I like to eat, but I don’t like to spend a lot of time preparing food. This is largely because I’m mostly cooking just for myself, and I’m pretty easy to please. For that reason I focus on simple recipes that get me eating in 10 to 15 minutes: scrambles, stir fry, and sandwiches.
While those things are delicious, it feels luxurious to branch out when I can. When I’m bored of oatmeal and omelets, I turn to three kitchen appliances that open up a bigger world of culinary possibilities—while still minimizing my standing-by-the-stove time. If you’re an impatient cook like me, you’d probably appreciate having these tools in your life.
1. Rice Cooker
I’ve met people who told me they cook their rice on a stove top, to which I reply “Why not just make perfect fluffy rice every single time with a (good) rice cooker?” Actually, don’t answer—I don’t want to know what kind of lackluster rice y’all have been eating.
While a rice cooker is primarily used to cook, uh, rice, the device masters a lot more than you may realize, including quinoa, beans, oats, and other grains. (Random tip: If you cook tougher grains like brown rice and farro, it’d cook a lot better if you soak it overnight.) You can also:
- Poach fruit in it
- Bake a giant pancake and other cakes or breads
- Make hard-boiled eggs
- Cook mac and cheese
- Use it as a heating element for hot drinks like hot chocolate
Some rice cookers come with a steaming basket, which allows you to steam vegetables, salmon, chicken, potatoes, and anything else while the rice bubbles to perfection.
One of my favorite meals lately involves rice, chicken broth, and a few lap cheong, or Chinese sausages. I eat it several times a month.
Rice cookers range in their price and fancy features, but there are great ones for less than $30.
2. Air Fryer
I was skeptical at first, but this housewarming gift turned out to be easy to use, easy to clean, and great for tater tots.
Basically an air fryer “fries” the food by circulating hot air, so you need a lot less oil to get the same crispiness. I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with broccoli and cauliflower florets, sweet potatoes tossed in a bit of olive oil, crunchy chickpeas with a little garlic salt, shishito peppers, frozen dumplings, chips from cut up corn tortillas, and more. By far, my favorite use for the air fryer has been heating up frozen tater tots, but if you’re looking to break in a brand new air fryer, try making french fries (not the frozen variety), chicken wings, or buffalo cauliflower.
Air fryers can take up a lot of counter space with most models having between a two- and six-liter capacity and cost between $100 and $200. Mine is a Dash Compact Air Fryer, which comes with a 1.2-liter tray.
3. Instant Pot
Most of us have that one friend who won’t stop raving about their Instant Pot, which acts as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, sauté-er, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, and food warmer. (Sorry, that friend is me.) While I’m amazed by all the things it could make—Vietnamese noodle soup and a cheesecake?!—what really drew me to the Instant Pot was its promise to do painfully slow things like cook dried beans in minutes.
What would normally take me 45 minutes to bake in the oven often takes less than 10 minutes in the Instant Pot. For example, you could make excellent wings in less than 10 minutes and cook fork-tender pulled pork in a quarter of the time it takes you to make it in a slow cooker.
One draw back: there is less room for error or by-the-seat-of-your-pants experimentation. Once you “seal” in your ingredients, you can’t open up the Instant Pot and check that your flavors, cook time, and seasonings are right. But I simply follow the @instantpoteats Instagram account for inspiration and ideas.
This is not the end-all, be-all list of appliances for lazy solo cooks, but it’s a good place to start.