Adventures in Slow Cooking- Light Beef Stew

Keep your onions thinly sliced for better slow cook results.

Keep your onions thinly sliced for better slow cook results.

Another Saturday, another chance to try for a decent dinner out of the 2014 Valentines gift that is my slow cooker. As previously reported, successes have been sporadic so far.

This week there was a pack of casserole beef and a rare unfinished bottle of red to be had, so a beef stew seemed obvious. Results were on the pleasing end of the satisfaction scale and the below method should yield a tasty, not too hefty dinner dish with a fragrant and tasty but thin liquor. It’s not quite a soup, but not as weighty as some traditional stews including my previously billed recipe based more on a flammande style.

The big lesson of this week is to again shy away a little from the dump and go method and take time to quite thinly slice the veg, especially the onions as often the slow cook fails to completely tenderise big lumps of veg and the softer they get, the more flavour they release.


Light Beef Stew

All times and quantities assume 4.5l slow cooker

Serves 2 healthy appetites

500g beef from a suitable, slow cook cut such as shin or generic stewing/casserole beef
5 small white onions
1 large green pepper
2 large, ripe tomatoes
1 large glass of red wine
Equivalent amount of vegetable stock to wine
2 bay leaves
1tsp mustard seeds
1tbspn dried mix herbs
black pepper
Olive oil
plain flour

To begin, a glug of olive oil in the cold slowcooker pot. Now finely chop the onions and tomatoes and add to the cold pot. You can afford to go a little chunkier with the green peppers, then add these to the pot along with the wine, stock and seasonings. I prefer the lighter finish of veg stock with this kind of stew, though you could use chicken or beef stock as required.

Dice the beef and dust with a little plain flour. Melt a good sized knob of butter in a frying pan with just a touch of olive oil to avoid it burning. Only when the pan is good and hot, add the beef (best done in 2 batches unless you have a mahoosive pan). To test the heat, drop one chunk of meat in, it should sizzle immediately. Keep the beef moving in the pan only long enough to seal then transfer to the slow cooker pot, along with the juices from the pan.

Give it all a good stir, you should have enough liquid to just cover the other ingredients. Put the lid on then leave on high setting for at least 5 hours. As previously said, you may wish to keep some stock on side to top up the liquid levels depending on your personal tastes but make sure it is hot before you add it. Taste the stew at this time and adjust seasoning as you wish, if the liquor is too thin add a handful of split red lentils which will soak up some of the excess and then dissolve nicely into the sauce.

Leave to cook for another hour, then serve.

Simple stewed beef with onions and peppers in a light broth.

Simple stewed beef with onions and peppers in a light broth.




Week Night Cheat Night Curry

I wont even attempt to bill this as a proper from scratch curry, which is something I one day hope to master. What this is is a quick, simple dinner best utilised on a cold Wednesday night when you really don’t have it in you to mess around too much but must resist the call to beans on toast or a dirty takeaway.

Don’t believe the hype kids, banging out a healthy dinner on both a time and monetary budget in less than an hour is completely possible, and if you get it right even preferable.

Boom Boom Cheat’s Curry

Serves 2

For the sauce:
3 small white onions
1 courgette
5 cloves of garlic
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2-1tbspn curry powder of your choice
1/4 tsp tumeric (optional)
a small red chilli (or dried)
150g plain yoghurt
Oil for frying

For the bulk*:
Fresh broccoli,
Brussells sprouts, ended and halved
One tin of chickpeas, drained
Green or red peppers
Frozen peas
*you can sub for any other seasonal or preferred vegetables
Fresh coriander to serve.
Roughly chop the onions and courgettes, mince the garlic. Heat some oil (do not use olive oil) in a pan gently then add the spices and garlic and heat through for a minute, moving around to avoid burning. If you’re not a fan of too much heat then leave out or at lease de-seed the chilli. When the aromas of the spices are being released (as in, you can really smell them) add the onions and turn up the heat. Stir for a couple of minutes then add the courgettes and 2 tablespoons of water. Give it a good stir then cook through until the onions are translucent and courgettes well softened- this will be quicker if you cover the pan but keep an eye on it. Take off the heat and set aside for now.
Next prep the rest of the veg you are using for the bulk of the curry into bitesized chunks.
Now take the onion and spice mix and blend with the yoghurt until you have a thick, uniform textured sauce. If you don’t have a blender you could grate the onion and courgette before cooking and stir in the yoghurt instead. Set aside.
Add a couple of spoons of water to the pan you cooked the onions in and put on the heat. When boiling, add your broccolli and carrots then cover and leave to steam for a few minutes before adding the Brussels sprouts. After another few minutes add the peppers. You can cook to your own taste but I like to keep the veg just cooked with some crunch! A couple of minutes before the veg is fully cooked add the chickpeas and cook for another minute. Add the frozen peas, stir to combine then add the yoghurt sauce. Cook now for long enough to heat through the peas and sauce then serve immediately, garnished with lots of chopped fresh coriander.
Variations: to veganise this dish you can use a vegan sub yoghurt or use almond or soya milk to make the sauce, though obviously this affects the flavour quite significantly. For the carnivores you could add chicken or turkey cut into chunks and fried off before adding the veg and following about method, or serve alongside a pork chop. If using lamb swap the coriander for mint. You really can use any veg you like but I’d avoid anything too starchy like potatoes unless you want to take the ‘quick’ out of this recipe. Up or down the heat to taste with some fresh or dried chillis and you could swap the chickpeas for cooked puy lentils. 

