Christmas kitchen gadgets bring joy to the home cook
The modern kitchen can resemble a professional one, if the home cook so desires. But for a cooking enthusiast or average home cook, a simple new gadget in a Christmas stocking can save time or even money.
You don't have to be Christmas present-shopping for a "foodie" to notice the swathes of kitchen gadgets sparkling up from department store shelves.
The array of appliances on the market can be overwhelming. They range from the small and inexpensive - such as a thermometer - to expensive technology such as a sous vide cooker (in which ingredients are sealed in a bag and cooked slowly in water).
Every year new and exciting things are invented and sold - some quite useful to a kitchen whizz, and others, well, maybe not-so-much.
So what unusual kitchen aids can gadget geeks now get their hands on?
Chef and presenter on BBC Two's Food & Drink Michel Roux Jr likes to use a citrus juice extractor. It is a small and simple-looking gadget that looks a bit like a breath freshener, which you push into a lemon, lime or orange and spray.
"I've actually got one at home and I think it's great," he says, as spraying the fruit's juice is useful for seasoning to get "that little hit of lemon or citrus just as it leaves the kitchen".
Then there's the equally small-in-size egg yolk extractor. The balloon-like contraption may look a bit "odd" but as Mr Roux Jr explains in Food & Drink: "You squeeze, and you get the vacuum and you let go."
Go go gadget kitchen:
Chefs such as the Hairy Bikers have sparked a trend in using vegetables instead of pasta in dishes in their healthier recipes.
One way of creating "spaghetti" is to use the unassuming-looking vegetable whirling wheel.
Michel Roux Jr says: "You can use a white turnip or carrot or potato shoestrings."
Each Christmas newer and unusual gadgets compete with the more established and familiar. Passionate cooks might already have a home smoking gun, to give meat and vegetables a smoky flavour.
"You can actually buy them now," says Mr Roux Jr. "They're actually very practical."
He says they save on the time, effort and space needed to build a traditional "smoker" (a barbecue-like construction which allows smoke to infuse food).
Market researcher Mintel, based in London, suggests TV programmes such as MasterChef and The Great British Bake Off have helped rising enthusiasm for home cooking and interest in food preparation appliances.
A recent report reveals growing demand for coffee pod machines, food mixers and processors.
According to Mintel: "Small kitchen appliances can make our lives easier, create better or more professional results and bring a bit of status to the household. So demand for stylish, added-value appliances is likely to grow."
But for some people the sense of fun and adventure that comes with using kitchen gadgets is a big part of their draw. Many are aesthetically peculiar. For example the insulator bag, which acts as an eco-friendly slow cooker, has the appearance of a miniature sleeping bag.
Author of food blog Kitchen Gadget Girl Gudrun Enger, who is based in the San Francisco Bay area in the US, collects "unique and interesting" gadgets and tools from around the world.
"This year I brought home a fun gadget from Germany that takes the tops off of soft boiled eggs. I also had a great time looking at Japanese stainless serving tools in Tokyo on Kappabashi Dori, the street full of kitchen supplies."
But not all gadgets are shiny and new.
Christine McFadden, author of Tools for Cooks and cookery teacher in Dorchester says: "I went to India once and came back with several coconut graters which are quite amazing. One has a sit-on thing, like a little wooden stool with a kind of grater attached to the front like the handlebars for a bike."
The "primitive" design is used to extract soft coconut, she says. "It turns the hard coconut flesh into a mush."
Perfect your techniques
Despite always being on the lookout for unusual products, Ms McFadden confesses to hating the word "gadget".
"Mostly what I use are kitchen tools that have been around for years because they're designed well and they work well. Whereas to me a gadget might be something you buy at a food fair and then it doesn't work or it ends up at the back of the drawer unused."
Can gadgets improve your cooking?
"I don't know if [they] can make a difference," says Ms McFadden. "There are certain tools that I think can improve your cookery skills and more that are probably a bit more ephemeral or novelty-based."
Mr Roux Jr argues: "They're just there to make life a little bit easier... at the end of the day it's not going to make much difference other than making light work and maybe whisking the egg whites a little bit quicker."
Asked about their favourite kitchen gadget, some experts prefer more traditional inventions.
"The biggest and most used gadget now is the hand-blender," says Mr Roux Jr. "They are pretty universal because you can put different attachments on them. They're very, very useful."
Ms Enger cites her pressure cooker among her favourite appliances. "I use my pressure cooker a lot, especially in the fall and winter when my family is busy... and I need to get dinner on the table quickly."
But there is one centuries-old kitchen tool Christine McFadden would struggle to manage without: the pestle and mortar.
"[It] is quite essential for grinding whole spices," she explains.