I've Got Gadgets & Gizmos Aplenty … and some of them are pretty good

I have a guilty secret … yes, I love a kitchen gadget. And I know I'm not alone. After all shops, catalogues and magazines are packed full of all every conceivable machine, device and novelty. If people weren't buying them, no-one would be stocking them or advertising them. And they are so tempting, aren't they? The trouble is, of course, that while the latest kitchen gadget seems like the best thing since sliced bread (or should that be the breadmaker?), there's a better than fifty per cent chance of said gadget sitting on the counter top gathering dust or ending up at the nearest charity shop. Because as shiny and pretty as they are, many kitchen gadgets are decidedly dodgy.

Take the mechanical apple peeler and corer. It might look like something of which Willy Wonka would have been proud, but you know it's just going to take up precious space in your kitchen. Just how many times do you peel an apple? Couldn't you just use the vegetable peeler you already have. And, for that matter, you probably already have an apple corer too. Do you really need a special gadget for the job? But while I've resolutely refused to allow such a ridiculous item anywhere near my kitchen, I have to admit I have, only on occasion you understand, succumbed to the odd silly purchase. The electric mini-donut machine didn't really last long. Well, it hung around in the cupboard a long while, but it didn't take more than a couple of uses to realise it was a messy and largely unsatisfying way of cooking anything. And the pasta maker – in all it's gleaming chrome glory looked fabulous on the worktop. But it proved such a faff to make pasta from scratch. And, to be honest, by the time you'd coated it in sauce, it didn't really taste any different from the fresh pasta you can get in just about every supermarket. Like most gadgets that catch your eye, it seemed like a great idea at the time, but was eventually consigned to the gadget graveyard.

But over the years I have managed to acquire, and love, quite a few kitchen gadgets that have proved invaluable. Granted most of them I could have managed without, but, boy, have they made life in the kitchen more fun! Here are just some of them.

1   The practical solution – the Slow Cooker

As a fish-eating vegetarian, I'd never really considered just how useful a slow cooker could be. I've known meat-eating friends sing the praises of a machine that can do all the cooking while they're out at work. Then I discovered just how great it can be even for a non-meat eater. Because it cooks food very slowly and at a very low temperature it makes everything tender and imparts a wonderful depth of flavour into every mouthful. It can save you money too, because if you do eat meat you can use cheaper cuts and if not you can use dried and less pricey beans and pulses, rather than paying for the canned variety. And, especially come the colder months, there is nothing like coming in from a day at work, or an afternoon at the match to a cosy house and a warming casserole or chilli. Gorgeous.


2   The Guilty Secret - Tefal Electric Jam Maker

Okay, making jam is not exactly heavy work. I can, and often do, make jam in a large maslin pan, particularly when I'm making great batches of marmalade. But when you want to make just a small batch of something experimental, and you have other things to do with your day than stand over a steaming cauldron stirring away hour after hour, a jam maker is a godsend. It might seem a bit of a cheat, and something of a cheek – especially to friends who've heard me complain about the advent of the electric soup maker, the pie maker and the cupcake machine  – but I've now had this machine for three years and I wouldn't care to be without it. Plus, and a big plus here, it makes a fabulous and creamy rice pudding! What more could you want?


3      Everyone's Favourite - Ice Cream Maker

When you're trying to eat healthily the last thing you want to do is fill your tummy with highly processed, over sweetened puddings. But you still want to have something yummy. And while ice cream is never going to be diet food, when you make your own, you can at least be certain that it's as healthy as is humanly possible. Of course, once you get that ice cream maker it does become quite hard to limit yourself to healthy options. Blending up fresh strawberries, sugar and cream is a huge temptation. But  you're not going to do it every week. And you can console yourself that there are no artificial nasties in your ice crea. Plus,you can make an unending variety of flavours. My personal favourite – peppermint with chunks of white chocolate – is never available in the shops, but I can treat myself whenever I want. And that makes me happy.


