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Posted on Jan 26, 2008 in Bento, Eggs, Equipment, For Kids, Meat, Phyllo or Pancake or Other, Review, Tips | 37 comments

Bento love for convection toaster ovens

Bento love for convection toaster ovens

Krups FBC512 convection toaster ovenPlease don’t tell my husband that I’ve fallen in love — with our new convection toaster oven. Our seventies-era wall ovens are a serious energy suck, and the electricity bill reflects this whenever I do a lot of cooking or baking in them. We’ll probably wind up replacing them eventually, but in the meantime we splashed out for a cool convection toaster oven from Krups that won Cook’s Illustrated’s top ranking in their product testing (the FBC512 in white, but black is cheaper even with the free shipping). Convection ovens have a fan that circulates the hot air evenly throughout the oven for faster and more even browning at lower temperatures than conventional ovens, and that extra speed was the deciding factor for me in shelling out for convection. The drawback to toaster ovens is that they take up more counter space than regular toasters, but I’ve made my peace with that tradeoff for the sake of versatility. Amazon carries a variety of convection toaster ovens and regular toaster ovens at all price points, but you can often save on shipping by going to your local superstore or kitchen store.

When I lived in Japan, it was unusual for a kitchen to have a proper oven, and most people had toaster ovens that they used for cooking, baking and making bento lunches. They’re perfect when cooking lunches for one or two people, as I don’t hesitate to reach for the toaster oven when I wouldn’t fire up a full-size oven in the morning. I’ve been experimenting with cooking other dishes in it for our lunches, broiling small pieces of fish, vegetables, little gratins in the extra-thick aluminum baking cups, eggs, etc. Expect to see more food made in toaster ovens from me, often using the multi-broiling speed bento technique.

 

Appetizer pastry bento lunch for preschooler #1

Today’s lunches show the first of my toaster oven fun, using frozen puff pastry appetizers that I picked up from Costco. I’ve been having good luck exploring the different frozen appetizers at Costco, including the spanakopita, mini crab cakes, meatballs, etc. The San Jose Mercury News recently did a tasting round-up of Costco frozen appetizers that gives a thumbs up to the appetizers below, among others (free registration required to view the article. EDIT: use bugmenot.com to avoid registration if you like). Have a favorite toaster oven dish? Share it in comments.

Contents of preschooler lunch: Tamagoyaki rolled egg (my tutorials here for both traditional and shortcut versions), teriyaki pineapple chicken meatballs (Aidells brand, my favorite), orange wedge, cheese cube, steamed broccoli and red bell pepper, and puff pastry appetizers with sweet sauteed onion, sage and Gorgonzola cheese (review below).

Microwave mini steamerMorning prep time: 20 minutes, using frozen appetizer pastries and ready-made meatballs. In the morning I popped the frozen pastries into the toaster oven while I made the tamagoyaki. Because the toaster oven is convection, I set it 25 deg. F cooler and 4 minutes shorter than instructed on the package to avoid burning. I used my microwave mini steamer to quickly make the broccoli, and the bell pepper was leftover from this lunch. (Click here to read the full post with product reviews and an additional lunch…)

Product review: When we entertain, we spend a lot of time cooking the actual meal, but burn out on making homemade appetizers. To keep my guests from chewing on the furniture before we serve dinner, I’ve started turning to frozen appetizers to supplement the regular cheese board. When I was at Costco I picked up a big box of assorted Puff Pastry Petites by Cuisine Adventures, which come in four flavors: sweet sauteed onion with sage and Gorgonzola, artichoke with herb and garlic cream cheese, four cheeses and roasted garlic, and Brie and caramelized onion. They’re delicious, impressive, and dead simple to prepare: just throw on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the type (convection ovens shave off a few minutes). They came packaged in little trays that were wrapped with regular plastic that can’t be resealed once you open it, so if you only bake off a few at a time for lunch you’ll need to either put the remainder in a freezer bag or rewrap the plastic tray with plastic wrap. When making these for a bento lunch, be sure to cool thoroughly before packing and pack them away from moist food to prevent them from turning soggy in the bento box.

