The difference between a house and a home is how much you love living there. LaunchPad explores the innovative technologies that help you care for your space more effectively.
We love to feel like pioneers in the kitchen. We fantasize about lining our larders with dried beans, sprouted grains, and home-baked bread; we dream of wholesome, home-cooked meals most nights of the week.
Dream is the operative word here. (We began to learn the limits of dreams the year we asked for a unicorn for Christmas). Because, cozy as all that sounds, it’s hard to keep a Little House on the Prairie when you’ve got a busy life — work! Kids! Exercise! Hobbies! Cultural events!! — and you’re basically never home.
But if the slow-cooker can make homemade veggie chilis a reality even when we’ve spent the day cubicle-bound, can’t other set-it-and-forget it appliances in our cupboards help us stock the pantry with healthy building blocks for our meals?
This is the age of the Instant Pot, which helps us take time out of the equation when we’re batch-cooking, prepping ingredients, and setting ourselves up to eat well all week. Too many gadgets can clutter a kitchen, but the right tech will make your life easier, earning its right to space on your shelves and counters, as well as leaving you hours for other homey, old-fashioned tasks like whittling —or binge-watching Westworld, whatever your pleasure.
The Bread Machine
You love artisanal loaves of homemade bread, but who can plan their days around kneading and multiple rises? Put a bread machine on duty to do the job from start to finish, or program it to mix a yeast dough, knead, and rise, then give yourself the glory of shaping the loaf and baking it off — kind of like a boss who swoops in at the end of a project to take all the credit.
But your bread machine can do more than the obvious. When you think of it as an oven with a large, built-in pan, it becomes the perfect vehicle for any low-and-slow cooking. Rethink “kneading” as “stirring” and your arm has been relieved of its most tiresome duties.
Get this. With a jam setting, your bread machine wants you to slather your homemade bread with homemade berry jam. (And you might as well put butter on there, too, you know?) Pour jam into mason jars (be sure to sterilize them in boiling water first!) and you’ve just made the most pioneer woman hostess gift there is.
Recipe: Simple Strawberry Jam
Some swear by the bread maker’s ability to do risotto so staunchly that they make very bold proclamations: “I don’t say this lightly, but this is a BETTER way to make risotto.” Since this is a dish that’s taken down its fair share of Top Chef contestants — the actual professionals — the home cook is better off with technology on her side, making sure every single grain of rice is perfectly, evenly cooked.
Recipe: Shrimp Risotto
OK, so it’s not the healthiest meal, but it does make us want to stand at the front door, look at the horizon with a hopeful expression, and ring a triangle to call folks in for supper. With bread machine joes, a process that took OG modern Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, nine sentences to explain is slashed to two: Add all ingredients. Press start.
Recipe: Sloppy Joes
Rethink the Rice Cookers
If you’ve only been trusting the rice cooker with, well, rice, you haven’t let it live up to its full potential. A rice cooker senses when grains have absorbed all the water, so go nuts in the bulk section of your local food co-op and snatch up rye, farro, wheat berries, quinoa, bulgur, barley...But don’t stop there.
People are always going on about how cooking with dried beans is sooooo much better than canned, but who has time for that? Your rice cooker does. Just cover the legume you love with water and turn on the machine. If the beans aren’t tender when the machine switches off, add more water, and run it again. Then freeze in 1- to 2- cup containers or Ziploc bags and use in your favorite recipes in place of canned.
Some souped-up rice cookers have a function for germinating rice, but you can jerry-rig your own by letting rice sit in warm water in your rice cooker overnight. Japanese studies presented at the UN showed that this alone can increase fiber by as much as four times, B vitamins and magnesium by as much as three times and gamma-aminobutyric acid (or GABA) by as much as 10 times. Oh, hell yeah.
Steel Cut Oatmeal and Porridge
Some rice cookers have a porridge setting, which feels like a delightful meeting of old-fashioned and new. If yours doesn’t, you can still make a creamy steel cut oatmeal, and a hot, hearty breakfast just became a no-brainer.
Even unplugged, your rice cooker can work overtime as a fermenting crock — the tight-fitting lid will keep your kitchen from getting too funky-smelling. Same goes for sauerkraut.
This may feel like advanced-level kitchen DIY-ness, but making homemade yogurt is super-simple. Yogurt needs a warm incubator so it can ferment, and who better for that task than the rice cooker? The metal interior can yield inconsistent results, which food blogger Joyce Kong of Knifing Forking Spooning overcomes by placing a ceramic bowl inside. Brilliant.
When the carolers come around, your big batch of rice cooker hot chocolate will warm them up. Or give them more of a tipple with hot buttered rum or spiked cider.
Look, life on the frontier was hard — but thanks to modern technology, at least looking like a pioneer woman doesn’t have to be.
Sarah Young writes about food and the people who make it. She likes to keep her dinner plans loose and her drinks stiff.