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The pot and how to use it

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First, get the Pot. You need the simplest rice cooker made. It comes with two speeds: Cook, and Warm. Not expensive. Now you're all set to cook meals for the rest of your life on two square feet of counter space, plus a chopping block. No, I am not putting you on the Rice Diet. Eat what you like. I am thinking of you, student in your dorm room. You, solitary writer, artist, musician, potter, plumber, builder, hermit. You, parents with kids. You, night watchman. You, obsessed computer programmer or weary web-worker. You, lovers who like to cook together but don't want to put anything in the oven. You, in the witness protection program. You, nutritional wingnut. You, in a wheelchair.

And you, serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. You, person on a small budget who wants healthy food. You, shut-in. You, recovering campaign worker. You, movie critic at Sundance. You, sex worker waiting for the phone to ring. You, factory worker sick of frozen meals. You, people in Werner Herzog's documentary about life at the South Pole. You, early riser skipping breakfast. You, teenager home alone. You, rabbi, pastor, priest,, nun, waitress, community organizer, monk, nurse, starving actor, taxi driver, long-haul driver. Yes, you, reader of the second-best best-written blog on the internet.

We will begin with a scientific conundrum. You put Minute Rice and the correct amount of water into the Pot, and click to Cook. Minutes later, the Pot clicks over to Warm. Tomorrow night, you put whole grain organic rice and the correct amount of water into the Pot, and click to Cook. An hour later, the Pot clicks over to Warm. Both nights, the rice is perfectly cooked.

How does it know? There are no dials and settings on the Pot. As far as you can tell, there is only a heating element beneath. There doesn't look like room for anything else to hide. How does the Pot know how long to cook the rice? It is a mystery of the Orient. Don't ask questions you don't need the answers to. The point here is to save you some time and money. If you want gourmet cooking, you aren't going to learn about it here.

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The eternal dilemma: Which rice? Minute Rice cooks fine in the Pot, if you will but follow the exact instructions on the box. Later, I will instruct you not to read instructions. That's further down. For now, read the Minute Rice box! It is called Minute Rice for a reason. If you let it Cook or Warm for half an hour, you are going to be poking around your Pot looking for your rice.

Minute Rice is for when you're in a big hurry and nutrition be damned. Minute Rice has been painstakingly deprived of its vitamins and things, which are fed to boars and captive chickens. Use real rice. Brown rice is good for you. Basmati is nice. Don't overlook other grains and pastas. [Note: Someone wrote in saying oh, oh, I can't eat this or that kind of rice! I'm allergic! Then don't eat it. Do you think I want to give you the hives?]

I am not a French gourmet. I am a practical cook. An American, Urbana-born, and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make a cookbook in my own way. When I cook, I want to eat in the immediate future. I can cook for my wife or the whole family as easily as for me. And, as Travis Bickle says, "anytime, anywhere." To be sure, health problems now prevent me from eating. That has not discouraged my cooking. Now cooking is an exercise more pure, freed of biological compulsion.

To repeat, get the Pot. I have had about a dozen over the years. I always buy Zojirushi. I have no idea if that is the best. I use a 3-cup and a 10-cup. They make many models and sizes. Have nothing to do with anything "Micom Programmable." Nothing to do with words like "Neuro Fuzzy." No dials or "settings." I am saving us money. What you want is your basic Pot with two speeds: Cook, and Warm. Sometimes it says Hold.

Aunt Mary's graduation class. She was kept home for fear of the typhoid

One potato For every member of the family. One potato for the pot. And one last tater, honey, For fear of later company.


Mortar and pestle. Mortar Pestle is above.

Look for some unground flaxseed. Never mind why unground. Good for you. I'm cooking here and I don't have time to do into endless details. Grind it fresh in a mortar and pestle. You don't have a mortar and pestle? People these days want everything done for them. Do like the Indians did and grind it with the end of a stick in the depression of a boulder. Measure out a generous teaspoon for every serving. There is a plenty good reason for grinding it fresh. Trust me.

Now you have your oatmeal. You can substitute any grain of your choice. Even amarath, seen as the favorite side dish in "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor." I like to use low-fat Silk soybean milk. Use what you like. Have a small or medium chopping block and a nice knife. Slice into smallish pieces the fruit of your choice. Any fruit except something like watermelon. I shouldn't have to be telling you this.

Slice your bananas, your peaches, your applies, pears, plums, apricots, strawberries, your Kiwi. Throw in your blueberries, your blackberries, your boysenberries, your this berry, your that berry. Drop in maybe a couple dried prunes. No, stupid. Not all the fruits at once. We're making breakfast, not fruit compote. Let's say two fruits together are nice. Bananas and peaches make Peaches 'n Cream. Mmmm! Chaz loves 'em.

While you're doing this, your oatmeal is already cooking. Figure out the hard way when to add the fruit to the Pot so it tastes the best and doesn't get all boiled to death on you. Okay. Fruit's in. Slam the lid back down. Cook, click, and Warm. It will wait there for you a long time. Find out the hard way what's too long. If the result looks like a potato pancake, that was too long. On the other hand, you can make a sortofa half-assed potato pancake, although not crisp on the bottom, that way. You can even start with instant potatoes, if you are a fool. Chop in some onions on the far turn. Throw in onions, peppers and mushrooms, and when they're thundering down the home stretch, some stirred-up eggs, and you have what down home we call Skillet.

Now you have mastered the Pot. Every recipe works the same way. By trial and error, you learn to adjust the amount of water, for example to steam spinach versus steaming broccoli. And you will learn how to monitor the Pot when you're making something like soup, which you don't want to cook all the way down.popeye.jpg

I'm strong to the finich, 'cause I eats me spinach.

