"Dear Isolation Diary. Week eight. Still no closer to the summit of conquering sourdough. The troops are talking about buying a new appliance to make baking easier. I think they might have the right idea."
Quarantine cooking has the potential to be a lot of fun. An escape from the repetition of working from home, or an opportunity to master bouillabaisse, cassoulet and other bucket-list dishes. But it can also be a burden, especially during the week when the thought of another hour in the kitchen is less appealing than a fish-paste sandwich.
With social distancing and cool weather settling in, a new appliance could be just the ticket for making home-cooked meals less stressful.
Here's our guide to the kitchen appliances making home isolation the most delicious fun it can be.
The breadmaker is back, baby. Google searches for the early-'90s wedding gift du jour have increased by 400 per cent since social distancing rules were announced, buoyed by Australia's new love of comfort baking and lack of desire (or opportunity) to nip up to the shops.
Sourdough is wonderful, but it's a needy beast, requiring time and patience to perfect. A breadmaker, however, will mix, knead, rise and bake your loaf over the course of a few hours. Less rewarding than taking things into your own hands, sure, but potentially less stressful and certainly less messy. Bread machine premix made by South Australia's Laucke Flour Mills is available from most supermarkets if you really want to streamline the process.
For my money, a breadmaker's best selling point is the delayed-start option. Flour and yeast go into the device before you go to bed; fresh bread is ready in the morning. Many models can make jam for your breakfast, too, while breadmaker converts use their machine to knead focaccia and pizza dough to be baked in a real-deal ovens.
For an appliance that may not be used daily, breadmakers can take up valuable cupboard and bench space. This Sunbeam model's compact size is its main advantage, but bonus points for the timer and jam-making ability.
It bakes bread, it sautes, it steams, it deep-fries. If you ever wanted an appliance capable of making every component of a chip butty from scratch, this is it.
Here's a sentence I never thought I'd type: I miss commuting to work. I miss saying hello to the dog that lives four blocks away and looks like Steve Buscemi. I miss the bloke on the bus who wears a different Looney Tunes tie each day even though it's 2020. I miss, more than anything, drinking coffee made by a proper barista before I sit down at my desk.
Whisper it: I don't mind instant coffee. But the powdered stuff should only be a wake-me-up precursor to actual coffee later in the morning. If you're suffering from similar barista withdrawals, read on.
I can't think of another appliance that varies so much in price, functionality and ease of use. Some look like thermonuclear devices requiring a knowledge of particle physics to even let in the house. Others require no more skill to operate than a filling a jug of water.
Pod and capsule machines are relatively inexpensive and easy to use, but the end result can lack the intensity of barista-made espresso. Pricey bean-to-cup automatic models are handy if you have a large family, but the coffee is often a let down. There's a reason why baristas are paid to do more than press a button that says "latte".
Manual machines will require you to know a little bit about grinding, tamping and coffee extraction but trial and error should produce the best quality brew. Semi-automatic machines require similar home barista skills, but will stop the flow of coffee once a preset amount has been poured – a small blessing if you're groggy straight out of bed.
You should also consider how the machine's size and the design will fit with your kitchen and whether you will need to buy a grinder. (Answer: yes, if there isn't one built in. Pre-ground coffee has a staleness compared to freshly-ground beans.)
Slide a capsule in, close the lid, push a button and hey presto. There's an espresso or ristretto in your cup within a minute. Vittoria Coffee's capsule gizmo also comes with the option to attach a handsome milk frother.
Semi-automatic, compact and sleek, this is a cracking entry-level machine with easy-to-use controls and a steaming wand.
A manual-style machine (pictured) with an in-built grinder and something called "ThermoJet Innovation", which Breville claims can achieve optimal extraction temperature in just three seconds. Owning this would indicate you give a real hoot about coffee.
I've always been suspicious of slow-cookers. "Put the recipe ingredients in before going to work," the manufacturers say. "Come home to a hot dinner, ready to eat!" Eh, no. If coq au vin was going to be simmering on my benchtop for nine hours, I needed to be on top of the situation in case of dry chook and/or a kitchen fire.
Anyway, it turns out slow-cookers are bloody great and somewhat safer than carrying a French oven up concrete stairs after too much shiraz. Hence, why I found myself shopping for a reasonably priced electric slow-cooker when my Le Creuset met its end in March. Vale, "Maurice". We had some times.
A Sunbeam SecretChef slow-cooker (pictured) is braising beef cheeks and porcini mushrooms in my kitchen at the time of writing. Like many slow-cookers these days, it has a searing function to brown meat and vegetables without the need of another frypan. Convenience, hurrah. And while I don't need to be around to keep one eye on what's cooking, I'm finding it nice to have something to poke and taste between emails and remembering to exercise.
With a matte black finish and temperature probe sticking out of the lid, this slow cooker looks like a distant relative of the Star Wars interrogator droid. If you're into running water baths for sous vide steak, this is the droid you're looking for.
