Slow Cooking Beginner

After months of procrastination, searching for recipes I might use and trying to choose which model I prefer, I have finally purchased a slow cooker.

Since it’s something to experiment with (which could well end up not working for us at all)  I went for a fairly low cost model, the Cookworks 6.5l slow cooker from Argos . It’s not very fancy, although I think it looks just as nice as much more expensive models, and it has near perfect reviews.

I have such a long list of recipes I want to try out. Last night, I had my first go at using it. I made Coq au Vin for myself and the Husband (I’ll pop the recipe further down) and we were both really pleased with it. I had to tweak the recipe a little bit since Husband can’t eat onions. The flavours were really rich and the meat was ridiculously tender – it fell apart when I tried to get it out with tongs and it could be cut up with fork!

IMG_0046 2

I’m planning on trying out a beef stew this weekend. I don’t often cook beef as I’m always worried about it being tough. I reckon slow cooking is the answer. I’m always very keen to try some sweet recipes, such as rice pudding and poached fruit.

Here’s the recipe for Coq au Vin:

100g bacon

4 chicken breasts, each cut in half

2 tbsp oil (I used vegetable oil)

25g plain flour

200ml red wine

400ml chicken stock

  1. Heat the oil in a big pan and fry the bacon for a few minutes then remove from the pan.
  2. Coat the chicken in flour and cook in the pan for a few minutes on each side until nicely browned.
  3. Put the bacon back in the pan and add the wine and stock. Bring to the boil.
  4. Put everything in the slow cooker and cook for 3 hours on high or 6 hours on low (timings might be different for your slow cooker, this is correct for my model).
  5. Serve. Eat. Enjoy.

 

I served the chicken with mashed potato and greens beans and gravy made from the cooking sauce mixed with a teaspoon or so of gravy granules.

I’ll add more recipes as I try them out. Do you have a favourite slow cooker recipe? Do share it below!

 

Lunchbox Ideas: Autumn Snacks

Pip has really taken well to having packed lunches. She actually seems to get quite excited at the prospect of finding out what’s going to be in there each day. Since Autumn is now in full swing (Hurray!), I thought I’d share recipes for two of Pip’s favourite snacks that have something of an Autumnal feel: Apple Crisps and Fruity Spiced Muffins.

Apple crisps

These are delicious, super healthy and pretty simple to make, plus they make the house smell gorgeous!

1. Preheat the oven to 100 degrees celsius.

2. Take two fairly big apples. Core them and slice them into thin slices. Try and get them all similar widths, then they’ll cook at the same rate.

2. Lay the apple slices on a baking tray. Dust on some cinnamon.

3. Pop in the oven for about 1 hour, then carefully turn them all over then put them back in for another hour.

4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, although these never last more than a couple of days in my house!

 

Fruity spiced muffins

These are really tasty and, as muffins go, pretty healthy too!

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.

2. Mix together 150g flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon mixed spice and 50g caster sugar.

3. In a separate jug, beat together 100ml milk, 1 egg, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 40g melted low fat spread.

4. Mash 1 banana and peel & chop 1 medium sized apple into small pieces.

5. Add the wet ingredients and the fruit to the dry ingredients and mix gently until just combined together.

6. Spoon the mixture into 12 paper cases either in a bun tray or silicone muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are risen and light golden brown.

7. Carefully remove from the bun tray or silicone cases and allow to cool on a wire rack.

8. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

 

I hope you enjoy these tasty treats as much as we do! What snacks do you put in lunch boxes?

DIY Roast Dinner

When I first moved in with my boyfriend, who later became Husband, I only know how to cook a handful of very simple dinners. The idea of cooking a proper roast dinner felt very intimidating. When I eventually gave it a try, I relied on pre-made roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings and even then, I found it really difficult to get everything ready and hot all at once.

Fast forward five years and about a hundred roast dinners and I think I’ve gotten the hang of them now. I’ve realised that what I really could have used all those years ago was a complete ‘How To’, not just a collection of recipes for each component. So here it is! This is a complete schedule and recipe for an entire roast dinner, including the chicken, roast potatoes, yorkshire puddings, mashed potatoes and vegetables. The only thing I still use from a packet is gravy and I always make sure to get the low salt version – it honestly does taste exactly the same, I’ve done blind taste tests on an unknowing Husband. Yes, I know. Packet gravy is lazy. Seriously though, it tastes fine and not in the way that people say packet mashed potatoes tastes ‘fine’ which is obviously doesn’t. If you want to make your own gravy, by all means go and look for a recipe for it and add it into your schedule.

For the schedule, I’m timing everything based on a chicken weighing about 1.5kg. If you’re chicken weighs more or less, there’s a simple way of working out how long to cook it for. It needs 20 minutes for every 450g, plus an extra 20 minutes. So divide the weight (in grams) by 450, times by 20 then plus 20. You’ll probably get a number with a lot of decimal places, just round up to the nearest minute.

You want to begin cooking two hours before you want to serve.

1. 00:00 Make the Yorkshire pudding batter. To make six fairly big Yorkshires, mix 100g plain flour with two eggs using a fork. Once that’s combined, gradually add 250ml milk, stirring constantly to make a smooth batter. Pour this mixture into a pouring jug then cover it and put it in the fridge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2. 00:15 Prepare the chicken. Your chicken needs to cook for an hour and 30 minutes and you need to start preheating your oven about ten minutes before that. Preheat to 190 degrees celsius. Get your chicken out of it’s wrapping then give it a thorough wash under the tap, including the inside cavity. Then pat it dry with a piece of kitchen roll. Put it in the roasting tin and then rub a bit of butter (or lower fat butter spread thats suitable for cooking) onto the skin. After that you can whatever herbs you fancy – I often go with thyme as it does go so well with chicken. if you wish to, you can also pop half a lemon in the inner cavity to give the whole chicken a nice citrus taste.  A lot of people add salt but I really try to avoid adding any additional salt to my cooking. I know also that some people put some flour on the skin to make it extra crispy. I don’t but again, it’s personal choice. Put the chicken in the oven once it’s preheated.

