Friday, October 23, 2009

Product and Recipe Review-Slow Cooker Orange Chicken Recipe

I've made this Orange Chicken from the Year of Slow Cooking site twice now. Basically, you dredge small pieces of chicken in flour, then brown the chicken in a skillet. The browned chicken gets cooked in an orange sauce in the slow cooker (apparently that's what all the cool kids are calling CrockPots these days!). Here's my experience with the recipe, as well as a review of my new(ish) slow cooker.

The first time, it was not great. I made some changes to the recipe- I was afraid of making it too salty, so I really held back on the amount of salt that I added. I also went light on the brown sugar, convincing myself when I tasted it, that the sauce was sweet enough without the entire three tablespoons called for in the recipe. When it came time to cook the chicken, though- I did it exactly as directed- low for six hours in a four quart cooker. The finished product needed more salt and was not quite sweet enough. I tried to help the situation by adding salt and white sugar to the chicken while in the slow cooker and it did improve the taste somewhat. The worst part of the whole thing, though, was that my chicken was dry inside. I frequently have this problem when I cook chicken in the slow cooker. I do not understand how chicken cooked while submerged in liquid can somehow come out dry, but I manage to do it way too often. I ate the chicken- it was okay, but not great... hubs was not hungry for dinner that night and the leftovers got left in the fridge when we left for almost two weeks. Oops...

The recipe calls for half a can of orange juice concentrate. This meant that I still had half a can of OJ concentrate in my freezer. That, coupled with the desire to make good on this recipe, made me try again. This time, though, I used more salt and the full amount of sugar in the sauce. I tried to keep my chicken chunks larger to help with the dryness. I used a two quart cooker and cooked the chicken for about three hours on LOW. Since the chicken is browned before it goes into the slow cooker, it cooked through with no problem. The resulting dish was much improved! Hubs liked it almost as much as the pre-made stuff in the freezer section of Costco- he just said that it was not as sweet. I might have to bump that brown sugar even more! I just polished off the leftovers for dinner tonight and I must say that it was yummy, even reheated. It has the comfort food feel of take out Chinese food and will be making an appearance on our menu on a regular basis.

By the way, Stephanie O'Dea, the author of A Year of SlowCooking blog, has also written a book- Make it Fast, Cook it Slow. It's getting fantastic reviews around the blogosphere and based on Stephanie's writing on her blog, I would imagine that it's fantastic.

I've been cooking in a new slow cooker these days- I got one for my birthday. I was lucky enough to pick out whichever model I wanted, and the one that I chose was this one:
Hamilton Beach 33134 3-in-1 Slow Cooker with 2-, 4-, and 6-Quart Crocks

The big selling point was that this slow cooker comes with three removable crocks- a two quart, a four quart and a six quart. I previously used CrockPot brand slow cooker that was five quarts or so. It was a great slow cooker, but there were times that I needed MORE space and it was a PAIN to clean. I actually received it for my birthday exactly 10 years ago. It still works perfectly, but it was time for an upgrade. Enter the new Hamilton Beach slow cooker. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I opened the box. The inserts are round. From the picture, I thought they were oval and I had visions of cooking a turkey in the slow cooker laid out breast up just like you would in a roasting pan. That's not going to happen in this slow cooker- chicken cooked on a beer can, sure- the six quart insert is plenty tall. I decided to give it a chance. I was pleased that the three inserts stacked neatly inside of each other, with the one lid that fits all three neatly on top, so this new slow cooker fit in the same space as my old CrockPot. The inserts are super easy to clean- so much nicer than trying to clean the inside of the cooker without submerging the heating element. I've used all three sizes inserts in the few months that I've had it and I must admit that the two quart is my favorite for right now. It seems to be the perfect size when I need to reheat a frozen roast or cook something for just the two of us. I'm glad, though, that I have the option of the larger inserts for a large butt roast or a big batch of stew. I'm also glad that I won't have to invest in another slow cooker when our family gets larger and I'm cooking larger volumes of food. If this one lasts for another ten plus years, I have a feeling that we're going to need the four and six quart inserts!

They also make a snazzy snazzy stainless steel version of this slow cooker. I thought about and debated getting this one, but I just couldn't justify spending an additional $30 or so for an appliance that was going to spend most of its time behind closed doors. Nothing else in our kitchen is stainless either, so it wasn't like it needed to match or something.

(Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate, so if you purchase any of the products listed above, I will receive a very small portion of that sale. I think. Maybe. Want to try it and help me find out?? Come on??? Please??? ;-))

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