Three years ago, I bought my first slow cooker: a red four-quart oval, no-frills model I found at a local discount store for less than $20. I tested a recipe for chicken stew, and I've been cooking chicken in the slow cooker ever since. I always have boneless, skinless chicken breasts in my freezer, and often have chicken thighs, too. Your well-stocked pantry provides all you need to take that slow cooker chicken on an around-the-world adventure.
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A couple of weeks ago, I dreamt about a good old-fashioned pot roast with brown gravy, roast potatoes and carrots, the kind of dish we got in the school cafeteria when I was a kid. To satisfy my adult craving, the taste had to be rich, meaty, and traditional. No hot sauce, no random Asian ingredients thrown in for fun: I wanted the pot roast I remembered from childhood. I can't explain why; as cravings go, this one was quite specific. Of course, nothing prevented me from using really good ingredients, and improving on my taste memory with a terrific rendition of pot roast. I loved it all the more because I made it in the slow cooker, which perfumed the house with lovely aromas while I went about the other work I'd planned for the day. Except for a nice piece of beef chuck, everything for this recipe came directly from my well-stocked pantry.
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To my husband Ted, beef stew, maple syrup, and nectar of the gods all tie for first place on his culinary love list. We buy maple syrup at the local farm, and I've yet to come up with a good recipe for nectar of the gods, but I do love to make stew. Most often it's chock full of root vegetables like turnips and potatoes and rutabaga, of which I'm not a big fan, so I tend to leave the stew for Ted. However, this honey Sriracha beef stew includes only carrots and onions, with nothing else to distract from the sweet-hot gravy, and I absolutely love it. Although I make this in the slow cooker, you could adapt the recipe easily for stovetop cooking. This lick-your-lips beef stew (I think it would be delicious made with lamb, too) is a great dish to make ahead and have on hand for weeknight dinners. Adjust the amount of heat and sweet at the very end of the cooking time.
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Did you grow up in a meatball house? In the house where I grew up, there were two kinds of meatballs: big red ones, cooked in sauce made with a packet of Spatini, and small sweet-and-sour ones, made by my dad in nothing smaller than five-pound batches. Never did we have anything approaching the sheer nirvana of these sweet Rhode Island coffee-dunked turkey appetizer meatballs. This recipe, from my e-book A Flock of Meatballs: Easy turkey recipes with around-the-world flavors, pretty much requires that you buy a bottle of real Rhode Island coffe syrup (my favorite local product, hands down, is Dave's All-Natural Decaf Coffee Syrup), used to make Rhode Island's official state drink, coffee milk. You can substitute strong brewed decaf coffee plus molasses, and it will be good, though not authentically Rhody. These meatballs freeze so well that you might want to double the quantity, and stash some for last-minute holiday appetizers.
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