4     The Money Saver - the Easiyo Yoghurt Maker

I love good yoghurt. I don't like overly sweetened supermarket flavoured yoghurt. It tastes artificial and it costs too much. The Easiyo maker isn't even mechanical – it's a bit like a thermos flask in which you place a large plastic pot –  and costs only a few pounds. The only electricity you need is enough to boil a kettle. You pour boiling water up to a marked line in the maker, use tap water to mix with the special powder (which costs at least £1 per litre less than average supermarket brands), place the pot in the maker, put on the lid and wait. Eight to ten hours later and you have fabulous creamy and very fresh yoghurt that's lower in both fat and calories than most supermarket stuff. And because you made it at home there's no hanging around on a supermarket shelf to degrade all that wonderful healthy bacteria. See how easily you can convince yourself you need one?


5     The Family Friendly One – The Stonebaked Pizza Oven

It's so easy to see pizza as a cheap and cheerful sofa meal when, in truth, it can be one of the most tasty, and yes classy, foodstuffs around. But I've found shop-bought pizza rarely really lives up to expectation. It's really easy to make your own pizza (I admit I usually use ready prepared bases) and with this brilliant machine – with its own pizza stone –  that recreates a proper pizza oven at the flick of a switch, you can get a really authentic flavour. Even with one of those cheeky supermarket ones …


6     The Indulgent Treat - the Microwave Chocolatiere

I know, it's hard to accept that anything that works in a microwave can actually produce anything as tasty and indulgent as a creamy hot chocolate. But this wonderful ceramic pot does just that. And once you've tasted it, you'll be reluctant to return to that powdered instant stuff. You fill the pot with milk and then chocolate – preferably those lovely real chocolate shavings rather than powder – pop it in the microwave for a few minutes and in hardly any time at all you have a traditional hot chocolate of which any Belgian cafe owner would be proud. Just whip it up with the included battery-operated whisk and pour away. Delicious!


7     The Authentic One – the Aebleskiver Pan

Ever since I ate delicious aebleskiver – wonderful little jam-filled doughnuts-cum-pancakes – in Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens four years ago, I had yearned to make them. Trouble is, you need a special pan and, aside from bringing one back in my hand luggage, or paying an extortionate shipping costs, there was just no way I could get hold of one. That was until Lakeland, the Mothership of all kitchen gadgetry lovers, began stocking them. Good old Lakeland.


8     The Luxury Item – the Electric Ice Maker

So, you're having a party. You'll be serving drinks. You need ice, and lots of it. But all that filling up ice cube trays days in advance just takes all the fun out of it. And what if you forget? With an ice maker that can never happen. Granted my ice machine was an expensive purchase – it was a treat when I sold some of those 'free' shares building societies were handing out. And it takes up a lot of space. But I get so much use out of it that I don't feel too guilty about the decadence of actually owning it. Once the tank is filled and the machine switched on, it takes less than an hour to get enough ice to keep any party going all night long.


9 The Useful Every Day Gadget – the Sodastream

I wasn't one of those kids lucky enough to have access to a Sodastream. I convinced myself that the pop that came from them wouldn't taste that good anyway. But with the system's recent relaunch, and the benefit of the brilliant QVC 30-day money-back guarantee I decided to test out one of the new machines. How glad am I that I did? I've used the Sodastream, or at least drunk a Sodastream almost every day since I purchased it several months ago. The great joy of making your own pop, without the fuss of carrying it back from the supermarket, or having to store it, is reason enough. But the fact that I can make sparkling water, club soda, soda water (call it what you will) from ordinary tap water when I want it and for a fraction of the cost of shop-bought mineral water, really makes this retro machine worth its weight in gold. And, if you're at all concerned about the environment, the fact that you can re-use the bottles over and over for around three years is a big plus. As for the syrups  – well, they're pretty good with retro flavours like cherry, ginger ale and cream soda among the newest additions.


10 The New Baby  - A Mexican molcajete 

Being a Mexican food enthusiast and avidly watching Thomasina Miers' Mexican Food Made Easy I decided to purchase a molcajete – an authentic Mexican pestle and mortar made from lava rock. Yes, I could have continued  to use the ceramic pestle and mortar I already have, and mash up my avocados in a bowl with a fork, but the rough texture of the molcajete really does do a better job and, let's be honest here, it just 'feels' more authentic. And sometimes, there's nothing wrong with that.