One of the many things I enjoy about blogging is the social aspect – forging friendships with fellow bloggers, talking online, meeting in person. And when good things happen for the friends one has made, it’s really wonderful to be able to share the news.

Miss South, one half of North South Food, is not only a fellow food lover and inventive cook but she is also a very talented and articulate writer. Her posts on cooking on a budget, and the realities of living on the poverty line should be taken as a wake up call not only by politicians who are wildly out of touch, but also by food celebrities who mean well but haven’t got a clue either. For more about Miss South, read my recent Meet The Blogger interview with her, here.

The good news I wanted to share is to spread the word about Miss South’s latest book, one that I’ve been really excited about seeing in print. It’s called Slow Cooked and has over 200 recipes to make in a slow cooker.

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Back when Miss South was recipe testing, I was quick to step forward and delighted to volunteer my services in helping her with some of the Indian recipes. Some tips gleaned from my mum about making your own garam masala made it into the book, as did the method I recommended for making keema. It’s a lovely feeling to contribute, even in such a tiny way, to someone’s book – I know it was a project that Miss South poured vast energy and effort into and the result is a super resource.

Using a slow cooker is a boon for many cooks. It’s great for those evenings when you’re so hungry by the time you get home you just want to walk in to something delicious, hot and ready to eat. A little prep in the morning, or the night before, and that’s exactly what a slow cooker can give you. It’s also a very economical way of cooking, using far less energy over several hours than a conventional oven or stovetop for a few. And if you are cooking in limited kitchen space (or perhaps no kitchen at all), it can be a lifesaver.

Of course, cooking in a slow cooker is not the same as cooking in an oven or on the stove. For those who’ve made slow-cooked stews or casseroles before, their first experiences cooking with a slow cooker can be disappointing. Food tastes bland and watery and it’s easy to give up.

One of the best aspects of the book is the excellent and detailed introduction Miss South gives to cooking in a slow cooker, spelling out the adaptations you need to make to ensure that you achieve great flavours when cooking this way. It’s immediately clear that Miss South has used her slow cookers (she has various models in different sizes) a lot and in this book she passes on all the tips she’s learned along the way. After the introduction, dive in to a fabulous range of slow cooker recipes, ranging from hearty meat stews to fish and vegetable dishes, soups and curries. There are even chapters on preserves and other pantry staples, cakes and breads and puddings.

Most recipes don’t have accompanying photos, but a good selection of dishes are showcased just inside the front cover. Usually, I’m a fan of having an image of every recipe so I can see what it should look like but most of the dishes in the book are classics that most of us are familiar with, so I find that I don’t actually miss them in this book. What I’m more interested in are the adapted versions that allow me to make all these recipes in my trusty slow cooker.

Not every recipe is to my taste – I was disappointed by the butternut squash curry which needs more spice, more punch, more flavour. But there are many recipes which more than make up for that one, such as the fantastic carbonnade, Miss South’s slow cooker adaptation of a Belgian beef stew made with beer, onions and mustard. I particularly love the mustard toasted baguette on top, though do note you’ll need use of a grill to toast the slices before sitting them atop the stew.

Note, Miss South isn’t as greedy as Pete and I – she lists the recipe as serving 4-6 with leftovers whereas I’d say it serves 4 with none leftover.

Miss South’s Carbonnade

Serves 4

Ingredients
500 grams stewing steak or beef brisket, cubed
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons plain flour
2 onions (preferably caramelised, recipe provided in the book)
1 carrot, diced
2  large flat mushrooms, sliced
1 heaped teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
350 ml ale or stout
4 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
1 tablespoon room-temperature butter
1 demi baguette
chopped fresh parsley, to serve

Method

  • Place the beef, mustard powder, salt, pepper and flour into the slow cooker, toss well to coat the meat. Add onions, carrot and mushrooms and onions (we used raw), then sugar, vinegar, bay leaf, thyme, beer and half the wholegrain mustard. The meat should be about two-thirds submerged by the liquid.

