Coming home from a cold winters walk to the smell of a delicious meal drifting through the house – it’s the stuff of dreams right? The next best thing to a live in cook has to be the slow cooker, and never more so than this time of year.
Our trusty Morphy Phillips has never knocking around for getting on for two decades and is still going strong! It came into its own when we had kids and cooking dinner became all about what the Little’s MIGHT EAT, and how said meal could be created with minimal
I’ve been banging on to one of my friends about how she needs to get a slow cooker in her life, ever since we chewed the fat over weaning the little ones two whole years ago. So this week, she announced she’s made the jump and asked me for some of these ‘oh so easy family meals’ I’ve been badgering on about.
I have to admit most of these recipes are just in my head, and have evolved in a ‘add a bit of this, that and whatever’s hanging around the cupboard’ kind of way, so it wasn’t as easy as I thought passing the knowledge on. I tried looking in a slow cooker cook book but it was full of weird recipes involving pot roasts and stewed meat on bones. Can’t see the kids going for that. I couldn’t find much online either. No, if a soupy casserole or a tender bolognese is your thing, then this post is for you. Seeing as I’ve rounded them up for her, it’d be rude not to share the slow cooker love to some other Mums seeking mealtime inspiration. Because I’m all for a bit of #whatareyouhavingfordinner menu stealing, and these recipes are easy peasy, cheap as chips and even my fussy kids love them.
I’m no Jamie Oliver, but I bet Jools loves a bit of a slow cooker dinner for all those kids while her hubby’s touring Italy collecting all those recipes…
First, a few golden rules of slow cooking
Go for root / hard veg (carrots, potatoes, swede etc) as opposed to quick cooking vegetables (broccoli, leek) or it’ll end up a bit sloppy and mushy.
If using stock, make up with hot water to get the temp up quickly.
Use pre-chopped bags of vegetable soup mix for super speed, and look out for bargain casserole packs which will need prep but are great value for money.
Stuff in the bottom will cook quicker than the top so layer your pot wisely.
Refrain from lifting the lid – it’ll lose heat from the pot and push your cooking time back.
I always cook on high, and turn down to low when done to keep warm.
Timing wise, I always put my slow cooker on mid morning to be ready for tea time. That’s about as exact as I like it.
You can brown meat prior to cooking, or not bother. With the exception of sausages, in my humble opinion…nothing worse than a flaccid sausage.
Chicken will fall apart when slow cooked to death – I quite like that, but if you want your chicken pieces in tact cook on low or for less time.
It’s no exact science – don’t expect any weights or quantities in these recipes. Play around with consistencies, vegetables and flavours to your own liking.
Steak chilli con carne
This is a winter favourite for a mid week supper, or bulk it up and jazz it up with some epic sides for an easy bit of large group entertaining: salsa, sour cream, wraps, salad, grated cheese, jalapenos, rice, bread…
Diced beef steak, chopped onion, crushed garlic, kidney beans, turmeric, chilli powder (to your own taste), paprika, mushrooms (optional), beef stock, dash of Lea & Perrins, squirt of tomato puree. Stick it all in raw and slow cook away all day baby.
Mixed bean chilli
For a veggie alternative, follow the recipe above but omit the steak and use a selection of beans and pulses: chick peas, baked beans, broad beans, sweetcorn etc etc. Switch beef stock for vegetable stock.
Chicken & veg curry
A mild and healthy curry for parents and kids alike. A killer Saturday night dinner – kids love it with all the trimmings of poppadoms, Naan bread and dippy mint Raita.
Chicken breast, curry powder, garlic, onions, Coconut milk, chicken stock, vegetables optional: peas, potato, spinach, turmeric, butternut squash, cauliflower.
The bonus with this one is it will last a few days and leftovers are scrummy cold, for lunch, in sandwiches, or just picked at from the fridge. I’ve made it with lemonade when I didn’t have coke, for a sticky coating but actually it comes out (almost) as nice with just water. I love this served with mashed potato, veg and piccalilli. Kids love it with home made rustic baked chips and egg.
Pop unsmoked gammon ham joint raw into crockpot. Cover with full sugar cola (actually, doesn’t have to be totally covered, you can turn it over half way through to get an even coating if you want). Braise away all day. When finished, remove any wobbly fat and blast in hot (180ºC) oven for 20 minutes to get any residual fat all gnarly and delicious.
Sausage surprise (re-named in honour of Muma on The Edge)
The perfect midweek tea. Our kids love the great british banger, and if you don’t fancy scrubbing a baking tray coated with cremated fat here’s a different option. So many serving accompaniments, the girls like rice or pasta but we prefer mash.
10 good quality (high pork content) sausages, browned in a pan before adding to crock pot. Onions, mushrooms, bag of ready chopped vegetable soup mix (or veg of your choice), tin of tomatoes, stock, dash of lea and perrins, mixed herbs.
Skinny pulled pork
This one is actually a slimming world recipe. I find it hard to believem but then again I always think that about a mountain of pasta too…what do I know! This dish is brilliant for entertaining – serve with rolls and home made coleslaw for a laid back buffet HIT.
Pork shoulder (fat removed), jar of passata, sweetener (or honey), 5 tbsp worcestershire sauce, 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, mustard powder, seasoning and garlic. Cook on high for 8-12 hours. Shred. Devour. Come back for more.
Cook now, eat later Spag Bol
This is a strange one as it still involves the major steps of preparing a bolognese sauce, but it’s all about timing and convenience. I’ll make it mid morning when I know I need tea ready pronto; if I’m out all afternoon or just have a top heavy day. Bolognese is a thousand times better when it’s been slowly cooked as opposed to rushed, plus any meal tastes better when the stress element is removed! Serve with pasta and garlic bread if you’re feeling really indulgnent.
Minced beef (5% fat if poss) browned in pan. Add onions, red peppers, garlic, tin of tomatoes, squeeze of tomato puree, dash of worcestershire sauce, crumbled oxo, basil. You can sneak in a bit of extra veg if you like – diced courgettes or carrots, or even both. Once warmed in pan transfer to slow cooker, heat on low-medium all day or high all afternoon.
The advantage of slow cooking meatballs over blasting them on a baking tray is not final texture – melt in the mouth is a fair description. A favourite of my mums, we’ve adapted this to a kid friendly version with less of a kick!
Meatballs (shop bought: Go for best quality version to avoid grisly bits, higher fat content. Homemade: bind mince with crushed crackers, 1 egg, herbs). Be creative with meat types! Beef, lamb, pork…
Brown meatballs in frying pan. Transfer to crockpot. To same pan add onions and chopped red peppers, soften slightly. Add tin of tomatoes, dash balsamic vinegar, basil. Once warm, transfer to over meatballs in slow cooker.
Serve with pasta and if you like a bit of green veg. I think it balances out a rich dish this well.
The godfather of slow cooking. A hug in a bowl for when you need it – freezing, poorly, heartbroken or just plain knackered. Serve with buttered bread, some green veg if you like, and always, always, in a bowl.
Chicken, potatoes, carrots, parsnip, swede, onions, sweet potatoes (or a combination of any of your preferred / available vegetables) chicken stock.
What’s your go to slow cooker recipe? Share the knowledge, I want to steal it!