Thursday, 4 October 2018

Cookery Calendar Challenge: August and September


I have been getting to know my slow cooker over the last few weeks. Everyone I know who has a slow cooker swears by it and, while I've had mine for a few years, I've never really gotten to grips with using it regularly and felt like I was missing out. Since we went back to school and work in early September, and with my increased hours and busier schedule, I had resolved to make some evening meals easier for myself. After a couple of really stressful and disorganised evenings, where we all had to eat at different times (kids at swimming, me at yoga, John on a late shift) and where I seemed to cook four different meals, I decided that things were getting ridiculous and it was time to dust off the crock pot and see if it really did make a difference to my day.

I ask a lot of my slow cooker and slow cooker recipes. I do not have time to be browning meat and chopping vegetables before I go to work in the morning, so I either need meals I can prepare the night before, leave in the fridge overnight and switch on when I leave for work, or meals which can be thrown into the slow cooker dish at 7 am and left there happily until 6 pm. And they need to be affordable, nutritious and meals that everyone likes and eats. I mean, I'm not asking a lot. 



The first book is one I've had for some time, 200 Slow Cooker Recipes in the Hamlyn All Colour series (and how dated does that sound, as though "all colour" was still something to be shouted about in 2018?!) and I think I bought it in a supermarket when I bought our slow cooker. I have decided that I blame this book for my slow start with the crock pot. For a start, the recipes are not specific to slow cookers, but refer to slow cooking in general, ie, putting something in a pot in the oven for a few hours. Well, I already know how to do that! It's slow cooker recipes I want. 

My other issue is that almost every recipe began with the instruction "brown your meat/onions in a frying pan and transfer to the slow cooker". My friends who use their slow cookers regularly assure me that browning first is not essential and I am seeking an easy life here - the less pans I have to wash up, the better.

We tried Mustard Chicken and Bacon, where chicken thighs, bacon and leeks are cooked together in a sauce made from wholegrain mustard and stock. It was quite tasty, if a little salty, and tasted a lot better than it looked, but because the recipe required browning I made it at the weekend which didn't ease my weeknight workload one bit.



Then we tried Pork with Orange and Star Anise, in which pork steaks are cooked with the above ingredients in a sauce flavoured with soy, and I served it with rice and vegetables. Again, the recipe insisted I brown the pork so it was a weekend dinner, although it was nice. I find pork steaks can be very dry and this was a good way of cooking them while retaining their flavour and tenderness. 



Then I did a bit of research online and, based on the reviews, bought this book: The Slow Cooker Cookbook: Time-Saving Delicious Recipes for Busy Family Cooks, and what a gem it is. If you're thinking of buying a slow cooker recipe book this autumn, this one is brilliant. The chapters are organised ingeniously, with "All-dayers" (my personal favourite), "Chop and Chuck in" (no browning!), "Store Cupboard" and "Cheap Eats", plus a lovely "Weekender" section for recipes which require a little more planning, perhaps need marinating or which have a few stages. But the success of this book - for me - is that not only are the recipes solid and well written, but they are organised around how much time you have, which is surely why most of us use our slow cookers in the first place.


From the "All-dayers" chapter, we loved Sweet and Sour Chicken; you make your own sauce for this one and add chicken breast and vegetables, although you could easily use a bought jar of sauce, then add the pineapple and spring onions right at the end. Everyone liked it. I was happy.


From the "Chop and Chuck in" chapter we made Chilli Beef and Beans, with beef stewing steak rather than the minced beef we usually use for a chilli. Again, really easy, really tasty, everyone liked it and there were lots of leftovers to freeze too. 


 From the "Cheap Eats" chapter I made Chocolate Orange Rice Pudding which, while nice, was not as nice as normal, plain rice pudding. 

But this book has increased my confidence with the slow cooker so much, to the point where I feel I know what I can and can't cook in mine, and am building up a handful of recipes (if you can even call them that) which I know I can throw together easily, everyone will eat and aren't expensive. But the best thing about using the slow cooker - and it's not to be underestimated - is the overwhelming feeling of smugness that you have all day. It's the best feeling, just knowing that dinner is sorted and cooking while you're at work. No thinking about what to cook when you get home, but unlocking the front door to the smell of something delicious simmering in the kitchen. It's not often life let's us feel smug, so you've got to take it when you can, no?

