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polenta cooker?

2004-01-20 04:52:23.766493+00 by Dan Lyke 19 comments

Ages ago, my parents got me a rice cooker. Although it seems somewhat frou-frou, if rice is a substantial part of your diet it becomes one of the most used tools in the kitchen. Rice and water goes in, cooked rice comes out, no stirring, no checking on timing, it just works. In my kitchen over the past decade and change it's been handy, but since most of my carbs have been handmade pasta it's not been a necessity.

Charlene doesn't do wheat, so the pasta has declined, and the rice cooker is nice because it's a "fire and forget" tool for the kitchen. Tonight, on the other hand, we did polenta. Damn that's a hell of a lot of work and attention.

I see that there's a polenta cooker available on the net, but it seems set up for 220v and has a copper bowl. I'm cool with copper for the occasional meringue, but don't want it as part of my staples, and I'd rather not have to run 220 to the kitchen. Any suggestions?

Or is this yet another reason I need a TCP/IP controllable stove, so I could tie it to a TCP/IP controllable mixer, put a controller on 'em, and let that cook my polenta?

[ related topics: Dan's Life Food ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 05:10:56.544809+00 by: dws

If you're wired for an electric stove, you might already have 220 into the kitchen.

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 05:43:00.309826+00 by: Dan Lyke

Nope. Gas stove.

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 07:42:58.232334+00 by: TheSHAD0W

An isolation transformer can be used to double line voltage. Make sure you get one capable of handling the cooker's current requirements, though.

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 13:35:22.764856+00 by: petronius

Some years ago I read a book by an Australian ad-man who had grown up in Japan, and went on to specialize in introducing Gai-jin products into Japan. He worked with Betty Crocker in their attempt to bring cake mixes to the housewives of that nation. The biggest problem they faced was the fact that most Japanese households don't have ovens. So the food techs at Betty Crocker devised a cake mix that would work in a rice cooker. The product sold well in its initial release, but then sales dropped sharply. In focus groups he discovered the problem: with rice so important a part of the Japanese character and household, it gave housewives the creeps to cook anything elese in the rice cooker. Betty Crocker retired from the market, never to return.

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 15:32:31.509586+00 by: aiworks

Basic question...

What's wrong with a copper bowl?

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 16:07:44.477255+00 by: topspin

A lovely ex of mine, Denise, who took macrobiotic cooking lessons from Dan's Mom.... in the days when Dan looked and dressed like a Republican, made polenta a time or two. I recall it being a huge chore and, IMO, not worth the effort.

It seems this book has recipes for polenta made in a rice cooker IF you have a high-tech, versatile rice cooker handy.

Before I sprang for the funky cooker, I'd check out the book and see if the recipes seem plausible to you.

There is another solution, Dan. Make polenta the Republican way..... have the cook do it!

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 16:10:27.417971+00 by: topspin [edit history]

#Comment Re: microwave polenta made: 2004-01-20 16:27:52.196497+00 by: Anita Rowland

I do polenta in the microwave -- the directions were on the bag.

3/4 cup polenta, 3 cups water, a bit of salt.

mix polenta, salt, water in a 3-quart pyrex bowl (but I use a rubbermaid container). Cover and microwave on high for eight minutes. Remove and stir briskly till well blended. Microwave for another few minutes if you like thicker polenta. Let it cool overnight if you want to cut it up into little cubes.

I used to make it often until I was diagnosed with type II diabetes and started limiting my starch servings. Tasty!

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 17:32:42.070084+00 by: meuon

Dan, I've never found rice that hard to cook, and even though I am (like Anita) a Type II diabetic, I still cook rice.. it's about my only real carb I cook, although I'll do pasta at a nice Italian restuarant when I've been good for a while. My issue with rice cookers is they cook SO MUCH rice.. although it'll keep well for a few days, I seldom want more than a cup or two. So, my question is: will your rice cooker cook small amount of rice?

As for 220 in the kitchen: A high current step up transformer might work, but with my fuzzy memory of your house, isn't the garage next to the kitchen and the wiring/panel nearby? It might be easier to run a 208-220-ish outlet into your kitchen and might be handy for future mad scientist experiments. It's an outlet with two hot legs and a neutral for ground, although done right it uses a 4 prong plug, 2 hots (117 on each, out of phase), a neutral and a real ground. One of the issues with 220 is the variety of outlets for it. Buy the cooker first, get an outlet to match.

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 18:22:17.125336+00 by: Diane Reese [edit history]

My issue with rice cookers is they cook SO MUCH rice..
meuon, in preparation for The Big Kitchen Gutting And Remodeling Of 2004 (tm), I paid about $19 for an itty bitty Panasonic rice cooker which makes a *max* of 3 cups of rice, and seems to do fine with much smaller amounts (like 1 cup cooked). So there *are* smaller ones, although I don't claim the one I got is anywhere near the quality anyone might want long-term in a rice cooker: it's just meant as a short-term, get-us-through-the-next-10-weeks kind of appliance. (I breezed into this kitchen remodel with the optimistic assumption that I'd be able to cook somewhat as usual most of the time. After taking twice as long in cramped quarters to make my standard pot of turkey chili on a hotplate without temperature controls in the dining room last night, I am ready to be declared insane on that assumption.)

