10 Unexpected Things to Make in Your Rice Cooker

A rice cooker isn't a one-trick pony. Its "boil, simmer and warm" intuition makes it a versatile tool for anyone with limited time and space. Depending on the kind of rice cooker you own, you may have to play around with it at first to find out which settings work best, but from there the possibilities are plenty. To start, here are 10.

1. Non-Rice Grains: Almost all grains, like barley, oats or polenta, cook nicely in the rice cooker with the same water ratio that's used over the stovetop. Tougher grains like brown rice or farro benefit from an overnight soak before cooking. Quinoa (although it's a seed, not a grain) works particularly well in a rice cooker too. For a quick, warm salad, stir in a handful of nuts, dried fruit and freshly chopped herbs before serving.

2. Rice Pudding: Combine rice and milk in your rice cooker, then add your favorite flavorings and sugar to taste. Cook until the rice has thickened to a porridge consistency, and sprinkle with cinnamon or raisins before serving.

3. Big Batch of Beans: Cover dried beans with water and cook until tender. If the cooker switches off before the beans are done, just switch it back on until they are. Feel free to add your own herbs and seasonings, and freeze individual portions to use in recipes later.

4. Steamed Everything: Many rice cookers come with fitted steamer baskets. Use it to effortlessly steam vegetables, tofu, fish or chicken for a quick meal.

5. Bibimbap: Cook rice according to instructions, then stir in some soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. Crack a few eggs over the rice, cover and cook on the "keep warm" setting until set. Stir in your favorite chili paste, kimchi or even some of the vegetables and meat you cooked with the steamer basket earlier.

6. Giant Pancake: Fill the rice cooker bowl one-third to half of the way with your favorite pancake batter. Stir in some fruits, nuts or chocolate chips to your liking, then cook until set. Carefully flip it out onto a plate, douse in syrup and dig into your pancake dome.

7. Cakes and Quick Breads: Most rice cookers have nonstick bowls, so you can pour cake or banana bread batter right in and cook until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cook times will vary depending on the rice cooker, and some newer models come with a cake setting to make this even easier.

8. Hot Chocolate for a Party: Perfect for cold weather, homemade hot chocolate is easily made in a rice cooker. Just add all of your ingredients and cook with the lid open until melted together. Switch to the "keep warm" setting and close the lid so that guests can help themselves when they feel like having a warm drink.

9. Reheat Soup: Leftover soup from yesterday's takeout? Heat it up in the rice cooker with the lid open, then close and switch to "keep warm" so your seconds will stay nice and hot.

10. Poached Fruit: Pears are always great, but any firm fruit will do. Place your poaching liquid ingredients and your fruit in the rice cooker and cook until tender. You could even get this elegant dessert started right before dinner so it'll be ready by the time the last plate is cleared.

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