We are right in the middle of a fast-paced holiday season. It is a time when food is center stage at many gatherings and holiday events. Where do slow cooker recipes fit in to this festive time of year?

The slow cooker is a life saver in our home right now. There is not a busier month on our family calendar. Our daughters are on two different basketball teams. Our oldest daughter is nearly halfway through a senior year loaded with tough classes and numerous club meetings. She also players winter softball. The other has club volleyball practices and piano lessons.

Throw in extra holiday concerts, church functions, social gatherings, shopping and baking and there’s barely time to catch our breath as our back door continuously swings on its hinges. That is where the slow cooker comes in!

On the nights when the calendar has us in and out of the house for any number of things and at different times, the slow cooker means there is a meal ready to eat at whatever time it is needed. Preparation is simple and cleanup is a breeze.

On a rare night when we are not coming and going, a slow cooker meal frees up precious time that can be spent preparing for those fancier meal gatherings by either menu planning and writing the grocery list or baking those holiday cookies or making candy. Anything that will reduce the stress later in the month is a great use of time.

A couple of slow cooker basics to know:

• A slow cooker should be at least half to three-quarters full for best results. Do not overfill.

• The low setting on a slow cooker is about 200 degrees. The high setting is about 300 degrees. Depending on the age and brand of the slow cooker, this can vary considerably.

• One hour cooking on high equals about two hours cooking on low.

• Limit lifting the slow cooker lid when cooking. Each time the lid is removed, heat escapes and the cooking time should be extended by about 20 minutes. To check the cooking progress, spin the cover until the condensation falls off and there’s a clearer view of the contents.

Janelle Thomas can be reached at janellethomas@charter.net.