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Maybe it's the time of year, or maybe it's the tough economic times, but these days I find myself longing for old-fashioned comfort foods, such as hearty stews, soups, and other simple, inexpensive dishes. And nothing reminds me of more of comfort food than a simmering slow-cooker.

My mom still has—and recently drafted back into active duty—the avocado-green-colored one with the funky paisley designs that I fondly remember her using to serve up myriad lentil concoctions in the 1970s. I guess those were relatively lean times too, at least for our family, but I'd be hard-pressed to name a time in my life when I was any happier. Maybe I'm just waxing nostalgic, but that slow-cooker is no small part of the slow-cooked memories from that simpler time in my life, which I cherish to this day.

I'd go so far as to say that the slow-cooker may be the ultimate mean, green, recession-fighting machine.

Slow-cookers cost around $30 and use just 100 watts of electricity, which means that if you used one once a week for eight hours at a time, it would cost less than $1 a month in electricity!

But that's only the beginning of the savings.

Slow-cooking is a great way to transform inexpensive ingredients—including cheaper, less choice cuts of meat—into tender, delectable, one-pot meals. If you're a meat-eater, consider trying recipes that incorporate inexpensive cuts of meat you might not otherwise buy: whole fryers, pork hocks and neck bones, smoked turkey legs and wings, and tougher cuts of pork, lamb, and beef.

Since most slow-cookers hold between four and six quarts, they're also perfect for batch cooking. You can freeze the leftovers and save even more on groceries and dining out down the road. Because few slow-cooker recipes call for adding extra oil or using grease, most of these dishes can be relatively lower in fat compared to frying or other traditional cooking methods, which often add extra fat.

Jeff Yeager is the author of the book, The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. His Web site is

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