real life test kitchen: slow cooker chicken and fennel soup

I love fennel. I often eat it as a snack like celery, and love cooking with it — whether it’s sprinkling fennel seeds in my meatballs (a trick my mom taught me long ago) or using throwing it into the pot whenever I make a homemade broth. This recipe at Real Simple caught my attention because it took my favorite stalk and tossed it into the slow cooker with some chicken and white beans. Honestly, I thought the results were a little ho-hum. Aside from the joyful plop-it-in-and-forget-it-ness of the slow cooking, I bet it would have tasted better if made on a stove top over an hour or two, starting with roasted chicken instead of raw. My take on the Real Simple dish is below.

Do you have a favorite chicken soup recipe? I’d love to hear about your go-to!

What You Need:

1 3/4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 carrots, chopped in rounds
1 large fennel bulb, chopped, plus 2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup dried navy white beans
1/2 cup uncooked orzo
salt & pepper

How to Make:
1. Toss chicken, broth, carrots, fennel, onion, beans, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper into the slow cooker. Cover and cook until the beans and veggies are tender and the chicken is thoroughly cooked — on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours.
2. About a half an hour before serving, transfer the chicken to a medium bowl. It will probably fall apart as you pull it out. That’s good!
3. If the slow cooker is on the low setting, turn it to high. Add the pasta, cover and cook until tender, 15 to 18 minutes.
4. Using a fork or your fingers, shred the chicken into small bites. Once the pasta is cooked, stir the chicken into the soup, and shut off the slow cooker.
5. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with the fennel fronds on top. Serve with crusty bread and enjoy!

From our partners

real life test kitchen: slow cooker curried butternut squash soup

I think I have set a new record, pulling down the slow cooker in October! Usually I realize mid November that one of my favorite kitchen tools is going unused. I owe this recent inspiration to a new cookbook my husband gave me (not without ulterior motives, I suspect), 50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker. We had a butternut squash begging to be eaten, so I immediately decided to try the Curried Butternut Squash Soup Recipe. It was insanely easy to make, though I don’t have an immersion blender, which would have made everything easier. I found the recipe as it was in the book a little watery and bland. I added a dash of cider vinegar and extra curry powder to give it some kick. Here’s my take on the recipe:

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

What You Need
2 tablespoons of butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups of water (original recipe called for five) — I may also try vegetable stock
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 to 3 tsp of curry powder or garam masala — depending on how you like your spice
1 tbl of cider vinegar
1 tsp chile powder
1 cup of coconut milk
a handful of chopped cilantro
1/2 cup of whole Greek yogurt
1/2 cup of roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)


1. Melt butter in a large pan and saute the onion over medium heat for about ten minutes.
2. Transfer to a 7-quart slow cooker and add squash. Cover and cook on LOW for about 2 hours until squash is tender.
3. Add water or broth, vinegar, spices, and cook on low for 2 to 4 more hours.
4. Puree the contents with a handheld immersion blender (or transfer and blend in batches in your upright blender, which I did, then return it to slow cooker.) Add coconut milk, and a generous amount of salt. Taste. Add more spices and cook a little longer if it needs.
5. Serve with cilantro, yogurt and pumpkin seeds — and a naan bread!

From our partners

real life test kitchen: chicken pot pie pasta

Every now and then you stumble upon a recipe and think, “Where have you been my whole life?” That’s how I felt after making Chicken Pot Pie Pasta from the October issue of Everyday Food. Now that there’s a fall chill in the air, the hankering for chicken pot pies is growing. But how often do you have dough in the freezer or the time to make it from scratch? This simple recipe replaces the dough with cooked pasta. Everything is done on the stove top it takes about 30 minutes. Here’s my take on the dish. The result was a big crowd-pleasing yum. The leftovers were even more divine.

Chicken Pot Pie Pasta
What You Need:
3/4 pound of penne or some other pasta
2 large handfuls of green beans, cut into inch-long pieces (I used frozen which were fine.)
3 tbls of butter
1 small (or half a large) yellow onion, chopped
1 o 2 stalks of celery, depending on how much you like, chopped
2 or 3 carrots, diced
1/4 cup of flour
2 cups of organic chicken broth
2 cups of diced chicken (Note: I cooked up some boneless chicken breasts in a pan with butter first.)

