All posts by Miranda Metheny

The Petite Polyglottal American, who travels the world in search of language, culture, and interesting stories.

Rice Cooker Party!

For this, the final installment of the How to use a Rice Cooker series, only two recipes remain.

I’ve saved the best for last, so I hope you’re ready for a Rice Cooker Party!


The first surprise is…. Popcorn!

Micro-pop is a staple in dorm rooms, but why suffer through too-tough pieces and fake butter flavor when you can make the real deal with hardly any extra effort? Traditional popcorn is tastier, healthier, and much cheaper than the micro-wave variety.

Simply pour a tablespoon or so of oil into the rice cooker along with a few kernels of unpopped popcorn. Tape down the ‘on’ switch so that the cooker will get the oil hot enough. When you hear the kernels you put in pop, CAREFULLY open the lid and pour in a few more – about enough to cover half the bottom of the rice cooker to a depth of one kernel. Close the lid again, and wait for the magic…

Warning: This is the most dangerous rice cooker application featured in Footprint Magazine. It involves heating oil to high temperatures. Spilling hot oil can cause severe injuries, and, if you’re not careful with the lid, the popcorn kernels can fly out at you as they pop and cause painful little burns. Using a rice cooker to make popcorn is no more dangerous than using any other oil based popcorn-popping method, however – just remember to exercise caution.


Or, you can go classy with Fondue!

The cooker will melt everything down into a perfect, gooey mess – and keep it that way throughout an evening of dipping, dripping gluttony

For chocolate fondue, just melt down a cup and a half of heavy cream, and stir in about 16 oz of chocolate chips until the mixture is smooth. Feel free to get creative with dark, milk, or white chocolate, peanut butter, toffee, vanilla, almond, orange or peppermint extract, alcoholic add ins, or whatever you can dream up!

Cheese or Broth fondues are a little trickier. But recipes such as this one for a simple cheddar fondue, this one for a classy three-cheese affair, and others abound on the internet. is a great resource for learning how to create dozens of unique fondues and hot pots.

So look at your humble little Rice Cooker in yet another new light, and let the party begin!

How to use a Rice Cooker – Level Four

The saga is almost over. Over the course of this epic series, we’ve made risotto and oatmeal, scrambled eggs and delicious stir fries, hearty stews and even a few cups of rice. Now, in the final episode, we’ll cross the last frontier. Plug in your rice cooker and get ready to bake.

Yes, that’s right. Bake. Dutch-oven style.

Until now, I’ve been your fearless, expert guide to the world of rice cookers. For this installment, however, I’m pushing my own limits, and trying something entirely new.

I’d seen rumors online of Rice Cooker bread and cake. Still, I was hesitant. I’m not the best baker even with a conventional oven, so I wasn’t too confident about pouring a mass of dough into a pot. I had bad mental images of cakes collapsing when I took off the lip, and cakes turning out all mushy and gross in the center.

I decided to start with brownies. Foolproof, brownies, if you subscribe to my school of thought – crunchy, gooey, chewy, burnt-black, or even half raw, a brownie is better than no brownie at all.

Mixing the batter in front of the waiting rice cooker. Was this really such a good idea? The cooker is non-stick, so I just pour the well-mixed dough right in.
In the bottom of the rice cooker pot, the mixture bubbles away ever so slowly...
The first brownie, still molten-hot from the cooker. It was delicously chocolate and gooey, and hit the spot even if it wasn't prize-winning perfect.
When everything had cooled down, I carefully removed the brownies from the bottom of the pot (minus the one I sampled with ice cream.)
Check out that crunchy edge! Success!!!

So, what exactly did I do, and how did it go?

It was a crazy success. The result was better than I’d dared hope, and the whole process was faster and easier than I’d expected as well.

Essentially, all I had to do was pour the batter into the pan, switch it on, and wait. When the rice cooker got too hot and switched itself off, I waited 4-5 minutes for it to cool down, and then switched it back on for another cycle. To my surprise, I only had to reset it like this one time. The total time from prep to enjoying the first brownie took about 1 1/2 hours… actually not that bad considering that it takes about 45 minutes even using a conventional oven.

When I ate the first brownie, still molten-hot from the cooker, it was extremely soft and gooey. I think it was all this-side-of-done, but only just. Now, liking my brownies gooey, I was fine with this. But I wasn’t sure it had cooked evenly all the way through in the cooker, and I was prepared to write a mixed review, warning off those who like their brownies well done.

