Growing up, the weekend for me meant the Sunday Times. I hung on every word of Craig Brown's Table Talk, I longed to be Emma Forrest with my own column at the age of 14 (I long to be her less these days).
But my pride and joy was the Innovations Catalogue.
Although not an official Sunday Times supplement, a fresh copy seemed to drop out of the pages every week, and made me laugh more than the Funday Times (also RIP), and fascinated me more than the Culture supplement. I wanted to own every single item on offer - from plasma globe to remote control can opener.
Sadly the Innovations catalogue is now defunct, but Lakeland keeps me ticking over (I desperately want a Remoska and I kinda want a Toast 'N' Egg).
Anyway, my endless lust for gadgets meant that a few years ago I asked my in-laws to get us the Tefal ActiFry for Christmas.
Basically a big culinary hairdryer, the ActiFry promises to fry enough chips for a family of four with just a small scoopful of oil (and 3% fat) by blasting them with heat and turning them at the same time.
Healthy chips! Perfect for the post-Christmas detox.
I used this sucker about once a week for a year or two, experimenting with different recipes at first and then realising that all I really wanted was chips or roasties (and it made both perfectly).
Then one day, I switched it on and it spewed out a big puff of black smoke. And then flames began to flare out of the machine. Actual mother-flipping flames.
My ActiFry was on fire.
Thankfully the conflagration died out almost instantly, so by the time my husband bounded into the kitchen to ask why I was squealing, no evidence remained, though the machine was however completely kaput.
Eventually I convinced him that I hadn't been hallucinating and having switched and unplugged the device, we retired it that day (though part of me refused to chuck it just in case it sprang back to life).
Mark I and Mark II side by side - note ventilation on the new one
I've since found out that I was far from alone - the BBC's Watchdog investigated and there was even a helpline for the many consumers left with useless machines - though, as mine was just past its warranty, I didn't even think to ring up Tefal.
Anyway, you might have noticed there are two of these machines in the photos. That's because the other day, out of the blue, Tefal asked me if I'd like to try their new improved ActiFry.
So what's new with the Actifry Mark II?
The big difference in design is that the back of the new ActiFry now has what looks like a ventilation grille.
Mark I sans release collar, Mark II with
Another new feature is a kind of grey release collar on the paddle of the unit which means that when it's in action, everything fits together more securely.
But by far my favourite change to the whole design (apart from the one that stops it spontaneously combusting for no reason whatsoever) are the slogans which decorate the front of the machine.
Someone in the Tefal office clearly realised that the old slogans were all ridiculous - on the previous model, they were "dietetic" (say what now?), "pleasure" (snigger), and "vitality" (chips, they make you strong).
These have been changed to the much less overblown and slightly more justifiable "healthy", "tasty" and "versatility".
The images are almost the same, mind. I bet Tefal are sh!t at Pictionary.
The ActiFry comes with a handy little spiral-bound book of recipes, so I thought I'd try out a couple of the most tempting.
I say tempting, but their food stylist really ought to find another career, as never have I seen such an unalluring set of pictures.
The first one I picked was their "Sausage and Bean Cassoulet".
All the recipes are very clear and very simple - with this one you add some sausages, set the timer, blast for a bit, add onions, set the timer, blast for a bit longer, then add beans, canned tomatoes, sugar, wine and seasoning, set the timer and blast one last time.
I'd say it was idiot-proof and we were pretty pleased with the results - although more like very posh baked beans and sausages than cassoulet, it was delicious and we didn't even feel the need for some bread to mop it up.
Unsurprisingly, the ActiFry pan was left with a bit of a crusty mess, but its non-stick coating meant it all came off fairly easily in the sink.
It does say it's dishwasher proof, but I wouldn't risk it myself, as it's an expensive thing to break/scratch ...
So the next recipe I tried was for Paprika Chips - an old favourite of mine with my original ActiFry (RIP).
See what I mean about the photos in their recipe book by the way?
Raw chips and parsley, mmmmmmm.
I'm not going to lie to you, the Tefal ActiFry is big and expensive (RRP £199 although Amazon has them for £106.99 at the moment).
But it is versatile (there are some good suggestions in the recipe book which can be adapted very easily), it's odour-less, and it means you can "deep fry" food with virtually no oil.
As gadgets go, I rather love it. But then I did the first time, until it went up in smoke.
I received my new (or a grumpy part of me says "replacement") ActiFry free from Tefal/Slice PR.
@Sasa - Heh, it's cool.
I know it's not for chip purists, but I thought the chips were quite good and you could do so much more in it.
I'm glad I got to keep it too, considering my old Actifry burst into flames for no bloody reason.
@Lizzie - Yeah, that's why I got one when they originally came out. They are big, but I'm guessing the Family one that Nicisme tried was even more humungous.
Low fat chips are good, I use Frylight on mine in the oven (so probably more chipshaped roasties than proper chips) but everyone loves them and I can fit them into my diet. I should reckon the Actifry would be much the same, dryer and less oily, but still crunchy?
@Josordoni - Thanks Lynne! I know not what Frylight is ...
@dreamalittle - 'Tis definitely an object of desire!
I am that person that has bought a Remoska. I opened the box, looked at it and thought "Holy shit, you cook with this?" and put it back in the box - it sits there in the utility room with my glass chess set and wine cooler (I drink red wine - go figure).
That's not to say I don't lust after the Actifry - chips AND a gadget! Wow, but I eat chips about once a month, so it's hard to justify the kitchen real estate it would occupy. Wonderful writing (again) makes me sooo jealous; and your photographs have such good colour values...
Roll on the book - everything still crossed.
Btw, with you on innovations, have written about the same recently.
@WIlliam Leigh - Tssk.
@Catherine - Yeah, I told you I ended up using the first one for just roasties and chips (ps you and your pressure cookers)
@knit nurse - I hadn't even registered that the last word isn't an adjective :) (the first lot were a jumble too)
Yes, I think the last word needed to start with V and end in Y. Erm, the only adjective I can think of is "veiny". Probably not appropriate.
@Josordoni - Wait, is it one of those 1 calorie oil spray things?
You're right that Lakeland us a consolation though. My husband despairs at what can only really be described as my addiction...
Think I'm happy to leave the acti-frying to you though... I've only just learned how to make *real* chips :-)
The food styling is so 80's - yuk! Vase of carnations and lit candle just out of shot :)
When you compare it to your beautiful Kitchen Aid in the background, I often wonder why more large appliances are not designed a bit sexier as most people would have to store this on the worktop.
Also, i'm not sure I would pay for this but the most off putting thing is the size (and there's a BIGGER one?). I make healthy chips all the time. Blanch for 3 minutes, heat oven to 220, put chips on a tray with a drizzle of olive oil, seasoning and/or spicing. Simples.
I save my Lakeland Catalogue for when I have time to curl up on the sofa and drink tea and peruse it. I have an unhealthy lust for Lock and Lock.
I have no room for an Actifry, and think it would encourage me to eat too many carbs.
You're quite right, something that takes up so much kitchen real estate needs to be beautiful. I actually store mine in a cupboard. I know home-made oven chips are easy enough but I do love this beast.
@Fuss Free Flavours - It's very good with meat as well to be fair. See the Hollow Legs review. Scotts of Stowe was rubbish - seemed to be mostly rattan laundry baskets.