Tuesday, May 28, 2013

rice cooker adventures

Part of each day here is dedicated to learning how to cook palatable meals using only a rice cooker and a device that boils water. This wouldn't be too difficult if I could have rice or ramen noodles for every meal without going insane. However, as a Western chick, I need some things like bread, (non-Asian) noodles, and most of all potatoes. Cooking meat also stumped me at first. Storing fresh meat is a whole different story, because the freezer is out of commission and our fridge has a rough time keeping things cold enough in this weather (a problem compounded by the power outages we have at least once a week). So fresh meat must be eaten ASAP, as I tragically learned this week. I had to throw away a whole chicken breast along with the rice I cooked it with when I realized that even after repeated rinsing and thorough cooking, the smell was not going to go away. I read some helpful hints on the internet on what people did to freshen meat before the days when throwing precious protein at the slightest sign of spoilage was an option for most Americans. So next time I'll try to revive my stinky chicken rather than throwing it out, and if all else fails cook it in some spicy curry to mask the smell... This may disgust normal people, but throwing out meat isn't really an option, and from what I've read I should be fine as long as its thoroughly cooked. So, I'm still learning, and I have confidence that if nothing else after five months in Thailand I will have learned how to be very resourceful and thrifty.

Experiment 1: Rice cooker macaroni and cheese
Original recipe: http://www.lynnskitchenadventures.com/2009/02/rice-cooker-macaroni-and-cheese.html

So, I couldn't find broth at the store, just little chicken flavor cubes; the instructions in Thai obviously. I also don't have a measuring cup and didn't think to buy one, so I had to guestimate on quantities. I just dissolved a cube in some hot water and hoped for the best. So, I'm not sure if with regular or properly prepared broth this recipe would be good, or if I'm just a purist and like to have my macaroni a certain way, but I am definitely not using broth to boil my noodles next time. It gave it TOO much flavor, and I don't think mac and cheese should taste like chicken soup...it should taste like CHEESE! So, noodles boiled in water next time. Also, there is no shredded cheese to speak of, so slices were the only option. Other than that, it was good. It doesn't look beautiful, because the cheese is white and because some of it stuck to the bottom of the cooker (the bane of my existence).


Experiment 2: Coconut and green curry "soup"
One of my favorite Thai dishes. The awesome thing is that here you can make it really easily with various soup mixes. So I bought a carton of the coconut green curry sauce and just had to add my (questionable) chicken and broccoli and cook until everything was done! So easy and so tasty! The only drawback is that since I only have one appliance to work with I had to make the rice first, then the "soup" (quotations because I boiled it down so it was less soupy and more saucy). That makes things take longer. It was really good, and the strong flavor and spiciness masked any smell the chicken may have retained after cooking.

YUM! Spicy!

Experiment 3: Sauteed asparagus and grilled ham and cheese
So, the actual experiment 3 was just going to be chicken cooked with rice with "Chicken Rice Sauce" over it, but as I mentioned earlier that stunk to high heaven, so I chucked it and had a PB&J for lunch. For dinner, I sauteed some asparagus in butter with chopped green onions and garlic, which was so delicious, but this rice cooker gets so hot I think the butter burned on the bottom. Anyway the bottom blackened which was hard to clean. I may buy some olive oil or something which may work better, but I'm not sure. The asparagus didn't burn though! I made a grilled ham and cheese sandwich to go with it and it was a great meal. Ham is a good meat option that won't go bad as fast as fresh meat. 

Experiment 4: Au Gratin potatoes with ham
So this was the experiment I was most excited for, but most worried about failure. Since I didn't actually have a rice cooker recipe, just this recipe for Gratin Dauphinois (http://gratineeblog.com/2009/10/julia-childs-gratin-dauphinois/). I had read you can cook potatoes in a rice cooker, so I figured this was just taking boiled potatoes one step further.

I sliced the potatoes as thin as possible. Then I chopped up a green onion for flavor. I rubbed the bottom and sides of the cooker thoroughly with butter. I arranged a layer of potatoes in the bottom, added some bits of ham and only a teeny bit of cheese and sprinkled some green onions on as well as some garlic powder. Then I poured some (non-boiling but room temp) milk over it. I repeated this with a second layer, then put on the lid and pressed cook. I had to add more milk a few times so make sure the potatoes were submerged enough to be cooking. In the end it worked out really well, except for the sticking problem I can never solve. Hence the poor presentation on the plate... But my goodness what this lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in flavor. It was SO delicious, brought me back to Grenoble a little bit (though the people of the Dauphine region might be ashamed of this take on their specialty).

 Bon Appetit!

And an old favorite
So, these were all my brave new attempts of the last few days. However, I should mention a staple that is pretty easy and simple that gets me though a lot of my days. Some variation on rice and vegetables. Rice and vegetables with sausage, or with scrambled eggs, or with ham, or with nothing. It's easy (except with eggs, the eggs have to be cooked first, adding a step), and filling and yummy. I usually use garlic powder, salt and butter for flavor, but the chicken and rice sauce I just bought would also be good. Chicken and rice sauce is a sweet, garlicy, gingery, sort of spicy brown sauce. It is put on the steamed chicken version of chicken and rice (the breakfast I'm always talking about). There is a different sauce for the fried chicken version.

Simple but yummy!

So, this is how I'm getting some variety into my diet, and making sure I have enough protein to survive intense mornings in the forest. My mom challenged me to make rice cooker pizza, mostly as a joke I think. But I told her she'd have to try it first before I waste a bunch of money on all the ingredients, which I'm sure will be difficult to find at the Tesco Lotus. So, not sure how interesting this post is to any of you, but perhaps if you ever find yourself forced to survive with only a rice cooker, you'll have a head start. As for myself, I've come a long way from the girl who got here and worried about how on Earth she'd even be able to cook the eggs she had bought.


  1. Here is how to get your rice cooker bottom to be non-stick: after your food is cooked remove the insert from the cooking element. leave the lid on and let it cool. If you want to eat some take it from the top. In about 10 minutes the stuff on the bottom of the rice cooker will have released its hold and you can lift it off. Even if its burned the steam usually softens it. The key is to get it away from the cooking element as soon as it is cooked.