When preparing the Thanksgiving feast, let your slow cooker help

swthompson@herald-leader.comNovember 20, 2013 

Chances are many of us are already fretting about how we're going to roast the turkey, bake the sweet potato casserole, and the broccoli casserole, and the macaroni and cheese, all at the same time on Thanksgiving Day.

If you haven't already made the slow cooker a part of your holiday ritual, then it's time to plug it in, buy a new one or borrow one from a friend.

Phyllis Good, author of the Fix-It and Forget-It series of slow cooker cookbooks, said using the slow cooker can be a big help with holiday meals.

"First, it allows you to do a lot of the prep well in advance of serving the meal, so you aren't in a last-minute panic as a cook. Second, it can do a lot of what your oven does, so if your oven is full, put your slow cooker to work. Third, it doesn't heat up the house, so if you've got a bunch of people, it's a good way to keep the temperature of your rooms under control," she said.

Several manufacturers offer buffet-style slow cookers with two or three ceramic pots that sit within a serving frame. Each pot has its own thermostat. There's also the double dipper slow cooker that has a divided stoneware for warming two dips or dishes at the same time.

When planning your holiday menu and thinking about dishes that would work well in a slow cooker, Good recommends mashed potatoes.

"Mashed potatoes are a dream in the slow cooker and they won't slosh around as you travel. The density of potatoes means that they hold the heat for an extended period of time, too," she said.

Rice, rosemary carrots, party walnut broccoli and corn bread dressing, are also dishes that travel well, and the recipes are in her latest book, Fix-It and Forget-It New Cookbook.

Good, whose books have sold more than 11 million copies, is in Phase 2 of the series, which has color photos of all the recipes, including the perfectly formed pumpkin pecan pie, after they've been made in the slow cooker.

"It really works," she said of making pumpkin pecan pie in a slow cooker. "You pat the pie crust into the cooker and crimp the edges when you've got the crust in place. Then, you mix the filling, pour it in, and place the pecans on top. The trick is to make sure the filling has set (check the middle to make sure) before you try to cut it. Getting out the first piece takes some care. I usually cut straight across from one side to the other through the center of the pie, and then cut each half into wedges. You'll have to kind of wiggle the first piece out; plan to eat that slice yourself. But then after that one's out of the way, the others come out clean."

Good roasts the Thanksgiving turkey in the slow cooker. "Turkey has enough heft that it responds quite well to the slow, moist heat," she said.

"The convenience of using the slow cooker when I'm hosting — or contributing if someone else is hosting — is such a relief when I'm making lots of dishes and still trying to be part of the visiting."

If you're contributing to the feast, and not hosting, it's easy to take your dish in the slow cooker. Some slow cooker models feature a lock top and insulated carrying case. If not, you can attach heavy-duty rubber bands around the handles and the lid, or use bungee cords. After securing the lid, wrap the covered cooker in a couple of towels, line a box with a plastic garbage bag (in case of any spills), nestle the wrapped cooker into the box, and then cover the box with several layers of towels.

RECIPES

Here are some recipes that cook and travel well in a slow cooker.

Pumpkin pecan pie

2 packages flat refrigerated pie dough

4 eggs

1 can (16 ounces) pumpkin

¾ cup sugar

½ cup dark corn syrup

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup pecans

Press pie crusts into a cold 4- or 5-quart slow cooker. Overlap seams by ¼ inch, pressing to seal them. Tear off pieces so the crusts fit partway up the sides, pressing the pieces together at all seams.

In a large bowl beat eggs lightly. Then stir in pumpkin, sugar, corn syrup, cinnamon, and salt, and mix well.

