Slow Cooker Soy-Braised Chicken

I found this recipe on one of the cooking blogs I check daily – it is a great resource – The Perfect Pantry – you should check it out, you can look up almost any pantry ingredient, common or exotic, and find information and recipes from a professional food writer.

I omitted a few things and changed it to suit my on-hand ingredients, but it is essentially the same recipe!  I also added chick peas – I didn’t have quite as much chicken as called for, and I was using a 6 quart cooker, not a 3 quart – it didn’t look like there was enough food in that big pot, so in went the chick peas!

Slow Cooker Soy-Braised Chicken
2/3 cup low-sodium chicken stock (I use Swanson 99% fat-free)
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce (this and the bean paste are optional, added because they’ve been hanging around my fridge for a while)
2 teaspoons black bean garlic paste
10 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 small onions, peeled and quartered
2 tsp brown sugar
1-2 inches ginger root, peeled
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
1 small dried thai red chile pepper
1-1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp arrowroot or cornstarch, dissolved in 2 Tbsp water
pic 002Process the ginger, garlic, and onion in a small processor, or mince/grate finely.  Mix soy sauce, garlic, vinegar, sugar, ginger, chili pepper and zest together.  I used a peeler to make large peels of the outer layer of orange skin, because my orange was to old and shrively to zest well.  I will remove these large pieces later.  Combine with thighs and marinate til ready to use (I did overnight).

Optional:  Dump the marinade into the crock pot, remove chicken thighs to a plate.  Brown chicken thighs in sesame oil in a medium skillet in batches if necessary.

Optional browning of chicken thighs.  I just really like browned meat.
Optional browning of chicken thighs. I just really like browned meat.

Remove thighs and put in cooker, then pour the 2/3 cup chicken broth into skillet to remove any bits at the bottom of the pan – add broth to cooker.  Add chick peas to cooker.
pic 002If you don’t want to bother with browning, simply add the chicken, chick peas, marinade and chicken stock to the cooker.

Add chile pepper to the cooker then cook on low for 5 hours, til tender (2 1/2 or so on high).

Assembled dish, ready to simmer on low for 5 hours.
Assembled dish, ready to simmer on low for 5 hours.

After the chicken is tender, stir in dissolved arrowroot and and continue to cook until sauce is thickened – 30-45 minutes, or you can add the arrowroot earlier.

Serve chicken with rice and vegetables, or your desired sides, pouring some sauce over the chicken to coat.  I’m planning on serving them with couscous, lentils and vegetables.
picResult:  This was very good and very filling – the chicken fell apart, and the sauce was really nice, quite thick – it definitely doesn’t look as pretty as the version on The Perfect Pantry but it tasted great!  I served it with whole wheat couscous, lentils, carrots, parsnips and celery.


Sprouting Chickpeas (a.ka. Garbanzo Beans)

Americans call them Garbanzo beans, we seem to call them chickpeas – really I think it has more to do with the predominant international cooking influence in your given area.  Garbanzo is what they are referred to in Mexican cooking, but we seem to have way more Middle Eastern cuisine here on the east coast of Canada – at least I’ve yet to meet many Mexican restaurants other than a Taco Bell tacked onto a KFC (yes I know that doesn’t really count)!

I’m trying out sprouting again, I did it about a year ago then ran out of seeds.  Now I’m learning some of my dried beans and legumes can be sprouted too, and I’m starting with chickpeas!  You can find a good tutorial here, no special equipment needed, at Serious Eats. And, if you wondering “can I sprout it and how?” you can look up your seed, legume or bean at Sprout People (this is the chickpea entry) for a little write up including yield of sprouts from dry and nutritional info.

So, this is more of a method than a recipe – recipes on how to use the sprouts will follow, if this experiment isn’t a miserable failure!

Sprouting Chickpeas (a.ka. Garbanzo Beans)
Soak the chickpeas for 12 hours in cold water. Don’t be foolish like me and think things would be happier soaking in hot or warm water – I think this is why my quinoa seeds got mouldy!

Soaking for 12 hours.
Soaking for 12 hours.

The yield should be 1:2 so sprout half the amount of chickpeas you want. I’m doing 1 cup dry.

After the soaking, drain and rinse the chickpeas, then tip the jar upside down over a draining rack on the counter at a 45′ angle, like this:

Rinsed, drained, and tilted on a rack to continue draining.
Rinsed, drained, and tilted on a rack to continue draining.

Day 2:  Not much action so far, rinsing twice a day (at least) in cold water.

The dish drain rack is a great place to prop up the chick peas.
The dish drain rack is a great place to prop up the chick peas.

