Full disclosure: Until recently, I didn’t understand why people seemed to love their slow cookers so much. Now, I pretty much consider mine a stowable sister wife. I mean, what’s not to love about a gadget you can still buy for under $50 that cooks dinner while you’re not at home? I attribute my late adoption of The Slow Cooker Life to the fact that when I tried slow cooker dishes at other people’s houses – chili at a potluck, meatballs at a party – the flavour wasn’t always fantastic. In fact, the food tended to be bland and tasted kind of all the same. A great recipe, like the ones developed in our very own Canadian Living Test Kitchen, makes all the difference. As it turns out, slow-cooker food doesn’t have to be bland or mushy! (I can hear you saying, “Duh!” I know, I know. All that wasted time standing by the stove-top, or resorting to takeout on weeknights when there was just no time to cook.) What led me to dust off the slow cooker was my induction as a hockey mom two years ago. Out of the blue, my younger daughter, Isobel, then six, announced that she wanted to play house league. Hubs was thrilled, of course. But between her practices and games, and her older sister’s dance classes, our weekends were shot. Things have only become busier since, but now I just prep slow cooker meals using the teeny tiny pockets of time around our usual weekend to-dos. Here’s how cooking the yummy Smoky Bacon Corn Chowder from the cover of the Test Kitchen’s New Slow Cooker Favourites book played out on Sunday. (Actual recipe time investment is in bold type.) 1 p.m.: Deal with mountain of dishes in the sink while my daughter Bronwyn chooses the recipe. 1:30 - 1:37 p.m.: Prep ingredients for chowder (My fave hack for chopping bacon: use scissors!) 1:38 p.m.: Bronwyn dumps chowder ingredients into the slow cooker and presses Start. 1:40 p.m.: Switch over laundry in the basement. (Good news: the mountain of dirty clothes in the basement is shrinking! Bad news: the mountain of dirty clothes in the hampers upstairs is still growing.) Meanwhile, Bronwyn is chopping apples for applesauce she plans to cook. 2 – 3 p.m.: Tidy up living room in preparation for vacuuming. 3 p.m. Isobel and my husband Matt return from hockey practice. Of course, Isobel is starving, so thank goodness for the applesauce. 3:30 p.m. Stir chowder in the slow cooker. 3:31 p.m. Turn attention to that night’s dinner—and, what the heck, since the chowder is cooking itself, I decide to throw together a pot of lentil and kale soup on the stove-top, as a way of rescuing the almost-forgotten kale in the fridge. 7 – 7:03 p.m. Per recipe directions, add an extra ½ cup of corn kernels, broccoli florets (which I wash and chop) and cream to the chowder in the slow cooker. 7:30 p.m.: Chowder is done! Pour into a storage dish and refrigerate. So, for a total time commitment of maybe 15 minutes, the slow cooker helped me take care of these meals: - Monday lunch for Bronwyn (packed in a Thermos) - Monday dinner for the family - Tuesday lunch for me (reheated at work) - Future dinner for when Matt is away on a work trip (tucked in the freezer) For a more ways you can cook dinner (while barely being at home), see our roundup of slow cooker recipes here.