Adventures in Slow Cooking- Lentil & Bacon Stew

fml-Slow Cookers Anne Shooter-4.jpg It’s not been an easy few weeks in Boomboom land, so today I took to one of my favourite therapeutic activities, namely making a big mess in my little kitchen, with better results than usual for both my appetite and general stress levels.

The main activity of the day will come in later writings to add to The Xmas Files, but around sorting that out I decided to have another bash at getting a decent dinner out of my slow cooker. I have to say I was hoping to have a chapter of slow cooking stuff by now but the hit rate since the presentation of his valentines gift (ah, the romance!) has been in the lower percentile to put it kindly. I’ve managed one absolutely knock out tomato and basil and pepper stew type thing, a passable barley risotto and maybe a dozen mildly disappointing curries, soups and watery stews. I’d say it’s been a learning curve but I can’t quite explain why what has worked has worked, and why the nots really didn’t. Each time I have worked on the basic slow cooking principles as provided by google but there seems to be no science to it- the kitchen gods are on my side once in a while but more often than not they have gone out for Chinese instead. I can say with confidence only three things on the subject of my slow cooker:

1: Slow cooking wont make good of crappy or tired ingredients. If you wouldn’t eat it fresh, don’t bother slow cooking it.

2: The low setting aint cooking anything in less than half a day, if you’re lucky. Even longer if you keep taking the lid off to check it.

3: In slow cooking, as in life, bacon is very often your friend.

So, here we are, present day, a free and slow starting Saturday and another attempt to tame that stainless steel beast into making me a half decent dinner. The usual principles apply, the staples are all in stock and bless my onions if it didn’t all turn out rather wonderfully tonight. So wonderfully in fact that my confidence is restored, and herein begins the chapters of Adventures In Slow Cooking, where I will endeavour to report all further outings, good and bad.

Slow Cooker Lentils & Bacon

All ingredients and times assume a 4.5L slow cooker

Serves 3-4

2 cups dry split red lentils
300g smoked cooking bacon, trimmed of fat and rinsed
4 medium carrots
5 celery stalks with leaves if possible
500ml vegetable stock
1 tin or carton chopped plum tomatoes
1 cup carrot juice
Dried piri piris or fresh red chillies to taste
4 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
Black pepper

The real joy of slow cooking is that it is more or less a dump and go job. I say more or less as there are a couple of touches for this method before you just chuck it all in the pot and bugger off for 5-6 hours.

To begin, chop up your carrots and celery and mince the garlic then throw into your cold slow cooker. Add the lentils, bay leaf, chillies if using and pepper before pouring on the stock, tomatoes and carrot juice. Next, the meat.
Now please indulge me while we have a word about cooking bacon. It is generally a bona fide bargain if you don’t mind not having rashers and take a little bit of care to have a good look and select a pack with less fat and gristly looking bits. Cooking bacon does however tend to be on the saltier side, to the point that it can spoil a dish like this which is why we rinse it. There’s a lot of hype about rinsing meat and I’m just going to say that I have never suffered from the food poisonings with the following method, used immediately before you start cooking: Cut the bacon into rough chunks and trim the fat then transfer to a large colander. Then in a clean sink, without any dishes drying or pan scourers etc anywhere near by, rinse the bacon under a slow stream of cold water (so it doesn’t splash raw bacon run off all over the place). You don’t need to go overboard, just a brief rinse of all the bits. Leave it to drain for a minute (literally a minute, time it!) then put the bacon on top of the other ingredients in the pot, stir it all well then put the lid on and switch to high. Wash your hands and clean the sink thoroughly.
Now before you head out to the shops or sit down to watch Titanic set a timer for about 15 minutes. When you return the lentils will have started to absorb some of the liquid, top up now so the liquid covers the entire mix well. Give it another stir and then bugger off and please yourself for at least four hours, probably more like 5.
Keep a casual eye on your modern day cauldron on after this point and take little tasters as you please to make sure everything is tender and seasoned to your taste.  Do not taste the stew before it has been at a low simmer for atleast 45 minutes, there’s bacon in there! You may wish to top up the liquid at various points depending how much moisture is yeilded from the veg you use, for the sake of flavour I would have some extra stock kept by for this but in a pinch you can use water and it should be at least warm when added if not hot to avoid putting your cooking temperature back down.

You’ll get four decent bowls out of this one and it’s great served with some chunky buttered bread and more freshly milled black pepper. Delicious!

Not the prettiest dinner going, but a mighty tasty one, and thrifty too.

Not the prettiest dinner going, but a mighty tasty one, and thrifty too.

Variations: Easily veganised by leaving out the bacon or the carnivores might wish to swap it for chorizo or even kabanos and chicken stock will work as well as vegetable. If you use rasher bacon, still trim it but no need to rinse. For a sweeter finish use half carrots and half parsnips. You could add some curry powder and leave out the bayleaf or experiment with adding some fresh herbs 3 hours into the cooking time. If you don’t have the carrot juice use extra stock.