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Get back into the Crock-Pot groove

At the end of a hard day at work, there's something extremely gratifying about walking into a home filled with the aromas of a long-simmered, Crock-Pot meal.

So why aren't you using yours more often? That's the question my husband posed to me last week in response to my rant regarding a lack of time and energy to produce delicious meals. After all, he reminded me, our Crock-Pot — aka "slow cooker" — is the kind and gentle solution for producing maximum flavor and tenderness with minimal effort.

Let's face it, cooking at a daily pace is frustrating, even for those of us who have a genuine passion for cooking. Run the numbers, and you'll realize that over a lifetime, the family cook cranks out more meals than ... well, do we really want to go there? So anytime I can ease the stress and still produce a fine meal, I feel I've beat the system.

Thus, I'm taking the slow-cooker pledge right now: At a time of year when savory, stewy entrees are most appreciated, I will enlist my slow cooker more often. It can do the heavy lifting in the kitchen while I carry on with my life in other corners of the world.

Beyond simple encouragement to get you back into the Crock-Pot groove, do I really have to tell you how to use one? The only major piece of advice I have is to brown meat and onions before adding them to the pot. I know there are tons of Crock-Pot recipes out there extolling the virtues of NOT doing that, but there's a huge color and flavor difference in a stew or soup that has started out with browned meat and onions and one that hasn't had such preliminary treatment.

And so without further ado, I'm sharing some of my favorite, tried-and-true Crock-Pot maneuvers. Feel free to fine-tune them to fit your tastes.

The first recipe, Gingered Beef Short Ribs, was my "company's coming" meal just last week. I hadn't made it in quite a while but remembered how rich and flavorful it is, thanks to the melange of finely minced garlic, carrots, celery and garlic that melt into the beefy broth, producing an off-the-chart eating experience. Indeed, everyone went home feeling pampered and satisfied.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.