Recipe: Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken

After a recent post on storing your slow cooker, one reader asked why we didn’t include any ideas for using a slow cooker.  So here is one from Lauren, our long time volunteer adviser and the class assistant in our New Kitchen Cooking School.  I had always slow cooked chicken by submerging it in water and cooking on low for 8 to 10 hours–essentially poaching it.  Then Lauren shared her method which essentially roasts the chicken. Guaranteed good results–and ridiculously simple:

Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken

Step 1:  Plop Bird into Slow Cooker, Breast Side Down

Picture of Slow Cooker Chicken

Keeping the breast down helps it stay moister.  The wide, shallow style slow cooker is better for roasting since it allows more air circulation around the bird, although the tall narrow style can work, too.

Step 2: Season Chicken

You can be fairly generous with the salt and especially the pepper.  If you want, be creative and toss on some herbs or spices, e.g., Herbes de Provence, Italian Herbs, a Moroccan rub . . . .

Step 3:  Cover and Cook on High ~ 3 Hours

Slow Cooker Chicken

Timing is where things can be a little tricky, because of differences in cookers and bird sizes. So start monitoring after two hours, until you learn the right timing for your slow cooker and usual bird size.

Step 4:  Uncover and Cook on High ~ 1 More Hour

Browned Slow Cooker Chicken

Even covered, the bird browns and crisps fairly well. Now, in an unusual twist, leave the cover off another hour to brown even a little more. Be sure to leave the temperature on high.

Step 5:  Baste Every 15 Minutes (optional, but really adds flavor and moistness)

Basting Chicken

Basting is what makes the chicken taste more like those succulent rotisserie chickens at the grocery store. I just baste as I pass by the chicken while doing things around the house, or while preparing the rest of the meal. IMPORTANT: Before serving, test the chicken for doneness (see Note below.)

Step 6:  Use the pan juices to make a delicious sauce, e.g., with just a little grainy mustard and Herbes de Provence, maybe a little wine.  Try making it in the slow cooker, but if it’s too slow, scrape everything into a small skillet or saucepan.

Fair Question:  Why not use the oven?   I prefer the slow cooker because of the “tolerance” and “visibility” factors.  While an oven doesn’t exactly speed cook foods, the window between not quite done and overdone may be only 10 to 15  minutes.  Outside that narrow window, the chicken gets tough and dry, something I’ve experienced plenty of times because I’m not one to stand guard over food.  With a slow cooker that window is much longer, maybe 30 to 60 minutes.  And even if I go past that window, there’s a good chance the chicken will still be pretty good.  It’s hard to ruin a dish completely in a slow cooker unless you completely forget about it.  At the same time, it’s easier to monitor a chicken in a slow cooker sitting on the counter than one buried in a hot oven in a heavy pot.

Note on Doneness:  According to Joy of Cooking, chicken must be cooked to the point where the meat releases clear, not pink, juices when pricked to the bone with a fork.  This correlates with an internal temperature of 170 (F) on an instant-read thermometer.  However, for the breast meat, doneness is reached at an internal temperature of 160 (F).  I usually slice between the thigh and torso of the chicken to see that the juices run clear and the meat is no longer red.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Kohlrabi Gratin

Cooking vegetables gratin-style is a delicious option–in the winter. Because a gratin is baked an hour or so, it’s tough to even think about making one in the heat of summer. Hence the slow cooker version in this recipe. Of course in cooler weather, you can also bake this dish at 350 (F) for an hour or so.

Although kohlrabi has been at the markets lately, with the arrival of August’s hot temperatures, this cooler weather crop may disappear for a while.  However, it frequently reappears in autumn, so keep this recipe handy.

For tips on peeling and cutting a kohlrabi, see the next post.

Serves 2

Step 1 Lightly Saute Onions

  • 1 med. red onion, sliced into strips about ¼” x 2” (or 1 cup sliced green parts of fresh onions)
  • ½ Tbsp. butter

In a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saute pan, heat butter over medium heat until lightly sizzling. Add onions and saute, just until lightly browned (about 5 minutes.)

Kohlrabi

See the next post for instructions on quickly cutting matchsticks or, for a more traditional style gratin, quarter and slice kohlrabi thinly.

