Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Beef Stew

Since the start of 2016 I've been following the new WeightWatchers SmartPoints programme. As a WW gold member for for 13 years, I think this is the best programme so far, discouraging the consumption of sugar and saturated fat, while encouraging filling, healthy eating habits. And so far, it's working for me.

Many of our favourite crockpot recipes are already low in SmartPoints, so we've continued to include them in our weekly planning. For example, I've just prepared the Pulled Pork recipe for tomorrow's dinner, and we had the Best Whole Chicken yesterday (with chips!). This recipe for beef stew is adapted directly from the new WeightWatchers book. We've made it twice since the start of the year, and it's likely to continue in our repertoire of recipes. 

Like many other recipes on this blog, this can be put together the evening before cooking, and left overnight in the fridge. We've eaten it with rice or mashed potatoes, and it has gone down well with both children. The original recipe browns the onion, celery and carrot first, but I've found this isn't necessary.


Chop 1 onion, 2 celery sticks and 4 carrots, quite small, and put them in the bottom of the crockpot. Crush 2 cloves of garlic and add this to the put. Add 500g of cubed lean beef (I used round steak). Combine 1tsp ground cinnamon with 1tbsp flour, and sprinkle this over the meat in the crockpot. 

In a jug, combine 400ml beef stock, 2tbsp tomato purée, 3tbsp balsamic vinegar, 125ml red wine, and 1/2tsp dried thyme. Pour this over the meat and vegetables in the crockpot. Now leave this in the fridge overnight, or continue to cook. 

When you are ready to start cooking, switch the crockpot to LOW and leave it for 8 - 10 hours. 

The Outcome

This results in a very tasty beef stew, with plenty of vegetables. While the gravy is a little thin, it is full of flavour. Serve with rice or mashed potato, or just with green vegetables if you need a really low fat dinner. This serves 4 people very easily. 

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Chicken (or Turkey) Noodle Soup

Two days after Christmas, hubby stripped the turkey from the carcass. We had quite a big turkey, feeding 7 people, but with plenty of leftovers. Since then I have made a turkey curry, and there's more meat in the freezer. We thought we'd try using the bones to make stock. Since the crockpot wasn't being used for anything else, it made sense to use that. 

Ms Fussy Eater has had a cold all over Christmas, making her a bit miserable. Our Spanish au pair, Bea, used to make a chicken noodle soup whenever the kids were sick. So, I had an idea to use the turkey stock in that way. I had no recipe to guide me, but an idea of what I wanted to achieve. 


We put as much of the turkey carcass into the crock pot as would fit, breaking it up as necessary. Then I poured over a couple of pints of water, turned it to HIGH, and left it for about 6 hours. It was soon bubbling away and producing a lovely healthy aroma in the kitchen. 

Making the Soup

Once the stock had cooled, we took out all the bones, leaving behind a golden stock with small pieces (sometimes chunks) of turkey meat. I heated this up, adding a tablespoon of paprika, two tablespoons of dried thyme and two tablespoons of garlic salt. When it came to the boil, I added some fine pasta noodles and allowed them to cook for 4 minutes. 

The Outcome

The result is a golden soup full of flavour. We ate it with slices of oat bread, and it tasted really good and healthy, especially after the excesses of Christmas. 

The Verdict

Mr Teenager was very enthusiastic and finished off a bowl very quickly. He said next time I should add some carrots. Unfortunately Ms Fussy Eater could not be persuaded to eat more than a few spoons. She said she was not hungry and couldn't taste it anyway. 

I will make this again when we next make the whole chicken in a crockpot recipe. The stock from that should make a delicious soup. And maybe I will add some carrots. 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Chorizo Butter Beans

Dear readers, it has been quite a while since I last posted anything on this blog. This is not because I haven't been using the crockpot, but really because we've been busy and access to the family PC is often difficult when Mr Teenager has his friends around.

Another reason is because we've been going back to some of our recipes, which have become family favourites. Our most favourite recipe, by far, has to be the Best Whole Chicken in a Crock Pot, which we make at least twice a month. This has become Ms Fussy Eater's favourite dinner, especially when it's served with some oven chips. It makes a very easy come-home-from-work dinner and we usually have some leftovers to use the next day in a quick pasta dish.

Other regulars include Chilli con Carne, Miss South's Pulled Pork, and Chicken Tikka Masala, which we make at least once a month, the latter with variations. In fact, I've just put together the chicken tikka masala, using chicken breasts, and put it in the fridge overnight. I'll set it cooking tomorrow morning, because tomorrow is another long, busy day.

