From breadmakers to blenders and slow cookers to steamers, most of us have so many kitchen gadgets on our shelves that making dinner has become a minefield.
Expensive and fiddly to use, these ‘must-haves’ are often better at gathering dust than helping to cook the supper.
Then, in 2012, along came Thermomix, a culinary gizmo that claimed to be able to whip up a three-course gourmet meal in minutes. Housewives swooned, gourmands raved and top chefs said it would revolutionise how we cooked – and it did, if you had £900.
Now, following a host of Thermomix wannabes, there is a new rival on the market and its makers claim it is better than anything we have seen.
The Tefal Cuisine Companion can cook everything from pasta to pastry, sorbet to stew in a single, magic machine, said to be so brilliant it could replace eight other kitchen gadgets. Available at John Lewis from September, it chops, whisks, mixes, kneads, mashes, steams, boils, sautés, melts and simmers. Unlike Thermomix, it can brown meat and caramelise onions and its slow cook function runs for up to two hours (Thermomix lasts only an hour).
It can also keep food warm after it has finished cooking and, at £699, it is £200 cheaper. So what is it? A 4.5-litre metal bowl, which sits on a stand fitted with a mini computer screen and it plugs into the mains. It has four blades (mixer, whipper, kneader and ‘ultra blade’ chopper) to attach inside the bowl which is then heated gradually from below, cooking the contents as instructed.
There are six programmes, ranging from ‘soup’ to ‘dessert’. It also has a manual mode to adjust mixing speed and temperature (up to 130C). When finished, detach the bowl and put it in the dishwasher. We put the latest wonder gadget to the test…
Dish: Bread is a daunting prospect for any cook, but this machine’s ‘dough’ setting is designed to whip up a crusty loaf in no time. I put white bread flour, yeast, sunflower oil, sugar and salt into the bowl, attach the claw-like mixer and press go. I add a few splashes of water through the lid and, three minutes later, I have a perfect ball of dough.
Handily, the bowl is warm enough for the dough to prove (the process by which the yeast, the rising agent, gets to work) so I leave it in there for 40 minutes. When it has doubled in size, it is ready to arrange on a baking tray, prove for another 40 minutes, then cook for half an hour in the oven at 200C.
Verdict: The machine does only half the work here. Unlike a breadmaker, it cannot actually cook the dough. On the plus side, you end up with a rustic-looking, delicious loaf without all that stirring.
The fierce-sounding ‘ultra blade’ attachment does all the work in 30 minutes. I whizz an onion up in the machine with some oil, then pour in risotto rice, wine and chicken stock through a hole in the lid. I switch to 130C and everything starts to caramelise.
Next, I put it in slow cooker mode (gentle stirring programme, which heats the bowl to 95C) for 20 minutes, after which I should have a smooth, aromatic risotto.
Verdict: More Disaster Chef than MasterChef. Of all the dishes, this is the one the Cuisine Companion should do best; a one-pot number that normally requires constant stirring. Instead it cooks the rice so quickly it fails to absorb any liquid. The crucial ‘caramelising’ function leaves a lot to be desired. I am left with a gluey goo resembling a failed rice pudding.
Dish: Even Nigella doesn’t make shortcrust but the gadget’s ‘pastry’ setting makes individual chicken pies as easy as, well, pie.
Pop flour, butter, water and a pinch of salt into the bowl with the kneading blade, press the button and go. It takes a few minutes, then needs to chill for half an hour. I wrap it in clingflim, put it in the fridge – and face a problem. The Cuisine Companion may be capable of preparing a pie but it has only one bowl which I need to wash up between each step.
Having scrubbed it clean, I’m free to make the filling: browning chicken, pancetta, shallot and mushrooms in the bowl at 130C. Twenty minutes on the slow cook programme and it is time to add flour, milk and stock. Finally, I roll out the pastry, fill the pie dishes and cover with pastry lids, then 20 minutes in the oven at 220C.
Verdict: Golden, buttery pastry, with a creamy, rich sauce. The pastry flakes, while the velvety filling falls apart on the tongue. Both parts are better than if I had done it by hand. Bravo!
Unlike an ice-cream maker, this does not stir the mixture as it chills, so there are a fewer ice crystals
Using just milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla extract, the Cuisine Companion makes enough for eight.
Everything goes in the bowl and is whizzed up for six minutes at 80C. The ear-splitting cycle (not one to use when you have got dinner guests) nearly deafens me.
Despite the claim it ‘makes’ ice-cream, it cannot chill anything so it is out of the bowl and into a Tupperware container to go in the freezer for three hours.
Verdict: Rich, yellowy and looking every inch like a tub from a pricey ice-cream parlour, this is the perfect antidote to a hot July day. Unlike an ice-cream maker, this does not stir the mixture as it chills, so there are a few ice crystals but it is sweet and satisfying.
I dice butter and combine with self-raising flour and icing sugar in the bowl with the kneading tool. After 50 seconds, I add buttermilk through the lid and a few minutes later, the dough is ready to roll out and cut into circles. These take 17 minutes in a 220C oven.
The jam (strawberries, sugar, lemon juice and gelatine) is even easier: ten seconds in the mixer, 40 minutes ‘dessert’ programme to thicken it, then pour into a sterilised jar. It takes about an hour to set so I whip the cream.
Verdict: The scones are a little flat as the kneader isn’t powerful enough to work sufficient air into the dough. It is the first time I have made jam and this was super-easy. Passable – but Mary Berry would not be impressed.
The steam setting is good but the fish is rubbery once cooked, and the small bowl holds only two fillets
Dish: This can cook with steam, which is better than the Thermomix as its smaller bowl provides more intense heat.
Just pour in a little water, slot in the metal basket which sits above the water. I tried a simple dish of white fish, rice and vegetables, including courgettes, carrots, green beans and asparagus. First in is the rice, (about 12 minutes); then the fish (six minutes) and the veg (eight minutes), which I chopped with the ultra blade. The fish is too big for the basket and there is limited room for the veg. Each stage has to be cooked separately, so I have to put the food in another bowl while I wait.
Verdict: The steam turns my kitchen into a sauna. It looks good but the fish is rubbery. The small bowl holds only two fillets, so it’s no good for a family.
Dish: Shepherd’s pie may look straightforward but it takes a lot of work. First, I put potatoes in the steam basket for 30 minutes. While they cook, I chop an onion, carrot and celery, then throw this into the bowl with the ultra blade for 10 seconds. The lamb mince, goes on slow-cook for 20 minutes, then add tomato puree and peas.
The gadget even mashes the potatoes, giving a purée in ten seconds rather than ten minutes’ with a masher. It can’t grate cheese so I end up with a lumpy mush. I have to add some cheddar by hand before putting the pie under the grill for 20 minutes.
Verdict: Out it pops, crispy on top and smelling oh-so-good. The mash is lump-free, the cheese bubbling and the lamb succulent. My only complaint is a few chunks of meat, which the mixer hasn’t quite managed to break up.
Dish: Soup is said to be the quickest, easiest dish, so I attempt a Mediterranean tomato. Tinned tomatoes, chicken stock, oil and paprika go in the bowl, all whizzed at 80C for six minutes. It’s ready to serve straight from the bowl.
Verdict: There is a sheen of oil on the surface and it is an unappetising orange colour. When I slop it into bowls, there are some lumps of tomato floating around, showing the drawbacks of the mixer. A greasy, thin liquid that makes Heinz look gourmet. Not the Cuisine Companion’s finest hour.
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Post time: May-17-2019