the heat and leave to cool.
When the ice cream has almost set, stir in the apple and the crumble mixture. You can add the mixture to the machine, or remove the ice cream, and pour it into a freezable container then stir in the crumble and leave it in the freezer to set for a couple hours before serving.
As a child I'd buy faggots in the chippy after swimming. I've stayed loyal to that spiced livery flavour ever since. Faggots are a good cheap wintery dish. Generally they're eaten with peas, frozen or mushy, though I prefer mashed potato or root vegetables like neeps or coarsely mashed parsnips. You could make a minted pea purée which would certainly put your dusty food processor to good use. I suggest making these with lamb or pork caul fat which a butcher might be able to order for you. It keeps all the flavours in during cooking and isn't any different from sausage skin really.
I used the mincing attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer for this, but you could easily use the chopping blade of a food processor.
3 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3 juniper berries, crushed
2tsp chopped thyme leaves
1tbsp vegetable oil
200g minced pork belly
250g minced pork or game liver
350g minced game meat such as pheasant, venison, hare, etc
1/2tsp ground mace
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
200g caul fat, lamb or pig's, soaked for an hour in cold water f
For the onion sauce
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1tbsp vegetable oil
A good knob of butter
1tsp tomato purée
1tsp Dijon mustard
100ml red wine
250ml beef stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Gently cook the onion, garlic, thyme and juniper in the vegetable oil for 2-3 minutes until soft, add the pork belly and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes stirring well. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Pre-heat the oven to 220C/Gas mark 7. Mix in the liver, game meat, breadcrumbs and egg and season well with the salt, pepper and mace. Mould the mixture into 150g balls - bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball - and wrap in a double layer of caul fat. In a deep baking tray, roast the faggots for 20 minutes or so until nicely coloured, then drain off the fat.
Meanwhile make the sauce: heat the oil in a thick bottomed pan and gently cook the onions for 8-10 minutes with a lid on until lightly coloured - you may add a splash of water if they are catching on the bottom of the pan. Add the butter and flour and tomato purée and stir well over a low heat for a minute. Add the mustard, stir well then gradually add the red wine, stirring again to prevent lumps forming, and then gradually add the beef stock. Season, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
Turn the oven down to 175C/gas mark 4. Put the faggots into an oven-proof dish with the sauce, cover with a lid or foil, and continue cooking for 40 minutes. Eat them with mashed potato and root vegetables.
This is one of my favourite soups and it always tastes and looks exactly how you'd imagine it. A jug type blender is essential as it's crucial to get every last bit smoothly puréed.
My Waring blender has served me well for 12 years or so and I just love the classic cocktail bar look with its real chrome base and glass jug. I learnt in the early years to start off with a small amount of hot liquid in the jug first and add the rest gradually through the top, otherwise you're likely to have your kitchen ceiling unexpectedly re-decorated.
1 medium leek, roughly chopped and washed
1.5 litres vegetable stock
2 handfuls (about 50g) of parsley with the stalks, washed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp double cream
Gently cook the leek in the butter in a heavy-based saucepan with a lid on for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and mix well then gradually stir in the stock to avoid lumps forming, season, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the parsley, simmer for another 5 minutes then blend in a liquidiser until smooth. Re-heat, stir in the double cream if you think it needs it, and check the seasoning.
OK - it doesn't have a plug and it's not exactly cutting-edge technology but it's energy efficient and helps to keep the nutrients in the food. Yes, the good old pressure cooker has had a makeover and it's a great bit of kit that uses basic science to speed things up, but does what slow-cooking does to bring out flavour and make food tender. If you don't have one, use a normal saucepan but double the cooking time.
Try to buy mutton neck chops for this recipe. That tasty meat is back in season; slow cooking is perfect for mutton, and pressure cooking just makes it quicker. Bacon still remains a favourite food in Wales, and cawl is virtually the national dish. There isn't a precise translation. In Welsh it means soup or broth, but it's actually a meal in itself, a classic one-pot dish, originally cooked over an open fire in an iron pot and containing all the goodness of the land.
Potatoes, lentils and split peas can be added. When you get down to the last bit you can get your blender out again and make a tasty purée. Make enough and you can live off this for days.
1 smoked ham hock, or a thick whole piece of smoked streaky bacon, soaked overnight and washed well
1 neck of mutton or lamb, cut into 2-3cm chunks
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
10 black peppercorns
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
3 carrots, peeled and cut into rough chunks
2 medium leeks, halved, roughly chopped and washed
1 small swede, peeled
2 tablespoons of parsley, roughly chopped
Put the ham hock, neck of lamb, onions, peppercorns, garlic and thyme into a pressure cooker, cover well with cold water and bring to the boil. Skim, secure the lid and cook for 11/2 hours. The cooking time for these cuts will vary so you will need to check and possibly give them a bit longer if they are not tender. Add the carrots, leek and swede and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Add the parsley, adjust the seasoning and simmer for a further 10 minutes with the lid off.
To serve, remove the ham from the bone in chunks and serve in bowls with the pieces of lamb, vegetables and cooking liquid. Soak up the juices with chunks of fresh bread.
Mark Hix, Guild of Food Writers Cookery Journalist of the YearReuse content