Smart hostesses pull out their slow cookers for parties.
"I always have three or four slow cookers going when I have a party. You can have hearty foods with little fuss," said Taste of Home magazine editor-in-chief Catherine Cassidy of Mequon, Wis. "I always want to have a big pot of something to serve."
One of her favorite entertainment foods is sliders. The meat -- whether it be pork, beef or chicken -- can be prepared in advance and cooked in the slow cooker. For football fans, a big pot of chili in the slow cooker lets everyone enjoy the game with no hassles.
"My go-to solution for a big party is a slow cooker full of savory meat to make sliders with," said Cassidy, who also is a wife and mother to two daughters. "I throw a cup of sliced onions and four or five garlic cloves in with the beef instead of the garlic powder. Put out some mini kaiser rolls and condiments, paper plates and napkins, and then wait for your guests to ask for the recipe!
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"Hostesses want to do as much preparation and shopping in advance as possible. They can store things like peeled carrot sticks and trimmed celery stalks in ice cold water in the fridge a day ahead."
Cassidy, who has been with Taste of Home for eight years, loves to set up a mashed potato bar for parties. The potatoes add substance, especially when cocktails are being served.
"It's a fun thing. I put out all sorts of toppings from cheeses to bacon bits to chili to fresh vegetables," she said. "My guests can top their potatoes any way they want. Be sure to put out fun glasses, all different styles and shapes for guests to use for their potato creations."
If you are serving trays
of hors d'oeuvre, Cassidy says to plan on six pieces per person.
"Mix types of appetizers on the trays, too. This gives guests variety," she said. "I also love to serve a fresh fruit salad in a giant bowl and let guests serve themselves.
"We emphasize keeping cooking simple at Taste of Home; that's what keeps the magazine fresh," said Cassidy, who is responsible for driving the editorial direction and product strategy across Reiman Media Group media platforms. "Our recipes are from real home cooks in real home kitchens just like yours."
The same principles apply to parties: Keep the menu simple and choose recipes you have already tested.
"For your holiday party, you may have dreams of trying out a new recipe but stick to what you know," she said. "If you want to try something new then prepare it ahead of time and get taste testers."
She knows all about testing recipes. Each recipe in Taste of Home magazine, website and cookbooks are tested for ease, accuracy and taste. To celebrate the magazine's 20th anniversary in 2013, "Taste of Home Best-Loved Recipes" has hit retailers and the Internet in both hardcover and digital formats with 1,485 recipes.
Today, she shares some of her favorite easy party recipes from the new cookbook that will work for almost any occasion.
All the recipes are reprinted from "Taste of Home Best Loved Recipes" (2012, Reiman Media Group, LLC).
STUFFED BABY RED POTATOES
This recipe just says "party!" The ingredients are basic, but the finished appetizer looks like you worked a lot harder than you did.
-- Carol Bess White,Portland, Ore.
Preparation: 45 minutes. Bake: 15 minutes.
24 small red potatoes (about 2- 1/2 pounds)
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup crumbled cooked bacon, divided
2/3 cup sour cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon paprika
Scrub potatoes; place in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain.
When cool enough to handle, cut a thin slice off the top of each potato. Scoop out pulp, leaving a thin shell. (Cut thin slices from potato bottoms to level if necessary.)
In a large bowl, mash the potato tops and pulp with butter. Set aside 2 tablespoons each of cheese and bacon for garnish; add remaining cheese and bacon to potatoes. Stir in the sour cream, egg, salt and pepper. Spoon mixture into potato shells. Top with remaining cheese and bacon; sprinkle with paprika.
Place in an ungreased 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-18 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 2 dozen.
"So easy, I make this for almost every occasion -- and so do lots of others: This is one of the most requested recipes on tasteofhome.com. With celery and cubes of crusty bread, it never lasts long," Cassidy said.
BUFFALO CHICKEN DIP
"This is a great dip that my family loves for holidays and Super Bowl parties. Everywhere I take it, people ask for the recipe."
-- Peggy Foster,Florence, Ken.
Prep/Total Time: 30 minutes.
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 can (10 ounces) chunk white chicken, drained
1/2 cup buffalo wing sauce
1/2 cup ranch salad dressing
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese
Spread cream cheese into an ungreased shallow 1-quart baking dish. Layer with chicken, buffalo wing sauce and ranch dressing. Sprinkle with cheese.
Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve warm with tortilla chips. Yield: about 2 cups.
PUMPKIN GINGERBREAD TRIFLE
"Soft layers of pumpkin, spicy gingerbread and creamy whipped topping make this decadent trifle a feast for your eyes and your stomach."
-- Amy Geiser,Fairlawn, Ohio
Prep: 40 minutes + chilling
2 packages (14 1/2 ounces each) gingerbread cake mix
1 package (4.6 ounces) cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
3 cups 2 percent milk
1 can (29 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 carton (12 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed, divided
Prepare and bake gingerbread according to package directions, using two greased 9-inch round baking pans. Cool completely on wire racks.
Meanwhile, for pudding, in a large saucepan, combine pudding mix and milk; stir until smooth. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Cook and stir 1-2 minutes longer or until thickened. Remove from the heat; cool to room temperature. Combine pumpkin and brown sugar; stir into pudding.
In a 4-quart glass serving bowl, crumble one gingerbread cake; gently press down. Top with half of pudding mixture and whipped topping. Repeat layers. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Yield: 25 servings (1 cup each).
"Want a quick treat that's delicious and easy to do? These tartlets will do the trick. You can serve them right away, but they're better after chilling for about an hour in the refrigerator. A little sprig of mint adds just a touch of color."
-- Ashley Eagon, Kettering, Ohio
Prep/Total Time: 25 minutes
2 cups finely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 packages (1.9 ounces each) frozen miniature phyllo tart shells
In a small bowl, combine the first six ingredients; spoon 2 teaspoonfuls into each tart shell. Refrigerate until serving.
Yield: 45 tartlets.
"Hearty and spicy, this is a man's chili for sure. You can also simmer on the stove -- the longer, the better!"
-- Eric Hayes,Antioch, Calif.
Prep: 20 minutes. Cook: 6 hours
3 pounds beef stew meat
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cans (16 ounces each) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
3 cans (15 ounces each) tomato sauce
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup water
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
3/4 cup salsa verde
1 envelope chili seasoning
2 teaspoons dried minced onion
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Shredded cheddar cheese and minced fresh cilantro
In a large skillet, brown beef in oil in batches. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Transfer to a 6-quart slow cooker.
Stir in the beans, tomato sauce, tomatoes, water, tomato paste and salsa verde and seasonings. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until meat is tender. Garnish each serving with cheese and cilantro. Yield: 12 servings (1 1/3 cups each).
CHERRY BRIE TOSSED SALAD
"Draped in a light vinaigrette and sprinkled with almonds, this pretty salad is a variation of a recipe that's been passed around at school and church functions and even birthday parties. Everyone wants the recipe."
-- Toni Borden,Wellington, Fla.
Prep/Total Time: 20 minutes.
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup sliced almonds
3 tablespoons sugar
8 cups torn romaine
1 round (8 ounces) Brie cheese, rind removed and cubed
1 package (6 ounces) dried cherries
In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients; set aside.
For salad, in a heavy skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add almonds and cook and stir until nuts are toasted, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar; cook and stir until sugar is melted, about 3 minutes. Spread on foil to cool; break apart.
In a large salad bowl, combine the romaine, cheese and cherries. Whisk dressing; drizzle over salad. Sprinkle with sugared almonds and toss to coat. Yield: 10 servings. Editor's Note: Swiss cheese can be substituted for Brie or Camembert.
"For a sandwich with more pizzazz than the traditional French dip, give this recipe a try. The seasonings give the broth a wonderful flavor, and the meat cooks up tender and juicy. This new version will soon be a favorite at your house, too."
-- Margaret McNeil,Germantown, Tenn.
Prep: 15 minutes. Cook: 5 hours
1 beef chuck roast (3 pounds), trimmed
2 cups water
1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 bay leaf
3 to 4 whole peppercorns
8 French rolls, split
Place roast in a 5-quart slow cooker. Add the water, soy sauce and seasonings. Cover and cook on high for 5-6 hours or until beef is tender.
Remove meat from broth; shred with two forks and keep warm. Strain broth; skim of fat. Pour broth into small cups for dipping. Serve beef on rolls. Yield: 8 servings.
Happy New Year and many blessings, readers.
Andrea Yeager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send contributions or requests to Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.
If requesting a recipe, include the name or describe it.