It occurred to me tonight that I haven't mentioned my latest kitchen gadget. Actually, "gadget" implies something gimmicky, which is unfair - this is something found in many homes and businesses: a juicer.
I had a juicer years ago - a combined centrifugal machine/blender. It was okay, and I learned the basics with it (like, I love carrot and apple juice). It was what you'd expect for a few tens of pounds - pretty basic, but reasonably reliable, if a bit messy. It died a while ago, and although I've not yet disposed of it, I think it can't be resurrected.
Back in 2005, I was into (apologies in advance) Gillian McK*ith (asterisk to prevent her coming up in searches - she's hopelessly litigious). I enjoyed her early shows, which seemed to preach the virtues of fruit and veg, fish and lean proteins, as opposed to processed sugars, starches, and excess fat. And her diet programmes seemed to work - the people (admittedly obese) lost a lot of weight. Someone in my family (I suspect my mother) bought the accompanying book, and I took it to university after the Easter holiday.
It was dire. The first day was a "detox", which involved such delights as hot water with lemon juice, hot water with flax seeds, and the most amazing of all - various root vegetables (turnip, mostly) boiled; you didn't eat them, you drank the water they'd been cooked in: wasteful.
Anyhow, the only thing I took away from that, ahem, experience, was that there are two kinds of juicer (in fact there are at least three), and the best is something called a "masticating juicer" (again, not strictly true). I knew that if I ever got another machine, that would be the one for me.
I came into some money recently - a combination of inheritance and tax rebate. It coincided with my first home cider making, thanks to a tree in my friend's garden. The house her partner inherited from his grandmother has the remnants of a small orchard, with plums, apples, pears and blackcurrants. This year only the apples produced much (or at least, we missed the blackcurrants), but there was a large tree laden with fruit. No idea what variety, or even if it was a cooker or an eater (her boyfriend thought the former). We picked, at my behest, as she would otherwise have left them for lack of inspiration. I said I'd make cider, and give her some when it was done.
Anyway, trying to juice 13.5kg of apples with a blender and a sheet of muslin is not fun by any means. After the first few kilos, I decided to put some of my spare cash to good use and get a juicer to speed up the process. I read into the subject for over a week, weighed up all the options, and plumped for the best masticating/augur machine I could get for the budget (I paid just over £200).
Since then I have juiced a good 40+ kinds of fruit and vegetable, and almost all of them have been great. Soft things don't go through any juicer so well, so figs, pears, and overripe guavas won't be tried again. Conversely, the hardest stuff juices best - think carrots, hard apples, beetroot. Some surprising combinations, especially apple with cabbage, and apple with yellow pepper, as well as many mixed beetroot and fruit juices, work very well. I'm yet to be convinced on sweet potato - the juice it yields is strangely creamy.
Anyway, I am currently experimenting with the next level of juicing - namely, clarified juices. I ran across perhaps the best food blog I've ever read (on which more soon), which introduced me to two techniques: agar clarification, and enzyme clarification. As I happened to have both dry agar and pectolase in my kitchen (the former from curiosity, the latter for the cidermaking project), I have tried both - and the results are very exciting. A few days ago I transformed apples into a cinnamon and apple syrup that was sensational with premium bourbon. Lime juice clarified with agar was even better, and has a bright future in my kitchen (please excuse the pun).
Much more on clarification in the near future, I hope...