braised lamb shanks

Photo: Caitlin Bensel

The Festive Meal That Won't Break Your Budget
The great thing about serving lamb shanks for a holiday gathering is that they feel special, yet they're actually quite affordable. One of those cuts with a lot of muscle, the lamb holds up better when you cook it for hours and winds up deliciously tender. This recipe, from Everyday Slow Cooker, includes a gremolata—made with slow-cooked garlic, olive oil, bread crumbs, parsley and lemon zest—that adds fantastic bright flavor to the rich meat.

Get the recipe: Braised Lamb Shanks with Garlic Gremolata
spinach and cheese manicotti

Photo: © 2018 by Eva Kolenko

A Pasta Dish That's All Dressed Up and Ready to Go
In the world of baked pasta and casseroles, you have your weeknight version, and then your "it may be Monday, but it's also Christmas Eve" version. This crowd-pleasing recipe from Skinnytaste One & Done falls squarely in the second category: It's a beautiful dish composed of manicotti shells stuffed with a mixture of cheese and spinach, layered into your slow cooker with marinara sauce. You can prep it ahead of time and there's no need to boil the pasta first, because it cooks right in the sauce.

Get the recipe: Spinach and Cheese Manicotti
brie with cranberry

Photo: © Tara Donne

The Baked Brie with 3 Can't-Miss Additions
There are dozens of ways to make festive, fondue-like baked Brie, but here is a spin you may not have tried before, which draws on the dried form of a quintessential fall fruit: cranberries. You sprinkle tart, dried cranberries over the cheese, along with balsamic vinegar (which turns into a rich syrup when cooked) and finely chopped, fresh rosemary. The result is a savory and sweet complement to the melted, buttery Brie that's perfect with crackers, sliced apples or toast points.

Get the recipe: Brie with a Cranberry Balsamic Sauce

Photo: Erica Allen

A Roast with Some Feast-Worthy Upgrades
Combine the easy familiarity of a Sunday supper with a couple of special-occasion tweaks and you've got this pot roast. First, you rub the roast with a savory-sweet mixture of salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley and a pinch of sugar. Then, you sear the meat over medium heat until it's browned, before placing it over carrots and potatoes in the slow cooker. The searing gives the meat extra depth of flavor, as well as a nice charred look that holds up over hours in the slow cooker. The tender beef, with melting carrots and hearty potatoes, makes for a winning (and low-effort) entree.

Get the recipe: Santa Maria–Style Pot Roast

Photo: Erica Allen

A Downsized Turkey That's Just as Juicy
If you have a smaller crowd to feed for the holidays, a turkey breast is a great alternative to roasting a whole bird. A three-pound breast feeds four to six people, and fits in a six-quart slow cooker (the average size for these appliances), freeing up valuable oven space for sides. And if you're worried that the meat will dry out over the course of the four- to five-hour cook time, fear not: Wilkes has you slide an herb-and-butter mixture under the skin before cooking, so the meat stays moist (and gets an extra boost of flavor).

Get the recipe: Herbed Turkey Breast

Photo: Erica Allen

A Dressing That Covers All Your Bases
The trick to making sure everyone gets a spoonful of dressing that's both tender and crisp? Make it in a slow cooker, and when you're serving it, scoop from the outside of the cooker in toward the middle. That's because the edges of the dressing—the parts that touch the perimeter of the slow cooker—become crunchier since they're closer to the hot walls of the cooking insert, while the interior portion is softer. This version includes sausage, boxed cornbread dressing and the usual celery and onion.

Get the recipe: Sausage Cornbread Dressing

Photo: Erica Allen

Faster Dinner Rolls
Traditional dinner rolls that you buy frozen need to be placed in a baking pan, covered with plastic and left to rise for three to five hours before going into the oven for 20 minutes. You can cut this time down considerably by using a slow cooker, as this recipe shows. It instructs you to dip the frozen rolls into melted butter and grated Parmesan, sprinkle them with garlic powder and parsley then place them into the pot—and turn it on high. Within two hours, the bread is beautifully puffy and the tops of the rolls are light golden-brown.

Get the recipe: Garlic Cheese Rolls

Photo: Erica Allen

A Streamlined Approach to a Classic Side
You may have heard that you can keep mashed potatoes warm in the slow cooker—but here's something new: You can actually cook the entire dish in the pot too. In fact, the method is so easy, it might just become your new go-to for mashed potatoes throughout the year. You quarter red potatoes, place them in a slow cooker with some seasonings, aromatics and a small amount of broth and cook for three hours on low. Mash the potatoes using a hand blender, adding butter and milk, and that's it—the mashed spuds can be kept warm in the cooker until you're ready to eat.

Get the recipe: Roasted Garlic and Herb Mashed Potatoes