I'd say we use the crockpot at least twice a week, and often on Sunday - allowing us the freedom to get out and about without worrying about cooking times. I have become a lot more confident with how I use the slow cooker and quite happy to cook a Sunday "roast" without needing a recipe.

This recipe for Chorizo Butter Beans is from Miss South's Slow Cooked recipe book, which I bought at the start of this year. As soon as I read it, I knew I had to try it. It is AMAZING; for me it's the ultimate in comfort food. It's delicious hot from the cooker, but equally good eaten cold in a packed lunch the next day. I would quite happily cook a batch and eat it all myself over 3 days (and have done so). Hubby also really likes it.

I haven't tried it on the children. They are not keen on beans unless they are the baked variety. Mr Teenager no longer removes them from his chilli, which is progress. But he's not ready to eat a meal based on beans. Ms Fussy Eater will eat neither beans nor chorizo, so there's no point even trying.


You need about 200g dried butter beans - I had never tried cooking butter beans from scratch before. Put them into the crock pot with: 1 onion, diced; 4 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly; 200g chorizo, cubed. Sprinkle over 1 heaped teaspoon of smoked paprika and add a time of tomatoes and 450ml water. Then cook on the LOW setting for 8 hours.

What could be easier?

The Result

When it has finished cooking you'll have the most amazing and intense dish. The beans are melt-in-the-mouth and the tomatoes and chorizo have infused into a gloriously unctious sauce. Just scoop it out into bowls and grab a fork or spoon.

The recipe states it serves 2 as a main meal, or 4 as a side. My experience is that 3 portions is about right. You could serve with some crusty bread, to stretch out the recipe. The bread would also be delicious for dipping and wiping out the bowl.

The first time I made this, I didn't have smoked paprika, so I used plain. It was still delicious. But since then I've used smoked paprika, and that raises the whole dish to a new level.

Sunday, 22 February 2015


Beef Goulash
February has been a cold month here. We had a fairly mild Christmas, but the cold came in January and has continued throughout February. We've had no snow worth talking about, but the cold and damp just creeps into your bones. At work, we have a visitor from Pennsylvania, where the temperatures are much lower than Galway; but she says she has never felt so cold before.

So, having a recipe for a delicious, warming dish, such as this Goulash, is a real bonus. There's nothing quite like coming home from the cold, wind and rain/sleet/hail to find an amazing pot of warmth and goodness just waiting for you.

Once again, this is based on a recipe from Miss South's Slow Cooked - a veritable treasure trove of recipes. I had to make some changes because I didn't have quite the right ingredients, but I'm putting that right for the next time.


Cut about 500g stewing beef (I used round steak) into cubes and toss it is 1tbsp flour. Put this in the crock pot with 1 onion, chopped, and 2 garlic cloves, cut up small. I used 75g peppers from a jar, mixed with a tin of tomatoes, blended in a food blender with 2tbsp paprika and 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. Add this paste to the meat in the crock pot and mix well. The recipe calls for smoked paprika and alway 1tsp caraway seeds - which I didn't have.

Add another tin of tomatoes (I used tinned cherry tomatoes, but the recipe calls for plum) and a beef stock cube. Make sure the meat is covered and add some hot water if necessary (I didn't).

I did all this the evening before cooking, and left the pot in the fridge overnight. Next morning I took it out, and left it cooking on LOW for the day, about 10 hours. When I came home, I cooked up a pot of  potatoes for mashing.

The Outcome

This dish was just what we needed on a cold, wet Friday evening. The beef was cooked perfectly, meltingly tender. The tomato-based sauce was rich and thick. The flavour wasn't as full as I expected, but I suspect that the inclusion of smoked paprika and caraway seeds would have made all the difference. I've since purchased both and will make the dish again very soon - the forecast for March doesn't indicate that the weather will improve anytime soon. The cayenne pepper added a nice bite, warming the dish without making it spicey.

The Verdict

We all enjoyed this meal. The kids picked out the obvious whole cherry tomatoes, but otherwise ate up all the rich tomato sauce, oblivious to the presence of peppers. Pure comfort food.

Perfect Mince

Here's an interesting little recipe, very simple, but tasty. It's perfect for the sort of day when you just have no time. It certainly has an echo of childhood dinners. You can see from the photo that it's not in the least bit fancy, but sometimes that's just what you need. I could see this as a great meal for somebody who has been ill and just needs a bit of building up. We served it with rice, but actually mince and potatoes would be ideal comfort food.

Again, it's based on a recipe from my new favourite book, Slow Cooked by Miss South.


