Slow cooker--whether and which?
I have been on a small appliance binge but desperately trying to get things under control. I've already got a Zojurushi Neuro Fuzzy electric rice cooker. Will it do everything a slow cooker/crock pot does? If so, can I just use the slow cooker recipes as written or do I need to make adjustments? If not, what brand and model of slow cooker do you recommend for a small family (e.g., do I need programmability if I'm just interested in making slowed-cooked stews and soups)? Lastly, any good "new cuisine" slow cooker cookbooks out there?
I've never used a rice cooker, so I'm not sure about that part of your question. But, I don't think they stay turned on for very long, and the whole point of slow cookers is just that--low and slow. I have always had a crock pot, and use it regularly. The trick is to use it only for what it's designed for--basically stocks, stews, braises. It's also excellent for making beans. I've never liked the recipes for things like roasting a chicken in one. Mine is a Rival, simple and basic. Not programmable. It works fine. My old one, which eventually wore out (after 15 years) had a couple of features I slightly miss. It had a stovetop proof crock, so you could brown ingredients in the crock, then insert it into the heater, and it had a setting for doing two hrs. on high, then switching over to low. My new one lacks both of these features, and it's not a tragedy. Do be sure you get one that has a removable crock (they almost all do these days) and that you get one of a suitable size for your family (too big doesn't work well, and too small is, well, too small). I do beans overnight, stick them in the fridge in the morning (dried beans)--very efficient. Soups, braises are perfect because stuff doesn't burn and you can leave it unattended safely.
Crock pots do the job so well, I wouldn't bother trying to use a rice steamer that way.
We have an older Rival that has a removable crock and "autoshift" -- even your most basic model today should have these features. It has served us well for 15 years -- my guess is that we will get sick of it before it stops working.
The newer models have some cool features: built-in ladles, lid locks (to avoid spills en route to the pot luck) and programmed start and stop. They also have a "warm" temp settings for using on a buffet -- the regular "low" setting is just shy of a simmer, a little too hot for serving.
If you need to feed the masses, consider a Nesco oven (mind your circuit-breakers, they pull a lot of juice!)