It’s that time of year when Christmas is over and you’ve had too much booze, brie and baked goods so it’s time to switch immediately to cayenne tea and rocket salads, right? Maybe best throw in a side of diazepam and hide all the sharp kitchen utensils while you’re at it.
So many January eating fads are exactly that- fads. Apart from the fact that any extreme eating plan is never going to be sustainable or good for you in the long term, there are so many more battles facing your will power at this time of year: It’s dark. It’s cold. You’ve driven 400 miles in 3 days to visit a plethora of germ-heavy relations in a centrally heated room full of dusty tinsel. Your sleep patterns are all screwy from combined late night brandy sessions and revised office opening hours. You are more than likely poorer than usual and you are more likely to succumb to the double dip of stress and depression what with all that cold and dark and sleep wobbles. Why on earth do you think you can cope with starving yourself now when you’re already tired and cold with a stretched immune system? Now, maybe even more than through the rest of the year, you need to feed your body with actual nutrition and sensible calories to keep you warm, energised and with the will to continue living. Believe it or not you can do this without a 3000 calorie galaxy and stilton based eating plan. If you want to.
I love my slow cooker in the winter. I’m pretty fond of it all year but it really comes into its own in the post Christmas slide into January. It is so easy to throw something on in the morning, veg out for the day and have a hot, comforting dinner ready with very little input or supervision and although yes you can go all out with some kind of beef fat and cream based fantasy casserole, you can also keep it pretty clean. Your slow cooker loves seasonal root veg and calorie free spices and fat free, protein high beans and pulses and it can make them really delicious too. As I’ve documented previously, not every attempt of mine has been a glorious success but the last couple of years have given me the bad experience enough to come up with my own set of rules to successfully blagging an edible slow cooker tea:
- The ‘low setting’ is bullshit. Cook it all on high if you want it to cook at all.
- Do not ever think about putting leeks, ultra lean meat, fish or shellfish in there. Just don’t.
- Season it well then season it again. I’m not sure if it is the deceptively large pot or something in the process but I always find that I don’t get the kind of flavour intensity as I would if I followed the same recipe set up in a stove top pan in an hour. So use good, strong stock and an extra pinch on your spices.
- Cruddy produce will be made worse by a slow cooker. Don’t think you’re enhancing those bruised spuds or liquefying courgettes with a five hour cook.
- Don’t scrimp on your prep time, and prep small. Root veg in particular should be chopped reasonably finely and always crush rather than chop garlic.
- Sear meat well before adding and if you have time, sweat off onions before going into the pot as they produce an odd aftertaste if they go in from raw.
- Add creamy stuff at the end. If dairy sticks on to that pot surface it never comes off again.
- Add booze at your peril, it doesn’t cook out properly.
I came up with the below soup yesterday, my one home-day of holiday this festive season during which I spent a manic morning washing, tidying, stripping beds, stashing presents and filling up my slow cooker before descending into a Netflix and chill sofa shame spiral of some eight and a half hours. Bliss. In related news- Hemlock Grove is some seriously weird but compelling watching for grown up BTVS fans. Weeeird.
Anyway we were in need of some dietary fibre after all that cheese based Boxing Day shiz, and by a random twist of events I was in possession of a lot broccoli so I came up with this soup. It was incredibly tasty and restorative, with a nice punch of slow-carby vitamins from the peas and broccoli plus a gentle homage to the yuletide dairy binge with the addition of soft cheese at the end. Lovely, nourishing, and not too high on calories or weight watchers points. It was even better today as I had the left overs for a self righteous office lunch when others are still having mostly short bread based meals. Give it a bash, it’s proper good.
Boomboom Broccoli Cheese Soup
Serves 3-4 as a main meal
All times and quantities assume 3L slow cooker
1 ½ heads broccoli
2 white onions
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups frozen peas
200g soft cheese
1 tspn dried dill
1tsp ground coriander
1tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
Stock see below
Start off at the proper cooker with a frying panand soften the finely chopped onions in butter until they become translucent then add these to the slow cooker. Throw in the well chopped broccoli, garlic and herbs. I then put in one vegetable and one chicken stock cube then cover the contents of the pot with freshly boiled water from the kettle. You could use made up stock either veg or chicken but make sure you heat it before adding. Put the lid on and leave on high for 4-5 hours until the broccoli stem pieces are tender. Add the peas and soft cheese, stirring very well to combine then wait for the pot to come to temperature again before adjusting seasoning then serving with crusty bread.
Variations: Add a handful of chopped ham to each bowl before serving or top with toasted almonds as a treat addition for the vegetarians. As with many slowcooker efforts, this isn’t the most photogenic brew as the green from the veg fades over the long cooking period so if you wanted to serve as a show stopper you can do the whole thing in about half an hour on the stove and maintain a brighter green.