Make-Ahead Freezer Pizza Dough

I’ve been wanting to try this for a while – pizza dough you can make in a large batch in the food processor (or stand mixer with dough hook if you are lucky enough to have one!) then store in the freezer until you want it.  Supposedly you make the yeast dough, do one rise, punch down, then freeze until you want it – before using you thaw in the fridge, then room temp for 30 minutes, and you’re ready to bake.

There are many recipes on the internet for this, I adapted this one – I wanted a double batch, but I think I will do the batches separately in the mixer, because I don’t want to overload – so this is the single batch recipe – as usual I added ground flax seed for nutrients and because I’m tired of looking at it in my freezer door.

Make-Ahead Freezer Pizza Dough
3 1/4 cups white flour
3/4 cup ground flax seed
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 tablespoon oil
1 3/4 cups warm water

Combine flour, flax, yest, oil, and 2 pinches salt in  food processor.  Pulse a few times to mix.

With the food processor on, slowly, over about 30 seconds pour 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups of warm water. Stop adding water when the dough form a single ball.  Not sure if it was the addition of the flax seed or not, but my dough only needed 1 1/2 cups water.  If you add too much water and the dough gets sticky, just add a bit more flour.

Mixing the dough.
Mixing the dough.

Process about 10 more seconds to knead the dough a bit. Place the dough ball in an oiled bowl, cover it with a towel, and allow it to rise for about an hour in a warm draft free place.

The double batch of dough, kneaded and ready to rise.
The double batch of dough, kneaded and ready to rise.

I usually do this in my oven with the light on, with a pot or bowl of water I’ve boiled in the kettle – this way it stays moist, no need to cover the dough, and its nice and warm. Its a dough sauna, basically.

Dough in its rising "sauna."
Dough in its rising “sauna.”

After the dough has doubled (about an hour, depending on how warm it is) form dough into a ball. Divide it into four equal parts and either freeze it or allow it to relax for immediate use.

Use now:  Cover a ball of dough with plastic wrap and let it relax for 30 minutes on the counter.  Roll / stretch the dough into a 10 inch diameter circle.  If the dough resists (bad dough!) let it rest for 5 minutes and try again.  Bake as directed in your pizza recipe. (My recipe says to heat skillet in the oven on the upper middle rack until the oven reaches 500’F, then remove skillet, place dough round in skillet, top and cook for about 7-8 minutes)

To freeze: Place each dough ball in a zip-top bag and put in the freezer (or wrap each ball in plastic to keep separate, then put in one ziplock!). Thaw the dough in the fridge overnight before you plan to make pizza. About 30 minutes to an hour before making the pizza, take it out and allow it to relax on the counter, covered with plastic wrap.

Dough balls, ready for the freezer.
Dough balls, ready for the freezer.

My Pizza Tonight:  For our first try with the skillet and this dough, I’m using a jar of President’s Choice Pesto as the “sauce” and broccoli, sauteed mushrooms and onions, canned roma beans, and skim mozzarella cheese as toppings.

Tonight's toppings.
Tonight’s toppings.
Into the scary 500'F oven!
Into the scary 500’F oven!
...And out again!
…And out again!

Result:  The actual pizza we made was awesome.  I give all of the credit for this to the super hot skillet baking, and not so much to all the rest of it.  The crust did turn out very nice, super crispy but not hard on the outside, and quite tender on the inside.

The next time I try this dough, I will dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of the warm liquid before I add it to the dough, not sprinkle the yeast directly into the dry ingredients.  Hopefully it will still work out, but as of now as I worked with the risen dough it looks like there are grains of undissolved yeast throughout – we will see what happens!

Dijon Pork Chops with White Beans and Spinach

I came up with this idea to use up the leftover white beans from last night’s stew, along with a few odd things I had in the fridge, like capers and anchovy paste.

Dijon Pork Chops with White Beans and Spinach
2 large pork chops (mine were boneless, and quite large, like 4 normal sized ones)
seasoning salt (I make a mix of salt, onion powder, sage, thyme and oregano, and keep it in a sealed container with a smashed clove of garlic)
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 small onions, diced
6 mushrooms, diced (use more!  that’s what I had left)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon capers (optional, I have them in the fridge so I used them!)
1 tsp. anchovy paste (optional, but I like it)
3 tablespoons dijon mustard
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup apple juice + 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, or 1 cup white wine
2 1/2 cups or one can white beans drained and rinsed (I had cooked white Great Northern or Navy beans)
baby spinach, chopped – as much as you like (it always amazes me how much it wilts away!)

Everything but the spinach - I always forget the spinach!
Everything but the spinach – I always forget the spinach!

Sprinkle the seasoning salt all over both sides of the pork chops and let them sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

Nicely browned chops.
Nicely browned chops.

