Now that we’ve officiallly hit the holiday season (cookies and parties and cards, oh my),   it’s time to look for a few shortcuts in the kitchen.  As a full-time worker bee, one of my favorite time-savers is to pull out “ye olde” slow cooker, a device originally designed for cooking beans that also works wonders on large hunks of meat, such as pork butts and pot roasts.  

  But have you noticed that most slow cooker recipes out there  call for canned beans, canned mushroom soup and  other processed foods. Hello! It’s designed to cook beans, not reheat them! Why not start with a dried bean, and let the cooker work its magic?

   That’s the idea behind Lynn Alley’s “The Gourmet Slow Cooker,” (Ten Speed Press, 2003), which breathes new life into your mother’s crockpot by calling for high-quality, fresh ingredients.  One of my favorite nbso online casino reviews recipes from the book is the Chicken Cacciatore, an Italian classic that calls for sun-dried tomatoes and white wine. I usually use chicken thighs, because they don’t dry out as fast.  Serve it over  polenta or pasta, and you’ve got a rib-sticking dinner for fall, waiting for you when you come home from work – or shopping.

Chicken Cacciatore

Serves 4 to 6

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 chicken, cut into serving pieces and skinned

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

4 cloves  garlic, minced

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

1 cup dry white wine

2 sprigs sage

2 sprigs rosemary

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Fresh ground black pepper

Combine the flour and salt in a resealable plastic bag. Add the chicken to the bag, several pieces at a time, and shake to coat completely.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the chicken and  cook, turning once, for 10 minutes, or until browned on both sides. Using tongs, transfer to the slow cooker.

Add the onion to the sauté pan and sauté, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, or until light golden. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and wine and stir to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour over the chicken in the slow cooker.

Add the sage, rosemary and pepper flakes to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 3 to 8 hours, until the chicken is tender. At 3 to 4 hours, the chicken will still be firm and hold its shape. At 6 to 8 hours, the meat will be falling off the bone. Stir in salt and pepper to taste just before serving. Remove and discard the sage and rosemary.

To drink: A full-bodied red Barbera d’Asti, such as Brovici’s Brea, or even a domestic  Barbera.