28 November 2008

Swedish Pancakes


Do you ever find yourself in a rut, always doing the same old thing the same old way? Have you ever, suddenly, discovered a new way of doing that thing and wondered why you never tried that before?

"Aha!" Moments

Like pancakes! I love pancakes. Inspired by my recent Movie Break with the film “Stranger Than Fiction” I think I might even say I have a new found appreciation for pancakes. I was really struck by the quote from the film where Dustin Hoffman’s character, Dr. Jules Hilbert, is speaking to Harold Crick:
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Hell Harold, you could just eat nothing but pancakes if you wanted.
Harold Crick: What is wrong with you? Hey, I don’t want to eat nothing but pancakes, I want to live! I mean, who in their right mind, in a choice between pancakes and living, chooses pancakes?
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Harold, if you pause to think, you’d realize that, that answer is inextricably contingent upon the type of life being led... and, of course, the quality of the pancakes.
In one of those "Aha!" moments, where a light seems to shine on something you have probably always known but suddenly see anew, I was struck by how it is the little things in life that matter. It isn't just the end result or our destination that is important but every step along the way that adds to the quality of the journey. And what better example could you ask for than pancakes? I could totally relate.

The Quality of Pancakes

When my husband and I were first married we made pancakes the only way we knew how: we opened a box of Bisquick and we followed the directions on the back. The result was an adequate pancake. Smothered in butter and syrup they were sweet and filling and we, not knowing any better at the time, were satisfied.

Years passed and I ran across a recipe I absolutely loved for its convenience, Overnight Pancakes. This pancake batter could be made ahead and stored for up to a week and made a thinner but more tender and subtly flavorful pancake. I had a new favorite. Easy, practical, interesting and made from scratch, it is still my standard pancake recipe.

Then one day a friend offered to treat us to Swedish Pancakes for breakfast. For his family these are the gold standard of pancakes. He makes them whenever he has friends or family gathered for breakfast or brunch and he considers this recipe a personal specialty.

I didn’t really know what to expect. I don’t think I had ever eaten Swedish pancakes before, but I do like to try new things, and I love to watch other people cook. So he cooked while I hung around with my camera watching.

The pancakes he made were nothing short of wonderful! While simple enough, in terms of ingredients, the outcome was something very special. These pancakes were sweet and elegant and a delightful change from the ordinary style of pancakes I am used to making.

Beyond Ordinary

Generally, I would have to say that I agree with Harold. “I don’t want to eat nothing but pancakes. I want to live!” Still while I am living I’m going to have to agree with Dr. Hilbert too. Much does depend “upon the type of life being led... and, of course, the quality of the pancakes.” Personally, I am thankful for a life where I can share my gifts, my history and my recipes with friends and family and where they shares theirs with me in return. As I share myself with others I find the quality of my life continues to improve and, as a happy coincidence, so does the quality of the pancakes!

With Christmas approaching, wouldn’t these pancakes be a fantastic holiday breakfast or brunch for out of town guests, or any family or friends you have the opportunity to treat this holiday season? Inexpensive to make yet elegant, filling and delicious, these pancakes would be a wonderful treat any guest would enjoy. And I can think of so many variations. Of course you can fill them with the traditional lingonberry sauce or fruit jam and sprinkle them with powdered sugar and they will be wonderful. And yet, what about topping them with a cranberry orange relish, or with pumpkin butter, a drizzle of maple syrup and a few toasted pecans? Or smothered with Nutella and sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts or almonds? The possibilities are as great as the quality of your imagination.

Here is the recipe for Swedish Pancakes as described by the cook:


Swedish Pancakes

Swedish pancakes, if you don't know, are quite a bit different than your ordinary pancake. They are more of a crepe than anything else. Compared to making regular pancakes, Swedish pancakes seem like a lot of work, but for the occasional special breakfast they are well worth it.

