Thanksgiving snuck up on us this year and if you’re not as prepared as you’d like to be, join the club. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend all day in the kitchen to get a great meal out of it. In fact, this late in the game (you know, day of), you ought to do the opposite. The meal will be quick to throw together, slow and low to cook, and better still, you’ll get to hang out with your guests instead of juggling six courses in a stress-filled kitchen while you’re weird aunt requests more ice to go with her Chardonnay.
Enter the slow cooker, patron saint of the 11th hour. With this gadget, you can prep and jumpstart a meal over coffee and preserve the rest of the day for friends and family. Plus, it tends to be a forgiving piece of kitchen equipment, meaning that you don’t have to be exacting with your ingredients. Start with small additions and add more to taste.
Here are a few easy-peasy dishes to throw together day-of, whether it’s on the actual holiday itself or later in the long weekend when you can’t even bear the thought of more leftovers.
Most recipes call for shoulder when it comes to pulled pork but go with tenderloin. The cut will produce better meat and usually less fat. Grab some pantry staples like ketchup, a good mustard, balsamic vinegar, salt, and honey, and cover the meat in the mix. Throw it in the slow cooker on low for five-six hours and get out of the kitchen. After, put it on warm as you pull it apart with a fork. It does great on a roll as a sandwich or as the main event in a tasty pork taco. Sweet and tangy, it’s great with a good old fashioned lager beer.
Chicken thighs tend to be more flavorful than wings and drumsticks. Hit the chicken with some salt and pepper, a drizzle of honey, a touch of garlic, and some soy sauce (or Ponzu if you want some citrus notes). Given the smaller size of the thighs, it shouldn’t take more than two to three hours in the cooker. The chicken does great alongside rice and some green veggies, like beans, cabbage, or bok choy. Enjoy it with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc.
You can do no wrong with a pork sirloin roast. It’s big and meaty, meaning you can even pretend it’s a turkey and get your carve on. Rub the outside in a bit of salt, lemon pepper, cumin, and herbs de Provence (or Za’atar if you want to go in a slightly different direction). Throw the meat in the cooker, pour in a cup or so of chicken broth, and let it cook on low. If there’s leftover room in the cooker, throw in some diced potatoes and chopped onion for added flavor and a side dish that will soak up all the flavors.
It’s great that evening but stores well as lunch meat for the west of the week as well. And save the brothy goodness at the bottom of the slow cooker for dousing potatoes or veggies in the future. Pour yourself a glass of Pinot Blanc or Chardonnay for pairing.
Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers
You can go meatless and do so in style with stuffed peppers. You’ll capture the color spectrum of fall and earn a few presentation points when it comes time for plating. Fill the peppers with a pre-mixed helping of black beans and quinoa, along with some chili powder and store-bought enchilada sauce. Throw in some refried beans or guacamole as a tasty binding agent, if needed. A few hours on low ought to do the trick.
If you’re short on space, you can cook any remaining peppers in the oven. The toppings are unlimited, from avocado and sour cream to cheese and salsa verde. Try it with a heavier winter rosé, like this one.
Beer Can Chicken (Almost)
This meal couldn’t be easier to pull off. Before you put the chicken in, coat the skin in a generous mix of paprika (smoked is great), salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, and thyme. Pour in your favorite lager to infuse the flavors low and slow into the chicken. Four hours should be enough for a small chicken of about four pounds. Extend your cooking time according to the weight of the bird. Don’t forget to rotate the chicken occasionally for a more balanced flavor throughout. Try it with a racy red like Gamay Noir.
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