Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Buying a New Toy - Stick Blenders

What do you want from your stick blender?  
Generally, it would seem that most users want it to be:
  • ·         easy to clean
  • ·         robust - metal rather than plastic
  • ·         easy to handle - not too heavy or awkward
  • ·         useful in a variety of situations,  from mixing smoothies with great chunks of ice to whipping delicate egg-whites

What can you expect from your stick blender?  Generally, it would seem they are:
  • ·         mostly easy to clean
  • ·         robust to a greater or lesser degree
  • ·         most are easy to handle
  • ·         most are useful in a variety of situations

So - what's the problem, then?
Manufacturing faults aside,  consider this.  It is truly not rational to buy a cheap, plastic blender and then expect it to crush ice ad infinitum.  It is not logical to expect a $30 blender to perform at peak capacity, day after day for 10 or 12 years.  No one should expect inexpensive plastic to stand up to hours of extremely hot water and the chemicals used in a dish-washer.  It is wonderful if it happens, but it must be considered a bonus.   Kitchen tools need to be treated with respect and a  little bit of TLC will make all the difference to their life expectancy - after all, we do get  cars serviced, don't we?

As I see it, we "pays our money and we takes our choice", as the old saying goes.  If we spend the dollars up front, we may expect to be the owners of a robust and rugged machine which, with care and regular service,  will provide us with years of use.  (For example, replacing dull blades helps to reduce strain on the motor.)    

If we cannot afford, or do not want to go for the best, we take a punt, buy a cheaper model and still treat it well.  Give it respect, look after it and you are likely to enjoy  many  years of service,  albeit without all the whistles and bells. Then, when it fails, you shrug, buy another one and move on.  A word of warning here, often the price of a cheap blender may mean that it is more expensive to claim under-warranty repair or replacement than it is to just go out and buy a new one!

Resist the temptation to throw your stick blender at the cat, to leave it where the gas flame can gently lick it,  or to let it languish in the soup of chemicals we call dish-wash powder and you may be surprised with the result.
Before you decide on which model to buy, do make a list of all the things you want  your stick blender to do,  choose one that has a realistic chance of meeting your demands and do not demand that it performs beyond its capabilities.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Strawberry and Walnut Cake

This is rather 'retro' as cake recipes go, but is luscious at the beginning of summer when the strawberries are really becoming plentiful.  Other fruit may be used, too.  Raspberries, blueberries or even pieces of fresh peach or nectarine, if they are at their peak.  Poor quality fruit with little flavour will not do at all,  if you want this recipe to have its full impact.

It is very simple.


3 eggs
4 oz  caster sugar
3 oz plain flour
2 oz walnuts (coarsely chopped)
2 tbsp really strong coffee.  (I use 2 tbsp top quality instant coffee mixed with 2 tbsp hot water)


About 3/4 pint of cream to whip
1 lb strawberries
fruit juice or alcohol to taste
 2 tbsp chopped, toasted walnuts

Prepare a deep 8 inch diameter cake tin.

Pre-heat your oven to 350F or Mark 4. (This is for a non-fan oven.  Lower the temperature  if you are using the fan setting.) 

  • With an electric beater, whisk the eggs and sugar until they have a thick,  mousse-like  texture.   (When  the mixture forms ribbons, you will know you are there.  Be aware that it is possible to beat for too long,  thus beating the air out!  Not a good result!)
  •  Sift the flour into the mix along with the walnuts and the coffee.
  •   Fold in gently with a metal spoon.
  •   Pour into the tin and bake for around 30 mins.  Cake will draw away from the side of the pan when   cooked.
  • Allow the cake to cool, then split into 3 equal layers.

Softly whip the cream.  Reserve 1/3  of the cream and mix the rest with the sliced strawberries. (reserve some small strawberries for decoration)

 Fill with cream and strawberries, moistening each layer as you go. Be lavish.  In the example, you will see that we need more, more, more cream.  You need it it almost "flow" down the side of the cake. Be careful not to beat it too much, or you will never get the effect you are looking for.