My 1968 copy of "Better Homes and Gardens NEW Cook Book" given to me by my Uncle Stan (who now actually owns the restaurant noted below) is where I got the basic recipe which reads:

3 eggs
1-1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

This recipe will make approximately nine 8" pancakes. (We tripled the recipe to make enough pancakes for a brunch for five with some left over. All of the pancakes were gone before dinner.)

The instructions say,"Beat eggs till thick and lemon-colored." After that, sift and add the dry ingredients mixing gently with a wire whip. When the mix is the consistency of a thick paste, add the milk slowly as you continue to mix. The reason for mixing slowly is so that you don't mix too much air in the batter. A batter that is frothy does not seem to cook properly.

When the batter is ready, set it aside, and prepare the frying pan. The best pans are about 8 to 10 inches in diameter at the bottom, with very low sides. The low sides make it easier to flip the pancakes. Start with the heat at medium and adjust as needed. Each pan seems to have its own quirks about how much heat it likes and how fast it will cook pancakes. Melt about half a teaspoon of butter in the pan and when melted, spread it around so that it covers the bottom of the pan. You need to add more butter for each pancake which can be a challenge with more than one pan. I pre-slice bits of butter ahead of time so that they are ready to toss in the pan without losing time fiddling with the butter knife.

Pour in just enough batter to cover two thirds of the pan, and then swirl the pan to spread the batter. Let the pancake cook for about 30 seconds, and then peek under one edge. When it starts to brown in spots, flip the pancake and cook for another 15 to 30 seconds depending on heat.


Start with one pan to get the feel for making these things. They take a while to cook individually, so as you find yourself making more, you might stretch to use two or more pans at one time. I personally have had four frying pans going at once with the able assistance of one of my brothers at a family outing, but then we were trying to cook about 60 pancakes that day!


As the pancakes come off the stove, keep them warm in a warm oven. When all are ready, serve them hot from the oven with butter, jams, and powdered sugar for toppings.


We enjoyed fresh wild blackberry and marionberry jams which came from my uncle's restaurant, The Berry Patch Restaurant in Westport, Oregon.

Personally, I like to put jam in the middle of my pancakes, roll them up, and sprinkle a bit of powdered sugar on top. Others like to put their fruit on top, and some just enjoy them plain.


Anyway you prepare them, these are a real treat.

Equipment Note: The Calphalon Commercial Nonstick 10-inch International Griddle/Crepe Pan does have sides a bit higher than the ideal for making Swedish Pancakes but, after trying it out, all agreed it worked fine for this recipe. What's more it is great for eggs and sandwiches and other everyday tasks too. I would recommend this pan for anyone who is stocking a kitchen of their own, or who just happens to be in need of a nice 10-inch multi-purpose nonstick skillet. Check it out and notice that Amazon offers it at a fabulous price.

26 November 2008

Bourbon Vanilla Cranberry Relish



Thankful Reminders

Today I’ve spent most of my day in the kitchen. It's a nice place to be. I have beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables gathered in baskets at the corner of my kitchen counter. There are squash and apples, oranges and pears. I also have Thanksgiving serving pieces gathered nearby including a hand painted turkey platter, my corn bowl and a special dish dedicated to cranberry sauce.

Then there is a pair of ceramic ladies in pristine aprons proclaiming Faith and Thankfulness with their hands folded in prayer. These salt and pepper shakers once belonged to Aunt Hen. They sat on a shelf in her dining room where we joined them for our evening meal every weekday as I was growing up. We also joined them in bowing our heads each evening as we thanked God for the blessings on and around our table. Now they stay with me to remind me of things I am thankful for: faith and roots and the blessing of a wonderful extended family that has loved and nurtured me.

I have spent my morning here in this good company. I am content to be here. The oven is warm. I like the sound of the water running in the sink, the fragrance of so many fruits and spices, the adventure of trying a few new things before I get down to preparing the traditional Thanksgiving dishes later this week.


