Firstly let me apologise for there being no pictures in this post – not great for a foodie post, but it was so yummy that I totally forgot to take pics before we devoured it 😉
It’s been a while since I wrote up a slow cooker recipe. It’s not that I haven’t been slow cooking, but more that I haven’t found the time to write about it as well as all the other things I’m doing, and recently I have been sticking with recipes I’ve done before rather than experimenting with new things. But this week we had a celeriac in the veg box, and I haven’t had one for quite a while, so this got me thinking about how I could slow cook it.
I remember I enjoyed a dish once (I can’t actually remember where or when!) that was a bit like a celeriac dauphinoise, with a creamy cheesy sauce around slices of the root vegetable. So this hazy memory formed the basis of my slow cooker creation. I made a simple creamy sauce out of milk, soft cheese and a small amount of flour. The celeriac formed the main bulk of the solid part of the dish, though I added a bunch of purple kale that was in the box, as well as a tin of pink salmon for more protein beyond the dairy ingredients.
It turned out very well, and generally the boys were impressed, although Andrew wasn’t too keen on the taste of the celeriac – I think it’s quite an acquired taste and I’m not sure when he last had it. We served it with rice because the boys had eaten quite a lot of pasta in the days before we ate this, but pasta would work well with it too I think.
Here’s the recipe, which is very simple but give very yummy results!
1 pint milk
200g tub soft cheese with herbs/onion/garlic
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tin salmon
1 bunch purple kale
rice or pasta to serve
Cut the stalks of the kale off and chop the leaves into smaller pieces.
Peel the celeriac and cut into slices about 1cm thick, and then each big slice into smaller pieces.
Place the slices in layers in the slow cooker pot, sandwiching some purple kale between each layer of celeriac.
Mix the milk, soft cheese and flour in a jug, then pour the mixture into the pot – it should just come up to the top layer.
Cook on high for 5 hours.
About an hour before the end of the cooking time, drain the tin of salmon and flake the fish, then add it on top of the celeriac in the pot.
About 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time, cook some rice or pasta to serve it with.
If you didn’t know already by reading this blog, I love cooking and baking, and then writing up here the new things that I’ve tried. Most of the time I just make make it up as I go along, rarely following recipes, and instead taking inspiration from dishes I’ve tasted or smelled or just heard of. There are some evenings though, when we’re all tired and hungry, that I lack inspiration or the ability to remember previous inspirational moments.
So when I saw that BritMums were offering some Schwartz 2-in-1 sachets to review as part of the “Tell us what’s for dinner tonight” challenge (I’m entering this post with a chance to win a prize) I thought I’d give them a go. As BritMums write: sometimes you need a little inspiration to make your meals even better. And that’s just what these Schwartz sachets are here to help with.
Schwartz describe their new 2-in-1 range as “easy to use recipe mix sachets in one handy pack: one sachet flavours the main dish whilst the other contains ? seasoning for a complementary side dish or topping. With 5 different varieties to choose from, and an easy recipe on the back of each pack, it’s a great way to try out new dishes or transform an existing family favourite.” You can see all the different flavours here, and I was sent two of these sachets to try:
Mediterranean Chicken Pasta and Cheesy Crumb Topping: A blend of herbs and spices for chicken pasta with a cheesy topping
Garlic & Thyme Roast Chicken and Crispy Roast Potatoes: Roast chicken seasoning, with garlic and thyme, accompanied by a special seasoning to create perfect Crispy Roast Potatoes
For us, the sachet for the pasta bake is an example of a way to transform an existing family favourite, as we quite often cook a tomato-based pasta bake with veg and tuna in and cheese on the top as a quick and easy midweek meal. The recipe on the sachet suggests that you make it with chicken and peppers, but as we don’t cook meat very often, I decided to adapt it to what we had in the cupboard and veg box that week. So we had tuna, carrots and courgette instead (the “hint and tips” section on the sachet suggests that you could replace the chicken and peppers with tuna and sweetcorn, and gives you instructions for when to add these at different stages fro, the original recipe). I’m planning on using the roast chicken and potatoes mix to bake some white fish with potatoes one day, but I’m still looking out for when the fish is on the reduced shelf when we go shopping so I can grab us a bargain meal.
