Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This

The Shirelles said it best. With school starting up again for more than half the nation, it’s been a rewarding—albeit emotional—first week. Nanas watch their grandchildren, some for the first time, shrug into a backpack and head off to Kindergarten. For the more mature pack, it’s just a continuation of whatever camps and continued learning programs went on in the heat of the summer. For the adults in charge of nourishing these youngsters, well…we’re all looking for dinner-time shortcuts that leave more of our attention for homework and shuttling the kids around. I’m speaking not only to grandmas who cover the shift between after school and when Mom gets off work, but any parental figure who wants to provide a nice hot meal without much fuss.

And how to do that? By bringing out the big guns in cooking! The slow cooker revelation of the season and more of a classic than the Shirelles song: my Hunters Style Chicken Stew with Yellow Rice. Introduced on my entertaining blog at the height of last year’s flu season, I decided it was more than appropriate for my cooking alter-ego TOP NANA, in these first weeks of school when as many new names are exchanged as germs! Fortify the troops with the most comforting stew there is.

Why Does This Chicken Stew Merit Such a Title?

Actually, what made this classic family recipe glow in my repertoire like a flashing “Eat at Joe’s” sign was something a friend told me about her 1st grader’s most fervent dinner wish expressed after his first harrowing day at school. He had come home looking wan, circles under his eyes—happy to be reunited with his small friends but nevertheless hungry and defeated over having to get up so early and eat the pathetic “Go-Gurt” packed in his Star Wars lunchbox. His dinner wish? His great grandmother’s chicken soup which he’d had the good fortune to try on the family farm (see the Nana Network installment “Playing the Field”).

My friend wrote to me with a disclaimer, “I can’t make that!” she cried, “it’s the most amazing, but labor intensive soup ever. My grandma spends all day roasting a chicken first and making her own noodles from scratch.” She then began to describe how “fresh” it tasted; by comparison Campbell’s chicken noodle soup tasted like a box of over-processed table salt. By contrast every noodle in her grandmother’s soup was pure and wonderful, every lovingly chopped piece of carrot and celery, every aromatic chunk of white breast of chicken superb, organic—like love itself ladled into a cup. Did I have, the friend asked, anything that was similar but could be made in less than half the time?

Top NANA’s Chicken Soup for the Tired Mommy’s Soul

I did in fact have such a stew—and the best part? By employing one of my favorite things—(any crock pot will do), you do the prep work the morning of, throw it into a slow cooker and walk away as your house fills with the aromatics of your very best intentions. It packs well, if you need to take the leftovers to a sick friend, and has so much protein and vitamins it sets the stage for good things to come this academic school year.

So let’s get on a roll—the honor roll—and should you need it, please write to me for more slow cooker favorites!

Top Nana

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