I left the brownies out overnight to cool, however, and when I got them ready the next morning to take to the potluck, I realized that they had undergone a remarkable change. Everything had firmed up nicely throughout, and the edges, once slid carefully out of the cooker, were delightfully crispy and chewy. In short, they were perfect, normal brownies.

At dinner, I got compliment after compliment about how good they tasted. (Thanks for that, Betty Crocker! ;)) No one could believe I’d cooked them in a rice cooker.

Most versatile appliance ever to hit the market? It’s a bold claim, but yes. Yes, I think so.

How to use a Rice Cooker – Level Three

By now, you should be getting the idea. If it’s a grain, you can make it in the rice cooker. If you can make it in a pot over the stove, you can make it in the rice cooker. If the application requires gentle heat, so much the better. But now, let’s take it one step further.

– Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Rice Cooker – 

Rice cookers are just great for one-pot meals like jambalaya, stir-fried veggies, or sautéed mushrooms. Sure, a big wok might be easier, faster, or more specialized, but there are dozens of reasons why you might not have a good quality wok on hand. Not to worry – the rice cooker performs admirably as a substitute frying pan. 

The one thing you may need to know, depending on your cooker, is how to override the temperature switch. Rice cookers are set to switch off when they go above 212 degrees, because they think the water is evaporated and the ‘rice’ is finished cooking. Depending on what I’m making, I sometimes find it convenient to tape the switch down so that it stays on ‘heat’ instead of moving to ‘keep warm’. KEEP IN MIND that if you do this, you will need to watch your rice cooker carefully. Do not leave the room with the temperature switch taped down, as it no longer functions as a low-temperature only crockpot. I have never had the least bit of trouble with doing this, never felt like the cooker was going to melt down, etc… but use this tip responsibly. Also, be advised that doing this often voids your warranty. Personally, I’m not too worried about the warranty on a 20$ appliance, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

That said, happy cooking! The sky’s the limit!

Here are two recipes to get you started:

Greek Chicken

This is a recipe that my family found several years ago and modified enough that we have been totally unable to locate the original since. Oh well, it’s delicious the way it is, and converts well to Rice-Cooker preparation!

  • Initiate your rice cooker into the cultural tradition that brought us the Acropolis, Homer, and Democracy!

    Salt, Pepper

  • Minced Garlic (1/2 t)
  • Lemon Juice (2T)
  • 3-4 lbs Chicken Breast, cut into large chunks
  • 1 large onion, cut into large chunks
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 28 oz can of tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 small can of sliced black olives
  • Oregano 
  • Feta Cheese
  • Cooked Rice

Brown the chicken in olive oil, add in onions and cook until soft. Add garlic, and after a short period of time (don’t let it burn!), add broth, lemon juice, tomatoes, olives, and oregano. Simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through and very tender (I usually let it go for about an hour). Season, serve over rice with feta cheese sprinkled on top. (Serves 4-6)

Fried Rice

The beauty of fried rice is that is a very accepting dish. You need rice, a little oil, and it helps to have an egg. Season with teriyaki sauce, Chinese five-spices, Korean red pepper paste, or, in a pinch, just a little salt and pepper. Once those ingredients are accounted for, you can pretty much throw in any protein or vegetables you have lying around – fresh, frozen, canned, whatever – and produce something edible. 

It’s my belief that every fried rice can, and maybe should, be different. But here’s an example I made this afternoon using things I had lying around in the dorm.

  • Dorm Room Fried Rice at its finest!

    1 cup Rice

  • 1 Tbsp Oil
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Tbsp Ssamjang (Korean garlic/soybean/pepper paste)
  • Small can of Tuna
  • Small can of Peas and Carrots

– (Yes, that’s literally it. Feel free to remove, add, alter as you like!)

Cook the rice as normal in the rice cooker, with perhaps a 1/4 cup less water than normal if you will cook the fried rice immediately after. One rice is finished cooked, add about a tablespoon of oil and switch the rice cooker back to ‘heat’. Stir in an egg quickly so that it cooks as an even coating over the rice. Add seasonings (in this case ssamjang) to taste. Stir in meat and/or vegetables (in this case tuna, peas and carrots). Ready to serve as soon as all the ingredients are cooked! (Serves 1-2)

How to use a Rice Cooker – Level Two

So, you’ve decided to buy a rice cooker, and you’ve mastered the basics of cooking rice and steaming veggies. It’s time for How to use a Rice Cooker – Level Two… where we’ll start learning the rice cooker’s best kept secrets!

