Saturday, January 03, 2009

Miscellaneous Food: Luxury Kitchen Items

I know this is the most ridiculous list because (a) Christmas is over and (b) some of the items are a bit like asking if we'd all like a Pagani Zonda- well, yes but it's a moot point given (c) most of us really can't afford to spend more or at all but hey, that's what the internet is for, isn't it?

If you don't know what a Pagani Zonda is, give yourself a pat on the back and stay that way! Suffice to say it is incredibly expensive, rather rare, highly impactical and entirely unnecessary- which may characterise some if not all, of the items on this list.

I did think really hard about what items should make this list. It may not include everything that you think of as a luxury, certainly, that list may differ greatly between people. Write me and tell about what makes your luxury list!

1. Le Crueset 2 3/4 quart Dutch Oven.

This pot is the standard, with a history dating back to 1925 when two Belgium industrailists met at the Brussels World Fair and decided to create a foundry, at the transportation crossroads for coke, iron, and sand in Europe, that would enamel various cookware items. It is also a sentimental memory.

Back in graduate school, I had a housemate who had one Le Crueset dutch oven and a flat omellete pan. Even though we had to share kitchens by the floor, she would painstakingly carry these to the communal stove for us to use. These pans would double up, sturdy enough to grill steaks, delicate enough to fry thin Japanese crepes. My memory of them is irrevocably locked into the fumes of good food and warm company in the midst of a very lonely and cold Boston winter season.

I fell in love with their bright flame colours and used to think, one day, when I have the money and the ability, I will have a collection of Le Crueset, enough to fill my cupboards in their coordinated colours.

Guess what, till this day, I have never bought a single of their pots. I would look at them longingly, everytime there was a sale at Woodbury Common (an outlet mall). Even then, they were never cheap enough to warrant picking up a purchase.

Made of enameled cast iron, which distributes heat slowly and evenly, these pots are very versatile and go straight from the stove to the oven. They are superb for roasting poultry and meats as well as for preparing slow-cooked specialties and even bread. I've chosen the most common size signature cocotte or Dutch Oven of their range and there are other famous and excellent brands, like Staub and Mario Batali but none as sexy as this original.

2. Footed Cakestand and by Two's Company

Cakestands are like.... wedding dresses. There's traditional white and then there's everything else. Some are patterned in black damask print, some stunning in crystal or white porcelain with a trim of grosgain ribbon or delicate raised beading. There are vintage ones, red bordello ones, faux china ones, painted, scalloped and tiered ones. Even Vera Wang is making cake stands these days (but then, doesn't she make everything these days).

The good thing is that unlike wedding dresses, you don't have to pick one. Depending on how luxurious you feel, you could have five if you chose to and all at the same time! After all, it's a universal truth that people buy with their eyes and presenting your layered cakes or iced cupcakes on a cake stand makes it much more a sight to behold.

I confess I've been tempted toward two more cake plates which I don't need but these are the original two that I thought most stylish.

3. Cuisineart GR-4 Griddler ($129USD from Amazon)

I love a good sandwich and there are grills and there are grills and this, I had to admit, was possibly the king of panini grills. Functioning as a 4-in-1 unit of contact grill, panini press, open grill, or griddle and with a brushed stainless-steel housing that adjusts to the thickness of the food and indicator lights for its temperature control system, this baby definitely deserves it's #1 ranking in Amazon's Griddles category.

We all know Americans know their grills and 360 reviews can't be wrong! This has been praised for everything from crispy bread, melted cheese and sizzling steaks to an easy wash-up of the grill plates. Sound like the equivalent of a Harley or Ducati on an open highway...Enough said!

4. Hammacher Schlemmer Kitchen Counter Herb Garden ($149.95USD from Amazon)

Just because you’re strapped for soil or tight on time doesn’t mean you can’t exercise your green thumb. This top-of-the-range herb garden saves time and agricultural real estate by bringing the garden right to your countertop.

I figure this gear crave actually does improve your health by allowing fresh basil, oregano, thyme and mint to flourish in your diet. It's also important to find a gadget that actually works because if not, you'll only wind up spending all your time weeding and singing to some dead plants.

5. Cuisinart ICE-50BC Supreme Ice Cream Maker ($299USD on Amazon)

Personally, I have a hard time imagining that this will Not be the white elephant of the house. It's nice though, to imagine the places you will go if you could tempt colleagues and family with home-made creamy ice-cream, healthy fresh fruit frozen yoghurt and classic sherbets. The happy, smiling children who would worship you as a domestic supermom. Not the place for all of us and not something that I could consider an investment but I know of people who have and say that this is the truest form of art and a blank canvas.

Indeed, perhaps, compared to buying high priced art, this is similarly worthwhile, artistic and fulfilling. After all, the possibilities of salted caramel, dark chocolate, coconut pineapple pinacolada and rum, basil, mint apple, are endless. You might even discover your hidden genius and go on to become the next big thing in Singapore's local ice-cream parlours!

