If you are looking to cook more often and lower your food expenditure, invest in a rice cooker. This revelation will be old news for readers who come from cultures that traditionally eat a lot of rice, but it's been an amazing discovery for someone who doesn't.
Rice may not be the most nutritionally valuable food on the market, but at around $0.16 a serving, it's a cheap filler if you, like me, are on a budget. Rice quickly turns veggies and protein into a whole meal, and adds fiber, manganese, magnesium, and a little protein to the plate. Left to my own devices though, I cannot cook rice. The grains turn out undercooked or the bottom is coated in a thick layer of unappetizing char. I've ruined meal plans, destroyed pots, wasted time, and dumped unnecessary amounts of food into the garbage simply because I haven't mastered the art of stovetop rice cooking. I used to fear rice the way some bakers fear yeast. Magically, a rice cooker appeared under the tree this past Christmas. After a few days of eying it nervously (it does cook the dreaded rice, after all), I opened the box, plugged the contraption in, and gave it a spin. Within a half-hour, I had several cups of perfectly-cooked little grains. It's quickly become my favorite kitchen tool. A rice cooker is a must for the gluten-free crowd and handy tool for everyone else-- but vegetarians and vegans especially. A quick vegetarian meal (for me, at least) often means stir-fry, and stir-fry is much better when served on a bed of fluffy rice that is eager to soak up the savory juices clinging to the veggies. Still, I cannot tell you how many times I decided not to make even stir-fry because the task of making rice was too onerous. But not any more. Plus, a rice cooker has many other purposes besides just making plain rice. It can be used to make fancy rice dishes, steam vegetables, cook other grains, or even prepare entire one-pot meals-- chocolate cake, anyone? This makes it an excellent tool for vegetarian college students whose dining hall options may be lacking. Do you love your rice cooker as much as I do? Have any good recipes to share?
Other people who love their rice cookers: