Friday, 14 December 2012

Slowing Things Down

I know it's nearly Christmas when everyone is rushing around like bluebottles to get everything done in time, and the idea of doing anything slowly seems impossible - but there is a way to take your time and get everything done too.

If you have a slow cooker- and Santa's sleigh might well be carrying a few of these around this year- you can save effort but still eat well (and cheaply). You can buy inexpensive cuts of meat like pork shoulder, ox cheek or tail, lamb shanks or duck legs and then , with just a few minutes preparation you can put your meal on to cook whilst you resume the rushing around.

I've had one for a year now and it is brilliant.

Brown the meat first
Add vegetables and cooking liquor
Casseroles are the easiest and simplest dish: brown your meat before putting it into the slow cooker, add the vegetables of your choice and the stock or cooking liquor of your choice (red wine, white wine, beer, cider, water, stock or juice), put in enough to not quite cover the meat,  switch it to high for a short while ( an hour or so) then low for as long as you want:

Coq au Vin
Bean and lentil dishes cook beautifully too- no problem with chewy pulses.
Bonfire Baked Beans

Sausages with Lentils and Vegetables

Rich Beef Stew
You can roast meat too- hand of pork (shoulder) or gammon are particularly good. They need very little liquid. Gammon roasts well in just a glass (250 ml) of orange juice for example.

After 6 hours or so, the meat falls apart - you could almost eat it with a spoon.

Fancier dishes can easily be achieved- like braised duck legs in vermouth: Brown the duck legs in a dry frying pan until the fat starts to run out readily, (one duck leg per person),then two glasses of vermouth and a bay leaf go into the slow cooker with the duck, cook on high for an hour or two and then low for another couple of hours. Good enough for any dinner party.

Braised Duck Legs in Vermouth

You can also make a big pot of  beef mince ragout- and then use it for quick and easy meals through the week (like bolognaise, chilli con carne, lasagne, or chilli chips !)

Chilli Chips

Beef Mince Ragout

I've only made one pudding so far in the slow cooker- but it was a good one- coconut rice pudding with mulled wine fruit compote: 1 cup of rice (I used arborio but long grain is fine), two cups of coconut milk or 1 carton coconut cream and 1 cup skimmed milk, 100 g of sugar, a grating of nutmeg and a tsp of cinnamon. Cook on low for 3 hours. Meanwhile, simmer a choice of red and orange fruits in a half glass red wine or red vermouth, add a splash of orange juice, some cinnamon and nutmeg and keep warm until you are ready to eat the rice pudding. Very festive.

Coconut rice pudding with mulled fruit

I had a big family party coming up so cooked a 'pulled' pork casserole a week in advance, froze it in the slow cooker casserole and then heated it up on the day. Take note though- if you have a plastic knob on the lid, it won't stand up to the oven temperatures- as I discovered. Luckily we could unscrew the blobby melted bit and screw on a new knob from an old pan lid.

Check your slow cooker is oven proof!

It's not just food leftovers that get used up in our house !

By the way, the casserole was unharmed- and much enjoyed by all.

Pulled Pork Casserole


  1. Hi Leftover Liz

    I did indeed get a slow cooker for Christmas! Here are a few of the things I've been doing with it over the last couple of weeks (you'll see that I've been getting lots of use out of it!)

    Wild boar stew:

    Here in rural France, wild boar is quite often available at the local butchers, and even in the local supermarket, at this time of year. If you've never tried it, the flavour is somewhere between pork and bull - very meaty and quite strong.

    This couldn't have been simpler - I marinated about a kilo of chunks of meat in 2/3 of a bottle of good red wine, with 2 bouquets garnis, for a few hours. I then sliced and browned celery, carrots and leeks with 3 cloves of garlic, and put them into the slow cooker. I separated the meat from the marinade, and added the wine to the vegetables. I then browned the meat (which brought out a lot of the water and fat) with a little flour and added that to the pot, and then left it to cook on "simmer" mode for 8-10 hours. The sauce needed a little thickening at the end, but that was easy enough in a saucepan with a roux blanc. I served it with a choice of fluffy mash, or fresh pasta.

    I had planned to make individual pies with the leftover stew (in little pie dishes with a disc of puff pastry on the top) but it all got eaten up!


    This is a traditional French winter dish, consisting of veg and different cuts of pork, cooked slowly in hot water with herbs. The same dish made with beef cuts is called a Pot Au Feu.

    I used cabbage, celery, leeks, carrots, potatoes and onions (and I would have put in little turnips but forgot to buy them), which I sliced into large chunks and put into the pot raw. To this, I added diced pork belly and thick slices of smoked sausage. I added enough cold water just to cover the ingredients, added a bouquet garni, and cooked them on "high" for an hour, then "simmer" for 8 hours. A pot full (mine has a capacity of 4L) made 4 hearty meals for 2, with leftover veg and stock at the end!

    We ate the leftover veg with baked salmon filets.

    French onion soup:

    To use up the leftover stock from the potée, I made French onion soup this weekend. Although this takes a little time, it is well worth the flavours that you get at the end.

    I used 6 large onions, and 3 leeks, which I sliced quite finely. I sprayed a frying pan with olive oil, and added a knob of butter (don't be tempted to cut the butter out - it adds so much lovely flavour). I then cooked the sliced onions and leeks, seasoned generously with salt and pepper, on a low heat with a lid on for 30 mins, and then 20 mins more with the lid off on a slighly higher heat, until the onions were golden. Cooking them slowly this way brought out so much sweet caramel flavour, and avoided them burning and tasting bitter. You could probably achieve a similar effect in the slow cooker, but you wouldn't get the same colour.

    I then added the onions and leeks to the slow cooker, and deglazed the frying pan with a glass of port, which I added to the pot.

    In a same frying pan, I heated up the leftover stock from the potée (approx. 1.5L), which had a wonderful aromatic flavour from the herbs. I added one organic beef stock cube, and one veal stock cube, mostly for colour. I then added the hot stock to the slow cooker, and cooked on "simmer" for 2 hours.

    Onion soup should be served with slices of french bread, grilled until golden and bubbling with a salty cheese (gruyère, emmental, mozzarella or even good old English cheddar). I used emmental, and added a couple of dashes of Worcester sauce to each toast.

    This served 2 for 2 meals, and then I froze 4 small portions to make nice homemade ready meals.

    I've also cooked chicken thighs with bottled passata and veg, which worked very nicely. Today, I'm trying a shoulder of pork with green lentils - I'll let you know how it turns out!


  2. Wow! These all sound amazing! Any photos?