Cover the top with the plain reserved cream.  Decorate with whole strawberries and chopped, toasted walnuts.


I grease my tin with a little butter, then line it with baking paper.  I then grease again and dust with caster sugar and flour.  If you use non-stick tins you may prefer just to trust that your cake will not stick.. Up to you!  Personally,  I trust nothing and would probably line silicone if I used it! lol
This sponge  will dry out  if you over-cook it. To counteract any dryness,  I sprinkle the cake, after it has been split, with a complementary fruit juice or, if it is for adults,  some  form of alcohol - sherry,  brandy,  or Grand Marnier,  perhaps. Orange and strawberry work well together for example.   Experiment with different combinations of flavours.
If the fruit you use is a little sour, macerate it in confectioners' sugar after slicing. Bonus is a little juice to use for moistening.

 (adapted from Cordon Bleu Part Set, 1975.)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

More on Stick / Immersion Blenders

Our George Foreman. Whisk, Wand, Food Processor
and Blade, Plastic Container for Pulverising and
The Bit that holds the Motor!

In our kitchen, we presently use a George Foreman Immersion. or Stick Blender that we got through  a points programme.  It seems OK,  although because of our travelling ways, we have not used it a great deal.  We did return to discover that there had been a re-call on it because of a faulty blade connection, but fortunately,  ours was not one of the 'baddies'.
We use it mainly for chopping nuts,  making pesto and curry pastes, chopping onions etc for salsa,  for whipping cream and pureeing soups, fruits and vegetables.   All but the cream and the soups  are  processed in the super mini-processor supplied, which we find a fantastic device for when we have only  small quantities of ingredients to handle.  I am sure that, as time goes by, we will find plenty of other uses, too. At present, I am thinking of hummus and a pate, that at present I make in my food processor and blender respectfully, purely out of habit.

In the meantime, thinking about the Bamix (see last post) sparked my interest in Immersion Blenders in general so I started to do a bit of research on the subject. First - a little bit of history.  The Bamix is the original.  It was invented in Switzerland and patented in 1950. The name comes from two French words, "battre et mixer" i.e. beat and mix.  These blenders first appeared in American kitchens in the 1980s.  Obviously,  I can attest that English cooks were able to enjoy the experience somewhat earlier - the 
early 60s, in fact
Now there are heaps of immersion (stick) blenders on the market.  They come in all price ranges and all promise slightly different things.  The most expensive domestic model I found (at current prices) was the top-of-the-range Bamix at $400 and the cheapest, the Betty Crocker at $12.72......  Each brand has its loyal followers and its vehement detractors regardless of price. Often the cheapest have the most glowing reviews while the most expensive can only grovel under the burden of some consumer's rage.

Q 1.  How do they differ from other tools developed for mixing and blending? 

A.  They do their job in the container in which the food has been, or will be, prepared.

The obvious advantage here is that this mostly cuts out the need to transfer food from one container to another. This often messy and protracted operation  always entails further washing of dishes and extra 'stuff' strewn across the kitchen. Murder in a small area and the opportunity for chaos in a large one. 

For example, when I make pate, I cook everything in a glass dish, then, when it is somewhat cooled,  I ladle it into the blender, in batches, for processing.  As each batch is processed, it gets poured into a single clean bowl.  When all the batches are amalgamated, the mix gets thoroughly stirred so that any textural differences in each batch disappear.

For washing up - Bowl from cooking, ladle, spatula, blender jug and base, blades, gasket, large spoon, bowl from mixing.  Benches are usually decorated with drips of pate and/or melted butter from careless use of utensils, sundry accidents and life's little surprises!

I figure, if I use an IB (note - I am learning the jargon) the following should be the case,

For washing up - Bowl from cooking, spatula, wand from stick-blender and clean benches.  - Result!

More later.................