How easy was it?
The evening that I cooked the pasta bake was a classic for our family. We usually eat together around 6.30pm, but I’m never too sure how much I’ll be required for feeding Joel around that time. These days it’s not that much, but I can be called away at quite short notice. This is why I’m into slow cooking, it’s ready for 6.30pm having done all the prep earlier. But I digress. I started off chopping the veg, weighing out the pasta and grating the cheese, whilst Daddy and the boys were otherwise entertaining themselves. But then a tired Joel got very grizzly, so Daddy and I swapped and he carried on doing the cooking. We make a good team, and often end up cooking half a meal each. This usually involves me shouting instructions at him from the sofa, but with the recipe on the Schwartz 2-in-1 sachet, he was pleased that he could follow it himself with a couple of verbal notes from me about how I was adapting it. I too found the instructions easy to follow and adapt.
I liked the fact that the ingredients were all things that we had in the cupboard or fridge, and we could just decide at short notice that this is what we’d have for dinner, open tins and cartons, do some chopping and grating, fling it all together and that was it. No tricky steps or fancy equipment required. The larger part of the sachet contained a mix of herbs to add to the tomatoes to form a sauce, which then got mixed with the pasta, tuna and veg, and the smaller part of the sachet contained a crispy herby topping to mix with grated cheese and sprinkle them on top.
The taste test
Whilst it was cooking, both the sauce in the pan and the completed bake under the grill smelled delicious, so we were waiting with watering mouths for what was to come on our plates. We were not disappointed, the flavour did live up to the deliciousness that the smell had promised. The boys absolutely loved it – pasta is their favourite for dinner, so to get approval from them means it met their high standards. Andrew decided to call it ‘special pasta’, I’m not quite sure why, maybe he could tell that it was better than the usual pasta bakes that I whip up without the sachet! Joel expressed his opinion by making loud lip snacking noises as he shovelled fistfuls into his mouth. Us adults were also pleased with a meal that was high in taste factor but low in effort factor – the sachet really did transform what could have otherwise been a fairly ordinary pasta bake.
Just one problem that we found was the salt content: my little boys have good appetites, so the portion they ate of the pasta bake contains all the salt in their guideline daily amount as an under 1 and an under 3. I suspect a fair amount of this also comes from the cheese as well as the flavouring. They don’t have much other salt in the day as I don’t add it to anything (including the bread we make in the bread maker), so I don’t mind them eating something like this occasionally, but I wouldn’t want them to eat it every day unless the salt content was reduced. I find this a general problem with sachet or jar sauces, so we don’t often eat them, but they are handy to have in for the odd day here and there.
Overall we were very impressed by the sachet. It was easy to cook and had a yummy result. I would buy it again to have in the cupboard, though as I said it would only be for occasional use with two little ones due to the salt content. It made an ordinary meal ‘special’ for us.
This post is an entry for BritMums ‘What’s for Dinner Tonight?’ sponsored by Schwartz. Find out more about the new 2in1 mixes here
Disclaimer: I was sent the sachets free of charge for the purpose of this review, but all opinions expressed are honest and my own, based on our experience of cooking with one of them.
I haven’t written up a food post for a while. It’s partly because our oven has been broken for a few weeks – I know, shocking, I’m not sure how I’ve coped without baking therapy; well actually I do, it’s been sewing therapy instead, making some funky wet bags for the boys’ nappies! And it’s partly because I’ve been busy writing breastfeeding posts and doing stuff for the Nappyness Cloth Nappy LIbrary. The oven is now fixed so hopefully I can do some more baking next weekend.
