If my slow cooker were a man, I would marry it. When I walk in from the cold, surrounded by hungry kids, and this cheap and simple appliance greets me with the aroma of a ready-made dinner, I have been known to bend down and kiss it. My slow cooker is my right hand, my secret weapon in the daily fight to get family together around the dinner table.
Without it, we might starve.
I don't believe in just dumping ingredients into a slow cooker. Taking an extra 5 to 10 minutes to sear meat and vegetables before turning on the slow cooker will improve the flavor of your dishes dramatically. A few years ago, I purchased a multi-function slow cooker that allows me to sear food before setting it to slow cook. Pure genius. Everything stays in one pot and there's less to clean, but the same results can be achieved if you have a traditional slow cooker and a frying pan. You'll just have an extra pot to clean.
From the moment the kids get out of school, life is a whirlwind of activities. Let your slow cooker do the heavy lifting by cooking while you run around. Whether you're craving a bowl of golden vegetable soup or a hearty pumpkin chili, your slow cooker can deliver a delicious dinner on even the busiest nights.
Vanessa Druckman is the crazed suburban mom of four and author of Chefdruck: French Foodie Mom, chefdruck.com.