Let me say at the outset that I never intended this blog to be a product promotional tool (other than perhaps the book reviews that show up here with some regularity), but I have bought something with which I am quite enamored, and I want to share it with you.
A bit of background might be in order: some years ago, I tackled a BookPage assignment to pen reviews on a bunch of cookbooks from exotic places: Portugal, Malaysia, Argentina, and Brazil, to name but a few. The task was to write about these books from the perspective of a novice chef (and believe me, nobody could have been more of a novice than I), trying out some of the recipes and reporting on the results. My first dish, a pork tenderloin in a lime, coconut, cilantro and chile pepper sauce, was met with kudos from all who tasted it, and it launched (lunched?) my new avocation as cook-in-training.
When I remodelled my kitchen in Canada a couple of years back, I installed a high- end stove with a European full-convection oven. I had never used one of these before, but the promo literature promised speedier baking, better energy efficiency, and tastier foods; what’s not to like? And indeed, I have been quite pleased with it.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I am in a much smaller space in Japan (my whole apartment would fit into the kitchen and dining room of my house in Canada). Here, nobody has an American style full-size stove; most folks get by with a microwave and a toaster oven, and a separate gas-powered hotplate sort of affair for stovetop cooking. Those who have an oven typically have a free-standing countertop unit which is slightly bigger than a microwave oven, capable of roasting a chicken, for example, but nothing larger. A turkey? Forget about it.
A brief segue, a seeming non-sequitur perhaps, but I will tie it in: there is one major problem in Japan, a serious cookie shortage in the supermarkets. In the US, you can go into any Safeway and find a hundred or more different kinds of cookies on offer: ginger snaps, vanilla wafers, chocolate chip cookies, fortune cookies, oatmeal cookies, cookies from the four corners of the world. In Japan, you can get: Oreos, Ritz Crackers, a half-dozen local varieties which might have red bean filling or something even less palatable, and one confection that tastes like raisins crushed between sheets of cardboard. Clearly, if I wanted cookies, I was going to have to make my own. Which would require an oven. Now we are back on track again.
After doing a bit of market research, I happened upon the Healsio, an avant-garde oven made by the electronics firm of Sharp. This is about the slickest oven on the planet, a bit on the pricey side to be sure, especially for its size, but it is years ahead of the competition. For one thing, it is a steam oven, so one can make French bread that is soft and yeasty in the center, and crunchy and delicious on the outside, indistinguishable from the products on offer at a Left Bank boulangerie. The precise amount of steam is pre-programmed for perfect results every time. (This is from my experience, not from the promotional literature.) Baking cookies could not be easier: simply press “cookies” on the menu, place the tray in the oven, and it will bake them for the appropriate length of time, until the edges are a crispy golden brown and the centers soft and chewy. You don’t set the temperature, you don’t set the time, just press “cookies” and then go about your business. Additionally, it is a full convection oven; the latest examples include microwave capabilities as well. There are a half-dozen settings for doing complete “Balanced Meals”; I have not tried this yet, but it seems that you just put the ingredients into their separate containers, load them into the oven, push “Balanced Meal”, and return twenty-five minutes later for supper.
Downsides? Well, it is still not big enough for a turkey, although it could manage a turkey breast without a problem. Also, the display is in Japanese, which slows me down a lot (I have mastered the “cookies” setting, however…)
(This just in: I just now discovered that an English-language model is being sold stateside as the Sharp SuperSteam Oven; you can see details on the SharpUsa website.)