Whether it’s cooking up a quick and healthy breakfast with a morning coffee or crafting a dinner designed to outdo the best television chefs, we’re spending more time in the kitchen these days than ever before.
But despite being one of the most important rooms in the home, kitchens tend to be incredibly straightforward and simple when it comes to the tools we use to create a whole range of foodie goodness. Your typical kitchen is designed to do the very basics required to prepare food and drinks, but the rest has traditionally been left up to a combination of manual labour and extreme patience.
But over recent years, tech has started to sneak into the kitchen to make our lives easier – and we’re not talking about rudimentary electronic devices like rice cookers, grills and, err, popcorn makers. The kitchen tech products that are turning heads now have a bit more going on under the hood, utilising digital smarts to make a task faster and easier. Others are designed to make cooking easier, faster and healthier, to deliver recipe info without the need to hunt for a cookbook, or to make the room of food a more pleasant place to spend your creative time.
Coffee done right
In another world not that long ago, for many people making a coffee involved spooning some granules into a mug and pouring boiling water over it. The more dedicated might have gone for a stove-top percolator or a glass plunger, both great ways to make very good coffee, but messy and time consuming. If a tech solution was needed for anything, it was coffee, the essential wake-up beverage of choice for millions.
And tech, as usual, answered the call, with devices that can deliver a proper cup of quality coffee with minimal effort and mess. The most common of these that you’ll find in homes is the capsule coffee machine – a concept made famous by Nespresso. These couldn’t be simpler to use – just drop your coffee capsule of choice into the machine, stick a cup or mug under it, and press the start button. A few seconds later, your coffee’s ready to go. Capsule machines are the ultimate in simplicity, but they do limit the types of coffee you can make to what’s available in capsules, and the price per cup is higher than it is with other types of machines. But they can’t be beaten for simplicity.
If you’d prefer to buy your own bags of coffee to grind at home, you can go for a proper espresso machine. These coffee-making beasts let you get properly serious about your favourite beverage – and if you still want one-button simplicity, you can have it. Fully automatic coffee machines take care of everything for you, from the perfect bean-grind to the exact type of coffee that comes out the other end. Some even offer Wi-Fi connectivity so that you can brew coffee from bed.
For those wanting to unleash their inner barista and do coffee the proper way, there are manual machines that provide complete control over every step of the coffee-making process. DeLonghi has been a brand intrinsically tied to quality coffee for many years, and their latest manual machine is the ultimate home barista tool. The La Specialista Arte stays out of your way as you create the perfect coffee, using tech subtly to assist with precise temperature control, recipe control and the delicate art of grinding the all-important beans. It even has a micro-foam steam wand to let you create your own barista-style patterns on top of the cup. With dishwasher-safe parts for easy cleaning, this is one serious (and seriously good-looking) coffee machine.
While coffee pods can be hugely convenient, they are also expensive compared to buying coffee beans and grinding them yourself. With a coffee machine that can grind beans for you, there’s also a much wider range of coffees available – and nothing beats the taste of freshly-ground coffee.
Blend it like Beckham!
Okay, we’re not sure whether the legendary football star is big on blenders – though with him rumoured to be kicking off a Netflix cooking show in the future, he almost certainly is. The humble blender is one of the handiest things to have around the kitchen, and they’ve come a long way from the primitive days of being a big jug of blades with an on-off switch.
The modern blender, even at its most basic, now comes with cleverly designed blades that can pulverise whole fruits and crush ice without raising a sweat, making them perfect for throwing together tasty, healthy frozen drinks, smoothies, sauces and foods in seconds.
Blender and juicer specialists Ninja have a wide range of fruit-destroying devices to pick from that take the art of blending seriously, and their BL682 blender system harnesses the power of tech to make the creation of frozen drinks and delicious smoothies even easier. Using what Ninja calls AutoIQ, this versatile powerhouse of a thing (it boasts a 1500-watt motor) comes with intelligent blending programs, so you don’t need to worry about guessing the right amount of time to make your blended masterpiece.
Working just as well as a juicer as it does as a general-purpose food blender, it features what Ninja calls “Total Crushing Technology”, that can pulverise ice into snow in seconds for smoothie goodness, and its Pro Extractor Blades draw out the nutrients from whole fruits and vegetables effortlessly. You can even blend your juice and smoothies directly in the supplied resealable cups, so you can take your drinks with you on the go, freshly juiced to perfection.
Ninja makes a full range of blenders to suit all needs and budgets – including one with an integrated touchscreen – but the BL682 is the sweet spot of performance, features and versatility. It can even make dough, thanks to a supplied blade designed especially for the task.
If you’re just looking to toss some fresh fruit into a blender to make juice, you may be better off with a dedicated juicing machine, which are designed to extract as much liquid goodness as possible from every piece of fruit. Breville makes some excellent juicers for fruit fans.
Get ready to Crock!
One of the most useful tools in a cook’s arsenal has long been the multi-cooker, a device that’s essential for doing delicious, slow-cooked meats, tasty slow-cooked stews and more. The modern multi-cooker combines the functionality of a pressure cooker, a slow cooker and a steamer – the idea being to bring the whole range of one-pot cooking together in a single appliance that can do it all.
