Advice for Slow Cooker Novices

February 02, 2016 Quick & Easy, Slow Cooker Tips

The gift of a slow cooker usually marks a rite of passage — a new home, a wedding, a first child. It is quite a commitment of counter space, but a slow cooker is an investment in the quality of everyday living that comes with home-cooked family meals.

The first time you come home to the aroma of a chili recipe that's simmered all day, or pork shoulder that's roasted tenderly into stew, you know the value of a slow cooker. However, getting started with the appliance can be a little tricky. Many newbies often feel clueless as to how to use their slow cooker and exactly what dinner ideas to put in it.

For all you slow cooker novices, here are my tried-and-true tips and favorite recipes.

" ... my tried-and-true tips and favorite recipes."

Use for Simmering Savory Chili The very best chili recipes earn their reputations because they've been simmered and stirred for hours and hours. From the chopping to the cooking, they require a lot of attention. With a slow cooker, however, a meaty chili recipe comes together with minimal prep and even less attention.

Once the bacon is crisped, and the beef is browned, the work is done. Because a slow cooker on low heat keeps the temperature of the chili constant, and the lid traps the moisture, there is no risk of it burning on the bottom or drying out. After four hours of slow cooking — without any stirring at all, in fact — the chili recipe's veggies, beans and spices come together in savory, almost magical, perfection.

Use for Prepping Meals in Advance Take full advantage of the fact that you can remove the slow cooker bowl from its electric base. It's not just for easy cleaning; it's also for make-ahead meals like this Greek-inspired slow cooker recipe.

Twenty-four hours before you plan to serve the dish, layer all the ingredients into the crock of the cooker. Cut, dice, chop and stir everything together right in the bowl. Then, tightly seal by covering the crock with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it's time to drop it back into its base four hours before supper. Don't think about it again until you're boiling the orzo and getting ready to serve. Plate and garnish the complete meal in minutes.

Use for Cooking Budget Cuts of Meat That is, the fattier, tougher, chewier cuts of meat like pork shoulder, chicken thighs and beef brisket. They're the least-expensive meat cuts you can buy from the butcher department, and they yield brilliantly delicious results in the low temperatures and high moisture of a slow cooker.

Before you head out on your next trip to the grocery, cut out the coupon for chicken thighs and print up this slow cooker stew recipe. Season the chicken simply and stack it right on top of nutrient-rich kale, tomatoes and beans to slow cook all day. Shred the chicken and bring to the dinner table with fluffed white rice to make the meal complete.

Use for Bringing Family to the Table Use the slow cooker to get everyone excited about supper. There's nothing like an afternoon of this slow cooker enchilada recipe perfuming our home to make even my pickiest eaters hungry for dinner.

By the time the dinner bell rings, everyone's already sitting at the table, ready to stuff his own enchiladas with the shredded pork and saucy beans simmered to perfection. No doubt, slow cooked enchiladas are an easy sell when piled high with lettuce, sour cream and cheese. (The only argument is over who gets the last bite.)

Don't let your slow cooker sit unused in a cabinet. Put it to work cooking delectable meals, and it will soon be your favorite timesaving tool in the kitchen.

Going to a Potluck? Try One of These Easy Recipes

February 02, 2016 Entertaining

An invitation to a potluck means you need to create a dish that feeds a crowd. Even if you have a busy schedule, there are quick, easy, delicious recipes you can make for your next event.

" … there are quick, easy, delicious recipes you can make for your next event."

Considering how hectic our lives are, no one wants to spend hours making a dish completely from scratch. However, homemade creations are often the stars of the party. With a clever mix of fresh and pre-made ingredients, and the below tips, you can prepare a unique, great-tasting dessert or appetizer at home — without all the fuss.

Plan Your Potluck Dishes Having a collection of your favorite recipes on hand to serve a large group takes the guesswork out of what you'll prepare. Thinking ahead to how many you'll be feeding at the party can help you decide which of those recipes to select. For most potluck dinners, you only need to bring one dish that feeds around 8–10 people, but to be sure, ask the host.

Keep Your Pantry Stocked Always have canned beans, pasta, stock, peppers, sauces, condiments and baking supplies in your kitchen. If you have the right ingredients, it doesn't take long to whip up a dessert like this brownie recipe. Partygoers will love the indulgent flavor of dark chocolate, although they'll never guess the secret ingredient: black beans.

*Tip: If you don't have a particular can of beans in your pantry, chances are you can substitute a different one. We have an entire story dedicated to clever bean swaps.

