I know I don’t need to say more than “slow cooker” to give you the hard sell on something, but today I’m so pleased to introduce a new guest-poster, Sarah Waldman. She is a mother of two, nutritionist, year-round Martha’s Vineyard dweller, and author of a new beautiful book called Feeding a Family, featuring the kinds of recipes we all love the most on this blog, which is to say: strategic. Here she talks about two of those recipes — a killer go-to weeknight dinner (that can stretch into two nights) and a spring treat that loops in the kids. Take it away Sarah!
Can I get a show of hands from those of you who have children, maybe even a few of them? Okay great, you get it then. Our boys are 3 and 6 and sure, some things are easier now (like bedtime and 3+ hour long car trips) but some things are harder and I imagine will be even harder when the boys hit the double digits. Now that we’ve moved from a family focused on playground swings and sandboxes to a family rushing from school pick-up to soccer practice and after school garden club the dinner time crunch is stronger than ever.
Typically we leave our house around 7:30 am and roll in around 5:00 pm all tired, hungry, and two out of the four of us with muddy knees and grass filled hair. Needless to say, if dinner isn’t ready for us then we’re in big trouble (are you familiar with what a hungry 3-year-old looks like?! It’s not pretty)
I have always been a big fan of slow-cooker meals, not only because dinner is made for you when you walk in the door but because this simple kitchen machine helps me out all year round (think fall chilis, winter soups, spring chicken dinners, summer fruit jams). That said, I have one big pet peeve – when slow cooker recipes start with “brown the meat, saute the onions…” No, no, no, no. To me, the whole point of a good slow cooker meal is just having to fill the slow cooker and turn it on. Sure, you may have to chop some vegetables, measure some spices, and open a few containers but I am completely turned off if I have to cook anything beforehand. My 7:00 am self is more focused on lunchboxes and getting my own teeth brushed then caramelizing a half dozen onions.
Today I’m sharing my favorite spring slow cooker dinner — Indian Butter Chicken. The recipe calls for sweet peas but you can use almost any fast cooking or precooked vegetable from baby spinach to blanched cauliflower or broccoli (you stir the veggies in right at the end to warm through). I top our Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken with large flake coconut, almonds, and cilantro. That said, I encourage you to look in the pantry and use this meal as an excuse to take care of any little bits of nuts, seeds, or fresh herbs floating around. Pantry clean out and dinner rolled into one. Score.
As a New Englander I can’t help but celebrate this long awaited season of pink and green with a little springy treat – Lemon-Pecan Shortbread Cookies. This cookie dough is simple and can be made start to finish by any willing young helper. My kids are especially attracted to cookie cutter cookies for the whole physical stamping step and these can be made into any cheerful shape you like. The recipe is my spin on a pecan cookie my grandmother makes around Christmas time. I jazzed it up with a lot of lemon zest, chia seeds, and replaced regular white sugar with granulated coconut sugar (a natural sugar made from the sap of a coconut plant.) These little citrus gems can be made fairly quickly but the dough also keeps well, rolled into a log and wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator for last-minute cravings or celebrations. I encourage all of you to bake a batch to celebrate Easter, Mother’s Day, or Teacher Appreciation Week. Of course, don’t forget to hide a few for yourself.
Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken with Sweet Peas
Serves 4 to 6.
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken pieces (thighs and/or breasts)
1 onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and finely chopped
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
One 6-ounce jar tomato paste
One 13.5-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
3 tablespoons plain full-fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1½ cups sweet peas (thawed if frozen or blanched if fresh)
Cooked basmati rice, for serving
Chopped fresh cilantro
Toasted coconut flakes
Toasted slivered almonds
Cut the chicken into 2-inch chunks. Fill a 6-quart slow cooker with the chicken, onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, cinnamon, cumin, and salt. Stir to combine. Add in the butter, tomato paste, and coconut milk. Mix again. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours until the chicken pulls apart easily with a fork.
Before serving, stir in the Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and peas. Allow everything to heat through, then serve the butter chicken over a bed of basmati rice. Top with cilantro, toasted coconut, and toasted slivered almonds, if desired.
For baby: Indian Butter Chicken is very tender and can be easily shredded with two forks. Mix in some rice and you have baby’s meal.
Tomorrow’s Dinner: Naan Roll-ups
Toast a few pieces of naan bread, spread on a thin layer of mango chutney, then spoon some leftover butter chicken on top. Roll up the naan and serve with a big salad.
Lemon-Pecan Shortbread Cookies
Makes 1 to 2 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cutter
If you want a dessert that’s just as hands-off as dinner, roll out a prepared disc of this Lemon- Pecan Shortbread Cookie dough (perhaps made over the weekend) and bake up a tray in just 10 minutes. Kids can: Everyone can help roll out and stamp the cookies for dessert.
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
⅓ cup pecans, chopped
1 tablespoon chia seeds
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Zest of 2 lemons
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup coconut sugar
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, pecans, chia seeds, salt, and lemon zest. Set aside. In a separate bowl, or in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter with the coconut sugar until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until just combined.
Shape the dough into a round, flat disk and wrap it tightly in plastic. Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour or overnight.
About 15 minutes before you’re ready to stamp out your cookie shapes, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter to soften up. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Unwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to a ¼-inch thickness and stamp it into your desired shapes using cookie cutters. Place the shapes on the prepared baking sheet and bake until the cookies are golden at the edges, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, let the cookies rest for 1 minute, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies can be stored on the counter in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
From Feeding a Family by Sarah Waldman, © 2016 by Sarah Waldman. Photographs by Elizabeth Cecil. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.roostbooks.com