Sometimes entertaining should be easy does it, like a fuss-free night where an at-home screening takes the starring role. Plan for a laidback one-pot meal along with some homemade concession stand-style movie snacks. The first step? Turn on the rice cooker. That’s right — after consulting Roger Ebert’s “method book” about rice cooker meals, The Pot and How to Use It, we spoke to the film critic himself about utilizing the machine to make simple, inventive meals for friends. “The primary shortcut is the rice cooker itself,” Ebert says. “Assemble your ingredients and it does the cooking.”
Improvisation and a sense for what flavors go together are key to pulling off a one-pot rice cooker meal. The easiest part is actually the cooking — just prep some simple ingredients and seasoning and pop them in the cooker. Ebert suggests, “For example, brown onions, garlic, and peppers in a little oil in the rice cooker, then add a grain such as brown rice and such vegetables as some to hand. Add spices. Garam masala is reliable.”
As far as planning a menu, Ebert says, “The meal can be very casual. I always however include a salad and fruit or fruit salad for dessert.” To go with garam masala-spiced rice and vegetables, try a Coriander-Dusted Avocado, Chickpea, and Scallion Salad. Or combine citrus and greens for a bright and crunchy Pea Shoots, Radish, and Kumquat Salad. Fruit salads are so versatile, they can be a savory side or a decadently sweet dessert — here are eight of our favorites.
For a movie night with friends, the hardest part can be agreeing on a film, so go for classics that everyone will get a kick out of. “A Buster Keaton classic never fails,” Ebert says. “Every Thanksgiving we show either Planes, Trains, and Automobiles or What's Cooking?” The meal can even be inspired by the dish — for the Indian-spiced rice dish above, screen Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood-style adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. Let the movie genre direct the theme for the night; for a Western, Ebert suggests making franks and beans, with lots of onions, chopped bacon, and a little molasses, all in the rice pot.
As for snacks, the critic’s choice is Hot Tamales candies, though a still-spicy spin on a classic is Sriracha-buttered popcorn. Other ideas can be as hands-off as a flavor-your-own popcorn bar, as simple as tossing together some salty nuts and chocolate chips, or as sophisticated as making homemade peanut butter cups. With a little planning, some creativity, and, of course, a rice cooker, a dinner and movie with friends can be as easy as pressing the power button.