Monday, 20 October 2014

Adventures With My Slow Cooker

I recall that I may have promised (over-promised, I think) weekly slow cooker blog posts, during which I'd share my recipes and recommendations and spread the crock pot love. But, I'll be honest with you: I've only used it twice. I know that people have mixed feelings about slow cookers. Like bread machines, some swear by them while others think they are a complete waste of space and money. Well, my slow cooker and I, let's say that we are still getting to know each other.  I've used it twice with mixed success and am learning as I go, but I am not giving up. When I have used it I've loved the flexibility of it. Often, on weeknights, the kids eat around 5-6 pm while John and I eat later, when they are in bed. It's often tricky for us to all eat together with after school activities and clubs, and John's shift patterns. So, I love the way things can just simmer away for hours without drying out in a slow cooker, but I'm still working out what it's best for, versus what is better cooked in the oven.

I bought 200 Slow Cooker Recipes a while ago, and you lovely lot recommended Ultimate Slow Cooker by Sara Lewis, The Complete Slow Cooker by Sally Wise and Easy Slow Cooker, and thank you all very much for that. A Year Of Slow Cooking is a great website and I'm sure there are many, many more. So many actually that it all gets a bit overwhelming. 

My first experiment was chicken stew. I didn't follow a recipe, but just chucked in the meat with some chopped vegetables (onion, celery, carrots and potatoes by the look of it, and some garlic too I recall) then covered with stock and seasoned it. I was making it up as I went along really. 


So far so good. 


I did this at midday, and after 4 hours on the low setting it was looking ok. A little watery, but otherwise fine. I learnt my first lesson - you don't need to put much liquid in a slow cooker! In a oven, that would have dried out really fast. But the best thing about it was that I gave the kids some for their tea (they like stews, especially when I mash the veg down so Angus can't protest) about 5 pm then, a few hours later, John and I had some too and it was still fine. But my stews done in my beloved Le Creuset casserole pots in the oven are better. 


My second attempt was much, much more successful. I made Coconut, Tomato and Lentil Dahl and this recipe is one where you brown the vegetables and spices on the hob first, then transfer to the slow cooker before adding the liquid ingredients. It smells amazing.


Again, I did this at lunchtime and left it to cook on the slow setting. By 4 pm it looked done, so I just switched in on to the "keep warm" setting until we were reading to eat a few hours later. It was absolutely, completely delicious. I love dahl anyway, but this was the best one I've made so far. John and I ate it (no way the kids are going to eat this) with yogurt, coriander, naan bread and some leftover aloo gobi that was in the freezer. The recipe made enough for 4 adults so we froze the other portion. 


I'm definitely making that dahl again. 

I am of the opinion that the good thing about slow cookers is the flexibility, and as a household with a busy weeknight schedule I appreciate that. But the other good thing which I had not anticipated is the delicious feeling of smugness. That feeling of knowing that your evening meal is sorted at lunchtime, knowing you've got it all ready to go and it's just cooking itself. Oh, dinner? It's in the slow cooker. I will not be that person shouting "Agh, the pesto's got mould on it!" while looking for the pasta, or groaning because we ran out of fish fingers (how is that even possible?). 

At least twice this month I was organised and smug and it felt good. 

49 comments:

  1. I'm glad you're getting comfortable with it. I've been using my slowcooker a couple of times a week for a long time now, at least 10 years, and it has been a great time saver and convenience for me. Mine only has two settings, low and high, and I've found that I only ever need to cook on high if it's a soup, and then I can get it up to a boil for a couple of hours and simmer on low until time to serve. Everything else seems to do fine on low. Some things are better than others, of course. But I've learned to always saute the vegetables and spices first, no matter what, because that's the best way to get really deep flavor.

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  2. That fall recipe sounds amazing. I'm definitely going to have to try that this winter. As soon as it turns cold we live out of our slow cooker. I work shifts so it's the best way to make sure we both get a hot, healthy meal each night. Generally I just chuck everything in the cupboard in, as some herbs and stock and leave it for a few hours or overnight.