*

Chicken and Chorizo Stew
You need: chicken thighs, chorizo, new potatoes, peppers, onion, a jar of passata and black olives. Chop everything except the potatoes (if you leave them whole in their skins they won't go so mushy) and add to the slow cooker. Cook on low for around 8 hours. 

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Buy ready made meatballs and put in the slow cooker with a jar or passata or pasta sauce. Cook all day on low. Boil spaghetti and serve with vegetables or salad. 

I am sure I will have more soon! Do you have any slow cooker meals that are super easy and you would recommend? I would love it if you would share them in the comments!


30 comments:

  1. I’ve been inspired by slow cookers over the last few months - this post couldn’t have come at a better time as my slow cooker arrives tomorrow! I’ll definitely look out that book xx

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  2. I use my slow cooker constantly. I'm a major proponent. I do find that many dishes taste better if I sautee vegetables or brown meat before putting them in to slow-cook, but I don't think it's essential and it's certainly more important to just have a meal made and ready when you're busy. I'm glad you're enjoying it more lately.

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  3. I have a few pork favourites. The first one is pork steak stacks. Layer cheese, stuffing and sliced apple on top of the steak and wrap up in foil. Place the Foil parcels on top of green beans and new potatoes.

    Cook a joint of pork in the slow cooker with apples, stock, onions and sage. When the pork is cooked blend the apples and stock to make gravy.

    If you are on Facebook there is a few slow cooker groups that have some amazing ideas.

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  4. Any possibility you can share what brand on crock pot you use? I would love to try to use one but when I go to the store or look online, there are so many to choose from that I give up.

    Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Yes of course, it's a Crock Pot maybe 3.5 or 4 litre, I'm not exactly sure as it's a few years old.

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  5. The best trick I have for a crockpot (what a slow cooker is called here in the US): Add the meat FROZEN and cook all day on low. It makes the meat sooo tender and no browning for any recipe is needed.
    Try a turkey breast: carrots, cloves of garlic, sliced onions, rosemary. Celery if you like. All the veg in the bottom, Rub olive oil on the frozen breast, skin side up, placed on top of the veggies. A little water in the bottom (maybe a 1//4 cup).Sprinkle with salt and pepper. You'll come home to a delicious, moist meat. You can make a simple gravy with juice from the cooker and serve with rice or egg noodles.

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    1. Thank you Kate, that's a great idea. I didn't know you could cook the meat from frozen, what a good time saver.

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  6. I just throw the meat in, no browning, and use colemans packet mixes. Lovely.

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  7. WE had snow here during the wek, and although we are a city that is used to snow, the weather does impact what time my son and d in law get home from work.
    I do the after school slot until they get home, so on a weekday I do a crockpot meal which usually lasts the two of us a couple of days with perhaps a lunch as well. I did try sweet and sour chicken this week making the sauce but I think next time I will try a bottled sauce. My favourite is butter chicken - and I make up the sauce the night before so that it can just go in the pot on the day.
    By the time we get home closer to 7, it is a joy walkng into a house smelling delciious and knowing that however tired I am I have a tasty
    meal waiting.
    Your post has ins pired me to look at some new recipes.

    Jean/Winnipeg

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  8. I have no slow cooker and never know what to cook after work! I can see that I am doing something wrong here :-)
    Your dishes look delicious. x

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  9. That chicken and chorizo stew sounds particularly good! I do use our slow cooker for stews, but mostly I double up whatever I'm cooking and put one in the freezer. We have a few of those pyrex dishes with plastic lids for the purpose. I love having my home made 'ready meals' that just need popping in the oven. Right now there's a shepherd's pie, a lasagna and a chickpea curry in there. PS If you do make a stew, you can drop some dumplings on the top of it for the last hour, and they cook really well. Minimises the washing up...

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  10. Any vegetarian slow cooker ideas? I have tried a veggie stew and it was TERRIBLE. The veggies dissolved into a brown mush and the flavour had been cooked completely out of it. Slow cookers are hard if you don't eat meat!

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    1. I don't have many yet, sorry. The best vegetarian dish I ever cooked in the slow cooker was dhal. That was delicious.

