Slow-cookers are one way to get your life organized. The ultimate set-and-forget timesaving appliance, they can be used to keep foods warm convenient for families on different schedules.
The Rival Co. introduced the slow-cooker -- Crock-Pot is a registered trademark -- in 1971. Slow-cooker recipes have come a long way since.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with dumping in some meat or chicken, adding condensed soup and maybe some vegetables -- it is comfort food. It's just doesn't always look pretty.
You'll get better results if you take a little bit of time and first brown meats or chicken with the skin on. Doing so will make dishes look more inviting. Plus, it's a way to get rid of some of the fat.
Here are other slow-cooker tips:
*Get everything ready the night before and store it in the slow-cooker's ceramic insert (ONLY if the recipe doesn't have any raw meat or poultry). If it does, add those ingredients just before turning on the slow-cooker.
*Make sure the insert is at least half-full, but no more than two-thirds full, to avoid spillovers once the liquids heat up.
*Allow enough time. Slow-cookers take a while to warm up and, of course, take a while to cook.
*Don't peek. Try not to lift the lid. You lose at least 20 minutes of cooking time when you do so.
*Don't cook frozen meat or poultry in the slow-cooker because it will not reach a safe temperature in time to halt bacterial growth.
Add tender vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers and peas during the last 30 minutes or so. Cooking them longer could make them mushy.
Most slow-cookers have two settings: low and high. Typically, low is around 200 degrees, and high is 300 degrees. But you should not simply translate the recipe to oven temperature following those settings. The slow-cooker uses a wrap-around type of heat, and the food is closer to the heat source than it is in the oven.
When converting recipes to a slow-cooker, the amount of liquid may need to be reduced because liquid does not evaporate in a slow-cooker like it does on the stovetop.
Today's recipe is adapted from the December issue of Everyday Food published by the Martha Stewart empire. The original called for cutting a whole chicken, but I used some bone-in chicken breasts I had on hand. You also can use a mix of chicken pieces.
I also marinated the chicken pieces in an oil and vinegar-based marinade with some crushed garlic and seasonings. You can marinate for several hours or overnight, which I think is best.
Slow-cooker Garlic Chicken
3 pounds chicken pieces, bone and skin on, patted dry
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled, halved
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup pearl couscous
Chopped fresh parsley, for serving
Season chicken with salt and pepper. (If desired, marinate the chicken several hours or overnight before cooking. I used a mix of crushed garlic, Italian seasoning, sugar, red wine vinegar and olive oil.) In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. In batches, cook chicken, skin side down, until skin is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Turn and brown on second side about 5 minutes.
Combine onion, garlic and thyme in a 5- to 6- quart slow- cooker and season with salt and pepper. Top with chicken, skin side up, in a tight layer.
In a small bowl, whisk together wine and flour until smooth and add to slow cooker. Cover and cook on high until chicken is tender, about 3 1/2 hours (or 7 hours on low). Cook couscous according to package instructions. Serve chicken and sauce over couscous, sprinkled with parsley. Serves 4.
-- Adapted from Everyday Food magazine.