In this installment, we’ll go over applications for which the rice cooker is particularly well suited – those things that I would still consider making in a rice cooker, even in a fully stocked kitchen – from mushroom risotto, to soft-boiled eggs, to chicken noodle soup!

————————–  Level Two Guide ————————––

– Risotto –

One of my first attempts at real rice cooker food, circa 2008!

Risotto may be a good first dish to try out in a rice cooker, because the intuitive leap from plain rice to rice product isn’t so daunting. And because rice cookers have an even, low heat, and a non-stick surface, they’re excellent for cooking Risotto without having to stand over a hot stove, stirring for more than half an hour. You can go all out and prepare a fancy, full-fat Risotto with expensive mushrooms and dozens of ingredients… or, at the opposite extreme, dump in a just-add-water packet. I only recommend you start out with a little less liquid than recommended in a standard, stove-top recipe – you can always add more as needed, but less water tends to evaporate in rice cooker preparation. Half the fun is experimenting, but here’s a tasty and not too complicated Risotto recipe that is already rice-cooker-ready!

– Soups and Stews –

Chicken Noodle Soup with Peas and Carrots! ❤

So, can I just dump a can of Campbell’s soup in there? How about adding in some chopped veggies? Can I cook my grandma’s famous Italian wedding soup? Yes, yes, and yes – assuming you know how to make grandma’s famous soup to start with. Making soup is very straightforward in the rice cooker – basically the same process as over the stove, perhaps with a little less water and a few more minutes – and I love that it will keep my soup simmering on very low heat so I can help myself to seconds and thirds throughout an evening of studying! Although I’d hesitate to call any soup recipe impossible, you might have the best luck early on with ‘slow cooker’ soup recipes, like this one for Spicy Chicken Stew. Rice cookers are also ideal for making egg drop soup – I can’t even make it any other way.

– Oatmeal –

Yes, oatmeal’s also quite easy to make over the stove, in the microwave, or even with boiling water (it’s versatile stuff). But the rice cooker is cleaner than the stove or the microwave, and always seems thicker and tastier to me than the add-water stuff. If you like to add your own flavorings and ingredients, the rice cooker will give them more time to penetrate the oats. If you have a fancy rice cooker with a timer, breakfast items are especially attractive as you can set them up to go before you sleep, and wake up to hot, delicious cereal. You can use instant oatmeal, or the real deal – just roughly follow stove-top instructions, and you should be good to go! If you’re feeling extra creative, try out Footprint Magazine’s Savory Oatmeal recipe!

– Eggs –

A hot, fresh fried egg over a fried rice bowl has made me many a tasty dorm room dinner.

Whether you like them scrambled, fried, poached, basted or boiled, you can make eggs just the way you like them in a rice cooker. I use mine to hard-boil easter eggs every year for my dorm friends, and to fry eggs to top ramen noodles and stir-fries. Out of everything on the level two list, I find eggs the most useful because there’s simply no way to fry an egg in the microwave, on a toaster or with any other dorm-approved devices. Because rice cookers operate at a fairly low heat, I find that they are especially well suited for poaching eggs or frying them over-medium.

How to Use a Rice Cooker – Level One

If you’ve read last week’s piece about the marvelous Rice Cooker, and it’s done it’s job, then you’re now ready and excited to start preparing fabulous meals in it – everything from soups and stir-fries to the promised fondue.

We’ll get there. But before you can become an extreme rice cooker chef, you have to become familiar with the basics. In this case, logically enough, “the basics” = rice.

In How to Use a Rice Cooker – Level One, we’ll cover how to cook different kinds of rice and even other grains like quinoa, as well as how to use the rice cooker as a steamer and cook veggies and more at the same time! We’ll also cover some important points in the care and keeping of your new rice cooker.

Rice cookers were designed with rice first and foremost in mind. Not only do they cook rice easily and quickly, they also cook better rice than any other method – just ask the millions of Asians who have forgotten how to live without them!

Most rice cookers work in the following way: they slowly heat up the water, boil and steam the rice over a period of about 20 minutes, and then, detecting that the majority of the water has evaporated since the temperature is rising above the boiling point, switch themselves into Keep Warm mode. Some very expensive rice cookers use a method called “Fuzzy Logic” which magically senses all sorts of things about the rice’s readiness to eat, but for the cheap models, this simple temperature switch works wonders.

