To wit, a potato ricer and a new cookery book: The Best Recipe.
Describing the potato ricer as new is not strictly accurate, as it has been in the cupboard since Christmas, when my sister gave it to me, but I used it for the first time only this week. What it looks like is a giant garlic press, and one uses it to make mashed potato. You cook your potatoes, place them in the barrel when ready and then press over a bowl. And, hey presto, you have a mound of fluffy mash! Stir in some butter, milk (preferably heated together first), salt and pepper and you're done. It's far less effort than trying to mash with a standard masher (which I had never considered taxing before), and you are guaranteed to have no lumps (unless you deliberately incorporate some). And according to NIgella, though I haven't tested this yet, you don't need to peel the potatoes before cooking them - the peel stays in the ricer as the little worms of fluff squirl out. The inauguration of this wonderous device was witnessed by my good friend and fellow kitchen-fiend Laura, who agreed that it was pretty nifty (and generously helped to eat the spoils), so a thumbs up from us both. Thank you, sister!
The new book was also a gift. This time from Seth, a friend of Matthew's who stayed with us for a weekend when he was passing through London. Thank you, Seth! It is published by America's Test Kitchen, the editors of Cook's Illustrated and a wonderfully obsessive bunch to boot. The idea of the book is to present what they think is the best recipe from which to make 1000 different dishes. To find the "best recipe" they gathered together as many examples as they could, then tested them with almost scientific rigour, trying out different techniques, cooking methods, ingredients and proportions until the tasters declared a winner. The key point about the book though is that this process is documented, each recipe being preceded by a discussion of the variations and trials and how each factor tested affected the final result. Thus, if you know that you like a particularly sharp apple pie filling, for example, you know which variety of apple to substitute or augment in the recipe to get your own preferred result. And there are also information boxes and pages on techniques, the science of cooking, ingredients, health and hygiene, care of kitchen equipment and probably more. As I say, these people are obsessive. But they are also practical, and so the resulting instructions are detailed but not unnecessarily complicated, and they choose a readily available ingredient over a hard-to-find one if the result is comparable. I haven't yet cooked anything, but I have spent a few hours this afternoon dipping in at random whilst listening to the thunder crashing outside, and am quite excited to try some American classics using recipes from an American cook book, this being the first such in my library. First though, I need some cup measures* - anyone want to buy me a present?!
*Actually, I could use the ounce measures, but it wouldn't be the same...