Elissa has already blogged about the joys of slow-cookery, and specifically Slow Cooker Revolution from America's Test Kitchen, but I'm here to pile on. There's something so great about arriving home from work to a great-smelling house and a dinner that's already ready. One of my favorite recipes in the book is for tortilla soup, which I made earlier this week to stave off some of the gray fogginess we start getting in San Diego this time of year. Here's how it goes....
Chicken Tortilla Soup (adapted for my taste and laziness from Slow Cooker Revolution)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, minced
2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, and minced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
3 chipotle chiles in adobo, with sauce, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Stems from one bunch of cilantro, tied together with twine (about 25 stems)
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper to taste
Garnishes: crushed tortilla chips, crumbled Cotija cheese, avocado, minced cilantro, lime wedges
Saute tomatoes, onion, and jalapenos in oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When onion is softened, add garlic, chipotles, and tomato paste and cook briefly (1 minute will do) until everything is a melded together and smelling good. Stir in 1 cup of broth and scrape up all the tasty brown bits on the bottom of the pan, then transfer the mixture to the slow cooker.
Add the remaining broth and cilantro stems to the slow cooker, then add the chicken thighs (gently so as not to splash the broth all over the kitchen). Set the slow cooker to low and leave it alone for the next 4-6 hours. I set mine for five hours, but then it sat around for another 2 hours on "keep warm" until I got home from work, and it suffered no ill effects.
Use tongs to remove the chicken from the soup and shred it using two forks. Fish out the cilantro stems and toss them, then return the chicken to the soup. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper, if desired. Serve by placing crushed tortilla chips in bowls, then ladling soup over the top, and topping with cheese, avocado, cilantro, and lime.
A few tips. . . this makes a pretty spicy soup. If you're not a fan of the heat, reduce the amount of chipotle chiles. While we're on the subject of chipotles in adobo, I never use a whole can at once, and I hate to waste what's leftover. What I do is portion the remaining chipotles (with their sauce) into ziploc sandwich bags - usually about 2 chiles in each bag - then put them in the freezer. The chipotles are pretty fragrant, so I usually put the sandwich bags into a large freezer bag to try to keep the whole freezer from smelling like chipotles. You can pull out an individual bag whenever you need a chipotle, and they defrost pretty quickly - about 30 minutes on the counter, or you can speed it up by putting them in lukewarm water.
Since this recipe calls for sauteing the vegetables before putting them in the slow cooker, it can be a scramble to pull it all together on a weekday morning if you're trying to get out the door to work/school/whatever. I recommend prepping everything the night before, including doing the saute, then you can put the cooked vegetables in the fridge overnight and just pop them in the slow cooker in the morning. Finally, I used some soy and flax tortilla chips for this batch, because that bag was open and I like to operate under the illusion that there's such a thing as a healthy chip, but their texture in the soup was a little strange. I would use regular tortilla chips if you have them instead - which is what I've used for the leftover soup, with great results.