1. Make the pasta. When there is 3 minutes left to cook, add in green beans.
2. Meanwhile, heat up the butter in large saucepan until sizzling. Add onion, celery and carrots and cook until transluscent (about 4 minutes). Sprinkle flour on top, stirring constantly until well incorporated. Slowly add in the broth — don’t stop stirring! You’re basically making a roux. Once well blended, reduce heat and simmer. You might need to add more broth if it gets too thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Add drained pasta and beans to the chicken and vegetable sauce. Stir well and serve!

From our partners

real life test kitchen: spicy vegetarian chili

It happens like clockwork. The temperature dips down below 60 degrees, a few leaves start to fall from the trees, and I suddenly start craving a big bowl of chili. I’ve been saving this recipe from Food Network Magazine to make for a few months. When our neighbors decided to have an impromptu cookout (before it gets too cold) last weekend, I knew what I was going to contribute to the feast. This veggie chili really is a standout; with both brewed coffee and unsweetened cocoa, it has a rich and complex flavor. The shredded cauliflower adds a really nice texture — almost like ground beef — that gives it a stick-to-your-bones goodness. I added in some corn, because as my husband insists, all chili tastes better with a little corn. Here’s my take on the Food Network Magazine’s Spicy Vegetarian Chili. Note: You’ll want to give yourself a couple of hours to let this simmer sufficiently.

Spicy Veggie Chili

What You Need
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large bell pepper chopped [Note: I used two red peppers, but it’d be nice to have one green and one red.]
3 medium carrots, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 to 1 chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 corn large tortillas, torn into pieces
1/2 cup brewed coffee
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes [note: I used a can of crushed tomatoes and it was fine.] crushed by hand
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 15-ounce cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 head cauliflower
1/2 cup of frozen corn kernels
Cilantro, Greek yogurt, chives, shredded cheddar — for toppings. Optional

1. Chop onion, bell peppers, and carrots. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add veggies and a dash of salt; cook, stirring frequently, until the carrots begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, chop garlic.
2. Add the garlic and cook 2 more minutes.
3. Add the chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, chipotle, tomato paste and tortillas and cook, stirring, until the tomato paste is dark red, about 4 minutes.
4. Add the coffee and simmer until almost gone, about 30 seconds.
5. Stir in the tomatoes, cocoa powder, beans and 2 1/2 cups water and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chili thickens slightly, about 1 hour, 30 minutes.
6. Trim the large stems off the cauliflower and coarsely grate the florets on a box grater. Add to chili, along with frozen corn, about 10 minutes before the chili is done. Cook 10 minutes, then remove from the heat. Add water if it is too thick.
7. Ladle into bowls and serve with suggested toppings!

Green Chili with Fresh Corn

Frito Chili Pie

In Five: Black Bean Soup

Inauguration Party Chili

From our partners

real life test kitchen: italian wedding soup

Italian Wedding Soup is based on a lie. Well, not really. It’s actually based on a mistranslation. The Italian name for the hearty, bone-warming soup is “minestra maritata,” which literally translates to “married soup.” The phrase isn’t meant to be literal though. It’s a play on words referring to the harmonious marriage of meat and vegetables.

I’ve tried a lot of Italian Wedding Soup recipes and this one from Framed Cooks is hands down my favorite. Hearty and delicious, my husband and I always fight over who gets the last bowl.



  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped finely
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped finely
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped finely
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 ½ cup dried pasta (I like small shells)
  • 1 lb fresh baby spinach



    1. Heat oil in a deep, large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, cover pot and cook veggies for 5 minutes, stirring now and then.
    2. While the veggies cook, combine the meat, egg, garlic, cheese, crumbs, and nutmeg.
    3. Uncover pot. Add brother and water, and then bring to a boil. When soup reaches boil, reduce heat a bit and start rolling the meat mixture into very small meatballs, dropping them into the soup as you go.
    4. When you are done with the meatballs, add the pasta, stir, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
    5. When pasta is tender, stir in the spinach. When the spinach is wilted, the soup is ready. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Pro tip:

Unless you plan on eating the entire pot in one sitting (maybe you’re having a soup dinner party- I won’t judge. In fact, that actually sounds pretty fun), cook and store the pasta separately from the rest of the soup. On my first batch, I put everything in one huge Tupperware in the refrigerator. The pasta soaked up almost all of the broth so, when I went for a helping the next day, it was almost like a wet, mushy pasta casserole. It was still delicious, but it probably no longer qualified as soup.

From our partners