Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Christmas gifts you really don't need

It’s getting to that time of year when people start considering gifts – gifts to buy for others; gifts they’d like themselves.

And of course, this is when companies start bombarding us with ideas for just that.

Food gifts might not rate as highly in the UK as they do in France – strange, that – but foodies are not entirely neglected here.

But some of what is on offer could blow you away.

Currently featuring high in the kitchen gadget TV advert stakes is a Cuisinart soup maker, £140 from Amazon at the time of posting.

Now, before you all observe that:

a) all you need to make soup is a pan, a spoon, a knife and a chopping board – with an optional hand-held blender


b) I'm becoming a grumpy old woman, let’s look at what such a shiny new toy would give you.

And the perfect place to find out is the reviews section of Amazon.

There, one reviewer wrote: “We have had our soup maker for about 18 months now, and it tends not to get used much any more, in favour of a simple saucepan followed by blending.”

Okay. Why would that be, then?

“The maximum soup capacity of just 1.4L means that a big family only get small helpings.”

So it doesn’t give you enough size flexibility. Is that all?

“… and, why on earth, with such a good basic design, did they choose NOT to give it automatic intermittent stir? The manual stir means one has to remember to stir at intervals, or it can quickly burn – especially during the initial very hot period. That propensity to burn is the downside of a very effective heater used to fry up ingredients before moving on to liquid addition.”

So you don’t save any time, then, because you have to watch it and you have to stir it when it’s busy – exactly as you would with the conventional method.

But there’s more:

“We had to return the very first machine as the ‘spigot’ which is the drive spindle is some sort of plastic, and it lost its shape very quickly. We have been very careful with the replacement, to make sure we don't put too much drive up into the blender chamber. We do not use it for ice-crushing, for that reason.”

So it broke. And as a result, you don’t feel able to use it for one of it’s intended purposes.

“… If we had not had that experience, we would be giving a 3 or 4 star rating.

“Otherwise, it seems certainly well-made, heavy motor and well-thought-out. So, when the MkII comes out with intermittent stir and 2.5L capacity, we will possibly replace.”

So, to recap: in essence, it gives you next to nowt over and above the conventional method of making soup, takes up a lot more space, is less reliable (pans, knives and chopping boards rarely have a bit of plastic that loses shape) and costs well over a ton. And yet you claim you’d get a bigger one if such a thing existed?

It’s only the other day that I mention the ‘Breville Antony Worrall Thompson VTP099 Gourmet Pie Maker’, with a recommended retail price of £47.99.

Also available is the ‘Professional Cooks Gourmet 4 Slot Electric Pie Maker for a mere £26.

Come on – can anyone name me the “professional cooks” who would use a machine like this?

You can get similar machines for cupcakes, and others that promise to make ‘flapjacks, cake bars and breakfast cereal bars’. There are machines for waffles and canapés too.

Most of these take the form of a clunky piece of machinery that opens up like a book and has the halves of assorted moulds in each bit.

Although there is also a Russell Hobbs “cookie maker” that bucks the trend by looking, frankly, more like something you’d find on the shelves of your local ‘private shop’ and intended for male enhancement.

But how many of these do you get? How much storage space have you got?

To be honest, I’m reaching a point where I’m beginning to think that coffee machines are largely an OTT way of doing something that can be achieved just as simply, with far less expense, far less space taken in the kitchen and no bits of machinery to go wrong or get messed up by hard water with a simple cafetière!

Indeed, perhaps it’s heresy, but is ‘instant’ coffee really so much more ‘instant’ than cafetière?

Take a 200g jar of Douwe Egberts “pure smooth” instant – that’s £6.59. Douwe Egberts “cafetière blend twin pack” is £5.49 for two packs of 250g each.

But one thing is for certain: soup makers of the world unite – you have nothing to throw off but your gadgets!

And here's some I made earlier – the proper way.

A version of a River Café Italian rustic soup: peel and slice a couple of cloves of garlic.

Peel and chop a couple of medium potatoes into dice no bigger than 2cm.

Peel and dice a butternut squash.

Put all these in a pan.

Add a tin of plum tomatoes. Rinse out the juice from the tin with hot water and add this too, along with enough stock to cover.

Add a few crushed fennel seeds.

Grind some black pepper into it.

Cook gently for around 30 minutes and test that the potato is cooked through.

Remove from heat and mash – you want it to still have plenty of texture.

Serve with a drizzle of good virgin oil and, if you want, a dollop of marscarpone.

There. Soup. Made properly. How difficult is it?


  1. Absolutely agree! There are some thiings that are essentials, Kenwood, Magimix, Bamix but beyond thateverything can be done on a chopping board with the appropriate knife.

  2. spot on amanda i couldnt believe the advert when i saw it , i make soup every weekend i do have one of the handheld blenders for quickness really . i like kitchen gadgets i have at least 4 zesters for examples , but a soup maker not required.

  3. If you are working on your sink and faucet, you must not use faucets and sinks which could very easily break down after having the results of the regular usage for just a couple of months or a few years.