With a broken oven, I’ve been so glad that we have a slow cooker. Last week we had an aubergine in the veg box, and as I was thinking about what I could do with it, moussaka sprang to mind. I think traditionally this is done with lamb, but as I can’t stand lamb, I went for turkey instead, as that’s the meat that I often substitute when a recipe calls for minced beef or lamb (I also make a turkey shepherd’s pie for example). I had a quick google and the first hit for slow cooked moussaka was another blog with a recipe that seemed to fit the bill. So, as usual, I adapted it to what we had in and my own tastes, and this is what I came up with….
The verdict from my boys was very positive, so much so that Tom suggested I cook it again when the younger boys’ Godmum came round for lunch on Sunday.
3 cloves garlic
1 tin tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato purée
handful of herbs (I had fresh sage in the tubs)
400g turkey mince
1 pack feta
Slice the aubergine and courgette into fairly thin rounds.
Chop the onion and garlic, and heat in a frying pan with some olive oil, until they start to brown.
Add the minced turkey and cook until just grey.
Add the tomatoes, tomato puree and herbs, and stir well.
Put about one third of the turkey mixture in the bottom of the slow cooker pot.
On top of this, place a layer of sliced aubergine and courgette.
Put about another third of the turkey mixture on top, then another aubergine/courgette layer, and repeat with the last third of the turkey mixture and the last of the veg.
Cook on low for about 7-8 hours.
In the last hour of cooking, add the feta to the top and replace the lid.
Serve with rice, and freeze any that you don’t eat – it defrosts to make a yummy meal later in the week 🙂
This month my cupcake calendar came up with a more unusual type of cupcake, one which I’d never thought of doing before. The idea was to make little cheesecakes in cupcake cases – an actually very simple idea, but not something I’ve seen before. I didn’t follow the recipe in terms of ingredients much, I just used a basic baked cheesecake mixture that I’ve done before, but made it in cupcake cases instead of a large cake tin.
I wasn’t sure how they would turn out, but in the end they worked pretty well. A few had issues coming out of the tin – I think the key was to make sure no mixture spilled over the side when I poured it in or during the baking as the mixture rose slightly, because this left a sticky residue between paper and tin. The taste was delicious, just like any other baked cheesecake. These would be handy to serve at a buffet or party where there are lots of different choices and you’d like to try a little bit of a few things – no more trying to cut a small slither of a big cheesecake and it ending up disheveled!
Here’s the recipe…
200g digestive biscuits
200g soft cheese (Philadelphia-style)
100ml soured cream
2 tsp vanilla essence
blueberries to decorate
Put cupcake cases into a 12-hole muffin tin and pre-heat the oven to 160ºC (fan).
Put the digestives in a large bowl and crush them into crumbs using the end of a rolling pin.
Melt the margarine in a smaller bowl in the microwave and add to the biscuit crumbs.
Mix until well combined and stiff, then spoon into the cake cases and press down with your fingers to make the base.
Mix the soft cheese, soured cream and sugar together, then beat in the eggs and vanilla essence.
Pour the mixture into the paper cases on top of the biscuit base.
Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until just golden on top.
Turn the oven off and leave the cakes to cool in there until they are cool enough to remove without oven gloves.
Remove the cakes from the tin.
Decorate each cake with a few blueberries or other fruit.
In general, Joel seems to be loving food, there’s not much he hasn’t eaten when we’ve given it to him. I’m sure he’ll get fussier as he gets older, but hopefully he’ll be similar to Andrew and like most things despite the odd fuss here and there. One thing in particular that both boys like is extra mature cheddar cheese – Joel would eat loads of this if I let him (I’m watching the salt), and Andrew would polish off the rest! And a couple of things that Andrew is less good at (unless they are cooked in something) and I hadn’t tried Joel with are spinach and tomatoes.
So I decided to make some savoury mini muffins packed with cheese, spinach and tomatoes. Having been searching for a while for a cheap silicone mini muffin mould, I eventually found one last week at a homeware store that opened a while ago near our local supermarket but I’d never heard of the brand and assumed it was an expensive one (we live in Cambridge, this is the norm). But as I walked past it the other day, I took a closer look and realised it was in fact a Wilkinsons-style shop – ever since we moved here 7 years ago I’ve missed having a Wilkos to get bits and bobs from.
