There is nothing more important in the kitchen than a good knife… except perhaps a set of good knives.
I discovered this several years ago when I happened to impulse buy a set of WÜSTHOF knives in a closing-down sale. That purchase opened my eyes to the difference between a kitchen knife and a good kitchen knife. I have never looked back.
I once had a wise teacher who liked to say, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
He of course said it to try and convince know-it-all teenagers that he had something worthwhile to teach them. His point, I now realise, did not just apply to Year 9 English – it is entirely appropriate for all facets of life. The fact is, if you have no experience of something, you just don’t know what you are missing. Read more “The World’s Worst Food Blogger – You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know”→
The World’s Worst Food Blogger series of posts is where I share my love of all things edible in a proudly non-Pinterest-worthy way. This particular post is all about the humble bolognese.
Firstly, If you are someone whose authentic Italian Nonna passed down a recipe for the perfect bolognese, then this post is not for you. I can’t compete with what you know and frankly, I’m a little bit jealous! This post isn’t about authentic, traditional food, it’s about quintessential Australian cooking – that is taking the best things from around the world and modifying them to suit your needs.
For me, the needs are simple. Something delicious, cheap, healthy, easy to make and able to be made in bulk. Something that can easily be frozen and taste just as good when it is defrosted. If those needs sound familiar to you, read on…
Ingredients – Bolognese
7 cloves of garlic
1.5kg lean beef mince
500g quality pork mince
Mixed herbs (to taste)
1 butternut pumpkin – finely grated
4 large zucchinis – finely grated
6 carrots – finely grated
2 jars passata
Salt (to taste)
The ingredients for this bolognese are fairly simple, and as I said before, cheap. After much experimenting, they are the ones that I have found to work best together to create a meaty-tasting bolognese that is actually 2/3rds vegetable. Feel free to experiment and tweak for yourself.
1 large stock pot. And I mean large. It needs to hold approximately 7kg of ingredients. Alternatively, you can reduce the amount that you are cooking.
Make sure that stock pot is large. It needs to hold approximately 7kg of ingredients. Alternatively, you can reduce the amount that you are cooking (but you will then have left for freezing into convenient and tasty instant meals). The food processor is optional. I discussed the merits of buying one in a previous post. In my opinion, for this kind of cooking, a food processor is a valuable tool to have. It dealt with close to 2kg or pumpkin in a matter of seconds. Overall it probably saved me about 20 minutes of preparation time.
Sharp knives are a must for any budding home cook. I would highly recommend acquiring one or two quality general-purpose knives (I was lucky enough to pick up a set of WÜSTHOF knives cheaply from a place that went out of business), but it’s also worth having a couple of ultra-cheap knives that you don’t mind abusing. I purchased a cleaver for $2 from a junk store over ten years ago. It’s by no means the best made knife around (Its plastic handle is warped from a dishwasher incident), but I keep it sharp and it’s perfect for peeling and chopping pumpkin.
Bung the ingredients into the pot, in order, at the start of the day. Put a lid on it, turn the gas down low and let it do its thing. Stir and taste regularly and adjust seasoning to suit your tastes. Normally I wouldn’t add any salt, but a particularly sweet pumpkin meant that a tiny bit was needed to balance the flavours.
Additional benefits of starting early in the day include making the house smell amazing, and being able to sneak regular mouthfuls to ‘check the flavours’.
If you leave it for long enough, the kids won’t be able to tell just how veg-packed this bolognese is. All of that finely grated vegetable breaks down into a deliciously rich and tasty sauce.
Serve with pasta and a mountain of grated cheese.
After feeding the family until they are ready to explode, portion out the remaining food into freeze-able containers. This particular batch made 17 containers-worth (each container holding enough for 2 adults and one toddler). When you need a quick meal, simply boil some pasta, grate some cheese and microwave one of these bad-boys. Add a salad or some steamed veg for extra variety. The magic of this bolognese is that it somehow tastes even better when reheated.
I like to think that I’m a fairly frugal kind of guy. I take pride in finding a deal and getting things as cheap as possible. Over time, I have learnt that this often means avoiding the very cheapest product available, as poor quality inevitably leads to premature failure and greater overall expense.
These days, I search high and low for the products that sit in that happy place between cost and build quality. I spend time reading reviews and, if I can, looking at the product in store to determine build quality. And if I see a bargain, I jump on it quickly.
Food Processor – a Necessity or Luxury?
Some things sit in the grey area between ‘necessary’ and ‘luxury’. One such kitchen appliance is the food processor. I had lived 30 years of my life just fine without one, so to call it a necessity is a stretch. However, like the dishwasher, once acquired it has proven to be a valuable tool. It is especially useful now that we have Hannah, as we try hard to provide her with as much home-made, natural food as possible. When our original (and very cheap) food processor died recently, I had to find a quality replacement, and quickly.
The Search for the Right Food Processor
I learnt that food processors come in two forms – Cheap and nasty, and expensive and good. While some of the cheaper versions looked okay, a multitude of bad reviews for each and every one that I looked at quickly turned me off them. I had already owned a cheap food processor, and while 4 years of service may be reasonable for the price that I paid, I now wanted something that could give me a solid decade of use.
As for the top of the range, I just couldn’t justify spending over $400 on a moderately used piece of equipment. To put things in perspective, that is what I recently spent on my new oven!
After much searching I finally stumbled upon a possible unit – The Breville Kitchen Wizz 8. This unit seemed to be based on the highly rated Kitchen Wizz 11 Plus, but with a few corners cut in order to reduce cost. The main differences appeared to be less metal and more plastic components, although on first glance it appears that the quality is still there where it matters most.