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  3. I like to make my bolognese sauce in freezable quantities in the slow cooker; brown everything off or heat to warm, stick it in and leave on low for however long you have. 8 hours is not too long. I use Delia Smith's Authentic ragu recipe from her Winter Collection (without the livers)

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  4. I have a good quality crockpot but I can always detect an aftertaste. Many folks I know who use them say the same. I've finally gone back to the slow cooked on the stovetop method.

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  5. My slow cooker and I have a strained relationship. I think it might be me. LOL

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  6. I am going to try a Dahl, but I always make my stew in mine, but can't wait to try something differentx

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  7. I've just dug out my slow cooker and I'm trying - once again - to get to grips with it! I sometimes work a week of 10-6 shifts so have time for the prep before I go out. So far I've only made a mediocre beef curry - I was expecting something more unctuous so was a little disappointed. Onwards and upwards though, I shall be keeping an eye on your progress too for good ideas.

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  8. I love my slow cooker, and I will definitely try that dahl recipe! A few things I have made that have worked really well are: chili (from Simply Being Mum's blog - lots of good slow cooker recipes), curry, ribs (they turn out FANTASTIC! I used Annabel Karmel's rib sauce from her Fussy Easter's cookbook, put the ribs in with the sauce for about 5-6 hours, then finished under the grill for crispness) meatballs in sauce and roasts (particularly beef and chicken - the beef turns out amazingly well).

    I am completely with you on the smug factor! The only down side is that if you are at home all day, sometimes you don't want to eat it after smelling it for hours. But I guess you can't have everything!

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  9. I haven't got a slow cooker but maybe it would be good to get one, I don't particularly like the mad rush cooking whilst doing homework with children and dealing with all sorts of other chores. The daal looks delicious! Enjoy experimenting with your cooker! x

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  10. The dahl sounds delicious, going to check out the recipe :) The thing I like about a slow cooker is that it feels safe to go off to work for hours without worrying things will dry out or burn the house down (I have a thing about appliances being on if I am out of the house) I also make rice pudding in mine often on a Sunday, so it is cooking away while I am faffing around making the roast.

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  11. I like a smug feeling myself, so had a chuckle with you.
    Umm I didn't have a good relationship with the whole slow cooker thing but the house smelt gorgeous when I came in from work-I did like that a lot, it just felt like cooking twice, finishing today's meal and preparing the next days..but that was more than likely my timing skills.
    I do love a stew though, a treat in the week.
    Helen

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  12. hi whole chickens cooked in the slow cooker are very good (put a lemon in, plus about half way up the chicken with water, and cook on low for 8-10 hrs). Also gammon joints/ham joints - the ones that are often on 3 for £10 deals - rinse the joint, then in the slow cooker with about 2/3rds of water and cook all day). other than that I don't really use my slow cooker. If I ever roast a chicken - its very good to make stock with same way as normal but on low for 12hrs or so (I do it overnight). x

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  13. I love slow-cooked food. So much more flavourful. Though I don't own a slow cooker I like to start dinner early in order to let (pasta sauces, for example) simmer for as long as possible. The result is so much tastier than something that's been thrown together in half an hour.

    Your results look wonderful, Gillian. Would love to come over and tuck in :-) xxx

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  14. I made a beef stew, wrapped four spuds in tin foil but them in the oven and off we went for a mountinous walk n Sunday and when we got back all achy and tired - there was our evening meal! I felt pretty smug too. The dahl one looks fab. Jo x

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  15. oh the dahl sounds yum. I mostly make stock in mine, must try harder - it's ever so good for beef curry.