This recipe would also work in a fairy cake tin (mine have seen better days, hence my search for a new silicone mould) or a normal-sized muffin tin. I just like the mini-ness of them for little fingers to grasp. And these muffins were very much devoured by the little mouths on the receiving end of the little fingers’ grip.
This recipe made 24 mini muffins, some of which we ate fresh and some of which we froze for later to keep them fresh.
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g extra mature cheddar cheese (or you could use any strength you like)
100g fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
about a dozen cherry tomatoes, chopped into quarters
50ml olive oil
Put the flour, baking powder, cheese, spinach and tomatoes in a bowl and mix until roughly distributed.
Mix the milk, eggs and oil in a bowl until the egg is broken up – don’t over beat, you don’t want to end up with mayonnaise!
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones along with a good grind of black pepper and stir until well combined.
Spoon the mixture into the mini muffin mould so each hole is full.
Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes at 180ºC (fan).
Remove from the oven and allow to cool only as much as you need to in order to eat them!
Freeze any that are not eaten within a day or so to keep them fresh.
Another week, another recipe with beetroot! As you can probably guess if you’ve read my previous posts recently, we had beetroots in the veg box again this week. I love beetroot, so this isn’t a problem, I just don’t know many recipes that use them, so we often eat them roasted as a side veg. Having already made chocolate beetroot cake and savoury beetroot crumble, I had a brainwave for this week’s beetroot: red + white = pink! I knew that Andrew would love pasta (his favourite food) even more if it was brightly coloured, so I thought why not cook the red beetroot in a milky sauce and add pasta to make a pink dish. The addition of red kidney beans as well as the deep red/purple of the beetroot chunks complimented the pink colour very nicely.
I’ve not done much pasta cooking in the slow cooker because I’ve heard that it can be very difficult to get it just right in texture between being crunchy and mushy, but I was impressed by how good Aly’s macaroni cheese recipe over at Plus 2.4 turned out when I made it, so was motivated to try one myself. The pasta turned out quite well, though on the mushier end of normal for someone who usually likes quite al dente pasta – next time I would have the pasta in for a little less time. But it was perfect for Joel to try sone, so I wasn’t disappointed. Andrew was very impressed with his pink pasta – he even managed to eat some beetroot, which hasn’t always been his favourite vegetable. So an all round good family meal. If Andrew was into a certain pig called Peppa, I might have called it Peppa Pig pasta! Maybe worth a try if you have a Peppa Pig fan who is a fussy eater?
Here’s the recipe – it did us two meals
About 400g beetroots
200ml boiling water
450g pasta shapes – we had shells
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tin red kidney beans
1 tsp chilli powder (optional – we like spicy food)
100g soft cheese
Chop the beetroots into chunks (I left them fairly large) and place in the slow cooker pot with the boiling water. Cook for 2 hours on high.
After the 2 hours, add the rest of the ingredients except the soft cheese and stir well.
Cook on high for a further 2 1/2 hours (more like 2 hours if you want firmer pasta).
When it’s cooked, stir in the soft cheese and serve immediately.
I actually cooked this a couple of weeks ago now, but it was just before we went away for 10 days and I was too busy finishing my posts on cloth nappies for Real Nappy Week (and getting ready to get the four of us off on holiday – that’s no easy feat!) so I didn’t get round to blogging this rather delicious meal until now. Risottos are a great way to use up things in the fridge that have seen better days and/or a great way to chuck in things from the store cupboard if you’re running low on fresh ingredients. These are the reasons why I cobbled this together just before going away, and the result was a yummy family meal.
