Saturday, 29 March 2014

Braised bacon ribs

Braised RibsWhile browsing a few weeks ago in Eason's, I came across The Australian Women's Weekly Easy Slow Cooking recipe book. I like this series of recipes, and the book was only €10, so I decided to add it to my vast collection of recipe books.

Last weekend, while we were planning meals for the week (the only way, when you have two working parents) Hubby picked out a recipe for braised asian-style beef ribs. We put it on the list and made sure to add any unusal ingredients to the shopping list. When shopping later that day, we managed to get mirin (a Japanese condiment, similar to sake, but with lower alcohol and more sugar). However, when we asked at the butcher about beef ribs, he explained that there isn't much demand for these and they would need to be ordered in advance. A little stumped, Hubby found some low-salt bacon ribs and we decided to adapt the recipe to use these instead.


So, on Wednesday evening, Hubby put together the sauce, which was left in the fridge overnight. This involved combining: 1/2 cup hoisin sauce; 1/4 cup soy sauce; 1/4 cup mirin; 1/2 cup honey; a 2 inch piece fresh ginger, grated; 3 cloves garlic, crushed; a fresh red chilli, sliced thinly; 2tsp sesame oil; and 2 strips orange rind. All this just involved a lot of measuring, and a little peeling and chopping.

Next morning, I cut each rack of ribs (2 racks, each about about 850g) into 3 pieces so that they would fit into the crock pot, then poured the sauce over. I switched it on low just before I left for work, about 8:30am, and left it all day.

When I got home at about 6:30pm, we switched the slow cooker to "keep warm". I put a tray of baby potatoes into the oven to roast, while I went to a meeting in the school. When I got home, at almost 8pm, we were finally ready to eat. By this time the ribs were cooked well, so that the meat was almost falling from the bones. It was still possible to cut the ribs into singles and we ate them with our fingers.

The Verdict

The ribs were good. However, even though they were low-salt bacon, there was enough salt in them to combine with the soy sauce in the sauce to make the overall taste very salty. We drank a lot of water! Although Mr Teenager liked them, and did go back for more, he couldn't finish. They were just a bit too salty. Ms Fussy Eater refused to eat the ribs at all, and just filled herself up with the roast baby potatoes.

So, overall, not our best effort. I certainly wouldn't make this disc with bacon ribs again. I might make the effort to order beef ribs sometime, or it might work with pork ribs.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Rustic Chicken Stew

Rustic Chicken StewGet ready for a deluge of crock-pot recipes this week! This evening's dinner was Rustic Chicken Stew, from the Skinny Slow Cooker Recipe Book. Served with some creamy mashed potato, this was a huge success. The weather was particularly dreary today, cold and wet, so we needed something to warm us up, and this was just the ticket. It involved a bit of prep last night, but it took no longer than 20 minutes to get everything together.

Anchovy paste is a new ingredient for me - I had to buy it specially for the recipe and wasn't sure I would find it. But, yesterday we were shopping in Tesco, for a change, and there it was. It tastes a little bit fishy and a little bit salty. It adds quite a distinctive flavour to the dish.


Last night, I trimmed about 1kg of boneless, skinless chicken thighs of  visible fat and coated them lightly with flour. While I got on with the rest of the chopping, Hubby browned these in a pan with a little bit of spray oil. They went into the crock pot with: one chopped onion; 2 cloves of garlic, crushed; 1/2 each of red and yellow pepper (it was all I had) slicked thinly; 2 tins chopped tomatoes; 1tsp dried rosemary; about 12 pitted green olives; and a squeeze of anchovy paste. The recipe also called for 2 cups of chicken stock, but I just added in a stock cube, rather than extra liquid. The contents of the pot were mixed up, covered, and left overnight in the fridge.

This morning I simply put the pot into the machine and asked the au pair to switch it to low at 10am. When I got home (about 6:40pm) the stew was bubbling away nicely, and I switched it to the keep warm setting until the potatoes were ready.

The Outcome

I was really pleased with the consistency of this dish. The chicken was tender and well cooked, but not completely falling apart. The sauce was chunky, rather than liquidy. The flavour is quite unusual, I'd almost say there was ginger in it, except I know that there isn't. But it does have a lovely rich flavour, which goes perfectly with the creamy mash my husband makes.