Heat some oil in a skillet at medium high heat and brown chops on both sides.  Set aside on a plate.

Vegetables browning in oil and anchovy paste.
Vegetables browning in oil and anchovy paste.

Add more oil if needed, then add anchovy paste to pan if using.  Add onion, celery, carrot, mushrooms, and capers.  Saute until golden brown.  Add beans, then pour liquids over the vegetables.

Vegetables and beans.
Vegetables and beans.

Stir the dijon mustard into the liquid, then pour into pan.  Scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan, and simmer to reduce liquid to half.  There should be almost no liquid left

Reducing the liquid
Reducing the liquid

Stir in chopped spinach.  Return chops to pan with any juices from the plate, cover, and let simmer until chops are fully cooked and everything is nicely warmed and happy, depending on how thick your chops were, it could just be a few minutes or more if the meat needs further cooking.

The finished skillet, with spinach!
The finished skillet, with spinach!

Result:  We loved this!  It is incredibly filling with all the beans, and so tasty.  I had to adjust the recipe a bit as I went along, as I’d not made it before.  In particular, I actually used about twice the liquid I’ve written in, but it was way too much and took a really long time to reduce, better the way I re-wrote it I think.  I will definitely be serving beans more often as a combination “potato/rice replacement” and side vegetable.
Picture 008

Skillet Fried Biscuits

I found this recipe online at a blog called “Posh and Trendy” and it looked so easy I thought it worth a try.  The original called for sugar as well but I hate sweet biscuits with savory things, and we are having these with stew, so I left it out.  The original used milk, and other comments on the site said people used water as well, so it seems pretty flexible:

Skillet Fried Biscuits
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
enough water and greek yogurt mixed together, to make a sticky dough (about 3/4 cup total liquid)

Super simple ingredients!
Super simple ingredients!

Stir or sift together the dry ingredients, then add enough liquid to make a sticky dough.

Sticky dough, about the consistency of my dumpling dough - not sure if this was correct.
Sticky dough, about the consistency of my dumpling dough – not sure if this was correct.

Heat pan to medium heat, add oil or a pat of butter to the pan, then place rounded teaspoons of dough in skillet making sure they don’t touch.

A bit "extra" browned on this batch.
A bit “extra” browned on this batch.

Cover pan and fry till bottom is brown. Gently flip over and cover again and fry till the other side is brown and centers are done.

The first batch was more golden less "extra brown"!
The first batch was more golden less “extra brown”!


Slow-Cooker Beef and Barley Stew

I’ve been keeping an eye out for lower GI index recipes – that is, given my shaky understanding of the concept – because my mom has been trying to eat this way for health reasons.  So far this mostly means finding “family favourite, comfort food” recipes that replace white potatoes with healthier alternatives.  One great idea I saw recently was making a traditional shepherd’s pie but using mashed sweet potatoes on top.  Great idea I want to try.

Another such idea was this recipe – Beef, Vegetable and Barley Stew – from Ricardo Cuisine – he is this slightly wacky Quebecois guy who has a cooking show on both the French and English channels – I like a lot of his recipes and his website seems packed with great ideas and dishes.  I love barley and am determined to use it more.

I combined the idea from his recipe, and a bit of the beef stew recipe from the milk cookbook (the idea of thickening the broth with a milk and flour mix intrigued me), added beans as I usually do,  and this is the result!  Obviously the vegetables are very flexible here, add what you like or what you have on hand, in the quantities that you prefer.

Slow-Cooker Beef and Barley Stew
1 kg (2 lb) stewing beef, aprx. (I had .75 kg)
3/4 cup pot barley (or pearl barley – pot barley has more fibre and is less refined)
2 1/2 cups or one large can drained and rinsed, cooked beans – I used small white beans called “Navy” or “Great Northern” I believe
1 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 very small turnip, peeled and diced (grapefruit sized, or use part of a larger one)
2 cups mushrooms, cut into thick slices
3 small onions, chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, minced (I got a microplane garlic grater for my birthday and can’t stop using it!)
1 cup apple juice mixed with 1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, or 1 cup wine if you have it
4 cups broth (I used my bean cooking water and added a few tsps. of beef broth powder – it tasted delicious)
2 tablespoons dried herbs (I used thyme, sage and oregano mixed, but use what you like, amount to taste)
Salt and pepper

Vegetables ready to chop.
Vegetables ready to chop.

Whisk together flour and milk.  Pour this mixture, 4 cups broth and mustard into cooker and stir to combine.  Add barley, cooked beans and celery.

Broth with milk, flour, barley, beans and celery.
Broth with milk, flour, barley, beans and celery.

You can skip this step but if you have time, or just brown the meat, but it adds a lot of flavour.

