The slow cooker is my second most-loved countertop kitchen appliance, right after the coffee maker. There are recipes to make practically anything in the slow cooker – soups, casseroles, breads, desserts — even lasagna.

In the 1970s, slow cookers were marketed as essential time-savers for working moms, and I have to say that I can relate to that marketing tactic. It is comforting knowing that my family’s dinner is at home cooking all day while I am at work, and I have one less thing to worry about when I get home.

The first patent for a slow cooker was filed in 1936 by an inventor named Irving Naxon. His invention was called "Naxon’s Beanery," and it was primarily marketed through the Sears catalog and to restaurants to hold their soups and chili. The appliance didn’t reach mass-market appeal until Naxon sold it to the Rival company in the 1970s, where it was renamed the Crock-Pot.

Another reason for the rise of the slow cooker in the 1970s: the energy crisis. Slow cookers use considerably less energy than ovens. Manufacturers used this to their advantage, proudly proclaiming that their products use the same amount of electricity as a lightbulb.

If you’re making dinner in your slow cooker tonight, here are a few tips:

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  • Don’t peek.It takes a long time for your slow cooker to make its way to the desired temperature. Every time you remove the lid, it releases essential steam and can add approximately 30 minutes to your cooking time.
  • Thaw meat first.If your meat is frozen when placed in the slow cooker, it may take too long to reach a safe temperature. This increases the risk of foodborne illness.
  • Add certain dairy products last.Wait until the end of cooking time to add milk, yogurt or sour cream. If added too early, these ingredients tend to break down.

When it comes to slow cooker recipes, my favorite are the simplest "dump and go" type. Here’s a very simple, dietitian-created recipe to try in your slow cooker.

1 pound raw boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes with garlic

1 cup frozen corn kernels

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added navy beans, rinsed and drained

½ cup buffalo sauce, such as Hickory House Big Bad Buffalo Wing Sauce

2 cups no-salt-added chicken broth

1 tablespoon dry ranch dressing mix, such as Hidden Valley

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon celery salt

½ teaspoon dried cilantro leaves

½ (8-ounce) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, cubed

Add raw chicken breasts, tomatoes, corn, beans, buffalo sauce and chicken broth to a 4-quart slow cooker. Stir in ranch dressing mix, onion powder, garlic powder, celery salt, dried cilantro and cream cheese.

Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.

Remove chicken breasts from slow cooker and shred, using 2 forks, into bite-size pieces. Add shredded chicken back to slow cooker and heat through. Stir thoroughly to incorporate cream cheese.

Nutrition facts per serving: 190 calories, 4.5g fat, 2g saturated fat, 50mg cholesterol, 910mg sodium, 18g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 5g sugars, 18g protein

Source: Hy-Vee.com