Just because a chill has crept into the air doesn't mean you need to retreat under a blanket and binge on TV. Instead, make the cold weather an excuse for a party, and fill your home with the warmth of guests and old-fashioned comfort foods.
Think potluck -- minus the memories of a mishmash of dishes served from tins -- and serve soups, stews and desserts from no-fuss crock pots.
The best part of a cold-weather crock pot party? You can plan as much or as little as you want. Send an informal invitation when the mood (or temperature) strikes, and assign different dishes to your neighbors so there's no overlap. Or not.
Here are some great recipe ideas for a multi-course crock pot party:
Zesty Black Bean Soup. Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of the crock pot and add 2 cans of drained and rinsed black beans. Next, toss in a handful of fresh chopped cilantro, chopped green bell pepper, chopped red bell pepper, and 2 medium diced red onions. Add 8 cloves of garlic, minced, 2 1/2 tablespoons of dried oregano, and 2 tablespoons ground cumin. Then, add about 1 1/2 cups of beef broth. Beans are commonly cooked on low for about 8 hours in a crock pot. Serve sour cream and diced tomatoes on the side.
Tip: Crock pots cook best when 2/3 to 3/4 full.
Potato and Root Vegetables. Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of the crock pot and add one small clove of garlic, minced. Fill your crock pot with peeled potatoes cut into 2-inch pieces, chopped carrots, halved brussel sprouts, and large cubes of yellow squash. Toss in a couple of bay leaves. Add small chunks of ham, if you like, and a couple of cups of vegetable broth, depending on the size of your crock pot. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
Tip: Add less liquid to the crock pot when cooking with frozen vegetables, which will release more juices as they defrost.
Barbecue Pork. Toss a boneless pork loin, cubed, into the crockpot. Chop an onion and add barbecue sauce to taste. Add cola -- enough to nearly cover the ingredients -- and cook until on low until pork reaches between 145 and 160 degrees, depending on your preference, usually 6 to 8 hours.
Tip: Click here to learn the safe internal temperatures for cooked food.
Dessert. Coat the crock pot with non-stick spray. Make your favorite cake recipe, pour into the crock pot and cook on low for about 2 hours. The cake is ready when it pulls away from the sides and there are no wet spots on top.
Tip: If you open the lid of your crock pot, add 20 minutes to the cook time.
Extras. Have bread, crackers, cornbread and drinks on hand to round out the meal.
Photo: Shutterstock/Robyn Mackenzie