Ode to a rice cooker

Rice cooker

My culinary workhorse.

I hate to admit this, but I have a thing for kitchen gadgets. I like to talk a big game about how I don’t really care about owning a lot of “stuff,” that it’s experiences that matter to me, but… as soon as I step into the kitchen, my hippy-ish anti-materialistic philosophy kinda flies out the window. My sous-vide circulator, my pressure cooker, my Vitamix, my bullet smoker—they all bring me a lot of joy. And, hell, I’d argue they help me create experiences—delicious dining experiences—and don’t just sit there looking pretty and collecting dust.

The gadget I use the most in my kitchen—once or twice a day!—isn’t as sleekly powerful as the Vitamix or as geekily futuristic as the sous-vide machine. In fact, it’s probably one of the most common kitchen appliances in the world.

It’s my rice cooker.

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The Low-FODMAP Toolkit

Low-FODMAP chicken stock ingredients

Take stock, then make stock.

One thing you discover pretty soon after starting a low-FODMAP diet is that we’re not living in a low-FODMAP world. Things will probably eventually change, but there are very few foods that are labelled “low in FODMAPs” the same way practically everything has a gluten-free version these days. At this point, almost nobody who isn’t on the diet themselves has even heard of it (you’ll probably find yourself saying “well, it’s not exactly gluten-free, but gluten grains aren’t allowed” at least a few times a week).

Though the barrier to eating without FODMAPs is relatively low, all these little challenges add up. There simply aren’t as many shortcuts as there are in the regular old high-FODMAP world we used to live in. No waiting until it’s too late to cook dinner and ordering a pizza; no grabbing a breakfast sandwich on the way to work.

But there are ways you can make your life easier. Over the first few months I spent going low-FODMAP, I found myself assembling a little toolkit of helpful apps, kitchen tools, and ingredients. Everything I list below has been incredibly helpful in making this transition smoother.

Monash University’s Low FODMAP Smartphone App

If you’re following the low-FODMAP diet, you’ve surely come across the folks at Monash University at some point—after all, they’re the ones who thought up the program, and the very concept of FODMAPs themselves. Their smartphone app, available for iPhone and Android both, has proven really useful to me, especially when I’m out shopping. It’s got a searchable index of low- and high-FODMAP foods, with a cool “traffic light” system that indicates which FODMAP exactly any particular food might be high in, which are safe to eat in smaller quantities, etc. It’s really quite comprehensive, and great when you’re out grocery shopping and can’t quite remember if zucchinis are okay to eat or not. (Spoiler: they are.)

A decent rice cooker

The rice cooker is truly a wondrous device. Film critic Roger Ebert, who was particularly enamoured of the device, even wrote a cookbook called The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker. I use mine every day, and sometimes multiple times in the same day! In fact, I plan to write a longer post detailing my love for the thing soon. In short though, you’ll probably find yourself eating a lot of (tasty) non-gluten grains—oats, rice, etc—in the weeks and months to come, and good programmable rice cooker will make that all the easier.

Garlic-flavored oil

Ah, garlic. Sweet, musky, delicious garlic. How I have missed you. I have a whole Ode to Garlic post planned, but for now I’ll tell you there is a way to get some of that magnificently stinky flavour in your food, and it is garlic-infused olive oil. See, FODMAPs themselves are water-soluble, not oil-soluble, so it’s possible to extract non-FODMAP-y flavor from ingredients like garlic and still enjoy them. A life saver! Be careful, though, homemade garlic oil only lasts for a few days (in the fridge!) before you risk nasty stuff like botulism. I’d be cautious of any store-bought stuff that actually has chunks of garlic floating in it too.

Pre-made dishes and “building block” ingredients in the freezer

Everyone has days when they don’t have time to cook. Or maybe you’re just too hungry. Or maybe you do have the time and energy to make a quick meal, but you’re missing a FODMAP-friendly basic ingredient like chicken stock. Take some time to make a big batch of something easy to defrost and store it away in ziploc bags in the freezer in individual or two-person portions. Make a big pot of Delicious Low-FODMAP Chicken Stock so you can always whip up soups, stews, risottos and other rice dishes without the hassle.

What’s in your low-FODMAP toolkit? I’d love to know.

RECIPE: Delicious Low-FODMAP Chicken Stock

One cup of delicious low-FODMAP chicken stock

One cup of liquid gold.

