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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

rice cooker cooking by CJ Q. '23

or, how to cook for yourself with zero skill

After a year and a half on a forced meal plan, I have now been freed from the shackles and am finally cooking for myself again. The first thing I did when I came to MacGregor? Get a rice cooker, because I haven’t had a rice cooker in forever. And oh man was it a great decision to get one.

We love rice cookers here in the blogs, and for good reason. First, rice is great. I’m a Filipino, so I love rice. Second, rice cookers are so easy to use. They’re actually magic in how they work. You put the rice, and the water, and you hit the switch, and that’s it.

Look at this rice cooker. This is the rice cooker I have. There is only one switch, which switches between warm and cook. Incredibly simple, nothing fancy. It is not expensive. It does not take a lot of space. And it cooks such a wide variety of things, rice and not rice, which make it a worthy investment.

rice cooker

Please believe me when I say I barely know how to cook. Up until two weeks ago, I have never cooked meat. I chop vegetables really slowly and in very irregular shapes. Once, I tried to fry eggs over medium, and I ended up cracking the yolk so badly that I gave up and scrambled the eggs instead, and I have only scrambled eggs ever since. And yet, I have fed myself for the past two weeks, and, as far as I can tell, I have not died from malnourishment.

I get my groceries delivered from Daily Table and they have reasonably priced groceries. For my first week, I got some chicken, ground beef, tomatoes, peas, cheese, eggs, and rice. That lasted me more than a week’s worth of food.

The first thing I made was tomatoes and chicken with rice. Defrosting meat is a thing that you have to do, and takes time I guess? But I chopped up the chicken into pieces. I measured like four cups of rice, filled it water up to the line that said “4” inside the pot, put in the chicken, and set it to cook. After a few minutes, and I have no clue how many minutes it was, I put in three whole tomatoes, which were small enough that I was fine putting them in whole.

Then it was done. That was it. I added some furikake that I got from the HMart up in Central, and it was good. I have this bottle of furikake. Furikake is actually cheating when it comes to rice, and it probably isn’t that healthy but it makes rice taste good, so I don’t really care. Apparently you can add it to lots of other things too.

rice with chicken and tomatoes in a bowl

Was it good? Yes. Good enough that I ate it for two days. Does it look good? No, but who cares? I’m not cooking for Instagram, I’m cooking for myself! Did I follow a recipe? No. Did I have any idea what I was doing? No. How much chicken, how many tomatoes did I add? I don’t remember. I just kinda guessed. I think I added too much chicken that time, but whatever. How long did it take? Thirty minutes, max, and most of it was waiting for the rice cooker to cook.

Here’s another thing I did. I put in some ground beef and some oil, then I set to cook. After a few minutes, it looked cooked. I don’t know how many minutes it was. It just looked cooked. I know I should probably be caring about the temperature of the meat or whatever, but honestly, if it was that color, it’s probably fine. Then I put in the rice and some water, mixed, and kept it on cook. After a few minutes, I put in frozen peas, and some minced garlic.

beef and garlic and peas and rice in a bowl

Then it was done. Ground beef, and peas, and rice. Does the recipe have a name? Nope. The theme was “whatever I had available”. The great thing about having ingredients that can go in a lot of different things is that you can mix and match whatever you want and it will probably work. And it worked. It was fine. It tasted good. It satisfied my hunger.

Another “recipe”, which is not really a recipe, in as much as it is an idea for what things you can combine. I added a little oil and some eggs in the rice cooker, set to cook, mixed for a bit, and waited until the eggs were cooked. Gordon Ramsay says that scrambled eggs should be scrambled in a bowl and have gentle heat or whatever, but I don’t care. I cracked the eggs into the pot, and I set it to cook, and who knows how hot it was? It got cooked. That was what mattered.

I added rice. I added tomatoes with the rice, and chopped them up this time. I added water. I set to cook. After it was cooked, I added some shredded cheese. And then I mixed. Tomatoes, eggs, cheese, and rice.

eggs and tomatoes and cheese and rice in a rice cooker

The picture’s horrible. I know. I don’t care. Your food doesn’t need to be aesthetic. It was a little bland so I added some more cheese and a little salt and it was better. Seasoning is important, but you can go a long way with just salt and whatever you have lying around.

What if you get tired of rice? I can never get tired of rice. But I understand, maybe you get tired of rice. That’s fine. You can cook oatmeal in a rice cooker. I put some oats, and some milk, in the same ratio I would put rice and water. Was that the right ratio? Who knows, but it was convenient to use the measuring cup for rice with the oats and just follow the line on the pot. I put some frozen peaches and chopped a banana and tossed it in.

bananas and peaches and oatmeal in a bowl

Look, it’s oatmeal. That’s not rice. You can still cook it in a rice cooker. Some other ideas:

  • You can cook your rice in broth. It doesn’t have to be legit broth. Just pop a bouillon cube into the water before cooking the rice. It works, and it makes the rice taste like something.
  • You can make stews. I don’t like stew. But maybe you do. Well, you can cook it with a rice cooker, and it’s easy.
  • Curry rice. The Japanese love it so much it has its own emoji, 🍛. There’s instant curry, and it’s so easy to use, and yet it tastes so good.
  • If your rice cooker comes with a steamer, like the rice cooker I have, you can also steam frozen, store bought dumplings. You can steam other things, but I like dumplings. It’s so easy and it tastes good and there is no shame in doing so.
  • There’s a subreddit, /r/RiceCookerRecipes, dedicated to recipes you can make with pretty much just a rice cooker. I’ve learned a thing or two from there.

Finally, some tips:

  • It is not true that the price, time, or effort spent cooking something is proportional to how good or healthy it is. It’s not. It really isn’t. I spend less than thirty minutes a day cooking on average.
  • Recipes are very, very flexible. Don’t have a spice? Don’t include it. Don’t like an ingredient? Don’t include it. Can’t find an ingredient? Substitute it. Don’t have tools to measure? Guess! As long as you’re not turning pinches of salt into handfuls of salt, then it’s probably gonna end up fine. (As long as you aren’t baking. Then you kinda care about the measurements. But otherwise, wing it as much as you want.)
  • We love cooking equipment, but you don’t need that much to start with. If you’re living in a cook-for-yourself community, chances are there’s communal cookware that you can just use. Even if there isn’t, or if you want to get your own, you don’t need much. Consider: Grimgrains, a blog started by two people who talk about cooking on a boat. A good knife, a skillet, and a cutting board can go far. Heck, I only have a rice cooker and a six-inch knife right now, and I’m making a variety of things.
  • Here’s the most important tip. If you are only cooking for yourself, the food does not have to be good. It does not have to be good! It has to be edible, and probably nutritious, but that is the bar. Cooking to adjust to your taste is secondary and can come later. I know it is difficult to resist the perfectionist impulse, and to fight against the Instagram-worthy pictures of good cooking. So here is your license to cook imperfectly, and to make mistakes, and to hell with whatever other people think of your cooking as long as you are okay with it.

Have fun with the rice cooker.