I was slightly hesitant to buy this unit, as a thorough search of the internet returned zero user reviews. I still can’t figure out why that is and it concerned me slightly. However, after comparing it side-by-side with its more expensive cousin, I was game enough to give it a go.
The Primary Purpose of a Food Processor
The main purpose of a food processor in my kitchen is to shred large amounts of vegetables, and to finely chop ingredients. The Kitchen Wizz 8 appears to be well-equipped to carry out these tasks. The direct-drive motor should be powerful enough for most tasks that I throw at it, while the shredding disk is solidly constructed. A stainless steel “Quad Blade” takes care of the chopping side of things and it seems sharp and robust. I plan to put each of those components through their paces shortly. I will report my findings in an in-depth review shortly.
Every appliance these days comes with secondary purposes. These are usually gimmicks, and I would never recommend buying a product based on these gimmicks. The Kitchen Wizz 8 is no different. It has a couple of attachments that I never would have sought out, and that certainly weren’t a part of the buying decision. But now that I have them, I’m keen to give them a go, if for no other reason than for novelty’s sake.
The first of these attachments is the blade. For many people, this may be a primary piece of equipment. But for me, I’ve always cut by hand. I have a set of high-quality (very sharp) knives and I enjoy using them for food preparation. I never once used the slice blade on our previous food processor. But the blade on the Kitchen Wizz 8 intrigues me. It is adjustable from just 0.3mm thick, to 6mm. If it is able to chop consistently and more finely than I am capable of doing by hand, it may well become a more heavily used component.
The other two ‘gimmick’ components are far less likely to find regular use. They are a dough blade and a potato peeler. I can count the number of times that I have made home-made dough on my nose (that’s once, for anyone unsure of how many noses I possess). As for the potato peeler, we will see. It has very specific instructions for how to optimise its use. They include specifying the exact shape and size of the potato. That goes against my newly-found potato-buying morals, so we will see if I’m willing to sell out for the sake of this contraption (my money is on yes). It would only really be useful and worthwhile if one had a significant amount of potatoes that needed peeling, so I believe it will end up rarely used.
A Blender Too?
I purchased the model with the blender attachment. We have never owned a blender, so I’m unsure how to properly utilise that bit, but as I could buy it for just $30 more (the unit was on sale at the time of writing), I decided it was worthwhile. The blender part appears to be similar to the Breville Kinetix Light and Mighty, which retails for $69.95, so I’m happy with the price. It is, however, worth noting that the food processor base only has two speeds (as well as pulse), which gives you less control than a stand-alone blender. The upside is that having two contraptions that use just one base saves room in my compact house. Time will tell if this was a useless upsell or a moment of genius.
I found the Kitchen Wizz 8 Plus in Myer, with a sale price of $199.20. The regular retail price is $249.
I’m addicted to coffee, and my French press is my enabler.
When I wake up in the morning, it’s one of the first things that I think about. If I miss my morning cup, I have an awful headache by mid-day. I function much better after my morning brew than I do before it.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. I drink my coffee black, without sugar because I like the taste of it. I can’t stomach instant, but I don’t see the need for shiny, expensive equipment to produce a quality morning beverage.
The French Press
That’s where the French press comes in. It is a concept that is remarkably simple, yet, it produces as good a long black coffee as any other method. According to coffeemakerpicks.com:
Coffee purists praise the virtues of a French press, claiming that it produces the finest coffee flavour. A French press captures more of the coffee bean’s flavour and essential oils…
The French press fits my guidelines for inclusion in This Compact Family Life perfectly. It is small, cheap to purchase, economical to run and maintain, and produces a good quality coffee. It is the epitome of value.
The French press takes up no bench space. It is small enough to easily tuck away in a cupboard when not in use. In a townhouse or other compact kitchen, where bench space is at a premium, that is a big plus. While an imposingly large, chrome espresso machine may look spectacular, it is just not an essential enough piece of equipment to justify the permanent allocation of countertop space.
At my favourite local café, a long black costs $4. On average, I drink about 2 cups of coffee each day. That’s $2920 in a calendar year. By contrast, a 200g bag of good quality coffee from the supermarket costs $8 (up to 30% less when on special). Assuming approximately 4g makes one cup, then that’s 16 cents worth of coffee per cup.
Add on the cost of heating the water, the cost of washing the cup and the cost of buying the French press, and you’re still well in front. I would estimate a total of no more than 25 cents per cup. Twice per day, that’s $182.50 per year. I you are like me, every dollar saved counts. $2737.50 per year is no small amount.
A Home espresso machine would certainly go a long way to saving some cash, but it’s still a larger outlay than a French press and it requires more than double the amount of coffee to be used per cup.
I recommend using a good quality pre-ground coffee. The purists amongst you will have just spit your morning espresso all over your screen in disgust at that statement, but the rest of you, stay with me.
I don’t deny that coffee tastes better from a freshly ground bean, or that the local café makes a better brew than I do. But the reality of my daily life is that I don’t have time to freshly grind my beans each morning and, as I get up well before anyone else in the house, the sound of an automatic grinder would surely be enough to wake everyone and spoil my ‘me’ time.
The quality pre-ground stuff is good enough for me to enjoy on a daily basis, without feeling like I’m missing out on some great coffee experience. And on top of that, on the occasions when I do order a coffee at my favourite café, or after dinner at a nice restaurant, I really enjoy it – it’s something special, something different to my every day.
As for my every day coffee – It tastes good. I enjoy it. End of story.