There were 11 chicken thighs in the pot, so plenty for 5 people. Four of us have eaten, and we're waiting for Miss Fussy Eater to get home from gymnastics. She'll probably just have some chicken from the pot, and a little sauce. So, there will be some (meat free) leftovers.

The Verdict

We liked this dish - easy to eat. The potato soaks up a lot of the sauce, so the whole thing can be eaten easily with a fork. Mr Teenager said it was "really nice" and finished up everything on his plate. Hubby went back for seconds. Ms Fussy Eater has just been served hers!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Slow Cook Bacon

Slow Cooker HamLast Sunday was my best crock pot experience yet! We had a small piece of bacon (ham before it's cooked) which looked about big enough for 4 people. We'd had a tough week, with Miss Fussy Eater having her tonsils out on Wednesday, and Mr Teenager off school with a bad cold and cough since Tuesday. I had also come down with cold/cough, so we really weren't up to much at all.

I had a look around for a recipe for a small ham but found nothing of interest. I also realised that cooking a raw ham is not usual in the US. Any recipes I found assumed that the ham (e.g. Christmas ham) was already cooked and only needed heating through. In Ireland, it's very common to have a small piece of bacon, smoked or unsmoked, often boiled in a pot, with cabbage. So, I decided I'd just go ahead and make up my own recipe, with whatever I had on hand.


On Sunday morning, not too early, I chopped some onions and carrots and put them at the bottom of the pot. I put the bacon joint on top. I found about 1/2 cup of apple juice in the fridge and added that, along with about 1/2 cup water. Then I just turned the crock pot on low and left it, for about 6 or 7 hours.

Later that day I prepared some mashed potato. Then I took the meat out of the pot (smelling delicious and so tender you could carve it with a fork) and examined the juice left behind in the pot. I realised that it wasn't excessively salty and tasted really quite good. So, I mixed in about 1tsp of cornflour (mixed with some water) and turned the pot to high.

As I pulled the cooked ham into chunks, I had a bit of a brainwave! I was reminded of some of the delicious ham and bean cuisine we had encountered in the Vendée region of France, and decided to throw into the pot, with the slightly thickened ham stock, onions and carrots, tin of butter beans. Finally, I served the ham with the mashed potato, with ladels of the bean stew.

The Result

This was absolutely delicious; full of flavour. Although the ingredients were simple and inexpensive, the result was just perfect for a house full of convelescents on a rather dreary, cold day. The ham was devoured and the potato was perfect to soak up the delicious bean stew.

There was a very small amount of meat left over, which Mr Teenager took in his sandwiches during the week. There was quite a bit of the bean stew left, which made an excellent lunch (as a bowl of soup) for me the next day.

The Verdict

Mr Teenager could not get enough of the meat. He refused the beans and picked out the onions. Otherwise he was wholly enthusiastic and had two full portions. Miss Fussy Eater was less enthusiastic, but we'll forgive her because of her recent surgery.

I really hope that I can recreate this meal, because it was darned good.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Chilli Con Carne

Chilli con CarneMiss Fussy Eater had her tonsils out last Wednesday. We spent the day in the hospital with her, then I came home (where Mr Teenager had spent the day off school with a heavy cold) while hubby stayed overnight in the hospital with her. The next morning I wanted to cook something quick and easy, not knowing what time she would be allowed leave hospital and also wanting something that would go down fairly easy.

I decided to try this Chilli Con Carne, from the Skinny Slow Cooker Recipe book, holding back on the spices. I've done two chilli recipes before in the slow cooker: Chilli By George and Sarah's Chilli Con Carne, and this one looked equally quick and easy.


On Thursday morning I browned about 700g lean minced beef with two chopped onions. This went into the crock pot with one tin chopped tomatoes, about 100 ml passata, a beef stock cube and a tin of kidney beans. To this I added 1 tsp each of brown sugar, dried oregano, cumin, mild chilli powder and paprika. I didn't add the garlic powder (still don't have any) or the salt, both listed in the recipe.

I mixed all this together and then put the crock pot on low and left it, for about 10 hours.

Later that day, after we got back from the hospital and had a somewhat more relaxing afternoon, we had the chilli with some brown rice and a quick guacamole I made from some avocados, onion, tomato and lime juice.

