Last week, I was really happy about two things in particular. Number one – my parents gave me a crock pot for my birthday. This beautiful specimen that you can see in the piccies below (well, the pot part, anyway). It’s always seemed to me as if crock pots are pretty much similar to each other, but so far I’ve found this one particularly snazzy as you can put it on the stove at the beginning to brown your meat and get your flavours going.
Anyway, back to crock pots later, but number two particularly cool thing this week was that a really good friend came to visit. Not only was she the first overnight visitor we’ve had in our new flat but she was also the first really good friend I’ve seen in months. Because of travelling, not because I’m a recluse with no friends, you understand (I know I got you wondering about me for a moment there).
As well as being all geared up for a heavy-duty girlie catch-up, I was looking forward to making my friend a really nice meal. So, I decided to kill two birds with one stone by attempting to make my trusty chicken and pumpkin curry recipe in my new crock pot rather than on the stove as usual so that I could concentrate more on our marathon chatting session.
Now you’re probably expecting me to rave on and on about how wonderful the curry was, but sadly, this is not to be. Very unfortunately it ended up far too watery and totally lacking flavour. Crock pot lesson number one learnt the hard way, then, is to reduce the amount of liquid you’d use if just using a regular recipe that you’d usually cook on the stove – by roughly a third, apparently – and maybe up the herbs and spices, too. Duh (knew the liquid one already, really).
So just to give myself a little helping hand for next time (and hopefully to help you, too), I looked up some more tips and HERE ARE MY TOP 5:
1 Flour-coat & brown:
You can absolutely just dump your meat and veggies in the pot and run. Your meal will still end up delicious, but taking just an extra few moments to brown them on the stove top first will really help to seal all the juices into the meat and boost the flavour of the final dish. For casseroles and stews, you can also be extra clever by rolling your meat in a little flour first. This will ensure that you end up with a richer, thicker sauce.
2 Get organised:
If you’re not keen on the idea of going to work stinking of onions and garlic you’ve chopped up to chuck in your slow cooker that morning, then prepare everything the night before (including browning the meat), throw it into the pot with your liquid covering the veg and meat and then into the fridge, then in the morning just pop the pot back into the slow cooker base and turn it on. Just try to remember to take it out of the fridge when you get up so that it warms up a little before you switch it on and you don’t risk cracking your pot due to extremes of temperature.
3 Don’t be a peeping Tom:
I know, I know, it’s so tempting to keep having quick peeks at your delicious feast cooking up there all by itself, especially when the gorgeous smells start to permeate the room, but … well, DON’T. Especially in the first couple of hours of cooking. Each time you lift the lid, you’ll lose around 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time because that’s how long your crock pot will take to regain the lost heat. Some people would disagree here, but you don’t really need to stir, either, unless your recipe specifically tells you to do so. The whole point of a slow cooker, remember, is to shove the food in the pot, pop the lid on and completely ignore it until dinner time!
4 Get fresh at the end:
To cut through the richness of many slow-cooked dishes and/or add colour and vibrance to the flavours, just before serving liberally add some fresh herbs or lemon zest, grated parmesan, high quality olive oil or even yoghurt, crème fraiche or cream (dairy may curdle if added at the beginning of cooking). Your dish would have been wonderful just as it was, but such an added touch could make all the difference and turn a really good meal into an absolutely scrumptious one!
5 Be a greedy guts:
Well, sort of. If your crock pot’s big enough (and you don’t have five kids to guzzle all the food down on one night), try to make double so that you can freeze some. You might as well leave yourself with no work at all for another day!
Now of course these are just my top 5 tips – there are loads more (if you’ve got any to share, I’d love it if you could mention it in the comments below!) Above all remember that crock pots aren’t just for casseroles and stews. You can make cakes & puddings, chili and bolognese sauces, ribs, curries, pot roasts, soups, stocks and quite possibly hundreds of other things in there, too.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE CROCK POT RECIPES? PLEASE DO SHARE!
So now without further ado I’m going to leave you with the first recipe I made in my new crock pot last week – which, happily, was a success: Thai pumpkin & red lentil soup. It was rich, thick, spicy, creamy, super tasty, healthy and warming & satisfying all at the same time. Let’s call it pumpkin soup extraordinaire!
Thai pumpkin & red lentil soup
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 small to medium pumpkin peeled and chopped into smallish cubes
- 2 garlic cloves crushed
- 2 cm piece fresh ginger finely sliced or grated
- 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
- 2 tablespoons tomato puree
- 1 cup dried red split lentils
- 1 can coconut milk not light
- 2 cups chicken or veggie stock good quality
- salt and pepper to taste
- fresh coriander to sprinkle over at the end
In a little oil, cook the onion with the pumpkin for a few minutes on a medium heat on your stove top, then add the garlic, ginger, curry paste and tomato puree. Cook for another minute or so, then transfer to your crock pot.
Add the lentils, coconut milk and stock and cook on low for 6-8 hours (longer if you like – or 4 hours on high if you’re short on time).
Blend until smooth with a stick blender, then stir in salt and pepper to taste. Serve and scatter with the fresh coriander.
Your coconut milk may (but may not) look as if it’s split when it’s finished cooking (mine did). Don’t worry about this at all. As soon as I blended the soup, all was fine! This makes quite a thick soup. The first portion I ate I ate it super thick and really enjoyed it, but the next day I added a little water to thin it out a little. Both ways were nice, so the choice is yours!