Three-tier bento boxThree-tier bento boxPacking: To avoid condensation around the puff pastries that would make them soggy, I cooled them thoroughly before packing them in a separate container away from the moist foods in the lunch. I cut the meatballs in half to make them easier for three-year-old Bug to handle, and packed them in a reusable silicone baking cup with a little pick from the Daiso in Daly City, CA (Daiso’s a Japanese dollar store with branches internationally). I cut the orange flesh mostly away from the peel for easier eating. The lunch is packed in a cheap 495ml three-tier bento box from Daiso (not very sturdy, but cute), which I held closed with a carrot-shaped elastic bento band.

Verdict: Thumbs up, albeit a little big for Bug to eat at once. He ate everything at preschool except the bell pepper and broccoli, but ate those after school as a snack. He left one stalk of broccoli, giving it to his little friend Sierra.

* * * * *

Appetizer pastry bento lunch for preschooler #2

Contents of preschooler lunch: Egg and shiitake mushroom mini frittata (microwave version, recipe here), Lizano sauce for the frittata (sources here ), steamed zucchini with vinaigrette, cheese cubes, grape tomatoes, and puff pastry with Gorgonzola, bacon and spinach (Full Circle Torta Stella, review below).

Morning prep time: 20 minutes of mostly inactive toaster and cool time, using frozen appetizers. In the morning I popped the frozen pastries into the toaster oven first thing and let them cook while I worked on the rest of the lunch, quickly making the zucchini and the egg cup in the microwave.

Product review: My son’s Japanese preschool teacher was so taken with the little tortas in Bug’s bento that he asked me what they were and how to make them. He was surprised to hear that they were super-easy frozen appetizers from Costco — Full Circle Torta Stella. They came in a big package with three wrapped plastic trays of different flavors: 1) pesto, prosciutto and pearl mozzarella, 2) Gorgonzola, bacon and spinach, and 3) feta, olive and sun-dried tomato. Bug and I like the pesto & prosciutto kind the best, but I can’t send them with Bug to his preschool because the pesto is a problem with their lunchroom allergy restrictions. The pastries got a little over-browned because I didn’t properly adjust the temperature down 25 deg. F for the convection toaster oven; chalk that up to my learning curve with a new appliance. Directions called for 10-12 minutes of baking; the convection oven brought it down to 8-9.

Afternoon Tea bento box setPacking: In order to fit the large, irregularly shaped pastries, I chose a 470ml Afternoon Tea bento box that’s a little large for my three-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines, and packed it somewhat loosely with only three pastries. The tomatoes and cheese cubes acted as gap fillers to stabilize the lunch during transport. I both cooked and packed the frittata in a silicone baking cup, and put the drained & cooled zucchini in a hard plastic food cup (care instructions for bento gear here). We wound up dropping this box on the way home, and a flap on the lid broke yet AGAIN, so I won’t be replacing this somewhat cheap, too-delicate box because of the poorly constructed flaps.

Verdict: So-so. Bug ate the puff pastries, cheese and tomatoes at preschool, but left the frittata and zucchini. After school he did eat the remainder as a snack, but wanted me to cut up the frittata for him. Note to self: cut up mini frittatas when packing Bug’s lunch to make it easier for him to eat quickly with a fork, without frustration.

(Disclosure: Links to Amazon are affiliate links that support Lunch in a Box at no additional cost to the buyer.)

* * * * *

Wholesome Lunchbox event

This is my entry for the Wholesome Lunchbox event hosted by the Coffee and Vanilla food blog, ending Feb. 15, 2008. Interesting event, although my lunches don’t fit the guidelines precisely (no dessert, no drink, no snack). My son’s preschool serves snacks and drinks, and I don’t tend to pack desserts apart from fresh fruit. In hindsight, puff pastry probably isn’t the most wholesome food, but there you have it!

