That appliance, perhaps surprisingly, is a rice cooker!
Believe it or not, you can cook a lot more than simple rice in a rice cooker, and a growing number of people are doing just that. There are even whole Web sites and cookbooks dedicated to the idea! Rice cookers' presence is surely on the rise, though they're not standard fare yet in most kitchens in the United States.
And, you can easily prepare a lot more than just Asian dishes in a rice cooker. What's more, recipes that are easy to mess up when cooked on a stovetop, such as risotto and poached fish, are a breeze with a rice cooker.
Asian households typically have one because it's virtually impossible to burn rice using it, and it's one less thing to worry about while preparing dinner.
Tanya Steel, editor in chief of the culinary Web site Epicurious.com visited The Early Show Wednesday to share recipes, and advice on what to look for if you want to buy a rice cooker for yourself.
She says the most basic models work well; most just have an on/off switch, and can cost as little as $20. However, Steel says it's worth it to spend a little more for one with a clear lid, to see what's happening inside, and a non-stick pot for the rice, to avoid laborious cleanup. She recommends a Panasonic model that sells for $27.
More expensive rice cookers, such as the Sanyo Fuzzy Logic, which sells for $120, can cook the rice and then keep it warm for a specified duration; many have special "steaming trays" within, to steam vegetables. You're also paying more for an extra-thick no-stick pot, retractable cord, built-in clock, and other features.
Steel points out that it's incredibly easy to use a rice cooker: Just measure out the rice, add water, pour in, and press start. The machine automatically soaks the rice and then cooks it for a perfect, fluffy side dish. For fancier rice, add an herbed broth instead of water, or add veggies to the rice for a pilaf.
For much more from Epicurious.com on rice cookers, click here.
All recipes from Epicurious.com
PORCINI MUSHROOM RISOTTO
1 cups water
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms*
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cups arborio rice or medium-grain white rice (about 9 1/2 ounces)
1 1/2 large shallots, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
1 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Bring 1 cups water to boil in heavy small saucepan. Add mushrooms. Cover; let stand until mushrooms soften, about 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to work surface; reserve soaking liquid. Chop mushrooms coarsely.
Melt butter with oil in rice cooker. Add rice, shallots, and fennel seeds; stir 1 minute. Add wine and cook until almost evaporated, stirring frequently, about 1 minute. Mix in 1 cups broth and salt, then mushrooms and reserved mushroom soaking liquid, leaving any sediment behind in pan. Place lid back on. Allow to cook for 18 to 20 minutes for al dente. Serve at once for softer rice. Allow to rest for 2 minutes before serving. Mix in cheese and parsley. Season risotto to taste with pepper.
For more recipes, go to Page 2.