Step 2 Combine and Cook

  • ½ Tbsp. butter
  • 2 medium kohlrabi (about 3 to 4” in diameter), cut into ¼” matchsticks (or thinly sliced and halved)
  • 1 cup milk or unsweetened almond or soy milk
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Grease a 3 to 5 qt. round slow cooker with butter, then add and stir together sauteed onion, kohlrabi, milk and salt and pepper. (Reserve onion pan for making breadcrumbs.)

Slow cook gratin a total of 6 to 8 hours as follows: Begin by covering slow cooker and cooking gratin on high for 2 to 3 hours until simmering vigorously, stirring occasionally. Once mixture is simmering well and kohlrabi has begun to soften, remove lid and continue cooking until most of liquid is evaporated–about 2 to 3 more hours, stirring occasionally.*  Then reduce heat to low and re-cover with lid and continue cooking until vegetables are cooked to taste, about another 1 to 2 hours.

Step 3 Toast Breadcrumbs and Serve

  • ½ Tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • 2-3 Tbsp. dried breadcrumbs

In pan used for sauteing onions, melt butter over medium heat, then sprinkle crumbs evenly across bottom of pan. Cook, stirring every minute or two, until crumbs are lightly browned and crispy. About 30 minutes before serving, return slow cooker to high and sprinkle evenly with prepared crumbs. Continue cooking, uncovered, for the last 30 minutes. Serve with optional garnishes.

Optional Garnishes

  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

* Note:  cooking the dish uncovered allows moisture to evaporate, so the gratin comes out more like a baked dish than the kind of soupier dish that normal slow cooking produces.  While this means this isn’t a dish to fix and forget all day, the result is well worth the small amount of extra attention required.

Recipe: Summer Vegetable Skillet with Peanut Sauce

Skillets Are Great Way to Get Good Food Fast

Picture of Summer Skillet

Green Bean and Eggplant Skillet with Peanut Sauce: Super Simple Way to Get Tasty, Healthy Meals on the Table–Fast

An earlier post described a friend’s go-to trick for making tasty, healthy food fast:  melanges.  For me, it’s skillet dishes, hands down.

Why Skillets?  Learn to make one and you can vary it a hundred ways, never have to struggle through a recipe, and almost invariably end up with a darn tasty meal.

The Basic Structure  In our summer meal making series we learned the basic structure for a skillet dish:  Saute some aromatics, add and cook some vegetables, add and cook some protein and/or a starch.  Voila! You have a quick, healthy and tasty one dish meal.

The Key to Skillet Speed:  Minimal Instructions  The recipe below is an easy riff on the basic skillet. You might notice the instructions–or lack thereof! Having to wade through long instructions can keep us from trying a new dish. That’s why, in our classes, we learn basic, building block techniques so you don’t have to wade through long instructions. You can cook from your head, easily and naturally with just a few recipe prompts.

Green Bean and Eggplant Skillet with Peanut Sauce

Saute vegetables in order given:

  • 1 Tbsp. neutral-tasting oil like safflower
  • 1 med. onion (preferably red), diced to ½”
  • 1 med, 5-6” globe eggplant (or roughly equivalent amount of smaller eggplant), diced to ½ to ¾”
  • ½ to 1 lb. green beans, trimmed and sliced in half on the diagonal
  • 4-6 large cloves garlic, minced (fresh or prepared), more or less to taste

Stir in, de-glazing pan with liquid.  Simmer until green beans reach desired tenderness, about 10 minutes:

  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 1-2 cups chicken broth (preferably Shelton’s), more or less for a thinner or thicker skillet dish
  • ¼ to ½ cup San-J Thai Peanut Sauce, to taste.

Serve over cooked brown rice (basmati is especially good.)

Want to Learn to Make Skillet Dishes?

Want to learn how healthy meal making can be easeful and natural? Join one of our upcoming classes.

Need a Dish That’s Even Faster?

Using leftover chicken, bottled peanut sauce and prepared garlic make this dish super fast.  Of course it’s a given that you also have a pot of rice cooked and waiting in the frig for this kind of dish.

Have A Few Minutes for Creative Fun?

Make your own peanut sauce and/or add some finishing touches:

  • Ÿ        Fresh chopped cilantro
  • Ÿ        Lime wedges
  • Ÿ        Coconut milk
  • Ÿ        Chilies flakes or minced jalapeno
  • Ÿ        Chopped peanuts

Even More About Getting More Beans into Your Diet

Affordability

A couple recent posts delved into affordability and how to make quality meat affordable.  One solution to the high price of meat, of course, lies in making vegetarian meals once or twice each week (or more.)  It’s no secret that beans are cheaper than meat, but they are also a good source of protein and substance, making them a good center-of-the-plate substitute.

Cooking Your Own Beans

Slow Cooker Beans

Hands-down, I recommend the slow cooker for cooking beans, like these pretty variegated beans from Monroe Organics. Be sure to save the juice for use like a broth (see suggestions in article.)

For even greater affordability, cook your own beans.  Then you can enjoy high-grade organic beans for just pennies per serving.  And it’s easy. Contact us for a reference sheet that you can keep handy in your cooking files.  Alternatively, check out a previous post on cooking beans, and one on an accelerated method.  I have found the slow cooker to be the best method for cooking dried beans; it eliminates many of the problems people associate with the operation.  And if time is an issue, here’s some good news.  Yesterday, I needed some beans quickly to take pictures for this series of blog posts, so I discovered an even faster, slow cooker method:

Super Accelerated Slow Cooker Beans–No Soaking Required

  • Step 1: Boil for 5 Minutes  (In a large saucepan, combine 1-2 cups dried beans  with about a quart of water.  Bring to a boil for cook for 5 minutes.)
  • Step 2:  Drain  (Drain beans into a colander–but save the juices for watering plants–then put drained beans into the slow cooker)
  • Step 3:  Boil More Water (Fill the large saucepan with another quart of water and bring to a boil)
  • Step 4:  Combine and Cook (Pour the boiling water over beans waiting in the slow cooker.  Cover and cook on HIGH heat until tender to your tastes–which can be a s little as 3 to 4 hours.  Keep an eye on them as they cook more quickly than expected.)
  • Step 5:  Add Salt (Wait until beans are cooked to the desired tenderness then stir in 1/4 to 1 tsp. good sea salt, to taste.)
  • Step 6:  Eat and Enjoy (Freshly cooked beans are good enough to serve as a side dish, on their own.)

Cooking Classes Using Beans

If you want to learn more about cooking with beans, check out our classes which very often include a bean dish or two.

Waste Not-Want Not:   Bean Juice

Speaking of affordability, there’s no need to throw out the liquid from cooking beans.  Maximize food dollars, flavor and nutrition:  Drain the juice into a jar.  Refrigerate and use for cooking rice, thinning soups, cooking harder vegetables, deglazing pans or anywhere else that you’d use a broth.  It keeps for several days, or freeze it in small portions for later use.

Note:  Higher quality beans will have better juice.  For instance, Eden Organic beans are cooked with kombu, a sea vegetable that adds nutrients and reduces or eliminates the need for salt.  Conversely, lower quality beans may be cooked with a lot of salt to mask a flavor deficit.  In all dishes where you add bean juice , but especially those with higher sodium juice, be sure to taste before adding more salt.

Convenience and Freezing

You certainly can’t beat beans’ convenience.  Just open a can and you’re ready to go!  “But what if I can’t eat the whole can?” you might be wondering.  Or what if you cook a batch of beans from scratch, which tends to make a lot!  No problem.  Beans store in the frig for several days and extras can also be frozen in single serving sizes.

Dried Beans–More Cooking Tips

Shelled beans at Abbondanza Farms.

Shelled beans at Abbondanza Farms

An earlier post explained several ways to cook dried beans.  While desk cleaning recently, I ran across an article with more bean-cooking tips.  It’s by John Broening, the owner of several seasonal and local restaurants in Denver and long-time Denver Post columnist.  I love John’s informative and down-to-earth articles, like “Winter Beans,”* where he sings the praises of his favorite comfort food, dried beans.  Along the way he shares two cooking nuggets:

  1. First, it may seem that dried beans are indestructible, and indeed they do have the advantage of a long shelf life.  But John notes that older beans have longer cooking times.  I’ve also found their flavor begins to diminish over time.  Of course it’s perfectly safe to eat beans that are a year or two old–no need to pitch them–but see if you can use them up in a year.  Not only does that artificial deadline  ensure better beans.  It will also inspire you to get more healthful beans into your meals–starting now!
  2. Secondly, John notes that our altitude makes stove top or oven cooking more difficult.  “Beans at altitude take twice as long to soften as they do at sea level and tend to cook unevenly.”  I’ve certainly found this to be true when cooking beans on the stove top.  Maybe that’s why a lot of people resort to canned beans.  Happily, I’ve not noticed this problem when cooking beans in the slow cooker, although I do have to use the “high” setting.