Needless to say, Andrew loved it, as always. Joel is still not eating much, just a nibble here and there, but when he’s having a go at more variety of flavours and textures, this would be a great meal for him too. I’d say it works for a baby doing baby-led weaning because you can just choose which veg they like or which veg you want them to try, and decide what size of chunks they are confident with when adding ingredients, starting with bigger pieces (maybe not kidney beans like in this recipe straight away). The pea pesto adds a lovely flavour, a sweetness that makes it appealing to kids I think, and a lovely bright colour, which is also appealing, maybe even more so to kids than adults!
And of course using the slow cooker meant I could prep earlier in the day (it took about 10 minutes) and the risotto was ready for dinner at 6.30pm. Easy PEAsy…. have a go yourself if you like!
1 tin kidney beans
200g long grain rice
2 tbsp cornflour
800ml hot stock (I use low salt)
100g frozen peas
50g Parmesan cheese
Glug of olive oil
Chop the carrots into chunks.
Put the carrots, kidney beans, rice and cornflour into the slow cooker pot.
Add the stock and stir.
Cook on low for 3 hours.
After you’ve put the slow cooker on, make the pesto. Start by cooking the peas for 2 minutes in the microwave or in a pan of boiling water.
Put the cooked peas, cheese and a glug of olive oil in a blender and whizz until a smooth paste – add a bit more oil if it’s too thick until you have the right consistency to stir through the risotto.
When the slow cooker is finished, stir the pesto through the risotto until evenly distributed.
Serve immediately; any leftovers can be frozen for a quick tasty meal another time.
Last Sunday we went for lunch at Andrew and Joel’s Godmum’s house. She cooked us a very yummy risotto with leek and Parmesan. Andrew was very keen on it, and gave it the sign of approval ‘ “Yummy yummy!” This inspired me to do a risotto for my slow cooking this week. We didn’t get leeks in the veg box this week, but we did get a Savoy cabbage, so I used that instead, but still paired it with Parmesan because I thought it would go just as well. And the amount of Parmesan I used made a really cheesy dish – I believe that if you’re going to have cheese in something, you need to be able to taste it and taste it well!
Although I like the texture of risotto rice, I don’t normally buy it (unless it’s a special occasion) because it’s so expensive compared to the basics/value stuff; instead I use ordinary long grain rice and add some cornflour to give it a bit of creaminess like risotto rice gives. Recently I haven’t put wine in risottos because I haven’t been drinking it myself for ages (pregnancy, breastfeeding and generally not being up in the evenings!). But the risotto that we had cooked for us last Sunday reminded me that it really does add something to the taste – not in a very strong alcoholic way, but in a subtle way. So I decided to open the one bottle of wine we had in the flat and add some of it to this meal.
Here’s the recipe (again a very easy one)….
Ingredients – serves 3-4
250g rice (either risotto or long grain – add 2 tbsp cornflour for long grain)
1 litre hot stock (I use low salt)
150ml white wine
half a medium savoy cabbage
2 cloves garlic
80g grated parmesan
Shred the cabbage finely, chop the mushrooms into quarters, and crush the garlic cloves.
Put all the ingredients except the cheese into the slow cooker pot and stir.
Cook on low for 2 hours.
Add the cheese and stir well.
Cook for a further half hour on low.
Serve immediately with a good grind of black pepper; leave any leftovers to cool and freeze for future meals.
Although I knew you could put pearly barley in soups and stews to give a thicker texture, I’d never thought of making a meal in which pearl barley was the main ingredient, used like rice to make a risotto, until I saw it used like this in a recipe in my slow cooker cookbook from which I’ve taken inspiration for various recipes that I’ve come up with. The barley gives it a slightly different taste and texture compared to ordinary risotto with rice, and I like having this for a change. Plus barley is supposed to be good for breast milk production.