A Touch of Something New

Since we expanded our cable subscription recently I have been watching the Food Network from the kitchen from time to time. It has been fun and inspiring to sample the programs there. A few days ago I saw Bobbie Flay on Iron Chef creating Thanksgiving dishes. He made a cranberry sauce with bourbon, vanilla and jalapeno. Wow. Who would have thought? I just had to try it!

I looked on-line but couldn't find a recipe for this particular relish. No problem. There were plenty of other recipes on-line for various cranberry relishes so I pulled out three or four with qualities similar to what I was thinking and smooshed them into one.

The result is a bit different than any other cranberry sauce I have ever tried, while not different enough to raise a red flag. It has a subtle edge and a sweet tang with the vanilla adding depth. My tasters have given it good marks so I think I will serve this with our Thanksgiving feast, along with our traditional favorite; a can of jellied cranberry sauce still sporting can marks and nestled in the traditional cranberry dish. I do love adventure but I'm not ashamed to say that I fiercely cling to the essentials and remember what is tried and true.



Bourbon Vanilla Cranberry Relish

1 1/2 cups cranberries
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup bourbon
1/2 vanilla bean
1 jalapeno, whole or finely chopped

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan. While stirring, bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for approximately 5 minutes, or until most of the cranberrries have burst.

Remove from heat to cool. If you left the jalapeno pepper whole, remove it now and discard. Retrieve the vanilla bean from the sauce and set aside. When the vanilla bean is cool enough to handle comfortably, split it in half and scrape the seeds into the sauce. Stir until the vanilla seeds are distributed throughout the sauce. Discard the remaining hull.

Serve sauce warm or cold.

Happy Thanksgiving!

23 November 2008

Cranberry Salsa with Sweet Potato Chips


Thanksgiving at Home

I've been thinking hard about Thanksgiving. I love all of the wonderful posts I've been reading about delicious side dishes, salads and seasonal desserts. I want to join in and offer some fabulous ideas for Thanksgiving too. The thing is, my family's favorite Thanksgiving menu is filled with familiar comfort foods. That means we make very few changes in our Thanksgiving menu from year to year.

Once again, as Thanksgiving approached, I asked each of my family members what one dish they couldn't do without on the Thanksgiving table. One wants the corn salad with garlic sweetened pecans served in the antique corn bowl that was my aunt's. Another wants the sweet potato dish with onions and bacon that I added to the menu when I discovered that I especially like sweet potatoes combined with savory ingredients. My youngest craves the Pumpkin Yeast Braids we have been making at Thanksgiving every year that he can remember. I love my Dad's basic bread stuffing recipe he made every year as I was growing up and my husband wouldn't be satisfied without some creamy mashed potatoes and gravy. That leaves little room for creativity beyond a new twist on a dessert I might try, in addition to the usual pies, and maybe something new and different with cranberries.


Something New

So, what's a food blogging mom to do? I looked through folders full of recipe clippings and gathered everything that had to do with cranberries. Next I picked up several bags of cranberries at the market, along with some other potential ingredients. Then I began to experiment.

The most interesting recipe I pulled from my files was a magazine clipping from an old issue of Southern Living. It included a recipe for Cranberry Salsa with Sweet Potato Chips. I just love salsa and unusual fruit salsas always pique my interest. Pairing cranberries and chiles sounded intriguing and seemed like a nice change of pace from the sugary cranberry sauces I have come to expect at Thanksgiving.

What's more I was fascinated by the idea of making sweet potato chips in the oven. The idea of making chips that would be crisp enough to hold a salsa and still taste good challenged me. At first I was skeptical and while I was at Whole Foods I picked up a bag of Terra Sweet Potato Chips for backup.



Simply Delicious

I had to try them, and as I got into the recipe for the Sweet Potato Chips I found that it was really quite simple. I did have to watch carefully to remove the chips as they began to brown, and I let a few brown a little too long. Still they turned out to be crisp and tasty. I would definitely make these again.

