Chill out with these healthy holiday recipes using your slow cooker.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
When you're entertaining, the trick is keeping the cold foods cold and the hot foods hot for the duration of the festivities. This keeps the food looking appetizing, and, more important, is vital for preventing food poisoning. (Any food that sits out at room temperature for two hours or more is suspect.) Those are a few of the reasons the slow cooker is my favorite, totally easy way to keep hot dishes and appetizers safely hot during a party. Try some of my healthy holiday slow cooker recipes below, and it may become your favorite party trick, too!
With a slow cooker, there are no flames to worry about, no fuel to replenish, no candles to burn out. Just plug it in and set it. The LOW setting will keep the food hot during the party, and HIGH warms it up beforehand. (Give your dish about one hour on HIGH before the party to get it to the ideal temperature.)
I have two slow cookers in my kitchen just for entertaining. I often have a hot vegetable spread in one, and a lean meat appetizer sizzling in the other. To get you started entertaining with your slow cooker or cookers, here are five slow cooker recipes that are perfect for a holiday party.
Slow Cooker Recipe No. 1: Spinach-Artichoke Heart Dip
You can make this dip ahead of time, keep it covered in the refrigerator and then, about an hour before the party, spread it into a slow cooker crock and heat on HIGH until bubbly.
1 tablespoon minced or chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped green onions
10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and gently squeezed of excess water
1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts (water packed), drained and chopped
1 recipe Alfredo Sauce (see below)
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/3 tablespoons shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the inside of the crock of the slow cooker with canola cooking spray.
- Add garlic, green onions, spinach, artichoke hearts, Alfredo sauce, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese to a large mixing bowl and stir to blend.
- Spread mixture into the bottom of the prepared slow cooker crock and heat on HIGH until bubbly (about an hour). Serve warm with slices of wheat baguette bread, reduced fat-tortilla chips, or reduced-fat whole grain crackers.
1 tablespoon whipped butter or stick butter
2 cups fat-free half-and-half (or substitute whole or low-fat milk)
4 tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
4 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
Melt butter in medium, nonstick saucepan. Stir in 1/3 cup of the fat-free half-and-half, 4 tablespoons Wondra flour, and nutmeg and pepper. Slowly stir in remaining half-and-half. Bring mixture to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to gently boil, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens (about 4 minutes). Stir in 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.
Yield: 16 servings
Slow Cooker Recipe No. 2: BBQ Sausage Bites
1 cup BBQ sauce
16 ounces reduced-fat sausage of your choice
- Turn slow cooker on HIGH and pour the barbecue sauce into the crock.
- If using large link sausage (like Hillshire Farms Turkey Polska Kielbasa), slice into 1/3-inch thick slices. If using smaller link sausage, cut into 1-inch long segments. Stir the sausage pieces into the barbecue sauce in the slow cooker, Heat about 45 minutes until hot.
- Reduce heat to LOW for the party and keep it on low until the sausage bites are all gone. Serve the sausage bites with toothpicks, if desired.
Yield: 8 servings
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 90 calories, 5 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber, 510 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 50%.
Slow Cooker Recipe No. 3: Crab Stuffed Mushrooms
3 tablespoons light or regular mayonnaise
3 tablespoons fat-free sour cream
3 tablespoons Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs (panko crumbs can be substituted)
3 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 can (6 1/2 ounces) crabmeat (or 1 cup fresh crabmeat), rinsed and drained well
Dash or two Tabasco
Black pepper to taste
18 medium sized mushrooms, stems removed
- Preheat slow cooker to high heat.
- In small bowl, combine mayonnaise, fat-free sour cream, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and garlic. Fold in the crabmeat. Add Tabasco and black pepper to taste.
- Spoon heaping teaspoons full of crab filling into mushroom caps.
- Arrange mushroom caps (crab side up) in the bottom of the preheated slow cooker. Add cover and cook on HIGH for about 2 hours. Reduce heat to LOW and serve the crab-stuffed mushrooms from the slow cooker, if desired.
Yield: 9 servings (2 mushrooms per serving)
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 59 calories, 5 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g fat, .6 g saturated fat, 16 mg cholesterol, .5 g fiber, 177 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 38%.
Slow Cooker Recipe No. 4: Chicken Sausage Cornbread Stuffing
8 ounces reduced-fat, fully cooked chicken sausage (such as Aidell's Chicken Apple Sausage)
1 cup small diced onions
1 cup small diced celery
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary (or 1 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
3 cups crumbled prepared cornbread (see recipe below)
3 cups cubed whole-wheat bread (toasted in a toaster to stiffen)
1 cup chicken broth (double-strength, if possible)
1 large apple, cored and diced
Slow Cooker Recipe No. 4: Chicken Sausage Cornbread Stuffing continued...
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley (2 teaspoon parsley flakes)
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chopped red pepper
- Preheat slow cooker to low or high heat. Brown the sausage and cut into a coarse dice.
- In large nonstick frying pan, saute the onions and celery in canola oil for a few minutes. Stir in sage, rosemary, and thyme and continue to cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is softened (about 2 minutes more). Spoon mixture into large mixing bowl and stir in the sausage and the remaining ingredients.
- Coat the inside of the slow cooker crock with canola oil cooking spray and spoon stuffing mixture into crock. Heat on low a couple of hours before the dinner party or potluck, or heat for one hour on high heat. If mixture seems too dry, drizzle more chicken broth over the top and stir.
If you like your cornbread a little on the sweet side, opt for the 2 tablespoons of sugar. If you prefer Southern style, just leave it out. You'll use almost half this cornbread for the recipe above.
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup unbleached white flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (optional)
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 large egg (use a higher omega-3 brand if available)
1/4 cup egg substitute
2 tablespoons canola oil
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat an 8 x 8-inch baking dish with canola cooking spray.
- In large mixing bowl, combine first 4 ingredients, beating on low to blend. Add the remaining ingredients all at once in mixing bowl and beat on low, scraping sides of bowl after 5 seconds, until a smooth batter forms.
- Pour batter into prepared baking dish and bake for approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
Yield: 10 servings
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 180 calories, 7 g protein, 23 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 3.5 g fiber, 470 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 35%.
Slow Cooker Recipe No. 4: Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Turkey Meatballs
1 pound extra-lean ground turkey (6-8% fat)
1 slices whole-wheat bread, finely chopped, or 1 cup soft breadcrumbs
1 large egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute, if desired)
2 tablespoons finely minced onion
2 tablespoons low-fat milk
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
Dash or two freshly ground pepper
2-6 tablespoons nonalcoholic beer, chicken broth, or water
1/2 cup Heinz® chili sauce
1/2 cup red currant jelly
- In a large bowl, combine the first 8 ingredients, mixing well with a wooden spoon or your hands. Form into about 40 bite-size meatballs.
- Spray a nonstick frying pan with canola cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add the meatballs, cover the frying pan and brown them for about 5 minutes.
- Turn the meatballs over, adding the beer or other liquid if necessary to prevent sticking. Cover and brown about 5 minutes more, or until meatballs are cooked through.
- Turn your slow cooker on HIGH and add browned meatballs to the slow cooker crock. Combine the chili sauce and jelly and pour over the meatballs. After about an hour when the hot balls and sauce are good and hot, gently stir mixture, reduce heat to LOW and serve. Serve with toothpicks.
Yield: 8 servings
Nutritional Information: Per serving: 170 calories, 10 g protein, 21 g carbohydrate, 5.5 g fat, 1.7 g saturated fat, 61 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 347 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 28%.
Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2008 Elaine Magee
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.
©2008 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.