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Minimalist Kitchen Setups (have to ditch my beloved kitchen setup)


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#1 mskerr

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 01:38 PM

Short of a standing mixer, I had recently pretty much achieved my ideal kitchen set-up - certainly far from how most people would picture an ideal kitchen, but realistically speaking, for me, it was pretty sweet and didn't leave a lot to be desired for the time being... especially in light of my very limited budget, minimalist leanings (I always get rid of things I don't use frequently) and generally unfussy demeanor. I had my beloved dutch ovens, pots and pans that had won equipment reviews, an assortment of cast iron, including a wok and baking stone, all sorts of useful tools and appliances with none of the silly single-use ones (again, mostly equipment review-winners), a choice & extremely heavy mojalcete, a few dozen choice cookbooks, reference books and DIY books, boxes full of recipes and techniques and charts and copies of things from cookbooks that I had collected, not to mention a killer pantry, and many other minor but extremely convenient things (like dozens and dozens of mason jars for my many DIY projects) ... It may not sound particularly flash, but again I have very limited means, am not fussy though I'm particular about having good quality things when possible, and three short years ago I didn't even have a spatula to my name. Point is, it totally worked for me and what I do in the kitchen and my style.

NOW I'm looking to move far, far away in the next year or two to a country where everything is way more expensive than here in the US, so I can't afford replicate my set-up, or anything remotely like it - and I probably won't have the money to ship my stuff. (It's pretty much all in storage already, probably to be distributed among friends and family. I do want to keep my enameled cast iron dutch ovens, McGee books, and chef's knife, if nothing else!) Luckily, I had always planned on eventually embracing a minimalist set-up, and I worship the cafes/ squatters' beach shacks on Bourdain where people cook on old hubcaps they've turned into stoves, mostly using good local produce, some good olive oil, wine, and fresh herbs to make some damn tasty-looking meals. I figured that while I was teaching myself to cook, I might as well make it a bit easier by having good tools and equipment, but that as my cooking skills increased, I'd be able to do more with less, and it'd be a fun challenge to boot. Also, I'm a bit of an old-school sort despite being rather young, so I relish in doing things in sort-of old-fashioned (and often time-consuming but soul-satisfying) ways. So I figure my low-fi set-up is just coming a bit sooner rather than later! I also reckon that working with a simple set-up and simple pantry will force me to be a better cook, as I've heard top chefs say many times that it's often hardest to do simple things right, because there's fewer ways to cover up bad technique/ingredients/mistakes. Also, I have usually had pretty crappy equipment in the houses I rent, esp. stoves, so I certainly haven't been spoiled, and generally view cantankerous equipment as a learning opportunity if I can't afford to do anything about it.

There's certainly plenty of articles/book chapters on the things you actually need in a kitchen, vs the things that you don't (like "you do need a good knife, you don't need an avocado slicer"), and I am certainly interested to hear people's thoughts on Things You Can Do Without, but I'm also hoping to get a bit more in-depth input from folks here on being able to make top-notch food on very simple/humble/ DIY/ straight-up crazy set-ups - stories involving jerry-rigging, creative recycling, and MacGyver-esque ingenuity are especially appreciated, as I love finding non-traditional uses for things, and my husband is one clever bugger. At the moment, I'm picturing initially being limited to a secondhand 20-year-old electric skillet, maybe some cast iron and basic cookware scavenged from a yard sale, a knife, and a spatula, and it could definitely take a while to build up from there.

Cheers!

PS - One thing I've already realized is that I don't need my beloved cookbooks or boxes of recipes and useful bits of info. Would like to hang onto a couple of McGee books, my knife skills book, maybe one or two comprehensive books on technique, as well as my Fine Cooking Quick Tips and the like - books that tell you how to use things for all sorts of unusual purposes, or just clever little techniques. As for recipes, I can find pretty much everything I need free online just using Saveur, Fine Cooking, Serious Eats, choice blogs, not to mention, ahem, eG. Plus, cookbooks do get repetitive - can't tell you how many recipes for chicken stock or green chile sauce I have, and they're pretty much all the same.

(On a somewhat related note - aren't kitchen set-ups funny things? Everyone has one, and yet it seems most home cooks, at least the ones I know here in the US, have a whole lot of things they don't need, use, or even understand, but lack extremely useful things. Like, most people I know - home cooks, not pros - seem to have heaps of mediocre/ dull/ not very useful knives, but don't have one really good sharp knife, or a sharpening steel.. or, the people who are least confident using their (usually dull) knives don't have a mandoliner to make life easy. Ditto kitchen thermometers, measuring spoons, or spatulas that won't melt in high heat. Or, in the case of my parents, all of the above PLUS salt, sugar, or flour! This is probably a whole different thread though.)