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Lemon and Yoghurt Cake

This is one of two lemon cakes that were really popular in our household when the children were growing up. The other was a recipe (one of many) given me by my wonderful mother-in-law, Anita when she used to come out from Leeds in the UK and stay with us in NZ. She is, I am sorry to say, no longer with us, but I am sure she would have liked this one, too.
This is good served with creamy yoghurt or as here, clotted cream.
It is so long since I have baked a cake - around 3 years, I think and unfortunately I miscalculated and slightly over baked this one.  You will see that the oven was too hot so the cake rose too quickly and split.  It is also a little sun-tanned around the sides. Never mind, it tastes good and the syrup that soaks it prevents it from being dry.  I will know next time and I promise to do better!  It is such an easy recipe though that it is well worth a try.

                                                         Lemon and Yoghurt Cake


1 cup caster sugar
finely grated rind of two lemons
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup rice bran or grapeseed oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups plain unsweetened yoghurt
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups self raising flour

1/2 cup lemon juice, extra
1/2 cup caster sugar, extra
Greek yoghurt to serve


1. Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 22cm ring tin.
2. In a large bowl mix the sugar, rind, eggs, oil and salt together with a wooden spoon until well combined.
3. Add the yoghurt and lemon juice and mix, then sieve the flour into the bowl and fold in.
4. Spoon into the tin and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
5. Stir the lemon juice and caster sugar together.
6. After the cake has cooled for 5 minutes, pour this glaze over the cake. Serve with Greek yoghurt

  • I  use a micro-planer for grating where-ever possible.  It is less messy, you do not grate pith and you do not risk having slices of flesh added to your recipe! 
  • When grating rind, add it straight away to your sugar if the recipe allows.  Any oils that seep out will soak into the sugar and you will not lose the precious flavour.
  • Always use a metal spoon for folding and you will lose less air from your mixture.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A Stick Blender History

Stick Blenders - Part 1

Stick blenders, or immersion blenders if you like, are among the best and most useful kitchen tools, if you have the right one!

The modern Bamix
I first came across one in the early seventies at the Ideal Home Show at Olympia in London.  The blender in question was a Bamix, from Switzerland and it was being demonstrated on one of the lesser stands by a very ebullient gentleman and his female side-kick.  "At this time, Bamix," he said, "may be purchased only here.  It is not available in the shops!"

You know the sort of stand and demonstrator I mean.  They often do knives.  They demonstrate knives with serrated blades, on blocks of wood, sawing back and forth with tremendous vigor. Then, with the same blade, they slice a tomato, moving from the brute force of a Sumo wrestler  to the delicate actions of a cup-cake fairy. They swear you will 'never need another knife' and 'not only one, but two.......just for the show. ....will not be available again in the near future'.........Yeah!

Shamefacedly, I admit I once bought a pair of these knives in my murky past, and they were actually not too bad at all.  I had them for about 25 years and they were always great for slicing tomatoes.  In the end I gave them away out of boredom.

And now - back to the chase! 
My parents from NZ were with me and my father was just developing an interest in cooking.  My mother, rest her soul, was happy to be able to produce a half-way decent Victoria sponge and pork with crackling to die for, all the while stoutly maintaining that she had never been able to bake a decent sponge since she had to change from a coal range to an electric stove!   Hmmmm.....

Anyway - the blender. Dad was mightily impressed.  He watched the "chef" roughly chop enough  vegetables to half fill a bucket, add a few pints of boiling water, and then introduce the mighty Bamix to the mix. Whammy! Instant Soup. I can't actually remember what else the guy did but really, it didn't matter. The bucket of soup had made the sale and Mum and Dad took a Bamix back to NZ.

I don't know how much they actually used it.  I know that they made pate with it, but not the bucket soup.  Avocado, probably.  It was an extremely robust item - all metal and from memory,  a lot heavier than the stick blenders of today.  It stayed with them for the next 20 years when it was passed on and it did them proud. 

Thanks Bamix.