If you'd like to do more home cooking but are pressed for time, you have a couple of options. One is to cook dishes that don't take long to make. While that doesn't necessarily mean limiting yourself to ramen noodles and mac 'n' cheese, it does limit your options, especially if you want to cook from scratch.
The other option is to use a slow cooker, or what most of us refer to as a crockpot. With one of these countertop appliances, you can throw something together in the morning and have a hot entree waiting for you when you arrive home in the late afternoon.
Trouble is, even if you have a slow cooker ("Crock-Pot" is a registered trademark of the Rival Company"), and even if you're handy in the kitchen, you may not have a lot of ideas about what to do with it, aside from a few obvious dishes like stew and chili.
To expand your slow-cooker repertoire, The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes can help. Now in its second edition, this cookbook by food writer Judith Finlayson combines a useful general guide to using your slow cooker and a broad compendium of recipes covering everything from appetizers and fondues to soups, meat entrees, grain-based sides, and desserts.
According to the back-cover blurb, the second edition includes 100 recipes from the first edition, which was published ten years ago, plus 75 new recipes, "including 25 bonus recipes!" I'm not sure why it's not just called The 175 Best Slow Cooker Recipes, or what makes those 25 recipes "bonus," but there's enough here to allow you to dine on slow-cooker meals for months without getting bored.
The recipes run from basic, tried-and-true standards like chicken and dumplings and pot roast to ethnic dishes like lamb korma with spinach and pork vindaloo. The recipes are clearly presented and accompanied by practical tips about matters like cooking techniques and ingredient substitutions. For the most part, ingredient lists and instructions are relatively brief, and all the recipes in the book can be put together in a reasonably short time. An eight-page introduction also provides a succinct overview of slow cooker basics.
The book is logically arranged, with chapters progressing from appetizers to entrees, sides and desserts. The index is thorough and easy to use, and the book is nicely illustrated, with full-page color photographs of about a third of the finished dishes.
When I've got the time, I enjoy preparing a full meal, step by step. And thankfully I've got a wife who prepares home-cooked meals for our family most days, when I'm at work. But there are times when we're both going to be tied up all day, and when that happens, a slow cooker is a great option. And now we don't have to get bored with the same old dishes. I like beef stew and chili as much as the next guy, but I'm looking forward to working my way through The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes.
The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes, by Judith Finlayson. (2nd ed. 2011) Robert Rose, Inc. 288 pages.