18 October 2009

Advantium - First Review

I have been in our new kitchen for about three months now. The appliance that I am most excited by is the GE Monogram Advantium Oven. I have the 240v built-in version with slim Euro-handles (ZSC2201NSS).

I chose this appliance for several reasons:
(1) It serves multiple functions. When your space is limited, appliances that perform more than one task are quite valuable! This one appliance serves as a microwave oven, speedcook oven, and convection oven.
(2) I was intrigued by speedcook functionality. I have never had this before. Other companies with speedcook include TurboChef, Miele, and several others. Each "speed cook" oven seems to use different technology. I like GE's use of halogen.
(3) It looks good and has easy controls.
(4) Without having done in-depth research to back it up, my gut told me that speedcooking would save energy over conventional oven usage. I read that remark in several places but no one backed it up. No one contested that assertion, however.

The capability of this appliance is very broad -- and as such, I have not used all of its functions, not even close! I haven't touched the convection setting yet.

For microwave, I have only used literally one button - the "express" button which microwaves on high for 30 seconds. Each press of the button adds 30 seconds. I'm honestly not sure what to say in a microwave review. It microwaves well. My food gets hot and the turntable turns. Enough said.

Now for the speedcook function... this was truly exciting for me. I believe I am the target consumer -- a harried mother trying to get a dinner on the table in a short amount of time. In most ways, I have been really impressed by the speedcook. One initial missed expectation for me is that I expected everything would cook more quickly. That is not the case. The biggest gains, in my limited experience of three months, are recognized with dense and/or heavy thick foods - such as a roast chicken, or a casserole. For some foods, like cookies, speedcooking actually takes the exact same amount of time as a regular oven, if you ignore the time required to preheat. Once I realized that, I read the Advantium documentation more closely and I realized that a lot of the time comparisons took into account the preheat time for a conventional oven. The Advantium is not preheated for use. It's debatable whether or not it's fair to include or exclude preheat time in the comparisons. On one hand, you can easily start your conventional oven preheating right off the bat and usually it's ready by the time you want to put your dish in the oven. On the other hand -- I do often forget to preheat with enough lead time and I am often waiting for my oven to finish preheating.

Here are some items I have cooked and their results:

(1) Chocolate chip cookies. I did a direct comparison of cookies baked in a regular oven and in the speedcook oven... all from the same batch of dough. I had my contractors sample the cookies (see, I'm a good boss!). There was an even 50/50 split of who preferred the speedcook cookies and who preferred the conventional. It boiled down to who liked crispy cookies and who liked soft. The speedcook tended to produce crispier cookies. We were really splitting hairs though -- the cookies were fairly similar. The time was the same between both ovens (excluding preheat time).

(2) Roast whole chicken. The speedcook chicken was certainly adequate for a weeknight meal. It was not nearly as good as the perfect roast chicken in my conventional oven, though. It did not cook as evenly (neither meat nor skin) in the speedcook. Some bits were juicy and fine, others were dry. That said, if I was just roasting a chicken to get the cooked meat for other dishes, I would not hesitate to speedcook it. One negative for me is that I could not put the chicken on a metal rack to let the drippings roll off. You can't use metal during speedcook. As such, my speedcook chicken came out of the oven in a pool of fat. appetizing!

I am going to try roasting the chicken in the speedcook again with trussing (how I do my chickens in a regular oven). Perhaps that might help it to cook more evenly - we'll see.

Time to roast in oven: 80 minutes (excluding preheat). Time to roast in speedcook: 20ish minutes.

(3) Baked chicken breasts. The speedcook did outstanding here! The breasts were tender and juicy and evenly cooked. This was my first real success with the speedcook.

(4) Pizza. The speedcook EXCELS at pizza! Pizza used to be a weekend meal for us and now with the speedcook, I can get a homemade pizza on the table in 45 minutes (and just 30 minutes if I use freezer dough which I often have).

In a conventional oven, pizza has to cook at a very high temp (450 or 500) so I should point out -- the preheat time DOES have a real impact on the timeline here. For a conventional oven pizza, it takes 20-30min to get my oven hot enough to put my pizza in. And then unless I take the time to preheat my pizza sheet, or prebake my pizza crust, I can have problems with the underside of the crust being underdone while the top is fully cooked.

I have no such problems in the Advantium. With the alternating energy technologies, it gets the toppings and crust all done at the same time. And I do not need to wait a half hour for preheating. Total score!

Here are some other Advantium speedcooking notes:

- There is an instructional CD that comes with the appliance. I found this pretty cheesy and useless. Most of the things they used to demo the advantium are food items that I do not make (a lot of freezer foods).
- So far I have only been able to use the pre-programmed menu options for speedcook. I would like to figure out how to convert some existing recipes to speedcook but I haven't found anything from GE to really make this simple.
- There are different rules for which trays and cookware you can use during which functions. While they do all make sense, I worry that one day I will forget and try to microwave with the metal tray in place.
- I love the accessory drawer that I was able to purchase and install under the oven. I wish, though, that the drawer was also available for the pro style handle. Oddly, the drawer is only available for the euro style handle. I switched my choice of handle from pro to euro just so I could get that drawer (and I am glad that I did).
- For the most part, the appliance seems easy to clean. I did have problems with grilling chicken breasts on the ridged tray, however -- a lot of elbow grease went into cleaning that one, even though it's a nonstick surface
- At one point I was concerned what exactly WAS in the nonstick surface (PFOA, PFTE, etc)? I contacted Paul Anater who went on a hunt to answer my query. Luckily, it's just porcelain enamel. (Note, the 120v version of this appliance does have PFTE however, if that matters to you).

Here are some photos of my pizza adventures with the Advantium:

Fresh pizza, homemade pear and gorgonzola with caramelized onion, on the GE Advantium speedcook tray:

Selecting my menu option from the GE Advantium menu:

Watching my pizza cook in the oven:

Sliding the cooked pizza off the tray (onto my end-grain butcherblock counter, love love):