#2 Lisa Shock

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 02:22 PM

I managed to live for a couple of years with a wok, multi-tiered bamboo steamer, a 3 qt. pot with lid, and a 9x13 baking dish. If you don't have a oven, the baking dish could go. Essentially, I used the 3qt pot for anything involving boiling water: rice, pasta, soup, stew, etc. Fresh veg got cooked in the steamer, and, I'd even make sauces in a small ceramic bowl placed in the steamer. Admittedly, I was going through a phase of studying Chinese food, and, was sharing a house/kitchen with 3 other women, so I often had to make my dinner on 1 burner. Sometimes, only the oven was available to me, so I roasted a lot of foods. I eventually added a cast iron frying pan just to have a flat bottomed pan to make pancakes with.

I guess the trick is to ask yourself what sorts of meals do you make most often, and what pans would you need to do that? I think everyone will have a different answer to this.

#3 Mjx

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 02:32 PM

I'm living in a rather odd situation, where I'm temporarily using someone else's kitchen, and nearly all our cooking things are packed in boxes, because there's almost no place to put stuff (so I'm encouraged to used as much of the existing setup as I wish), unpacking and repacking gets old fast, and I'm a bit uncomfortable leaving certain things in the kitchen (knives tend to be used as stirrers, since they can be used to chop things against the side of the pot, and that freaks me out).

There are a few things I unpacked, since I really didn't seem to get on without them: digital scale, big oval Le Creuset Dutch oven, 30 cm/12" copper clad saute pan and lid, a big metal bowl, food mill, a small roasting pan and rack, measuring spoons, a silicone spatula, scalpel and a box of blades, kitchen shears.

Things I'm going a bit nuts without, but haven't unpacked: 1 or 2 L pot, handheld mixer, 8" chef's knife, long bread knife (especially when chopping chocolate), vegetable/paring knife, large spoon, broad thin-bladed metal spatula, colander (I roast quite a lot of chickens, often braise, and make a couple loves of bread a week).

Much as I love gadgets, I really like a minimalist kitchen setup, and don't mind improvising (e.g. I've often used the whisk attachments for a mixer as whisks), so not having much to work with isn't holding me back from making what I want.

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#4 mskerr

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 04:01 PM

I guess the trick is to ask yourself what sorts of meals do you make most often, and what pans would you need to do that? I think everyone will have a different answer to this.


I make heaps of braises, soups, and stews, so my 2 enameled cast iron dutch ovens are my babies. BUT I've been teaching myself to cook for the last few years, and will pretty much try just about anything at least once. One day I'll make pasta and sauce, with one or both from scratch. The next day might be tacos. After that, a stir-fry. The next day, a roast. Then pasties. Then another attempt at pizza from scratch. And so on. Interspersed with all sorts of spontaneous munchies creation and frequent attempts at DIY projects of all sorts - I am keen to try making/fermenting/infusing/pickling/(hopefully working up to one day butchering/ curing) pretty much anything at least once - though I can easily put off a lot of these projects for a while if I don't have the equipment I need. Many don't require much beyond a mason jar or really basic kitchen tools. And anyway, I'm not that keen on pasta-, pizza- or tortilla-making! So, this could be a good motivation to focus on the tasks I enjoy more, and the dishes I most want to make well, as opposed to dabbling in all sorts of different things. For example, I enjoy attempting stir-fries and various Asian dishes from time to time, but know that my efforts are pathetic compared to even a halfway-decent cheap restaurant. Can probably put my home attempts off for a while. (Of course, when I get my inevitable Chinese fixation one day and decide to tackle it head-on, then I can deal with what, if any, equipment I need then.) On the other hand, the cuisine I most want to be able to cook well is Mex - well, sort of Cali/Tex-Mex. (Hey, it's what I love.) And I want to make killer salads, which can be done with no equipment, if necessary. So, for cookware, I could probably limit myself to dutch ovens, a skillet, and a pot. Not trying to tackle every cuisine also means I can work with a highly-simplified pantry.

So I could probably get by for the most part with my dutch ovens (worth taking with me. Can't bear being away from them!), a good cast iron skillet (should be easy enough to find one at a yard sale & reseason), one baking sheet, one or two baking dishes, some mason jars, a cutting board (definitely some potential for creative recycling here), some basic tools (peeler, a couple spatulas and wooden spoons, grater, whisk...) mandoliner for convenience, chef and paring knife, strainer/colander... The good thing is that a lot of these things are either compact enough to bring with me on a plane, or can be found relatively cheap...