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  16. I love my slow cooker, but I think that it takes time and practice to get things right. We adore dahl, even the boys so will give yours a try

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  17. I too love the feeling of smug and organised. I have to say that I use my slow cooker for convenience rather than flavour or "better" cooking. I do prefer things cooked very slowly in my le creuset too, but, if I am going to be out all day I would never leave the oven on with one of my precious pots in it, but I don't worry about the slow cooker at all. So I think that your liking of it for the smug and organised feel is just right and totally justified! xx

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  18. I also love my slow cooker! And talk about smug!! LOL
    Lots of times I'll throw in chicken, veggies, onion, and about 4/6 cups water for a chicken stew. You can also do this with beef, or pork and it will come out yummy! Just remember to season, season, season!! Never forget to use some salt and pepper! Oh, and Garlic! It a much needed vegetable in our house. LOL

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  19. It's wonderful to have the evening meal organised isn't it. It rarely happens here, but when it does it's blissful. I used to have a slow cooker many years ago and I remember it made very good soup. I hope you have a good week, with some of those days of pre-organised tea. CJ xx

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  20. I also love my slow cooker and have been using it since I bought it in about 1984, so 30 years on it is still going great. If you want your casserole a little thicker, I throw in a couple of tablespoons of porridge oats and that works fine. Having a shiftworker hubby for 40 years meant, as you poointed out, the meal was ready to go at any time it was needed. Have fun and take care.

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  21. Fab! I just remembered that I was going to email you some recipes...which I will do. In the meantime, I find the beef and lamb recipes best in the slow cooker (I'm talk in' beef & barley stew, lamb & bulgur, totally wintry warmers). And bolognaise sauces. Yum. But yeah, chicken is better in my le creuset...but I'm gonna try that dal! Cxxx

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  22. I'm intrigued Gillian. I've never used a slow cooker although my mum-in-law has one. Looking forward to seeing how you get on with it. Bee xx

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  23. Jill , you have inspired me to use my slow cooker today, thank you
    Will be making a chicken and vegetable casserole, I throw everything on including whole baby potatoes
    Rebecca

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  24. I don't have a slow cooker but I can appreciate that it would take time to get used to. When we moved house (about 7 years ago) we got an Aga (my first) and it took time to adjust to using it instead of an ordinary cooker. It can be used for slow cooking too (which I do quite often). It's the same as a slow cooker as far as the amount of liquid goes - you need a lot less than usual.

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  25. I have a slow oven as part of my normal cooker. I have to say, it has taken me quite a while to get used to it but I'm hopeful that this coming winter it will "do it's thing" properly.

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  26. Thanks for the dahl recipe.
    I have had a slow cooker since 1987 which reading that makes me feel old! I do all my curries and chillis in it. Also beef bourgignon, stew, bolognese and the base of the cottage pie. I somtimes do double and freeze some - double whammy on the smug front - lol. If I add too much liquid I freeze it for stock. When you add water just think how much would I want on my plate because the slow cooker does not reduce liquid.

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  27. That person you speak of at the end is me.... However, I am not organised enough for a slow cooker so my only solution is to get my husband to cook for us all when he gets in from work. A much better solution although one that happens only occasionally as I get in at 4 and he gets in at 6! (But he is a much better cook).

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  28. I might now dig out my slow cooker from the back of the cupboard ... I found that whatever I cooked, it all tasted much the same, but then, I've not cooked curry in it - that might be a test for it!
    Never heard of aloo gobi. It sounds like an illness, must look it up and see what it is! But like Anonymous here, I found everything tasted much the same, and it also had a strange aftertaste. I prefer to cook on the hob or in the oven (and I don't have, nor have ever had, a microwave.)
    Margaret P
    Margaret P

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  29. Oh my, it all looks very delicious. As the salad season is over, I should have a look at slow cooker recipes...