An electric pressure cooking is John’s solution for the altitude problem.  I’ve never used one, so let us know if you have experience to share on this point.  And in the meantime, give your slow cooker a try.  Although canned beans are perfectly fine, you’ll be amazed to see how flavorful beans can be when home-cooked.  No wonder John views them as the ultimate comfort food!

P.S. Why not make a bean dish tonight:  a white bean soup with kale, a red bean enchilada casserole, black bean burgers, garbanzo bean hummus. . . . There are so many options!

*from Edible Front Range, Winter 2009, p. 43

How to Make Healthy, Whole Grain Breadcrumbs

Transform throw away crusts into kitchen gold

The previous post talked about “breading,” an easy building block cooking technique used to create dozens of different, interesting dishes.  Get ready to start experimenting with this technique by making your own breadcrumbs.  Save money by using up old crusts and stale bread that would otherwise go to waste.  Help the environment by keeping food out of  landfills, where it produces methane, a far worse contributor to global warming than carbon emissions.

Out of the Breadbox Bread

Good News for Gluten Free Eaters: Enjoy breaded dishes by making crumbs from your favorite GF bread, like Out of the Breadbox, at Vitamin Cottage.

Start with Whole Not Half  Healthy breadcrumbs can only come from healthy bread, and that means bread made from 100% whole grains, like whole wheat, oats, brown rice and millet.  In the ingredient listing for a bread, the single word “wheat” is code for “white flour.”  Skip that brand and look for one made entirely from whole grains.  Whole grains are so delicious and nutrition rich; why waste money on breads made with half grains, especially when it’s the halves with all the calories and few of the nutrients that go with them!

Gluten Free  Good news for gluten free eaters:  You can use gluten free bread for crumbs.  Be sure it’s whole grain, like Food for Life’s Millet Bread which makes really flavorful crumbs.

Using Food Processor to Make Crumbs

Act Ahead: Whenver you end up with a couple crusts or stale slices, toss them in the food processor and give them a whir.

Act Ahead  Don’t wait until preparing a breaded dish to make the breadcrumbs.  Then you’ll be saddled with the extra step of a  toasting them in the oven to dry.  Instead, weave the process into your normal kitchen routine.  Here’s an example:

  1. Whenever you end up with a crust or two, simply toss them in the food processor.
  2. Process the crumbs when, e.g., you’re next unloading the dishwasher.  Push the button and unload the glasses.  Once the bread has been transformed into crumbs, dump them on a plate.  Put the plate on top of, e.g, the microwave.
  3. Give the crumbs a stir or two over the next couple days to make sure the bottom ones get exposed to air.
  4. Then, while heating something in the microwave, pour the dried crumbs (make sure they are completely dry)  into a storage container; put the plate in the dishwasher.
Large Breadcrumbs

Large crumbs are great for gratin toppings, meatballs and so on. . .

Now you’ve got large crumbs to use for gratin toppings, in meatloaf and meatballs, etc.  To use crumbs for breading, I recommend one additional step:

The Fine Grind  Breading works best when the crumbs are very fine.  They do a better job of sticking to the food and creating an even, solid coating.  That’s why flour and cornmeal are such good breading ingredients.  Breadcrumbs can be made into a perfect breading ingredient by simply running them through the food processor again, after they are dried the first time.  I wait and do this when I’m making a dish, and only fine grind as much as I need, leaving larger crumbs for other uses.

Small Breadcrumbs

. . . but for breading, process again after they are dried for a small, fine crumb

No Food Processor?  An immersion blender with a chopper attachment is a good, and much less expensive, alternative.  If that option isn’t available, there’s always a rolling pin.  In the days before all our specialized electric appliances, we broke crusts into large pieces, dried them and then crushed with a rolling pin.  Putting them inside paper or plastic bags minimized the mess.