Goodbye burnt rice and scrubbing out pans – even if you forget about your rice cooker for days at a time, they won’t burn your rice and they wont start a fire. This is why they’re allowed in dorm rooms. If you have a really nice cooker, it will keep the rice safe to eat for up to DAYS at a time. In my cooker, I find that the rice gets sort of mushy after three or four hours, and I wouldn’t eat anything that had been in it longer than overnight. But still, that’s not bad!

Since the rice cooker does all of this work for you, all you really need to do is measure the rice and the water, dump them all in the pot together, and switch the cooker to ‘on’. When the cooker switches itself to ‘keep warm’, wait about 5 minutes, then open the cooker and enjoy the rice!

————————–  Level One FAQ ————————–

How Much Rice and How Much Water?

The old formula says that one cup of dry rice + two cups of water = three cups of cooked rice. In reality, rice cookers are usually more efficient with water than the old open-pan method, so the ratio to keep in mind is more like one cup of rice to one-and-one-quarter cups of water. But rice cookers vary, types of rice vary, and people’s texture preferences vary, so experiment and you’ll find what works best for you. If you rinse your rice first – recommended if you have any doubts about the cleanliness of your rice, as well as if cooking short grained, starchy rices like Japanese or Korean rice – some water will remain after draining, and you can adjust the added water accordingly.

What about Brown Rice?

Cooking brown rice can be a little bit trickier. If your cooker has a brown rice setting, use it. Otherwise, just add more water (start with 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice), and give yourself a few batches to experiment. Most rice cookers are designed for use with white rice, so while a lot of people have great success making brown rice in them, it can take a little longer to figure out the best way to do so in your cooker.

What about Other Grains?

I have read about using rice cookers to make Amaranth, Quinoa, Millet, and more! The guidelines are similar to those I have recommended for brown rice – start with 2 cups of water to 1 cup of grain, be patient, and experiment until you get it right.

What about Pasta?

If you have easy access to a stovetop, I don’t recommend a rice cooker to make perfect pasta. It’s tricky to get good, al-dente noodles in the lower, slower heat that a rice cooker provides. However, I’ve had excellent luck with noodle side-dishes like the broccoli and cheese noodle mixes that come out of the bags. I’ve used the same instructions that are on the package for use on the stove – and they’ve turned out great! Same goes for Ramen noodles. If a rice cooker is all you have, by all means use it for spaghetti or any other sort of pasta. The result will be edible if not gourmet.

Is Plain Rice the Only Option?

No! Just as with stove-top rice, feel free to get creative. Substitute a flavourful broth for the water, or add in chopped vegetables, mushrooms, or whatever else before you hit the switch or while the rice is cooking.

What about Steaming?

One of my favourite things about rice cookers is how good they are for steaming food. While your rice is cooking, why not put some veggies, or even some thin pieces of fish or meat, over it to be cooked to perfection with no extra time, energy, or space used? Many rice cookers come with a steamer basket for this very purpose, but if yours doesn’t, never fear. You can put quick-to-steam items on top of the rice when its halfway through cooking, or you can get a set of bamboo steamers (try to get a set the same size as your cooker). These steamers can be stacked up to three high on top of the rice cooker – so you can have, for example, meat on the bottom level, carrots on the second, and broccoli on the third, all cooking away together! Besides, bamboo steamers are cheap, lovely, and look really cool when you serve food in them as well.

What precautions should I take?

Rice cookers are impressively safe devices to use. Their temperature switches turn them off before they get hotter than boiling water, and they have anti-fire devices as well. They’re hard to knock over as well. The only real danger I see when making rice is that you should be wary of the hot steam that comes out when you open the lid. Also, use the ‘keep warm’ feature responsibly, and don’t blame your cooker if you get sick eating 4-day-old rice out of it.

And how can I keep my rice cooker in good condition?

If you have a non-stick rice cooker, don’t use metal objects in it to stir or scoop your rice. Removable parts of the cooker can be taken out and washed in a sink or a dishwasher. Also, don’t forget to occasionally wash the whole cooker by unplugging it and wiping it thoroughly with a damp towel and maybe a little bit of soap. Over time, the hot steam and the occasional water bubbling out of the lid will leave a starchy residue on the handles and sides of the cooker, which feel nasty and can be susceptible to mold and bacterial growth if you let it go indefinitely. Rice cookers require almost no maintenence – mine is five years old and still working fine!

Your New Favorite Kitchen Appliance

There exists a device that can cook delicious oatmeal or pasta or quinoa, steam carrots or dumplings to perfection, whip up a stew or a stir-fry or scrambled eggs, keep chocolate fondue hot and delicious, and even pop a batch of old-fashioned popcorn.