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  30. I love the sound (and look) of the coconut, tomato and lentil dahl. I haven't got a slow cooker but it will do nicely in our Rayburn. When we had it installed 20 years ago I had to forget everything about cooking on a gas or electric oven and hob and start from scratch and I've never looked back. Organized AND smug - impressive - I confess I've had a couple of smug moments over the years but my organizational skills are still questionable :o) Have a great week Gillian, thanks for linking to the dahl recipe.
    Jane xx

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  31. The best tip I can give for your slow cooker is to always brown the dishes in a pan before putting it all in the slow cooker, it stops things like the chicken in your first dish from breaking down and allows the meat to retains its own juices. Also, if you put something a bit fatty, like lamb chops, in there without browning first the fat on the meat stays soft and gelatinous and just makes the gravy really greasy! Which I find rather unappetizing. The dahl looks amazing though and my favourite dish out of my cooker is cinnamon raisin bread pudding with fruits of the forest sauce!

    Brenda

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  32. I have a slow cooker which my parents have me as a gift a couple of years ago. At first I used it quite a bit but then we started to feel that things always had the same sort of taste and to be honest I haven't used it for months now. I do love slow cooked stews done on the hob though. Having said that, the dahl you made looks delicious and something my husband would like I think.
    Marianne x

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  33. This is great, I have a very old slow cooker and am forever wondering what to do with it, the dahl looks great I will definitely give that a try. x

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  34. I'm liking the sound of the slow cooker. I narrowly avoided buying a toastie maker today, but the idea of letting a meal get along on it's own then being ready for dinner time sounds like exactly the kind of domestic smuggery I love!
    Great time of year for it too (the slow-cooked food, not the smuggery).
    Apparently there are lots of good recipes out there for this kind of cooking, and you've shared some with us so thank you:)
    The fact that I'm hankering after a slow cooker makes me realise I'm not that young any more!
    S x

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  35. Spookily came across this post just as our slow cooker is send scrummy smells around the house. Autumn is here so out comes the slow cooker for heart warming dinners tonight is a beef and guiness favourite with added potatoes,garlic,parsnip,carrot and shallots.
    The dahl looks gorgeous and will definately try would never have thought of doing it in the slow cooker.
    Thanks for sharing
    Annie x

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  36. Best things in my slow cooker are pulled pork and your beef recipe for in the steak and Stilton pie... Though with just a splash of red wine or port for the liquid. Stock and soup date good too, and brisket

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  37. Do you know Miss South's blog? She's just written a book of slow cooker recipes.
    http://www.northsouthfood.com/book-background/

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  38. I agree with Brenda above, re browning, it does make all the difference. My slow cooker mantra is "no colour, no flavour!" You're right about the smugness factor too, it makes me feel like everything's under control, even just for a short while!

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  39. I love to use my slow cooker but am afraid I usually make the same two or three things over and over again. I look forward to more of your posts about it, I could use a few new recipes.
    Hugs,
    Meredith

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  40. So if you need some cooking inspiration look here: http://www.repeatcrafterme.com/ She loves her slow cooker!

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  41. I do like the look of that dhal and will have to give it a try . I've only used our slow cooker once. We ended up with mush for dinner.

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  42. Your Dahl sounds so delicious! - It almost makes me want a slow cooker - almost ;-)

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  43. I know exactly your slow cooker feelings! Some recipes just don't do well, but then others are winners. Trial and effort, I think. Best of luck and thank you for sharing your experiences! :)

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  44. We are very fond of our slow cooker here. The hubs likes to use it for the kind of Polish stews and bigos (sauerkraut) recipes that his mother used to cook. I really need to up the number of different things I cook in it though ... I'll be trying that dhal!

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  45. We use something called a Wonderbag. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wonderbag-Portable-Cooker-Recipe-Denim/dp/B007V1GFIC/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1415301239&sr=8-4&keywords=wonderbag (I cannot BELIEVE the price of it on Amazon. It costs about 10 quid here.) It's the most amazing thing. You get your food boiling on the hob for about 15 min and then pop it in the bag and 4 hours later your food is cooked. We love it in winter because it saves loads on electricity. I'll have to do a blog post about it soon... Good luck with your slow cooker adventures :-) x

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