OK, so it’s been a while. Sadly this isn’t because my darling son has taken to sleeping through the night meaning my blogging time has been reduced. No, instead it’s just because life has been busy, too busy to write about anyway.
But a while back I did promise a mention of my slow cooker, which at the time was the source of much frustration. Now, I’m quite a fan of cooking and when I have time (as I do when on maternity leave) I love to experiment with food. As a fan of hearty stews, curries and chilli I thought a slow cooker would be an ideal way of cooking some of our favourite family meals without having to hover over the pot or use an inordinate amount of gas or electricity in their production. I also thought that come September, when I return to work and Small Fry starts school, I might be wholly grateful for something that means dinner is ready for us on getting back home on an evening.
I spent ages researching my slow cooker and eventually decided on a Crock-Pot with a digital timer which turns to ‘stay warm’ for several hours on completion of the cook cycle. The size also mattered (doesn’t it always…) as I wanted to be able to cook big batches of food so that portions could be frozen for later.
I also purchased a slow cooker cook book by blogger Miss North as the Amazon reviews raved about the variety and success of the recipes included.
So it was massively disappointing when the Dr Pepper pulled pork I cooked on Small Fry’s birthday was revolting. And when the beef curry I made was woolly and tasteless. Both had looked mouthwatering in the book and because of my first-time slow-cooking nerves I followed the recipes to a tee. But on completion, both were far too watery – a key to slow cooking it turns out is that liquid doesn’t evaporate – and both were overcooked. Perhaps my pot cooks hotter than Miss North’s, perhaps her one lets liquid escape, who knows why my dishes sucked while hers languished in a lovely cook book because of their brilliance. Mystery.
So I decided to chuck the rules and go with my gut instinct – be inspired by the book and online recipes but also innovate and experiment as well. And thank goodness I did, because now I’m cooking up a storm!
So far I’ve made beef, mustard and Guinness stew, Polish smoked sausage and lentil casserole, chili (which was meltingly yummy and was even eaten by Small Fry without too much complaint) and a fab Thai style beef curry. It turns out the key to success is adding a ton of flavoursome herbs and spices and not too much liquid. Adding flour or something like lentils to thicken and soak up the juices also works well.
1.26kg cubed stewing steak
1 cup of beef stock
5 garlic cloves
1 generous piece of ginger (two thumbs -worth)
2 small brown onions
1 red chilli (deseeded) – leave out if you don’t like hot spice
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons plain flour
5 twists of black pepper
2 teaspoons coconut oil (or other oil for cooking)
Put garlic, ginger, onions, chilli, honey, sugar, fish sauce, black pepper and soy into a food processor and blend into a paste.
Heat paste in a pan and simmer slowly for a few minutes to ignite the flavours.
Put coconut oil into a pan and add beef and flour to brown meat and thicken sauce.
Put meat into the slow cooker and add paste. Stir through, costing all the meat. Add stock and a splash of extra soy if required, making sure the meat is just covered in the liquid.
Put on high for four hours or low for eight. I stirred occasionally.
Then, to reduce liquid further, I cooked for another 1.5 hours on low with the lid slightly off.
Suitable for freezing.
Serve with some quickly stir fried red pepper strips and green beans, a handful of cashew nuts and some sticky white rice.