A few minutes of morning prep makes an effortless, flavor-packed meal.

On a harried weeknight, there's nothing better than a dinner that takes eight hours to cook―if you're using a slow cooker. This wonderful device warps time in your favor. You already know that if you've cooked with one, but if not, here's how the magic works. In the morning, put the ingredients of your choice into the pot, plug it in, and go do whatever you want. All day long, your dish will simmer on low heat. When you return to your kitchen in the evening, the slow-cooker magic will be finished, and your dinner will be fully cooked. Just pull out the plates, and you're ready to eat.

Though most popular for cooking chilis and stews, slow cookers also can be used for dishes that are usually prepared in a pan or skillet, such as chicken Provençale and barbecued beef. The slow cooker is really the way to go. It intensifies flavor with persistent, gentle heat, giving those few minutes of before-work prep time a payoff in taste that would seem to have required hours in the kitchen. Actually, hours were spent in the kitchen―but not by you.