Every once in a while, a friend will email or text me and asks about a recipe or shares one of theirs. Such was the case the other day when a former student messaged me on Facebook and asked if I “crock pot.” Do I crock pot? Heck yes. I love my crock pot. As a matter of fact I am probably a crock pot snob because I tend to call it a slow cooker. But call it what you will, it is a tremendous tool in the kitchen for busy families. Set it and forget it – I like that mantra.
But the slow cooker can also be a challenge. For all it’s benefits it has its downsides, mostly based in producing flavorless overcooked meals for the sake of convenience. That’s why it’s important to know your slow cooker and to understand its low and high temperatures. Not all slow cookers are created equal and it seems that over the years, at least in my experience, the temperature for the low setting has gotten higher and higher to the point that in some slow cookers it actually boils food – and that produces disaster.
I have an All Clad 6.5 slow cooker with a ceramic insert. Good Housekeeping reviews tend to consistently rate it as one of their top choices, especially from the standpoint of not drying out food (which tends to be the result of too high temperatures combined with too long of a cooking time). I’ll warn you now, it is an expensive piece of equipment averaging about $180 but to me it was worth the investment. Rarely do I dry out food in my slow cooker unless I cook it too long. There are other more reasonably priced top rated slow cookers out there. I would suggest doing a little research and reading reviews to determine which one fits your lifestyle and budget.
Here’s the ultimate slow cooker challenge – figuring out the correct cooking time for a specific recipe. Don’t you just love recipes that say “cook on low for 6-8 hours.” Well, what is it, six hours, seven hours, eight hours? There is a big difference between cooking something for six or eight hours. But unfortunately more often than not that is for the cook to figure out.
I’ve also found that cooking chicken is probably the biggest challenge, especially white meat chicken as it has much less fat than dark meat and can dry out faster. I’ve learned over the years that less tends to mean more when it comes to cooking white meat chicken in the slow cooker. I never cook it for eight hours, NEVER. And depending on the size and thickness of the pieces it tends to be between 5-6 that I get my best results. Normally I have to try a recipe once and from there I make an educated estimate for the next try in the slow cooker.
And so it happened with the recipe that I’m sharing today. It came from my former student Jenny who I referenced earlier in this blog. It is a traditional slow cooker recipe that uses soup as the base for its liquid but the combination of ingredients gives a sauce that is to die for. This is definitely not a low calorie recipe, but a great go-to comfort food recipe to keep in your repertoire. Jenny’s sister Shelly joined in our recipe conversation the other day and made a few suggestions that I found helpful and that added depth to the recipe. I’m calling this recipe “Slow Cooker Italian Chicken with a Twist” as it does not look or taste like a traditional Italian dish that tends to be tomato based. There are no tomatoes in this recipe but it has huge flavor. So here’s my rating and lessons learned:
Rating: A – a great comfort food recipe and the sauce is to die for!
Lesson Learned 1: I cooked boneless skin-on breasts for 5 1/2 hours. Next time I will only cook them for 5. They were just on the borderline of being a little dry, but they were not dried out. If I had used dark meat 5 1/2 hours would have been fine.
Lesson Learned 2: Either spray or grease the crock for this recipe. The creaminess of the sauce can cause some browning especially around the edges. I used a slight brush of olive oil in my ceramic crock and it cleaned up beautifully. I’m not a big fan of cooking sprays but I am sure they work as well.
Lesson Learned 3: This is a lesson in progress as I haven’t figured it out yet. In the picture below you can see little flecks of the chive and onion cream cheese – I would have preferred it to be completely melted and am not sure why it didn’t. Maybe it was the fact that I used a reduced fat cream cheese, but I’m not sure. It certainly did not affect the flavor at all but I’m not sure why it didn’t melt completely. (we figured it out – the butter, cream cheese and soup need to be melted together in a pot over a low heat before combining with the wine and italian dressing mixture – thanks Shelly).
Lesson Learned 4: Shelly suggested serving this over rigatoni so that the creamy deliciousness of the sauce could permeate the inside and the outside of the pasta. I served it that way and I totally agree – use rigatoni.
Lesson Learned 5: I added some sliced baby portobello mushrooms during the last half hour of cooking. That way they cook but don’t disintegrate. I also served it with some sliced green onion on top for color, but you could use italian parsley as well. It needs a little color for serving.
ITALIAN CHICKEN WITH A TWIST RECIPE (courtesy of Jenny and Shelly)
Slow Cooker Italian Chicken With A Twist
6 boneless chicken breasts
1 stick of butter at room temperature (I used a half stick and, in my opinion, it was more than enough)
2 packages of dry italian dressing mix
2 cans of GOLDEN mushroom soup
1 cup dry white wine
1 8 oz container of chive and onion cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sliced baby portobello mushrooms
Cooked rigatoni pasta
Green onions or italian parsley for garnish
Mix together the wine and italian dressing mix. Combine butter, mushroom soup and cream cheese in a pot and heat slightly until melted. Add white wine and italian dressing mixture to soup mixture. Lightly grease with olive oil or spray the crock with cooking spray before adding ingredients. Place the chicken breasts in the crock and cover with prepared sauce. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours. Add mushrooms and cook for an additional 30 minutes. Serve over rigatoni. Garnish with green onion or italian parsley.
NOTE: It’s best to cook this according to your slow cooker and its temperatures. The next time I make this recipe I will only cook it for 5 hours total. Each slow cooker can be different. And as always, resist the temptation to lift the lid. When you do that it slows down the cooking process and you need to add extra time to make up for your curiosity.