Brown everything in the same skillet, remove after the ingredient is brown and add to the cooker.  I browned things in this order: mushrooms, then carrots, parsnips, and turnip,

Browning mushrooms and root vegetables.
Browning mushrooms and root vegetables.

then beef (patted dry with paper towel, seasoned with salt and pepper),

Browning meat.
Browning meat.

then onion and garlic.

Browning onions and garlic, just prior to dumpling apple juice and vinegar in the pan.
Browning onions and garlic, just prior to dumpling apple juice and vinegar in the pan.

Once you brown the onion and garlic, pour the apple juice into the skillet and scrape up any brown bits for flavour.  Let the liquid simmer and reduce to concentrate flavour, then add to cooker.

Complete soup ready for its 7 hour simmer!
Complete soup ready for its 7 hour simmer!

Season the stew with salt, pepper, and herbs to taste, then cook on low for 5-7 hours, or high for 4 hours.  Just before serving you can add some finely chopped parsley or spinach which is what I did.
Picture 008

Result:  We both really liked this, it was a nice change from the usual beef stew – the one cup of milk really made it creamy, even though it was diluted with about 6 cups of other liquid – the dijon mustard added a nice tang, and it all went well with the gingery parsnip and turnip tastes.Picture 013I served it with skillet fried biscuits.

Naan in a Cast-Iron Skillet

I had been looking at some of the many recipes online for Naan, which use baking in a high temperature oven to mimic the traditional super-hot tandoori ovens they are really done in (hopefully have the facts correct).  I’ve done this before a few years ago and wasn’t to thrilled with the experience.  Shifting things around in super hot ovens is not my forte.

Then I found this post How To Make Naan on A Griddlewhich is essentially a cast iron skillet in flatter form, and thought I’d try it!  So the recipe and the credit goes to the author of that site, and the failure (in progress as I write so we will see) or success is mine.

The dough is very moist, and no kneading is necessary, and it totally reminded me of my big craze about a year ago for making Chef Michael Smith’s No Knead Breadwhich I highly recommend you try!

It was actually so moist though, that I did add some extra flour – flour is tricky with doughs, it all depends on air humidity etc.  so you have to kind of go by feel if you can.

Naan in a Cast-Iron Skillet
3/4 tsp. yeast
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder (or minced garlic) which is optional
2 cups warm water
3 cups flour

Dump the yeast, salt and garlic (if using) in a large mixing bowl.  Pour in warm water.  Mix, but there is no need to wait to “proof” the yeast.

Yeast, garlic powder, salt and water.
Yeast, garlic powder, salt and water.

Add the flour, and mix just until it forms shaggy dough.

Very sticky loose dough, after adding flour to wet ingredients.
Very sticky loose dough, after adding flour to wet ingredients.

Cover with a lid or plate but not in a sealed fashion – as in if it is a tupperware lid, set it on top, but don’t seal it – I used a dinner plate on a steel bowl.  Let the dough rise on the counter for 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.

Dough after 2 hour rise.
Dough after 2 hour rise.

Roll pieces of dough out to 1/4″ thickness in shape which will fit your skillet well.  Note:  if you use this dough recipe, you will need A LOT of flour or you will have a sticky mess!

Dough patted out into shape.
Dough patted out into shape.

Preheat the skillet for about 4 minutes at a medium high heat.  Add about a tsp. of oil (or ghee), then slap your Naan on it.  For me the next step was the tricky part – cover the skillet – I had only one lid even close to large enough, so I made do with it.  The lid allows it to fry on one side while the heat bakes the top.

Lidded "oven" skillet technique.
Lidded “oven” skillet technique.
Dough shape as it ends when you get it into skillet!  but note the lovely puffy cooking!
Dough shape as it ends when you get it into skillet! but note the lovely puffy cooking!

When the bottom is browned, flip over, and wait for the other side to brown.  Remove Naan and repeat with remaining dough!

Warning – this will create some smoke so be ready to turn off your fire alarm, open your windows, or deal with that how you will!

Pile of finished Naan.
Pile of finished Naan.

Result:  I was please with the final results, though since I’ve only ever had Naan from a grocer’s and not an Indian cook or restaurant, I’ve no idea if they are “right” or “good” – Next time though, I would definitely go with a more standard dough, one of the recipes that recommend oven cooking.

I thank the original author of the recipe/technique for the idea of a lid, which I think will make a huge difference to puffiness and texture.  But this dough is just too loose and sticky to deal with for me – she is obviously of greater talents!  I could press it out into nice 1/4″ Naans, but in transferring to the skillet the dough was so soft that it stretched and warped and did all kinds of curse worthy things!

So, on the whole, tastes good, keep the lid technique, lose the loosey-goosey dough!