Yes, you can cook rice in a pot, but honestly, if I can delegate that to a machine that does it perfectly every time without any fuss, I'm all for it. So for dishes that take rice, a minute spent adding rice and water and then pushing the button and its all taken care of.
I'm using this breadmaker, the Zojirushi home bakery supreme 2-pound-loaf breadmaker, partly based on a recommendation and partly on reviews. I wanted a bread machine that produced a rectangular, basically standard-sized loaf.
why? A pretty prosaic reason; sandwich bags. They come in one size, and I didn't want to be trimming my bread all the time to fit into them.
|Buttertop white bread|
You can set a variety of things, this is the "light" crust option. One thing that I've noticed is that the baking isn't uniform -- see how the left side of the loaf is darker than the middle? that's not really a big deal on taste, but if you would like perfectly browned, pretty loaves (and who wouldn't?) there may be another model that does it better. That's about the only drawback I've found, though.
To make a 2lb loaf (about a kilogram) it takes 1.5lbs of flower, a little salt, a little sugar, a little butter and a little yeast. No preservatives -- it'll get pretty hard overnight, but what I've been doing is I bake a loaf twice a week, and anything left over goes to the pigs or chickens or salad croutons or breading or... all sorts of things. It never goes to waste.
50lbs of flour at my local megamart costs $16.50, so the cost of the flour per loaf is about $0.50, figure the other stuff runs about $0.15, and you've got a nice loaf of freshly baked bread for about 3 minutes work and $0.65. So with two loaves a week my bread "budget" is $1.30. Cheap.
There are a couple of things that you have to do to get the recipes correct. Baking is chemistry, not cooking. You'll get the best results if you're pretty precise about your measurements. Towards that I cook by weight.
|Repeatable baking means you use a scale|
Scales are relatively cheap, and for stuff like flour, measuring your ingredients by volume means that you'll get more sometimes, less others. For a bread machine of this size I suggest a scale that can measure in grams, this particular scale does do grams, but only in multiples of 5, which means that I can get pretty precise, but I would be happier if I could get exactly what's called for. With this scale I'm plus or minus a gram or so, which works out ok.
(I chose this scale because it weighs up to 5kb/10 lbs, and when I'm making sausage having a scale that maxes out at a smaller number is a bit of a pain in the ass. )
You can make any sort of bread you like; sourdough or wheat or bread with stuff in it. Most of my bread is eaten as sandwich or toast, so I basically like a pretty standard white or wheat. The process is pretty simple.
You add water, then dump flower, sugar, dried milk, butter and salt into the pan. No need to mix it.
|Bread machine loaded with the ingredients for whole-wheat bread.|
|the yeast pocket|
So you select your crust preference, press the button for wheat loaf, and walk away.
One very nice feature is that it's got a delay timer. If you'd like to wake up to the smell of fresh baked bread, delay the start so that the loaf is baked right when you get up. Fresh baked bread in the morning is a real treat. Makes the kitchen smell great.
|whole wheat loaf (pictured above)|
|nice fine grained bread.|
|It's not quite as tall as the white bread loaf. I'll tinker with it.|