EATING WELL ON THE ROAD, PT 2: ONE-POT MEALS AND THE MAGIC OF THE RICE COOKER

Eating well on the road, part 2

You’re probably going think I’m a little nuts after reading this. Eccentric, at least. One of my greatest allies on road trips is a rice cooker. I figured this out a number of years ago: It was the dead of winter and I was headed to a motel in nowheresville, deep in snow. I’d stocked up on some fixings for a meal – because who wouldn’t want a hot meal when it’s super cold out? But there was not only nowhere to cook that meal, there was also nowhere to eat out. So I bought a rice cooker. And it has become perhaps the most useful impulse purchase of my life.

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I started experimenting cautiously: rice or quinoa with a few vegetables thrown in. Then I attempted pasta. That worked. And from there, everything was fair game: eggs, pastas, sausage, stir fries. I have made popcorn in a rice cooker! The crowning achievement in my rice cooker escapades, though, was making blackberry jam in a motel in Idaho. There have been some failures as well: a regrettable attempt at making pancakes with an oatmeal pack and an egg. Don’t try that. But that’s how you get to the wins.

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(Seriously, mac and cheese with broccoli after a long day of hiking/driving/adventuring is absolutely the best. Make sure to add lots of black pepper.)

Using a rice cooker in a motel room is kind of awkward and bound for a few mishaps. But it’s also an amazing little contraption: you do all of your cooking in one pot, and it’s super lightweight and cleans easily. You throw a couple bowls in there while not in use, a spoon for cooking and a small knife and a dish towel, and you’re almost all set. It really is the best.

Rice cooker experiments on the road

The rice cooker across America, in all its unglamorous glory. (PS: There was no cooking done in a bathroom! For the record.)

These recipes work equally well for camping, too, because there is ease in both prep and clean up. Just don’t put that rice cooker over an open fire. Use a travel stove.

Here’s the winning formula:

1. Choose a grain (this is where those lovely boxes of pilaf or pasta that are already seasoned come in really handy!)

2. Match it with a vegetable that travels well (list below)

3. Always travel with a small container of olive oil, salt and pepper, and maybe your favorite spice blend

You add the vegetables at the same time as the rice/pasta/quinoa to a pot of boiling water. When it’s ready, carefully drain it – that steam vent on the lid of the rice cooker doubles nicely as a drain. Use a towel. Add some sauce or some salt and pepper or some hard cheese. You’ve got the best meal in your motel complex.

Produce that travels well:

1. Broccoli
2. Kale
3. Cucumbers
4. Firm avocados (they’ll ripen while traveling)
5. Cherry tomatoes (big tomatoes don’t travel so well!)
6. Melons of all types
7. Carrots
8. Apples
9. Celery
10. Corn on the cob

Have fun! Get experimenting.

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by Kimberley

show hide 62 comments

Shanna - July 14, 2012 - 3:52 pm

Inventive! I like this idea.

Eileen - July 14, 2012 - 7:46 pm

This is a really great idea! Super healthy/budget-friendly roadtrip food, Batman! Now if I could only find a rice cooker tiny enough to fit in a standard carry-on bag… :)

amelia - July 14, 2012 - 8:08 pm

Awww, you’ve just endeared yourself to me even more!!

Yossy | apt2bbakingco - July 14, 2012 - 8:41 pm

You rule. This is such an awesome, practical, ingenious idea!

Louisa - July 14, 2012 - 9:00 pm

Ace! Love it! Just wish you could take one on a jet plane…

Sharyn Dimmick - July 15, 2012 - 3:46 am

This is brilliant! I never would have thought of it. Thank you.

Katherine Sacks - July 15, 2012 - 6:34 am

Ha! I love the peak into your traveling lifestyle and I’d love to go on a road trip with you :) I just managed to pull everything out of our storage unit, including our slow cooker, and we’ve been making good use of that. But a rice cooker is much faster. So smart!

Brian @ A Thought For Food - July 15, 2012 - 8:16 am

Freakin’ fabulous, Kimberley! I think this is so cool! And I will be sure to stay away from making “pancakes” in my rice cooker. Sounds terrible :-)

Riley - July 15, 2012 - 10:07 am

I love my rice cooker! It’s such a versatile kitchen essential.

Angel @ Cooking with Paprika Angel - July 15, 2012 - 10:38 am

Love it! Far more mobile than a crock pot – I’ll have to try this when traveling next.
Here is my own post on what I call guerilla cooking http://paprikaangel.typepad.com/paprika-angel/2011/06/guerilla-cooking.html

SG - July 15, 2012 - 11:03 am

This is amazing and so smart! I can’t wait to try this.

Sasha - July 15, 2012 - 1:02 pm

I’m amazed. Simply amazed. Who knew that the humble rice cooker could make so many different and inspired on the road meal. Applause!

Andi - July 15, 2012 - 1:14 pm

My hubby and I always bring a kettle for soups and oatmeal and tea but never thought about this – what a fantastic idea!

sara - July 15, 2012 - 1:39 pm

loving these tips, kimberly! You are so resourceful. I have been wanting a rice cooker for awhile too, just haven’t quite bit the bullet. You make it look like it’s worth the money!

