I did a post last year on the efficiency of crock pots and came to the final conclusion that they were indeed more energy efficient than an electric oven or stove. So when my editor asked me to cook with one and see how it worked out, I was game. I didn't own a crock pot, so I dragged my husband off to our local Canadian Tire to scope them out. I pictured the two of us checking out efficiency ratings and discussing which would be the best brand to buy. It didn't really work like that.

Of the fifteen or so choices we were faced with, none had anything on the packaging to tell you about the amount of power the appliance uses. In fact, even the manual that comes with the cooker doesn't give you that information. In the end our choice of crock pot came down to two factors: size and simplicity. With just the two of us to cook for I really didn't need a ten quart crock pot, nor do I have the cupboard space to house it. Even the five quart which I ended up with is very big. Some of the crock pots had jazzy electronics, with timers and clocks and many cooking settings. We chose the simple one that has a knob that you can turn to low, high and warm. We thought if the electronics go, the crock pot is destined for the landfill. If our on/off switch goes, we can get it repaired.

I've used my crock pot twice now, with mixed results. The first time I tossed in some chicken breasts, potatoes, onions, carrots and celery and then added some herbs, white wine and a bit of water. It cooked for about six hours on low, which turned out to be a bit too long. When my daughter called me the next morning to ask how it worked out I said, it was like cholent, but with chicken. Then my mother-in-law was coming for dinner, so I told her she was going to be my guinea pig. I cooked a rump roast for seven hours although the manual said eight hours was required. The roast flaked apart rather than allowing for slicing. When my mother-in-law took her first bite, she said "it's cholent". It was tasty, but odd. It was like skipping the roast beef part and moving straight onto Shepherd's Pie.

Obviously this is going to take a bit of getting used to, but I can see it's virtue already. I have very busy Monday afternoons and evenings and I'm always in a rush to get dinner on the table before I have to go out. Being able to assemble dinner in the early afternoon or morning is going to be a great benefit to me. I'm going to try a vegetarian dish today, following a recipe rather than winging it as I did before. I could see this being a wonderful thing for working families, or for university students who want to do the one pot meal routine, especially if you have to pay your own electrical bill. It might just be a great green Christmas present for the cook on your list.

Difficulty Level: Easy