Let's make some soup. Assemble your ingredients. Throw them in the pot. Add enough water to make it soup. I have been known to start with a can of Health Valley or Pritkin soup and add fresh ingredients. I have also been known to start with Health Valley chili and add ground beef, spices, and a small chopped onion late in the day, Slam down the lid. This watched Pot boils. Click to Warm when the soup looks about right. If it looks undercooked, add a little more water and keep going. You will also learn to add the ingredients in a mixture in the reverse order of how long you think they'll take to cook. For example, dried beans first. Even let them sit in water and Warm for awhile. If you're in a hurry, throw them in and boil them. The hell with them. Never put in meat and chicken so soon it will overcook. There are no rules. You are Aunt Mary. The last ingredients into the Pot should be the things you like still a little crunchy, like frozen peas and corn.

Stews. Like soup only with less water, Albert Einstein.

Your ingredients, (1) Any meat. Lamb, pork, beef, chicken, goat, wild boar, minotaur, hot dogs, ground beef. Cut into bite-sized pieces. (2) Fish, you have to be careful not to overcook. Canned tuna is useful. Use chilled shrimp, but don't let it cook until it gets too tough. Delicate fish, wait to read my salmon recipe. (3) Vegetable protein. Slice up tofu bite-sized. Try textured soy protein, which comes pretending to be beef chunks, chicken chunks, hamburger. (4) Vegetables. Just about any and all, but use your common sense. Don't try to cook a whole head of cabbage. You can cut it into wedges and steam it. Easier, use Brusells sprouts. Obvious principles: Carrots take longer than peppers. (5) Grains and pastas. Any and all. Experiment. With some, you'll want to cook them a little before adding anything else. (6) Salt, pepper and oils. Use all the pepper(s) you like. Otherwise, see below.

Your spices. Earlier, I carefully avoided mentioning didn't emphasize that I want to put you on a low salt, low fat diet. This is up to you. Throw in salt by the handful if you want to. Aunt Mary would get nervous: "Don't you think that's about enough?" Hell, I don't care. Take a good look at that microwave oatmeal you've been eating. It's loaded with salt, corn syrup, palm oil and coconut oils--the two deadliest oils on earth. But it's high fiber, you say? Terrific. You can die of a heart attack during a perfect bowel movement. Use oils very sparingly. Even my pals at Pritikin say you can use a little olive oil. That means a little, Chef Boy-ar-Dee.


Other herbs and spices. Any and all, especially fresh ones like basil. Dried ones, rub them between your palms. Or use your elbow to grind them on the boulder. You don't want to be tasting stick.

The Original Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. No oil. Very low salt.

You know how Lea and Perrins invented it? They owned the chemist shop in Worcestershire. A colonel in the British army came home from serving the Raj, and told them about a great sauce he had tasted in India. John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins worked together with great care to assemble the correct ingredients. They left them to ferment in a barrel down in the cellar. The colonel never came home again from India. Three years later, Lea & Perrins remembered the barrel, but they couldn't remember what they put into it. So, they invented Worcestershire Sauce. It is still made in the original factory on Midlands Road. The neighbors smell like Bloody Marys.

Marie Sharp's Exotic Sauce. Made in Belize, the former British Honduras. You were thinking of Grenada. Cooked up first in the kitchen by Marie and her family, now by 20 employees who are like family. No salt. No oil. A little spicy and and very delicious. Ingredients: fresh green mangoes, tamarind, raisins, ginger, sugar, vinegar, onions, garlic, Habanero peppers and spices. Sold in stores and on the Web. Marie makes a lot of hot sauces, but the Exotic Sauce does not alarmingly claim to remove spots from your driveway. Worcestershire and Marie Sharp's Exotic are the two best steak sauces in the world. Sometimes I get to the point where a add a little Worcestershire, Marie Sharp's or Saigon Sizzle to everything.

Then I remember that nothing whets the appetite like the smell of curry cooking. However, there is strictly speaking no such thing as "curry powder." You can purchase the constituent ingredients and combine according to taste. You will have noticed I do not recommend cooking steaks in the Pot. That would be a bad idea. Cook them over a fire on your boulder.

mariesharp.jpg Marie Sharp invented one of the two best steak sauces in the world.

House of Tsang Saigon Sizzle Sauce. Contains some salt and oil. Use it when you go crazy mad. I do, several times a week. A nice addition to a stir-fry. How do you stir-fry in the Pot? You don't. Combine the ingredients of your stir-fry and Pot them. Much lower oil that way. Start with rice or the grain of your choice, let it cook awhile, then throw in whatever you want in your stir-fry. Animal or vegetable protein, onions, peppers, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, baby corn, anything. Also try Sweet & Sour sauce (and throw in some pineapple chunks) or Peanut Sauce (and throw in some soy nuts). A few drops of sesame oil add aroma. I like to stir in some frozen peas at the last moment, and let them cook on the way to the table.

There are countless other sauces. These are mine. There are countless combinations of grains and foods. You will be full, healthy and happy. You will become the center of attention when you claim you can cook almost anything in the Pot. Take it from me. I put it in my Who's Who entry, and it has added immeasurably to my aura of mystery and intrigue.

Dear Readers: If you desire fame, please please send in a recipe so I can rip you off when I publish my stinking cookbook in 2009. Chaz has been after me to write this book for years, but for some reason she objects to my title, "The Pot and How to Use It." So do my publishers. You have to Use the Pot to love it.

"The Legend of the Legendary Rice Cooker: A Quest for Love." Written and directed by Bobbie Liang. Winner of 2007 Baulkham Hills High School Short Film Festival

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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