At our house, we have what we call the back room. Originally, it was a two-car garage, but before we moved in, it was converted into a carpeted office. It houses a pool table, foosball and air hockey tables, a jukebox, refrigerator, my monthly Christmas tree decorations and various other items.

I have a big concern that when it comes time for our daughter Sarah to take possession of our belongings, a big dumpster will be parked by the back door and quickly filled with a lifetime of items I treasure. Many times, I have tried to impress upon Sarah that there are probably lots of valuables mixed in with the not-worth-a-darn thing things. There’s an Atari “Pong” game and two life-size Elvis cardboard cutouts back there, for goodness’ sake.

The back room is important because it is where 17 slow cookers are stored. There’s a large shelving unit that houses most of these appliances.

You may ask why so many slow cookers, other than to give Sarah a glimpse of her future. Some are perfect for dips and fondue. Some hook up together so only one outlet is needed. Some have regular lids, and some have safety hooks for travel. Another is shaped like a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

One of the most important slow cooker tips is to use the correct size. A 3- or 4-quart cooker is perfect for most dishes. The slow cooker will work at high efficiency if filled from half to three-quarters full, so a variety of sizes comes in handy.

In my opinion, the slow cooker liner is one of the best inventions of at least this decade and if not this century. While I wish it had been me, I am grateful to the genius who came up with the idea. Now I don’t give a second thought to fixing cheese dip. If you have never tried a liner, run to the store and buy a package of them, and it will be a life changer.

Most of us probably use slow cookers for chicken and beef. Boneless skinless chicken breasts cook best on high in four hours while eight hours on low will produce best beef results. If given high or low options and time allows, choose low and slow for most recipes. Very few slow cooker dishes don’t fare well with cooking longer than instructed, especially on low setting so all day cooking dinner works.

Too hurried in the morning to fill that slow cooker before rushing out the door? Prep the night before. I have been known to get everything in the slow cooker before bed and put the crock in the fridge. So easy to assure dinner is ready when you get home.

Depending on the ingredients, there’s sometimes a moisture build-up on the inside of the slow cooker lid that can affect the food. Lay a couple of paper towels across the top of the cooker and put the lid in place. The towels should be close to the lid, and they will absorb that unwanted fluid so it doesn’t dilute the food.

Summer is perfect for slow cooking so the oven doesn’t need to be fired up, but fall and winter are my favorite for comfort dinners and filling soups. May just have to line up several slow cookers on the cabinet and prove to Sarah just how valuable they can be.

Today’s dessert recipe is the easiest one I know and maybe the best flavor duo ever. Change it up with chocolate cake and cherry pie filling for a black forest cake. A spice cake and apple pie filling combo screams fall. Strawberry cake and strawberry pie filling calls for a party and yellow cake and peach pie filling deserves a scoop of ice cream. The chicken alfredo is a quick fix of popular dish. These recipes are from “Dump Dinners & More for Your Slow Cooker.”

Have a wonderful week, and happy eating.

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Easy lemon-blueberry dessert

2 cans blueberry pie filling

1 lemon cake mix

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted

Spray inside of slow cooker or use liner. Pour pie filling evenly into slow cooker. Sprinkle cake mix over pie filling and drizzle butter over cake mix. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours.

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Parmesan chicken alfredo

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, halved

2 jars Parmesan alfredo sauce

1/2 cup water

1 (4-ounce) can mushrooms

1/2 cup Parmesan, grated (garnish)

Spray inside of slow cooker or use liner. Place chicken in slow cooker; pour sauce over chicken. Add water and mushrooms. Cover and cook low 3 to 4 hours or until chicken is cooked through. Serve over pasta and garnish with grated cheese.

Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.

Cheryle Finley is a food columnist for The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.

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