Monday, January 3, 2011

Inspiration in a Crock Pot

It's been well over a year since my last post and I really can't apologize, it's just that I wasn't cooking anything interesting enough to share. It's been a year of great food, but most of it was food I had eaten or cooked before. Until last week when my mom gave me a crock pot for Christmas. Since then I have been back to trying new things and looking for recipes online.

The crock pot (or slow cooker if you are from the south) is a medium I have wanted to try for awhile. Traditionally, it makes me think of food my grandmother would like to eat, lots of meat and potatoes. However I believe there is a crock pot revolution going on that involved healthy food with vegetables all slow cooked while you are at work. I decided it was time to learn more.

The first recipe I made was a chicken tikka masala. It was good, but not great. I love chicken tikka masala and this one still needs work to be perfected. Then this weekend, we were up spending New Years with my in-laws in New Hampshire and I decided to try and recipe for Homemade Pho with Chicken from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker, a book that was free on the Kindle 6 or 8 months ago.

Pho is a Vietnamese soup of noodles, broth and chicken or beef. The broth and chicken are slow cooked together with ginger, spices and onions for a wonderful flavor. You then serve it with lots of toppings so everyone can individualize their own bowl. It was fun and wonderful.

Jared and I spent yesterday at the Patriots game. When we came home, we were both completely excited for a big bowl of Pho. At that point I knew I had to blog about it.

Homemade Pho with Chicken
from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker

Cooker: Large round or oval
Setting and cook time: high for 4 to 5 hours

3 bone in chicken breast halves, skin removed
2 bunches green onions, white and green parts separated and green parts set aside for garnish
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled and smashed with the side of a knife
1/2 bunch cilantro
4.5 quarts reduced sodium chicken broth (I have a medium crock pot, so I didn't use all of this)
2 small yellow onions, unpeeled and halved
3 one to two inch pieces of fresh ginger, unpeeled
3T Vietnamese fish sauce
3 whole star-anise pods (I couldn't find these)
6 whole cloves
1 two inch piece cinnamon stick, broken in half
pinch of whole fennel seed, lightly crushed (I used anise seed, I think they are the same thing)
1 bay leaf
1/4 inch wide rice noodles

Fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
Mung bean sprouts
Thai or Italian basil (I couldn't get this)
Thinly sliced jalapenos
Green part of green onions
Lime wedges
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha red cilli hot sauce (this really made it all come together)
Chinese noodles (my addition)

  1. Place the chicken, white parts of the green onion, garlic and cilantro into the slow cooker. Add enough broth to fill the crock to just over three-quarters full. Cover and set the heat to high.
  2. Place the onion and ginger on a baking sheet and place under the broiler about 3 inches from the flame. Char until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking. Add to the crock along with the fish sauce.
  3. Place the star anise, cloves and cinnamon in a small dry skillet and toast over medium heat, shaking until heated slightly, 3 to 4 minutes; you will smell the aroma as they release their essential oils. Place in a square of cheesecloth with the fennel seeds and bay leaf; tie with kitchen twine and submerge in the broth in the crock. Cover and cook 4.5 to 5 hours until the soup is steaming and fragrant and the chicken is cooked through.
  4. Remove the chicken from the broth with tongs and place in bowl. Using a colander lined with a double layer of cheesecloth, drain the broth into a large heatproof bowl. (I was skeptical about this step, but it really was necessary.) Discard the vegetables and the spice bag. Return the broth to the crock, cover and keep on low. (At this point, I added a bag of the pre-sliced carrots to the broth.)
  5. Cook the rice noodles according to directions. Remove the chicken from the bones and shred with two forks; return the chicken to the crock. (I added more chicken at this point and left it on low until we were ready to eat. Probably 30-45 minutes.)
  6. Divide the noodles into the bowl, ladle chicken, broth and carrots on top of the noodles. Serve with all the garnishes and encourage people to try different things!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fall Soup & Swine Flu

We spent most of the late summer and fall traveling. We went to Chicago, NYC, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Province Town. Out of 9 weekend, we were in our home relaxing for exactly 1! (This is probably also part of the reason why I haven't blogged as much as I would have liked.) We visited friends and family and had a fantastic time in all our jet setting.

Our last trip was to PA to visit my sister, brother-in-law and youngest nephew, Taylor. It was a great trip that included a Pearl Jam concert, a trip to the local farmers market and introducing my nephew to the spoon.

It also included picking up my first Food & Wine magazine since my subscription ended earlier in the year. It was the Thanksgiving issue, which is my all time favorite issue of any food magazine. You have to expect food magazines to go all out for Turkey Day. It is after all the holiday for which they are written. I find that if I get the November issues of Food & Wine and Real Simple each year, I can be kept cooking through most of the winter.

This year, interestingly enough, it wasn't one recipe that inspired me. It was all the great recipes with squash, sweet potato, leeks, and cauliflower that had be drooling and I didn't want to make each one, I wanted them all....NOW! So I made up my own.

I roasted cauliflower, butternut squash, carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes in the oven for about 50 minutes. I could have eaten these as is, but instead I threw them into the food processor with some chicken broth and blended them until smooth.

I then sautéed onions, leeks and celery for 5 minutes before adding the pureed winter vegetables and a box and a half of chicken stock. I added about 2 tablespoons of fresh ginger, some nutmeg and let this simmer for 20 minutes. I topped it with some fresh parsley and roasted pumpkin seeds.

The result was a fantastic winter soup that was hearty and earthy. It carried Jared and I though the following week where we were both home from work for 4 days with the swine flu. I would recommend staying away from the flu and making some version of this soup!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Labor Day & Lobster

For the third year in a row, Jared and I celebrated our anniversary in NH with lobster. We were a couple weeks late this year (Labor Day) and accompanied by friends, but it made the occasion all that much more special.

I can't tell you what else we ate, but I know it was fabulous because we were there with Jillian, Ari, Ben and Hana, four of my favorite foodies. As a result, I also can't share any recipes with you. However, I can share this wonderful photo which makes me happy every time I see it.