Slow-cooker Thanksgiving side dishes for your table
I make Thanksgiving plans the minute the leaves start to turn colors. This year, vaccinated family members will gather at my sister’s home. We all look forward to her husband’s grilled turkey and a bevy of sides brought by all the guests. Later in the weekend, we’ll travel to our daughter’s home for a second holiday meal.
At both homes, oven space proves precious. Especially when a large turkey roasts comfortably on the middle rack. That leaves little room for baking pans chock-full of side dishes.
Countertop appliances to the rescue! Air-fryers do a fine job roasting Brussels sprouts. A large toaster oven crisps dinner rolls. A countertop convection oven handles a shallow baking dish filled with green bean casserole.
My sister has mastered cooking dressing in the slow-cooker — complete with crispy bits at the edges for those who like them. Days ahead of the holiday, my slow-cooker turns turkey necks and wings into turkey broth destined for gravy and soup.
Slow-cookers offer a welcome bonus: They double as the serving vessel keeping things warm. Practice good safety — use a clean appliance and inspect the cord for any flaws. Do not use an extension cord and place the cooker safely away from children. For food safety — keep hot food hot — in general, don’t use the warm setting for more than two hours.
For vegetables, I set aside a stovetop burner for blanching broccoli or asparagus; I am not a fan of the olive-green color that results in cooking green vegetables in the slow-cooker. Root vegetables, on the other hand, take well to covered, moist cooking. Perfect for a side dish of carrots glazed with maple syrup. Use the recipe that follows with a variety of colored carrots, parsnips and rutabaga. Golden, sautéed red onions and reduced wine catapult the simple vegetables into holiday fare.
Mashed potatoes in the slow-cooker? Yes, thank you. No need to constantly monitor potato doneness and cleanup is easy. I make richly — flavored potatoes by cooking them with broth in lieu of water. I use small boiling potatoes — red or Yukon gold with their peels and plenty of garlic. After mashing, a generous dollop of crème fraîche adds richness and a bit of tanginess.
All of the recipes below can be made partly in advance or completely finished a day or two ahead. Use the microwave oven for successful reheating.
The key to a successful Thanksgiving dinner: Plan ahead, then shop and spread the cooking over a couple of days. That way, you’ll have plenty of time and energy to spend at the table with your family and friends.
Cranberry apple dressing with sausage and ginger
Prep 30 minutes – Cook 4 ½ hours – Makes 8 to 10 servings
You can substitute about 12 cups large, dried bread cubes or unseasoned croutons for the first step in this recipe. You can substitute uncooked mild Italian sausage or Polish sausage, removed from the casing, for the mild breakfast sausage roll.
2 small loaves sourdough bread or hearty white sandwich bread, total 20 ounces, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 uncooked mild breakfast sausage roll (16 ounces), removed from casing
1 large (10 to 12 ounces) sweet onion, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
1 bunch green onions, trimmed, diced
2/3 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons rubbed sage
2 tablespoons refrigerated ginger purée
About 3 cups low-sodium turkey or chicken broth, heated
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon each: dried leaf thyme, freshly ground black pepper
½ to 1 teaspoon salt, to taste
3 or 4 tablespoons softened butter
1 Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread bread pieces in a single layer on two baking sheets. Bake, turning once or twice, until crisped and lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool. (Wrap croutons in foil up to a day in advance.)
2 Meanwhile, cook sausage and sweet onion in very large nonstick skillet (or bottom of slow-cooker if it’s heatproof) over medium heat, chopping sausage into small bits and stirring until sausage is cooked through and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
3 Stir celery, green onions, cranberries, sage and ginger purée into sausage mixture. (Refrigerate covered up to two days.)
4 Put bread into a large bowl. Stir in sausage mixture. Stir in enough of the heated broth to nicely moisten everything but not make it soggy (exact amount of broth needed will depend on the type of bread used and how moist you like your dressing). Stir in parsley, thyme, pepper and salt.
5 Generously oil bottom and sides of a 4- to 6-quart slow-cooker. Transfer the bread mixture to the slow-cooker. Dot the top with the softened butter. Cover slow-cooker. Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours, until edges are crispy. Dressing can stay on warm in the slow-cooker for up to 2 hours, check for sufficient moisture to prevent dry dressing. Serve hot.
Mashed potatoes with garlic and cream
Prep 20 minutes – Slow-cook 3 ½ hours – Makes 8 servings
3 to 3 1/4 pounds medium-small red or yellow potatoes (or a combination), peeled if desired
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon thyme
1 cup low-sodium poultry broth, see recipe or use store-bought
½ cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
1. Cut potatoes into 2-inch chunks. Put potatoes and oil into 4- to 6-quart slow-cooker. Stir well to coat potatoes with oil. Stir in garlic and thyme. Pour broth over all.
2. Cover slow-cooker. Cook on low, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are quite soft, about 3 ½ hours.
3. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes into the liquids in the slow-cooker. Mash as smoothly as you’d like. Mash in crème fraîche and salt. Potatoes can be held in slow-cooker on the warm setting for up to 2 hours.
Slow-cooker braised root vegetables with maple glaze
Prep 25 minutes – Cook 4 1/4 hours – Makes 8 servings
Vegetables that work well here include, carrots (multicolored are beautiful here), parsnips, turnips, rutabaga and kohlrabi. Use a mixture of colors and shapes for a flavorful, attractive dish.
¼ cup of olive oil
¼ cup of butter
1 large or 2 small (10 to 12 ounces total) red onion, halved, cut into thick wedges
½ cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 to 12 medium-size carrots (1 1/2 pounds total), peeled, trimmed
3 to 4 medium-sized parsnips or turnips (1 ¼ pounds total), peeled, ends trimmed
1 cup low-sodium turkey, chicken or vegetable broth
2 to 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon malt vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Sprigs of fresh thyme or parsley or chives, for garnish
1. Heat butter and oil in large nonstick skillet (or the bottom of slow-cooker if it is suitable for stovetop cooking) over medium heat. Add onion; cook and stir until nicely browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in wine and cook to reduce wine by half. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Remove from heat. (Refrigerate covered for up to three days.)
2. Cut carrots into attractive 1-inch chunks. Cut parsnips into ¼ inch rounds. If using turnips, cut into quarters; then cut each quarter into ¼-inch wide slices. Place in 4- to 6-quart slow-cooker.
3. Scrape onion mixture into carrot mixture. Mix well. Add broth. Cover slow-cooker. Cook on low until vegetables are fork-tender, about four hours.
4. Mix maple syrup and vinegar in small dish. Use a slotted spoon to transfer vegetables to a serving bowl (reserve braising liquid for vegetable soup if desired). Add maple syrup mixture to vegetables. Toss to coat. Serve hot garnished with herbs.
Slow-cooker poultry broth
Prep 15 minutes – Slow-cook 8 hours – Makes about 2 quarts
Combining chicken and turkey parts makes a rich, flavorful broth. Use the broth for gravy and soups.
3 pounds turkey or chicken wings, drumsticks, necks (or a combination)
1 medium onion, cut into eighths
1 large or 2 medium-size carrots, sliced
1 rib celery, sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
3 or 4 sprigs fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon each: black peppercorns, thyme, coriander seed
1. Put everything into a 6-quart slow-cooker. Add 10 cups (2 ½ quarts) boiling water to cover ingredients by 2 inches.
2. Cover slow-cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours. Cool; strain broth through a fine mesh strainer into a container. Discard solids. Refrigerate broth, covered, up to a week or freeze in small containers for several months.