Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New Oven

I recently read that the difference between people who shop so much that they end up living beyond their means or at least who shop for recreation is that they don't feel any guilt when they spend money on things. If you're the sort of person who feels guilty for spending money, you're far less likely to be a shopaholic or to spend money you don't have on meaningless crap.

I used to be guilt-free in regards to buying things then at some point that changed and now I find it hard to buy things that I arguably need without feeling guilty. I think it has something to do with not working full-time anymore though I'll admit it started at least 3 years before I quit. Perhaps it's age and the feeling that "stuff" isn't really making me happy anymore.

Anyway, I've been limping by with my old oven (which must be at least 13 years old by now) since I posted about problems with the timer knob in April. In an attempt to use it until it was truly dead, I was baking or roasting in a step by step process in order to accommodate the knob that would not set a proper time until the oven got really, really hot. The process went something like this:
  1. Painstakingly attempt to dial up one minute of time at the pre-set temperature and push the start button to initiate the pre-heat sequence.
  2. Wait 15 minutes for pre-heat sequence to complete then place food in the oven where it ran for one minute. Look at the clock to keep track of cooking time since the timer wasn't going to do the trick.
  3. Repeat step one.
  4. Repeat step one.
  5. Repeat step one.
  6. Painstakingly attempt to dial up more than one minute (4 minutes was a lucky day) to continue cooking.
  7. Repeat step 6.
  8. Depending on how hot a day it is and my luck, I may be able to finally coax the oven to run dial up the remaining cooking time (calculated by the clock on the wall, of course) or repeat step 6 again.
You can see how this might be a problem. What was worse was that the timer was even more useless when using the microwave function because the oven didn't heat up and the timer didn't get easier to set. The only way I could use it was by using the auto-cook function whereby you open the door to activate the microwave, close the door and push "start" and the microwave was supposed to auto-detect when it reached whatever random temperature it felt was correct for that food. Sometimes the food was only lukewarm. Sometimes it overcooked. When I heated water or milk in there, it more often than not boiled over if I didn't keep an eye on it.

My old oven. It worked as good as it looked.

I even soldiered on after the lower left bezel cracked and the front glass plate slipped down some. I just taped it up and kept on going. After months and months now (possibly well over a year) of fighting with it and it getting harder and harder to set the timer on even on hot days (initially, it worked pretty well in the summer but poorly in the winter), I found that I was starting to hate it so much that I didn't want to cook with it at all. When the notion to bake or roast something popped into my head, the laborious process of dealing with the oven chased it right out again. It was at this point that I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get a new oven.

The two main criteria for the new oven were a relatively modest price and that it's internal cavity be large enough to cook a whole chicken. After considerable research, I found a Mitsubishi for about ¥32,000 ($271) which accommodates two 32 cm (12.6 inch) square ceramic trays. Since my old oven uses two 32 cm square metal trays, I figured the size should be sufficient and the price well within what might be expected for such an oven. The old Toshiba we bought was ¥80,000 ($678) but part of that high price was a reflection of the fact that such ovens were not as commonly purchased in those days. Based on my pre-purchase research, I believe a comparable one today would be ¥60,000 ($508) or so.

The shiny new oven. It works better than its tacky color scheme makes it look.

The new oven is just as wide and deep as the old one but not quite as high. I'm pretty sure it can still roast a whole chicken but it may be rather close to the top of the oven. The new one is one of those fancy convection things which swirls the air around the food for even cooking. Our old oven twirled the food around on a circular plate in the center and left the air alone. I often had to turn food around at the mid-baking point because the front was hotter than the back and it wouldn't cook evenly otherwise. The new one also has more custom temperature settings including the ability to heat food to precise temperatures and it allows you to cook with steam though I'm not sure how useful that function is going to be for me. Except for the steam cooking, I'm pretty sure most of these functions are old hat for people who aren't using antiquated equipment.

I used the microwave function several times last night and this morning to re-heat food and make tea and it was a delight having knobs turn and actually set the time as I wanted. The target temperature function was also pretty nifty though I can't say I know what temperature is best for certain foods yet. I tested out the oven today by making a banana bread recipe which is tried and true. Since I know how it usually turns out, a comparison between the old and new for this particular item was easy.

Here is where I ran across the differences between a cheap and an expensive oven. For one thing, the oven can't be set at 5 degree temperature variations. It's either 170 degrees (338 degrees) or 180 degrees (356 degrees) and not 175 (which is often the preferred baking temperature as 176.6 is 350 degrees - the near universal setting for baked goods). Also, I noticed that the door has an overzealous spring on its hinge and slams shut rapidly and loudly unless you ease it up by hand.

The oven also appears to have a separate preheat cycle and a separate timed cycle but I could be misunderstanding how to use it. Today, I preheated it to 180 degrees and it beeped when it reached that temperature but I couldn't figure out how to set the timer for 45 minutes. I had to stop the oven then switch to one of the other 3 oven modes and then set the time and temperature again. One good point though is that the pre-heat time is easily 1/3 the length of time that the old oven took, possibly it's even faster than that. This is certainly saving on energy consumption.

Since I had to choose too high or too low for the temperature, I settled on too high because I was afraid too low would impede the rising of the banana bread. This made it darken very rapidly compared to baking in the old oven. I also noticed it didn't rise as much in the center but rose more evenly overall (because of the convection). About 2/3 of the way through the baking, I reduced the temperature to 170 degrees. Next time, I'll have to split the time or try the lower temperature first.

Though it is a bit darker, it turned out very well. The texture seems softer and better than ever. I'm not sure if this was a random preparation factor (though I doubt it as this is my standard no fuss banana bread recipe made largely in the food processor so there's little variation in method) or the convection oven's influence.

The irony is that last night after I received the new oven and had set it up, I started to feel guilty for not having endured dealing with the old one until it conked out for good. Somewhere along the line I went from the type of person who blithely bought a new Macintosh every year and a half to the type who feels bad about replacing a dying piece of necessary equipment. I've got to work on finding the happy medium between those two, especially since I also ordered a new toaster oven. ;-)


CMUwriter said...

I know you mentioned that your husband would have to get rid of the old one, what sort of process would you have to go through to do that?

Alex Case said...

You are right about getting what you pay for- we got an oven/ microwave for 10,000 yen and it has no temperature settings at all! You basically have to microwave everything and then just brown it off with the oven function- we worked that out after everyone had waited an hour for their roast chicken...

Will pass the recipe on to my fiancee,who will love it for sure- might make up for me refusing to have to aircon on last night!

TEFLtastic blog-