For me, and a lot of people, I think, the mention of a crock-pot brings to mind a very definite scenario. Some sort of after-school special-like commercial that starts with a frantic mom heading out with her energetic and overscheduled family. They pile into a minivan – and return home at the end of the day exhausted and hungry. Cut to the whole family, sitting around the dinner table, springing back to life as mom unveils a gorgeous crock-cooked supper to oohs and ahhs…
Nailed it, right?
The imagery speaks to the franticness of real life. And it certainly touches on the joy of a supper that’s cooked itself. What it misses, however, is how totally versatile the classic crockpot really is. They’re not
just for stews! In fact, in addition to being the weeknight hero to my family, my crockpot is the workhorse secret behind entertaining all year round.
Here are my Favorite, Most Surprising, Ways to use it
As the hostess with the mostess I always make sure to have a fully stocked bar for my guests. Beer, wine and water are key – and expected, frankly – but there is nothing more special and fun than a signature cocktail. It tells my guests that I’ve really tailored this event, and, after so many soirees, it gives them something extra to look forward to when they come to our home.
Any custom cocktail is a treat, but warm ones are particularly delightful. I like to mix together an alcohol-free base in my crockpot and offer alongside a spread of ways to doctor it up.
Set up a Mexican hot chocolate bar by pouring whole milk, sugar, cocoa powder, and either cinnamon, vanilla beans, or dried chilies into the crock to simmer all day. Children can ladle it up and garnish with marshmallows, chocolate sauce, or caramel candies; adults can spike it themselves with chocolate or coffee liqueurs, or even a cinnamon whiskey. Or, pull together a small bar of bourbon, whiskey, and dark rum to complement a crock of warm apple cider with cinnamon sticks and butter.
Dips help the host
My favorite gatherings are the casual ones, when family or girlfriends or fellow fans get together to compare notes on everything from the latest fashion magazine to last weekend’s big game. Sometimes we call it “book club”, and sometimes we just call it what it is, an opportunity to fill the well.
On these nights, it is imperative that the host be included in the gathering from beginning to end. And with crocks full of apps at the ready, there’s no reason at all he or she will not be. I like to plan a spread of heavy snacks and encourage everyone to help him- or herself.
Bean dips, cheese dips, and creamy dips are all perfect for a low-set crock as it ensures optimum serving temp and consistency (without burning!) throughout the event. Warm, layered dips work well in crocks too. Serve all of the above with a spread of crackers, toasts, veggies, and chips, and let your guests feed themselves all night long. The dips will be gobbled up before they have the chance to go bad.
Slow cooking sweet desserts
It’s one thing to upgrade your crock from soup- and casserole-cooking to cocktails and dips. It’s a completely different kind of elevation when chocolate
is involved. And that’s just the beginning… Use your crock to warm icing for dipping hunks of cinnamon rolls. Or melting butterscotch for fresh-fruit noshing. Or, combine cream with a chocolate bar and a splash of orange liqueur for an easy fondue for pieces of pound cake, pretzels, fresh berries and graham crackers.
Tap into Pinterest for board after board of crockpot cobblers and dump cakes to punctuate any party deliciously with a scoop of ice cream on top each serving. Or, dazzle guests with a deceptively simple design that reads totally gourmet: Empty a bottle of your favorite white wine into a crockpot and warm with some vanilla beans, whole cloves, and nutmeg. Peel pears or apples, halve them vertically, use a melon baller to remove the seeds, and them simmer in the crock of wine until the fruit is tender, all while your party is in full swing. Assemble just before service by spooning a little bit of the cooking liquid, some chopped nuts for texture, and whipped cream or mascarpone cheese over a half of fruit and into a pretty glass bowl or tea cup.
Rethink your crockpot altogether with a full menu of slow-cooked entertaining options. With the added bonus of perfuming your whole home and welcoming your guests – however frantic and hangry they may be – crockpots allow you
to enjoy your party too. Put it to work in a whole new way today.