|Note: Out of respect for sensitive viewers, this photo of our subject has been air-brushed to minimize the impact of her grime.|
A few readers have been asking questions about Connie, my trusty counter-top convection oven, so I thought I'd dedicate today's post to her. Actually, the Connie you will see and read about is not exactly the Connie I met several years ago. Just as your cells are being continually renewed, so that your entire body contains perhaps very little of the material that constituted it 10 years ago, while some aspect of "YOU" has been retained -- is this material too esoteric for a cooking blog? -- many of Connie's parts have been damaged and subsequently replaced over the years.
I'd been introduced to counter-top convection ovens by a previous boyfriend, R., who'd found one in a Salvation Army to furnish his tiny kitchen, which was too small to contain a "real" oven. We did all our baking in this convection oven, until an outburst of R.'s, in which he screamed at the top of his lungs that he was sick and tired of all my "f**king vegetables" (I was vegetarian then), caused me to seriously rethink that relationship. Luckily, my love for counter-top convection ovens outlasted my ability to tolerate being in the same state with R. By the time I moved in with Peter, I had been searching in vain for my own little counter-top unit in thrift stores and flea markets for years.
Now that I've provided a little background, let's move on to more recent history. . . . We'll examine my first meeting with Connie, which constituted a small miracle, the thought of which still arouses chills down my spine. The setting for this inspirational tale is the annual outdoor flea market put on in the co-op where Peter and I live. At that time, several years ago, we were engaged in a more acquisitionary stage of our lives. (Now we're desperately seeking
We were getting ready to split up, dividing forces so that we could cover more ground quickly. As Peter left to scour his assigned area, I -- already scanning tables madly for wildly underpriced treasures -- called out to him across the pavement, "Don't forget: I'm looking for a convection ov---"
At that point in the middle of my sentence, my eyes suddenly alighted on Connie. (Actually Connie's box. The original box.) It was as though Eureka, the goddess of amazing finds, had finally heeded my prayers. I barely breathed, as I walked towards Connie, blind to everything else on the street, like Tony when he first glimpses Maria during the Dance at the Gym.
As I confirmed that Connie was EXACTLY the model of convection oven I'd used to cooked meals for that Upstate whackjob, I thought about the money in my wallet. I'd set aside about $120 for today's buying spree -- how much of that would I be willing to part with to obtain Connie? I had mentally decided to go as high as $40, when the woman standing behind the table noticed my evidently poorly concealed interest and said, "PLEASE take that thing off my hands -- four bucks." I'm sure my delight was written all over my face (remind me to stay away from the poker table), so I didn't even try to barter her down to $3.50. I rushed home with Connie and have used her to cook hundreds of meals ever since.
In fact, we haven't used our actual oven in years, other than as storage for the wok and several sizes of frying pan.
Connie, like many counter-top convection ovens, consists of a big, flat-bottomed bowl in which you put the food to be cooked and a lid that contains the heating element, fan, and temperature/time controls. She served us well for over a year before I broke her bowl while washing her out. We ordered a replacement on Amazon -- for well over $4, but by this time we'd grown completely dependent on her. The new unit worked just as well as Connie, although we didn't like the layout of the controls as much. After several months, Peter cracked the new lid by dropping it, and we restored Connie's lid onto the still-undamaged bowl of the newer unit. It was joyful, reuniting with Connie's familiar old face!
It's that beautiful -- if grimy -- face you see pictured at the top of this post. Below is the "new" bowl, along with some rather nice accessories that came along with it (removable stand, wire rack -- there's also a second, higher rack -- and that ingenious white metal contraption attached on the left side, which holds the hot lid when you're taking food out of the bowl. (Previously, I'd used an empty stockpot to rest the lid on, after struggling for months, trying to hold the dangerously hot lid in one hand while scooping food out of the dangerously hot bowl with the other. NOT RECOMMENDED.)
So, why do I love cooking with Connie so much? Here are the top benefits of counter-top convection ovens:
- They are the perfect size when you're cooking for 1-2. No need to heat up a huge oven for one baked potato.
- You can see through to the food as it cooks, and because it's right in front of you, you can keep a close watch on your food while attending to other tasks.
- Food cooks fast and evenly because of the circulating air.
- Food cooks beautifully in it -- baked goods, veggies, broiled meats, everything. Fish in particular comes out better than by any other baking method; it never seems to dry out.
- You can bake "dry" or "wet" -- for a moister cooking environment you can pour water right into the bottom of the bowl, which creates a sort of culinary sauna.
- You never have to lean down into the oven on your range again. (Until you need that wok.)
- I can't vouch for all convection ovens, but Connie makes a delightful soft ticking sound as she works, and sings out completion with a cheery "ding"!
- You can reheat leftovers in it in not much more time than a microwave would take. (In fact, we dumped our microwave when it became clear that there was room for only one or the other.)
- Clean-up is easy. You would think I would do more of it.
- That blowing air current tends to scatter lightweight ingredients. You can't partially cover a baking dish with foil, either, as the air gets under the loose bit and blows the whole thing off.
- She gets hot! It becomes a test of bravery to stick your arms within her bowl and stir your dish or extract a serving. (That sentence reads like sublimated porn from a bad Victorian-era romance novel.)
- It's difficult to remove the entire baking dish once it's heated without burning yourself, which is why I find myself resorting to the test-of-bravery method. Connie did come with a nifty-looking tool for lifting hot dishes out, but it feels secure only when your dish has a lip around the edges to give the tool a decent purchase. Otherwise, it just feels like another test of bravery. (Note than in the demo pic below this list I'm hoisting a cool, empty dish with a prominent lip.)
- She uses up counter space.
- You'll never get the Thanksgiving turkey in there, never mind those 3 pies. (She does do a beautiful job on a whole turkey breast or a single pie, however. Do I sound defensive?)
- The glass parts are breakable. (See above.)
- If you forget to plug her in, you'll end up cooking your food at room temperature. (You think I'm a complete dodo? Well, she ticks and dings even without power, so it's an easy error to commit. Why wasn't she plugged in? This is an NYC apartment -- she has to share an outlet with the phone recharger.)
|Test of Bravery: Simulation Only!|
Over the next couple of days, I will post some recipes that Connie cooked for me. Tune in, and be amazed by her talents!
I hope I've answered most of your questions, Readers. If not, feel free to make further inquiries in the comments. I'd also love to hear from any of you who have used counter-top convection ovens yourselves -- did you like the experience? Why or why not?