I love "America's Test Kitchen," the veteran PBS cooking show in which experts provide the low-down on everything from snacks to sushi and blenders to basters. And I love college basketball. So, combining the two is a slam dunk! (Warning: More hoops lingo to follow.)


An objective coach for a winning strategy, the Boston-based organization boasts 200 people who're passionate about cooking. They do research to discover why recipes work. Then, through the most-watched cooking show on public television, as well as cookbooks, magazines and an online school, pass on what they learned to home cooks. For example, the format of every recipe includes an introduction that reflects the research results for that dish.


America's Test Kitchen has sold more than 10 million cookbooks with at least 10 new titles published every year. For Carolina Woman readers, it's sharing three bank-shot recipes from "The Complete Slow Cooker," one of its newest.


A slow cooker is a free throw – ahem, practical choice - for gatherings because it keeps food warm. From party mix to dip to pulled chicken, the variety of game-day dishes that this countertop appliance can produce is impressive. Swish!






Party Mix


Why this recipe works

Crunchy, salty and borderline addictive, homemade party snack mix is guaranteed to disappear quickly at any gathering. But after making a back-of-the-box party mix recipe, we felt there was room for improvement.


We decided to sidestep the conventional oven method in favor of using the slow cooker to create a perfectly toasted party mix every time. We started with the classic combination of Corn, Rice, and Wheat Chex cereals, to which we added pita chips, mini-pretzels and dry-roasted peanuts.


Tasters preferred the nutty sweetness of melted butter to margarine or olive oil, each of which left a greasy finish. Since Worcestershire sauce was integral to getting that trademark party mix flavor, we decided to add a generous amount to ensure its flavor didn't become muted in the slow cooker. We also doubled the usual amount of garlic powder and added a little cayenne pepper for subtle heat.


To help release excess moisture and ensure our mix wouldn't get soggy, we removed the lid every hour to stir, which also redistributed the mix so it wouldn't burn.


To finish, we spread the mix out on a rimmed baking sheet to dry and crisp.


You can use any combination of cereal here; just be sure to have 9 cups of cereal in total. You will need an oval slow cooker for this recipe.


Serves 10 to 12
Easy prep
Cooking time: 3 to 4 hours on high
Slow cooker size: 4 to 7 quarts

9 cups (10 ounces) Corn, Rice, and/or Wheat Chex cereal
2 ounces pita chips, broken into 1-inch pieces (1 cup)
1 cup (1 1/2 ounces) mini-pretzels
1 cup (5 ounces) dry-roasted peanuts
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper


1. Combine cereal, pita chips, mini-pretzels and peanuts in slow cooker. Whisk melted butter, Worcestershire, garlic powder and cayenne together in bowl. Drizzle butter mixture over cereal mixture and gently toss until evenly coated. Cover and cook, stirring every hour, until cereal mixture is toasted and fragrant, 3 to 4 hours on high.


2. Transfer cereal mixture to rimmed baking sheet and spread into even layer. Let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Serve. (Party mix can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 week.)


Spinach and Artichoke Dip


Why this recipe works

Spinach and artichoke dip is a bona fide crowd-pleaser, but it often ends up watery, bland and left behind on the buffet table. We wanted a reliable dip that was rich, creamy and packed with flavorful chunks of artichokes and earthy spinach.


We discarded versions with flour-thickened cream mixtures in favor of an easy-prep combination of softened cream cheese and mayonnaise that gave our dip both the creaminess we were after and a subtle tanginess that tasters enjoyed. Jarred artichoke hearts and frozen spinach were easier options than their fresh counterparts; we just made sure to rid them of excess moisture. With a sprinkle of fresh chives, our dip was ready for the party.


While we prefer the flavor and texture of jarred whole baby artichokes, you can substitute 18 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry, for the jarred. Serve with crusty bread, crackers, and/or crostini.


Serves 6 to 8
Cooking time: 1 to 2 hours on low
Slow cooker size: 1 1/2 to 7 quarts


6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 cups jarred whole baby artichokes packed in water, rinsed, patted dry and chopped
10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives


1. Whisk cream cheese, mayonnaise, water, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in large bowl until well combined. Gently fold in artichokes and spinach.


2A. For 1 1/2- to 5-quart slow cooker: Transfer mixture to slow cooker, cover and cook until heated through, 1 to 2 hours on low.


2B. For 5 1/2- to 7-quart slow cooker: Transfer mixture to 1 1/2-quart soufflé dish. Set dish in slow cooker and pour water into slow cooker until it reaches about one-third up sides of dish (about 2 cups water). Cover and cook until heated through, 1 to 2 hours on low. Remove dish from slow cooker, if desired.


3. Gently stir dip to recombine. Sprinkle with chives and serve. (Dip can be held on warm or low setting for up to 2 hours.)


Sweet and Tangy Pulled Chicken


Why this recipe works

A simple spice mixture and a quick homemade barbecue sauce made it easy to turn slow-cooked, bone-in chicken into tangy, silky, shredded chicken - perfect for piling onto buns for an easy dinner.


Quickly microwaving the aromatics together with the chili powder, paprika and cayenne softened the onions and infused them with layers of barbecue flavor while at the same time blooming the spices. We found that simply seasoning the chicken with salt and pepper before nestling it into our quick sauce mixture of ketchup, molasses and the aromatics was enough to infuse the poultry with the rich essence of the sauce.


Stirring in vinegar at the beginning of cooking made the sauce too thin and dulled its acidity. But adding 2 tablespoons of vinegar at the end of cooking, along with a small amount of mustard, ensured that the sauce was the perfect consistency and retained its bright flavors.


Check the chicken's temperature after 2 hours of cooking and continue to monitor until it registers 160 degrees. Serve with pickle chips and sweet and tangy coleslaw.


Serves 4
Cooking time: 2 to 3 hours on low
Slow cooker size: 4 to 7 quarts


1 onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons molasses
2 (12-ounce) bone-in split chicken breasts, skin removed, trimmed
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 hamburger buns



1. Lightly coat slow cooker with vegetable oil spray. Microwave onion, tomato paste, chili powder, oil, paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cayenne in bowl, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to prepared slow cooker. Stir in ketchup and molasses. Add chicken to slow cooker and coat evenly with sauce mixture. Cover and cook until chicken registers 160 degrees, 2 to 3 hours on low.


2. Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces using 2 forks; discard bones. Stir vinegar and mustard into sauce. Adjust consistency with hot water as needed. Stir in chicken and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on hamburger buns.


Recipes and images courtesy the editors at America's Test Kitchen