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Article updated: 4/10/2013 6:00 PM

Slow cookers help busy mom get dinner on the table


According to Cheryl Moeller, teenagers, left to their own devices. would eat Lou Malnati's pizza every night. That's why this mother of six likes to stay one step ahead of her kids and have dinner ready and smelling good when they get home.

"I feel like I have a PhD times two when I know what we're having for dinner by 9 in the morning, This way when they come in the door, the decision is made for them," the Arlington Heights mom said.

In fact, Cheryl often does have her dinner prepared and "in the oven" first thing in the morning, with the aid of not one, but two slow cookers. And her kids aren't complaining.

"When you just cook the main dish in one, you still have to make something to go with the meal and that is really annoying. So I've been doing this for years."

Cheryl has found this system so successful that she decided to write a cookbook about it. "Creative Slow Cooker Meals" (available at Amazon.com) offers 262 recipes -- presented as pairs -- with the use of two slow cookers in mind.

"The premise is that so many people are having just one homemade meal a week. This is a way to solve that problem."

Cheryl, who has a graduate degree from a seminary, enjoys solving problems and often speaks to groups of young mothers.

"These young mothers have a lot on their minds. They want better nutrition for their children, but they have no time. This is just common sense; you let the slow cooker do the work for you."

It took Cheryl four years to perfect the recipes for her book.

"I tested each recipe at least four times to get it right. I knew that if my friends got my cookbook and actually made the recipes, and they didn't turn out, I might as well go live in the arctic!" she laughs.

The cookbook is organized into several themed chapters. Adventurous eaters, vegetarians, vegans and even people who eat gluten-free will find recipes they can use. There is a chapter on party foods and one on bargain meals, good for those on a tight budget.

Aside from saving you time, Cheryl says there are several other advantages to using low cookers.

"One thing we love is that it's very economical. Using a slow cooker costs pennies a day, versus what it costs to turn on a huge oven, It's also green. Years ago we had the utility companies came out and they told us that it saves a lot of energy. And in the summer, it's nice not to have to heat the whole house to cook a meal."

It is true that slow cookers suffer from a bad reputation.

"Sometimes I don't tell my guests that the dinner is from a slow cooker," admits Cheryl with a laugh, "I try to up the ambiance."

Her guests never guess because these recipes are not what you might expect. Cheryl uses slow cookers to make breads (placing a bread pan inside an oval slow cooker), desserts, Italian beef sandwiches, hot chocolate, soups, stews and fajitas.

"I'm not one to have a lot of small appliances around so through the years I've experimented and used my slow cooker in a variety of ways; it's been a tortilla warmer, a fondue pot, rice maker, bread maker, pancake warmer and -- this one is crazy -- I've even made sorbet in one."

The recipes Cheryl shares with us today are tried and true family favorites. Dig out that slow cooker and dust it off. Perhaps just once you'll be able to avoid hearing, "Can we get pizza tonight?"

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