I need cuddle food. I am back from a month-long stay in Florida and huddling under blankets to keep warm. I’ve eaten a lot of hot soup since we returned five days ago. In the evenings I sip hot tea and bundle up in a fluffy pink onesie Tony bought me years ago and that I vowed never to wear.
Yeah, yeah, I can hear your hoots and catcalls. I know whining about the cold weather after a trip to Florida elicits about as much sympathy as a billionaire complaining about a dip in the stock market. So I’ll shut up and share a recipe that warmed me up, Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Chicken.
Because it took 36 hours for our furnace to raise the temperature in our home from 50 to 70 degrees (whining again), I turned on the oven but didn’t want to spend time away from my blankets actually cooking. So I found a soulful, flash-fast recipe that requires merely dumping ingredients in a slow cooker and turning the switch.
About four hours later we spooned hunks of falling-apart chicken and a caramel-y sauce over rice and feasted in the living room, wrapped in blankets. Tony loved the dish, athough it was more sweet than sour. The next time I make it I’ll add a splash of vinegar.
The sauce was delicious anyway. Soy sauce, brown sugar, sherry, ketchup, water and garlic are poured over a whole frying chicken in the slow cooker. The ingredients combine with juices from the chicken to make the deeply flavored sauce that is is thickened with cornstarch just before serving.
The recipe is from my favorite slow-cooker book, “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. Try it when you need some cold-weather cosseting.
SLOW COOKER SWEET AND SOUR CHICKEN
1 broiler-fryer chicken, 3 to 4 lbs.
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup dry sherry or apple juice
1 tbsp. ketchup
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 green onions, trimmed and halved
1 cloved garlic, pressed
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Wash and dry the chicken, saving giblets for another use. Cut off any lumps of fat. Place chicken in the slow cooker, breast side up.
Combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, water, sherry, ketchup, red pepper flakes, green onions and garlic in a small bowl. Pour over chicken. Cover and cook on high about 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a thigh registers 180 degrees.
Transfer chicken to a platter. Pour sauce remaining in slow cooker into a saucepan, discarding green onions. Combine the cornstarch with water. Bring the sauce to a simmer and slowly whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens. Spoon over chicken. Garnish with sesame seeds if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Thank you all for responding to my plea for more email. As I mentioned before, I found all that email I wasn’t getting on a new email server my provider switched to. Now I’m up to my ears in unanswered email. I will eventually get to all of it. Thank you for your patience.
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From Susan M.:
I have a question. My recipe calls for the zest of one orange. I have a zester and can manage this but if I want to use the bottled orange peel, how much would equal one orange? I am aware that this can be very expensive.
Dear Susan: I would never use bottled orange peel in a recipe that calls for fresh because the volatile oils — the flavorful element — dissipate as the peel dries. lnstead of using a zester, which can dig too deep and be time-consuming in my opinion, grate off just the outer orange part of the peel with a rasp grater such as a Microplane. It will really speed up the process. Take a couple of swipes, turn the orange; a couple of swipes, turn the orange. Continue until the zest is on the counter and the orange is a naked and white. If your recipe calls for juice from the orange, zest before you squeeze.
From George, Akron:
I’ve lost your re-creation of Pho Hoa’s Vietnamese Chicken Salad. Can you help?
Dear George: That recipe was from a 2006 Second Helpings newsletter, written before Mimi Vanderhaven gave my column a new home. Here’s how I described the salad I ate at the Cleveland restaurant: “Fine shreds of Chinese cabbage were heaped on a platter with shredded chicken, fresh mint and cilantro. The salad was sprinkled with chopped nuts and doused with a refreshing lime and rice vinegar dressing spiked with fish sauce.”
My version is very similar to the restaurant’s but with half the fish sauce, which is an acquired taste.
VIETNAMESE CHICKEN SALAD
1/2 rotisserie chicken
4 tbsp. fresh lime juice
3 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tsp. sugar
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small head napa cabbage, sliced very thin (about 6 cups)
1 tbsp. minced fresh hot pepper, such as serrano
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup Thai basil leaves, chopped (optional)
1/2 of a medium red onion, sliced very thlin
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
2 tbsp. minced dry roasted peanuts
Pull the chicken meat into shreds, discarding skin and bones. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Toss and set aside.
In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine remaining lime juice, vinegar and soy sauce with the fish sauce, sugar, pepper flakes and garlic. Set aside.
In a large bowl toss together the cabbage, hot pepper, herbs, red onion and carrots. Pour dressing over slaw. Top with the shredded chicken and sprinkle with peanuts. Makes 6 servings.