In the 1960s, my parents -- like the parents of all of my friends -- entertained by hosting bridge parties. Out came the card tables and the bowls of Chex mix, the cocktails and rumaki. Occasionally, though, the parties involved dinner, and on those occasions, my mother pulled out her one and only "party" dish, baked chicken and rice casserole with onions and mushrooms. It sounds rather ordinary, I know, but in fact it met the test for great party food: you had to make it in advance, and it was so good that people didn't mind eating it again and again. I haven't had that casserole in many years, but the taste memory stayed with me, and I decided to adapt it for the slow cooker. My mother used chicken pieces on the bone; I went with boneless, skinless chicken thighs, for less fat in the finished dish. In the oven, the onions get a bit browned; I began by caramelizing the onions in the slow cooker before adding the rest of the ingredients. Rice isn't easy to get right in the slow cooker; I substituted converted rice and added it with the chicken. All in all, I loved this recreation of my mother's best dish. If only I'd learned to play bridge.
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If there had been any red wine in the house, a bottle of cheap wine or even fancy dinner party wine, I'd have made my grandmother's brisket, the tried-and-true recipe my mother and her mother used to make with the sweet Manischewitz wine that was, at the time, the only kosher wine you could buy. And that would have been a shame, because without wine, I turned to my pantry for inspiration, and what I found were all of the ingredients for this Southwestern beef brisket that's a little bit sweet, and a little bit smoky, and a little tiny bit hot and spicy. Slice it or shred it, as you can see in the photos. Make this on Friday, serve it on game day, or freeze for your next Tex-Mex party.
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When something is meant to be, it's meant to be. After hearing about the Montague Book Mill, a used-book haven for readers in a converted 19th century mill in the beautiful central Massachusetts hills, my husband Ted and I immediately planned a road trip. The book store was all we hoped it would be: well-stocked with books both esoteric and practical, formerly-stuffed chairs for leisurely perusing placed in every corner, and an adjacent café with coffee and sandwiches for sustenance. We each snagged a few treasures. One of mine, Slow Cooker Comfort Food, offered this recipe for Basque tuna with potatoes and peppers, which I adapted somewhat from the original. I had everything on hand, including chunks of tuna in the freezer, some teeny potatoes from Trader Joe's, and bits of garden tomatoes that needed to be used right away. The garlicky aroma of the tomato sauce in the slow cooker teased us all afternoon, and the fish, marinated in the famous smoky-hot Espelette pepper, tasted like a warm summer day in France.
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A sentence I never imagined I'd utter: I'm a fool for shredded meat. I'm a bigger fool for shredded meat made in the slow cooker, which does all of the work of breaking down the connective tissue so I just come along at the very end of cooking, and have at it with a couple of forks. Nothing could be easier. Over the past few months, I've been slow cooking and shredding lots of chicken, rolling and stuffing it into sandwiches, tortillas and pitas. One of my favorite variations, these tomatillo chicken and black bean tacos, starts with store-bought tomatillo salsa. Fresh tomatillos are hard to find in my small Rhode Island town; neither the markets nor farmstands have them, so good quality, all-natural salsa is a great option, and it's something I always have in the pantry.
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