The Outcome

The chilli cooked beautifully and was just the right texture - not too watery. There was plenty of it, even with a hungry teenager, with a little left over. It was all eaten so quickly there was no time for a photograph!

I deliberately went easy on the chilli powder, because of Ms Fussy Eater's poor throat. The chilli was actually delicious, lots of flavour. In future I will add hot chilli powder, instead of mild - simply because we like a bit of spice.

The Verdict

The Teenage really loved it and had seconds. He would have gone back for thirds, but was advised not to. Hubby also enjoyed it and declared it the best chilli so far. Ms Fussy Eater put up a good attempt, but didn't eat the small portion I had given her. That was only to be expected, and I had made some jelly and ice cream for dessert.

Of the three chilli recipes so far, this has to have been the best.

Update (29 March 2014)

We made this again during the week, with equally good results. This time we served it with a little rice, but also some tacos and trimmings. I managed to get a photo this time.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Beef Casserole

Beef CasseroleI do like a nice beef stew and have very fond memories of my mum's stews, usually served with boiled potatoes. It makes a good, hearty, winter midweek dinner and our weather has been so wet in the last few months, it was past time I made a stew in the crock pot.

I went with the recipe for Beef and Mushroom Casserole from Dianne Page's Slow Cooking Properly Explained. I didn't have the mushrooms, but the kids won't eat them anyway. I prepared this one morning, before work, and left it cooking all day.

I wouldn't normally put potatoes in a stew, instead serving them separately - usually mashed. But, this recipe calls for sliced potatoes. I put them in, thinking that they might help to thicken the gravy. I don't know if that worked, but they were an interesting addition.


I didn't have time to brown the meat, but I did toss the beef (about 600g round steak, cut into cubes) in 1tbsp flour. I put this into the crock pot with 2 onions, chopped quite small; 3 carrots, sliced; 450g potatoes, sliced; 2 sticks of celery, sliced. To this I added 1 litre of stock (made with a cube), some salt and pepper and some dried parsley. I forgot to put in 1 tbsp tomato purée, which would have added to the flavour.

I gave the whole thing a good mix and made sure all the meat and vegetables were covered by the liquid. Then I put the slow cooker on low and left it all day (approx 10 hours).

Hubby got home first. Not realising that there were potatoes in the casserole, he cooked a big pot of brown rice. So, we had extra carbohydrate that day.

The Result

When we opened the pot the smell of the casserole was delicious. The meat was beautifully cooked, very tender and tasty. The vegetables retained their form, and even the potatoes remained in their slices. The gravy was a little thin, but the rice helped to soak it up. The flavour was good, but I think the tomatoe purée would have improved it. If anything, the stew lacked a little flavour. Saying that, it was eaten up with almost no leftovers.

The Verdict

The teenager went back for second helpings. Ms Fussy Eater was less enthusiastic, but she is also complaining about having to eat brown rice at the moment. She was due to have her tonsils out less than a week later, and had been having trouble with her throat for quite a while. She ate all her meat and carrots, but left some of the rice, and anything that resembled onion or celery, on her plate.

I think, if I make this again, I may add the mushrooms, as recommended by the recipe. I might also add some extra flavours - I don't think the parsley on its own really did it for me!

Slow Cooked Chicken with Tarragon

Chicken with Tarragon It has been a little while since I last blogged - there's a lot going on in the house at the moment. But that doesn't mean I haven't been using the slow cooker! I bought another book on my kindle - Slow Cooking Properly Explained, by Dianne Page. This gives me another set of recipes to drool over.

For Sunday dinner, almost two weeks ago, we decided to cook chicken again. Following the success of the Fall Off the Bone Whole Slow-Cooked Chicken, I contemplated making it again. But, in my quest to try as many new recipes as possible, I went instead for this Slow Cooked Chicken with Tarragon, from Page's book.

Since I had the whole day to look after this, I went with the recommendation to use the high setting on the crock pot. Interestingly, Dianne Page suggests that "whole birds are best cooked on HIGH only - to ensure thorough cooking". This makes sense, I guess, though isn't always practical. Anyway, it meant that I only started preparing this in the early afternoon, for dinner at 6pm.