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  • Give a stir, to mix in the mustard, then put on the lid and cook on low for 6 hours.

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  • After 6 hours, beat together the butter and remaining wholegrain mustard, 6 six thick slices from the baguette and spread the mustard butter on one side. Toast under a grill (butter side up) until the edges start to crisp and the mustard butter darkens.
  • Transfer the mustard toasts to the slow cooker, setting them gently onto the stew and pressing down just a little so the gravy soaks into their bases.
  • Replace the lid and cook for another 2 hours.

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COMPETITION

I have 5 copies of Miss South’s Slow Cooked to giveaway to Kavey Eats readers! Prizes include delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways – the more ways you enter, the higher your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, telling me about your favourite slow cooked dish.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win a copy of @northsouthfood’s Slow Cooked from @EburyPublishing and Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/Ny79Lh #KaveyEatsSlowCooked
(Do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

Entry 3 – Instagram
Share an image of your slow cooker (empty or full) via your Instagram feed. In the caption, tell me about your favourite slow cooked dish. Make sure you include my username @Kaveyf and the hashtag #KaveyEatsSlowCooked.

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 21st November, 2014.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The 5 winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator. The first name selected will win the first prize. The second name selected will win the second prize.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • Each prize is a copy of Miss South’s Slow Cooked, published by Ebury Press. Free delivery within the UK is included.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Ebury Press, Random House.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Instagram entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but you do not have to do so for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Instagram entries, winners must be following @Kaveyf at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Instagram so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received a review copy from Random House.
Slow Cooked is published by Ebury Press and currently available on Amazon for £13.48 (RRP £14.99).

The five winners are @DwarfHammyMum @ali991 (twitter entries), Sue Turner-Smith, Snigda, Christy Beckett (blog entries).

 

We’ve had our slow cooker for years but until recently, we didn’t use it as much as we could have.

We use it to make an overnight chicken stock after every roast chicken dinner: Strip the carcass of meat, throw it into the slow cooker with some water, put it on low and strain in the morning. Done!

Other than that, we used to make the rare stew or curry…

But a few months ago, we started attending a weekly evening exercise class and needed options for a tasty, filling dinner that would be ready to eat as soon as we got home afterwards. We are always exhausted and starving! Since then, we’ve been cooking more stews and curries, and have also been honing our skills at throwing an adhoc selection of ingredients into the pot with growing confidence that the ingredients will all cook in the allotted time, and the volume of liquid will be neither too much nor too little.

Probably the simplest slow cooker dinner of all is jacket potatoes. Of course, we could do these in the conventional oven but that uses far more energy, which seems wasteful to cook a couple of spuds.

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The potatoes go in around noon.

We buy (or make) our chosen filling and leave it in the fridge until we get home from our class:

  • Our favourite filling is one of the most classic combinations; a pot of sour cream or crème fraiche and lots of grated extra mature cheddar.
  • Lashings of salted butter and home-made smoky paprika coleslaw make another great option.
  • And I’m rather partial to Waitrose smoked mackerel pate or unearthed’s pork or goose rillettes.

By the time we get home, the potatoes are perfectly cooked – the flesh is wonderfully fluffy; the skin is soft (but not crisp).

 

Slow Cooker (Crockpot) Jacket Potatoes

Ingredients
1 medium to large baking potato per person

Plus your chosen toppings, to serve.

Method

  • Wrap each potato tightly in aluminium foil and place into the slow cooker pot.
  • Cook on low setting for seven to eight hours.
  • Remove, unwrap and enjoy while it’s hot!

Slow-cooker-crockpot-jacket-potatoes-5165 Slow-cooker-crockpot-jacket-potatoes-5166

 

Do you have any other slow cooker favourites to recommend?

I’ll be sharing some of our other quick favourites in coming months.