The recipe for pearl barley risotto in my book isn’t really my cup of tea because it contains blue cheese, which I don’t like. So I’ve changed all the ingredients except the pearl barley and created a risotto that’s more to my taste. I included a tin of chopped tomatoes because, for risottos in general, I’m into using chopped tomatoes as part of the liquid for cooking the rice – it gives it a good flavour without having to use as much stock, which is great in terms of salt reduction for little ones, and Andrew isn’t too keen on raw tomatoes but will happily eat cooked ones from a tin in sauces on pasta and rice like this. The vegetables in this risotto were those which came in our veg box this week – all our meals these days are planned around what veg we get, and I like this because it makes me think of new things rather than always buying the same kinds of veg week in week out. I also chucked in a tin of canellini beans as the protein in our meal. The final touch was a sprinkling of grated mature cheddar to give an extra boost of flavour.
My boys approved, and Andrew even asked for seconds of ‘zotto’, so it must have gone down well. This recipe was enough for 2 meals for us, so that’s 2 evenings of not having to cook just at the time when we’re all tired and irritable. Result!
230g pearl barley
half a large savoy cabbage, finely chopped
1 medium leek, finely chopped
400g tin chopped tomatoes
900ml vegetable stock (I use low-salt for toddler)
400g tin canellini beans, drained
3 tbsp dried oregano
50g mature cheddar, grated
Put all the ingredients except the cheddar into the slow cooker pot and stir to mix them together.
Cook on low for 8 hours.
Stir well before serving with a sprinkling of grated cheese on top.
Recently I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of slow cooking. It’s very handy when you have two small children because you can do the prep whenever you get 10 mins or so earlier in the day – usually around 9am or lunchtime for me – and then you just leave it to cook during the day or afternoon and it’s ready for dinner, so there’s no need to be slaving over a hot stove at that often fractious time of day when everyone’s tired.
Last week I chucked some veg that we had in our veg box into the slow cooker pot, along with some dried lentils and stock, and made some cheesy dumplings, to create a yummy and satisfying meal for us all (including my mum-in-law who is wheat-intolerant – I used wheat-free flour, though not wheat-free stock as she is fine with small amounts of wheat, it’s not a full blown allergy, rather an intolerance).
I was going to blog it, but then realised that in our haste to eat the steaming pot of yumminess, I’d forgotten to take any photos, so I thought I’d have to scrap the post. But then I thought that this would be a real shame because it really was yummy (even Andrew agreed, and toddlers give genuine compliments 😉 ). So when we got similar veg in our box this week, I thought I’d take a photo of the ingredients instead, as well as one of the tupperware of leftovers, which, although it doesn’t do justice visually to the meal we enjoyed, will do justice to one of our tummies one day when we need a quick meal from the freezer.
This week I’ve tried the recipe for macaroni cheese from Aly over at 2.4, mainly because we seemed to have quite a lot of milk with not a very long date on it. I adapted the recipe by using fusilli instead of macaroni, and broccoli instead of spinach, because those were what we had in. I’m hoping to blog more slow cooked recipes over the coming months. I’m linking this one up to Mediocre Mum’s Slow Cooker Sunday linky.
Anyway, enough of an intro……on with the recipe!
Ingredients – makes 6 portions
150g dried red lentils
1.5 litres hot vegetable stock (I use low salt for the boys)
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
2 tbsp cornflour
150g wheat-free self-raising flour
75 g vegetable suet
100g mature cheddar cheese
Dried mixed herbs
Chop all the veg into round chunks about 1cm thick and quarter the mushrooms; put them all in the slow cooker pot.
Wash the lentils thoroughly and add to the slow cooker pot.
Add the stock, mustard and cornflour (mixed to a paste with a little cold water); stir everything together.
Cook on low for 6 hours.
To make the dumplings, chop the cheese into small chunks, then mix the flour, suet, cheese and a good sprinkling of the herbs in a bowl; then add some cold water a little at a time and stir until the mixture forms a stiff dough, using your hands for the last bit; shape the dough into 18 small balls.
After the 6 hours of cooking on low, remove the lid and place the dough balls on top of the broth where they will just float.
Cook for a further hour on high.
To serve, ladle some broth and a few dumplings into each bowl and eat straight away.