Anyway, I think it would be a good challenge to simplify my setup, as I tend to dirty every dish, spoon, spatula, and pot in the kitchen when I cook, especially first attempts. And then I'm crabby about having to spend an hour doing dishes. So, more reasons to be stoked on simplifying!

I am wondering what life without a food processor would be like. I don't use mine heaps, but for some things, it is so useful. Hopefully, it's the sort of thing that can be found second-hand?

I'm sure this isn't exactly thrilling stuff to read, but thank you for helping me work it out!

#5 Snadra

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 04:25 PM

It's important to consider the country you're moving to - climate, cuisine, prevailing equipment.... I'm in very rural Australia and my cooking is very different to what it would be in, say, Northern Europe. For one thing, I have limited access to (different) ingredients and the nearest truly decent restaurant is well over two hours away, so this makes me cook more and makes me want more equipment so I can vary my diet and play around. If I lived in a more urban environment I might not be so bothered because I could get that variety easily out of the house and wouldn't want as much equipment. The climate influences too - what works here is not necessarily as comforting or enjoyable in a different climate.

That said, when I first came out last year we only brought a bit of equipment, and I was very happy with some good knives, two pots, silicone spatulas (good for cooking and bowl scraping), plastic cutting boards and a small processor/stick blender/whisk set up, with a mixing bowl and measuring spoons and microplane. I only brought a cast iron pan and that got old quick because it was useles for a stir fry, and I was also desperate for a good grater. Now I've got most of my old kitchen set up here and am very happy for it.

Also, surface shipping can be surprisingly cost-effective if you're already shipping other household goods. Get some costings before you do too much agonising - unless you're enjoying the process as much as I would!



#6 mskerr

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 04:56 PM

It's important to consider the country you're moving to - climate, cuisine, prevailing equipment.... I'm in very rural Australia and my cooking is very different to what it would be in, say, Northern Europe. For one thing, I have limited access to (different) ingredients and the nearest truly decent restaurant is well over two hours away, so this makes me cook more and makes me want more equipment so I can vary my diet and play around. If I lived in a more urban environment I might not be so bothered because I could get that variety easily out of the house and wouldn't want as much equipment.

Also, surface shipping can be surprisingly cost-effective if you're already shipping other household goods. Get some costings before you do too much agonising - unless you're enjoying the process as much as I would!


Definitely. I spent the last year and a half living rurally. Not a single decent restaurant for a quite a distance - we were happy to drive an hour each way to go to the old-school taco truck, or even to In-n-Out (the famous, awesome burger chain). Aside from that, if I wanted Chinese or Italian or anything ethnic other than Mexican, or even a decent salad or sandwich or really anything, I was better off making it myself, even if it was a first attempt. Hence why I've been dabbling in a bit of everything. I reckon I won't be anywhere near as rural if I move (for better or worse - I quite enjoyed having that motivation to do things myself, as well as the whole rural life in general), and will probably have access to all sorts of tasty Asian and Middle Eastern food, as well as many other great kinds of food, but no access to Mexican. So, my priority will be improving my Mexican cooking, which has always been my #1 cooking goal anyway, whereas my Chinese/ Lebanese/ etc cooking attempts will probably go, uh, on the back burner to use a cliche.

I will look more into shipping - I've heard that you can get cheap rates if you're just filling up unneeded space in someone else's container, so if I figure out what I definitely want to take, hopefully I can keep the most necessary/favored things. And by the way, while I am feeling a bit of anxiety at having to let go of a lot of my kitchen stuff, I do love a good move and a change and overall regard it as a welcome challenge. But, it is just shocking how cheap kitchen equipment and ingredients - even a lot of quality ones - are in the US compared to a lot of other places. It almost makes it too easy to get used to having all sorts of tools and appliances and a pimped-out pantry. I am looking forward to a good reason to keep things simple - especially if I can get my hands on better raw ingredients than in the States at a better price, and don't need to pay, say, three times as much to buy beef from a cow that actually ate grass.

#7 Lisa Shock

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Posted 28 January 2013 - 10:28 PM

As for a food processor, I have never owned one. But, please remember that I have good knife skills and can cut things very quickly. (I have been the knife skills point person on competition teams) Generally, my thinking is that it's faster for me to cut things by hand, and there's less cleanup. I think the only time I have regretted not having one was when I was trying to make a confection that called for grinding down several pounds of dried apricots. I do own a blender and a hand blender. And, I own several mortars and pestles, one I just use wet. In a pinch, I could just get by with the hand blender alone, I think. Given sparse resources, I'd take the immersion blender -in the country's chosen electrical standard.