Apr 132012
 

I came across the idea to poach a whole chicken in a slow cooker on the old BBC Food Chat discussion boards a couple of years ago and since then, have used the technique regularly, as an alternative to roasting and other recipes.

Not only is the meat – breast included – wonderfully soft and moist, the cooking liquid becomes rich and delicious stock! And you can leave the slow cooker on for hours while you get on with other things.

Oh and the carcass can go back into the slow cooker to make a second portion of stock. Yes, even after long and slow poaching, there’s plenty of flavour left in the remains and no, the resulting stock is not insipid. Although it does have far less gelatin than the original poaching liquid stock, it’s still great as a soup or risotto base.

A very loose recipe…

  • Make sure you know the size of your slow cooker when you’re buying your chicken! I buy 1.5 to 2 kilo birds, in general.
  • Peel and chop some root vegetables and an onion.
  • Place the vegetables and chicken into the slow cooker. I usually put a layer of vegetables below, then the chicken, and then stuff the rest of the vegetables around the sides.
  • Pour in water to come about two thirds of the way up the chicken. (Check your slow cooker instructions for recommendations on maximum volume of liquid).
  • Cook for several hours. I usually start on high for the first couple of hours and then turn to auto or low for another 4 or 5 hours.

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  • Take care removing the whole bird from the liquid. Once cooked, it will be so tender that most of the joints will fall apart very easily, and indeed my bird has broken into pieces more than once at this stage. Using two large slotted spoons works well.

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  • Separate the meat from the bones, tendons and skin. I find two spoons the best tool for this job, or fingers if you wait until it’s cooled down.
  • Strain the poaching liquid through a muslin-lined sieve and divide into 2 or 3 portions. Store in the fridge or freezer.
  • Divide the meat into portions and store the extra in the fridge or freezer.
  • Put the discarded skin, bones and tendons back into the slow cooker with fresh water and leave on overnight for a second portion of stock.

This time, I served the meat plain some buttery mashed potato and the onion, carrots, swedes and leeks the chicken was poached with.

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Sometimes I make a crunchy spring or summer salad instead, with ingredients such as thinly sliced raw red onion, fresh raw sugar snap peas, halved cherry tomatoes and a simple vinaigrette dressing.

This time, the left over meat from this chicken went into an absolutely delicious baked chicken dish, which also used half of the poaching liquid. Watch this space for the recipe!

Please excuse the poor quality of images, they were taken on my ancient mobile phone!

 

I recently blogged about my first attempt using a slow cooker which didn’t come out quite as well as I hoped. I tried again yesterday and this time, I was delighted with the results.

Yesterday morning I put into the slow cooker crockpot some chopped onions and carrots, a number of bayleaves and a small free range chicken. Over that I poured half a bottle of white wine we’d had lurking in the cupboard for years and the same again of boiling water. I switched the cooker on to high for the next hour and a half before turning it down to medium. (The low setting is, I’ve been told, just for keeping food warm once cooked and not for actually cooking anything).

It didn’t take long for wonderful smells to fill the kitchen and, later, the whole house but I didn’t get my hopes up since the last one smelled pretty good too. That said, this one smelled even better!

After 1.5 hours on high and 6.5 on medium it was time to eat and Pete helped me lift the bird carefully out of the pot and into a large waiting dish. I’d been warned it would be so soft it might not stay in one piece, and indeed one of the legs fell off during the transfer.

The meat was beautifully soft and it didn’t take me long to separate every last scrap of it from the skin and bones. I put half aside for a risotto for tomorrow night and we had half for dinner. With roast potatoes and some of the unctuous carrots, it was a lovely evening meal.

Later, we drained the cooking liquid and now find ourselves with a full litre of unbelievably tasty and rich stock. I’ve put 600 ml into the freezer and will use the remainder to make the risotto tomorrow night.

