Friday, 18 November 2011

Good things in the kitchen

Good things have been happening in our kitchen lately.  Good, sticky, smoky, golden-coloured, slow-cooked, autumnal things. 

Cam's glorious and delicious cheese & onion bread

I find this time of year inspires me to cook more - my pottering-gently-around-the-kitchen-listening-to-Radio 4 approach to cooking suits stews, bread, roasts and cakes, which are what you want to eat at this time of year.  The children have been getting in on the act too.  C made the cheese and onion tear-and-share loaf you can see above.  We gave him the book from the most recent series of Great British Bake Off for his birthday, and he loves it.  So far we've had brandy snaps, hot chocolate fudge pudding and the bread from him.

All this sort of cooking tastes so good because it is made from a few simple ingredients, cooked slowly and with no stress on the part of the cook.  The smells fill the house with warmth and love.

Barbecued beans

We ate C's bread with this barbecued bean stew, which is a fantastic recipe for feeding a family very cheaply in a way which still seems luxurious.

Barbecued bean stew

  • 4 rashers smoked streaky bacon, snipped into pieces
  • 1 onion, sliced into half moons
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, plus 1 tin of water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 heaped tablespoon treacle or dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cider or wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tin of mixed beans in water
Slowly, gently, fry the onion, garlic, celery and bacon in a large casserole dish.  There is no need to add oil, as the bacon will provide enough fat.  Stir absently while listening to the radio.  When the veg is softenend, but not coloured, add all the rest of the ingredients apart from the beans.  Stir, put a lid on the pan and leave to bubble very gently on a low heat for about 30 minutes while you go off and do something more interesting.  Tip in the tin of beans - no need to drain or rinse first - if you've bought them in water it's all good stuff.  Simmer slowly for another 10 minutes with the lid off.

Serve with bread to mop up all the delicious, smoky, barbecue sauce.
I made these beans in my favourite orange shallow casserole dish from Le Creuset.  This is mostly because I like how the orange dish looks with the orange-brown barbecued beans.  But the beans would also work well if you made them in a slow cooker.
I am new to the world of slow cookers.  I have my friend Nina to thank for my introduction to this way of cooking because the other week she tweeted about coming home from work to a chicken and cider casserole cooked in her slow cooker and said it was 'as if somebody else had cooked dinner'.  That short sentence meant I just had to look into this more closely - how often have you come in at the end of the day and wished that for once someone else had cooked dinner?  A very beguiling idea indeed!

Slow cooker with chorizo & sweet potato stew

I bought this model - a whopper with 6 litres capacity.  The shallow amount you can see in the photo above was in fact a chorizo and sweet potato stew which fed five hungry people generously last night.

I am not a great fan of gadgets as I don't have much space in the kitchen, so anything I get is considered carefully and has to be used regularly to earn its place.  But Nina was right, this slow cooker is a great addition to my kitchen. 

I wondered how it would be different to sticking a casserole dish in a low oven for a few hours, which I've been doing for years. The big difference is that the slow cooker is safe to leave on overnight or when I go out, which makes it much more useful than an oven at a low temperature.  It also uses far less electricity than an oven, so is more economical.

Spices and herbs have a more intense flavour cooked this way, so I ease back a little on those but otherwise just stick to my usual stew and casserole recipes.  The only thing that has to be pre-cooked is mince, which clumps together if not fried in a pan first.  Other than that I don't pre-cook anything, just chuck it all in and switch it on.  This means it is simple enough to do first thing in the morning, before I even lay the table for breakfast.

Last weekend I roasted a whole chicken in it.  I made a bed of vegetables: celery sticks, carrots, a quartered onion, six cloves of garlic, a handful of peppercorns and a bay leaf.  I sat the chicken on top, poured in a glass of dry cider and 200ml of vegetable bouillon, and left it on for seven hours.  I came back home to find a beautifully bronzed chicken and half a litre of the most amazingly intense flavoured stock I have ever made.  The chicken and stock were used to make four separate and incredibly delicious meals during the week.

Tomorrow I have plans for a rabbit ragu.  C and I watched Jamie's Great Britain last week and this recipe had both of us shouting excitedly at the tele.  It looked so good, and we all like eating rabbit in this house.  Normally a rabbit from the local butcher costs about £7, but the only one he had left today was an absolute whopper which cost me £14, and will probably make enough bolognese sauce to feed us all until Christmas.  The rabbit and all the other ingredients will go into the slow cooker and we shall see what happens.  I predict great things.


  1. I love rabbit too. £7 seems a bit steep, last time I bought one it a wild rabbit cost me £4. Mind you it was a while ago.

    Barbecued bean look wonderful, just my sort of dish.

  2. we have that slow cooker, it's one of my favourite kitchen helpers x

  3. I am so pleased C is finding his savoury feet in the kitchen .... cooking is such an important life skill. I hope you post photos of the rabbit ragout!

  4. My daughter is getting the Great British Bake Off Cook Book for Christmas so I'm expecting tasty things! She loves baking but with the onset of GCSE home/course work she hardly ever gets her apron these days.

    I'm intrigued by the slow cooker. My aunt swears by hers but I've never taken tried one out...yet. :D

  5. I have been wondering about a slow cooker for a while, but do you have to do a whole lot of browning and part cooking before you begin, or do you really just chuck it all in, shut the lid, and come back to a gourmet meal? Because if it's the latter, then I know what I'm going to request from Father Christmas ...

  6. I've been tempted by a slow cooker for a while, but our teeny kitchen is all out of space between the ken wood chef and the waffle maker! And I am so not parting with the waffle maker. When we finally move I am so planning on getting one. I have cooker envy!

  7. Yay! Mine arrived today! (24hrs super saver delivery, not too shabby!)

    I have a whole chicken coming with my veg on Monday and I'm away! I'm looking forward to hearing about your rabbit ragu as I've sown a seed with No2 and he's happy to try it.

  8. I used my slow cooker so much when my boys were at home, not so much now there is just the two of us. I haven't ever used it to roast a chicken before but I have noted the idea ready for the university holidays!

  9. Oooh Tracy works fast! Still very excited by the chicken idea. K x

  10. Tried to comment before but wouldn't let me! I am so pleased you like the slow cooker and you have inspired me to make 'different' things in mine, other than the usual stew/casserole dishes. Gammon in cola was very good this evening! xx

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