#8 haresfur

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 02:34 AM

I agree that your destination is important. When I moved to Australia I brought far too much stuff, but once I decided on a shipping container, it was hardly more money to get a bigger one ... You may consider how much it would cost to replace the things you really want. But I'm not sure if you have a question or just musing. So unsolicited advise: Take along the things that make you smile. If that's a special Dutch Oven, that's reason enough. And if you are going to curse every time you try to cook without some particular tool, then it's worth the effort to try and take along if possible.

But yeah, I really wish I'd thrown in a couple of cases of Mason jars...
It's almost never bad to feed someone.

#9 annachan

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 03:19 AM

I looked over prices before moving to Australia. I actually ended up stocking up on kitchen equipments because it was cheaper to include that in my shipping then to buy new ones here. I just can't see myself buying $700 for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. So, I also bought a transformer and brought that along.... I have brought a few things here, but end up stocking up when I was back in the US or ordering stuff online.

If I need to cut down on my kitchen supplies, I probably end up keeping a wok for versatility. I can stir fry, pan fry, deep fry, steam, braise and even make soup in in it.

#10 Bojana

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 07:24 AM

Have a look at uship.com for the shipping rates.

I have been upgrading my kitchen for years now and it can hardly be called minimalistic. I do use every bit of equipment I have so it would be very painful to downsize. My cooking also improved massively when we moved houses 4 years ago and I got a big kitchen, good and big gas stove, two good ovens and lots of counter and pantry space. I've also added sous vide circulator, siphon, stand mixer, ice cream machine and few other things to my kitchen. My food was good & tasty before, the upgrades are adding the wow factor to it. Was it necessary? Not really. Is it fun to play this way? Absolutely.

Agree that you can do a lot with minimal equipment and means, 80/20 rule applies here as well.

#11 HungryC

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 09:08 AM

Will you have an oven at the new place? Will you have an electric or gas stove or what? I'd need at a minimum, a good chef's knife & sharpening steel, a large cutting board (though this is probably easily purchased or improvised once you arrive), measuring cups and spoons, two sheet pans sufficiently sized to fit in the oven (if it exists), and a 3 to 4 quart saucepan (maybe your oval LC dutch oven can serve as this?) and a 10" skillet (nonstick or not, as is your preference). Maybe a single smaller pot if you like oatmeal or grits, or boil eggs frequently. And a loaf pan if you bake sandwich breads.

#12 Mjx

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 09:35 AM

I may have misssed this, but where are you moving to? Just generally (i.e. continent or general region); I don't mean to pry!

But eG members are pretty international, and someone may be able to give useful specifics about which things are not just expensive, but mind-bendingly expensive in that region (so, probably worth shipping what you have), or surprisingly cheap. For example, I'm mostly in Denmark, where OXO tools easily cost USD20 and up for the simplest gadgets, while glass ceramic cooktops, the default cooktop here, can be found at pretty much all price points, since the market is so competitive (plus, we find a lot of things at great prices though online sellers in other EU countries).

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#13 Lisa Shock

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 10:35 AM

Good point about the oven, in some countries regular houses and apartments simply don't have them.

#14 mskerr

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 11:13 AM

I may have misssed this, but where are you moving to? Just generally (i.e. continent or general region); I don't mean to pry!

But eG members are pretty international, and someone may be able to give useful specifics about which things are not just expensive, but mind-bendingly expensive in that region (so, probably worth shipping what you have), or surprisingly cheap. For example, I'm mostly in Denmark, where OXO tools easily cost USD20 and up for the simplest gadgets, while glass ceramic cooktops, the default cooktop here, can be found at pretty much all price points, since the market is so competitive (plus, we find a lot of things at great prices though online sellers in other EU countries).


Probably New Zealand. I lived there before for about a year, and was surprised, though I'd been forewarned, how much more things cost in the US. (Not just food-wise. Like, even a basic t-shirt can cost 10-20 times more.) And when I got back to the States, I couldn't believe how cheap things were. NZ beer and wine is cheaper here in the US than in NZ (of course, their govt health-care factors into this, whereas in the US, you're on your own when your liver's shot). Of course there are many pluses about NZ - you can get a lot of fruit for just about nothing, all the wild boar and venison you could eat if you know hunters, you can go out and get quite a bit of your own seafood, and the meat and dairy is, generally speaking, way higher quality than in the US, Marmite's a lot cheaper :smile: ... Plus there's the famous laid-back Kiwi attitude, more prevalent some places than others of course - so at least in the circles I hang out in, no one feels the need to put on a big impressive dinner with fancy ingredients. Some lamb steaks and beer and a loaf of white bread and everyone's happy. Not to mention the awesome $2.50 meat pies, pavlova... many great things. BUT, decent kitchen equipment will cost a helluva lot more I imagine, aside from the odd yard-sale find/ hand-me-down/etc. Ex: my brief research online is showing NZ$410 for a Lodge 4.2L cast iron dutch oven. Which would probably cost under $50 in the States. A MINI food processor is NZ$150, and an 11-cup one is $NZ650. In the US, it's $40 and $150, respectively.