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 19:08:19.942138+00 by: dws

We used a rice cooker for several years, until I stumbled on a recipe that's dirt simple, and only marginally more complicated than dumping rice and water into a cooker and pressing the button. And it scales down. For two: 3/4 cup of rice + 1 1/2 cup of water + a dash of salt in a heavy pot (we use a Calphalon-like thing from France), bring to a boil uncovered, stir once, then put the lid on and reduce to a simmer. Set a timer for 18 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn off the head. Then, after 3 to 5 minutes, fluff the rice. For meals where you'll be near the stove anyway, this is minimal hassle. We cook a lot of Trader Joe's Basmati this way. For brown rice, add 50% more water, and extend the cooking time at least 50%.

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 19:19:27.264595+00 by: Dan Lyke

Mark: While there is apparently now a fairly small US RDA for copper, too much copper has long been acknowledged to have some nasty side effects. I think it was in one of the Harold McGee[Wiki] books where he went into the science of meringues that there was a pretty good look at why copper bowls are good for beating egg whites, but why you wouldn't want to use them in daily cooking. Basically, for the occasional dessert it's fine, for a pot you're using day in and out a copper lining would be bad. This says nothing about the copper cladding on the outside of some pots, which is okay.

Meuon: I consistently do a cup in my rice cooker, when I was cooking for Catherine and me that was two of us for a meal, for Charlene that's a meal for me and 3 or so for her. Much smaller than that and I think the margin for error on measurement becomes an issue, if you're serious I'll try a half a cup and see what happens.

Anita, I don't have a microwave in my kitchen, just because I found that the only thing I ever used it for was heating water. Does that cause clumping?

Actually, I'm now thinking about the whole "what if my kitchen devices could talk to each other?" thing. The first thing that comes to mind is the idea of a thermometer probe that can talk to the gas flow, so that simmers would never again turn into rolling boils, and custards would become trivial. I guess I'd have to make some pretty smart fail-safes (ie: when the servo fails and goes hard one direction, that would want to be the "off" direction...), but the idea of turning chocolate tempering into a push-button process without having to tie up more kitchen space with special-purpose appliances really appeals.

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 19:23:43.783848+00 by: Dan Lyke

Oh yeah: regarding "step up transformers" and the like. I think I'd much rather run a 220v line in from the dryer circuit than try a step-up in a house with old wiring. The limiting factor on most 110v appliances is that 15A per circuit, and with a lot of appliances to cook right you just have to have more power than that available (ie: coffee makers are at the barest limits of that, because you want as much water as possible to 195F or whatever it is in as short a time as you can get). So running a standard 110v line through a step-up transformer gives you half the available amps minus the loss of the transformer... much better to run a new line.

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 22:47:04.431207+00 by: Anita Rowland

"Does that cause clumping?"

does what cause clumping? I've never felt the need to stop the microwave and stir before the 8 minute mark, but maybe my polenta isn't up to snuff. I like it, though.

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-20 23:08:46.650493+00 by: Dan Lyke

Hmmm... Okay, I'll have to try. Even if I could keep the temperature even enough to avoid burning (which the microwave does automagically), without constant stirring I have consistentcy issues with clumping. Will have to borrow a friend's kitchen for the experiment.

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-21 02:47:36.678958+00 by: meuon

Dan and Diane, Thanks.. I'll try a small rice cooker and try doing 1 cup batches..

Dan, the last two microwaves I've had (I bought a new one for the new house.. and dumped the old one (with a marginally-functional keypad and display) in the dumpster) had a turntable. I've found that it makes a BIG difference in how evenly a microwave cooks. Put bowls slightly off center for the best effect. Also that on a powerful one (1200-1500watts) that using LESS power (70%) works better for real cooking. The microwave really does not have a 70% power rating, it's a duty cycle: on for 7 seconds, off for 3 seconds. The off time lets the water (which gets hotter faster) dissipate the heat into the surrounding food better.

And now we know what Flutterbarians are REALLY into: cooking.

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-21 03:42:06.948666+00 by: Diane Reese

Will have to borrow a friend's kitchen for the experiment.

I'd be pleased to lend you my kitchen for experimentation but, well, um... I don't have one. ;-) And yes indeed, meuon, give me cooking or give me death. In a manner of speaking. (For now, I'll be making do with more take-out. Off to pick up the vindaloo and korma and masala dosa now!)

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-21 16:52:34.835603+00 by: petronius

Interesting that the cooking of rice and polenta has stimulated the most comments in these preceincts for many a moon. Some of us are hungry for learning, while others are just hungry!

#Comment Re: polenta cooker? made: 2004-01-22 15:24:05.342133+00 by: mj

I have found Basamati (India) and Jasmine (Thailand) rice to be the holy grail in my search for easy cooking and perfectly seperate grains of rice. Somewhat more expensive, but worth it in taste, texture and ease of cooking.