6. Kitchenaid Mixer ($688 SGD on sale at Shermay's Cooking School)

I've written an ode to this already but the unique Planetary Mixing Action, (the attachments spin independently while making continual rotations around the bowl), blends ingredients all the way to the edges without rotating the bowl to give a thorough, consistent batter. This stand mixer is designed with enough power and capacity to prepare large batches of cake batter or cookie dough and comes with 10 speed settings.

The head is fitted with a power hub for use with optional attachments. A smaller version of commercial-size models, KitchenAid mixers come with a lifetime guarantee and were first introduced to home bakers in the 1920s. They are still manufactured in Ohio, USA.

Of course, no matter how many planery actions it has, this is an extravagance and I couldn't bring myself to buy one for many, many years until Santa brought me one last Christmas! Having used it for a year though, I think it is fair to say it's probably the least indulgent of the different equipment I've put up on this list.

7. Joko Teppanyaki Grill (price upon request from

The portable teppan yaki griddle from joko is a thing of beauty and my fascination with it has lasted longer than most others in my life! The griddle reaches maximum temperature in about 8 minutes and you can cook and fry on it without additional fat, allowing for a very natural taste of food, especially meat.

This Italian company, which is still run by its two founders, manufactures the most drool-worthy, streamline and semi-professional kitchen culture products, under their two lines joko domus and joko professional. As you notice, it is so high-end, it doesn't even have a price on it and I would just prefer to dream rather than ask!

8. Water Carafe by Design Within Reach (USD$80 from

A night carafe is one of my favourite non-cash presents to give newly-weds. The reason is that when I was a kid, I broke my parents' heavy crystal water carafe, dropping the cup portion during one of those restless nights when I needed a sip of water. My dad wasn't even angry, he seemed vaguely resigned that it would have happened one day.

And this is the truth, isn't it, that life is a natural progression? One part of that progression is that when you are grown, you come into your own and a time of life when you are old enough, sophisticated enough and independant enough to have a thing of beauty on your nightstand.

Apart and above it being practical to have a fitted cup-jug and convenient to have water nearby, it is elegant, to symbolise your ability to take care of your own needs and afford your own aesthetics.

And then life rolls on, you have children and then your life isn't your own, neither is your water carafe and your illusion goes out the window, along with all that designer furniture. Out with the crystal and in my parents' case, in with the hideous melamite (with, I might add, asian-style non-matching plastic cup lids). So you could say that I give couples night carafes for them to enjoy and their children to destroy.

This set, including Carafe and Glass, is the work of a Japanese family-owned business that’s been producing glassware for generations and it has a great streamlined sensibility. I should add though, that and make environmentally-friendly water carafes out of recycled glass ($18-24).

9. NordicWare Heritage Bundt Pan (USD$34 from William-Sonoma online)

Nothing says texture and crumb like a bundt and it takes a proper bundt pan, which features a center tube that ensures even baking and which is neccesary to handle a softer and more liquid batter, to make a good one.

NordicWare is a unique company that specializes in cast-alumnium bakeware and pioneered the science of the decorated bundt with holly motifs, cathedrals, roses and other designs moulded into their pans. These days we have silicon versions of their weigh-a-ton moulds but the originals are more durable, dependable and decadent.

It’s not until you see the finished product from Nordicware’s Heritage Bunt pan that you realize how gorgeous it really is. The pan itself is nice, but not that impressive, it's the finished cake that comes out buzzing with its sharp lines, forming a dramatic interlocking swirl that is reminiscent of a very geometric flower bud.

This vintage style is reminiscent of the 1950s bundt pans and NordicWare based its design on an old German stoneware mold for baking the ring-shaped kugelhopf, similar to the American coffee cake. Most importantly for Obama's new campaign, this all-American product is proudly made in the USA.

10. Chroma Type 301 Chef's Knife

The tenth item, as usual, was a toss-up. I considered, amongst other things, double-walled insulated mouth-blown Bodum glasses, which I do covet but these FA Porsche-designed knives, like one reviewer said, are sex with a honed edge.

On a random aside, if you feel this is what is missing from your life, you should go find and read the recent NYT article on the charismatic preacher making waves by prescribing daily sex for married couples as a way to have a more Godly relationship (who knew?! Of course in the US, not here where you're not even meant to be writing about going to Cordon Bleu).

The handle of the Chroma Type 301 by F.A. Porsche is constructed of 18/10 stainless steel and was designed by F.A. Porsche and Jörg Wörther to give better control when cutting and a seamless transition from the handle, to the blade, which is made of high-quality Japanese 301 steel and then hand-ground to sharpness. In the end, this knife made the tenth-splurge cut.

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