I suppose another useful thing to mention is that I want to start my own food business eventually, so you can only imagine how much commercial equipment would cost. (Though I would probably check auctions/listings for equipment by a closing restaurant.)

#15 HungryC

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 02:00 PM

Take heart, there is a Craigslist New Zealand.

#16 mskerr

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 06:24 PM

Take heart, there is a Craigslist New Zealand.


I've checked out TradeMe and Sella, but not CL NZ. Will have a look right now.

Edited to add: Well, that didn't take long! One of the sparsest CLs I've ever seen!

Edited by mskerr, 29 January 2013 - 06:26 PM.


#17 Shalmanese

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 07:14 PM

Goods are much more expensive but space is relatively cheaper so what you should be doing is ship as much non-electrical stuff as you can from the US, rent/buy a kitchen big enough to hold it all and then sell everything when you leave. The earnings from selling it should easily defray the cost of shipping.

For electrical goods, the voltage/plug difference means only high value goods like stand mixers or vitapreps would be really worth bringing over.

But definitely consider bringing some nice Le Creuset/All Clad/Shun/Riedel etc.
PS: I am a guy.

#18 pbear

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 10:35 PM

My $0.02's worth. I haven't done an international move, but I did move back to the west coast (San Francisco), leaving behind in storage in my mother's attic on the east coast, an incredibly well-stocked kitchen. My place is tiny, so shipping out that kitchen wasn't an option. Instead, I built a minimalist kitchen from scratch. In retrospect, I wish I'd taken a third approach. What I should have done was cull a minimalist kitchen from the well-stocked one and shipped that. Frustratingly, many of the things I acquired over the years are no longer made. Or their current versions often don't work nearly so well as the ones I had found before. Even if the cost of shipping is greater than the cost of purchase, having tried-and-true stuff you know works and/or suits your cooking style is worth it. Minimalism just goes to how aggressive the cut for what gets shipped.

By the way, IMHO, the single most useful appliance in a minimalist kitchen is a countertop convection oven (or combination convection-microwave). It's a great way to cook veggies, will bake small batches of pretty much anything, does a nice job with quick cooking foods like sausage and fish, and is a handy tool for braising. You probably don't have one (I didn't), so buy that when you get there. But seriously consider buying one.

#19 mskerr

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 09:18 AM

Goods are much more expensive but space is relatively cheaper so what you should be doing is ship as much non-electrical stuff as you can from the US, rent/buy a kitchen big enough to hold it all and then sell everything when you leave. The earnings from selling it should easily defray the cost of shipping.

For electrical goods, the voltage/plug difference means only high value goods like stand mixers or vitapreps would be really worth bringing over.

But definitely consider bringing some nice Le Creuset/All Clad/Shun/Riedel etc.


I'd assumed that when I moved to NZ "one day", I would just ship my whole sweet kitchen setup, but alas, it looks like the move is gonna come quite a bit sooner than expected, and I am BROKE. I don't own & can't afford Le Creuset or anything too flash, but everything I own is good quality, generally the "best buy" from the Cook's Illustrated equipment reviews... I will look more into groupage rate (I think it's called), where you're just filling out unused space in someone else's container, and it's also possible to have stuff shipped/ brought over later... but of course then there's headaches about where to store stuff in the meantime. Also, there's a good chance we'll be moving around a bit there before we settle into one place... and even so, we're not usually the types to settle down for long.
And on and on... which is why I reckon I'll just embrace a minimalist set-up and move on from my cheap American dream of a kitchen with all sorts of useful appliances and tools and things to cooking wild boar in a cast iron skillet in the bush. Good fun.

#20 mskerr

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Posted 30 January 2013 - 09:20 AM

I retrospect, I wish I'd taken a third approach. What I should have done was cull a minimalist kitchen from the well-stocked one and shipped that...

By the way, IMHO, the single most useful appliance in a minimalist kitchen is a countertop convection oven (or combination convection-microwave).


I reckon the third approach is exactly what I'll go for & I will look into the countertop convection oven. Cheers on both tips!

Edited by mskerr, 30 January 2013 - 09:20 AM.