Two for One Crock-Pot Meal: Chicken with Diced Tomatoes and Italian Chicken Soup

img_3342This year, in Maine, spring is certainly dragging its heels. The weather has been cool and the skies rather gray. I’ve begun hanging laundry on the line, but I have to plan carefully, keeping a watch for rain as well as following the weather reports. Still, the ice has melted from the swampy swamp up the road, and the peepers have begun singing their spring song. They are joined by the quacking wood frogs, and the two voices join together in pleasing harmony, one high and ethereal, the other deep and steady.

In my gardens, all the perennials seem to have survived the cold winter, and the bright green of the new growth is always a heartening sight. Irises, lilies, phlox, and liatris will soon be joined by balloon plants, hosta, and sweet woodruf. In some ways, early spring is my favorite time in the garden. While it’s true there are few blooms—instead there are various shades of green—everything looks so new and fresh, so full of promise. The slugs and snails, a huge problem for plants at the little house in the big woods, haven’t come out yet. Ditto for the Japanese beetles, and this means the plants can grow freely without the menace of munching, marauding jaws.

Between the gardens and the yard, there is much work to be done, but I don’t mind a minute of it. I love being outside, and, to me, time spent outside is always good, even if it involves hauling wood or raking or tending the gardens. It’s funny how work outside is so much more enjoyable than work inside.

During this busy time of year, before it is really warm enough to use the grill, it’s handy to have plans for simple meals for those fine days when yard work takes precedence over cooking. Not long ago, I stumbled across a neat little trick, a two-for-one crockpot meal, and both turned out so well that I’ll be making them again soon.

One week, both chicken thighs and Hunt’s diced tomatoes were on sale. The tomatoes were seasoned with rosemary and oregano and came in 14.5 ounce cans. Meal number one couldn’t have been easier. (So easy that I’m not going to give a formal recipe for it.) Place 8 chicken thighs in a Crock-Pot, add two cans of the diced tomatoes, a teaspoon each of garlic and onion powder, and let the whole thing simmer until the chicken is tender—high for about 4 hours and low for 7 or 8 hours. Fresh onions and garlic could be added, but I wanted to see how it would turn out with minimal intervention. The chicken was all that it should be—succulent, tender, and nicely flavored by the tomatoes.

To reduce the amount of fat, I had removed the skin from the chicken. This was a very good idea because just before dinner, when I removed the chicken from the Crock-Pot, I noticed a lovely tomato stock was left behind, and it wasn’t swimming with fat.

Was the stock good enough to save? A quick taste told me that indeed it was. Here was the making of a soup for another meal. I have a large refrigerator, and there was room enough for the Crock-Pot’s stoneware crock, which meant that the next day all I had to do was remove the crock and put it back into the Crock-Pot base to begin the second meal. (I could also skim off what little fat there was, which rose to the surface when the broth cooled.)

Below is the basic recipe for the soup, but need I add that this is just a starting point, that other vegetables—onions, broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms—could be added? That rice could be used rather than pasta? There are so many ways to make soup, which is one of the things I love about it.