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  1. Aren’t countertop ovens fabulous? We don’t have a microwave, so when we were remodeling our kitchen, we bought a toaster/convection oven and used it for a lot of our cooking. When we moved back into the real kitchen, we made space for our new gadget because we loved it so much.

    Ours is large enough to hold a 9×9 pan, so we use it quite a bit for casseroles, enchiladas, etc. I’ve even made cupcakes in it, using a 6-cup pan, and they turned out just fine.

  2. What a timely post! We’re thinking of getting a convection oven. We’re living in a hotel for 6 months and have a stovetop and microwave, but no oven. After only a week the lack of oven is already cramping our cooking style. Counterspace is tight though. We don’t know what to do.

  3. Perfect timing! Our convection toaster oven is on its last legs (we’ve had the elements replaced twice and they’re going again) and we were talking about replacing it. I was wondering if Cook’s Illustrated or Consumer Reports had reviews and you’ve saved me the trouble of looking.

  4. I had to give mine up when we moved her (counter space issues) but I do miss it from time to time, I loved making fake panini like things in it, the oven just doesn’t cut it and panini press’ are only good for one thing (and Alton Brown and I know that is a big no-no in the kitchen)

  5. Convection ovens make the yummiest food! Growing up we had one and we baked and toasted everything in it! My favorites were toasted Ham and Cheese sandwiches, egg rolls, any cookies baked in there and garlic bread. Mmmm! I could see all of those as minis working great in your lunches.
    By the way, Great blog!! I just found you this past week and am really enjoying the great ideas.

  6. I’d like one but after getting new fridge/freezer for my kitchen I can’t find space for my microwave. In wait for the new fridge I stored non-perishable things as unopened self-made jams in the oven. I have now developed this slight phobia that I will forget the stuff in the oven and in a fit of trying to get on with things fast will turn the oven up and eventually see these jams plus two cans of goose fat catch fire ;)

    I do not attest to being sane, at least not in how my brain takes me down odd tracks of association ;)

  7. Hi!

    I love reading, though I rarely comment. I hadn’t packed lunches for years when my 16 yo asked last year if I could buy lots of healthy things so he could bring them for lunch. Hard to refuse that. With ideas from here, he’s loved them and the 13 yo was jealous enough to join in.

    Annnnyway. I’ve read your food safety pages, too, but I’m still confused that you cook in the morning. Things definitely do cool off quickly in my set at 58 degrees overnight house, but they certainly don’t cool to refrigerator temperature. When you pack these do you always put in little ice packs?

    It just seems that the 3 or so hours between packing and eating is a long time for not chilled food to be sitting at room temperature. So, I think I’m confused! Did this lunch, for instance go off with ice packs, or just cooled?

    Thank you!

  8. I’ve been eyeing some convection/toaster ovens for a couple months now. The counter space issue has been my hold up. I still think I’ll wind up getting one. Thanks for the heads up on the Cooks Illustrated recommendation—they usually are pretty right on with their testing.

  9. Just as a tip for the sites that require free registration – you can go to bugmenot.com and look up log-ins. Most of the time at least one will work (it did for the review listed above) and it keeps you from having to register over and over again at places.

  10. Glad to hear you’ll be doing more with the convection oven, as I haven’t owned a microwave in 5 years (and will never again own one). Not only do I not miss my microwave, but I also quit having a number of problems when I quit using it. I love my toaster oven, and cook everything in it; I only use my large oven when cooking batches (like meatloaf in a dozen mini loaf pans).

    Midknyt: thanks for the referral to bugmenot — I’d heard of it, but didn’t remember the name.