And, just to see whether it was worthwhile, I put all the skin and bones of the chicken back into the slow cooker together with the same carrots and onions I used first time around (perhaps should have used fresh?) plus the other half of the wine, 750 ml of water and some fresh bay leaves. I wasnt sure whether there would be flavour left in those bones to make a second stock. To my surprise, the second stock was also rich and full of flavour, so that’s another 750 ml of good stock to put into the freezer!

I’m so pleased at how the dish came out (though I completely forgot to take any photos) that I’m definitely keen to use the slow cooker again. (I’m borrowing it from my mum for a few weeks to help us decide whether or not we want to get one ourselves).

 

I’ve been thinking about getting a slow cooker for quite a while. They seem to be going through a resurgence, perhaps in response to the recession and the growing interest in cooking cheaper cuts of meat slow and long, perhaps just because it’s time for this fashion to come around again. Certainly, I’ve been reading various posts about them on foodie chat boards for quite a while.

But I couldn’t decide whether I’d really use a slow cooker very much or whether it would end up being a white elephant along the lines of the electric donut maker my sister bought for my husband (yes, really – he asked for it, since he’s a bit of a J.Homeresque donut-fan, but it really wasn’t good) and the ice-cream machine that I bought myself last year (which has seen a little more use, at least). Being undecisive, as I am, my mum kindly suggested I borrow hers for a few weeks to help me make up my mind.

She delivered it on Thursday evening and I planned my first trial for Saturday. My sister-in-law was visiting and she and Pete had an agenda of lots of hard manual labour in our garden. A hearty casserole seemed just the thing to feed to them that evening.

Having read lots and lots and lots of approximate recipes, ideas and advice I bought myself some decent quality cubed steak, carrots, onions, garlic and some ready-made beef stock. (Although I do like making stock at home, it’s nearly always chicken since we rarely buy/ cook beef on the bone. I’d intended to pick up a pot of fresh stock but as there wasn’t any available, I opted to try the relatively new Knorr beef stockpots instead).

So on Saturday morning I peeled and chopped the onions, cut them into eights and put them at the bottom of the slow cooker crock. The carrots were peeled, chopped and added in. And in went 3 bulbs of garlic cloves, mostly whole though somewhat crushed (as that’s how I peel them, pushing down on them via the knife blade with the palm of my hand). I had planned to add potato too but realised there wouldn’t enough room so, on top of the vegetables, I spread out the meat. I dissolved one of the stockpot jellies into 400 (instead of the recommended 500) ml of boiling water and poured this over the meat. And then added 100 ml of port. And a sprinkle of rosemary.

And then popped on the lid, turned the slow cooker to high and left it going for an hour and a half. After that I turned it down to medium and left it another 5 hours. At this point, whilst I expected it to still need more time I was surprised that the meat, whilst cooked, was not yet tender at all. More worryingly, whilst the kitchen smelled absolutely wonderful, the taste of the dish was extremely bland.

I decided to throw in another stockpot jelly, a very generous squirt of double concentrated tomato puree and some more rosemary and turned the heat back up to the high setting for the next 2.5 hours. And crossed my fingers.

Luckily, the extra time, at high heat, did render the meat lovely and tender and the extra stockpot and tomato puree provided much more flavour.

Much to my surprise, I didn’t need to thicken the liquid before serving either. I’d fully expected to, given what I’d read about slow cookers in preparation. Not only was the sauce reasonably thick, as I served the stew over plain boiled potatoes, it was easy to mash some of the potato into the sauce too.

All in all, I was relieved that the final result turned out OK and was even relatively pleasant. But I was disappointed that it wasn’t more special. For example, whilst the long, slow cooking did make the garlic mild rather than strident, as it is when raw, it didn’t render it into a sweet, unctuous mush, as I would have expected had I cooked it in an oven.

If anyone has some tried and tested slow cooker recipes that are guaranteed to impress and to get me hooked on the slow cooker phenomenon, please do share! My plan for the coming weekend is to cook a whole chicken, with just a little stock at the bottom for moisture.

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