I love cooking for my family and friends.
No, really. It's not a "hobby". It's what I do. It's part of who I am. I seriously love it.
I love being in the kitchen and thinking about each one of the people coming over for the evening and the joy they have brought into my life.
I love to imagine their reaction to sitting down and sharing a meal together. I sometimes make adjustments to the recipe accordingly.
I call up the person who gave me the recipe - most often, my grandmother - and offer thanks and praise for the gift of her life and the gifts she has given me.
I pour the love I have for each of my dinner guests into the food, laughing at some memories, weeping at others, talking with them - the unfinished conversations, the ones I know we still need to have - receiving the blessing of gratitude for all the memories we share and pouring that blessing back into the food.
In my mind, the food is an adjunct to - a way to support and build up - the relationships. It's the relationships that are primary. The food is a reflection of the quality of the relationships, a way to sustain the relationship, a vehicle to promote the relationship.
If, after the meal and dessert, people are sitting about, sipping coffee and sharing stories with each other on an even deeper level, well, I know that the meal has been successful.
I think I love that moment in the evening best. There's a stillness in the air. A sense of contentment. A deeper level to the questions and responses. I can hear it all the way from the kitchen as I'm getting the dishes ready to go into the dishwasher.
Which is why I love recipes that can be mostly done before hand and allow me to be present to my family an friends, with the exception of a dash into the kitchen now and again to check on things.
In that way, for me, cooking and meal planning are ritual and the meal is liturgy.
With a large dinner gathering (for me, anything over 6), the slow cooker or crock pot is a blessing. I can sometimes even get things started the night before, put the "crock" in the refrigerator over night and then start everything up on low first thing in the morning.
Here's one of my favorites for a gathering of family and friends. The seasonings blend nicely giving a slightly exotic flavor to a standard "chicken" dish.
Here's what you'll need:
12 chicken thighs (about 4 ½ pounds) or breast or tenders or mixture of thigh and breast.
Your preference, bone-in, skin-on or skinless and boneless
Salt and ground black pepper
2 teaspoons vegetable (or coconut) oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine
6-12 medium garlic gloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press, to taste
1-2 cinnamon sticks
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 ½ teaspoons hot paprika (or 1 ¼ regular paprika and ¼ cayenne pepper)
8 ounces dried apricot (about 1 cup) cut in half
3 cups chicken broth
1 (15.5 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed.
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 lemon, cut in wedges.
Dry chicken thoroughly with paper towels, then season generously with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay 6 of the chicken thighs/breasts into the skillet, "skin side" down, cook until golden, about 6 minutes. Flip the chicken over and continue to cook until the second side is golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a slow cooker. Using paper towels, remove and discard the browned chicken skin (if you have used skin on). Pour off all but 2 teaspoons of the fat left in the skillet and return to the medium high heat until just smoking. Brown the remaining chicken, transfer it to the slow cooker, and discard the skin.
Pour off all but 2 teaspoons of the fat left in the skillet and return to medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, garlic and the salt; cook, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the skillet, until the onions are fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the apricots and 2 ½ cups of the chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom. Add the cardamom, cinnamon sticks, and paprika. Turned the heat to high and bring to a boil. Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker.
Cover and cook on low until the chicken is almost tender, about 3-4 hours. Quickly stir in the chickpeas, replace the cover, and cook until the chicken is tender but not falling apart, about 1 hour longer.
Transfer the chicken to a carving board and tent with foil (or a large bowl with cover) to keep warm. Discard the cinnamon stick. Set the slow cooker to high. Whisk the flour with ½ cup of chicken broth until smooth and then stir it into the slow cooker. Continue to cook on high until the sauce is thickened.
NOTE: Depending on your slow cooker, you may want to use a separate sauce pan for this instead of in your slow cooker. Once the sauce is thickened, you can return everything to the slow cooker, layering meat and sauce.
OPTIONAL: stir in the cilantro and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Return the chicken to the slow cooker and allow to heat through before serving.
OPTIONAL: serve with lemon wedges.
SUGGESTION: Serve with (or over) Arborio rice or couscous and a light salad like romaine lettuce, pears, avocado and pistachio or a vegetable of your choice. Serves 6. Add more chicken and adjust seasonings for more servings. (About ½ - ¾ pound meat per serving, depending on who's coming.)