Thursday, May 23, 2013

First look at Williams-Sonoma (and Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn kids!)

I've been dying to get to Williams-Sonoma ever since it opened earlier in the month in Bondi Junction.  I've been a long time lurker on the US website, and apparently I was one of many Sydneysiders doing the same, prompting the first Australian store opening here.

I went along with my friend Sally, and our collection of four kids. We must have been mad. Luckily for us we didn't *need* anything, otherwise the kids may have been a serious disadvantage to getting some real shopping done.

Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn kids and West Elm are all next to each other, in the pedestrian section of Bondi Junction, just across the road from the Bondi Junction Westfield.

Williams-Sonoma is truly a stunning kitchenware shop. My sort of heavenly. Everything is immaculately displayed, there are heaps of very knowledgeable staff, there is a cooking school, and the range is incredible. They sell all sorts of items that are not readily available in Australia, like All Clad and Nordic Ware.  The staff have all been brought over from the States for the first year of business here. I definitely got an American level of service, despite the store being super busy.

Here are my pick of a few special items:

Yellow signature Le Creuset collection. You can't buy this colour anywhere else, and yes it totally is a perfect yellow to continue my yellow obsession.

Emile Henry pie dishes. They had an entire section dedicated to these, more than I've ever seen in one shop. I have a blue one (quite similar to this white one below) and use it all the time, not just for pies but also for baking veggies and also for serving.

This Nordic Ware Hong Kong-style egg waffle maker also caught my eye. I've been wanting a waffle maker for a while now, but haven't found many in Australia. The ones I have found are all electric, and this gas top one was very beautiful, and solid. I'm not totally sold on the less conventional waffle shape though?  Any thoughts on this?

The copper pots on display also left me dreaming. I would love one of these, even just for decoration purposes!

 They also had lot of imported food and food items. I'm so happy to know that I will be able to buy all the sanding sugars and sprinkles for cake decoration - they are seriously hard to come by here.

But husband, I was so well behaved and walked away with only an $8 ravioli cutter. Can't wait to make my first batch of ravioli!

Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn were next stop. Again, the stores are beautiful. Not over-full, but lots to see. They offer lots of help to shoppers as well as complimentary planning services. Oh to plan a nursery with those ladies!

The bedding in particular seemed so reasonably priced, and most things can be mixed and matched, not to mention monogrammed! Our kids loved the kids kitchen area where you can buy amazing retro-style kitchens and all the accessories for play. So cute.

All photos are mine or are from the Williams-Sonoma website.  All of these stores will send anything to any part of Australia, and I think they are opening a Melbourne store soonish.

Friday, May 17, 2013

My un-love affair with my Thermomix

Some of you may have noticed a distinct lack of posts about my Thermomix.

I was given it as a Christmas present by my lovely husband. He needed a considerable amount of convincing over a fairly long period of time.  It really is a huge purchase ($1935), so naturally isn't something that you would just jump into.

I had been along to two demos (these last a couple of hours each) and did a massive amount of online research, read the Choice reviews, watched YouTube videos. I also spoke to a few owners.  It seems that is really is hard to find a single Thermomix owner who doesn't rave and throw about 'it's totally changed my life' type phrases.  Mostly they list all the things they now love to cook that they wouldn't have considered prior to having a Thermomix in the kitchen. The first demo I went to made me really want one, and the second confirmed it for me.

It took a little longer to convince my other half, he certainly wouldn't be attending a demo.  I think what really got my husband over the line was sitting next to a couple of his friends at a wedding, and even hearing the guy tell us how amazing the gadget was.

It arrived in early January and I was so excited I could hardly sleep the night before. My local demonstrator brought over the machine and took me through all the basics; how to wash it, put it together, look after, and we then made a vegetable stock together.  That afternoon I proceeded to cook all the things that I really wanted to try TM style, top of the list were: mushroom risotto, soup and peanut butter.

The risotto turned out well, the Thermomix really does make it an easy, weeknight type of meal.  It takes roughly 25 minutes, and then you remove it and allow it to rest for a few minutes, which gets the liquid to the perfect consistency. It tasted fairly good, but the saltiness of the TM vegetable stock concentrate was overwhelming.

Soup-making is also a piece of cake in the TM - no changing vessel, it weighs and times everything, cooks it, then at the end pulverises the soup into a light liquid in a few seconds flat. But the stock base again was such a strong and unpleasant flavour for me.  I could also taste raw onions in the soup - the TM does 'fry' onions and garlic, but truly I would say it doesn't take them far enough to remove the raw flavour. 

Peanut butter making was an utter disaster. I placed them into the steel container and allowed them be processed for quite a period of time. Much to my surprise, this does not make a butter type consistency at all, more a lumpy/mealy texture. Thermomix peanut butter requires an oil to be added, much to my surprise, as I am a regular buyer of the 100% peanut (nothing added) butter from the Natural Health stores.   By this stage I was a bit crest-fallen. My demonstrator had warned me that it is a totally different way of cooking so does take some getting used to, which I understood, but I truly hadn't expected the first day results I got.

The following few weeks I persisted with trying out other recipes from the Everyday Cooking book. This is the book that comes as part of the Thermomix package. The book is basic to say the least, and to me, quite uninspiring. Most of the recipes are so unhealthy, one of the key things promoted by Thermomix, and they particularly around removing processed food from your diet. The quantities of sugar in the baked items is astonishing.  I made the Anzac biscuits for afternoon tea one day and had the biggest sugar hit I've had in years. They tasted delicious, but I couldn't see me making them again. I made bolognese one night for the family and a couple of extras, and again I couldn't get over the permeating raw onion taste, and also the texture of the sauce. The Thermomix is a very powerful machine, and uses a 'butterfly' piece to soften the impact of its blades but the bolognese ended up being almost a total mush.

It also felt to me that I had been totally removed from the cooking process, which I now realise quite how much I love. Cooking has become a type of therapy to me, and it's hands on and sensory when you do it the old-fashioned way. You know the dough is ready from look and feel.  You add a little bit more salt or spice on taste. You continue to stir in stocks until the consistency is perfect. The Thermomix locks the ingredients into a steel container, and although you can turn it off and check, it doesn't feel the as when the food is bubbling away on the stove.

Another aspect of the TM which I struggled with was converting recipes from my existing cookbook collection to Thermomix-style. Much of the time the order in which you do things is reversed, and it is difficult to guess times and speeds for most newbies as the machine is capable of doing so many things at the same time.  The Thermomix forum was a great recipe resource, but also a veritable rabbit warren of information, much of it posted by individuals rather than the company. It was possible to find a version of what you wanted on there, but probably with the chef-inspiration removed.

After a couple of months the guilt of having this white elephant in the kitchen just got too much. I finally fessed up to my husband that I didn't love my Thermomix and wanted to sell it. He laughed for several minutes at the irony of it all.  Luckily for me, these machines are rarely found second hand as they are so well loved! I sold it for a little under the buying price within a few days.

I would like to make clear that I didn't dislike everything about the Thermomix, it just didn't do all that I wanted it to.  And for over $1900 that meant I was super critical. It made incredible mashed potato, and smoothies, and custard. Really top notch, and so easy. No need to continuously stir that custard for 10 minutes, it does it all for you.

The moral of this story is that my trusty Magimix food processor has now earned its spot on my kitchen counter. Love the simplicity!