We’re back to school. Back to tight schedules and soccer practices; back to squeezing in a healthy dinner in the few remaining daylight hours. Every year about this time, I start sifting through Pinterest for quick family meals. But, I’ve got a secret to make back to school a little easier. Let’s talk about one of my favorite kitchen small appliances for your home or your restaurant: the rice cooker.
A rice cooker is made to simplify cooking…well, rice. Using a rice cooker to prepare rice for your family is as simple as adding rice along with the appropriate amount of water and pressing a button to turn on the cooker. Whether you choose white rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, or healthy brown rice; once you prepare rice in a rice cooker you’ll never go back to the old-fashioned, stovetop method. It gets better. If you’re not ready to serve, the rice cooker will hold your perfectly cooked rice at the appropriate temperature until you ARE ready. No more waiting for the rice to boil and watching the pan every minute to make sure the water doesn’t boil over. No more rushing around the kitchen to perfectly time every piece of your meal. Ahh, sweet relief.
Okay, on to my secret. Another benefit of using a rice cooker is that it can be used for more than just cooking rice. Scouts honor. Your rice cooker has hidden talents. With a little experimentation, you can cook breakfast, poach fruit, or even make risotto with less hassle than cooking it on a stovetop.
1. Make a hot breakfast.
To make oatmeal or other hot cereals, add a little less milk or water than you would for stovetop cooking (and some chopped nuts and dried fruit if you want). The “keep warm” function will keep food from getting cold and gooey―perfect for days when everyone gets up at a different time.
2. Steam vegetables.
If your machine comes with a steamer rack, use it to cook cut vegetables, tofu, potatoes, or even shrimp, fish fillets, or chicken breasts. Take out and serve as an easy, one-pot meal.
3. Make risotto without stirring.
Sauté onions in butter in an open rice cooker, then add 1 part Arborio rice and 4 parts liquid (such as broth and wine). Cook for about 25 minutes in an on/off cooker or use the “slow” or “porridge” cycle if your machine has one. Mix in grated cheese and herbs at the end.
4. Slow-cook soups, beans, or stews.
Give your rice cooker enough liquid and time and it will create long-simmered dishes without scorching or boiling over (the way slow cookers sometimes can). Try split-pea soup with ham, or put beef (that’s been browned on the stove) and vegetables in the cooker with tomatoes, wine, and herbs for a hearty dinner.
5. Poach fruit.
A rice cooker works for healthy desserts of fruit simmered in juice, wine, or maple syrup. Or make applesauce and other fruit sauces.