Spring sports season is here again. Like many moms, my afternoons are consumed by the ferrying of children to sports practices and games. And I love every minute of it, for the most part. Getting dinner on the table, however, is a daily challenge.
While hitting the fast food drive-thru on the way home is always a temptation, the thought of what that does to the waistline and the wallet propels me to continue driving home and not make the turn into the strip mall parking lot.
There is always the standby frozen meal. What I remember from my childhood as “TV dinners” (the kind that came in sectioned aluminum foil containers that you had to heat in the oven) have evolved into microwave-friendly “frozen gourmet entrees.” Some of them aren’t half bad, but you certainly can’t eat those every night. My solution to sports season schedules? The humble slow cooker.
Introduced in 1971 under the trademark name “Crock-Pot” by The Rival Company, slow cookers became all the rage in 1970’s American cuisine. This innovative appliance sat on the countertop and allowed pot roasts, stews and soups to simmer unattended for hours, thus freeing up the home cook for other tasks, like combing the shag carpet.
This method of cooking at a low temperature for long periods of time proved to show its prowess of transforming cheap cuts of meat into edible, even delicious, dinners. However, it also developed the reputation of turning certain meats and vegetables into tasteless mush. Over time, slow cookers fell out of favor.
But like certain celebrities, the slow cooker has re-emerged spiffed up and with updated looks and capabilities. A glance at the Crock-Pot website shows slow cookers that are a far cry from the avocado green model that squatted on my mom’s kitchen counter for years.
With the updated slow cookers came updated slow cooker tips and tricks. Some of the basic tips to get the most out of your slow cooker include the following:
• Do not lift or open the lid while cooking as this allows moisture and heat to escape and adds to cooking time.
• Layer vegetables under the meat because they take longer to cook. And cut your vegetables to all the same size so they cook evenly.
• Do not add extra water.
• Trim excess fat from meats.
• Use cheap cuts of meat like chuck and shoulder roasts.
• Brown your meat before placing in the slow cooker as this will improve the look and taste of the finished dish.
In looking for a new slow cooker recipe, I had India on the mind. We are in the midst of a year-long overview of Asian history and currently a six-week study of India. Naturally this recipe for Curried Chicken Stew from Better Homes and Gardens magazine captured my attention.
You can also bake this recipe in the oven, as I did recently, at 300 degrees for three hours, covered, and get an equally lovely result. The coconut milk reduces to a flavorfully nutty sauce that can be sopped up with bread, rice or noodles. Either way you prepare it, this warm stew is wonderful to come home to after a chilly evening at the local sports field.
Curried Chicken Stew
8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 3 lbs.)
2 tsp. olive oil
6 carrots, cut in 2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, cut in narrow wedges
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
¼ cup mild curry paste
Garnishes: chopped pistachios, golden raisins, cilantro and crushed red pepper
Trim excess skin and fat from chicken. In a large skillet cook chicken, skin side down, in hot olive oil for 8 minutes or until browned (do not turn thighs). Remove from heat; drain and discard fat. In a 4 quart slow cooker, combine carrots and onion. In a bowl whisk together half the coconut milk and the curry paste; pour over carrots and onion (refrigerate remaining coconut milk). Place chicken, skin side up, on vegetables. Cover. Cook on “high” for 3 ½ to 4 hours or on “low” for 7 to 8 hours.
Remove chicken. Skim off excess fat, then stir in remaining coconut milk. Serve the stew over a bed of rice or noodles and top with garnishes.