What’s the easiest way to avoid Thanksgiving cooking headaches? Try putting your slow cooker into fast gear. Today’s slow cookers offer a vast improvement over Grandma’s crock pot which only simmered chili in your childhood. There are now stream-lined, programmable versions in an array of sizes at most major retailers for under $40, offering versatile 13×9-inch stoneware inserts which are oven-safe and visually appealing enough to put on your Thanksgiving table.
Using a slow cooker for side dishes not only saves valuable oven space for the turkey, but cleanup can be a breeze by using disposable slow cooker liners or aluminum foil to line the crock. These easy recipes offer slow cooker options for traditional holiday sides, including moist Savory Sage Stuffing, along with more exotic Sweet Potatoes Au Gratin, to jazz up your Thanksgiving feast. Of course, no Thanksgiving dinner is complete without a comforting Pumpkin Pudding Cake, and this slow cooker alternative to pumpkin pie takes the cake!
Savory Slow Cooker Sage Stuffing
Stuffing is one of the easiest side dishes to successfully cook in a slow cooker. The low, slow heat of the cooker creates amazingly moist stuffing with a minimal amount of supervision. This version uses canned cream of chicken soup, which perfectly moistens the cornbread for savory delicious stuffing, better than Mom’s!
1 (14-oz.) package herb stuffing (such as Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing)
1 (14-oz.) package cornbread stuffing
2 (10 3/4-oz.) cans cream of chicken soup
2 (14-oz.) cans chicken broth
1 large red onion, diced
½ cup celery, diced
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sage
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
Spray a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray or line with foil. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, except the butter. Pour mixture into slow cooker. Dot with butter. Cover and cook on low 4 to 6 hours or until set and thoroughly cooked.
Yield: 8-10 servings. Per serving: 238 cal; 16g fat (4g sat. fat), 3g fiber, 3g protein
Slow Cooker Sweet Potatoes Au Gratin
This easy crock pot version of potatoes au gratin combines white potatoes and sweet potatoes, for a tasty dish which is also very pretty! This recipe gets a quick start from cans of cheddar cheese soup. To keep calories lower, use reduced-fat soup (such as the Healthy Request brand).
2 pounds sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and sliced thin (about 6 cups)
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes or white potatoes, unpeeled and sliced thin (about 3 cups)
1 large onion, sliced thin (about 1 cup)
1 can (10.75 oz) condensed cheddar cheese soup
½ cup reduced-fat (2%) milk
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¾ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 oz)
Spray a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray, or line with a disposable liner. Layer one third of sweet potatoes, one third of white potatoes and half of the onion in the cooker. Repeat the layers. Top with the remaining potatoes. In a medium bowl, stir together the soup, milk, Parmesan cheese, salt and black pepper. Pour soup mixture over the potatoes. Cover and cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.
Sprinkle with the shredded Cheddar cheese. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Yield: 8-10 servings; Per serving: 296 cal; 18g fat (4g sat. fat), 3g fiber, 2g protein
Slow Cooker Pumpkin Pudding Cake
This easy dessert cooks up like a moist cake on top, with a gooey sweet pumpkin pudding filling on bottom. Best of all, your home with be filled with the sweet aroma of Thanksgiving goodness!
1 can (15 oz) pure pumpkin
1 can (5 oz) evaporated milk
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
½ box carrot cake mix (dry mix, not prepared)
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted (plus halves for garnish, if desired)
1/3 cup butter, melted
Frozen whipped dessert topping, thawed (if desired)
Spray a 3.5 or 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray, or line with disposable liner.
In the prepared cooker, add pumpkin, evaporated milk, sugar, and 1 tablespoon of the pumpkin pie spice. Stir well. Spread batter evenly in the bottom of the prepared cooker.
In a medium bowl, mix together cake mix, nuts and remaining 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice. Sprinkle mixture evenly over pumpkin mixture in cooker. Drizzle melted butter over top of cake mixture. Cover and cook on high-heat setting for 2½-3 hours. Remove stoneware from cooker to cool, if possible, or turn off cooker. Cool, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Garnish servings with whipped topping, if desired.
Yield: 8-10 servings; Per serving: 332 cal; 19g fat (5g sat. fat), 3g fiber, 4g protein
Suzette Zara is a certified nutritionist, a frequent speaker on low-fat healthy cooking and creator of Satan’s Salsa at SatansSalsa.com. Suzette@SuzetteZara.com