About 5 years ago, my husband and I made a request for ‘kitchen stuff’ from our families for Christmas gifts. We were making plans to move into our new flat within the next year and would finally have some more room for gadgets and this had been on our wishlist for some time.
At the time, we were working long hours. He was doing six days a week in the bank and was usually busy with RP commitments in the evening. I was working full time and picking up private tutoring on the side, and also had RP commitments. Frequently, we would leave the house by 8am and not return until 10pm, starving, worn out and desperately in need of food. The idea behind this request was that we could let it do the work for us while we were out.
His family outdid themselves, with an excellent slow cooker and a cook book of ideas to go with it.
It’s changed the way I cook stews and roasts, and it also cuts down massively on washing up, because the meat, gravy and the vast majority of the vegetables can now be done in one pot. The only thing I cook separately is potatoes because we like them crisped in the oven.
It’s also lead to me learning to make some brand new foods – like jambalaya, which is a true one pot dish which is cooked in its entirety in the slowcooker.
The idea behind these is that all you need to do is chop/dice/slice your vegetables, brown your meat in a saucepan or frying pan (ie cook it in a little bit of oil to seal the flesh on the outside) and then add everything into the pot, pour in some water (or wine, or stock) and leave it to cook all day on a low setting with the lid on.
Slow cookers are excellent at preserving juices, so you really don’t need much water in it at all. The vegetables will release their juices, as will the meat, and when it steams the lid catches up and re condenses it into the mixture, which means the whole thing gets packed to bursting with flavour.
For roast joints, I rub in whatever herbs I’m using, then place the joint in the cooker. Then I slowly pour some boiling water from the kettle over the meat joint, allowing it to flow over the sides and seal the meat. Then, as before, add the vegetables and stock and just leave it to bubble away.
You can thicken the juices into sauces or gravies inside the slow cooker itself – just add gravy granules, cornflour or white sauce granules into the mix on the highest setting, after you’ve dished everything else up, and stir with a wooden spoon. Then use a ladle to remove the sauce and either pour it over your meal or place it in a jug.
I love using my slow cooker for company dishes, because then I REALLY have time to be a good host rather than getting up and down into the kitchen.
But my favourite thing is that these days when I do come home from a long day, tired, worn out and fed up – the smell that hits me when I come in the door is the best pick me up in the world. Take your expensive social drugs and stick ‘em and give me the smell of a slow roasting beef joint ANY day.
They’re also good for making vegetarian food and even vegan food, like soups and vegetable stews. I’ve made vegan safe ratatouille in ours which turned out gorgeous and it needed very little water because all of the vegetable juice condensed into the mixture to make it even more tasty.
Slow Cookers are not exactly cheap for people on a budget, but they are more affordable than they used to be. When we needed to replace ours this year (unfortunate crack in the side after some less-than-careful handling) I paid about £30 for a new one. They might not be an immediate thing that you can pick up, but if you’re wanting to bring more ‘real’ food back into your life, I absolutely recommend them as a longer term investment.*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*