I have had mixed results with crockpot cooking, but it is so nice to come home to a warm pot of something this time of year that I thought I would share my experiences with some common crockpot quirks.
1. Cream soups. Ugh. The reason for using these is that they are very chemically stable and hold up to the unique crockpot environment, where nearly all dairy products don't. This is fairly intuitive, since dairy doesn't do well in any long simmering. (A way to get around the preponderance of tomato-y crock recipes, if you really want to use the crock every night.) If you hate these, skip the recipe. There is no getting around them. Creaminess can be had with cream cheese, but I would recommend trying an established recipe before experimenting. Coconut milk is another creamy alternative, because it doesn't break down like dairy does.
2. Onion soup mix, etc. These are used strictly for convenience. There is no reason not to substitute your own blend of spices. The only exception I can see is ranch dressing mix - which is typically another way to get around the creamy problem.
3. Bouillon cubes, or (more commonly) granules. These are often added to beef up a recipe without adding liquid. Because of how a crockpot works, very little cooking liquid is needed; sometimes none. The crock extracts a lot of liquid from the food. If the recipe also calls for water, you could obviously substitute a good stock, but otherwise skip it if you don't use the powdered stuff. The liquid issue is also why canned tomato products are usually used - in a crock fresh tomatoes can really bump up the liquid levels.
4. Browning. I agree this is a pain, but it does have a purpose in addition to the layer of flavor. Any extra fat in a crockpot dish ends up making the dish a liquidy, goopy, greasy mess. The browning (and mandatory draining) gets rid of some of the structural fat before you put it in the pot. This is why you really don't find recipes that call for browning chicken breasts pre-crock. I spent a lot of time rebelling against this (I despise low-fat diets), but it really is a technical thing - I learned the hard way. Trim your meat almost surgically, remove the chicken skin, and brown fattier meats. If you don't have time, stick to boneless breasts or veggie dishes.
5. Beans. Oddly, these are the one traditional "simmer" dish that doesn't do well in a crockpot. They don't cook right but instead become increasingly tough. But there is no reason not to substitute home-cooked for canned if you prefer.
6. Spices. If you use a dried herb, add it at the beginning. If you substitute fresh, stir it in just before serving. The exception is rosemary which can be added at the beginning, even if fresh. Fresh ginger can also be added at the beginning & is preferable to powdered.
I have included a link to the most recent crock recipe that I made. It was not successful for my family because it was quite spicy, but I thought it was good. Get the best smoked sausage you can find (if you have a 3 1/2 qt. crock only use one pound), and I would suggest subbing your own stock for the bouillon & water combo.
Also, if you come across a recipe that calls for peanut butter, use Jif or the like, *not* natural. Just trust me, please don't ask me how I know. ;)