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: salty-sweet peanut butter cookies

A few weeks ago, we were in Columbus, OH and stopped by the Northstar Cafe for lunch. Everything was incredibly yummy, but we had a giant peanut butter cookie for dessert that I cannot stop dreaming about. It was moist in the middle and crunchy on the outside. Best of all, the top was covered with salty roasted peanuts. Perfection! I found this recipe at that seemed to have all the right elements, and decided to try to make them on my own. They really are just classic peanut butter cookies, one-upped with real peanuts and a sprinkle of gourmet salt. They weren’t as good as the one I had at Northstar, but they satisfied the craving. Wrap ‘me up in some lovely box, and they’d be a great holiday present! I think Santa and the reindeer crew would love them, too. Here’s my take, below.

What You Need:
1 stick (½ cup) organic unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbs pure vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup crushed roasted salted organic peanuts
Handful of gourmet salt, such as Black Himalayan salt or Maldon brand sea salt flakes


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, peanut butter, salt and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and mix on medium speed until well-combined.

3. In a separate bowl, sift the flour and baking soda together. Add this to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in salted peanuts, reserving a handful for sprinkling on top.

4. Shape the dough into balls (about two tablespoons each) and place them three inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Press a fork into the tops to flatten them slightly. Sprinkle each cookie with the remaining crushed nuts and a few grains of course sea salt.

5. Bake, rotating the baking sheets between the oven shelves halfway through baking, until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes.

6. Transfer the baking sheets to a wire rack to cool. Cookies are best eaten within three days before they get to crunchy!

More Cookie Recipes:

Oatmeal Flax Seed Cookies

Gingerbread Men

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Buckeyes

The Best Oatmeal Cookies

Grandma B’s Rosemary Nut Rolls

From our partners

thanksgiving recap: what did you learn this holiday?

There’s always a ton of advice shared before the Thanksgiving holiday — what to serve, how to cook the brid, what to say. But I thought it’d be helpful to take a moment and gather the lessons we learned this past week while they were still fresh in our minds. What worked, what didn’t, what you’ll repeat and what you’ll never do again. Here’s my lowdown on how the feast went in our house:

1. Green Beans Gremolata was unexpected star. This simple recipe from Ina Garten’s new book, Foolproof Recipes, is crazy easy but surprisingly sophisticated. The key is to cook the beans just right, so they are bright green with a little crunch. The gremolata was so simple, I’ll definitely repeat it again soon — just for an ordinary, non-holiday night! You simply mix toasted pine nuts, freshly grated Parmesan, lemon zest, minced garlic and flat leaf parsley together in a bowl and toss it with the hot beans before serving. Presto impresso!

2. A green salad is needed and welcome. One of the only dishes that was wiped clean was the salad bowl. I think everyone appreciated something leafy and light to counterbalance the heaviness of the starches. I served frisee with endive, dried cranberries and roasted pistachios, tossed in a light champagne vinaigrette.

3. Don’t bother with fancy potatoes. I always try something new with the mashed potatoes, but it always goes unnoticed. This year I went decadent and mixed them with half and half and truffle butter. The flavor was a bit to subtle to notice on the plate with everything else, and the turkey gravy covered it anyway. Next time, I’m gonna keep them really really simple, and a touch more healthy by using the water they are cooked in to blend rather than cream.

4. Let your guests contribute.
One of our friends brought along a scrumptious sweet potato dish. It was loved by all and I appreciated having one less thing to do.

5. Dry brining works. I dry brined our turkey for two days in the fridge before roasting. Basically that means I covered it with salt and herbs and let it sit there. The result was a turkey meat that tasted good on its own (even sans gravy) and it was especially moist.

How was your Thanksgiving meal? Did you try anything new? Share your trials and tribulations please!

From our partners

want it now: le creuset’s new nutmeg casserole pot

There are few pots or gadgets that get more use in our kitchen than our Le Creuset dutch oven. Whether we’re making popcorn, a pot of soup or braising some meat to go from stove to oven, it’s the go-to vessel. Look carefully in many of our Real Life Test Kitchen photographs, and you’ll notice it in action. Though I positively adore my bright red-orange beauty (it goes so nicely with our Eames chairs), Le Creuset’s new nutmeg collection is more than worthy of placement at a Thanksgiving table. It’s warm, earthen hue is sophisticated yet homey. Perhaps worthy of a holiday wish list?

More Le Creuset:
Want it now: Le Creuset Mug

From our partners

30 days of halloween: bloody knife spatula and more

Nothing’s more fun than licking the spatula after whipping up a batch of brownie batter, but even the most sugar-addicted tongue will think twice before taking a swipe of this collection from Spatulart. We especially like the bloody knife one, which looks like something you’d find in Dexter’s kitchen. All them come with handy square corners that help you get the good stuff out of any tight spaces and wipe the bowl clean (except for trace DNA, of course). Click here to find out where you can buy one near you.

From our partners