One of the best wedding gifts my husband and I received 19 years ago this month was our Crock Pot. Still going strong (even though it’s stained a bit on the outside and the plastic knob broke off of the switch several years ago), I wanted to give a shout out for this amazing appliance in the hopes that busy, stressed-out people might start using a slow cooker (if they don’t already) and realize how great it is, too.  Finding good recipes to prepare in it has been a challenge over the years (with one cookbook I tried, every recipe seemed to turn out like mush) but I’ve had a ton of success with Homemade Gourmet recipes and products (there are currently 206 slow cooker recipes at ) and once in awhile I’ll also find a winner in a magazine or newspaper. In my opinion, a good slow cooker recipe is one in which not only the outcome is yummy, but also, the preparation should be very easy.  Forget all those recipes where you have to broil meat first or chop 10 different vegetables—that much prep defeats the purpose of this appliance! If I can’t throw a few things in the pot, stir and then turn the switch on, fuh-getta-bout it. Yep, a truly good slow cooker recipe is like gold—hard to find, but worth hunting down.

Why is a slow cooker so great? Let me count the ways:

1. Your main course is ready and waiting for you at the end of a long day. And if you’ll be away from home a little longer than it takes to cook, or need to leave the house a little bit before it needs to start, you can buy a timer, plug the slow cooker into that, and let the timer turn it on and off.

2. Your breakfast is ready for you when you wake up (Did you know that you can slow-cook oatmeal all night while you sleep, and wake up to a hot breakfast in the morning? I will share the recipe in the comments section if anyone wants it).

3. Having a slow cooker on all day (or night) makes your house smell good.

4. Even if you’re a non-cook, if you stick to the definition of “easy recipe” I mention above, you can be a cook. And even if you forget to prepare it or are too busy to prepare it when you’ve planned, there’s always the “High” setting for just about everything. (In my house, the high setting has saved the day many times…) On High, your meal is done in 3-4 hours.

5. It warms your kitchen. Yeah, and so does an oven, but it’s still another bonus in the winter. And I know, now that summer’s coming, who needs that…but I like mine so much, maybe I’ll just plug it in on the patio this year. For summer, the slow cooker is good for side dishes to go with grilled meat, and grilling is another very quick and EASY cooking method you should perfect if you haven’t already (see my post on indirect gas grilling from June 2010).

6. It’s good for your well-being, your family’s and your marriage’s.   I don’t know about you, but I feel my best during the day and my worst around 5 p.m.  Aren’t we all that way? I mean, I’ve heard statistics before that say early evening is the most stressful time for marriages and families.  I think it’s true! Kids are hungry and cranky, adults are, too, and stressed out from a long day—who wants to add “cooking dinner” on top of all that? I think I even move slower then, and sometimes it seems to take forever to get dinner on the table. No wonder so many people grab fast food.  But with a slow cooker, you fix the main part of the meal at a better time of day, taking one factor out of the daily stress equation (or you can throw the ingredients into a freezer bag over the weekend—there are even bags that can go from freezer right into the Crock Pot, so the clean-up is minimal—you just have to add a little more cook time if you don’t thaw it first).

7. It’s the next best thing to having a live-in cook.  Well, not exactly, but…take today for example (author’s note: this post was written a couple weeks ago). I spent most of my day driving to schools, hauling kids to doctor’s appointments and music lessons, walking dogs, and going to the grocery store.  It’s 5 p.m., and I haven’t had time to do any writing at all or take any “me” time, and if I was having to cook dinner, that “me” time would be vanishing. But, thanks to about 10 minutes I was able to find in mid-afternoon, I used that time to throw some meat, spices and water in the Crock Pot. And now, I am almost giddy with happiness that I can sit here and write this while the lovely smell of Beef Stroganoff wafts through the air.  It’s like Alice from the Brady Bunch is in my kitchen right now…

Bon Anniversaire, my Crock Pot!