I went through a couple of ideas when I was deciding which recipe to post to this blog first. The delicious “Moorish paella,” made with risotto rice, harissa and merguez sausage, that’s become a staple around these parts?. Or the Martha Stewart-inspired flourless chocolate cake that is, I swear, lighter, creamier and just plain better than the regular gluten-filled cakes we used to enjoy. Or maybe an adaptation of the Ottolenghi chicken-and-wild-rice salad that makes the best, most lunchable leftovers?

I had settled on the paella, when I opened my freezer to pull out some frozen chicken stock in which to simmer the rice. As it happened, I was fresh out. And then it occurred to me—maybe I should hold off on a more complicated dish and focus on something simple, a “building block” of low-FODMAP eating, if you will.

Because the truth is, there are a LOT of recipes that call for some kind of stock, particularly when you’re cooking with a lot of rices and grains, as we low-FODMAP eaters often are. And while it’s often tempting to just buy a can or tetra pack from the grocery store, they can often be a digestive mine field, as some combination of onions and garlic are almost always used to flavor commercial stocks. Plus, homemade stock just tastes so much better! You can use it in soups, stews, sauces, gravies—keep it in one- or two-cup portions in the freezer and pull ’em out as needed.

It’s actually super easy to make stock. Preparation time is under 10 minutes, and as long as you’re around to let it simmer away for a few hours, you can let your stove do most of the work for you. Typically, stocks are made by lightly simmering chicken carcasses (bones and however much meat you have on hand, or to taste)  along with a bunch of aromatics—tasty vegetables that enhance and bring out the flavor of the bones.

The problem for us low-FODMAP eaters is that two of the most commonly and heavily-used aromatics in stocks are onions and garlic. (This is why eating at restaurants can be so difficult—beware of sauces and soups!) So to make our low-FODMAP stock, and to make it delicious, we’re going to have to do two things: replace the missing aromatics, and cook it longer so as to bring out more flavor to compensate for what’s missing. We’ll add green onion tops to replace some of the missing taste and aromas from the onions, and throw in some extra carrots to fill it out even further. And while many recipes will tell you to simmer your stock for at least an hour or two, I’ll advise going even longer—or even better, using a pressure cooker if you have one (in which case you’ll only need to cook it for 45 minutes or so).

Low-FODMAP Chicken Stock Ingredients

I made mine in a pressure cooker, but a regular pot is more than fine too.

delicious low-fodmap chicken stock

Ingredients

Bear in mind that stock-making is an inexact science, and not to take the measures here too seriously. If you’ve got extra carrots or chicken, throw ’em in. Don’t worry about the exact amount of water either. It’ll all taste good in the end if you simmer it long enough.

3-4lbs of chicken carcass (this can be the body of a roast chicken you’ve already cooked and eaten, plus whatever bones and scraps of meat you’ve saved, or you can always buy inexpensive chicken backs at most grocery stores.)
3-5 carrots, chopped on the bias (diagonally); don’t worry about peeling them, just give ’em a good scrub
3-5 stalks of celery, chopped on the bias
One bunch of green onions, chopped on the bias (JUST the green parts)
3 or so bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp salt (don’t overdo it on the salt, as the stock will reduce and you can always add more later)

Instructions

1. Throw everything in a big pot.

2. Add enough cold tap water to cover everything in there by a couple of inches. Cover and gently bring to a boil.

3. Just when it’s started to boil, adjust the heat way back down again to just about minimum. Do not  over-boil your stock. Let it just gently simmer away; the water should be just moving below the surface. Then back away.

4. Check for taste every hour or so. Remember that it won’t quite taste “right” until you add a little salt, so if you’re not sure, scoop out half a cup or so, sprinkle with salt, stir and then taste.

5. When it’s ready to taste (or has reduced as far as you’re willing to go), pour stock through a strainer (or a cheesecloth, or even a coffee filter) into a large bowl. Make sure you push on the solids with a wooden spoon to get every last delicious drop. Strain it again if you like, until it’s as clear as you want it (the old story about French consommés was that they were so clear you could read the date on a penny at the bottom of a bowl, but you probably don’t want to go that far).

6. Let cool. If you want a really non-fatty stock, let it sit in the fridge overnight and skim off the solid white fact that will have accumulated on top.

Store for up to three days in the fridge, or even better, save some in the freezer. I like to ladle two-cup portions into freezer bags and then label them with the serving size and date. When I need some for a recipe, I just pull out however as many bags as I need and let them thaw.