Ready to do experiment with breading?  Check out the next post on Breaded Eggplant with Herbed Tomato Topping,  which makes use of plentiful late summer and early autumn produce.

How to Bread Fish, Meat and Vegetables

One building block cooking technique, dozens of dishes

Here at EveryDay Good Eating, we like to take the mystery out of cooking.  We believe everyone can make–and deserves to enjoy–deliciously healthful food, everyday.  That’s why we teach basic, building block cooking techniques that can be mixed and matched to create a wide range of dishes.  Breading is a perfect example.  It’s an easy and inexpensive technique that can be applied to lots of different foods to create dozens of different dishes.

Breaded Eggplant with Herbed Tomato Topping

Breading eggplant adds fast elegance to this somewhat bland vegetable, creating a perfect palette for a fresh tomato topping

Why We Love Breading  Who doesn’t end up with bread crusts that no one wants?  Turn them into breadcrumbs and they won’t end up creating environmental havoc in a landfill.*  Meanwhile, you’ll save grocery dollars and end up with a form of kitchen gold.  Coat an ordinary food with breadcrumbs and suddenly it gets a welcome flavor boost and becomes something special, especially beneficial for blander foods like eggplant and zucchini.  Breading also helps retain moisture for delicate foods like fish and chicken breasts that dry out  easily when cooked.

Basic Breading Technique 

  1. Dipping Eggplant in a Wash

    Step 1: Dip the food in a "wash," here a mixture of olive oil, milk, mayonnaise and fresh herbs

    Dip a food in some kind of “wash,” like egg or milk

  2. Coat it with breadcrumbs
  3. Fry or bake until the breading browns and crisp.

Those are the basic elements of breading, although you’ll see dozens of variations in recipes.  Sometimes, sturdier and moister foods (like chicken breasts) aren’t dipped in a wash at all, or foods are dipped in flour before the wash.  The liquids used for a wash can vary from recipe to recipe.  Finally, delightful variety can be achieved by including herbs, spices and other flavors with the breadcrumbs or by swapping the crumbs for different flours, cornmeal, crushed corn flakes or cracker crumbs.

Dipping Eggplant in Whoel Grain Breadcrumbs

Step 2: Coat the slices in finely ground breadcrumbs. Here we used whole grain, gluten free crrumbs.

Making It Healthy  Breaded foods are often equated to unhealthy foods.  Think chicken nuggets, fish n’ chips and eggplant parmigiana style.  These  foods are coated thickly with white breadcrumbs then thrown in a deep frier where they absorb ungodly amounts of bad fats.   Don’t let these examples dissuade you from experimenting with this easy and delicious technique.

  • Simply use a 100% whole grain breading, whether that’s breadcrumbs, flour, cracker crumbs, etc.  While whole grain breadcrumbs can be difficult to find at grocery stores, they are easy (and free) to make.  Check out this blog on making breadcrumbs, paying particular attention to the note on giving them a second “Fine Grind” after they are dried.
  • Fry in healthful oils, like olive and safflower.
  • Use moderate amounts of oil.  Surprisingly, browning can be achieved nicely with just a tablespoon of oil.  Be sure the oil is very warm to hot (but not smoking) before adding the food so it isn’t just absorbed by the breading.  Although the second side will brown well enough in the skim of oil remaining after the first side is browned, additional oil can be added to brown the second side more thoroughly.  In this case, remove the food after browning the first side, scrape out any remaining bits so they don’t burn, add another tablespoon of oil and heat before adding the food on its second side.
  • Preparing Breaded Eggplant for Baking

    Step 3: Fry or bake. Here the eggplant is baked, but because of the oil in the wash, there was no need to spray slices with additional oil to get a nicely browned crust.

    Bake as an alternative to frying.  The hot air circulating in an oven does a great job of browning and crisping breaded food, if the weather isn’t too hot for turning on this appliance.  Best results are achieved by spraying the food with a little oil before baking.

Ready to try a breaded dish? First, find out how to make your own free, healthful, whole grains crumbs.  Next, check out the post on Breaded Eggplant with Herbed Tomato Topping,  which makes use of plentiful late summer and early autumn produce.

* Food waste produces methane gas which contributes far more to global warming than even carbon emissions.

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