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Chill out with these healthy holiday recipes using your slow cooker.

When you're entertaining, the trick is keeping the cold foods cold and the hot foods hot for the duration of the festivities. This keeps the food looking appetizing, and, more important, is vital for preventing food poisoning. (Any food that sits out at room temperature for two hours or more is suspect.) Those are a few of the reasons the slow cooker is my favorite, totally easy way to keep hot dishes and appetizers safely hot during a party. Try some of my healthy holiday slow cooker recipes below, and it may become your favorite party trick, too!

With a slow cooker, there are no flames to worry about, no fuel to replenish, no candles to burn out. Just plug it in and set it. The LOW setting will keep the food hot during the party, and HIGH warms it up beforehand. (Give your dish about one hour on HIGH before the party to get it to the ideal temperature.)

I have two slow cookers in my kitchen just for entertaining. I often have a hot vegetable spread in one, and a lean meat appetizer sizzling in the other. To get you started entertaining with your slow cooker or cookers, here are five slow cooker recipes that are perfect for a holiday party.

Slow Cooker Recipe No. 1: Spinach-Artichoke Heart Dip

You can make this dip ahead of time, keep it covered in the refrigerator and then, about an hour before the party, spread it into a slow cooker crock and heat on HIGH until bubbly.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon minced or chopped garlic

1/4 cup chopped green onions

10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and gently squeezed of excess water

1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts (water packed), drained and chopped

1 recipe Alfredo Sauce (see below)

1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1/3 tablespoons shredded or grated Parmesan cheese

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the inside of the crock of the slow cooker with canola cooking spray.
  2. Add garlic, green onions, spinach, artichoke hearts, Alfredo sauce, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese to a large mixing bowl and stir to blend.
  3. Spread mixture into the bottom of the prepared slow cooker crock and heat on HIGH until bubbly (about an hour). Serve warm with slices of wheat baguette bread, reduced fat-tortilla chips, or reduced-fat whole grain crackers.

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