Cooking is hard, or so I was brought up to believe. I wasn't told this but rather deduced it from two facts: My family was full of people who'd spent decades cooking for one another, and almost none of them seemed to be very good at it. So what was the point? If a lifetime spent grimly oozing sweat over cast-iron cookery and tending to grease blisters might result in no more than my great-grandma's juiceless pot roasts, why even try? Might as well order in.
"You're just wasting money!" my mum would say. But she was wrong. My few experiments with cooking -- most of which involved risotto, because risotto cooks slowly enough that the chef is never required to deploy any quick reflexes and is therefore able to consult Google whenever stymied
by a recipe -- suggested that, no, cooking is at least as expensive as
eating out. To make my risotto dinners, I bought rice, white wine,
stock, asparagus, herbs, lemons, Italian sausage, mushrooms. For an
appetizer, a hunk of decent cheese and a baguette. For a salad, some
arugula, a different cheese, another lemon, nuts, a vinaigrette. Good
beer was necessary. Strong IPA for me, a witbier for the boyfriend.
$80 or so, a blown afternoon, and a mangled kitchen: Two or three
people had eaten a not-very-good dinner. No one was interested in
Were there cheaper things to cook? Of course. One may
fry Spam. One may scramble eggs. One may eat sandwiches. There are
burgers. There are hot dogs. There are soups and salads and frozen
But none of these things, at least in my kitchen, were
both nutrish and delish, and most were neither. Anyway, eating the same
cold cuts for days on end is boring. Wondering whether the veggies in
the fridge are just-past or just-prepast their prime does not make for
happy noshing. And the most daunting fact of all: Maintaining a
well-stocked, versatile kitchen that can churn out any number of
recombinant meals requires a commitment to daily cooking. I considered
the vats of months-old risotto fossilizing in the fridge and knew I was
Then, calamity. Early this year, I switched
careers and found myself almost penniless. For the first time in my
life, dining out was not an option. Risotto was not an option. Where
once I had spent $80 on my ridiculous dinners, I was suddenly forced to
plan a week's worth of dinners and lunches and breakfasts and lummers
and brunches and suppreakfasts... for $40. If I hadn't had new roommates
at the time, I would probably have taken to Craigslist to trade sex for
sushi. Happily, I did have new roommates. Seven other youngish, poorish
folk, most of whom had been raised by American parents in far-flung
countries. Most of them had grown up in Southeast Asia.
As a result, they went nowhere without a rice cooker.
vast swaths of the world, the rice cooker is the center of the kitchen.
There are megacities in which millions of households are full of the
smells of cooking basmati and jasmine rices, in all their dozens of
subtle varietals, every waking hour of every day of the year. If you're
expecting visitors, they get rice. If there are unexpected visitors,
they get rice too. If you're munchy, if you're bored, if you're too lazy
to plan a more elaborate meal or even if you've planned a
super-elaborate five-courser, you're gonna eat rice, rice, rice.
That's how our household works now too.
was nervous about the rice cooker. I'd never made a meal that didn't
turn out gross. But there was no need for nerves. Our very-basic model, a
Rival 10-Cup Rice Cooker, which resembles a hot pot with a clear glass
lid, works like this: Pour in one part rice and one-and-a-half-parts
water, hit the cooker's "cook" switch, and walk away. The rice cooker
boils the water slowly, heating it from three sides. The rice soaks up
the liquid. Eventually, big, milky bubbles form inside the cooker. Then
they pop, and you're left with a big mound of evenly cooked, velvety
To a cup of rice, one might sensibly add
Sriracha sauce and a little soy, along with a can of tuna or salmon.
It's a delicious meal. It costs about $2. And it can't be done
Our rice cooker came with an attachment, meant to be
inserted between the cooker and the lid, in which vegetables, dumplings,
fillets, and just about anything else may be gently steamed. This
steaming too is unscrewuppable, and almost any combination of jasmine
rice and vegetable makes for a hearty, nutritious, perfectly tasty, and
ridonkulously cheap meal.
I make more money now than I did six
months ago, praise Jeebus, but I'm not spending much of it. I'm in love
with my rice cooker. Here's a recipe.
1 cup jasmine rice
1.5 cups water
1 cup Brussels sprouts
1 salmon fillet
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp scallions, chopped
1 tsp butter
water and rice in rice cooker. Coat salmon fillet with butter. Remove
outer leaves of sprouts. Cut them in half. Sprinkle cayenne pepper over
halved sprouts and salmon fillet. Place salmon and sprouts in steamer
attachment. Close rice cooker. Hit "cook." Walk away. Read a book. Check
email. When cooker is finished, remove steamer attachment. Combine
scallions and sprouts with rice. Stir. Serve salmon fillet atop mount of
rice. Serves 1.
Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.
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