Still, the Terra chips were a very nice easy substitute and I think tortilla chips, home baked or store bought, would also be fine for scooping up this delicious salsa. Whatever way it works for you I do recommend trying this fresh tangy salsa for a light appetizer at Thanksgiving or anytime.



Cranberry Salsa
(inspired by a recipe in Southern Living)

1 cup cranberries
1/2 cup jicama, diced
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup toasted pecan pieces
2-3 Tablespoons honey
1-2 Tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon orange zest
1 Tablespoon orange juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch of salt

Combine ingredients.

Cover and chill at least 2 hours to allow flavors to meld.

Serve with Sweet Potato Chips, tortilla chips or as a relish.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups. Easily doubled.



Sweet Potato Chips

(from an old clipping from Southern Living)

1 large sweet potato (approximately 8 ounces)
Vegetable cooking spray
1/4 teaspoon salt

Peel the sweet potato and slice crosswise into 1/8 inch slices using a very sharp knife or other vegetable slicer. (I used my mandoline which made this step simple.)

Spray two baking sheet with vegetable cooking spray.

Arrange the sweet potato slices on the baking sheets in a single layer.

Spray the sweet potato slices on the baking sheets with more vegetable cooking spray.

Bake at 325 degrees for 20 - 30 minutes, turning the chips and rearranging the pans after 15 minutes or so.

Remove the chips from the baking sheets and place on paper toweling as they begin to brown around the edges.Sprinkle with salt.

Serve or store in an airtight container when cool.

Enjoy!

18 November 2008

Pumpkin Praline Cake



Being There

Not long ago a family in my church was in need of help with a few meals. I wanted to be there for them. I gladly signed up to bring a dessert with the best of intentions.

Unfortunately, I am not always strong in the planning department. When the day arrived, I found myself short of time and long on demands from my own family schedule. I wondered what I should do.


Practical Solutions

I suppose I could have run to the store to pick something up, ready made. There are lots of choices at the local market these days and I'm sure I could have found something that would have tasted good and filled out the meal just fine. That would have been a relatively quick and practical solution.

Still, somehow that seemed to defeat the purpose of what I had signed up to do. I mean anyone can pick up a cake from a store. I have this idea that thoughtfully preparing the food is a meaningful part of the process of providing a meal. Being mindful of someone else and their needs while spending time in the kitchen is a gift I both offer and receive. It felt important so I set aside some time in the afternoon to bake.


What to Bake?

Next, I needed to figure out what I was going to make. Rummaginig through my pantry for inspiration, I found a yellow cake mix and a can of pumpkin. That reminded me of a recipe for a Pumpkin Praline Cake I had made a few times before. This cake can be put together fairly quickly. What's more it is quite reliable and rather forgiving. It takes no special skill and is not finicky about the weather or drafts or the temperature of the ingredients. Still it does come fresh and warm from my own kitchen.

I do like to cook and, at times, I have the freedom and opportunity to make some fabulous desserts from scratch. On another day I might have pushed the cake mix aside and declined to make anything prepackaged. Or I might have stressed about my personal expectations and ended up with a rushed disaster or something I took time driving to the store to pick up and then delivered along with a lot of excuses. Sometimes pride and ambition makes us worry about things like that. And sometimes our ideals of simplicity only serve to complicate our lives.


Limitations

On this day I was bound by certain limitations. Still I wanted to do something to help, and the act of making the cake, of pouring and stirring and placing it in the oven, of glazing it and arranging it on a tray, warm, seemed more important than whether or not some of the ingredients came from a mix. Based on my personal constraints I took a slight shortcut and made a cake I had confidence would turn out right and in time. I made it with care and offered it with love and concern. Sometimes the fussy standards we set for ourselves are just not the point. What matters is taking the time to care.



