Rice cooker makes dreaded preparation a pleasure

Leftover Pork Chop Fried Rice Jill Blanchette/The Day

As a child, I hated rice. My mother’s Minute Rice completely turned me off. I just didn’t like the way it tasted.

Rice was the one thing my parents would have to entice me into eating. Two bites before going outside. I never would have eaten those two bites without the bargain.

Later, when I discovered that Minute Rice was not representative of the entire grain, I was at first delighted and then quickly dissuaded once again by what seems to be my inherent inability to cook real rice without ending up with a sticky glob of white mush, or as with brown rice, a pile of starchy sticks.

My husband, on the other hand, is a fine cooker of rice. In fact, that may be one of the reasons I married him, so someone else could be in charge of the rice.

But now that I have discovered the rice cooker, I am a rice-making fool.

Honestly, the rice cooker has changed my life. Well, perhaps that’s a little extreme, but from the day I purchased my rice cooker, I have been a happier person, when it comes to rice, that is.

A rice cooker is an amazingly low-tech small appliance that does just one thing. It cooks rice, and it cooks it perfectly every time. White, brown, jasmine, short grain, long grain, it cooks them all. Perfectly.

It uses a thermostatic control to measure the temperature of its contents. Water boils at 212 degrees, so the rice cooker is designed to bring its contents to that temperature, but not one degree higher. When the water is all gone, the temperature begins to rise and the thermostatic control turns off the rice cooker’s heating element. And voila, tender yet chewy individual grains that make you want to stand up and cheer.

Now don’t get me wrong. The cooker doesn’t make rice faster, it simply makes rice better. Every time.

Since I purchased mine, for not very much money I might add, I’ve been a rice-cooking fool. I’ve been cooking rice in chicken broth, sautéed onions and toasted almond slivers. I’ve been cooking it in coconut milk (just add water until you’ve got the right amount of liquid) and adding some lime zest when it’s done. Delicious!

And I’ve rediscovered fried rice, a go-to favorite from our young and impoverished days. Just sauté a chopped onion and a chopped green pepper in olive oil in a nonstick skillet until they begin to soften. Chop up a piece of leftover cooked meat (a chicken breast, an old pork chop, some bacon or ham, whatever you have) and throw that in with the onions and peppers, sautéing until it’s all sizzling. Then add your cooked rice, stirring until it’s combined.

When the rice is hot, make a well in the middle — you may need a little more oil — and add a couple of beaten eggs. Let them sit for a bit, then begin stirring the eggs as you would if you were scrambling them. When they’re about half or two-thirds scrambled, stir it all together, gently combining the rice and eggs.

Next add some soy sauce. This is tricky because you want to taste the soy sauce but you don’t want the rice to get too salty. I start with a couple of tablespoons then keep tasting and adding bit by bit until it’s to my liking. Then it’s ready to eat. This is fast and good and virtuous because it uses up leftovers.

Another rice recipe that I love, Rice Corn and Cheese Casserole, also calls for cooked white or brown rice. This satisfying dish from Jane Brody’s “Good Food Book” can be jazzed up a bit with some roasted red peppers, minced green chilies or a jalapeno. It can be served as a side dish or you can enjoy a big bowl of it all by itself. And with the rice cooker’s help, it’s as simple as can be.

Enjoy!

 

Rice Corn and Cheese Casserole

3 cups cooked brown or white rice, that’s 1½ cups raw (I love this with brown rice — see note)

2 cups corn kernels, that’s a 10-ounce package of frozen kernels, thawed, or a 15-ounce can, drained (I prefer frozen)

1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)

2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

1½ cups skim or low-fat milk

½ teaspoon salt, if desired

½ teaspoon chili powder, or more, to taste (definitely more)

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Paprika

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the paprika, and mix them well.

Pour the mixture into a greased 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with paprika and bake the casserole in a 350-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes.

Note: If you don’t like brown rice, give short-grain brown rice a try. You can find it in the organic section in Stop & Shop, among other places. The short-grain rice may appeal more because it plumps up into fat, chewy grains instead of the skinnier, sticks of the long-grain brown rice.

Original recipe from Jane Brody’s “Good Food Book.”

Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments and recipes with her at j.blanchette@theday.com

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