We need to clarify something. The phrase “slow cooker” does not refer to some dim-witted person in the kitchen. No, a slow cooker is one of those kitchen devices you may have ignored for some time. You may have one already, orphaned on a back shelf. Or you may walk by them in your local kitchenware store. Yes, you’ll stop, look at the device, and just ignore it.
Well, it is time to dust off that creature you already have or go buy a brand new shiny one because the world of slow cooking is capturing attention everywhere. And the best advocate for slow cooking is Michele Scicolone.
Michele’s The Italian Slow Cooker was a tour de force in her home court: Italian cooking. Now, she has a brilliant new success in The French Slow Cooker. Advocates of French cuisine have nothing to be worried about. Michele’s multiculturalism shines on every page with French food given all the loving respect it deserves.
Michele describes her own awakening here, learning how a slow cooker is the ideal way to create a wide away of French home dishes and do it more easily and more successfully. Soufflés and quiches require careful timing when using an oven. In a slow cooker, with its low and even warmness, these “sensitive” dishes are far easier to prepare. Vegetable dishes, gratins, seafood, and even gooey desserts like crème caramel can all be easily created with your slow cooker.
Suzen’s starting point for testing this new book was this Moroccan Chicken with Apricots and Almonds [I wanted the crème caramel, but …]. We have a pantry always ready with dried fruits and nuts. And each fall we stock up on the best organic chickens in the Hudson Valley, from Free Bird Farm who offer them Saturday’s at the Kingston farmers market. Our freezer has a shelf full of birds ready to go — after just a little defrosting.
Yes, this recipe calls for chicken breasts but Suzi simply sliced that whole chicken in half. It looked a bit like a closeup scene from a television hospital show. In fact, Suzen has told me that my next surgery will be home-based. I think it’s all a gimmick to get me to shovel the snow.
Michele Scicolone describes this dish as lightly spiced. It’s exactly that. As the chicken cooks, your kitchen is not overpowered by scent. There’s just this magical suggestion that a great meal is forthcoming.
Michele suggests serving this over couscous. We did rice instead. Either way, all the chicken, all fruit, and all the sauce are soon gone.
Moroccan Chicken with Apricots and Almonds
Yield: serves 4-8
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 cups chicken broth, ideally home made
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 cup dried apricot halves, quartered
- 8 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons sliced toasted almonds
- Chopped fresh cilantro.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are golden, about 10 minutes. Mix in the flour and spices and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the broth, lemon juice, and honey. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the apricots.
Pour half of the sauce into a large slow cooker. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Place the chicken in the cooker, overlapping the pieces slightly. Drizzle with the remaining sauce. Cover and cook on low for 2 ½ to 3 hours, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Serve the chicken sprinkled with the almonds and cilantro.
Source: The French Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone [Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]
A couple of days ago I posted a blog about Lamb Chops with Black Currant BBQ Sauce. It’s a great recipe. Just one issue: what do you serve with it.
You see, side dishes are perfect only when they meet the Goldilocks criteria: not too little, not too much, just right. You need to find the “just right” vegetables and the “just right” method of preparation.
To go with the lamb, we wanted fresh green beans, the ones tumbling over the sides of the bins at our local farmers’ market. To find the right recipe, we went to the best possible source. Alice Waters in The Art of Simple Food provides recipes to use with her favorite style of ingredients: fresh, organic, and local. And being from California, it’s no surprise that she’s in love with almonds and citrus.
These beans are distinctive enough to be “different” on your plate yet still be the perfect complement for a substantial main dish like lamb chops topped with a tangy sauce.
Before summer ends and those fresh beans are gone, give this recipe a shot.
Green Beans with Toasted Almonds and Lemon
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 pound green beans
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup sliced almonds
- Juice of ½ lemon
Trim the stem end from the beans.
In a heavy sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the foam has begun to subside, add the almonds. Cook, stirring fairly often, until he almonds begin to brown.
Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and salt. Cook the beans until tender in a separate pan in salted boiling water. Drain well and toss with almonds and butter. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
Source: The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters