He hadn't eaten very much at all for the previous two days - just drinkable things like soup and tea, really - and his blood sugar levels were all over the place. Needless to say, this wasn't helping him to feel any better.
He quite obviously couldn't eat the Woodman's Casserole that I'd got in mind, as it contained tomato, paprika and some hefty sausages. So that got shelved while I thought hard about what to provide that would do the job.
Of course, the age old remedy of chicken soup was at the forefront of my mind, but even home made wasn't quite good enough, as he was obviously needing to fill his tummy with some good nutritious food that would keep the blood sugar up with slow release carbohydrates for several hours.
A short step from chicken soup, was chicken stew. However, it needed to be very well cooked, so that the vegetables would be soft, yielding and just slip down with the tiniest of effort - and no aggressive spices! The slow cooker was the obvious choice. However, don't feel you need to have a slow cooker before you can make this stew - on the stove top or in the oven, or both, would do just as well.
The stew needed to be filling, with plenty of vegetables and devoid of things like lentils - which although full of protein and fibre, aren't for hubby. Not at all. He doesn't like them in the slightest (although I can get away with using red lentils in a curry, as they tend to dissolve and if they don't, they're roughly the same colour so hide very well!).
Pondering on how I was going to cook the stew, I remembered the success I'd had with the finely chopped mirepoix of vegetables for the Cottage Pie and Shepherd's Pie recently. Those tiny morsels of veg. just disappeared in the cooking process and added heaps of flavour to the gravy, so that seemed to be a great way to ensure lots of tasty flavour in the stew.
It was about then that I hit upon the idea of using some of the same vegetables in both the finely chopped form and bigger, chunkier form. The echoes of flavour carried through the gravy and into the larger pieces of vegetable sounded like a very good idea.
I felt the stew was missing something though. What would we eat it with? Crusty bread was out - too aggressive for a sore throat. Potatoes were in there already. Pasta was do-able, but not preferred - and the same went for rice or couscous. Well, the obvious thing was dumplings.
Because of the parsley and tarragon in the stew already, I decided against going down the herby dumpling route and opted for plain "salt & pepper" dumplings, as we call them. They were lovely. Light as a fluffy cloud and as comforting as a big warm duvet, they did the job perfectly.
Hubby had no difficulty in eating his stew and if the appreciative murmers were anything to go by, the fluffy dumplings were very welcome. I like to think that he felt an awful lot better following on from dinner, that night!
The vegetable components of this stew are open to your own interpretation. Anything would be just fine if you don't have a sore throat - red pepper, sweetcorn, peas, broad beans, dare I say - lentils - the world is your veritable oyster.
You will notice, from the ingredients list, that - unusually - I have not detailed ther how each item should be prepared. This is because I have dealt with some ingredients in two different ways, so I have gone through the mise en place (preparation process) in detail in the recipe. All the peel and skins from the vegetables can be used on your compost heap, in some instances kept for stock or soup, or alternatively thrown away.
If you are preparing this stew without the slow cooker , simply cook it in a large stovetop to oven casserole dish, or large heavy based saucepan that will go into the oven, or alternatively in a large saucepan, decanting into a casserole dish before putting in the oven at 160deg for approx 2-3 hours. In this instance, you will need to brown the chicken then remove and keep it warm until all the vegetables and the gravy are ready, then replace the chicken before putting it in the oven to cook.
SLOW COOKED CHICKEN STEW AND DUMPLINGS (serves 4)
2 tbsp rapeseed, olive or vegetable oil
3 large skinless & boneless chicken breasts
1 large onion
1 garlic clove
2 large celery sticks
2 large donkey carrots
6 chestnut mushrooms
3 small Maris Piper potatoes
1 medium turnip
1 medium parsnip
a small handful of chestnuts
5 stems of curly parsley
3 stems of tarragon
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
a Knorr chicken stock pot (or chicken stock cube of your choice)
a glass and a half (300ml approx) of white wine
1 tsp chicken stock powder
2 tbsp plain flour
a large knob of butter
3 tbsp self raising flour
1.5 tbsp vegetable suet
a small amount of milk.
1. Mise en place - or preparation.
a. Take each chicken breast and trim the fat and gristle away. Chuck these bits either in the bin, the stock supply pot or the nearest dog. Cut each breast into 5 or 6 chunky pieces and set aside.
b. With a clean knife and on a clean chopping board, take the onion and remove the top and tail, then halve it and remove the brown outer layer and - if necessary - an underneath layer, until you reach clean good onion. Chop the onion into fine dice and place on a small plate, leaving a spare space for the garlic.
c. Take the garlic clove and remove the tail end and skin. Chop the clove finely and place onto the small plate, taking care to keep the garlic separate from the onion as they will be cooked at different intervals.
d. Wash the celery sticks well and remove the tops and tails. Taking the first celery stick, cut into one inch pieces and place into a large bowl. The second celery stick should be diced finely and put into a smaller bowl.
e. Remove the tops and tails from the carrots and peel them. The first should be cut into chunky pieces on the diagonal and placed into the large bowl with the celery. The second should be diced finely and go into the smaller bowl.
f. Clean the chestnut mushrooms and trim their stalks. Do not peel them. Take three and quarter them, then add them to the large bowl. Finely dice the remaining three and add them to the smaller bowl.
g. Peel the potatoes and take care to remove any eyes or blemishes. Rinse in running water to make sure the potatoes are clean, then chop into chunky pieces and add them to the large bowl.
h. Take the turnip and trim off the top and tail. Placing it flat side down onto the chopping board, take a sharp knife and cut from top to bottom along the edge to remove the peel, which can be discarded. Cut the peeled turnip into chunky pieces and add them to the large bowl.
i. Take the parsnip, trim off the top and tail and peel it. Again, cut into chunky pieces and add to the large bowl.
j. Take the chestnuts and cut each into two pieces and add them to the large bowl.
k. Chop the parsley (stems and all) and the tarragon (removing the woody part of the stem) roughly and add to the large bowl.
a) Heat the oil in a frying pan until quite hot, then add the chicken pieces and season. Fry until golden brown on at least two sides, then using a slotted spoon to retain the oil, decant into your slow cooker. Replace the lid and turn the slow cooker on to medium.
b) Add the onion to the frying pan and cook until softened and just beginning to take on colour. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another minute.
c) Add the contents of the smaller bowl (all the finely chopped vegetables) and stir to combine. You may need to add a little more oil at this stage, but no more than a teaspoonful. Continue to cook until the vegetables have softened.
d) Add all the chunky vegetables and herbs from the larger bowl into the slow cooker. Replace the lid.
e) Add the chicken stock pot to the frying pan - clear a space in the vegetables so that it meets the surface of the pan - then add the wine. Increase the heat under the pan until the wine sizzles and boils. Allow it to boil for 2-3 minutes until slightly reduced and the majority of the alcohol has burned off.
f) Add the chicken stock powder and sufficient water to bring the liquid level in the slow cooker up to approximately one third of the way up the contents. You'll have to guess the amount at this stage, but you can easily add a little more water once you've decanted the gravy into the slow cooker. Don't overdo adding the water at this stage, as it is much more difficult to reduce it, than add it!
g) Stir and simmer until the stock and wine have amalgamated nicely, then taste for seasoning and add a little more if necessary.
h) Decant into the slow cooker. Add a little more water, if necessary.
i) Replace the lid and cook for a minimum of 4 hours.
j) Turn the slow cooker to high and, in a small bowl, mix the butter with the plain flour until well combined into a smooth paste.
k) Add small amounts of the paste to the slow cooker, stirring gently, until the gravy has thickened to your preference. Give a final taste to check the seasoning and add a little more if necessary.
l) In a small bowl, add the self raising flour, suet and some seasoning. Add a small amount of milk and stir to combine. Keep adding the milk in small increments until you have a sticky dough.
m) Take the dough to the slow cooker and add a teaspoonful at a time, dropping the dough into the gravy. Take care to leave each dumpling where it falls and try to prevent their connecting with one another.
n) Replace the lid, turn the slow cooker down to slow and cook for another 45 mins to an hour. The dumplings should be softly fluffy all the way through, with no evidence of any stickiness or suet.