This week, our ranges are getting a lot of exercise. That’s valuable real estate prioritized for the main event—turkey, of course—but also sides, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, et cetera. Coordinating what cooks where (and when) so everything is hot once it hits the table can be daunting.
But a lot of indispensable Thanksgiving side we are use burners or ovens to make for can be prepared ahead of time in a slow cooker. “This versatile piece of equipment takes up very little space on your countertop and can be used to make a plethora of sides, desserts and even your turkey. Seriously!” says Kelly Boyer, Executive Chef and Founder of PALETA. “The beauty of this powerhouse appliance is that you can load up the crock-pot in the morning and walk away until dinner is served. That means more time to spend watching football with your friends and family.”
The possibilities are nearly endless. From soup to nuts, so to speak. This year consider a Throw-Back Thanksgiving and dust off your crock-pot for a big meal with more flexibility and less stress. (And it’s true, you can avoid the oven entirely and make the turkey in your slow cooker.)
Technically a side, though we know it’s the center of the action. “Stuffing is an easy choice. As a chef, I was trained that stuffing your turkey is blasphemous because it depletes the beautiful bird of its essential juices…liquid gold, I like to call it,” says Boyer. “When you bake your stuffing separately you can easily add moisture with milk or turkey stock made from the giblets, and don’t be shy with a little melted butter. It never hurt anyone!”
Check out this interesting Honey Apple Challah Stuffing as an example, or this take on Sausage Stuffing from Food Network.
Nothing says indulging like mashed potatoes pooled in gravy. Make mashed potatoes in the slow cooker, and you won’t have to worry about them as guests arrive. This version incorporates cauliflower for some sneaky veg power and extra texture.
Sweet potatoes offer a delicious mix of sweet and savory, like this Maple Ginger Sweet Potatoes spin. But don’t worry, the classic sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows in a slow cooker, too.
If your sides veer toward a different starch, check out Trisha Yearwood’s recipe for slow cooker mac and cheese or go down south with delicious slow-cooked grits.
We eat lots of heavy dishes on the holiday, a great way to lighten our meal is loading up on vegetables. Corn is traditionally a star during Thanksgiving, and so are always-delicious items like glazed carrots and savory Brussels sprouts. Use your slow cooker to make a five-ingredient creamed corn, honey-glazed carrots, creamed spinach, or even roasted Brussels sprouts.
One of the best ways to bring people together? A delicious dip! Whether your dip goes savory, spicy or sweet, it’s a great option for the portion of the get-together while everyone is standing around with their cocktails, chatting and catching up. Prep this Gruyere, Bacon & Caramelized Onion Dip ahead of time and heat it in the slow cooker instead of baking it. Everyone will be talking about how they can get their hands on the recipe.
Go spicier with a corn jalapeno dip (incorporating one of the most traditional vegetables of the holiday, too), or classic with a simple but delicious bean dip.
While the family enjoys a festive holiday dinner, your dessert can be slowly cooking in preparation for enjoyment. This recipe for Baked Apples with Muesli and Vanilla Drizzle is a lighter, healthier take on apple pie (which might be welcomed after stuffing ourselves silly with other Thanksgiving yums).
Slow cookers are safe ground for cake, as well—as in this enticing Autumn Spoon Cake.
Slow-cooking cocktails? Absolutely. Unlike the unsteady temperatures of a cook top, a slow cooker will ensure a constant, gentle heat. Keep the cold autumn weather outside and treat your guests to hot mulled apple cider, suggests Boyer. They’ll be feeling warm and festive in no time. Whether you choose to add bourbon, rum or brandy, or go sans spirits, the slow cooker will keep this steamy drink warm all day.
There’s so many ways to go with this, and all of them will mark the occasion beautifully. Consider mulled wine, or tie in your seasonal cranberries with some slow-cooked cranberry cider.
Aly Walansky is a lifestyles writer based in New York City. Her greatest loves include her shih tsu, soap operas, and extra dirty martinis. Follow her on Twitter:@AlyWalansky.
Photo by _e.t CC BY-SA