Even without fresh rosemary, one last slow-cooker recipe warms up the cool spring

My most recently dead rosemary plant. Thankfully, I'm much better at taking care of my cat.

I have rosemary envy.

My friend Myrna has a rosemary that she plants outside in her Maine backyard every summer then brings inside in the fall to winter over. This thing is huge, more of shrub than a plant. She's had it for years. In the winter, she keeps it in their very sunny living room where, when you walk by, you can easily run your hand through its evergreen leaves to pick up its spicy, piney scent, which sticks with you for the next hour or so.

For several summers now, I have attempted to develop a similar long term relationship with a rosemary, alas, to no avail. Inevitably, my clearly inferior commitment prevents me from watering the thing. The next thing I know, it's turned into Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, all its leaves having twinkled to the carpet when I wasn't looking.

But like any good delusionist, I tried again this year, this time enlisting my husband's help in the cause, our only goal to keep my strong and healthy, one-season-old rosemary alive long enough to replant it outside in the spring.

It was not to be. When I went to harvest some sprigs for this delicious chicken recipe, I was greeted by a familiar sight — a pile of dried rosemary leaves on the floor beneath a pot of dead branches.

Thankfully, I'm much better at taking care of my cat. And equally thankfully, this recipe is mighty tasty even when you use dried rosemary leaves.

This recipe takes full advantage of the dark, flavorful thigh meat of the chicken and its succulence when braised. It's from the book "Year-Round Slow Cooker" by Dina Cheney, a Fairfield County author who also writes the "Taste Test" column in the magazine "Everyday with Rachael Ray." And oh yes, she paints, too.

But don't hate her, because this recipe — and many of the others from her book — will rekindle your belief in the potential of your slow cooker to help you in your busy life create flavorful, comforting meals. Seriously.

I've shared another Cheney dish, her "Cowboy Beef and Bean Stew," in a previous column. Like that recipe, this one builds flavor, ingredient by ingredient, before anything is added to the slow cooker. This means that quite a bit of cooking — and time —is required before you turn on the slow cooker.

When I made this recipe, I did all the prep work (including the harvesting of my recently dried rosemary), filled the slow cooker insert, then put it in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, before I left for work, I removed the insert from the fridge, set it in the base and turned it on. When I arrived home that night — voila! —dinner was ready, just like in the movies.

This is a very rich, wonderfully comforting meal. The paprika, the rosemary, the wine and the onions all conspire to create a delicious sauce that with the browned chicken, turns the potatoes into nuggets of delight.

A word of caution: When you create the sauce in step 4, it's going to be thick and kind of gluey. But don't panic. Be confident. Go forth and add the wine and whisk, then add the stock and honey, just as instructed. You won't believe it then, but it all will come together for a delicious result — even with dead rosemary.

Enjoy!

Chicken with Paprika, Rosemary and Potatoes

1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided

8 bone-in chicken thighs, about 3 pounds, skin removed

2 teaspoons coarse salt, divided

2 teaspoons ground paprika, divided

6 cups 1-inch diameter or larger red potatoes, each quartered , about 2 pounds (I used bigger potatoes and cut them into chunks)

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided (I used olive oil)

2 yellow onions, halved and sliced into ½-inch thick rings

10 whole garlic cloves

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ cup white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc

1 cup low-sodium chicken stock

1 teaspoon honey (I used blue agave syrup)

1 bunch fresh rosemary sprigs, tied together with kitchen twine (I used about a tablespoon of dried rosemary)

1. Add 1⁄3 cup flour to a large bowl and dredge the chicken, shaking off and reserving the excess. Sprinkle the chicken all over with 1 teaspoon each of the salt and paprika. In another large bowl, toss the potatoes with the remaining 1 teaspoon each of salt and paprika, and add to the slow cooker.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 10-inch, heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add half of the chicken and cook, turning over halfway through, until lightly golden brown on both sides, about 6 minutes. Place on top of the potatoes in the slow cooker. Repeat with another 1 tablespoon of the oil and the remaining chicken, about another 5 minutes, then add to the slow cooker.

3. Add 1 tablespoon oil, the onions and garlic to the sauté pan. Sauté, breaking up the onion rings, until the onions are softened, about 4 minutes. Place over the chicken in the slow cooker. (If using dried rosemary, sprinkle it on top of the onions.)

4. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 3 tablespoons flour, tomato paste, and mustard, and cook, stirring well, until the flour is no longer visible, about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat, add the wine, then return the pan to high heat and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, whisking. Then add the stock and honey and boil for another 3 minutes, whisking until almost smooth. Pour over the onions, chicken, and potatoes and nestle in the rosemary (if you're using fresh). Cover and cook on low until the chicken is tender, 4 hours.

5. Remove the rosemary if you used fresh, transfer the chicken and vegetables into a large, shallow serving dish, and serve at the table.

Original recipe from "Year-Round Slow Cooker" by Dina Cheney. Share comments and recipes at j.blanchette@theday.com.

"Year-Round Slow Cooker" by Dina Cheney, a Fairfield County author who also writes the "Taste Test" column in the magazine "Everyday with Rachael Ray."

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