Tag Archives: cheap food

The So Yer Living Outta Yer Car Cookbook

So you don’t feel so hot about this civilization thing and want to live on the cheap for a while. Happens to a lot of us. Sometimes in a 20 year old car that’s falling apart. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat shitty road food.

Do better and live better. Two words: rice cooker. I have gotten rid of all other cooking implements, judging them inferior.

Easy to run in the car so long as you have a power inverter to run out of the cigarette lighter.

It’s a device of deceptive simplicity. There’s only one knob: cook or warm. If you have a steamer basket for it you can cook pretty much any vegetables you want in around 5 minutes. If you’re living out of your car, that means going to the grocery store and buying whatever loose vegetables in the grocery store you want to throw in the cooker. Usually this can be done for less than $3. More adventurous sorts may choose to dumpster vegetables. There are many other guides on how to dumpster so I don’t feel much obliged to give anything beyond the customary PSA: make sure to wash carefully. Any time you’re wandering around, whether you’re living in a car or hopping trains, your two best friends are a small bottle of dish soap and a steady supply of fresh socks.

People think the rice cooker is just for rice. This is a commonly thrown around misconception. I blame society.

I have made Chinese food with little to no sodium, stuff as good as you’re gonna get at any health food store, and it takes me somewhere between 15-30 minutes to go from “here’s the crap I picked up at the grocery store” to “here’s the crap I’m eating for dinner.” I got rid of any other cooking instruments I had which forces me to steam any vegetables and leaves no temptation to fry things. The cooker turns itself off before the rice can overcook, which, if I’m off in la-la-land writing a piece for the site, has the huge tangible benefit of allowing me to be off in la-la-land as long as I need to be to get quotes from the denizens and report them back to you, my readers, without the apartment I’m squatting in burning down.

As a bachelor with few house guests, the bubbling of the cooker is a soothing background noise. I’ve come to see it in some ways as a companion. This would all feel sort of sad if I weren’t eating better than you are for ~$4 a day. But I am.

I don’t need to bother with recipes; a couple vegetables with some rice and beans, olive oil and a pinch or two of salt will work in pretty much any context. In terms of steaming the vegetables, the obvious thing to look out for is timing-certain vegetables, particularly root vegetables, will take longer to steam and therefore should be put in earlier than other vegetables, and way earlier than leafy greens like kale or baby lettuce which should be steamed right as the rice is about to finish for a very short time.

A starter recipe for all you other failed cash-strapped writers out there:


1. Put desired amount of brown rice into cooker with two cloves of crushed garlic mixed in. Put in twice as much water as rice. Set to cook.

2. After 5-8 minutes, put in a sweet potato in thick slices.

3. 10-20 minutes after that, chop off desired chunks of broccoli.

4. 2-3 minutes after this throw in however much kale. Wait 2-21/2 minutes, turn off cooker. Put into bowl with rinsed canned pinto beans. Slight drizzle of olive oil and 2 pinches of salt. Stir. Eat.

Easy right? And it tastes good, and it keeps you from spending money. It’s also surprisingly filling.