The Crock-pot brand has been doing multi-cookers for a long time now, with their current range starting at a very affordable and accessible simple slow cooker that’s ideal for small families and singles, making it easy to gently come up with incredible food without stress or mess. It’s even a handy device to have around to heat up leftovers to perfection.
But if you’re keen to get into proper multi-cooker territory and want a cooker that’s as versatile as possible, the CPE300 Express Crock XL Multi-Cooker is a mouthful of a name for an incredibly capable device. Sporting a comprehensive digital control panel on the front of its confidently chunky 7.6-litre body, the Express features a locking airtight lid for pressure cooking that can’t be removed until pressure is safely released – an absolute must for pressure cooking, so you’ll never have to take a gamble on whether it’s safe to open.
This is one smart appliance, with seven one-touch meal options for easy preparation of delicious stuff without having to worry about temperatures or timings. However, for cooks who want total control, the Express gives that to you via its big, user-friendly touch interface. Importantly, the big cooking pot is resistant to stuck-on food, and it’s dishwasher safe, so clean-up is a breeze.
As well as pressure and slow cooking, this one can brown and sear, steam (a steaming rack is included), boil, sauté and simmer, making it a smart appliance that anyone who loves their cooking would want in the kitchen.
Every day is fry day
You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about air fryers lately – and for good reason. These deceptively simple devices have become an absolute must in the kitchen, with their ability to effortlessly cook just about anything quickly, easily and healthily, from chips, chicken and Chiko Rolls to steaks, doughnuts, fish – and even the unexpected, like frozen gnocchi and fruit.
The concept is incredibly simple – basically, an air fryer contains a large heating element, a fan to move heated air around the inside of the fryer, and a basket to put the food in. It really is as simple as just putting your food of choice into the basket, setting the temperature and timer and hitting the start button. Air fryers, despite the name, don’t actually fry anything in the conventional sense. There’s no oil used (aside from any that may be already on frozen foods like chips), so the potential health benefits of using one are obvious. They’re very similar to convection ovens – but more compact, as well as being easier to use and clean.
The clever folks at Ninja have come up with something the world really needed when it comes to air fryer advances – the dual zone fryer. Named the Foodi, this air fryer evolution has two baskets that fit into two separate chambers inside the fryer – each of which can be individually temperature and timer controlled. That’s actually a big deal for those who love the air fryer way of cooking, because it allows two separate foods to be cooked at the same time, each at the right temperature. Chicken in one side, chips in the other – or whatever combo you like.
This is a big beast, too, with each cooking drawer holding 3.8 litres for a total of 7.6 litres, ample space for the biggest meals. It’s the smarts that really make this one shine, though – this is not your average “dumb” air fryer. With Smart Finish it can actually sync the cooking times in each zone so that both sides finish cooking together – which, of course, is exactly what you’d want. It has one-touch controls for everything from frying to roasting to baking, and is also excellent for reheating leftovers on a whim. It’s versatile, clever and really great value.
You’ll find more than a few recipes for air fryers that suggest spraying oil on your food before you start cooking – but that’s actually not needed for most foods, and indeed one of the main benefits of an air fryer is oil-free cooking. However, home-made potato chips, vegetables and other dishes can benefit from a small amount of oil to add crispiness and flavour.
Let there be light
Cooking up a storm in the kitchen is great fun, but in many cases, kitchen lighting leaves a lot to be desired. Usually a task left to plain fluorescent tubes and a lamp in the stove’s range hood, it can make preparing food a bit of a bleak experience. When you’re preparing ingredients, you want to be able to clearly see what you’re doing, and the same goes for plating meals.
Extra lights are a really nice thing to have for any kitchen – especially lights under cabinets and over benchtops. But when you’re busy with food prep or deep into a cook, having to stop to use manual light switches can be a pain, especially when your hands have just been handling ingredients.
That’s where smart lighting is incredibly handy. Not only can it be almost infinitely customised to suit the exact environment and mood you want in your kitchen, it can be controlled with your voice, using Google Assistant, Apple Homekit or Amazon Alexa.
One of the cleverest implementations of smart lighting is the lightstrip – one of those occasions where you can’t help but marvel about how far smart tech has come in such a short time. Quite literally a thin strip containing dozens of embedded, wafer-thin LED lights, a lightstrip can be cut to size to fit exactly under kitchen cabinets (easily attached by the adhesive built into the strip) to provide fully customisable lighting to the benchtop below.
Philips’ Hue range of smart lighting has become one of the world’s most popular brands in this space, and their latest colour Bluetooth lightstrip is ideal for transforming kitchen bench spaces. Capable of displaying any temperature of white light and over 16 million colours, the two-metre strip can be extended with a low-cost extension kit up to lengths of 10 metres if necessary – or trimmed down to fit your space, with the cut-off section still fully usable as lighting on another lightstrip base unit via an included connector clip.
Of course, there are plenty of drop-in smart light replacements for your existing light fittings (including a huge range of lights from LIFX, Lenovo, Nanoleaf and others) – but being able to completely customise your bench lighting in the kitchen is something that enhances – and illuminates – the space beyond what’s previously been possible.