Monday, July 13, 2009

Not By Rice Alone

We had been unusually busy with the business of life. So hard pressed for time were we that we were sneaking into one of our favorite chain restaurants and eating at the bar or quickly pulling in for take out. It was never that we were too tired to was the clean up we just could not seem to muster the energy for. And then there were those lobsters. How on Earth was it that a mid price chain restaurant was turning out those succulent white and fluffy lobster tails? No matter how many times we went and stuffed ourselves to the gills, each time they were perfection. Better than the Market Price lobster on the menu at both the most expensive steak house in town and the highest rate hotel. It was mind boggling. We implored our waitress on several occasions for their secret. Nothing concrete. Was it, in fact, a secret? Or was it that our waitress was simply a plate carrier and really didn't know. Finally, I could stand it no more. I faked getting lost going to the restroom and casually strolled by the kitchen. I'll be...they were taking the steaming lobster tails out of- a rice cooker. I was confounded. I'd had one at home the whole time. Our Cuisinart was certainly a well chosen wedding registry item- but I had no idea at the time how much I would come to love this little appliance. Appliance. I really have an aversion to the word. Takes up too much space, seldom used, too complicated. I got over my feelings for my rice cooker pretty quickly once I learned it could turn out perfect lobster. And then the magic began to happen. Sure, it cooks rice. It cooks rice perfect each time, too, and leaves behind no messy pan to wrangle with afterward. I started experimenting with this little rice cooker, and lo and behold, I began having a tough time finding something it couldn't do. Mind that I have the most basic of cookers- an eight cup two setting simple affair. Warm and cook are my only options. I cannot imagine what the fuzzy logic and induction cookers are capable of. It's that panel of many buttons that has kept me from upgrading. Both fuzzy logic and induction make a rice cooker capable of changing cooking time and temperature depending upon what is happening inside the pot. They literally act like a cook peering inside and make adjustments accordingly. Truly scary- but truly cool. Induction just takes it a step further with all over heating coils that surround the pan, rather than simple underneath cooking. A good eight cup rice cooker can be had from Cuisinart for eighty dollars. It may turn out to be worth its weight in gold. From scented rice to steamed vegetables to seafood- and the ability to add multiple ingredients just like a crock pot, the rice cooker can be a busy cook's best friend. I almost never steam with water preferring instead to use vegetable, chicken, or beef stock to impart all manner of flavor into the dish. An exception is when you are using a riser in the bottom of your pot for true steaming. Water is best because it will literally steam away into nothing- all that moisture going into the food. If you have trouble getting your family to the table (who doesn't?) in those busy moments before dinner, your little cooker keeps everything nice and warm. I should add it does so for hours, making a midnight raid on the night's meal all that more easy. One last praise is the benefit of taste. Boiling seems to suck the living breath from a lot of vegetables. Steaming preserves the flavor of everything you put into the cooker, and maintains the color quite wonderfully. There is perhaps nothing more depressing than putting a brilliantly green vegetable into a pot of boiling water and seeing the color drain right out of it. The cooker helps to keep your foods vibrant. I give a lot of these little wizards as gifts, accompanied by a basket of various foods that can be made using the cooker. Organic and pretty boxes of cous cous, orzo, and quinoa along with beautiful hardwood spatulas make a wonderful addition to any one's kitchen. Tuck in some spices and beautiful hand thrown rice or pasta bowls and the gift basket will rival all others. As a matter of fact, set your own basket full of tonight's dinner ingredients on the counter next to your cooker and the dinner time rush may just disappear.

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