Slow cookers are well known and much loved for their ability to make mealtimes simple. Yet, cooks often don't take full advantage of their cooker's versatility. They are just as useful for making desserts, for example, or can be used to prepare appetizers. The next time you're having company or going to a potluck, try a few of these slow cooker appetizers.
Meatballs are one of the classic slow cooker appetizers. Mix up a batch of your favorite meatball recipe, or just buy good frozen meatballs at the supermarket. Brown the surface so they won't stick together, and fill one or more cookers with them. Add your choice of sauce, turn on the pot and your preparation is done. Vary the flavor by changing the sauce: try diluted barbecue sauce, creamy garden tomato dressing, plain, old-fashioned brown gravy or Asian flavors such as sweet and sour, teriyaki or curry. Your imagination is the only limitation. Serve meatballs with toothpicks or cocktail forks.
Chicken wings are quintessential finger food, so they're not appropriate for formal occasions. However, for casual gatherings with family and friends, they're another easy, versatile slow cooker appetizer. Wings can be cooked directly in the slow cooker, but it's quicker to do them on a sheet pan in the oven. Transfer the cooked and drained wings to your cooker, turn it to low and add your choice of sauce. Barbecue, teriyaki and sweet and sour are all easy choices, but creamy ranch is a must-have for many wing aficionados. Another popular option is hot sauce, in two or three levels of potency. Set out finger bowls or lots of napkins.
The world of party cooking contains many recipes for hot dips, to be served with some form of bread, toast or crackers at your get-together. Make these in your slow-cooker, instead of running back and forth to the kitchen, and you'll enjoy more time with your guests. Use your slow cooker for classics like hot spinach dip, artichoke dip, crab or lobster dip or even a simple, nacho cheese sauce seasoned with dried fiesta dip mix. Entrees such as chili can become slow cooker appetizers as well, if you set out a large bowl of tortilla chips beside it for dipping.
Chicken and meatballs are not the only appetizer options that work well in a slow cooker. Ribs can be prepared in the same way. Have your butcher cut the ribs into strips, and separate them for cooking. Slow-cook them until tender the day before, then heat them in your favorite sauce. The same technique can be used for finger-sized sausages, or for a lighter choice fill your slow cooker with steamed clams or mussels, either plain or in Mediterranean-style tomato and saffron broth.
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