One of the great joys about having a blog is that your Inbox fills up daily with pitches for everything from chocolate shows in Pennsylvania (hello? I live in France…) to Superbowl Sunday and Forth of July article ideas (hello? I live in France…) There are quite a few products that I would laugh at if they weren’t so silly, and to be honest, my apartment is so overloaded with stuff that you couldn’t fit a stick of gum in here.
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After my visit to the Vevey market with Chef Stéphane Décotterd, we headed back to Le Pont de Brent, his restaurant located above the lakeside Swiss town of Montreux. While he was laying out the fish for the day, which he had just sourced, I noticed the kitchen was unusually calm for pre-service and I didn’t see anyone in the usual panic that happens in restaurant kitchens just before the customers arrive. The cooks were quietly doing tasks like peeling and slicing vegetables into tiny pieces, rolling leeks around scallops with thin wisps of black truffles in between, and baking off miniature tartlet shells.
Laid out neatly on trays, he showed me the different fish he had, from a kite-sized Turbot to a blue lobster from Brittany, with tiny black eggs stuck in between all the craws and crevasses.
As holiday thanks readers, through the generosity of Le Creuset, I’m giving away a six piece set of classic French cookware in cherry red. This colorful set goes from oven to table effortlessly and includes a large 5 1/2-quart round covered French oven, a 2 1/4-quart covered saucier, a 10-inch square skillet grill, and an 8- x 11-inch rectangular roasting dish.
Everyone has a story about the Swiss, which sometimes ends up with them getting reprimanded for moving something out of the exact place where it belongs. Or arriving 12.5 seconds too late and missing a train. So I was freaking out when I was en route there because I filled out the blank spaces myself on my railpass that asked for my name and passport number. Just after I did that, I read that it said not to do that: the station agent must be the one to take care of it.
Over dinner on my final night in Ireland, one of the other diners who is Irish said to me, “I just came back from Paris…”, and he hesitated for a moment, and continued “…and the food wasn’t very good.” It’s probably unimaginable a few years ago that someone from Ireland would be criticizing the quality of French cooking. But it shows how far Irish cooking has come.
I was recounting that story to someone over lunch yesterday back in Paris, who assured me that I was fortunate to have eaten so well during my trip. So of course, there’s good and not-good restaurants in every country, but over my dinner in Cork, Ireland, diving in to a pan-seared dry-aged steak, a pile of freshly sautéed spinach, and crisp French fries made from real potatoes and cooked so each one had a deep-brown crust, I had to say that in addition to the multiple Irish coffees, the rest of the food I had in Ireland was fresh, well-prepared, and surprisingly good.
When I read about the ActiFry Fryer, a machine that uses new cooking technology to create crisp fries and other foods with virtually no oil, I immediately wanted one.
Normally I’m not one to hop on the bandwagon and rush out and get a new gadget, especially when my apartment is bursting at the seams and if I put one more thing on my kitchen counter, I’m going to wind up cooking on the ceiling.
So I sent a message to a friend who works with the company and she arranged to have an ActiFry machine sent to me, not expecting or in exchange for a review, but because I’m a wonderful person worthy of low-fat frites.
I went out and bought a sack of potatoes, then came home, plugged in my ActiFry, and made a big batch of French fries with just a spoonful of oil.
I followed the instructions, peeling then cutting the potatoes into bâtons, rinsing them, drying them thoroughly before putting them in the machine. Then the user adds one tablespoon of oil, closes the lid, and sets the timer for thirty minutes.
Every few minutes, I peered into the machine, and nothing much seemed to be happening – at first. The potatoes were being stirred by the revolving arm, very, very slowly.
And as the machine turned, skeptical me was surprised as the sticks of potato soon turned a golden-brown color. And after stopping the machine to pluck one out, a sprinkle of salt was all that was needed, and I had to admit the French fry was very good, somewhat mottled, but crisp!
So next on the docket were Korean chicken wings, which were a success as well.
A few pros and cons of this machine:
The pros of this machine are that you can make crisp, fried foods with just one tablespoon of oil or fat, and that the machine does what it says it does: crisp-fried food with a minimum of oil or fat. Or mess: the machine comes apart easily so the non-motorized parts can go in the dishwasher.
The cons are that the machine is not inexpensive (partially due to the fact that it’s made in France, rather than China, and there’s currently an unfavorable exchange rate) and although there are included recipes for curries and roasted meats, those tasks could be done using a standard stove or oven. And because of the cooking time and method, batter-fried foods like tempura likely won’t work in this machine. The ActiFry is also fairly large, about the size of a football helmet for a medium-size gorilla, and the parts, especially the metal non-stick pan, are thin and lacking in heft.
ActiFry (Official Tefal Website)
ActiFry Fryer (Amazon)
ActiFry Fryer (Amazon UK)
Making French Fries in an Actifry (Video of the process, in Dutch)
ActiFry Review (Gizmodo)
*Disclosure: This machine was sent to me by the company with no expectations or promise of a mention. I tested five different dishes with the ActiFry: chicken wings, two batches of French fries, and fried rice (which ended up like crispy sizzling rice—happily), and I was pleased with the results.