Adventures in hotel cooking, with a rice cooker!

I have a rice cooker, but it’s one of those “fuzzy logic” rice cookers with many more functions than simply cooking rice.  In fact, one of the things I use it for the least is cooking rice!  The type that we own sautes, steams, and it’s also a slow-cooker!  I have a huge 6 quart slow-cooker, but sometimes it’s helpful to have a smaller slow-cooker.  When you’re cooking for 1 or 2 people, it’s great to not have to bring out the massive slow-cooker that would hold a turkey or a huge batch of spaghetti sauce.  I also use mine to cook dried beans.  When I cook pinto beans and black beans I don’t even soak them – just dump them in the rice cooker as though they were rice, add plenty of water, and let them cook on the “brown rice” setting.  I do check after an hour or so and add more water.

It’s also the best chick pea (garbanzo bean) cooker that I’ve ever found.  I soak the beans the night before, and then drain them.  They go into the rice cooker on the brown rice setting and they’re done in just a couple hours with no tending to them necessary at all.  If you like, you can add some onions, or some fresh orange or lemon slices and a little salt.  Then, for pennies, you have the basis of a great hummus and the freshly cooked beans are so much more flavorful than the canned ones.  And a hummus doesn’t need expensive (and calorie-loaded) tahini!  Just puree the garbanzo beans, add some olive oil, a fresh squeezed lemon, and, if you like, some spices (curry powder, or chili powder is delicious!  Mix it and add enough olive oil so it’s the consistency that you like.  Stir in some pureed avocado or roasted vegetables and it’s even more amazing.

Recently we spent a week at a hotel.  It had a “kitchenette”, with a tiny sink, a mini-fridge and a microwave.  But we didn’t want to eat all microwaved meals, or meals at restaurants, so I brought some groceries in a cooler and tote bag, and the rice cooker.  We were able to eat healthy meals cooked in the rice cooker, and avoid expensive restaurant or hotel suppers.

Here’s some rice cooker/hotel meal ideas that worked well for us.

1.  I poured half water and half Kitchen Basics chicken broth (no msg or sugars) into the slow cooker, added salt, and dumped in a one pound box of penne pasta.  Then I inserted the steamer tray, which sets above where you put the rice or pasta.  I filled the steamer tray with broccoli florets, sliced mini bell peppers, sliced carrots and boneless skinless chicken thighs, which I had cut into bite-sized pieces.  I poured some sauces over the meat and vegetables.  (I happened to use some spicy Asian sauces that don’t have extra sugar, but you could also use hot sauce, buffalo wing sauce, or just a little butter or olive oil depending on what taste you like).  I set the rice cooker to the steam setting, and the water started boiling and the chicken and vegetables steamed beautifully.  Everything was done in less than 30 minutes.

2.  Using the saute function, I sauteed ground turkey, diced mini bell peppers and pineapple chunks.  Then I dumped in rice (I used jasmine rice, but any type would do) and a little soy sauce, and the amount of water specified in the manufacturer’s instructions for the amount of rice I used.  I set the rice cooker to the rice setting and it made a delicious rice casserole.  I thought about serving it in lettuce cups but the mini-fridge was working overtime and the lettuce froze, so it turned out to be a bowl meal instead.

3.  I got cream cheese from the continental breakfast at the hotel.  Into the rice cooker, I put a 10 oz bag of baby spinach, a can of artichoke hearts (in water, no marinade, and I chopped them up before adding them), a package of cheese sticks (I used those swirled ones of Cheddar and Monterey Jack), about 6 ounces of cream cheese (6 little individual packets that they serve with the bagels at the breakfast), some diced mini bell peppers and some frozen shelled edamame.  The rice cooker was set to the slow-cooker function and about an hour later we had a delicious hot spinach artichoke dip, served with bagel chips for dipping.

4.  One night’s menu was a healthy salad of tuna (from those no-drain packets), edamame, mandarin oranges, walnuts, Kalamata olives, and dried cranberries.

The foods that I brought for meals included:  the no-drain foil packets of tuna, a bag of broccoli florets, a bag of sliced carrots, a bag of fresh baby spinach, a bag of mini bell peppers, a frozen bag of shelled edamame, and small bottles of soy sauce, olive oil, and hot sauces.  Ordinarily I would not buy just broccoli florets or sliced carrots, but in a tiny hotel kitchen, with no cutting board, I really wasn’t able to trim broccoli, save the stalks for a vegetable stock and easily dispose of the stems (the same with the carrots), a package of ground turkey, a package of boneless skinless chicken thighs, rice, pasta, salt and bagel chips (they don’t crush easily like potato chips, and they’re great for dips of all kinds).  I got butter and cream cheese from the hotel breakfast bar.  I also brought a paper carton of chicken stock (Kitchen Basics brand, which is great).  For fruits, I brought those little cups of mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks in pure juice (with no sugar).  I also brought a jar of Kalamata olives and a couple of small packets of chopped nuts (again, no cutting board or good knife, so convenience won out!).

It was nice to be able to turn on the slow cooker when we left for the day and come home to a hot meal.  It definitely saved money!

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