I'm wanting to purchase a rice cooker/steamer, but have never used one. Do you have any recommendations? I don't want to spend a ton of money & don't need one that cooks more than 10 cups (preferably less).
I have the simplest, no measure technique for cooking perfect rice every time that needs no rice cooker at all.
Cook a finely chopped onion in a little oil in the bottom of a large saucepan.
Add rice (no need to wash it). (I usually use 2-3 cups and freeze the leftovers in ziplock bags)
Stir until grains are well coated with oil.
Pour over boiling water until it is about 1" above the level of the rice.
Add 1-2 teaspoons salt (depending on how much rice you have)
Stir ONCE only and cover tightly. (I use foil and a lid, but a tight fitting saucepan lid is fine).
Reduce heat to lowest possible and cook for 14 minutes exactly.
DO NOT REMOVE LID OR STIR DURING COOKING
Remove from heat, fluff with fork and drape a clean tea-towel over the top for about 5 minutes to absorb extra moisture.
I have an Aroma 8-cup rice cooker that I love - it can be set ahead of time and left to cook on its own. If I'm organized in the morning (ha!) and I get something in the crock pot too, I have dinner waiting when I get home.
I'm a firm believer in anything that reduces my kitchen workload on workdays.
Rice cookers always seem to die quickly on me. I got a LOT of recommendations for Zojirushi brand; they seem to last a long time. I just got one of their fancy models a few weeks ago, and I love it so far. Their basic models are reasonably priced. Don't buy a cooker solely based on price, or you'll be buying another one in less than a year and wind up spending more anyway!
I'd love to find a single-serving size rice cooker. Or maybe for up to 3 cups. But the most I've found make six cups or more, which is too big to store in my small place. The thing is that my stove only has two settings: On or off, so right now when I make rice, I have to remember to turn on my stove every five minutes for ten seconds until the rice is ready.
I don't know where you live, Charlotte, so I don't know how practical this advice will be. First, as to brands. Zojirushi is good. So is Philips. The sizes vary. You can choose what you need. As a rule, get one larger than you expect to need. It can be used at half capacity, etc.
Now, for the serious part. Go to Chinatown and talk to oriental looking women in the supermarkets and/or mom and pop places. That is how you will get useful information about buying and using a rice cooker.