Do Prep Work Ahead of Time Look for recipes you can assemble ahead of time, such as this chili cheese dip recipe. With prep work out of the way, all you have to do is bake the dish for 15 minutes once you arrive at the party. (Of course, check with the host in advance to make sure you can use her oven.)

Look for Healthy Recipes Parties make it easy to eat a lot of overly processed foods. Break the habit of buying those frozen appetizers that are so popular and instead substitute a more sensible, but still delectable, choice. A tasty, easy pinwheel recipe is not only a more wholesome option, but it is also sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Think Small Bite-size appetizers are super simple to transport and can be fun to display. Two perfect examples of easy recipes are these Southwest-inspired mini quiches and this hearty bruschetta. Guests can load them on their plates and snack on them as they mingle.

Don't stress over your potluck dish. These delicious, easy recipes will lend a savory (or sweet) note to any event!

Meet Sandy Coughlin

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Simple Soups & Salads Your Whole Family Will Love

When it comes to charting the weekly eats for my family, there are two sorts of dinner recipes that make every meal plan: soups and salads. They stand alone in their simplicity, and they always satisfy. While soups warm from the inside out, salads serve as a blank canvas for clever flavor combinations. Both stretch leftovers and pantry staples into nourishing reasons to come to the table.

"They stand alone in their simplicity, and they always satisfy."

Here's a list of my favorite soup and salad recipes, and the thoughts behind why I make them when I do.

Hearty Soups This savory, satisfying Italian sausage soup recipe is my go-to answer to grumbling tummies and "I'm staaarving!" cries from my husband and kids. The rich aroma of sautéed garlic and browned sausage brings them straight to the table, and the great northern beans ensure they leave with their bellies full. A complete rainbow of colorful veggies makes the soup extra delectable, and the finishing sprinkle of Parmesan cheese makes for a fun final step. With a hunk of crusty bread, this is the ultimate comfort food.

Surprising Salads Many days of the week, my family seems to multiply. Between play dates, practices and study groups, I frequently find myself hosting the moms and dads who come with their kids. It is my pleasure to add an extra leaf to the table — especially when I've got the fixings for a quick salad lined up.

For a small group of on-the-go moms in particular, I reach for a can of garbanzo beans to toss together a couple plates of this easy salad recipe. It's crunchy and crispy with an unexpected twist. Warm, creamy beans are the perfect taste and textural surprise when added to an otherwise traditional Caesar salad. The option of salty little anchovy fillets allows guests to tailor their plates.

Warm Comfort Foods Some days call for consolation, making warmth — in every sense of the word — the order of the day. Whether one of us survived a rough test, a brutal soccer game or a broken heart, having all of us together with some grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup is the only thing that can make it better. In fact, the best way for me to learn all the details of the day is to serve grilled pepper-jack cheese sandwiches on thinly sliced Italian bread and this just-spicy-enough tomato soup recipe. The pairing is made in just about 10 minutes, and it requires all of us to be still to enjoy it. With every bite of sandwich, and every sip of soup, we settle in and tune out the craziness of the rest of the day.

Easy Recipes In our house, Monday and Friday nights very often include salad. At the end of long days and long weeks, I need a dinner recipe that comes together in minutes. This unique tuna salad recipe fits the bill when I don't have the time (or patience) to put on my apron. Six ingredients, requiring minimal prep, arrange into a mouthwatering meal. Try substituting leftover chicken or beef for the tuna, or add green beans, asparagus, shredded cheese or bacon. Finally, offer everybody's favorite vinaigrettes to top off the individual salads according to personal tastes.

From breakfasts to snacks to desserts, all meals have their place in the family plan. I count on them to nourish, satisfy and bring my family together. More times than not, however, I count on soups and salads specifically to serve as my superhero. In one fell swoop, they save me over and over again.

*Tip: Creating delicious, wholesome meals for your family doesn't have to be a chore! We have an entire collection of articles with easy recipes and helpful advice.

Meatless Appetizer Madness: Score With These Gameday Recipes

January 26, 2016 Entertaining, Gameday Tips

It's championship hoops time! These indulgent, delectable appetizers are sure to score big at any viewing party. Surprisingly, none of them contain meat.

They also don't require you to spend hours in the kitchen or buy tons of special ingredients. Pull out some pantry staples, and plan a menu full of easy dips and finger food recipes that will keep your team going strong through the college basketball playoff season.

Tip Off With Delicious Dip Recipes

"Meatless doesn't have to mean bland..."

Meatless doesn't have to mean bland or boring. Start the party with a pesto dip recipe that's accompanied by veggies, naan and gluten-free chips. Mashed garbanzo beans provide a creamy base for the dip, and pesto and red peppers add lots of flavor.

