Monday, January 23, 2012
Calling All Crockpots!
I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm by Dean Martin
I know this song talks about it being December, and it's January, but, believe it or not, December really wasn't that long ago! Besides, it's the perfect cozy song for this chicken soup. Dean Martin is very cool in our house. My husband and I grew up in very different home environments, but we do share much of the same music memories - Dean Martin being one of those. Hearing his music while we are out and about always gets us excited - like a week ago when we went to see the new Mission Impossible movie, which started with Ain't That A Kick In the Head! I've never enjoyed a fight scene as much as I apparently did this one, seeing as how I smiled through the whole thing! Not for the love of violence, mind you, but for the love of Dean! When we happen upon those "spontaneous Dean" moments it's as if we've found another soul who gets it! Dean is comfort music. Chicken soup is the absolute definition of comfort food - and I'd like to share this variation with you today!
Well, the snow has finally arrived. About a month too late for my tastes, thank you very much! I'm not as much of a fan of the white stuff as I used to be. I grew up in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania within striking distance of Lake Erie's relentless lake-effect snow belt. I have also lived in the outskirts of Syracuse, New York, where it also knows how to snow very, very well. Then top that off with another huge chunk of my life spent in Utah where they actually boast of having the "best snow on earth!" Believe me, I know snow!
But I'm tired of it. I love it to show up for Christmas, for which I'm convinced it was intended in the first place. But, if it doesn't come for Christmas, I think it just shouldn't come at all! That's why I like it where I live now in the Pacific northwest. We don't usually get much - and it knows to leave after a few days. Alas, as I mentioned before, it is here right now - and people are pulling out their crockpots in a feverish rush!
The crockpot is a marvelous invention! It is the best friend of everyone - working moms and stay-at-home moms alike, bachelors living alone, students at college. It's purpose is it's main allure - putting everything in one pot, going about your business, and returning to the pot hours later for a hearty, delicious meal when you're exhausted and can't bear the thought of having to do all the prep for an eat-in meal. It's the perfect alternate choice to the drive-thru line for a burger and fries - again. It just takes a few minutes of forethought - a very good habit to adopt!
Another good reason to use a crockpot, beside it's convenience, is that it's a great budget extender. Slow cooking is usually intended for the more tougher cuts of meat - also usually the least expensive cuts of meat. It takes time to break down the connective tissue and the lean muscle mass of these meats and the crockpot gives you plenty of time for this to occur while adding tons of flavor in the process.
A drawback of the slow cooker? Sometimes things - veggies, starches - can become mushy. Actually, this is a dilemma with any soup and why many people don't like leftovers. Mush is not appealing! I deal with this problem by not adding my rice or noodles to my soups during the cooking process. As I did when I worked briefly in a commercial kitchen, I cook them separately and hold them on the side. As I serve the soup, I place the rice or noodles in the bowl then ladle the soup over top. Each bowl serves as if it's the very first bowl of soup served that day! Be honest. You know when you're being served the bottom of the soup pot! The added perks to this procedure is that you can control your rice portions - rice lovers can have more, those not as fond can have little or none if they wish. You also can use any leftover rice to make rice pudding! For use with the crockpot, you can easily make it the rice the night before and refrigerate it. It all works out beautifully!
Crockpot Chicken Soup with Rice
Printable Recipe Card
2 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. thyme or 3 sprigs fresh
1/2 t. sage or a few leaves fresh
1/2 t. black pepper
1 qt. chicken stock
2 T. cornstarch
2 c. cooked rice
half bag of frozen peas and pearl onions
Place everything except the cornstarch, cooked rice, and the frozen veggies into a crockpot and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 hours.
About a half hour before serving, place cornstarch in a small bowl and ladle some of the soup liquid into the bowl and stir to make a "slurry." A slurry is a thickener. When made with cornstarch it thickens without adding the cloudiness that flour does. Stir the slurry into the crockpot and stir well.
Add the frozen veggies and stir and cook until heated through - about 10 minutes. Waiting to add the peas keeps their color bright and vibrant. You can add them at the beginning but the peas get mushy and it's just not as pretty, see?
Fill bowl with desired amount of warm cooked rice and ladle soup over top - and warm up from the inside out!!