After much consideration about how we were going to manage my return to work from a practical point of view (ie how on earth was I going to manage to get dinner on the table by six if I don’t get home with the girls until after 5.30pm) I decided to take the plunge and buy myself a slow cooker. These seem to be a must-have for maintaining a work/life balance for many people so I though it might be worth a try. It helped that I received a voucher unexpectedly from one of the many store cards I seem to have accumulated meaning I could pick one up for very little outlay. I love slow cooking, but until now I’ve never been interested in a slow cooker. I didn’t like the idea of not browning the meat first – that’s where have the flavour comes from after all – and I had heard they tend to result in thin, insipid gravies instead of nice rich, intensely flavoured ones. Also I’m not that keen on applicances – not a big enough kitchen to store them. Anyway, long story short, I changed my mind and this now sits (a bit awkwardly) on my benchtop.
I also borrowed this book from the library – if it seems good once I’ve tried a few recipes I’ll buy it for my collection.
Having read the introduction in the ‘Slow Cooker’ chapter I picked up a few tips. Firstly brown your meat and sometimes vegetables like onions and garlic first in a separate frying pan, and then deglaze the pan, adding the juices to the slow cooker. Secondly, if the sauce is to thin, remove the lid and cook on high for 20-30 mins at the end, or thicken with a mixture of corn flour and water. This adds a little more work to the dish, but for me there’s no point making food that’s tasteless so I’m happy to do these couple of additional steps. I’m hoping this will be all worth it to have lovely soups, casseroles and even roasts cooking away while I’m working.
So I’ve decided Thursdays will be my slow cooker experiment night. At the moment I’m working casually do emergency teaching so I don’t always work on Thursdays, but I’m trying to imagine I have that time constraint even if I don’t actually have to be out of the house by 7.30am, two kids in tow. This means everything has to be ready the night before so all I actually have to do in the morning is fry off whatever needs to be fried and throw it in the cooker as we make a dash for the door.
I started tonight with pea and ham soup – I wasn’t as organised as I should have been and had I actually had work to get to I would have been late. Let’s hope I get better at this! The ham came from a frozen ham bone I had kept from post-Christmas which still had plenty of meat on it. The other ingredients included dried green split peas, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and herbs (from the garden naturally). The whole dish cost $3.00 with plenty left over the add to the freezer. I started by frying off the onions and garlic and I had soaked the peas overnight. It bubbled away for about 8 hours, then I removed the ham bone, the meat falling off it as I lifted it out. I shredded the meat and got rid of the skin, fat and bone and returned the meat to the pot.
As I didn’t actually work today I had time to make my own bread rolls to go with the soup. I picked up a few tips from last weeks Master Chef Masterclass on bread making, Firstly I punched down the dough every twenty minutes for an hour, then instead of kneading it conventionally I stretched the dough out, rolled it back up and stretched it again a few times. Finally I rolled the dough into eight balls and left it to prove again – second proving being longer than the first. The final tip was to add ice cubes to the oven when you put the bread in to cook, the steam created help make the bread crusty on the outside and soft in the middle. The result, beautifully crusty rolls and a soft and fluffy middle – definitely my best bread, much lighter than I usually get it.
And the soup, it was pretty great as well. Mr Good commented on the smell when he walked in and wasn’t disappointed by the taste. My biggest concern was not getting the peas soft. My Mum makes pea and ham soup but the peas are always a little hard. I was hoping for peas more like you get in the Campbells tinned pea and ham soup (now there’s a bogan food confession for you). My peas were definitely tinned soup worthy, nice and soft (mushy perhaps) and the ham was amazing.
Finally, I’d love to know your take on the slow cooker, are you a fan or a skeptic? And if you have one, are there any absolute winning recipes I should try, or tips I should know?