Another slam-dunk in the kitchen is this Buffalo dip recipe. A mix of canned chili beans, red pepper, blue cheese and hot sauce will wake up the taste buds and satisfy any spicy-food lover.

Score With Savory Finger Food Recipes Make it easy for your guests to snack while they watch the game by serving bite-size finger foods and appetizers. I served a Southwest-inspired mini quiche recipe at a gameday party, and the crowd went wild.

I also made this easy bruschetta recipe for a group of friends who always seem to find their way to my house when a game's on. They loved the mouthwatering combination of cannellini beans, tomatoes and Parmesan.

Looking for a fun activity (beside eating) for between games? Set a hoop up over the trash can and create your own pickup game with your guests!

Get the party started. Send out your invites, make sure there are plenty of seats in front of the TV and prepare some amazing meatless appetizer recipes.

Meet Sandy Coughlin

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4 Delectably Different Chili Recipes You’ll Want for the Big Game

January 26, 2016 Chili, Gameday Tips

Whether you're watching your favorite team play in the big game, or you're just enjoying a night with family and friends watching sports (and commercials!), chili is a staple at football gatherings. Chili recipes are easy, delicious and satisfying. Plus, they feed even the hungriest crowd.

"... chili is a staple at football gatherings."

Everyone has his or her favorite chili recipe, meaning there are many ways to tantalize your guests' taste buds. We have four easy chili recipes - each with its own unique appeal - that will be a big hit at your next football party or tailgate.

A Quick, Easy White Chicken Chili Recipe Do you always use beef in your chili? Change it up by making this white chicken chili recipe. Because chicken is more delicate in flavor than beef, use fewer tomatoes to let the spices and meat shine. White beans add flavor and creamy texture. Using a rotisserie chicken from your favorite deli makes this a dish that's easy enough to put together on a weeknight, not just for your big game party.

A Hearty, Traditional Chili Recipe This classic chili recipe is great served with tortilla chips or cornbread - or on its own. Canned chili beans add a lot of slow-cooked flavor without a ton of work (or time). Feel free to substitute ground turkey if you'd like; or experiment with the sweeter flavors of red, yellow or orange bell peppers instead of green.

A Flavorful, Meatless Chili Recipe Are some of your guests vegetarians? With the right flavor combinations, and beans to add protein, even carnivores won't miss the meat. Canned beans make this meatless chili recipe a snap to put together, as does using a packet of taco seasoning.

I love this chili fully loaded with sour cream or Greek yogurt, chopped onions, chopped avocado (or a dollop of guacamole) and tortilla chips. This recipe could very well become a fan favorite.

A Unique, Savory Jamaican Chili Recipe Do the fans at your party want something different? A classic chili won't cut it? This easy Jamaican chili recipe is the one to try. It takes the flavors of Jamaica - including allspice, fennel and cumin - and mixes them up with bacon, pumpkin puree and a squeeze of lime. This one is both really different and really delicious.

Delectable chili makes your gameday event extra special! Use your imagination and wow your guests with some of the best chili recipes.

Meet Julie Niesen

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Celebrate Mardi Gras With These New Orleans-Inspired Recipes

January 26, 2016 Entertaining, Seasonal Tips

Laissez les bons temps rouler! Mardi Gras - French for Fat Tuesday - is the time just before Lent when some Christians celebrate with a big blowout before 40 days of prayer and self-denial.

In the United States, the biggest Mardi Gras celebration happens in the French Quarter neighborhood of New Orleans, where people eat king cake and enjoy Creole and Cajun food.

What's the difference between Creole and Cajun food? Creole food is considered "city" food, and Cajun food is from the "country." Creole versions of classic recipes like gumbo and jambalaya use tomatoes, whereas Cajun versions do not. Either way, these dishes are a delicious way to enjoy the flavor of Mardi Gras no matter where you live.

Use Andouille Sausage in This Red Beans & Rice Recipe Red beans and rice is a Louisiana staple. Originally a dish that used up leftover Sunday ham on Monday, it utilizes a blend of vegetables known in the region as the "holy trinity" - bell pepper, onion and celery. Our favorite red beans and rice recipe includes sausage. We suggest andouille sausage for a spicy, authentic flavor, or you can substitute your favorite sausage. Serve this dish on top of rice with a side of cornbread.

Add Beans to This Gumbo Recipe Gumbo is a slow-simmered stew that's been thickened with one of three traditional thickeners: roux (a mix of butter and flour that is cooked until brown and toasty), filé gumbo (dried sassafras leaves) or okra. This chicken gumbo recipe takes the essential flavors of gumbo and builds upon them by adding canned beans. For an added kick, be sure to use your favorite hot sauce.