  11. I am a daily toaster oven user and advocate. I use it to reheat or cook everything. Our microwave rarely gets used anymore. I don’t have a convection oven, but usually the cooking time in ours is about 2/3 what the regular oven would be. And those pastries look so good. I’ve been seeing a lot of things lately that make me want a Costco card.

  12. @1 from anita: Wow, cupcakes in a toaster oven! I figured I could make mini-cupcakes in it, but maybe I should experiment with full-sized ones as well. Enchiladas are another great idea — thanks! (Lovely meeting you, your husband and Sam this past week, BTW!)

  13. @2 from Stephanie: The counterspace issue was our sticking point for the longest time as well. I finally just switched the location of our breadbox and squished it in there. No regrets so far, although my husband has said that he misses our old toaster (but is excited about making dinners in the new toaster oven).

  14. @3 from snappiness: CI’s runner up was the Cuisinart model, I think, but the Krups had a front-removable crumb tray. CI and CR haven’t steered me wrong for equipment reviews yet, so I bit the bullet and forked out the $$$.

  15. @4 from Cerri: That Good Eats sandwich episode was great, wasn’t it? So inventive to make panini with foil-wrapped bricks in the oven. I love multi-taskers, although I’ve known to be guilty of kitchen uni-taskers as well…

  16. @5 from Libby: Ah, egg rolls! Now there’s an idea. Glad you like the blog; I’m definitely having fun doing it. Welcome!

  17. @6 from Jessika: Don’t they also have multi-purpose microwave ovens with toaster oven function? That’d be a cool (but maybe expensive) multi-tasker. Doesn’t help your jam and goose fat issue in the oven, though! ;-)

  18. @7 from Jen: I did pack both of these lunches with little ice packs (cut from a flexible ice blanket, shown in my food safety post). I tend not to use ice packs when I pack rice so as to not affect the texture — I add a little bit of rice vinegar to the rice cooking water to boost the antibacterial properties and keep it from spoiling.

  19. @8 from Amber: Yes, CI (and secondarily Consumer Reports) is pretty reliable for its kitchen equipment recommendations. I like that both publications don’t accept advertising, so I feel that their testing is unbiased.

  20. @9 from Midknyt: Ooh, excellent tip on bugmenot.com! I think I heard about that site a while ago, but totally forgot about it. I’ll edit the post to include it. Thank you.

  21. @10 from pdxwoman: What kind of problems did you have when you used a microwave oven? I’m curious. I can definitely see moving away from the full oven for small servings now; what are your favorite toaster oven dishes?

  22. @11 from Amber in Portland: I could see there being a role for both toaster oven and microwave in my kitchen for convenience cooking; I’m looking forward to experimenting more. Interesting that you’re getting 2/3 the cook time in your toaster oven — why do you think that is?

  23. It really depends on the food, but things definitely seem to go a lot faster in the toaster oven than in the conventional oven. I tend to turn the heat up just a little and watch it a lot closer on in the toaster oven than I would in the conventional oven because of the easy counter top access (we do not have wall ovens). I also like it because of the lesser amount of electricity it uses. Our toaster oven also has a rotisserie, which I haven’t tried yet in the 3 years we’ve owned it.

  24. 21> I always sound like a freaky fringe conspiracy theorist hypochondriac when I talk about this! ;-) One of the problems I was having (for several years) was tenderness in my throat/esophagus after eating. I eventually realized it was only after eating microwaved food. I was alarmed by reading that the rate of esophageal cancer, a disease once limited to the elderly, was growing at an alarming rate, notably amongst otherwise healthy Generation Xers–those raised on microwaved food. I got rid of the microwave; the tenderness stopped right away, and has never returned.

    I do everything in the toaster oven, from reheating left overs to making lasagna and baking rolls or muffins. Right now, our favorite is baked drumsticks with equal parts Hoisin and Sweet Chili sauces.

