by Caroline

My rice cooker, doing its thing
My rice cooker, doing its thing

Some time ago, we renovated the kitchen here and replaced creaky old appliances with spiffy new energy-efficient models. The dishwasher purrs quietly and uses a fraction of the water our old one required; the oven heats quickly and keeps its heat inside, unlike its poorly-insulated predecessor; the refrigerator maintains a steady temperature and beeps if a door is inadvertently left open.

But the beep seems to be a common feature of these new appliances, and the beep is not something I love.  The fridge beeps, the oven beeps (when temperature is set and when said temperature is achieved), and worst of all, the smallest of all, the toaster oven beeps every time you touch a button. Good consumers that we are, we researched this modest purchase, too, for energy efficiency, effectiveness, cost, and found a model that fit our budget and our kitchen counter. But nowhere in the reviews, not in Consumer Reports nor Cooks Illustrated nor Epinions, did anyone mention the beep. And you can’t just push a button or turn a dial to start this toaster up, you must select Function (beep!), Time (beep!) and then it announces when it has begun (beep beep!) and finished (beep-beep-beep-beep!)

We can’t make it stop.

And this makes me love my quiet old rice cooker all the more. My mother bought this at a church tag sale when we lived in Japan, so it is at least forty years old. It may once have done other things but cook rice — most rice cookers now do — but I no longer have the directions nor any of the inserts. Which is fine, because all I want it to do is steam rice for my family’s dinner, and it does that beautifully, whether I use short grain or Basmati, half quinoa or part brown rice. A light turns on when I press the button, and clicks satisfyingly ten or fifteen minutes later when the rice is cooked. It then thoughtfully keeps the rice warm until we are ready to eat.

And when we are ready to eat, we often serve the rice with whatever vegetable’s handy and then this tofu, an adaptation of a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which is quick and delicious:

Caramelized Golden Tofu

1 pound of firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 T peanut oil

2 T soy sauce
3 1/2 T brown sugar

Drain the tofu and, if you have the time, blot it a bit with paper towels. Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over fairly high heat. Add the tofu and fry until golden. It takes a few minutes to color, so let it cook undisturbed while you do something else (really! leave it alone!) then come back and turn the pieces over. Don’t let them get dry and hard, but 5-6 minutes a side should give them some nice color. Remove the tofu from the pan, turn the heat down to medium, and put in the soy sauce and brown sugar. Whisk them together a bit and then add the tofu. Toss well, simmer for  a couple minutes, then add a few tablespoons of water and cook till the sauce coats the tofu nicely. Turn off the heat; let the tofu sit in the syrup until you’re ready to serve.