This takes almost no time to prepare, it just requires boiling the kettle and could easily be done in the morning before heading out to work. I usually make myself a cup of tea first thing, so just make sure there's enough in the kettle to make up 200ml beef stock as well.

Put about 500g beef mince in the crock pot and sprinkle over 2tbsp flour, giving it a quick mix with a fork to break up lumps and coat the meat. Make up the 200ml of beef stock and stir in 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp tomato purée and 1/2 tsp soy sauce, or adjust quantities to taste. We quite like Worcestershire sauce in our house, so I probably added a bit more than 1 tsp. Also, if you're really in a rush and can't be bothered to get out the measuring spoons, I wouldn't worry too much about measuring these at all.

Pour the stock mixture over the mince and stir again. Leave it cooking on LOW for 8 hours.

The Outcome

There's very little added to the mince in this recipe, nothing to bulk it out. The mince is beautifully cooked and has a great flavour, but I'd really recommend serving with some vegetables. I think it's just calling out for peas, which could be mixed in just before serving, or a side portion of carrots or brocolli. A side salad would go well either. Our serving, with just rice, was a little sparse. Ms Fussy Eater wasn't with us the evening we had this (her first disco - the excitement!) and we had just enough for 3 adults, with no leftovers.

The Verdict

Mr Teenager, of course, was delighted with the absence of vegetables! His portion disappeared in about 2 minutes, with absolutely nothing left on the plate. Hubby and I both enjoyed the simplicity of the meal, and especially the lack of any fuss.

Pulled Pork

Pork is certainly something that works extremely well in the crock pot. We often return to the recipe for Mexican Pull-Apart Pork, with some variations, and serve it with rice, mashed potato or flour tortillas. It is delicious, and doesn't require too much preparation. But this recipe for Pulled Pork from Miss South's Slow Cooked is even easier. Despite the very simple ingredients, the flavour is delicious. I've made it twice already in the last month. For some reason, though, I haven't managed to take a picture yet. Maybe because it gets eaten so quickly.


Slice 2 onions thinly and place these in the bottom of the crock pot with 4 cloves of garlic - peeled, but no need to chop or crush. Mix 4 tbsp tomato purée with a little water and rub the paste all over the pork. I used a simple pork fillet, trimmed of any excess fat. Put the pork on top of the onions in the crock pot and then pour over a tin of chopped tomatoes. Finally, sit a little star anise on the top.

Cook the pork on LOW for about 8 - 10 hours - this is a perfect meal if you're out at work for the full day. Lift the pork out of the pot and shred it using two forks - this will be really easy. Then put it back into the sauce, star anise removed, and stir to get the meat covered. Serve with whatever you like - rice, potato or flour tortillas.

The Result

This is so easy and so delicious. The pork is tender and melt-in-the-mouth. It's real comfort food. We had it with plenty of mashed potato and both children really enjoyed it. There was plenty for a family of 4 hungry people, with a little bit leftover for hubby to take for lunch during the week.

The Verdict

Absolutely no complaints from anybody. Mr Teenager left behind a few of the more obvious lumps of tomato, but otherwise we had 4 clean plates.

Chickpeas and Beetroot Hummus

Miss South's book Slow Cooked (as mentioned in my last post) is rapidly becoming a favourite in my house. I really like the no fuss approach to using the slow cooker and there has been very little preparation for the dishes so far.

I was intrigued to find out that I could cook chick peas in the crockpot. I've done it twice now. It's incredibly easy and could be done overnight or on a day when you're just not using the slow cooker. Basically, put 200g of dried chickpeas in the pot, add 500ml of boiling water, and leave it cooking on HIGH for 8 hours.

The chickpeas are not coming out as plump as I was expecting, but they have a lovely firm texture, unlike the slightly mushy ones that come in a tin. In the last hour, they do tend to start sticking to the side of the pot, but are not exactly burnt - more caramelised.

They make a wonderful hummus! I've made the hummus from Miss South's book and it is deliciously chunky, lemony and garlicky. I tried taking it to work for lunch but I completely stunk out my office and couldn't talk to anyone for the whole afternoon. So, probably safer to share with a loved one in the privacy of your own home.

I cooked another batch yesterday and intend to make a Beetroot Hummus with it - suitable for a packed lunch at work. The ingredients aren't exact - basically blend up the cooked beetroot and chickpeas in a blender, add some lemon juice and fresh coriander or mint. Spice up with some fresh chilli. You can thin it out with a little plain yoghurt, if you like. This keeps perfectly well in the fridge for a couple of days.