I was recently sent a couple of things by ProCook to review. ProCook was set up in 1996 as a small family business, but has rapidly expanded to become the UK's leading specialist cookware company (they've also been recognised by Saturday Kitchen and Grand Design). They offer own-brand cookware, knives, utensils and bakeware that are built to last, as evidenced by extensive guarantees, and have 17 stores around the UK as well as a very easy-to-use website. They even have an own-brand ProCook kitchen clock; a quick glance at their website will show that they're pretty equipped for catering to all culinary needs, from aprons to pestles and mortars. I'd heard of the brand before but never tried any of their products, so I was interested to see how I got on with them.
The first item I was sent is a chopping board from the new ProCook beech utensil range (the collection also includes rolling pins, spatulas, and wooden spoons). These items are crafted in one piece from natural beech and treated with natural mineral oil for durability. There are three different varieties of chopping board: double-sided, smooth, and thick cut. The smooth boards have silicon feet to keep them in place (which I've never seen before on a chopping board, and is a good idea), and the thick cut board (3.2cm thick) has hand holes in the sides. I was sent the double-sided board, which on one side has a groove running around the edge. It's a very practical feature - I often get frustrated when chopping things like fruit on boards because the whole thing becomes a horrible waterlogged puddle. The same goes for when you're trying to carve a freshly roasted chicken, and those delicious juices are just running everywhere, off the board and onto the kitchen worktop. Not ideal. The grooved side of the chopping board dispenses with this annoyance, catching all that precious liquid. The other side is smooth, for kitchen tasks like dicing, where you want to just be able to scrape all your fruit or veg off the board into a pan or bowl.
I've used this board for a variety of tasks now, and am mostly pleased with it. The only fault I can spot is the texture of the wood. It feels quite rough, and even after its very first contact with a knife the board had quite a few scratches in. Because of this rough surface, fruit juice just soaks into the board rather than running into the grooves along the side, which seems to defeat the purpose of having them there in the first place to catch it. It also means the board is prone to stains; if you're chopping something like beetroot on there, I'm not entirely sure it would wash off completely (I had a hard time getting the pomegranate stains off the first time I used it). I'd suggest if you're going to use these wooden boards, getting a couple and keeping them separate: one for cooked food, one for things like raw meat and fish. Having chopped some garlic on this board I noticed a rather garlicky taste from the banana cake I then sliced on it (after washing it). I think because of the way the wood scratches, particles of food might linger in there, so for hygiene and taste reasons it would be best to use different boards for different things.
However, you can't fault the board on aesthetics; I only normally use white plastic chopping boards, and after using this I am a convert to the wooden variety. Food looks so much better presented on one of these; I would happily place it in the middle of the table underneath a large loaf of bread or some cheeses and invite guests to dig in with a knife. It also makes the rather tedious task of chopping and dicing marginally more pleasurable; at least it looks pretty and you feel rather like a rustic country housewife taking it out of the cupboard (or is that just me?) Maybe it's more of a presentation than a practical item, though ProCook do recommend rubbing the boards with olive oil occasionally to keep them at their best, so that might be the answer to the porous wood problem. These and the smooth boards come in three different sizes, with prices starting from £5, and I think I'm going to treat myself to one, purely for the purpose of being a better setting for the food I photograph than a hideous piece of plastic that, once white, has been so battered and beaten by my cookery antics that it is now a rather murky shade of brownish grey and does not make a good backdrop for anything. Except maybe the bin.
I was also able to try out the new range of Gourmet Steel Saucepans, which features four different sized saucepans, various frying pans, and a stockpot. They're well designed, and clearly have the needs of people who actually cook in mind. The glass lids and handles don't get hideously hot so you can still lift the lid off during cooking without reaching for gloves. The handle is also easier to use than some of my other pans, which just have a knob that is pretty tricky to lift when you're encumbered by oven gloves.
The lids also have little holes in on each side to allow drainage - no need for a colander when boiling vegetables or pasta - and the holes come in two different sizes, suitable for draining pretty much anything. The saucepans also have a lip for pouring, which is quite handy and has already saved me causing a lot of mess. The handles are sturdy and easy to grip, and even when full of liquid the pan is pretty easy to manoeuvre. The finish on the saucepans isn't really non-stick, as you'd expect from a frying pan, but I've made a paella and a stir-fry in it and had no real problems with food sticking or burning. Maybe avoid using it to scramble eggs or cook pancakes, but other than that it's a great, sturdy pan ideal for most kitchen tasks.
For more details about the ProCook range (they don't just do chopping boards and pans), visit their website.