Linda - July 15, 2012 - 6:49 pm

How awesome. I’ve never made anything besides rice in a rice cooker. Although, come to think of it, when I was younger and my family would go on car trips, we’d bring one along and have hot pot in our hotel room. Handy!

Elizabeth A. - July 15, 2012 - 7:54 pm

I love this! How did I not think of it :) Do you have any problems with sticking in the bottom and losing half your meal? In those early days when I owned a rice cooker, and just cooked rice in it, it almost always stuck to the bottom.

Kathryne - July 15, 2012 - 8:56 pm

This is genius, Kimberley! Genius! Thanks for sharing all your tips. My rice cooker just got so much more useful.

Amanda@EasyPeasyOrganic - July 15, 2012 - 9:04 pm

This is LIFE-CHANGING! Seriously! :)

SarahB - July 15, 2012 - 9:23 pm

That is pretty awesome and I wish I had known this when I started traveling for work and living in hotels. I even danced with the idea of recipes you can cook in your hotel coffee pot. But your bottom two pictures capture my biggest issue: cooking in your bathroom. As clean as we claim to be, it’s still a place that other business goes down. Luckily, most of my hotels now are extended stays which provide a mini stovetop and pots and pans.

The Wimpy Vegetarian - July 15, 2012 - 9:32 pm

What a terrific idea! I need to remember this for my travels. Love it.

Beth {local milk} - July 16, 2012 - 6:22 am

Wow. This is inspiring. It makes me want to take a road trip just so I can be all Macguyver like with a rice cooker!

Nori - July 16, 2012 - 7:07 am

I love this!!! I need to experiment with my rice cooker. Quinoa and millet are great protein packed alternatives too. :)

Kimberley - July 16, 2012 - 8:16 am

Hey everybody! Reading your comments has made my day. I’d love to clarify two things: 1) This only works for road travel, not flying. 2) The last image above is not a bathroom. :)

la domestique - July 16, 2012 - 10:01 am

This is a revelation! Very clever, lady.

Noche - July 16, 2012 - 10:28 am

Nice! I haven’t used my rice cooker in ages. (I make it on the stove.) Now I have a great reason to bust it out. I’m really curious about making popcorn in a rice cooker.

Elisabeth Ryan - July 16, 2012 - 10:48 am

what a great idea! it’s so hard to eat well when traveling, and searching around for a restaurant/ sitting around in a restaurant can be such a drag. having the option of cooking for yourself is great. i am surprised at how versatile those things are. i use a crockpot to make risotto and also steel cuts oats (much easier than on then stove).

ileana - July 16, 2012 - 11:42 am

Brill. I love my little $12 rice cooker, still doing well six years later, but never though to bring it with me like this!

Kelsey - July 16, 2012 - 12:24 pm

badass.

Diana - July 16, 2012 - 1:06 pm

GENIUS!!!

sarah - July 17, 2012 - 5:47 am

You are amazing. Really. I haven’t used my rice cooker in months – I’m going to have to dust it off and start experimenting.

Isa-Marie - July 17, 2012 - 8:09 am

Trop drole et excellent !
amicalement
Isa-Marie

kickpleat - July 18, 2012 - 3:20 pm

I love this idea! We just came back from a 3 week road trip and we camped half the time and one of my favorite meals was making Amy’s mac & cheese with some chopped broccoli at our campsite in Yellowstone. We bring a little stove attachment that screws onto a small propane canister. But I can definitely see the appeal for those motel stays – especially in out of the way places where there are only fast food places. We usually just head to a grocery store and buy crackers, hummus & carrots and call it a meal, but sometimes a hot meal is called for.

Ashley - July 19, 2012 - 8:25 am

Definitely agree about mac n’ cheese with broccoli or spinach for a delicious + satisfying meal. I go back and forth on wanting to buy a rice cooker…but popcorn in a rice cooker? I may be sold.

crab - July 20, 2012 - 7:02 am

Indians have been doing this for ages because we cannot live without our dal-chawal(rice and lentils). By schlepping a rice cooker, at the very least there is Kichidi – rice, lentils, dehydrated veggies(optional), chili powder, a dab of butter…hot steaming Kichidi is on the table to scarf down with chips and yogurt. And then there is oatmeal, barley soup, quinoa pilaf…the world is your oyster.

Diane, A Broad - July 20, 2012 - 11:04 am

That? Is one of the most brilliant travel tips I’ve ever seen. Heck, I kind of want to make meals in a rice cooker at home now, to see what I can come up with. It’s a restraint that flexes your creativity — like partner dancing with only one hand.

Diane, A Broad - July 20, 2012 - 11:09 am

This? Is one of the best travel tips I’ve ever seen. Heck, I’m tempted to go buy a rice cooker to try some experiments just at home. It’s one of those things that can flex your creativity by limiting your resources — like partner dancing with only one hand.

Amber Jones - July 23, 2012 - 3:59 pm

I did this a few years ago and it was a great idea. I made some pasta w/veggies and even some popcorn in it. :)

Alison - July 24, 2012 - 3:25 pm

Genius. SO very genius. I wish I’d thought about this while doing so much traveling this summer!! Incredible.