"Enjoy a taste of New Orleans … "

Cook Up This Dirty Rice Recipe on a Busy Weeknight What is dirty rice? It's long-grain white rice - a Louisiana staple - that appears "dirty" after being cooked in stock with spices. This dirty beans and rice recipe includes chicken stock, the "holy trinity" vegetables, garlic and Cajun seasoning. It takes half an hour to prepare, making it perfect for those busy evenings.

Enjoy a taste of New Orleans at Mardi Gras or any time of the year with these simple, quick recipes that pack a lot of flavor in just a little bit of time.

Meet Julie Niesen

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The Anatomy of a Great Chili Recipe

December 04, 2015 Chili

Colder weather and shorter days make everyone crave hearty, flavorful meals. It's the best time of year to get a pot of chili simmering on the stove, send dinner invites and ladle out bowls of “soul” for friends and family. Don't forget to toss together a fresh salad and bake up some cornbread for side dishes.

The Ultimate Dish for Everything From Crockpots to Cook-Offs There are so many ways to make chili recipes, depending on whether you want something rich and spicy, sweet and fruity or something else totally different.

Regardless of what you're going for, all chili recipes have three elements in common: base (or “broth”), protein (either meat, beans or both) and veggies. Mix the elements together and customize with a blend of spices to make a truly unique, easy chili. (Click on the graphic to the right for a printable “cheat sheet” summarizing all the information in this story.)

For example, my family loves this chicken chili recipe, which has a citrusy zing. It's so easy to make — just combine precooked rotisserie chicken, canned beans, lemon juice, vegetables and spices.

All in all, a good chili is more than the sum of its parts. It's about nourishment and bringing people together!

Chili Base: the Foundation The base forms the foundation of your chili recipe, balancing all the other ingredients. It can be anything from stock to beer, red wine to tomato juice. The most common spices used in chili bases are cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper and garlic. For gameday, open up a can of chili beans, which have the flavors already added to the base, and wow your guests with this quick chili recipe.

Protein: Set Your Chili Apart Many chili lovers use ground beef to give their recipes a robust appeal. Other options are elk, venison, Italian sausage or chicken.

Some chili fans say it's all about the beans — savory, tender and intact. The most popular for chili is the kidney bean, but others are just as tasty, including black, pinto, garbanzo and butter beans. If you're cooking a chicken chili, look for great northern or cannellini beans. Beans also do two jobs for the price of one. The USDA considers them both a protein and a vegetable. This meatless chili recipe has two types of beans, onions, corn and tomatoes.

Veggies: Round Out the Dish Sautéing vegetables such as onions, garlic and green peppers first melds the flavors together, so always start with those. Later, add tomatoes and corn for a delicious Mexican-inspired dish. This easy chili recipe is packed with green peppers, onions, tomatoes and canned chili beans — all simmered in a rich, tomato sauce. Finally, be sure to provide a selection of toppings like onions, cheese, sour cream, corn chips and avocado.

All in all, a good chili is more than the sum of its parts. It's about nourishment and bringing people together!

Meet Sandy Coughlin

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Sweet & Simple Desserts for Your Next Tailgate

December 04, 2015 Gameday Tips

Whenever we talk about tailgates, we talk about chili, chicken wings and all sorts of delicious, savory tailgating food. But sometimes, don't you want something a little sweet before kickoff? Whether it's chocolate or something fruity, it's easy to create simple tailgate desserts with some unexpected ingredients.

Chocolaty Brownie Bites This brownie bites recipe adds a brilliant twist. For great body, puree black beans and add them to the batter before you bake the brownies. This is a fun recipe to get the kids involved in; they can roll the balls, dip them in chocolate and decorate.

Decadent Pinto Bean Pie Pinto beans add richness (and protein) to this pinto bean pie recipe, a delicious take on traditional, Southern-style pecan pie. This is guaranteed to be a real crowd pleaser, and friends will never guess the secret ingredient! This recipe refrigerates well and makes two pies.

The treats are easy to make, and your crowd will go wild over them!

Flavorful Pumpkin Empanadas Fall is all about pumpkin — serve it in a unique way with this pumpkin empanada recipe. Pick your favorite piecrust, and then add some pumpkin pie spice, canned pumpkin and canned beans. Trust us, the combination is delicious. The pumpkin and beans combine for a sweet spiciness that you and your fellow tailgaters will love.

Smooth Caramel Dip Skip the store-bought dip. It's easy enough to make on your own. This caramel dip recipe combines pureed cannellini beans, cream cheese and brown sugar for a delicious dip that's good on apples, strawberries or any kind of fruit you like. It's also nice on ice cream.

