Thursday, January 24, 2013

Miscellaneous Food: 10 new food-related products to try (2013 edition)

Our annual round up of fun new kitchen gadgets and cookbooks. No, we really don't have space for anything more and who buys cookbooks in this day and age, anyway? But if I did, these are the books and toys I'd be buying for myself, or foodie friends this year. Some of them are really, really neat!

1. An Uuni Pizza Oven

Oh, I really want one of these! A portable, light, wood fired pizza oven, check it out at their website here or watch their Kickstarter video here . The inventor has laid claim to the world's first wood-fired oven that is easy to use, small, fast and affordable. Only downsides are, at 5-7kg, it's not that light and at 180 pounds it is still not that affordable. You still have to make your own pizza dough (and we have a smoker so why do I need a second natural oven, also, the founder is somewhat European-ly facetious, he calls his own dough recipe, which he is selling along with the machine, "canonical") and I'm a little suspicious of the mess that it makes, for I've never met a neat wood oven. I don't understand what the process is and from the video, the oven has worrying little fire sparks jumping out of it, but I guess the whole point of early-stage investing is you take the a big execution risk and if you're a pizza lover, it might be worth it! 

2. The Big Green Egg (BEG)

This smoker has a strong franchise, which means a history and a rather fanatical following. We lucked out when a friend shipped a container of furniture from the US, as we were able to take advantage of a small space within it for this bad boy. I think there is one other BEG in Singapore (which was brought here by a US Marine family and has its own blog), it's basically a small-scale home-use smoker, similar to what chophouse restaurants would have. We bought the Large and the store who sold it to us (typical brilliant US customer service, answered, paid for and personally shipped all over the phone) said that most people come back to trade in their Large eggs for the Extra Large- I can see why. It is a lovely size, a fairly unobtrusive piece of kit on a roll-y base, easy to use and makes beautiful smoked thick steaks, ribs, salmon and pork butts. If you are a fan of hickory, mesquite or orange-wood smoked meat, this is how you would achieve that effect. Since we've acquired this, we've been scoping out comparative butchers, beef cuts and meat prices,  it's become hard in particular, to order steaks at restaurant-prices and when they aren't smoked! 

If you already have a smoker or a BBQ kit of some sort, I would recommend two more items, a BBQ charcoal chimney starter and a tub of dry-rub. The charcoal chimney starter is a revelation and gets rid of the days when you had to stand around, fan the fire, get all smokey and have guests wait hours for anything to eat. Although you will still get smoked up, this device (a steel cylinder about 8 inches in diameter and 15 inches tall) jumpstarts your BBQ by ensuring a quick burn and takes the insecurity out of the firing-up process. I notice it's not commonly used in Singapore but it should be- available at BQ Mart and most other specialty BBQ stores in Singapore. A dry-rub helps to dry out and flavour the meat, much like a professional marinade and the two best that we've tried were a Texan dry rub, as well as an Icelandic rub for meats. It's a fun little souvenir from when you travel.

3. Cuisipro Spatulas

The key things that totally annoy me, when I use someone else's kitchen, is if their knives are not sharp (that's just dangerous and it's so lazy) and when they use these blocky plastic spatulas that don't scrape up anything! You waste so much time putting batter round and round in a bowl and it's impossible to get a clean finish. These are durable, pliable and you really can never have enough of them. I have one and would love a couple more, I suspect most bakers would not be adverse to them either, especially in different sizes. A thoughtful, easy gift for chef friends.

4. Chef's knives and strong kitchen scissors

This is my absolute pet peeve- you can creative your way out of not having a colander, for example, but you can't really function if your knives aren't strong and sharp. I absolutely believe that there is a strong correlation between an individual's kitchen abilities, indeed, their discernment and taste in food and the state of their kitchen knives. I also tend to think that people who take care of their knives and treat them tenderly (you all know what that means- dry them immediately after washing, sharpen them properly and store them with care and when absolutely dry), will apply the same attention to detail with other things they do or with the way they treat people.

Besides, why wouldn't you own just one decent knife when there are so many beautiful ones to choose from (and when they give away Henckels knives with supermarket points)? Everyone has their favourites, from Gordon Ramsey's self-branded collection, to Lakeland knives, Shoji knives, Analon knives (championed by Raymond Blanc), Senkou knives (Heston Blumenthal) and there are all different reports of how long their blades stay sharp for, their durability and so on and so forth. My own prejudice is that I'm not a fan of ceramic knives (I like the feel of steel, even if it does oxidise your apples) and I like the Global Knives best. I love their weight, balance and dimpled handles.

