MY SLOW COOKER IS MY SAVIOUR
My schedule is becoming fuller and fuller of late, and the first thing that usually goes to pot is my healthy eating regime. When I’m rushing from one commitment to another, before I know it, the clock says its 5pm, I have eaten less than adequately, and I’m exhausted. The last thing I feel like doing is cooking dinner. I am sure this sounds familiar to lots of us.
However, my new year’s resolutions was to try and be more organized, and make sure that I continued to eat wholesome, home cooked meals, regardless of how busy I became. Now, I know it is still officially summer, but what the hell! A slow cooker was going to be my new best friend, and answer to providing me with easy, low cost, nutritious meals with minimal effort.
So it was with great enthusiasm that I jumped onto Gumtree and found myself a slow cooker for the bargain price of $20.
I just wanted to keep it simple, didn’t even bother opening books or researching recipes. I just knew all I wanted was a big hodge podge of meat, bones and vegetables. I was most excited to find an 800g packet of lamb off cuts and bones at Coles yesterday for a mere $3.50 - perfect! That would do just nicely. My other great, “wow” find, was tubs of Waygu rendered fat reduced to 99cents. As we all know, saturated animal fats are really good for us, so I picked up 2 tubs and it felt like I had just won lotto. Lucky for me that the average Ozzie consumer wouldn’t know what to do with rendered fat, or were probably from the school of thought that eating fat is bad for you. Hence the big pile of marked down tubs – if only they knew!
Next I went foraging for vegies, and ended up with mushrooms, carrots, celery, shallots, garlic, zucchini, swede, green beans, broccoli, kale and tomatoes – a veritable feast was in the making.
Once home, I started to prepare. I timed myself, it only took 10 minutes to wash and cut the vegetables, and to brown off the meat. I melted some of the waygu fat in a pan and fried off my shallots, celery, carrots and a whole head of garlic. I left the skin on the garlic cloves and put about 15 cloves in. I know this sounds excessive, but I like to think of food as my medicine. The long slow cooking would render those cloves down to a beautiful, sweet, sticky nectar that would add a "je ne sais quoi" to my soup. Once the vegies, and garlic were all nice and caramelized I tipped them into the slow cooker. I did the same with the lamb pieces. I poured some stock into the pan to deglaze and voila, done.
I put all the remaining roughly chopped vegetables (except for the beans and broccoli) in on top of the meat. I added extra stock and cooked it all on low for 8 hours.
One thing I learnt from my Italian mother was never to put a freshly cooked braise into the fridge. You need to keep it out for 8-12 hours for all the flavours to meld together and create some magic. So I put my pot on at midday, turned it off at 8pm, and left it out overnight.
This morning I have portioned the braise into 7 containers – one for every night of the week. After having done my sums, the whole braise cost me $12, and I have 7 meals from that. That is so economical, and I don’t have to worry about cooking until the weekend.
To serve, all I did was empty one container into a pot, added a few broccoli florets and 4-5 green beans. To bring it all together, this is optional, but you can stir in one teaspoon of tamari mixed with one teaspoon of corn or tapioca starch. This will thicken the broth and give it a lovely rich sheen. Finish off with a few freshly chopped tomatoes, a few fresh basil or parsley leaves and a swirl of some good extra virgin olive oil.
A similar braise can be made using beef bones, cheeks or pork forequarter chops and belly. If you would like to give this a go, here is the recipe:
800g lamb off cuts and bones
Half bunch shallots, roughly chopped
12-15 garlic cloves, skin left on
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
3 sticks celery, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons beef dripping
1 bunch kale, roughly chopped
6 mushrooms, quartered
1 zucchini, roughly chopped
1 swede, roughly chopped
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped (or 1 x 400g tin)
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
300g green beans, cut into 3cm lengths
1.5 litres beef or chicken stock
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
6 teaspoons corn or tapioca starch
6 teaspoons tamari or water
Melt half the dripping in a fry pan and saute the garlic, shallots, carrots and celery for 5-10 minutes over high heat. When nicely caramelized, add to the slow cooker.
Melt the remaining dripping and brown off the lamb offcuts. Deglaze with half a cup of the stock and pour into the slow cooker. Place the chopped kale, mushrooms, mushrooms, swede and zucchini on top of the meat, and pour over the remaining stock. Add the bay leaves, cover and cook on low setting for 8 hours. Leave out overnight to rest.
The next day refrigerate or portion into individual meals. To serve, bring to the boil, add the beans and broccoli and boil for one minute, then thicken with the tamari and starch. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with extra olive oil. I enjoyed my soup with my very first trial of gluten free bread made in a bread maker. I am trialling a new bread mix to add to my collection of mixes. Keep a look out for it mid year.
*If portioning mix into individual serves, thicken with approximately 1 teaspoon tamari and 1 teaspoon starch.