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It's been a while since I've done a product review, and the last time I
actually linked to a product I had the Internet Gestapo come down on me,
but I suspect that Amazon will be a lot more forgiving, and this product
is, so far at least, very well worth the review. I was going to wait a
few more days until I'd done a little bit more with this, but the
response from Twitter has been incredible, and everyone has been wanting
to know about this, so I figured I could do this now, and there's always
later for updating and/or giving more information.

It all started because of a discussion on twitter a few weeks back about
fresh green beans. That discussion made me hungry, so I decided to go to
my grocery store site and add some to my shopping cart. Then, I decided
that if I was going to buy green beans, I needed to find a good way to
cook them, and I really like fresh steamed green beans with butter and
just a touch of salt. So, I figured that I'd go up to my favorite place
ever, (aside from Winnipeg that is), Amazon.

The search string I used was simply "microwave steamer". Several things
came up, and several things looked really good. The prices were amazing.
I was seeing things anywhere between $10 and $15, when I was expecting
much higher prices. The first product that sounded good I was ready to
buy. Unfortunately, after adding it to my cart I was given the message
that it couldn't be shipped to a PO box. I needed to find something that
could be shipped to my PO box, so I kept looking. That's when I came
across the Progressive International Microwaveable Rice/Pasta Cooker
Set
. The reviews looked good, it did more than I was originally
looking for, yet I knew that I could make use of it. So, I added it to
my cart, and it was eligible to be shipped to my PO box. I placed the
order, and two days later it was in my PO box waiting for me. It wasn't
until almost a week later that I actually got to try it, but I'll get to
that in a bit.

What's in the Package?


The title says that this is a set, so, what, exactly, is all included?
In the box is a 12-cup round base. Inside the base are several different
things. It comes with a set of measuring cups and a set of measuring
spoons. There's also a pasta measurer, (most helpful I suspect for
spaghetti-type noodles), and a rice paddle. Then, there's the pasta
basket and the steamer rack. This is all topped off by the inner lid,
and the outer locking lid. All these things fix very nicely into the
base, which makes it easy to store it if, like me, you have very limited
cupboard space in your kitchen. Also, if you have a dishwasher, all
these items can be washed on the top rack, which makes clean-up even
easier.

What's the Point?



So, what's the point of this? You can do everything this does on the
stove, so why the microwave? Well, I guess that's up to you to decide.
But, for me, it's got several uses. First, after leaving the apartment
at 6:45 AM five days a week and not getting home until around 5:00, I'm
tired. I don't want to spend a lot of time standing over a hot stove
stirring and mixing, so on and so forth. Half the time these days I just
find it easier to order in, but that gets expensive. So, I'm always
looking for ways to make things easier for myself, yet offer me more
than a frozen mystery meal. I wasn't disappointed.

The Basic Idea



So, how does it work? The concept behind this cooker is, (I think),
pretty straight-forward. Water heats up and forms steam, which in turn
cooks the food. But, there's more to it apparently. In the past, I've
found that steam in the microwave tends to make things get soggy, or to
just taste different. And pasta? Pasta in the microwave is one of those
things that, if it works, great. But, most times, it's total mush. But,
I was drawn in by the reviews, and figured that if, by some chance, it
really didn't work, I wasn't losing too much money overall.

So, depending on what you're cooking determines the way you set up the
cooker. For rice, everything goes into the base, and the inner and outer
lids are placed on top, and you put it into the microwave for the
correct amount of time. Pasta is put into the pasta basket, (which has a
handle for placing and removing it from boiling water). The water has to
be boiled first in the case of pasta, but that's done easily enough.
Once the basket is in place, stir the pasta and make sure that it's
totally covered by the water, then place the inner and outer lids in
place and cook. Vegetables require the base to be filled with water to a
certain level, and then the veggies are placed on the rack above the
level of the water. And, once again, the two lids are placed on top.

I keep mentioning that there are two lids. What is their purpose, and
why two lids? I personally find this to be a really neat concept. The
inner lid sits on top, just inside the top part of the base. It's free
to move, and there's a hole in the center of it where the steam comes
out. The outer lid fits over the top, and lines up very easily with
handles on both sides of the base. On each handle is a very simple
locking lever that gets pushed up so that the outer lid stays in place.
Somehow, while the food is cooking, the steam comes up through the first
lid, and just sort of goes ... somewhere. But, having the outer lid
locked in place means that the steam can't blow off the lid during the
cooking process, which is something I've seen happen in other microwave
cooking forays. The handles stay cool, so it's very easy to remove the
base from the microwave at the end of the cooking time.

So far, I've only attempted pasta. This was the one thing that I was
most unsure about, so figured I'd start with that. I was expecting a
mushy starchy glob to come out of the cooker at the end of this whole
thing. I used some small short noodles like you'd use for stroganoff. I
filled the base with water and put it in to boil, and put the pasta into
the basket while the water was heating up. Once the water was ready, I
lowered the basket into the hot water and used the rice paddle to stir
things around a little bit so that I could make sure that everything was
covered. I put the covers back on and set the microwave for nine
minutes; kind of in between the two suggested times for this type of
pasta. At the end of the time, I removed the base and the outer lid from
the top. I left the inner lid alone for a couple of minutes as
instructed. There was still a lot of steam, and letting things sit gave
it a little time to cool down. I finally removed the inner lid and
lifted out the basket. Any left-over water of course went back into the
base, leaving me with my noodles, already drained, and ready for use.
All that was left for me to do was to dump the water from the base into
the sink. This totally saved me from having to carry a hot pan from the
stove to the sink, and center it over a colander to drain water off the
pasta. The instructions said not to rinse the pasta, so I skipped that
part.

At this point, I still hadn't checked to see what kind of a glob I'd
created for myself. I reached into the basket, and was extremely
surprised to find individual noodles. They kept their shape, weren't
mushy, and tasted exactly like you'd expect them to taste. I transferred
them to a bowl, added my alfredo sauce, and considered the meal an
amazing success. My only personal change that I'd make for next time is
to cut the cooking time down to 8 minutes, simply because I like a
little firmer noodle. But, other than that, I couldn't have asked for
better. I plan to try rice in a couple of days too, and I suspect
that'll go just as well.

Documentation



The reviews say that it's really important to follow the cooking
procedures outlined in the instructions when using this cooker,
otherwise the results may be somewhat unpredictable. I think this is
particularly important when cooking rice. I've always used a 1 to 2 cup
ratio for cooking rice; 1 cup rice to 2 cups water. However, in this
case, the measurements are a bit different. I haven't quite figured out
how the measurements work yet in terms of consistency.

One reviewer wrote in to say that she'd lost her instructions and was
hoping that someone could provide her with them again. A comment
attached to the review gave an email address for Progressive where
people can ask for replacement manuals. I figured that I had nothing to
lose, so I wrote to this address and asked for an electronic copy of the
manual. Two days later, I received an attached document to an email
message containing a PDF version of the instruction sheet. Sadly, it was
in images, and although I was able to run it through my scanning
software to get some text, it wasn't overly helpful. I also had someone
else work with it, and although he had better results than I did, the
parts that I most needed, (the measurements), weren't very accurate. I
printed off a copy of the PDF file and a co-worker was nice enough to
type out the rice table for me so that I'd have those times available,
especially since they're probably the most important to get right.

I give Progressive credit for at least making the PDF available to me.
I'm sure they don't get a lot of requests for electronic copies of their
manuals, and they could have simply told me that they didn't have
anything. However, they chose to make an effort, and for that, I am
extremely appreciative.