This is convenient when there's a rush in the kitchen (I share a house with three others) or I'm using all the burners on the hob. It lives in the utility room attached to the kitchen, as do the microwave and electric steamer. This gives us extra moving-around and counter space in the kitchen. Rice cookers are easy to use once you find the one that suits you—put in correct amounts of rice and water, switch it on, when the water is gone the cooker switches from “cook” to “keep warm”, and the rice is ready (although a little extra sitting time is often nice to finish it off—depends on the cooker, again).
I've cooked brown as well as white rice, and other grains too, in my rice cooker, but figuring this out requires a bit of experimentation and, again, different cookers work differently. Different grains require different amounts of water. You can even cook a whole meal in a rice cooker, and I've done this when getting in to the kitchen wasn't really possible (this was in a seven-person house a few years ago). Just add some chopped vegetables and tofu and a bit of extra liquid, and seasoning like veg stock powder, soy sauce, lemon juice, etc, when you put the rice and water in.
Pan on the stove. Rice, water (quantities will vary depending on your pan—some lids make tighter seals than others, so the amount of boiling-off of water will vary), put in pan, put lid on, bring to boil, reduce heat, cook until done, but don't remove the lid, or steam will escape and you'll need to add extra boiling water. You'll learn by experience how long you need to cook it for it to be done to your taste. Here's an extract from Zen Vegetarian Cooking, by Soei Yoneda and Koei Hoshino:
“The mnemonic for cooking rice on wood-burning stoves is ato saki soro-soro, naka pa-pa, which means low heat at beginning and end and strong heat in the middle. The interpretation of this simple rule varies considerably.
“Three methods of cooking rice are included here to allow readers to find the way that gets the best flavor for the kind of rice available. The variety of short-grain rice, whether its cultivation is wet or dry, its storage age—all these factors affect the flavor and the cooking method. Most people have no source for such esoteric information. So—just cook the rice and enjoy. If you wish to experiment, try these cooking methods or make up your own. The first is the author's, who is from Kyoto; the second is that of a woman who rigorously tests various cooking methods. The third is that of an eighty-three-year-old mother of seven and grandmother of nine, a native of Tokyo.
“Washing: Before cooking begins, the rice must be washed—very well. Stir the rice vigorously in the saucepan you will cook it in, changing water repeatedly until the water is as clear as it will get. There should be no powder in the rice to cloud the water. This milky water can be used to parboil acrid or bitter vegetables such as bamboo shoots or to nourish your garden, etc.
“Water: After washing rice, add 10 percent more water than volume of dry rice and let rice stand in water in the saucepan or rice cooker for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
“Style I: Cover pan and cook over low heat until boiling. Check by lifting lid.
“Increase heat to medium-high and keep lid slightly ajar until foam rises in pot (about 4 minutes).
“Place lid on securely and reduce heat to low until rice is cooked and all water absorbed—roughly 10 minutes. Taste the rice. If it needs more cooking, then do so.
“Style II: Bring rice to a boil over high heat in covered pan.
“Remove lid and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook until liquid gets very foamy and holes are formed in surface of rice. You cannot see the rice surface, but most of the foaming occurs above these holes.
“Cover pan, reduce heat to low, and cook until all liquid is absorbed—about 9-10 minutes.
“Style III: Cover pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Do not remove lid at any time during cooking (unless some extra ingredient is added near end).
“When lid begins to dance, reduce heat to low and cook until all liquid absorbed—about 15-20 minutes.
“Raise heat to high for 30-40 seconds; turn off heat, and let stand for 5 minutes.
“If you have an enameled cast iron pot with a snug fitting lid to cook rice in then you are lucky. If your rice-cooking pot does not come up to this ideal, make friends with it and find out the best way to meet its requirements for making good rice.”
I saw this method posted by Sandra B. Dykes on rec.food.cooking and it works well, for rice and also barley (not tried any other grains this way yet). It's a good way to add flavouring agents such as onion and celery to the rice—their flavour seems to be preserved better than if you just throw them into the rice cooker or saucepan when using those methods. It's also a handy method if you're going to have the oven on anyway, but its main advantage for me is that the end result is different from other cooking methods, and since I eat a *lot* of rice, I like the variety. I sometimes cook a pan of this at the weekend and then keep it in the fridge for use throughout the week (mainly in packed lunches and for breakfast). Rice always goes a bit hard in the fridge, but if it's well-wrapped then when you heat it up again (even just to room temperature) it will soften.
(Disclaimer: Some people say don't keep rice longer than a day or so because you'll get food poisoning. There are probably thousands and thousands of posts on usenet discussing this. Check for the old discussions on groups.google.com and make up your own mind.)
The vegetable stock should be well-flavoured. Stock made from a cube or powder is absolutely fine for this recipe. Makes 6 cups of cooked grain.
Mix the rice or barley with the onion and celery in an ovenproof dish or loaf pan.
Heat up the stock (or use stock powder and make with boiling water) and add the margarine, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Mix to melt the margarine in. Pour over the rice and mix.
Bake at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 45–75 minutes, until done to taste. Barley takes longer than rice.