A proper chef's knife or Santouku knife will likely set you back $110-170 unless you buy a set; we use a Henckel's knife block at home so that there are enough knives for more than one person working in the kitchen. I also like very sharp scissors, those that can cut anything from tomato stalks, to ribbon or chicken bones. I try to have at least two in my kitchen, so people don't have to wait on each other. TOTT has a strong, sharp kitchen shears for $10 or you can get them at hardware stores, for that price and given how often they are used, they are good value.

 5. A Mechanical IceCream Scoop

I am stuck in the Dark Ages, we still use a one-sided Ikea scoop for ice creams. There are apparently websites that are dedicated to reviews of ice-cream scoops, the favourite is apparently the 2 ounce, blue-handled Zeroll Universal EZ Disher, which the best value went to the 4-Tablespoon size Norpro Stainless Mechanical Scoop. In truth, I'm not an ice cream fan, which explains why I've never wanted a larger ice cream scoop but these are also really handy for scooping in even amounts of cupcake batter, which makes it doubly worthwhile!

6. Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe, Joanne Chang

Who can resist a cookbook and bakery by a Harvard alumnus with a degree in Economics? I can't! I am in love, in love with her recipes and most of them were recipes I stumbled into, and only belatedly realized where from- her brilliant and easy-to-follow, picture-filled book.

Her lemon cake is superb and sophisticated, her banana bread is the best one I have tasted (and I've only criss-crossed Australia and the US tasting every banana bread I come upon). Her recipes are precise and the results speak for themselves. I don't need another baking book but if I had the appetite for one, this would be it.

7. Pie: 80+ Pies and Pastry Delights by Dean Brettschneider

This cookbook is so new, it is still on forward release on Amazon but you can get a copy of it here in Singapore at this pastry store in Greenwood Avenue. I've been on a pie kick of late and one of the things that I've become much more aware of, is the need for a melt-in-the-mouth dough. This book is quite unique in that it walks you through different types of doughs and fillings, in an absolutely delicious, savoury way.

8. EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale

I'm putting this in again, only because I still want one. I featured it last year, in my round-up of kitchen toys. For those who don't yet have a digital weighing scale, get one. I find my digital kitchen scale one of the most important pieces of equipment, they give you more precision and accuracy in measuring and baking results and they help save you time too, by allowing you to tare (reset to 0) with your existing containers, bowls and added ingredients. I wish all recipes would be fully converted into a system of weighed ingredients, rather than measured in metric or cups. 

The EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale is a reasonable $25USD, compared to the $70SGD that I spent on my simple Tanita scale. It is matt and stainless steel, the buttons are tab buttons (as opposed to rubber buttons that you depressed, on the previous scale) and the number display is clear and large. Best of all, it takes regular, not watch-sized batteries. 2838 unanimous 5-star reviews on Amazon have become 4389 reviews and still all give it a full 5 stars. 

9.  Cuisineart SG-10 Spice and Nut Grinder

I already have this and it is a lovely piece of equipment. The blade is exclusively designed to grind spices and nuts and the simple press-down lid starts the grinding process with one touch, sealing in all the finely ground spices. Perfect for grinding down almonds for macarons or pistachios for baklava, each cupful is about 100 grams, which is a great size and makes for much quicker and neater work. 

10. Preeti Nitro Heavy Duty Grinder

I was introduced to this grinder by some Peranakan cooks who swear by it and I have to admit, I was pretty sceptical at first. The Preethi series is made in India and it doesn't look that swish, in fact, with its white plastic exterior and pastel colours, it looks a bit like a child's kitchen toy. However, it is actually well known for its durability and trouble free performance and is very well-suited to cuisines that have a lot of nut and 'rempah' grinding, like Indian, Malay or Peranakan cooking. The resulting pastes are smooth and the machine does not overheat. I also like that the various containers and blending jars are quite large, instead of the usual small, medium, large size- this lens itself well to making several different curries or rempahs at once. At $85 at Mustafa, it is one of the few things that costs less in Singapore than it does on Amazon and it's cheap for a heavy duty mixer. 

11. Electronic ant repellent.

This is my usual bonus last item and it's because we live in the tropics. As any cook or baker will tell you, if you actually use your kitchen and live near greenery, you're bound to eventually, run into a pest problem. If you're lucky, this is just ants and not lizards or cockroaches. There are several types of electrically powered devices designed to repel or eliminate pests, usually rodents or insects. The brand I've seen in Singapore is Pest Stop or Pest Repeller Ultimate AT (available from hardware stores) and Mortein's Liquid Vaporiser (this is for mosquitoes). I caveat that I haven't actually used one and have limited reports of their efficacy but we can dream!

If you have other items to recommend, I'd dearly love to hear about them. Happy New Year to all our readers and as always, good eating and good health!

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