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Dash of Grace: Fond farewell to winter

Say goodbye with one last slow cooker meal

Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 1:20 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Grace’s slow cooker Mediterranean chicken soup is a nice twist on classic chicken noodle soup.
Caption
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Grace’s slow cooker Mediterranean chicken soup is a nice twist on classic chicken noodle soup.

I started writing a spring-themed column for this week, then I went outside onto the front porch to read it. Between the cool breezes and the light sprinkles, I was forced back into the house. I figured maybe it really wasn’t spring yet.

Although it felt more like fall, spring is close, and I’ll bet you anything spring will arrive by the time you read my next Dash of Grace. My feeling, while I was sitting on the porch cleaning strawberries to make a salad, was that maybe we need one more slow cooker meal that smells up the house so nicely, before we say goodbye to winter.

After all, some people do like winter. Not I, but I do love making slow-cooking dinners. They make me smile out the window at winter’s last breath, while I am toasty warm inside.

So throw something in the pot and soak up some of that sweet aroma all day. I have not tried this slow-cooker dish, but I can smell it already.

Slow cooker Mediterranean chicken soup

Servings: 6 

Prep time: 25 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

1 (32-ounce) carton chicken broth

4 cups water

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1½ cups flour

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup vegetable shortening

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

½ cup milk

3 tablespoons butter

1 rotisserie chicken

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

In a large Dutch oven, combine chicken broth, water, bay leaf, onion powder, and thyme. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and let simmer while making dumplings.

In a large bowl, blend together flour, Parmesan cheese, and salt. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in chopped basil. Add milk and stir until dough forms a ball. Divide dough in half, and place half on a lightly floured surface. Roll out dough to a 1⁄8 -inch thickness. Cut dough into strips, approximately 1-by-3 inches in size. Repeat with remaining half of dough.

Bring chicken broth to a full rolling boil; add butter. Drop dumplings, a few at a time, into boiling broth, letting broth return to a boil before adding more. After all the dumplings have been added, cook for 15 minutes.

While dumplings are cooking, pull meat from rotisserie chicken, discarding skin and bones. Shred or chop chicken. (You should have approximately 3 cups of meat.) Add chicken to dumplings. Season with pepper to taste.

Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until chicken is heated through.

Garnish with additional fresh basil, if desired.

Chicken and butternut squash soup

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 7 hours, 15 minutes

Servings: 4

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 medium bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1¼ pounds), each cut into 3 pieces

1 can (14½ ounces) stewed tomatoes, undrained

½ cup salsa 

¼ cup raisins

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup uncooked couscous

Layer squash, bell pepper and chicken in 4- to 5-quart slow cooker. Mix tomatoes, salsa, raisins, cinnamon and cumin; pour over mixture in slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting about 7 hours or until squash is tender and juice of chicken no longer is pink, when centers of thickest pieces are cut. During last 10 minutes of cook time, cook couscous as directed on package. Remove chicken and vegetables from slow cooker with slotted spoon. Serve over couscous. Stir sauce in slow cooker; spoon over chicken mixture. 

Note: This recipe was tested in slow cookers with heating elements in the side and bottom of the cooker, not in cookers that stand only on a heated base. 

(Total time will vary with appliance and setting.) Sprinkle with cashews or peanuts for a little crunch.

If you like your bell peppers with a bit of crunch, add it to the mixture during the last 15 minutes of cooking. Uncover and cook on high setting about 15 minutes or until crisp-tender.

If your family prefers thighs, use 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of the breasts, or substitute 2 boneless breast halves and 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

Spicy chicken Tex-Mex breasts

1 medium bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1 1/4 pounds), each cut into 3 pieces

1 can (14 1/2 ounces) stewed tomatoes, not drained

1/2 cup salsa (any variety)

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup uncooked couscous

1 layer squash, bell pepper and chicken in 4- to 5-quart slow cooker. Mix tomatoes, salsa, raisins, cinnamon, and cumin; pour over mixture in slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting about 7 hours or until squash is tender and juice of chicken no longer is pink when centers of thickest pieces are cut. During last 10 minutes of cook time, cook couscous as directed on package.

Remove chicken and vegetables from slow cooker with slotted spoon. Serve over couscous. Stir sauce in slow cooker; spoon over chicken mixture. 

Note: This recipe was tested in slow cookers with heating elements in the side and bottom of the cooker, not in cookers that stand only on a heated base. For slow cookers with just a heated base, follow the manufacturer’s directions for layering ingredients and choosing a temperature.

Cooking tips

– Total time will vary with appliance and setting.

– Sprinkle with cashews or peanuts for a little crunch.

– If you like your bell peppers with a bit of crunch, add it to the mixture during the last 15 minutes of cooking. Uncover and cook on high setting about 15 minutes or until crisp-tender.

– If your family prefers thighs, use 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of the breasts, or substitute 2 boneless breast halves and 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs.

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