Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore

We’ve been using our crockpot quite a bit lately. We’ve also discovered the wonderful boneless skinless chicken thighs from one of our favorite grocery stores (or go-see store as our toddler calls them). The benefit of cooking the thighs in the crockpot is they dry out less and are more flavorful than the traditional chicken breasts. Cooking Light’s crockpot recipes have become a go-to source. I did not expect this recipe to be as good as it was. Even the toddler ate some of it!

Ingredients:
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1/2 cup white wine (or chicken stock)
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano (we ended up using dried)
1/4 cup drained capers
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (we left this out because the toddler was eating with us)
8 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (28-oz.) container diced tomatoes (such as Pomì) (I accidentally used only the 14.5 ounce can)
1 (8-oz.) pkg. cremini mushrooms, quartered (the grocery store was out of these, so we just left them out)
8 (6-oz.) bone-in chicken thighs, skinned (about 3 lb.) (we only had three boneless ones left, it worked fine)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces uncooked spaghetti, broken in half
5 ounces baby spinach
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)

Directions:
Combine 1/2 cup water and flour in your favorite crockpot, stirring with a whisk. (Note: You can also use corn starch, which we will do next time.) Stir in stock and next 8 ingredients (through mushrooms). Add chicken thighs to the stock mixture; submerge in liquid. Cover and cook on LOW 7 1/2 hours (ours cooked about 9). Remove chicken. Leave whole or chop if using boneless skinless. If using bone-in, wait for them to cool, then remove bones.
Add oil and pasta to slow cooker sauce; cover and cook on HIGH 15 minutes or until pasta is done to your liking. (It took a little longer than 15 minutes for us.) Stir in spinach until wilted. Divide pasta mixture and top evenly with chicken. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

My opinion:
I didn’t expect the capers to add so much to the dish. It was the right amount of salt and sweet from the tomatoes. The pasta cooked perfectly. Next time, I will use the corn starch and reduce the amount of liquid a little for the initial cooking phase. If we need more to cook the pasta, I’ll add more at that time. All in all a good, flavorful dish that is perfect for a weeknight.

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Langlois Crusty Bread

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In case you haven’t guessed, I love bread. I especially love fresh from the oven, homemade bread. While at Langlois Culinary Crossroads in New Orleans for cooking school, I learned just how easy it is to make delicious, wonderful bread at home. From scratch. Even though it officially takes two days, I promise it is really worth it. 

Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 and 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt (this is key. If you use regular iodized salt, it will be salty.)
1/2 teaspoon yeast (I used one packet)
1 and 1/2 cups water

The most important ingredient is a clay or cast iron dutch oven or clay pot with a tight-fitting lid. We found this one from Lodge on sale and couldn’t be happier.

Directions:
Wish together the flour, salt and yeast in your favorite mixing bowl. Add the water and mix until a “shaggy mixture” forms. As Chef Matt said when showing us how to make this, it should look like a wet dog.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 12 hours or overnight. Longer in this case is better.
crusty homemade bread

The next day (or 12 hours later) place the dutch oven and lid in a 450 degree oven so the pot and the oven are heating at the same time. Turn out the dough on a heavily floured surface and shape into a ball. When the oven (and the dutch oven) reach 450 degrees, place the dough in the center of a piece of parchment paper and put the whole thing in the dutch oven with the parchment paper side down.
homemade crusty bread

Cover with the lid and either return to the oven, or slide the wire rack back in and close the oven door (I find the second way to be the easiest rather than trying to lift the super hot dutch oven in and out of the oven more than once). Cook covered for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven and place on a cooling rack. (This means take it out of the dutch oven.)

My opinion:
There are directions for stuffed bread, but I haven’t tried it yet. I want to get the basics down first. In my first few trials (and errors!) I learned valuable lessons, like the difference between iodized and kosher salt, that sometimes the times are off and it is ok to cook bread a little longer to get a more golden crust. If you do accidentally use iodized salt and the bread is a bit on the salty side, treat it like a bagel and just don’t salt the eggs for the bagel, egg and cheese sandwich (it evens out in the end). It’s been hard not to make this every single weekend since we returned!

Mom’s banana bread

My mom didn’t make banana bread very often because she doesn’t really like bananas, but my dad, sister and I did, so when she made it, it was a great day. I was pretty surprised at how easy this is to make. It’s perfect for a cold late winter day.

Ingredients:
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (if it’s lumpy, it’s ok)
3 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla (you can add a bit more if you want!)
1 egg
3 very ripe bananas (you can use two if you prefer less banana flavor)

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan with butter or Crisco. No need to flour the greased pan. Mix the wet ingredients into a bowl, adding the milk last.

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Mix the dry ingredients. If your brown sugar is a little lumpy, that’s ok! It will add pockets of caramel notes.

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Mix the dry ingredients and wet ingredients together.

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Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 55 to 60 minutes until the top is brown and a toothpick comes out clean and the sides start to pull away from the greased pan.

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My opinion: This makes your whole house smell amazing. It’s delicious and one of my most favorite breakfast foods. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can add chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, peanut butter (if you add peanut butter reduce the oil by one tablespoon). The options are endless!

Tyler Florence’s Roasted Sweet Potato Banana Puree

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As promised, now that Thanksgiving is over and we have had a chance to do a post-mortem on what worked and what didn’t, I’ll be sharing the recipes that made the cut. First, is this delicious take on sweet potato casserole.

C found this recipe on the Fabulousfoodshow.com and has perfected it in the last year.  We kept it warm in a crock pot while other dishes took up precious oven and burner space.

Ingredients:
6 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
6 medium bananas
1 stick unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest (fresh is best!)
2 bay leaves
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Topping Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork and put them on a roasting pan. On another roasting pan prick bananas and lay out in a single layer. Roast sweet potatoes for 45 minutes until very soft and roast bananas for 25 minutes. (If you are in a huge hurry, you can boil the sweet potatoes, but do not try boiling the bananas!) Remove both pans from the oven and allow to cool slightly.  In a small sauce pot heat cream with bay leaf until reduced by half, then keep warm until ready to puree potatoes and bananas. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into the bowl of a food processor (A blender will work, but only if the potatoes are cool). Add peeled bananas. Season with salt, add butter, cream (make sure you took the bay leaves out!), cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and puree until smooth (or if you like it a little chunky, a little chunky). Pour into an oven-proof dish. Make the topping by combining flour, cold butter and brown sugar in the food processor and pulse until you have the texture of coarse bread crumbs. Sprinkle on top of the puree and place under the broiler until golden brown and crispy, about 4-5 minutes.

My opinion:
I really love this dish. This year we actually forgot the topping and it was still just as wonderful! You can make it a couple of days (no more than 2!) ahead of your holiday meal and keep it refrigerated. Then reheat in a crock pot like we did or in the oven. If you are keeping it in the crock pot, sprinkle each serving with the topping and use a brûlée torch to make it golden brown and crispy.

Egyptian Lahma Bil Basal and Homemade Pita Bread

Lahma Bil Basal

It’s been raining here for a few days. When it rains, we often make dishes that require long simmer times. J was feeling adventurous and decided to try an Egyptian peasant dish he found on Food.com. I wanted to try my hand at homemade pita bread. Surprisingly, the bread turned out well. As usual, J’s dish was fantastic. It was an amazing meal.

Lahma Bil Basal ingredients:
1 lb stewing beef
4 yellow onions (sliced super thin, we used the food processor)
2 chicken bouillon cubes (yes, chicken. I promise this works)
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (do NOT use olive oil for this)
water
salt & pepper (we used a couple of turns of each)

Lahma Bil Basal directions:
Put the meat in saucepan over medium heat with butter and oil. Cook until lightly browned. Add all sliced onions, bouillon cubes, salt and pepper, bay leaf and stir around cooking on medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Add water, about 1-1/2 cups, turn to low, cover and cook for at least 2 hours. (We cooked for about three total hours.)

Lahma Bil Basal
Check during cooking, add more water if too dry. Don’t be afraid to let a few bits brown, those add extra depth to the flavor. But the onions should give enough liquid with initial water you added. For the last half hour remove the lid and allow the dish to thicken. When finished you should have super tender beef with a thick oniony sauce. The onions cook down to create a thick rich sauce. Serve with rice, pita bread or your favorite pasta.

Pita Bread ingredients:
This is originally from this website and was super easy. (Note: your yeast packet might have slightly different directions. Follow those directions first.)
1 1/4 cup warm water (not boiling or hot, apparently it kills the yeast. Yes, I learned this the hard way.)
2 1/2 tsp. yeast
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. oil

Pita Bread directions:
Add the warm water and yeast together. If your packet calls for adding sugar, add the sugar at the same time.
Homemade Pita Bread

After about 10 minutes when the yeast water is frothy, add the salt, oil and flour. Mix well.
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Turn the dough onto the counter and knead well to bring it all together. Feel free to add more flour as necessary. Divide the dough into eight equal parts. Roll each part into a ball and flatten into a six-inch circle with a rolling-pin.
Homemade Pita Bread
Flour a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil. Place each rolled out circle on the floured surface and let rise for at least a half an hour. Heat your oven to 500 degrees. Peel the dough off the foil and put onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 4-8 minutes, (we cooked each side for 5 minutes) flipping halfway through. Stack on top of each other and cover loosely with dish towel to let steam escape.
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My opinion:
This was the perfect dish to have with a nice glass of syrah. The meat is fall apart tender and the gravy is melt in your mouth delicious. I thought it was best with the pita bread.