How a Rice Cooker Saved Me From a Lifetime of Prostitution

ricecooker.jpg
Elsewhere in the world, rice cookers are sexy.
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.

After $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 leftovers.

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 things.

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 not committed.

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.

In 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.

I 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 rice deliciousness.

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Sriracha makes everything better.


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 wrong.

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
    Sriracha sauce

Combine 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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12 comments
kitchens cheltenham
kitchens cheltenham

If you are a busy person and have little time to cook rice then you need a perfect rice cooker. 

Thomasanderson
Thomasanderson

Sometimes I wonder if people in the world are actually as dumb as I think... Then I read this article and realize, that yes. People are indeed as dumb as I think, and worse.

Andrew
Andrew

A couple of problems with the argument presented:

a) Of course you're going to spend $80 on a meal if you only cook with high quality ingredients and include alcohol in your bill.  A similar meal at a high end restaurant would cost the 2-3 of you upwards of $200, and you wouldn't have leftover ingredients.  I highly doubt you used that entire bottle of wine, and I'd wager to say you had leftover rice, cheese, etc, etc when you were done.  If you don't plan to reuse these ingredients in future meals, you're just throwing away money.

b) Just because you cook poorly doesn't mean it costs the same to eat in as to eat out.  If you cook enough for 5-6 and are are throwing away half of an $80 meal because it sucks, then you sucking is the reason your meals are so expensive, not the price of ingredients.

My wife and I eat out and in about half and half.  We have done this both in Christiansburg, VA ($) and Chicago, IL ($$$).  Regardless of where we have lived, we have always saved money by eating in, even when cooking with high-end ingredients (we have our $80+ recipes too!).  We save money by having "leftover night" each week and making sure that we make dishes that will allow us to reuse our ingredients before they spoil.

Easy meals and rice cookers are great band-aids, but the meals they make can get boring quick.  Take some of the money you would have wasted on a bad meal and invest in cooking classes.  A little skill with better planning would allow you guys to make great meals without breaking the bank.

Nancy Waterbury
Nancy Waterbury

Well done!  I found this article interesting and very funny, Cheers!

wokstar
wokstar

Wow, that's a long story but so riveting and funny, you had me in stitches. Not sure 'prostitution' was ever covered? Now, try red or brown rice, much healthier, less starchy. Use same proportion of grain to water for a nutty texture. Everyone who's had red rice, LOVE IT.

Melissamccart
Melissamccart

Brandon, I'm so glad you're writing these. I love them. However, I don't have a rice cooker. I just do it on the stove. This makes me want to buy one.

Eric Barton
Eric Barton

The best and worst gift I got for my wedding was a rice cooker. It came in a beat-up box and inside was wrapped in newspaper from a couple days before the wedding. No doubt it was previously used, so there was no hope of returning it. We threw it in a cabinet where it sat for a couple years. Finally I tried it one night, and you're right, the result is the best rice I had ever made.

Here's a simple recipe for an awesome side: Cook one cup of rice with one cup of water. In a sauce pan, saute onions or shallots until soft. Add coconut milk, grate in some lime or orange zest, honey, salt and pepper, and maybe some hot sauce. When it has thickened by half, add the cooked rice and maybe some green onions or cilantro if you're getting fancy.

Eric Barton
Eric Barton

Funny, @f2400a67e64b3931de0fbaa5c85a9906:disqus , but I was thinking the same thing after reading your comment.

And to be fair @wokstar:disqus , we never did cover prostitution in this post. Brandon, perhaps a follow up?

Kcbe21
Kcbe21

Paragraph six:

"I would probably have taken to Craigslist to trade sex for sushi."

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