Pumpkin Praline Cake
(From a yellowed magazine clipping)

1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup canned pumpkin
¼ cup brown sugar, light or dark
½ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
4 eggs

For topping/glaze:
½ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar, light or dark
½ to ¾ cup chopped pecans

Combine cake mix, pumpkin, brown sugar, oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Beat for 1 minute. Add eggs. Beat 2 minutes more. Pour into greased bundt pan.

For topping/glaze: Melt butter with brown sugar. Add nuts. Pour half of mixture on top of the cake batter.

Bake cake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Cool in pan for 15 minutes then invert onto plate. When cool, drizzle remaining glaze on cake.

14 November 2008

Neighborhood Donuts

Neighborhood Fun

Neighbors are the most amazing people! Some of the best things I’ve ever learned I’ve learned from neighbors, those wonderful people I might never have known if they didn't live only a few houses from my own. Often, like those neighborly relationships, the things I learn are a surprise, a delight, a happy accident.

Last weekend I ended up with a family room full of teenage boys on Saturday morning. As I tried to think of what I might feed them for breakfast I remembered one of those sweets lesson I learned from a neighbor and my son many years ago.

When my son was younger there were quite a few children living in our neighborhood. For the most part the children played well together and traveled from house to house taking in the rules and customs of each as they made their way around the neighborhood.

As my son made the rounds he spent some time with a large family that lived in the house adjacent to ours. Their youngest son was close to my son's age. My son was intrigued by the variety and pace of such an active household and enjoyed being a part of the action whenever he could. From those experiences he learned a lot about the give and take of a large family. He also learned about some practical and fun family traditions.

Sweet Surprises

One weekend morning he came home from our neighbor's house with wide eyes and a plate full of golden glazed donuts. He couldn’t wait to tell us what he had just discovered. Excitedly he gave us the donuts, urged us to try one, then told us the story of where they came from.

What we learned was that these impressive glazed donuts had actually come from a simple can of refrigerated biscuit dough. I’m not talking Grands here, but the small, simple, inexpensive biscuits that can be bought at Walmart for a little over a dollar for four cans. That is the kind of discovery that makes me smile! It was also the kind of happy discovery that drew my son into the world of cooking. He couldn’t wait to share what he had learned and he was equally eager to try what he had learned at home.

I talked to my neighbor, thanking her for the donuts and asking her about the details of the donut recipe. Could it really be that simple? She assured me, it was! This lesson has served us well a number of times over the years. With four cans of biscuits, half a bottle of canola oil and some powdered sugar you can make enough donuts at home to feed a room full of hungry boys. For another dollar or two you can double the output and give them all something sweet to take home and share.


Neighborhood Donuts

Donuts:
4 or more cans of Pillsbury, or any other brand, refrigerator case biscuits.
24 - 48 ounces canola oil

Glaze:
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup hot water

Start by making the glaze. Pour the confectioners' sugar into a small wide bowl. Add 1/3 cup of hot water. Stir until smooth and well combined. Set aside.

To make the Donuts:

Start with several cans of refrigerated biscuit dough. Any style will do.

In a saucepan or deep fryer, pour oil deep enough to cover donuts. (I used a little more than half of a 48 ounce bottle of oil in an 8-inch diameter saucepan.) Heat the oil to between 375 and 400 degrees. (375 degrees is the optimal frying temperature but the oil will cool a little when the donuts are dropped into it.)

Pull a hole in the middle of each biscuit, to make it donut shaped, and drop it into the oil.

Cook three or four at a time for 1 to 1½ minutes, turning halfway through.

When golden, remove the donuts with a slotted spoon and drain on white paper towels.

When cool enough to handle dip the donut in the glaze letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Set on wire rack to cool or serve warm.

Enjoy!

Tips:

You may want to add sprinkles or a chocolate, maple or colorful icing to top your sugar glaze. Or you might want to skip the glaze and try shaking the warm donuts gently in a bag filled with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar. Many variations are possible.

