Christmas Wishlist for Foodies – Buy Cheap Buy Twice

I never really believed in the old adage “Buy cheap, buy twice” until we managed to kill a coffee machine every year for three years running!  We gradually moved up the price scale each time (admittedly the very first one was a £20 machine so we had quite a way to go to get into the luxury range), until we found a coffee machine that has now lasted three years and is still going strong.  I do get embarrassed though when someone asks the price, but in the long run it has saved us money by not going out to get our coffee-fix.  Considering my first ever job was a barrista for a not very well known chain of coffee stands (usually found in train stations), I have had a long-term love affair with all things coffee.  My husband has also had a long-standing reliance on caffeine given that he is a hospital doctor – between the two of us we make that machine work hard!

Sometimes it really is worth the extra spend on something that will last and save you time… or at least that’s what I tell myself.  Here are some of my top picks which are definitely worth the extra spend.

The coffee machine – DeLonghi Prima Donna

  • Don’t buy the fitted models – you’ll move and have to leave it behind, or it might break before the next kitchen refit and there is no guarantee that the newer models will fit in the space.
  • Do think about counter-space – some of the top models are quite tall, so may not fit under your cupboards, and since many require you to load them with water/beans from the top, pulling it out and pushing it back will increase the likelihood of damage (either to the machine or your counter-top).  An integrated bean-to-cup model enables you to choose your beans (and buy them in bulk), and grinds them for you, saving you the hassle of having a separate grinder on the counter.
  • Do think about cost-per-use – the pod style coffee machines lock you into using their refills, which can get quite expensive if you are not interested in learning how to fill your own pods.
  • My top pick: the DeLonghi Prima Donna (Amazon.co.uk link). 

The Food Mixer – The Kenwood Chef

  • Try not to get too influenced by form over function – the best models will last for 30 or more years (my mother still have two Kenwood Chefs that she was given as wedding presents – one for each of her marriages – which are still going strong 30-40+ years later).  Look for fully metal gears as these motors will last, while those not made out of metal will likely break if you leave them on too long too often.
  • Think about the attachments available – you may not want to make pasta or mince meat now, but you might in the future.  Pick the model with the best selection of attachments.
  • Think about who is going to clean it – one of the major reasons I picked the Kenwood over the KitchenAid is ease of cleaning.  The Kenwood has simpler lines making wiping it down after use a doddle, while a friend who has a KitchenAid regrets her choice as it is constantly getting dirty and takes that bit longer to clean.  You could always get a cover to  minimise the mess though…
  • My top pick: The Kenwood Chef Major Titanium (Amazon.co.uk link)

The Food Blender – The Vitamix

  • Think about what you may make – the better models have the most powerful motors which won’t burn out on long blends.  The cheaper ones may need time to cool down in between bursts of activity so you may be hanging around twiddling your thumbs – or you may break it!
  • Think about noise levels though – these machines are LOUD.  If you live somewhere with noise restrictions think about whether those neighbour relationships are good enough to withstand this…
  • My top pick: The Vitamix Blender (Amazon.co.uk link)
  • Second choice: The Berg Commercial Blender (Amazon.co.uk link)

The Toaster – Dualit New Gen

  • Four slices of toast at a time and a warming rack for buns/pastries – this does the job of something a lot cheaper, but feels far more solid than the previous £40 toaster we had…  This is definitely a luxury not a necessity, but such a lovely luxury…
  • Amazon.co.uk link

The Slow Cooker – Crock-Pot Slow Cooker

Things still on my wishlist to try:

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The Science of Ingredients: Caffeine

_44057447_coffee.203Image source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6945697.stm (cited later on)

Caffeine is part of most people’s everyday lives (especially mine!), for the most part deliberate, although there are many places where caffeine can be found which are rather surprising (such as chocolate and decaf).    Caffeine is naturally found in chocolate, coffee and tea and is added to cola, energy drinks, and medicines such as flu remedies among others.   Decaffeinated coffee still contains approximately 10% of the original caffeine making the name “decaffeinated” somewhat of a misnomer.  It is absorbed very quickly, usually within a few minutes, and acts to block chemical signals in your brain that tell you to feel sleepy – so you end up feeling more awake.  Unsurprisingly, it has been shown in various studies that caffeine can interrupt normal sleep patterns, and that abstinence from caffeine improves sleep for those who suffer from insomnia.