  25. Gahhh, you’re killing me here! I’m actually in the market for a toaster oven and was hoping to sneak away with a cheapie one for now but seeing yours and hearing the results… well,… you’re making me really want the fancy-schmancy one! :P
    Also, you’ve been tagged! http://feistybento.blogspot.com/2008/01/not-bento-but-meme.html

  26. Biggie,

    Thank you for your entry!!
    It is great, like always… your blog is big inspiration to me… I read / looked at all posts, hehe :)

    Margot

  27. I love having a toaster oven-recently, my 7 yr. old B& D died (after incinerating quite a few bagels), so I started the search for a new one. I checked all the reviews online & chose the Sanyo SKVF7S. I couldn’t find one locally, so I ordered from Amazon & got it in just a few days. So far, so good-toasting is easy, a few quirks w/ the oven feature, but I think it was the right choice.
    I’ve been fixing bentos for my daughter off & on, for a few months, I’ve learned so much from your site-thank you!

  28. @25 from Yvo: You know, I put off buying a toaster oven for the same reason — I figured I’d just pick up a cheapie, but after reading reviews I developed serious lust for the pricier convection models. Evidently a lot of the cheaper models don’t perform well with toast, and I knew my husband would be cranky about that as I’d probably be removing our regular toaster from the kitchen (hey, there’s only so much counter space to go around!).

    Thanks for the tag; I guess I’ll add that to my ever-growing to-do list!

  29. @26 from Coffee and Vanilla: Thanks for the kind words, Margot! Glad you enjoyed the old posts.

  30. @27 from thistle: Oh my goodness, I misread your comment and thought that your seven-year-old child had died! Glad that’s not the case, and it was just your toaster oven. (BTW, I took the liberty of turning your toaster oven model info into an Amazon affiliate link for people who are interested in what you bought. Hope you don’t mind!)

  31. I’m really happy to see this entry. My mother prefers our toaster oven (also purchased at Amazon, forget which model) over the microwave. She detests the microwave to the point that she uses it as storage. We don’t mind so much since food tastes so much better cooked on the stove or baked in the toaster oven!

    I can only imagine how this will increase my lunch options, since I can heat things up in the toaster oven and multitask on other stuff. Then it will go into my Mr. Bento so I don’t have to cool it!

  32. I, too, did a long well-researched search for a toaster/convection oven, and ended up with an Oster, which didn’t rate as high as yours, but got high ratings for the price range I wanted. I love it. My most favorite food in all the world is roasted potatoes, and this does it better than any kind of oven. I use red potatoes, cut in wedges and tossed in olive oil with a little garlic (and sometimes I sprinkle lightly with some cayenne). 30 minutes at 450 and they’re perfect – soft and creamy on the inside and almost crispy on the outside. I alos like it for one other big reason – we live in an un-airconditioned house in the mountains – so we usually don’t need air conditioning. But there are lots of days in the summer when we don’t want to use the big oven because it heats up the house, and the small one cooks almost anything we want.

  33. @33 from Cyndi: Roasted potatoes with garlic sounds fantastic — I’ll have to pop some in soon. Good point on the toaster oven not heating up the house in the summer; that’s not something I think of much living in temperate San Francisco, but I realize our climate is unusual.

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  35. Hi Biggie,

    Not sure if you’re checking comments/email, but I’m looking for a new toaster oven and remembered this post from two years ago. If you have a chance, would you mind letting me know if you still love it?

    Also, would it hold an 8×8 Pyrex, and do you think it would heat such a packed Pyrex through? My Cuisnart fits an 8×8 but won’t heat a Pyrex baking dish filled with a baked ziti mixture, and since my small oven just died, I’m looking for alternatives so I don’t have to buy a whole new range.

    Thank you so much!
    Cathy

  36. @40 from Cathy: I still love my convection toaster oven — it hasn’t gone on the fritz and toasts things as well as it bakes. It holds an 8×8 Pyrex (I tried it). Not sure about how it’d do with baked ziti in the Pyrex, but I haven’t had any problems to date with its power so I have faith.