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]
“Our garden herbs are still fresh, right?” I asked.
“Yes,” Suzen said.
“And you love pine nuts, right?”
“What do you want, Brian.” She was now on alert.
“Well, I found this stuffing recipe that uses them and I just thought …”
“Let me see,” she asked and extended her hand for the cookbook I was holding.
“Oh,” she continued, “wild rice. Yum, my favorite.” She handed me back the book.
She is not a fan of wild rice. I am. We will not be cooking this stuffing this year, or probably any other. Normally, I don’t blog a recipe Suzen and I haven’t tested, but this comes from Diane Morgan, so we know this recipe will work. I know this recipe will be delicious. I just hope that someone, somewhere is able to enjoy what I am not. If you’d just like to drop me a note telling me how wonderful it was, well, that would give me some satisfaction.
I have to stop blogging now. I have bread crumbs to make. For stuffing. I wonder if I can cut them into the shape of little rice grains?
Wild Rice Stuffing with Pine Nuts, Dried Apricots, and Fresh Herbs
Yield: serves 6 to 8
- 2 cups wild rice
- 2 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup pine nuts
- ¾ cup dried apricots, quartered
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large ribs celery, finely chopped
- 2 large carrots, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 medium yellow onion (about 8 ounces), finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
- ½ cup minced fresh parsley
- Freshly ground pepper
In a medium saucepan, combine the rice, stock, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat.
Reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender, about 40 minutes. (Not all of the liquid will be absorbed.)
Meanwhile, place a small, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, but not smoking, add the pine nuts. Stirring constantly, toast them until nicely browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside to cool.
Place the dried apricots in a small bowl, add hot water to cover, and allow to plump for 20 minutes. Drain and reserve.
In a 10-inch sauté pan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Swirl to coat the pan and sauté the celery, carrots, and onion until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, sage, and parsley and sauté 1 more minute. Remove from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. When the rice is tender, add the sautéed vegetable mixture to the rice. Add the reserved pine nuts and apricots, and stir to combine. Add the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Use the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to grease an oven-to-table casserole dish. Spoon in the rice stuffing and cover. Twenty minutes before serving, bake the stuffing until heated through. (The stuffing can be made up to 1 day in advance. Refrigerate, covered, and bring to room temperature 1 hour before baking. Increase the baking time to 40 minutes to insure it’s heated through.)
Source: The New Thanksgiving Table by Diane Morgan