Monday, April 19, 2010

The Right Thing At the Right Time

My friend Grace Davis decided to start a review blog late last year.

More Women (or, as Laurie White dubbed it in a nod to both LOLcats AND radical feminism "MOAR WOMYN") was a short-lived project, as medical issues in Grace's family intervened to make balancing one more project impossible.

More Women didn't pass from this earth without providing an invaluable benefit to me, though. Grace convinced the people at Cuisinart to send me a rice cooker to try out.
The rice cooker is here!

I have to admit it took me a while to make friends with the complicatedly named Cuisinart Rice Plus™ Multi-Cooker with Fuzzy Logic Technology.

I was used to my old Zojirushi rice cooker that had one button that you pushed down to start rice cooking. One. That was it. The same button popped up when the rice was done. My kind of operation. A simple rice cooker for simple people.

On the other hand, the Cuisinart Rice Plus™ Multi-Cooker with Fuzzy Logic Technology (I just have to put that in bold because a name that long sort of deserves boldness, doesn't it?) has a big glowing blue screen on front with a bunch of choices of everything from White Rice Soft and White Rice Hard to Risotto and Oatmeal.

For the first few weeks, the instruction manual was my best friend. Then the pages got all stuck together from sitting it on the wet counter and I just had to wing it.

I also have to admit that I never figured out what "Fuzzy Logic Technology" was, either. Onward.

I believe that the Gods must have wanted me to cook a lot of rice, because they not only delivered this rice cooker to me, they also delivered, in the form of a gift from my nutty friend Ish, a 20 pound bag of very fine white rice - Koda Farms Kokuko Rose Heirloom Varietal. It is gorgeous rice, with every grain fat, uniform and perfect.

Did I mention I don't usually eat white rice? And that 20 pounds is a LOT of rice?
When is my Cuisinart rice cooker getting here? I have 20 lbs of gourmet rice
Thankfully, I have some rice-loving friends who helped me by taking a lot of it off my hands. It's nice to share.

The cooker claimed it had a short cord, and I was worried because I have a an old, weird kitchen with almost no counter space and even fewer electric outlets, but it reached:
Cuisinart slice

I tried cooking the white rice: perfect.
Koda Farms Kohuko Rose white rice

I tried cooking brown rice and it, too, turned out perfectly. It takes almost 2 hours, which seems really long.

I don't remember the old rice cooker taking that long, but I also lost the little measuring cup for that rice cooker, and the instructions were impossible to remember for brown rice without it, so it had been a long time since I made brown rice in anything but a pan on a stove.

I made risotto. Eh. The machine has a feature where you can first saute, then put the rice in to finish the risotto. I'm too much of a control freak for this. The saute didn't seem hot enough or fast enough (I remember my cooking school chef instructor yelling "Sauté means TO JUMP!") for me, and I like adding the stock bit by bit and stirring on the stovetop, so I could live without this.

My risotto with red wine, carrots and shallots came out tasting good, though. Not as starchy and glistening as I might like, but very edible.
Risotto made with red wine, shallots, carrots

Where this machine shines, though, is scheduling. You can put ingredients in, set a finish time, and it will start cooking at the appropriate time to finish on schedule. How cool is that?

I eat oatmeal every single day but have never made steel-cut oats because I don't like to cook and stir for half an hour before I have had coffee. That's just the way I am.

But now I can put the steel-cut oats and the water in the night before, set a finish time and wake up to breakfast! Yessssss. Now THAT is a feature I can get behind. It will also hold finished food up to 24 hours.
Steel Cut Oats

The other thing I like about this is the dark-colored, non-stick cooking pot. The dark color allows the light-colored markings inside the pan to show up so you can see them to add water, and the non-stick is, well, non-stick. After many late-night bouts of scrubbing crusty rice out of the old rice cooker, I really appreciate easy clean-up.

You can also use it to steam veg, make soup etc, but those are features I admit I will probably never take advantage of. A pot on the stove vs. a pot on the counter - it's kind of a toss-up and I can keep a better eye on the stove. But if you are a regular crock-pot user, you might be able to consolidate appliances here to save counter and storage space.

It is easy to use, easy to clean and retails for about $149. It was definitely the right machine at the right time in my life.

I use it pretty much every day because I make a LOT of rice, mostly brown, for my dog Goldie's food and because brown rice is a great thing to eat when you are funemployed and are trying to conserve money.

It would make a great wedding gift or foodie birthday present for somebody you like enough to spend $149 on.

Thanks, Cuisinart. Send more free stuff.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Ooh, a blogger junket! Or: how to do social media PR correctly

On Thursday, I wended my way down the coast on a sunny, windy day to the Fresh & Easy neighborhood market headquarters in El Segundo.

The Fresh & Easy folks are launching a new line of prepared meals called "Eat Well" and wanted to show them off to me and a bunch of other bloggers. About 25 of us arrived, awash in digital cameras, iPhones and social media credibility.

I have to say that Fresh & Easy gets social media PR the way few companies do. They tweet often, Facebook well and do fun events like a wine-taste-along on Twitter. They also did something amazing for the 20 or so bloggers who were invited to the HQ: they read our blogs.


Not just one post. No. These people aren't the type to address invitations to "Dear Mom Blogger." They took the time and sampled posts stretching back several months, so when we showed up on their doorstep, they knew who each of us were and what we were all about.

The Fresh and Easy people:

They have about 150 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada and are spreading faster than crabgrass in a summer lawn.

Their head of "product," John, is, despite his humble attitude, Kind of A Big Deal. He tossed out facts from all of our blogs as he spoke to us. Dang. I was impressed.

This is John:
John, who read all our blogs, poor man

Seeing fellow bloggers was great. One of my twitter faves,Sweatpants Mom was there and there were even some women who write a blog ALL about Fresh and Easy called The Temple of Fresh and Easy. Way to ensure an invite, ladies. Good work.

I also got to reconnect with Fresh and Easy spokescutie Stephanie, who I met when I covered a Fresh and Easy store opening for the local newspaper.

The Eat Well products we sampled were really, really good. Katie, the chef who creates them, can't remember her name - Kate? - the woman who magically scales up the recipes by a factor of 1,000 or more were there to explain their process to us.

As bloggers, we could relate to part of their jobs: you can never make everyone happy. If they make their food spicy, people complain that they can't eat it because it is too hot. If they leave the spice out, people say it is bland and boring. Sounds like our comments sections some days.

The meals are all low in fat, sodium and calories and have no trans-fats. They are also very pretty to look at. As they used to say in cooking school "You eat first with your eyes."

They'll be available in stores on April 7, 2010 and yeah, I plan to pick some up every once in a while.

I took the info booklet home to my mom and she immediately began picking out things she wanted to try, too - she was super curious about the mojito shrimp bowl. Since she and Dad eat many, many boxed frozen dinners, I was delighted to hear that she wants to try something fresher and healthier.

The big hit of the night was a spicy tuna sushi square that has a layer of spicy ahi, a layer of roasted edamame and a layer of brown rice. The teriyaki salmon meal also went over especially well.

Me, little Miss Vegetarian, loved the lemon cilantro hummus salad dressing. Super good, zippy and flavorful.

They also do a nice veg and hummus wrap that is healthy and tasty.

If their HQ were closer to home, I would be begging for a job, because it looks like a great company to work for, and you know how I love all things food and grocery.

Full disclosure: In addition to wining and dining us, at the end of the night, we got goodie bags with a bottle of wine, a canvas shopping bag and a store gift certificate.