I started by heating about a tbsp olive oil and a tiny knob of butter in a pan and then browning the whole chicken all over. I did notice, when I last cooked a whole chicken in the pot, that the skin was very pale and unappetising, though the chicken was delicious. This first step did definitely improve the appearance of the chicken, without necessarily adding any fat to the result.

The whole chicken was put into the crock pot and seasoned with some salt and pepper. I then added the juice and rind of a lemon and a generous tsp of dried tarragon. The recipe just called for the juice of half a lemon, but my chicken was bigger and I thought it would add more flavour.

Then the chicken cooked on high for 4 hours. An hour before the end of cooking time I prepared some roast potatoes and roast vegetables.

The reciped suggests making a gravy by mixing 1tbsp cornflour into the strained juices from the pot, but I just dribbled the juices over the chicken when serving - gravy wasn't necessary.

The Result

Yummy! This was really delicious, tender chicken. As you can see in the picture, it did fall apart when taken out of the pot, and carving was easy (or not necessary). The flavour of the lemon and tarragon was pleasant and not overpowering. The meat was tasty and not at all dry.

There was plenty for 5 of us, with almost a whole breast left over for sandwiches during the week.

The Verdict

Both children devoured their dinner, polishing off a leg each, with Mr Teenager going back for more. Their only complaint was a lack of crispy chicken skin.

On balance, I think I preferred this recipe to the previous one, though either was delicious.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Lovely lemony Garlicky Chicken

This last week has been a bit stressful. Hubby was away, travelling for work, and while he was gone we had a number of mishaps. Nothing too serious - we ran out of gas on Monday, which we use for cooking; then we ran out of oil on Tuesday, which we use for heating the house and water; and on Tuesday night the car refused to allow me to refuel, leaving me stranded at home with no transport. All of these problems were easily fixed, by contacting (and paying) the right people. But it was a stressful couple of days. 

Great then that we didn't have to worry about our delicious dinner on Tuesday evening, prepared in the crock pot! At the time of preparation, we only knew about the first issue, with no anticipation of the more complicated evening ahead!

Lovely lemony garlicky chicken comes from the Skinny Slow Cooker Recipe Book. It took just a little bit of preparation on Monday evening, when everything was assembled in the crock pot and left in the fridge overnight. 


I cut up about 450g chicken breast into small pieces. Re-reading the recipe, I think it calls for the breasts to be left whole, but I was already distracted from the gas incident. It worked with chicken pieces anyway. I put the chicken into the crock pot with 3 large garlic cloves, crushed; two lemons, sliced; and one onion, chopped quite small. I added 500ml chicken stock, made from a cube, and 1 tsp honey. Then I put a bunch of fresh basil on top, very roughly chopped. Lots of flavour there, then. 

The next morning, I set up the pot and reminded the au pair to switch it on about 1pm, expecting to eat at about 6:30. Little did I know that at 6:30 I would be calling a plumber to come and bleed the boiler after a delivery of heating oil!

The Result

As I panicked that evening about the cold in the house and the lack of hot water, I was somewhat comforted by the aroma of the chicken cooking with garlic, lemon and basil. As the plumber worked on the boiler, I prepared a large pot of mashed potato. We sat down to eat just a little later than expected, safe in the knowledge that the heating was fixed. We didn't know yet about the car!

Indeed, the chicken was full of flavour! The garlic could have been stronger, but the lemon was not overpowering. The long, slow cooking had mellowed the flavour and the rind was softened so that it could easily be eaten with the chicken and potato. The basil had cooked down into a delicate, gentle accompanying addition to the overall dish. I had worried that all the tastes would be competing with each other, but this wasn't the case. 

Unfortunately, in all the panic, I forgot to get a photo of the end dish!

The Verdict

I thought this dish was pretty good, and will make it again. The sauce was very thin, but I didn't add the recommended cornflour - maybe I will do that next time. 

The teenager was quite keen on the chicken, but refused to eat the tiny bits of onion, any of the lemon rind or the basil. No surprises there! Ms Fussy Eater had some chicken and potato much later in the evening, served by the au pair, because I was preoccupied with the car. So, I am not sure of her reaction. 

The au pair loved the dish. I suspect the basil and lemon combination may be fairly familiar for her. She has no trouble eating the lemon rind. 

So, overall, a good result. We had a little bit leftover, by the way, but not enough for another portion.