Yikes, another long gap between posts.
So…let’s all make macaroni and cheese! In the rice cooker!
When I first came to Japan in 2000 I occasionally sought out boxes of Kraft mac & cheese as a way to feel closer to home. Recently I was describing it to an Australian friend who’d never eaten it…and I was kind of horrified at how it sounded.
Needless to say, homemade mac & cheese is WAY better. Four or five years ago I was at a grad school friend’s house party and he’d made amazing southern food: fried pork chops, collard greens, and the most AMAZING homemade mac & cheese I’d ever tasted. I got the basic ingredient list / process from him and threw together my own version and made it regularly in L.A. Of course it requires an oven, so I hadn’t made it since coming to Japan.
Well, I whipped up a batch and instead of tossing it in a non-existent glass baking dish and tossing that dish into a non-existent oven, I buttered my rice cooker pan and closed the lid. And it worked! I even got that crunchy brown crust that I love (in the bottom of the pan).
Be warned that this stuff is NOT healthy–it’s pure comfort food, so enjoy in moderation. All measurements are pretty approximate. The key is to make a very creamy, liquid-y sauce so that your mac and cheese doesn’t dry out while baking.
Rice Cooker Mac & Cheese
1 1/2 small packages macaroni noodles (about 3 cups uncooked macaroni noodles or small shells)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1 cup grated cheese (I usually use a a mix of cheddar and Beemster, but go with what you’ve got on hand–at least a few tablespoons of sharper cheese is always a good idea, though)
1/2 cup ham or block bacon, cut into small cubes and cooked for a few minutes in a skillet (optional)
1/2 cup frozen peas (optional–when I add peas I can convince myself it’s kinda healthy)
1. Butter your rice cooker pan.
2. Boil macaroni for a few minutes less than the package indicates–you want it to be fairly al dente as it’ll continue to cook in the rice cooker.
3. In a separate skillet, melt the butter until it bubbles. Lower the heat, add flour, and stir quickly until a sort of pudding-y substance forms (about 30 seconds to a minute).
4. Add in the milk about 3/4 of a cup at a time, stirring constantly until you’ve got a creamy base (about 2-3 minutes total). Add the cheese gradually, stirring it until it’s all melted in. Turn off the heat, add your noodles, peas (if using), and ham (if using), and gently mix everything together.
5. Finally, pour the whole mixture into your rice cooker,* close the lid, and push the button for plain white rice. It should be done in about 40 minutes.
*Rice cookers vary, of course. My tiny little rice cooker that I bought from Don Quixote for about 3000 yen seems to be perfect for baking–bakes things all the way through and doesn’t shut off too early. But keep an eye on your rice cooker the first time you do this–it might require more than one cooking cycle, or it might shut off too early.