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  11. Alison, the oven might be better for veggie things. Put it on the timer and you don't need to cook things for hours. Gillian, you're right, that feeling of having dinner sorted is absolute bliss isn't it. I don't have a slow cooker, but I sometimes put things in the oven on the timer. I really should do it more. CJ xx

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    1. We should really learn how to use the timer on our oven. We've had it over two years!

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  12. Leg of lamb is my favourite. It just falls off the bone after cooking all day.
    Although I do brown the meat I am sure it would not matter if not done first. I then make the gravy in the same pan. Onions, small or sliced potatoes and carrot, mushrooms,courgettes (we have a glut this year), a tablespoon of plain flour, add half a pint of stock. Add tomato puree,mixed herbs and seasoning plus a teaspoon of sugar. Bring to the boil and transfer to slow cooker. I take meat off the bone and serve with more veg and mint sauce.
    Probably a weekend recipe but worth it.
    Another favourite is bbq chicken and this week I made mulligatawny soup.

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    1. Mmm, a leg of lamb, how decadent! That sounds perfect for a wintry Sunday dinner.

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  13. I cook a full chicken in mine ,I do baked potatoes ,casseroles ,and you can buy pkts to mix with water specifically for slow cookers .x

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  14. I love that smug feeling all day of knowing dinner is sorted!
    I use a lot of packet seasonings for ease, but one favourite from scratch is a joint of ham. I use Sainsbury's good for you joint without all the fat and salt of a normal joint ( the fat is gross in the slow cooker if you get a standard joint and don't remove it first). Add a tin of pineapple, chopped carrots, a few whole jacket potatoes and sprinkle of allspice.

    I also do a whole chicken. It doesn't look pretty, to be honest, because it's not browned, but falls off the bone. Stick a chicken in the pot, whatever else you have around like rosemary or an orange or lemon. Don't add any liquid. When you've eaten the chicken, leave the bones and everything else in the pot, add water ( and veg if you have it), cook overnight and you have stock!

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  15. One of our favourites is a joint of gammon with a can of cider. You can add other things if you want (eg cinnamon stick, cloves, onions, slices of orange) but you don't need to :)
    And yes, love that smug feeling!

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    Replies
    1. My friend swears by gammon in apple juice - similar idea!

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  16. I have a very basic slow cooker which i might upgrade to the tyoe where you brown the meat in the pan on the hob. I have a nice recipe for lamb neck or shoulder fillet, onions, peppers, tin of tomatoes, harissa paste and seasoning. I just make the cous cous when i get home. Delicious!

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  17. Hi Gillian, I've been thinking about getting a slow cooker for a while, for all the reasons you mention here, and this has given me the nudge! I've been reading your posts but no time to comment recently – loved your dress (clever you) and appliqu├ęd top – you look great in both. And I'm impressed with all your hard work on renovating your hall and lounge. Such a lot of hard graft but it will be so worth it. All good wishes to you, my friend. Sam x

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  18. Hi! I don't use my slow cooker as much as I should and mostly don't use it in the warmer months. I've got one of the Lakeland books for the slow cooker which gives a lot of the principles around slow cooker cooking and I've enjoyed the recipes I have done from it. Also BBC Good Food magazine does occasional slow cooker recipes and these have been very tasty. Must chop them out of the magazine for future re-use! They can be found on their website. I particularly like the curry style recipes and pork and cider from the. Keep trying tthings as there are lots of good recipes aroundand can easily adapt other favourites once you have an idea how much liquid to add.

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  19. I am glad someone else found the slow cooker not very good for vegetarians - my attempt just gave me a watery casserole with hard vegetables - it had been on all day on highest setting and I had to finish it off in the oven.
    I really must have another go but I think I prefer just loading the oven and putting the auto cook on.

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  20. I love our slow cooker, totally with you on the smug factor of having a meal ready when you get home! The easiest dish I do is a whole chicken as someone mentioned in an earlier comment. I put a layer of herbs in the bottom, then the whole chicken, then crush three or four cloves of garlic over the top and several (large!) cubes of butter. Leave it to cook all day and you come back to a gorgeous, tender chicken to have with bread and salad if its a hot day or with rice/potatoes/pasta if its cooler weather. The stock left in the slow cooker is amazing, I freeze it and use when making soups. Pulled pork is also really easy to do in the slow cooker too.

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  21. It's hard to come by educated people about this topic, but you sound like you know what you're talking about! Thanks
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