Bonus points for the digital temperature control, which offers a wider range of heat choices than the standard "high" and "low" of other models.
If you like braising whole lamb legs or just have a hungry family to feed, you may want to consider a larger slow cooker like this seven-litre proud warrior.
There is a limit to the number of isolation cakes that can be mixed by a wooden spoon or hand-held beater alone. For some jobs, a stand mixer is the only appliance up to the task.
A quality stand mixer should remain steadfast and sturdy, whether it's kneading flour with a dough hook, whipping mayo with the whisk attachment, or beating cake into the best version of itself. Top-notch stand mixers have a raft of optional add-ons, too, such as sprialisers, juicers, grain millers, vegetable shredders, mincers (hello, homemade sausages), and, perhaps best of all, pasta rollers and cutters. Feeding dough through an automatic roller is even more satisfying than slicing a fresh leek lengthways.
A versatile mixer built to last, with 10 speed settings and enough optional accessories to inspire gifts for the next 20 years. The included stainless steel bowls are nice, but the chi-chi ceramic ones (pictured) are better, especially for anyone fond of a floral motif with $199 to spare.
Hi-ho, Silver. If your kitchen requires a mixer with sleek, contemporary design, this shiny workhorse will be right at home. The 6.7-litre bowl is illuminated by Kenwood's "Halo" spotlight, and the included scraper beater will reduce mixing time by working its way around the rim so your spatula doesn't have to.
Isolation plus autumn equals homemade soup and the easiest soup is made with a stick blender. Well, that's not quite true. The easiest soup is probably a set-and-forget minestrone or anything from a can, but that's no way to utilise May's finest produce as the gourd gods intended.
Pumpkin soup is the big one, of course, but zucchinis are also waiting to be blitzed into deliciousness, while parsnips can be pureed and crowned with crisp-fried pancetta. Gosh darn if we aren't coming into cream of cauliflower season, too – all the better topped with hazelnuts and bacon. Sure, you can use a standard jug blender for any of this action, but they can be more annoying to clean than a wire resting rack after roasting.
I use a Smeg stick blender to make all the above, plus sauces, dips and salsa verde. (Yes, I prefer a smooth salsa verde to a pounded one. My house, my zippy condiments.) Another person may pick up the same stick blender, however, and it feels like they're holding a cactus spike. It's worth feeling the weight and shape of different stick blenders to find the right one for you, but just remember to sanitise those hands before and after shopping.
My guy, with adjustable speed, detachable arm, and shiny Smeg red finish. There's a whisk attachment somewhere, which has never been used, but I like knowing the option is there in case of troublesome eggs.
This is serious. The Bamix Deluxe comes with a heavy duty motor and grinder attachment ready to pulverise any cinnamon stick you can throw at it. Your new cooking weapon also has its own little stand, meaning it doesn't have to be stored in a drawer to scare other utensils.
Breville The Smart Oven Pizzaiolo Benchtop Oven. Photo: Supplied
The Good Food team's other favourite appliances to help you cook your way through lockdown.
There are toasties, and then there are jaffles – the superior sandwich for accompanying Back to the Future marathons and days where you only wear slippers. This iconic press has provided cans of braised steak with a purpose in life since 1974.
If your homemade pizza looks more like sugo-stained bunting than a blistered-crust Neapolitan pie, it could be because your oven isn't hot enough. Intense heat is required to create a leopard-spotted edge – the kind of heat found in traditional wood-fired brick ovens and Breville's latest benchtop creation. The Pizzaiolo uses "optimised deflector technology" to help it reach a whopping 400C and perfectly blister margheritas within two minutes. Well done, science.
I own a little Japanese hibachi grill and boy, do I love it. Cooking over charcoal creates a flavour gas barbecues will never replicate, and the aroma really makes you feel like you're doing something with your week. However, it can also be a nightmare to get the coals hot, especially when cooking outdoors. Blumenthal's you-beaut fusion barbie features an electronic ignition that will have charcoal at the right temperature in less than 10 minutes. I need one.
When you're storing food and slow-cooking meals more than usual, it's likely you will have more leftovers too. A vacuum sealer is handy for keeping food fresher longer and fitting more of it in the fridge. Even more exciting is its powers for marinating meat.
If you have baked more than twice in your life, you'll know precise measurements are required to avoid deflated cakes and bread. Domestic scales don't come much more precise than Heston's top-line model, capable of measuring ingredients from 0.1g up to 10kg. It's one way to take the guesswork out of measuring xanthan gum for your next Fat Duck-inspired dessert.
The healthier alternative to deep-frying in fat, air fryers are the new must-have item for appliance lovers everywhere. By circulating hot air at a high speed, air fryers can be used for roasting and baking as well as Tuesday night's chips. Philips is a leader in the air-frying field and its industrial designs look sharp enough to store on the benchtop.