It doesn’t get that much easier than making your own chicken stock, and once you taste it, it’s hard to go back to store-bought. And if you’re on a low-FODMAP diet, that’s probably not even an option anyway—but this is one case where you won’t be missing out on flavor. Isn’t it nice when it works out that way?

What’s your favorite use for chicken stock? Let me know in the comments below!

A Day in the Low-FODMAP Life

A tasty dinner side salad

Salads are fun. Seriously.

One of the most challenging things about changing the way you eat, particularly when you’re eliminating broad categories of food, is visualizing just how it’s going to work on a day-to-day basis. I know that was one of the most difficult parts of adopting the FODMAP-free lifestyle myself, and it took me a while to get my head around the fact that I wouldn’t be able to rely on some of my oldest, most relied-upon eating habits.

If you’ve ever tried to eat gluten-free, you know what I’m talking about: life without bread is hard! I used to feel like Jerry Seinfeld, who once said, “The whole concept of lunch is based around tuna.” For me, it was sandwiches. Imagining lunch without sandwiches, or breakfast without toast, or dinner without pasta… it seemed impossible at first.

But gradually, it got easier. It was all about picking up new habits and getting used to planning things a little more in advance. Now there’s a barely a day when I don’t wake up with a hot breakfast of oatmeal already waiting for me in my rice cooker and a plan for at least lunch, if not lunch and dinner.

I thought I’d share a typical day in my Low-FODMAP Life to help newcomers to the diet understand how possible it can be with just a little forethought and effort.

Steel-Cut Oats in the Rice Cooker

Oats are your friends.

Breakfast

You’ve got tons of options when it comes to breakfast. Personally, I’ve left toast in the dust and become addicted to oatmeal. (Most oatmeal is processed with wheat, so there’s a bit of gluten to be found, but in such small amounts it probably won’t affect people on the low-FODMAP plan. Still, there are plenty of gluten-free options available). Typically, I put 2/3 of a cup of steel-cut oats in my rice maker before I go to bed, along with the appropriate amount of water, some brown sugar, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. I put it on “porridge” setting at set the timer, and wake up to a hot, delicious breakfast. I’ll sometimes add some raisins right before serving, or slice up some bananas and put them in the pot before setting the timer so they get all nice and baked-tasting. When I’m out of steel-cut, I’ll just cook up a small pot of regular rolled oats in the morning. Eggs are also your friends in the morning—hard-boiled, scrambled, or fried. Try frying up some strips of corn tortilla and adding beaten eggs to the pan to make migas, a Tex-Mex treat (just avoid the milk and onions if you use that recipe!).

Lunch

Lunch without the sandwich or wrap option can be challenging, particular if you’re eating on the go. What I typically do is make a grain salad and add whatever veggies and proteins I desire. I’ll cook up some quinoa with spices, like a bit of curry powder, let it cool and then mix in greens and shredded carrots. Topped with smoked chicken or canned tuna, and some crumbled feta cheese, it makes for a surprisingly filling mid-day meal. Alternately, I might fry up a couple of eggs and have them on top of the salad, or make an omelette and have sliced vegetables (cucumbers, bell peppers) on the side.

Dinner

Sadly, you’ll have to say goodbye to pasta and pizza (I’m ashamed to admit that those were two of my staples, and let’s not get started on hamburger), but I still haven’t run out of new, delicious combinations. I’ll often set my rice cooker to make brown rice, sometimes adding a splash of coconut oil, and then roast, pan-fry or grill up a protein of my choice—sausage, chicken, pork chops to name just a few. Then we’ll make a nice salad on the side, or steam some green beans. If I want to mix things I’ll up, I’ll make potatoes, roasted or mashed (without milk of course) or sometimes go for a larger portion of protein and forgo the carbs completely. I’ve also become addicted to one-pot meals that incorporate proteins and rice, like arroz con pollo or paella variations, many of which can be de-FODMAP-ified. And we’ve just discovered the many uses of polenta. (All of these I’ll be discussing more in depth in the future—recipes to come!)

Dessert

Going FODMAP-free doesn’t mean you have to skip the sweets. I might have some sliced strawberries, treats like flourless chocolate cake (recipe coming soon!) or a dairy-free sorbet.

I’d love to hear about your daily routine. Drop me a line or leave a note in the comments below!