Caffeine is addictive and has significant withdrawal symptoms including headaches, depressed mood, irritability, flu like symptoms, and nausea.  Typically withdrawal symptoms last 2-9 days and have been reported in people who consume as low a daily dose as 100mg/day (one cup of coffee).  Enough evidence of this withdrawal has been found that it has now been included in the newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).  It is possible to overdose on caffeine, with one man reportedly dying from eating too many energy mints.

All of these suggest that caffeine is a really bad component in your daily cuppa.  Are there any actual positives of caffeine?  Various recent studies are suggesting that there are some good reasons to include caffeine in your daily rituals so you may be able to relax a bit.  One study showed that a cup of coffee before exercising can help you to exercise for longer than you would otherwise, while another showed that fat burning was increased following strength training after a cup of coffee.  Specific sources of caffeine have also been investigated, with green tea demonstrating a helpful influence on muscle recovery following strenuous strength training – although that was a study on mice and human mileage may vary.  Various studies have shown an improvement in cognitive abilities following caffeine intake, such as this one on information processing, and this one on the prevention of “cognitive decline” in ageing rats.  A further study has found increased life expectancy for those who drink moderate amounts of tea or coffee, although this comes with the warning that high doses may lead to increased anxiety-related illnesses.

The current advice from the Food Standards Agency in the UK lists a recommended maximum daily doses of caffeine of 400mg for adults, and 200mg for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive.  So how much is that?  While the table below lists standardised amounts these should be taken with caution as caffeine amounts vary hugely depending on the type of bean, how the beans are roasted and how they are served.  This makes for an interesting day of mental maths for most people doesn’t it?

CAFFEINE IN FOOD AND DRINK

• 1 mug of instant coffee: 100mg
• 1 mug of filter coffee: 140mg
• 1 mug of tea: 75mg
• 1 can of cola: 40mg
• 1 can of ‘energy’ drink: up to 80mg
• 1 x 50g bar of plain chocolate: up to 50mg
• 1 x 50g bar of milk chocolate: up to 25mg

So if you eat…

• one bar of plain chocolate and one mug of filter coffee, or
• two mugs of tea and one can of cola, or
• one mug of instant coffee and one can of energy drink

…you have reached almost 200mg of caffeine.

Source: Department of Health

Christmas Gifts for Foodies

The Guardian has put together a very good list of gifts for foodies which you can read about here.  Things which have now crept into my wish list include Heston Blumenthal’s new book Historic Heston (Amazon.co.uk link); the Divertimenti Truffle Slicer and Marble Pastry Board (links are to Divertimenti’s own website).

I was given some truffles by a French friend a few weeks ago (who finds them around his house – lucky him!), and had the most amazing scrambled eggs of my life, followed the next day by the best bread and butter of my life.  I used a coarse grater with one of those attachments for not grating your own nails/fingers off, and found it rather good for slicing it rather finely, but found that the pieces were perhaps a little small to really get the visual impact of finely sliced truffles.  Presentation has never been top of my list of priorities, but I’m beginning to gain an appreciation of why it is worth the hassle.

I’ve also got a pressure cooker on my wish list at the moment after a colleague at work told me all about how she uses hers to make gorgeous “fast” slow cooked food.  I haven’t picked one out yet as I’m still doing my research, and am going to be waiting for the late December/early January sales to see what’s what.

Buying presents for the foodie in your life can be a bit hit or miss as gadgets may be duplicates (if they’re like me and buy every gadget for the kitchen they ever hear about), or not to their taste.  One such example is Civet Coffee (also known as Kopi Luwak) – I was given some last year and found it bitter/sour tasting.  While those of you who like bitter/sour tasting coffee may enjoy it, I far prefer a rich and warm style of coffee (Columbian beans, Italian Roast – that sort of thing) so this was a massive fail.  In fact, going back round to The Guardian’s website again, they have a great opinion piece on it which I highly recommend reading if you are interested.  However, I have crossed Civet Coffee off my food bucket list so that’s at least one positive out of it!

If you’re a foodie yourself, and have a  large list of people to give presents to, you may be looking for new recipes to try out – I’ve found a good list here from the BBC Good Food Website which will hopefully give you some inspiration.

recipe-image-legacy-id-1308593_3Image from the BBC Good Food Website