This is an unusual cookbook. It’s written by a movie reviewer, contains only a few recipes and those are somewhat sketchy, and the noted cookbook author who writes the introduction takes issue with the approach.
Anna Thomas, author of the Vegetarian Epicure books, is clearly a good friend of Ebert’s but chides him for his use of bouillon cubes, wishes he would use more fresh vegetables, and is not enamored of the rice pot’s “two speed mulishness,” cook and warm.
And recipes don’t show up until chapter 14; that’s chapter 14 in a 15 chapter book. So this is an unusual cookbook.
But it’s also somewhat accurate about the way we cook—looking for efficiency as well as flavor, fitting it in between life (or in Ebert’s case, movies), and grabbing what’s at hand. Accordingly, Ebert urges you not to read directions, to cook and use the pot intuitively, and veer off course on a regular basis. That is the way you learn to cook—watching the pot overflow with water, realizing that some grains need more water, and stumbling into inspired ingredient combinations.
Hey, everyone goes through a bouillon cube phase, and as much as Thomas chides him about the salty little blocks, Ebert also advocates farm markets, even singing the praises of the much-reviled Brussels sprout.
Nominally, this is a book about how to cook with a rice pot, but it is really a book about cooking and really a conversation about cooking. Ebert kicks off the talking with his own culinary peccadilloes, starting with a sharp little chapter on, of all things, oatmeal, and confessing to a favorite dish of canned tomato soup sparked with frozen peas. He talks about attending the Sundance Film Festival, where it’s not about celebrity sighting, but seeing as many movies as you can and surviving on something besides popcorn and Milk Duds. Hence the rice cooker in the hotel room.
Then his readers chime in via internet with comments to Ebert on how to use the pot, ideas for recipes, and tips—how much rice, how much water, cooking at high altitudes, avoiding scorching, grits and other grains, stories of Japanese dorm rooms, and the ongoing mystery of how the pot knows when the rice—whether minute rice or brown rice—is perfectly cooked. One reader supplies a simple explanation, which Ebert gleefully dismisses, preferring to live in awe of the mystery.
When the recipes finally do appear, they are varied and appealing—risotto, macaroni and cheese, chicken and noodles, shrimp and grits, corn chowder, and for dessert, rice pudding of course.
There’s only one dessert, but I’m imagining all kinds of steamed puddings. Fall is coming, how about a nice corn and molasses Indian pudding? I may have to get the pot!