Dayna - July 24, 2012 - 8:20 pm

This is SO awesomely brilliant!! I am so telling this to everyone I know! It is so true – who doesn’t want a delicious, affordable, easy, HOT meal after traveling all day?!

prasad - July 25, 2012 - 5:36 am

This looks gorgeous! I love the idea of grilled bread salad – and love the beautiful colors! Thanks for pariticipating in this!

diary of a tomato - July 25, 2012 - 9:58 am

Pure genius, thanks for sharing how to keep eating well while on the road! I have friends who planned their entire cross country trip according to where Whole Foods were located. This makes it so much more doable, as well as enjoyable!

Alanna - July 25, 2012 - 11:28 pm

AWESOME!!

chefnat - July 31, 2012 - 12:23 pm

i have my best dish look a like ;;;
i call Thai Hot -Pot Or Tom_yum Talay

Tina - August 10, 2012 - 2:40 pm

Hey, I’m loving the rice cooker idea but I’ve also got to say, I just love the photographs here. The colors here are so perfect and well-balanced. Amazing job!

shelley - August 10, 2012 - 7:28 pm

This is a book. Please write it!

Here’s the order of operations:
1. You write it.
2. I buy it.

‘Kay thanx in advance!

Maddy - September 4, 2012 - 3:22 pm

OOoooohhh… I guess this means me and the rice cooker will have more good times together. Ha! Great post and BRILLIANT IDEA i will definitely try!!

Bonjour Juliette - October 2, 2012 - 12:39 am

Haha my brother lived with *only* a rice cooker for years on -until he met an oven. The rice cooker and the oven got married, my brother too (but with a charming lady!), and they’ve been living happily altogether…

Nellie - October 18, 2012 - 12:59 pm

Wow! We’d heard of people cooking our mac in hot pots before, but rice cookers are a totally new thing. We re-pinned this on Pinterest on our “Fun in the Kitchen” board. Do you boil the water first in the rice cooker then add the shells?

shukurat nuhu - July 27, 2013 - 1:55 pm

I learn more about kitchen.

best rice cooker - August 6, 2013 - 8:58 pm

“One pot milk and the magic or rice cooker” this line has caught me and I have read it out; all idea and tips of this writing is easy and easily applicable. Other than image, bullet form instruction is also excellent tricks. Thanks author

Shankar - September 26, 2013 - 3:51 am

I have a Hotplate + Cooking pot + container, all of which fits together measuring 6″x6″x3.5″. The cooker is only 250 Watts & will not overload the hotel circuits. Being lightweight at 850 gms I am able to take it on my overseas trips also. I cook rice,noodles, stews, make tea, boil eggs, fry omlettes …..

SB

Anne - January 10, 2014 - 7:39 am

We do something similar in our family, but we use a RoadPro 12 volt trucker oven. Basically, it’s a little breadpan-sized lunchbox that plugs into your cigarette lighter and cooks as you drive. To keep it clean, we stick a disposable bread pan inside and then toss it after the meal/snack.

In addition to the grain+veggie+spices meal you’ve outlined [brilliant way of putting it, by the way!], we’ve done:

(1) Steamed veggies [fresh green beans, edamame, baked potatoes, etc.]
(2) Omelets
(3) Hot sandwiches [grilled cheese, toasted bagels, veggie-filled quesadillas, burritos, and so on]
(4) Soups [canned or frozen from home & eaten first day's ride]
(5) Meats ["Walking Tacos" by warming pre-browned, pre-spiced taco meat in oven, then adding toppings into individual chip bags. Pre-made frozen meatloaf. Once even did a moose steak that a local gave us as a gift!]

Usually our first meal of the trip is leftovers from the fridge or a special meal I’ve made and frozen in a bread pan. From there we go in order of spoilage potential and buy select ingredients along the way.

I’m excited to incorporate your tips into some more veggie-heavy meals. We’ll probably keep doing steamed veggies and omelets, but otherwise I like the simplicity of your idea better!

Scrumptious - January 16, 2014 - 11:09 am

Great post, thank you! I am totally inspired. I rarely travel by car though… I wonder how hard it would be to shlep a rice cooker on the plane? As a gluten-free vegan, I think it could actually be worth the trouble. Figuring out how to feed myself is always the most stressful part of going to family weddings, etc.

kelly - April 1, 2014 - 4:08 pm

I have a question. I don’t get how you cook the veggies with the grain…you said you boil water-do you mean in the rice cooker? And once it boils, you add the rice and veggies? And how much rice do you add so it’s not gross and soggy? You said you drain it after…I don’t get that, with the soggy rice and all…Could you give me more specific instructions? I also don’t have a steamer with my rice cooker, is that a problem?

Kimberley - April 1, 2014 - 4:28 pm

Hi Kelly,

I totally wing it, and this was meant to be inspiration to do just that! My rice cooker has a hole on the top, and that’s how I drain water, using a dish towel to hold the lid snug. I would follow your intuition: if you think the broccoli, for instance, needs less time than the rice, add it later. It’s all an experiment! I’ve never written any instructions down, just figured it out as I went. :)

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