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.

Baked-Jacket-Potato-Slow-Cooker-KaveyEats-KFavelle-2014-5164-Pinterest

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.

PoachedChicken-0715 PoachedChicken-0717

  • 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.

PoachedChicken-0718

  • 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.

PoachedChicken-0720

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!

 

Should bloggers accept freebies in exchange for reviews?

This is question being discussed on many a UK food blog at the moment and it looks like most of us are in agreement – yes to freebies with a number of provisos:-

* Free products or services do not guarantee a positive review; this should be made clear to the person/ organisation providing the freebie.
* The blogger should disclose that they received the product or service for free in the resulting blog post.
* The blogger should do their best to assess and write about the product or service as objectively as possible.

To that, I add the following:-

* Rather than accepting freebies indiscriminately, it is best to stick to products and services that the blogger would genuinely consider purchasing and which fit well with the everyday content of their blog.

Abel & Cole
Abel & Cole‘s PR people have been busy bees indeed having recently approached a broad assortment of UK food bloggers asking whether we’d like to review Abel & Cole products. Many of you will no doubt have read several of the resulting blog posts already.

Certainly, Pete and I are the target audience for such a scheme to have organic food produce delivered directly to our door. Only recently we purchased a box of organic meats from The Well Hung Meat Company and are planning to trial other similar suppliers before deciding which one, if any, to place an ongoing order with. Infact, we’re so much the target audience that we were long term paying customers in the past. We stopped buying from Abel & Cole because of repeated quality issues with the produce we received.

I explained this to the PR and said that, provided A & C were ok with my having been a customer before, I’d be willing to receive fruit and veg, to assess whether the quality issues we experienced previously are a thing of the past. But that I’d be far more interested in trialling their free-range and organic meat products, given how this fits into what I’m exploring at the moment.

Back when we first ordered a veg box, several years ago, there weren’t that many companies delivering such produce to London addresses. For us, one of the things that drew us to A &C’s over their competitors, was the flexibility of their Dislikes list. Instead of being able to list only 2 or 3 things we didn’t want to receive, A & C allowed us to provide a list of up to 20 things not to send. On the surface this sounds like a lot but their full list numbers in the hundreds which puts a mere 20 blocks into perspective. So I logged in with the new ID and password provided. The interface has improved since I was a paying customer and it’s even easier to specify items you don’t want to receive (for the next order only or ever) and even what you particularly like and would be happy to receive often.

I also provided information on where the box could be left if we were not home, together with a comment that at least one of is working from home most days, so please ring the bell.

The first black mark came when we discovered the box had been delivered on Friday morning without ringing the bell and left in the specified place in our side alley. With four people in the house, two of whom were awake pretty early, not to mention one of the loudest bell ringers known to man, this was disappointing.

Still, I was excited to see what we’d been sent. Safe in the cool embrace of a polystyrene box and nestled within ice packs was my free-range chicken with giblets. Weighing in at 1.9 kilos, 300 grams over the specified weight, the meat appeared dense and nicely coloured and went straight into the fridge to be cooked over the weekend.

My chicken!

As it happened, the contents of the last week’s medium mixed organic fruit & veg box corresponded with a number of items on my dislike list so there were a few swap outs.

Altogether we have: apples, carrots, green cabbage, jersey royal potatoes, a punnet of nectarines, spring onions, a mango, mushrooms and two large bags of spinach.

The fruit seems to be in good condition, assuming the mango and the nectarines ripen properly. The apples feel a touch softer than I’d like, but at least they aren’t wrinkly, as occured in the past.

For some reason, I got two huge portions of spinach, which, given the aged yellowing appearance of a few of the leaves, is probably going to lead to wastage. The leaves are picked much larger than I prefer too – to the extent that I didn’t even recognise them as spinach until I checked the contents list on the side of the box!

The potatoes, mushrooms and spring onions looked fine.

The worst items in the box were the carrots. These were so old they were rubbery. One was already broken in half and the rest I could bend almost double without snapping! Comparing this with a carrot we pulled up from our garden the same day, these were clearly not remotely fresh, nor had they been well stored.

Slow Cooker Chicken
I posted about borrowing my mum’s slow cooker before deciding whether to buy our own. Our greatest success came with cooking a whole chicken over several hours. What I particularly liked, as well as the succulence of the meat, was the large quantity of excellent stock and leftover meat, which we used for a number of additional meals. As mum’s slow cooker has long since been returned, we finally bought our own on Saturday, ready to cook the chicken on Sunday.

As the carrots were so unappealing, I decided to relegate them to stock making duties – scrubbed and chopped, with manky bits discarded, they went into the bottom of the pot. With them I threw in a small onion, peeled and quartered, a few bay leaves and then the chicken itself. (Giblets put aside in the fridge). Over this I poured water and half a bottle of white wine. After an hour and a half on high, I turned the slow cooker down to low for the next 5 hours.

In the slow cooker

Cooked this way, the chicken becomes so incredibly soft and tender that, no matter how careful you are, it disintegrates as you lift it out of the pot. Pete plonked the resulting pieces into a large dish and I picked and pulled every last scrap of meat away from the carcass while he sieved the utterly delicious stock into a container for the freezer. The meat was enough for four portions (for the two of us) of which one was set aside for dinner that evening, another for the next evening and the rest into the freezer as well.

Given the heat of the day (not to mention a large lunch at our local Italian) we decided to keep it light. For dinner we made a simple salad, similar to one I posted about last week. Chopped raw sugarsnaps, thinly sliced red onion, halved cherry tomatoes and coriander leaves with the addition of the soft, shredded chicken meat. All mixed with a simple dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar and honey. Delicious!

The finished chicken salad

And for dessert, while Pete had some fresh fruit, I went for a savoury of fried chicken heart and chicken liver. Absolutely delicious!

Using the same carrots and onions, I threw in the chicken carcass and skin plus the bird’s neck and covered with more water and the rest of the bottle of white wine. Left to cook overnight, a second stock was produced. Before I tried this, I would have been convinced that the second stock would be weak and insipid but, having done this three times now, I can assure you that it’s still full of flavour.

We’ll be using this second stock, some of the chicken meat and the spring onions from the box to make a simple, delicious and filling risotto for our Monday night dinner.

Thoughts
So far, it’s top marks on the quality of their meat, but a detention for the quality of some of the fruit and veg. I’ll report on the risotto later in the week and let you know how the rest of the fruit and veg are soon.

 

 

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.

© 2006 - 2014 Kavita Favelle Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha