Rice Cookers: Great For Way More Than Rice

What if we told you that you could spend as little as $25 for an appliance that will poach, steam, braise, and slow-cook your favorite recipes, and turn out practically foolproof results every time?

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.

RECIPES

All recipes from Epicurious.com

PORCINI MUSHROOM RISOTTO

Ingredients:

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

Method:
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.

STEAMED ARTICHOKES WITH SALSA VERDE

Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 tablespoons drained capers, rinsed
3 tablespoons chopped shallot
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
1 anchovy fillet
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons whipping cream
2 teaspoons Sherry wine vinegar
4 medium globe artichokes
1/2 lemon

Method:
Heat small skillet over medium heat. Add fennel seeds and toast until aromatic and beginning to darken, about 2 minutes. Transfer seeds to processor. Add parsley, capers, shallot, garlic, tarragon, anchovy, and crushed red pepper to processor. Puree until coarse paste forms, scraping down sides occasionally. Transfer to medium bowl. Whisk in oil, cream, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Salsa verde can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Lay 1 artichoke on its side and cut off top third; cut off stem at base of artichoke. Using scissors, trim artichokes 1/2 inch down for them to fit in the rice cooker 2 at a time for small rice cookers, 4 at a time for large rice cookers. Rub all cut surfaces with lemon, squeezing slightly to release juice. Repeat with remaining artichokes.

Pour 1 cup of water into the rice cooker for 2 artichokes, and use 2 cups of water for 4 artichokes. Turn rice cooker on and allow to cook for 20 minutes, until tender.

Transfer 1 artichoke to each of 4 plates. Cool 10 minutes. Divide salsa verde among 4 small bowls and serve alongside artichokes.

SIMPLE POACHED SALMON

Ingredients:
1 cup water
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 yellow onion slice
1 lemon slice
1 sprig dill
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large salmon fillet, with skin on

Method
Combine the water and wine in the rice cooker and heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Add the onion, lemon, dill, salt, and salmon.
Cover and cook for 18 to 20 minutes, until the salmon is opaque and cooked through, according to taste. Serve hot or cold.

Apple Raisin Bread Pudding

Ingredients:
8 slices cinnamon raisin bread, quartered
1 lb Golden Delicious apples (2 medium), peeled, halved lengthwise, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3 cups half-and-half
6 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt

Method:
Lightly toast bread until pale golden, then cool on baking sheet.

Meanwhile, toss apples with 3 tablespoons sugar in a bowl until coated. Cook in a dry 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat, swirling skillet and turning slices over occasionally, until tender and pale golden, about 15 minutes.

Apply non-stick spray to interior of rice cooker. Layer bread and apples, alternately, in your rice cooker.

Whisk together half-and-half, eggs, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl, then pour mixture over bread and apples. Let soak in rice cooker at room temperature 15 minutes.

Close the lid, and set the rice cooker for white rice. Cook through one white rice cycle, checking for doneness and cook for a second white rice cycle, if necessary. Serve hot using the keep warm cycle, or allow to cool and serve as a whole.