Pour into unbaked pie shell. Arrange pecans on top. Cover. Cook on High for 1½ hours, or until the filling is set and a knife blade inserted in the center comes out clean. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

From Fix-It and Forget It New Cookbook by Phyllis Good

Baked corn

2 cans (14 ounces each) creamed corn

4 eggs, beaten

1 to 1½ teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1½ cups milk

Combine everything in a greased 3- or 4-quart slow cooker. Cook on Low for 4 hours, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

From Fix-It and Forget IT New Cookbook

Super-delicious mashed potatoes

5 pounds potatoes, peeled and cooked

2 cups milk, heated to scalding

2 tablespoons butter, added to hot milk, so it melts

1 package (8 ounces) low-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature

1½ cups low-fat sour cream

3 teaspoons onion or garlic salt

1 teaspoon salt

¼ to ½ teaspoon pepper

Place potatoes in a mixing bowl. Beat well with a mixer. Add rest of ingredients and mix well. Pour into 5- or 6-quart slow cooker. Cover. Cook on low 2 to 6 hours, or until heated through, but without browning around the edges. Makes 12 servings.

Note: You can make these potatoes 3 to 4 days before you want to serve them. Keep them refrigerated until you are ready to heat and serve. If you they've been refrigerated for several days, it might take up to 6 hours for the middle to get hot.

From Fix-It and Forget IT New Cookbook

Balsamic-glazed Brussels sprouts with pine nuts

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

2 cups chicken broth

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons balsamic glaze

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Combine Brussels sprouts, broth and ½ teaspoon salt in a 51/2- to 7-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook until Brussels sprouts are tender, 2 to 3 hours on high.

Drain Brussels sprouts and transfer to serving dish. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and oil, then sprinkle with pine nuts and Parmesan. Serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2 from America's Test Kitchen

Holiday stuffing

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup butter

6 cups cubed day-old white bread

6 cups cubed day-old whole wheat bread

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1 teaspoon rubbed sage

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 can (141/2 ounces) reduced- sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth

1/2 cup egg substitute

In a small nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook onion and celery in butter until tender. In a large bowl, combine bread cubes, salt, poultry seasoning, sage and pepper. Stir in onion mixture. Combine broth and egg substitute; add to bread mixture and toss to coat.

Transfer to a 3-quart slow cooker coated with cooking spray. Cover and cook on low for 3 to 4 hours or until heated through. Makes 12 servings.

From Taste of Home

Candied sweet potatoes

1/4 cup butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Microwave butter in a microwave-safe bowl at High 30 seconds to 1 minute or until melted; stir in vanilla and salt.

Stir together granulated sugar and brown sugar in a medium bowl.

Layer potatoes and sugar mixture in a lightly greased 6-quart slow cooker, beginning with potatoes and ending with sugar mixture. Pour butter mixture over top. Cover and cook on Low for 4 hours or until potatoes are tender.

Transfer potatoes to a serving dish using a slotted spoon, reserving liquid in slow cooker. Keep potatoes warm.

Remove 1⁄3 cup liquid from slow cooker; whisk cornstarch into 1⁄3 cup liquid until smooth. Carefully pour remaining liquid from slow cooker into a medium saucepan. Whisk in cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook 1 to 2 minutes or until thickened. Pour over potatoes. Serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Source: Southern Living

Cranberry sauce

2 packages (12 ounces each) fresh cranberries

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 cup fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

1 cup sweetened dried cranberries

1 tablespoon orange zest

Stir together first 5 ingredients and 1/2 cup water in a lightly greased 31/2- to 4-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on High 3 to 31/2 hours or until cranberries begin to pop. Uncover and cook 30 minutes. Stir in dried cranberries and orange zest. Cool completely, stirring often (about 1 hour; mixture will thicken as it cools). Cover and chill 8 hours. Store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Makes about 51/2 cups.

From Southern Living

All-day mac and cheese

8 ounces elbow macaroni

4 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

1½ cups milk

2 eggs

1½ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon pepper

In a large pot, cook macaroni in boiling water 10 minutes, or until done; drain. In a large bowl, mix cooked macaroni, 3 cups Cheddar cheese, evaporated milk, milk, eggs, and salt and pepper. Transfer to a slow-cooker coated with non-stick cooking spray. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese. Cover and cook on Low for 5 to 6 hours, or until the mixture is firm and golden around the edges. Do not remove the cover or stir the mixture until it has finished cooking.

From The Crockin' Girls Slow Cookin' Companion

Sharon Thompson: (859) 231-3321. Twitter: @FlavorsofKY. Blog: flavorsofkentucky.bloginky.com/.

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