Top Five: Slow Cooker Meals
The slow cooker is one of the best things ever invented. Seriously. If you don’t have one, it will change your life. One pot, set-it-and-forget-it, and when you get home the house smells of lovely, warming and wholesome food. It’s especially amazing in the winter – soup and stews are a staple. (Although in the UK winter weather really lasts from September – June, with occasional slightly warmer than normal days. You know when these days are happening because nobody can stop talking about the weather, every barbecue in the land has been lit, and we have a strange predisposition as a people to start drinking Pimms and/or cider on the nearest patch of grass. Summer is a brief eight week period from the end of June – end of August where we say things like ‘oooh, it’s a bit nippy in the shade’, ‘this office is hotter than hell’ and mumble about the constant rain that inevitably follows).
Best bit: most slow cooked meals can be frozen or at least eaten for leftovers the next day. (or two, if you are a slob like myself). Second best bit: slow cooker meals can be really cheap. Cheaper meat can work nicely in a slow cooker, depending on size, you can make a big batch and freeze the rest for later, and you can use less meat because vegetables can be added in abundance, half hidden in silky, rich sauces. I thought I’d share my five go-to slow cooker recipes, because even though the UK is finally looking like it might, possibly consider turning into summer, I have no faith it’ll last and I’ll go running back to the slow cooker like an unfaithful husband after a liaison gone wrong.
Skinny beef and mushroom stew – see recipe here.
I love this stew so much. Please read the recipe and try it. I promise you’ll love it. Also, again, DUMPLINGS. Bad day? Eat some dumplings. Good day? Have a dumpling. Eating your feelings? DUMPLINGS. You know what you should do next.
You could also make this into a chicken and mushroom stew, by using chicken instead of beef (duh!), change the red pepper for some extra mushrooms, and omitting the chopped tomatoes for a little extra chicken stock.
Cidered pork with apples, sage dumplings
This is from this little recipe book, and I can’t remember the name of it. There is a link to the PDF version of the recipe. I first tried this when I lived in Cornwall, in a tiny flat where the windows leaked, the house was subsiding, and whenever I had a bath (avocado suite, no shower or shower head, with enough hot water for a quarter of a tub) my neighbours downstairs got very wet. It seems like a really long time since I lived there but I can still remember getting out of that damn bath and running to stand next to our mini fan heater to get dry. However, I digress. This stew used to be made at least twice a week. It literally warmed me from the inside out. It was also cheap, which was a big factor at the time. I firmly believe the dumplings prevented me from catching my death. Bonus prize with this one: you get to finish off the cider. (and cider is made of apples, which are fruit, which means it is super healthy. That’s just logic.)
Ten minute sausage and bean casserole
I will post this as a full recipe soon, but the general gist (yes, okay, I confess, it also includes dumplings. I am obsessed with those fluffy balls of comfort) is:
Fry some sausages until browned, add finely chopped onion and 4 cloves garlic. Season with a teaspoon of paprika, oregano, and Worcester sauce. Stir, add 400g mixed beans and a tin of chopped tomatoes. Stir. Add tomato puree (1 tbsp or so) and a teaspoon of sugar. Transfer to slow cooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Make dumplings as per beef stew recipe, and add about an hour before you want to eat.
Serve with a generous grating of parmesan over the top (or cheddar, if that’s more your jam) and some crusty bread. Rice and mashed potato are also beautiful, carb-filled options, but make this seriously less skinny, especially if you do mash like I do (butter, cream, garlic, salt and pepper. Sometimes with added cheese, because I’m excessive like that.)
This might be my all time favourite slow cooker recipe, to be honest.
Thai Beef Curry
This is the easiest (but not the skinniest) recipe in the world. It’s five or six ingredients and doesn’t even involve any pan frying. It’s a ‘put beef in slow cooker, add other ingredients, stir, and come back in six hours’ kind of recipe. I serve mine with straight to wok noodles. This is where I reach peak lazy – I just add a couple of packs to the slow cooker and eat about half an hour later. The sauce adheres to the noodles and the beef melts in your mouth, and it’s delicious. I freeze the leftovers, and then when I have had a really busy day, get the frozen box out, add it back to the slow cooker with a generous slug of boiling water and reheat for a couple of hours while I do emails, washing, shave my legs, you know the deal.
(It’s fair to say I am very laissez faire when it comes to freezing and reheating. Unless it’s something rice based, it will go in my freezer. So far, I haven’t had any ill-effects, but you must use your own judgement when it comes to this kind of thing. Same goes for reheating – always make sure leftovers are piping hot, and if in doubt, a quick minute or two in a microwave might set your mind at ease. Again, please use your own judgement here.)
Chorizo and red wine slow cooker risotto
Like the recipe above, this recipe is based on the slow-cooker risotto principles laid out in this book, but isn’t quite the same in terms of ingredients and concept. I will post as a full recipe soon. This is definitely more of a treat – not a paragon of healthy eating and virtue, but it is amazing. Especially if you have some roasted asparagus or fluffy garlic bread to eat it with.
Quick recipe, if you’re curious:
Dice two shallots, a half-ring of chorizo and two cloves of garlic. Heat a pan, and add the chorizo. Fry until getting crispy. Melt one tablespoon of butter into the pan, add shallots and gently fry for one or two minutes. Add garlic and 100g arborio rice. Turn heat down to medium low, and stir until rice begins becoming translucent. Add a teaspoon of oil, stirring until rice starts to soften. Add 180ml red wine, and allow to bubble. Make up 800ml of chicken stock, and transfer rice mix and stock to the slow cooker. It will take about two hours to cook on low, and you will need to check liquid levels – you might (definitely) have to add a little more.
To roast some asparagus – fine asparagus tips, brushed with olive oil and grated parmesan. Bake at 180 for 14-18 minutes depending on size of asparagus until slightly al dente but tender.
This is a good Saturday night kind of dish – easy, and pairs very well with the rest of the red wine. Eat while watching period dramas – you’ll feel fancy.
What kind of stuff do you like to cook? Any go to slow cooker recipes? I’d love to hear about them!
*Disclaimer: Featured image is not my own, from Octopus Book’s page.