08 November 2008

Soul Stirring Oatmeal Cookies


Lately I have been feeling scattered. I keep digging through my life, my story, and trying to work the pieces into the jigsaw puzzle of who I am. Sometimes the pieces don’t seem to fit and I get frustrated with the ones I can’t force into a sense of order, the things that don't seem to fit into a tidy narrative.

Movie Break

To take a break from myself and my own little problems I decided to watch a movie. I put “Stranger Than Fiction” in the DVD player, popped a bag of microwave popcorn and settled in front of the screen. I hoped to loose myself in this comedy about an auditor for the IRS named Harold Crick who begins to hear a voice in his head. Soon he realizes that it is the voice of a writer who is narrating the tale of his life as she works out the plot for her latest novel. As the story unfolds Harold meets and interacts with some interesting people including a Professor of Literature, who helps Harold understand what is going on, the Author, who is searching for a way to kill Harold in her novel, and Ana, who runs a coffee shop, bakes amazing cookies and with whom Harold falls in love.

When I first heard about it I didn’t even think I would like this movie. I am not a huge Will Ferrell fan. I think he is often pointlessly silly. But this film seemed to ask great questions in approachable ways. How can we be real, authentic human beings and not just follow the path of least resistance, caving in to the expectations that have been written for us? Will Ferrell as Harold ends up doing a fabulous job of fleshing that out in a gentle, sweet, and believable way. His character manages to stretch himself in ways that are absolutely right and necessary for who Harold is. Harold has integrity and begins to make good choices that let him understand his life and begin to truly live it.

Fiction meets Real Life

As I got into the movie I realized this was no real escape. Instead I began to see that I had been drawn to a movie that encompassed the same issues I had been struggling with if not the whole story of my life.

I could identify with Harold because I was once an auditor too. I understand the comfort and predictability of numbers and the desire to live a safe and orderly life. I also understand the desire to break free of what is predictable and to take chances on life in focused and meaningful ways.

As an author I appreciate the novelist who is confident in her method and true to her subject. I aspire to be a writer who takes in every detail and understands the nuance of what she is writing about, even if it means sitting on a rock, smoking in the pouring rain (at least in fictional terms).

Maybe, as a mother, I can even picture myself as the assistance holding an umbrella while waiting in the rain trying to help someone who doesn’t want or maybe even need my help. And, as a food writer, I can certainly relate to the Professor who strongly believes in pancakes!

And then there is Ana, spunky and caring and fabulously real. I think I must have had the dream of being a baking diva at some point in my life. Maybe I still do. There is strong magic in kitchen chemistry. To be beautiful and to bake magical, soul stirring cookies is a mythic and wholesome pursuit that is almost edgy these days. And Ana is like Nigella and Martha rolled into one! Like Nigella, she has the intuitively passionate and earthy approach to the art of baking while, like Martha, she wields her skill and defiance in the face of all obstacles. She is even willing to go to jail for her conviction to not pay her taxes.

Living in the Real World

In the end I had to say that I really enjoyed watching “Stranger Than Fiction.” It was a happy surprise, a very fun movie! It had just the right amount of serious for my mood and was just deep enough to make me smile while kicking around in the water but not deep enough to risk drowning in!

And watching it does seem to have reset my mood. Instead of focusing on organizing my life and making it predictable I think I need to focus on living it. Instead of sorting, defining and archiving my past I think of how much more might be accomplished by pulling out an old and faithful recipe and baking a batch of soul stirring cookies to nurture family and friends.

Like the movie said, “ When we loose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Oatmeal Cookies!”

Well maybe it said Bavarian Sugar Cookies but these Oatmeal Cookies are something to be thankful for too! Tasty and packed with healthy ingredients, they are a nutritious treat that you can feel great about baking and sharing.


Soul Stirring Oatmeal Cookies
(Adapted from an old discolored newspaper clipping I collected in Dallas)

1 cup canola oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup soy flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teasopoon vanilla
1 ½ cups finely chopped pecans or walnuts
½ cup wheat germ
Special Ingredient ( Choose one of the following: 1 cup coconut, 1 cup mini chocolate chips or m&ms, ½ cup sunflower seeds or ½ cup sesame seeds)
3 ½ to 4 cups oats


Mix together oil and sugars until thoroughly combined.

Add eggs, flour, cinnamon, salt, soda and vanilla. Mix well.

Add nuts, wheat germ and add ins, along with enough oatmeal to make a stiff dough that is not too dry. Add the oatmeal gradually so the dough doesn’t get too stiff.

Drop the dough by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets lined with aluminum foil.
Note: The dough may be crumbly and fall apart easily. I gather the teaspoonful in place and press it down to make a slightly flattened circle on the baking sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 350 F.

Remove from oven and cool on wire racks.

Share and Enjoy!

01 November 2008

Thai Chicken Thighs


For years now fall has meant crazy schedules and dinner grabbed on the run at my house. Scout meetings and sports, classes and activities, keep us on a pretty tight schedule most evenings and even if the family is in the same place at the same time for dinner there is no extra time for making a dinner the way I might in more relaxed seasons.

What is my answer to this challenge? Break out the Crockpot. I have this charming gem of a Crockpot that was a wedding present 20 some odd years ago. It passes for not just old but retro these days and since it still works it still does the cooking on a regular basis during autumn. As the leaves turn orange and gold and begin to gather on the ground beneath the trees my family begins to crave hot hearty meals anyway and my Crockpot is great for that type of meal.

I have always made pot roasts and cooked briskets in my slow cooker but a few years ago I bought “Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker Cookbook” and expanded my repertoire. One of the first recipes I tried was for a simple version of Thai Chicken. It calls for slow cooking inexpensive chicken thighs in a sauce made from salsa, peanut butter, lime, soy sauce and fresh ginger. The recipe page also included tips and ideas that I continue to follow. It suggest serving the Thai Chicken thighs over Coconut Rice and with a side of Cucumber Vinaigrette.

Thai Chicken
From "Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker Cookbook"

8 – 12 chicken thighs, skin removed
¾ cup salsa (hot recommended)
¼ cup peanut butter
2 Tablespoons lime juice
1 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh gingerroot
¼ cup chopped peanuts
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Place the chicken thighs in a 3 ½ - 6 quart slow cooker (mine holds 4 quarts). Mix the remaining ingredients, except the peanuts and cilantro, and pour over the chicken thighs.

Cover and cook on low heat for approximately 8 hours or until chicken thighs are cooked through and tender.

Remove chicken from the slow cooker with a slotted spoon and place on a serving platter.

Remove fat from the sauce remaining in the slow cooker. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle peanuts and cilantro over top and serve with Coconut Rice and Cucumber Vinaigrette.

Notes:
  • The soy sauce can be replaced with fish sauce, if you have it.
  • If I am going to be at home I often place the chicken thighs in the slow cooker then cover and cook them for several hours. Then I drain the juice from the slow cooker and add the sauce ingredients to cover the chicken. This makes a thicker sauce and reduces the need to defat before serving.


  • To make Coconut Rice I use one can of coconut milk in the liquid called for to cook 2 cups of brown rice. Reduced fat coconut milk can be used and is found at Trader Joe's. I have also used Amy & Brian All Natural Coconut Juice purchased from Whole Foods. It contains no fats and no preservatives and still imparts a sweet coconut taste to the rice.

  • To make Cucumber Vinaigrette I simply splashed thinly sliced cucumbers with rice wine vinegar and a little salt and pepper. Many Thai Cucumber Salad recipes contain red onion and hot peppers. There is a recipe that sounds good at Recipe Zaar and one made with carrots and scallions at Flexitarian Menu.