The freshman 15 is a series of 15 "classes" designed specifically for one of my twitter followers, @jontilton.  Starting his junior year at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan he was challenged with learning to cook for himself and asked me for some advice.  So I decided that college kids everywhere could use probably use a few cooking tips... and thus the freshman 15 was born.  Feel free to join along in the "lessons", even if you're not a college student!

« week 3: pass the pasta | week 1: chicken chili »

week 2: crock-pot chicken casablanca

The Crock-Pot might be one of the best inventions of all time.  Well, maybe that’s a tad hyperbolic... but it’s still pretty awesome.  Especially for people who aren’t home much and don’t have a lot of time to fuss over dinner.  It's especially nice in the fall & winter to come home and have hot soup or something waiting for you, your whole house smelling good.  Basically it’s the ultimate comfort food provider.  My parents got one early in their marriage, when they were a big fad, and we’ve been using them ever since.  I’ve included some basic tips about using your crock-pot at the end, so make sure to check those out.

This recipe I gave to Jon to try out with his new crock-pot last week.  He ended up making it for friends and all of them loved it.  He told me he plans to make it again this week.  When serving I always take the chicken out of the juice, but they decided to use the juice as a sort of gravy and said it was awesome.  So here’s hoping your crock-pot experiences go as well as his did!


  • 11 oz Apricot Juice (I use So Nice, but any sugar-free apricot juice works, check the health food section)
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard (not the stone-ground grainy stuff, the smooth stuff)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (this doesn't seem like much, but it is LOTS for the CP, do the blade-smash & chop thing you learned in week one to mince it)
  • 1/4 tsp grated fresh ginger (ginger root will stay good for a while, just don’t store it in plastic or near heat. After you’ve cut off a piece if you leave it on the counter the opening will harden up again. If it starts to shrivel or go soft, then toss it)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric (don't get this on anything! It stains very easily.)
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts - whole

Okay, so the first step is handling of the chicken.  Remembering of course that it's the evil harbinger of salmonella in it's raw state, so be careful.  I usually use a cutting board that can be put in the dishwasher (hopefully you have a dishwasher) so it can be extra sanitized.  What can I say, I'm paranoid.  So wash the chicken and then pat it really dry.  The key to juicy chicken in the crock-pot is making sure it's not all soggy when you put it in.  Which seems counter-intuitive because then you cover it up with juice and leave it for hours... but trust me, it works.

So when the chicken's all patted dry place them in the bottom of the crock pot.  Any time you cook chicken in the CP it tends to stick together in the end, so I try to stack them like Lego blocks if you were building a house.

Step 2... mixing all the other stuff.  Now, I am very lazy about clean-up, so I try to do as much as I can using as few dishes as possible.  So get out a measuring cup that's larger than you actually need to measure.  Pour in the 11 oz of apricot juice.  Then throw in the garlic, the ginger, and all the spices.  Take a whisk, or a fork, and stir it all up until it looks less like juice and more like spicy juice that you don't want to drink.

Pour the mixture all over the chicken, making sure all the parts get coated pretty well.

Put on the lid & set to low for 7-9 hours.  I left mine for the full 9 and it was just fine... it just depends when you want to eat it.

Try serving it on some couscous... which if you've never made is possibly the fastest and easiest side dish.  Look for some whole wheat stuff... usually the directions are simply "boil x amount of water, add couscous, stir, cover, wait 5 minutes"  It's a bit bland, but easily takes on flavours, so try adding stuff to it in the "stir & cover" stage. Green onions & raisins are surprisingly good with it.


And as they say in Casablanca.... “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.



As a bonus, here's a little crock-pot tip for you... most of the time I cook everything on low. But sometimes I don't have 9 hours to wait for something to be done.  This is where crock-pot math comes in.  1 hour on high = 2 hours on low.  So let's say you're cooking something that takes 9 hours on low.  Cook it for 3 hours on high, then switch it to 3 hours on low.  It works out to the same amount of "cooking", but you saved yourself 3 hours.  You can do this for the entire length of the dish, but I don't recommend it.  I just use it when I need a jumpstart on something that I should have put on earlier in the day. 

Also, I’ve heard a few people with a certain type of crock-pot complain that they burn everything.  I’ve never had this happen before, but I do know that the crock pots can get really hot on the bottom, which is not great for your counter.  We always put a big slab of tile (just cheapo stuff from the hardware store) under ours to act as a buffer between the crock-pot & the counter.  I’m not sure if this will fix the burning problem that people are having, but it’s worth trying to see if it makes a difference.


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Reader Comments (4)

I actually just read in Good Housekeeping magazine that the best way to store fresh ginger root is to store it in a self-sealing (i.e. zip top) plastic bag. Push all the air out and store it in the fridge. I don't use it that frequently, so I store it in the freezer. You can grate it frozen, but since the liquid in it freezes, you have to grate more than the recipe calls for to compensate for the ice. Enjoying your site!

September 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJill Shaner

I've made this twice so far at school for two groups of friends. So far, everyone has loved it. Best of all, it's tasty, inexpensive, and easy! Highly recommended.

September 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJon Tilton

thanks for this recipe! i got a slow cooker in may for my bday and i've only used it twice as the summer doens't call much for it. however, i did just make lamb shanks with it and it was delish. i can't wait to try this recipe of yours. i like that itdoens't call for pre browning - the less work the better!

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterliv

You're welcome! There's more to come... check back around American Thanksgiving & you'll find a great soup!

October 20, 2009 | Registered Commenterkat

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