Not a pretty sight now but it'll be yummy later!

Not a pretty sight now but it’ll be yummy later!

3. 00:40 Roast potatoes. I generally make three roast potatoes for each adult, less for children (Pip just has one). Peel and either use small potatoes whole or chop larger ones into smaller pieces. Put them in a pan of boiling water an hour and twenty minutes before you want to serve. Boil for about 15 minutes, then drain off the water and give them a very gentle shake, just to roughen the edges a bit – this helps them get nice and crispy. Add the potatoes to the roasting tin (01:10) and, very, very carefully so as not to burn yourself, tilt the tin a little bit and use a spoon to scoop up the chicken juices and drizzle them over the potatoes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. 01:10 Mashed potatoes. I use about one large potato for each person. Peel and slice into fairly small chunks. Put in a pan of boiling water over a high heat. When the water starts to boil again, turn the heat down a bit and leave to gently boil.

5. 01:15 Vegetables. You can do whatever vegetables you like really. Carrots, broccoli, cabbage, peas and green beans are all favourites for us. You can use fresh or frozen, it makes very little difference to cooking time. Prepare them and then put them in a pan of boiling water. Again, start off on a high heat then turn it down once the water starts boiling again. You can cook your vegetables for a bit less time than me – due to Husband’s preference for very soft vegetables, I do admit that I cook them until they’re losing molecular integrity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

6. 01:20 Cooking Yorkshire Puddings. Turn the oven temperature up to 210 degrees. Take this opportunity to drizzle chicken juices over the potatoes and chicken again. Take a 6 hole muffin tray and pour a little oil (I use vegetable or sunflower oil) in each hole. Put this is in the oven for the oil to get nice and hot. Take your Yorkshire pudding batter out of the fridge and give it a little stir. At 01:30, take the muffin tray out of the oven and pour some of the batter into each hole, to fill each by about a third. Put the tray back into the oven and then do NOT open it again for at least 20 minutes.

Pouring in the oil

Pouring in the oil

7. 01:30 – 01:50 Lay the table and get plates ready.

8. 01:50 Mashed potatoes. Start boiling the kettle for the gravyDrain the water off of the potatoes then add some butter (or low fat butter spread) and milk. I’m not going to be more exact than that because I think everyone likes their mash a little different. If you’re unsure, add a little at a time then mash and add more if you think it’s needed. Mash really well. Lumpy mash is horrible, you don’t want that. I use a ‘serve as you go’ method so I put mashed potato on the plates as soon as I’m finished making it. You could do this differently or even put each of the components into serving dishes and let everyone serve themselves. I usually only do this at Christmas when I make a bigger variety of foods.

9. 01:55 Serve. Take the roasting tin and muffin tray out of the oven. Serve the Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes. Carve and serve the chicken. Drain all of the water from the vegetables and serve those too. Make the gravy. I would advise adding a little more granules than the instructions suggest but then we like fairly thick gravy. It’s personal choice really. Serve dinner. Enjoy dinner. Then go back to the hell that is now your kitchen. My last piece of advice is to do the washing up straight away, otherwise everything will dry up and be very difficult to clean.

Yum!

Yum!

I hope this has proved useful. When you have finished eating your delicious meal, do NOT throw away any leftover chicken or it’s carcass. Use it for sandwiches, soups or one of the other thousands of recipes that can use it. I’ll be posting a recipe for leftover chicken stew very soon!

A Week of Packed Lunches

Today I’m in a planning mood. The kind of mood where I want to make lists and schedules. So to take advantage of this, I’m going to make a plan for Pip’s first week of school packed lunches. I really don’t want her to have the boring lunches I used to have – soggy sandwiches and whatever happened to be in the cupboard thrown in.

Being completely new to making a child’s school packed lunches, I decided to do a little research, which took me to the NHS choices website, which has some handy guidelines….

A balanced packed lunch should contain:

  • Starchy foods. These are bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, and others.
  • Protein foods. These are meat, fish, eggs, beans and others.
  • A dairy item. This could be cheese or yoghurt.
  • Vegetables or salad, and a portion of fruit

I also had a few rules of my own.

  • No boring sandwiches or anything that’s going to be soggy or otherwise unappealing by lunchtime
  • Never the same thing two days in a row
  • As much homemade stuff as possible, both to save money and to get Pip involved in making her own food
  • Include foods that she’s going to really enjoy eating

With this in mind, I’ve come up with five lunchbox ideas for Pip’s first week.

Day One

Bagel filled with banana and peanut butter*

Cherry tomatoes

Cheese cubes (I’m thinking cheddar & red Leicester, to make it look colourful)

Day Two

Homemade cheese & chive muffins

Grapes

Apple crisps

Day Three

Pitta Bread cut into strips with hummus

Carrot and red pepper sticks

Cheese cubes

Day Four

Bagel with soft cheese and cucumber

Cherry Tomatoes

Grapes

Day Five

Pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, baby spinach, feta cheese and lemon mayo

Apple crisps

Hardboiled egg

What do you put in your child’s lunchbox? I’m always open to new ideas!

*I have heard that some schools have rules against foods that contain peanuts but I’ve been given no such rules so I’m hoping that Pip’s don’t.