When you're thinking about tailgating food, don't forget the sweet stuff. And yes, you can use beans for desserts, just like you can use them in savory recipes. The treats are easy to make, and your crowd will go wild over them!

* Tip: Do gameday the right way! We have an entire collection of articles with tailgating advice waiting for you.

Meet Julie Niesen

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Southern-Inspired Recipes for Your Next Tailgate

December 04, 2015 Gameday Tips

A passion for both sports and food is deeply embedded in Southern culture, and nowhere is this more evident than at tailgate parties. Whether you're watching the NFL or SEC, rooting for Texas or Tennessee (or even Ohio), a taste of the South makes any pregame event special.

Sweet & Savory Chicken Wings Recipe Chicken wings are a must for any tailgate. Although Buffalo, New York, can claim its hot-sauce-infused version, Southerners have been grilling and smoking for generations.

Depending on where you live, your chicken wings might be coated in a sweet and spicy sauce. But for a genuine taste of Memphis, go for a dry rub. This dry-rubbed chicken wings recipe uses a mix of sweet and savory spices, which go into a plastic bag with the chicken to sit in the refrigerator overnight. At the tailgate, grill until cooked through and serve with baked beans.

No matter where you live in the U.S., incorporating Southern-inspired dishes into your gameday menu will guarantee a happy crowd.

Rich Texas-Style Chili Recipe Don't mess with Texas or its chili! While people all over the country argue about whose chili recipe is best, Texans know they have a great thing going. This Texas-style chili recipe adds canned beans to the traditional version for a rich, savory, easy chili that tastes like it took all day (but really takes just 35 minutes). Serve with tortilla chips, sour cream, cheese or crackers for delicious tailgate food that will appeal to everyone.

Satisfying White Chicken Chili Recipe Not into beef? That's okay. This white chicken chili recipe is an excellent, filling option. We love the green chilies and cumin, which combine for a fresh flavor. There are no tomatoes here, just chicken, great northern beans and spices. This is one of our favorite dishes to make for the big NFL game in February; it always goes fast! Like any chili recipe, it keeps well. You can make this a day or two ahead to save time the day of the party.

No matter where you live in the U.S., incorporating Southern-inspired dishes into your gameday menu will guarantee a happy crowd.

* Tip: Looking for more tailgating food and advice? We have plenty of other articles that will help you have the best gameday ever.

Meet Julie Niesen

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Quick, Easy Comfort Food Recipes That Taste Like They Took Hours

Comfort food always makes you feel warm and satisfied. The only problem? It can take a lot of time to prepare and cook. Macaroni and cheese is great, but you don't want to spend hours making it from scratch, and the instant variety just isn't the same.

This often leads to either going out for comfort food or making something else that takes less time to prepare. You don't have to! Thanks to these quick, easy recipes, you can have delicious comfort food anytime.

A Simple Baked Bean Dish Craving a heartier version of a sloppy Joe? Don't want to get more than one pan dirty? This easy one-skillet recipe is for you. The timesaving trick? Use pre-made salsa and canned baked beans. The recipe also allows for creativity. The type of salsa you choose controls its heat and flavor. I love trying a salsa verde for tanginess or a chipotle salsa for smokiness.

Comfort food recipes don't have to take hours, but with these simple hints, they'll taste like they did!

A Versatile Bean Casserole Casserole recipes are fantastic because they're so simple. This easy casserole recipe is no exception; it combines canned beans, cornbread and sausage for a hearty meal that's ready in about half an hour. This dish is also quite versatile. Vary the type of sausage or beans in the recipe according to your taste.

A Delicious Italian Meal Everyone loves Italian recipes. It's easy to mix a jar of tomato sauce with some pasta and mozzarella for a quick meal, and this Italian-inspired skillet recipe raises it to the next level. Take that jar of spaghetti sauce and mix it with canned beans and your choice of Italian sausage (sweet or spicy, depending on your family's tastes). For extra flavor, pop the dish under the broiler after you sprinkle on the cheese for a bubbly, browned topping.

A Savory Chicken Cacciatore Sticking with quick, easy Italian meals, this chicken cacciatore recipe takes just half an hour to put on the table. Again, you start with a trusty jar of tomato sauce, and then add chicken breasts and white beans. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, and you have a satisfying dinner. Just don't forget to top it with Parmesan cheese.

Comfort food recipes don't have to take hours, but with these simple hints, they'll taste like they did!

* Tip: You can't beat comfort food during the cooler months! We have some new takes on old favorites and three comforting casseroles that won't weigh you down.

Meet Julie Niesen

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