Cherry Salsa

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The prettiest cherries I’ve ever seen was on a drizzly day in Trier, Germany. Coincidentally, the white asparagus was at its peak as well! This is a photo from 2006, while walking through a square on our way to lunch, where I failed miserably attempting to speak German and read the menu!

Later on this trip, we visited the Schwarzwald, or the Black Forest region of Germany, known for Schwarzwald Torte, or Black Forest cake. At the Black Forest open-air museum we ran in to these ladies wearing their bollenhut.

The tradition is that the hats/bonnets with the giant cherry-red woolen bobbles must be worn while ladies are single. After the point they are married, they get to switch to a black version. I think I would have just moved to a different part of Germany.

Recently I was lucky enough to pick cherries from a friend’s trees. As I mentioned when I posted on the baked goat brie topped with roasted cherries, I wanted to create recipes for these fabulous fresh cherries that went beyond the basic cherry pie. That’s when I decided on cherry salsa.

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Now I know that I’m the first to gripe when terms are loosely used in the culinary world – words like confit, coulis, pesto, and yes, salsa. But it’s the only word I could think of to describe this lovely seasonal condiment.

It not cooked like a chutney, and it’s not a sauce. It is similar to the fresh tomato salsa I make in the summer, which really is a salsa, and also the cranberry salsa I make for the holidays. I used fresh cherries,orange, cilantro, shallots and ginger. It has zing, a freshness, some tartness and sweetness.

Use it with any kind of meat and poultry, just like you would a chutney or cranberry sauce. Here’s what I did.

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Fresh Cherry Salsa

1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1 shallot, minced
1 slice of ginger, approximately 1″ in diameter x 1/4″ thick, minced
Zest of 1 small orange
Juice of 1/2 orange
1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon agave, if cherries are tart
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cayenne
2 cups cherries, halved if they’re large

Combine the cilantro, shallot, ginger, and zest in a bowl. Add the liquids, the salt and cayenne.

Then add the cherries and stir gently to combine. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.

I love using sesame seed oil, and I thought it would enhance the shallot, ginger, orange and cayenne.

Serve at room temperature.

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I served the cherry salsa with a simple roast chicken and butternut squash.

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The flavors are spectacular.

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Surprise Chicken

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Here’s the surprise… I roasted a whole chicken in a slow cooker! With no liquid. Surprise!

The editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine is named Christopher Kimball, and he was recently on the Today Show showing what kinds of unexpected things can be prepared using a slow cooker. He was promoting a new book entitled, Slow Cooker Revolution, authored by the test kitchen staff at Cook’s Illustrated. But I was really intrigued. Especially with the idea of “roasting” a whole chicken in a slow cooker.

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For one thing, it’s less messy than roasting, and as much as a roasted chicken is my number one comfort food, I don’t typically eat the skin, which is the best part of a roasted chicken.

The other “typical” preparation for a whole chicken is to poach it, which is fabulous, of course, because you end up not only with poached chicken but also stock.

But I just had to try out the slow cooker recipe. I finally found the link to the episode on the Today Show, if you’d care to watch it.

I’ve been a fan of Christopher Kimball as well as Cook’s Illustrated, which he founded in 1980, for a very long time. I somehow lucked into discovering the magazine right when the publication began, and still have the first issue. This was also when I first learned who Christopher Kimball was.

Before I read each new issue from cover to cover, I always began by reading his letter from the editor. The letters always had a lovely nostalgic feel to them, that took you back to the 1950’s, to a general store, or to a farm. These letters always moved me so much that I actually wrote a letter to Christopher Kimball, something I’ve never done before or since. He just always made me want to move to Vermont and bake pies, and wish for simpler times.

One day I was called by someone working for Multnomah Books, asking if they could use a quote from my letter on the book cover of Christopher Kimball’s upcoming book, entitled Dear Charlie. Of course I said yes because I was so honored. I was sent a copy of the book, and there I am in print. It’s a lovely book, by the way. Written in that same tone as the letters in the magazine, the book is a compilation of letters he had written over the years to his children. And that’s when I discovered that he actually lives in Vermont!

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There was some kind of hiccup over the years regarding the magazine, but Cook’s Illustrated is back in full swing. I love the illustrations, and how products are objectively tested and rated. No advertisements whatsoever. Grab a copy if you’ve never read it before.

So here is the slow cooker recipe from Christopher Kimball.

Roasted Chicken

Olive oil
Garlic, minced
Chili powder*
Garam masala
Salt
Pepper

1 whole chicken, at room temperature

Mix these ingredients together to make a paste. I used approximately 1/4 cup olive oil, 6 cloves of garlic, 2 teaspoons of chili powder, 2 teaspoons of garam masala, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
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(Alternatively, put all the ingredients for the spice paste in a mini blender until smooth. I opted otherwise. It doesn’t change the flavor.)

Force the spice paste under the chicken on the breast side, then cover the skin on the same side with the paste.
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Place the chicken breast-side down in the slow cooker. Turn it on to LOW.
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Roast/cook the chicken, covered, for 4-5 hours. I cooked mine for 4 1/2 hours.
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Let the chicken cool a bit, then remove it to a cutting board. I poured all of the remaining liquid into a fat strainer.
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I then allowed most all of the broth part of the liquid to pour into a small pot.
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I reduced the liquid for about 15 minutes, then I added a little bit of the chicken fat.
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I then added a little bit of Wondra, which is just white flour but very fine-grained, while whisking, until a gravy formed. (not pictured – sorry!)

I plated a chicken breast with the skin removed, revealing the wonderful garlicky paste underneath. Then I added some steamed broccoflower (I prefer the term cauliccoli) and some leftover roasted carrots. And then I topped off the chicken with some gravy.
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As you can see, the chicken was very tender, which was to be expected, being that it roasted in steam.
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What was surprising to me was the fabulous flavor profile of the garam masala combined with chili powder – not two spice mixtures I ever would have combined on my own.

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* Remember chili powder is not the same as chile powder, which is essentially ground chile peppers. Chili powder is typically a mixture of paprika, oregano, cayenne, salt, and pepper. If you don’t own chili powder, which is sold for the purpose of making chili, you can use the individual herbs and spices.
Here is my quote on the back cover of the book.

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verdict: Overall, this was really an exciting venture. I have more respect for my slow cooker now, especially since I’ve only used it for chile verde and pulled pork, for the most part. This chicken really doesn’t compare to a roast chicken, mostly because of the lack of the crispy skin, but it did a nice job of cooking a whole chicken, and even provided a wonderful spicy gravy.