At this time of year when I’m cooking for our harvest crew every night (there can be anywhere from 10 to 20 people) people always ask me “how on earth do you do it?” That’s a really good question, and sometimes I wonder myself! Even if it looks impossible at first glance, somehow it always gets done.
(For a look at why we do it you can read this. So very tragic that this is still a reality for our world).
Most importantly it takes careful planning and two or three crock pots. Not kidding about that last part.
Actually my strategy for cooking during harvest is not that different from the strategy I use all year long. Years ago, when we first started having kids, I heard somewhere that the number one indicator of a child’s success in school is whether or not a family eats dinner together on a regular basis. This statistic only reinforced what I already knew in my heart, that the sharing of meals and conversation together are fundamental nourishment for healthy souls. I committed then to be sure my family shared a home cooked meal most evenings. Eighteen years of parenting later, I am proud to say that we’ve mostly been able to stick to it. Even with running a business, kids in myriad activities, an active community life and on and on, we’ve found a way to make it work. I believe that if it’s important to you, you can too.
Usually on Sunday I sit down and make a plan for the week. During harvest that ends up looking something like this.
As it happens, most of the dishes I make during harvest are better made ahead, so that works to my advantage as well. Often I’m cooking tomorrow’s dinner today. And I depend heavily on the slow cooker. If I can prep the meal and toss it all in a slow cooker then I can work while it does it’s thing. Besides, who doesn’t like coming home to the yummy smells of dinner simmering away at the end of a long day?
The other appliance that is integral to making this whole thing work is the freezer. At the beginning of harvest I go to Costco and stock up on all of the things I’m going to need, including a lot of meat. That all goes in to the freezer and eliminates a lot of last minute shopping. Though I do shop locally too. I’m at the grocery store almost every day buying produce and other perishable items (yes, they do know me by name).
About an hour or so before the crew arrives I start prepping the vegetables and maybe making pasta or a grain to go with whatever is the main dish. My daughter Charlotte is in charge of setting the table and once every one gets here they all pitch in on the last minute details of tossing the salad and filling water glasses. It’s often 8 or 8:30 before we finally sit down to eat, but it’s well worth the wait.
The other night I made a new recipe I hadn’t tried before – a spin on Chicken Dijon. Oh my goodness it was so delicious. What a hit. My sixteen year old son Ben said it was the best chicken I’ve ever made! (Not sure I agree with that – my heart belongs to simple roasted chicken – but I’ll take it). This is the perfect thing to make for a cozy fall dinner for your family. Time to break out the slow cooker.
- 4 pounds chicken thighs, bone in but skin removed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 8 ounces cippolini onions (see note)
- 1 pound mushrooms, cut in half if large
- 16 ounces canned artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 2/3 cup dijon mustard
- 1 bay leaf
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet and brown the chicken thighs on both sides. This may need to be done in batches so you don't crowd them.
- Transfer the browned chicken to the insert of a slow cooker. Add the onions to the pan and sauté until the onions begin to color. In the last minute or two add the garlic and stir just until the garlic is fragrant. Transfer to the slow cooker.
- Add the mushrooms to the skillet and sauté until the mushrooms give off their liquid and it evaporates. Add the artichoke hearts and sauté until they begin to brown.
- Deglaze the pan with the wine, stirring up any browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan (that's where the flavor is!).
- Transfer all to the slow cooker and stir to combine the chicken and vegetables.
- Put the broth and the mustard in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Pour this mixture over the chicken, stick the bay leaf in and cover the slow cooker.
- Cook on low for 4 to 5 hours.
- Season to your liking with salt and pepper.
- The cippolini onions are pretty, but tedious to peel. I recommend using frozen pearl onions (thawed) instead.