This device is cheap, often costing under $20. It’s lightweight and portable, easy to clean, low on energy use, approved for use in most dorm rooms, and requires only about a square foot of counter or floor space and a standard electric outlet to be used anytime, anywhere. It’s no recent invention, and I can almost guarantee you’ve heard of it.

If you’ve ever seen a television advertisement for a set of “magic knives” or a fit-in-your-lunchbox blender, you’ll probably agree that the versatility of most kitchen items is exaggerated and overrated. That’s why it astonishes me that this device is normally sold as a one-use contraption – the humble Rice Cooker.


If you had no idea what rice cookers were capable of, you’re hardly alone. I myself made the discovery out of a spirit of desperation – I was a freshman at the University of Missouri, sick of dorm food and microwave meals alike and craving a good stew. I’d received a rice cooker from my parents when I left home, mostly because it was one of the few items on the list of dorm approved appliances, and now I turned towards it suspiciously.

My first Rice Cooker - 5 years old now and working fine

How did it work, exactly? Was there any magical property about it that made it rice-specific? What was a rice cooker, really, other than a sturdy little hot pot? What harm would it do to try to heat up a little stew in it?

None, as I found out. The stew turned out hot and delicious, bubbling away in the corner of my dorm room, and I was hooked. I haven’t stopped experimenting since, and the rice cooker has rarely failed me.

During the next few weeks, I’ll be posting how-to’s to help you make all sorts of delicious recipes in your rice cooker – all the way from ordinary rice to exotic fondues and honey-popcorn. I’ll end the series with a Footprint Magazine study of the energy efficiency of what I hope will have become your new favorite kitchen appliance.

But the first step, naturally, is…

Picking a Rice Cooker

Keep in mind that just about any rice cooker will serve your needs just fine. Prices for rice cookers range from $10 for a small, no-frills device up to $500 for top-of-the-line Japanese appliances – and all of them will make delicious food. That said, here are four main considerations to have in mind when shopping for your first rice cooker:

My second rice cooker - bigger and fancier but less often used... usually only for parties or when freezing leftovers.

1.) Size

2.) Material

3.) Features

4.) Accessories


1.) Size – This is pretty straightforward. How much food do you see yourself preparing in your cooker? Stated volumes for rice cookers can be somewhat confusing because they are measured in number of cups of rice – and because 3 cups of dry rice is equivalent to 6-9 cups of cooked rice, you’ll need to keep reading to make sure they’re talking about the former. Generally, the two most common sizes are 3-cup and 10-cup cookers. A 3-cup (dry rice) cooker is likely all you need as a college student, unless you plan to cook party-sized portions of anything in it.

2.) Material – Within your budget, get the sturdiest feeling rice cooker you can find. Most rice cookers have a non-stick inner pot, and I recommend this type. I also like having a clear lid so I can see what the cooker is up to without opening it up and letting the heat out.

3.) Features – The simplest rice cookers have a single switch with two options – Cook and Warm. “Cook” will take water to a boil, and most rice cookers will maintain a boil until they sense that the rice is cooked and the water has been absorbed, at which point they switch to the much lower “Warm” setting. Fancier (and more expensive) cookers have all sorts of buttons for brown rice or sushi rice, oatmeal or Chinese porridge or even a ‘sauté’ feature that lets you temporarily heat the rice cooker above the boiling point of water. There are even some very high end rice cookers that have special options for making bread, or which can be used as deep-fryers – these rice cookers are beyond the scope of this blog series. With some creativity, all of the recipes I will mention can be cooked with the cheapest, simplest sort of rice cooker.

4.) Accessories – Most rice cookers come with a little rice-measuring cup and a rice scooper, which is a sort of spoon/spatula. Another very useful item that is sometimes included is a steamer tray, which you can attach to the top of the cooker to hold vegetables or whatever else you want to steam along with the rice. If your rice cooker doesn’t have a steamer tray, however, there are plenty of ways around it. Two un-included items that you may find it useful to buy are a wooden spoon (better for stirring, especially hot oil, than the included scooper), and a ladle (for scooping out liquids like soups).

Most importantly, don’t let all the different options slow you down. After several years of cooking with my first rice cooker – a very cheap model which I chose because it was on sale at Walgreens – I upgraded and now own a much larger and fancier second model. However, as often as not I still use my older cooker. I don’t usually need to cook enough food to fill the bigger one, and there’s something very relaxing about having only one button.

Happy shopping and come back next week for How to Use a Rice Cooker – Level One!