To be honest, I haven't made much use of my crock pot over the summer. With the kids off school, and our days a bit more relaxed, not to mention holidays, it just didn't seem necessary. I did make the best whole chicken in a crock pot a couple of times, and also some versions of the slow cook bacon, but I didn't try anything new at all.
Until last week, when the kids went back to school. Ms Fussy Eater progressed to secondary school, joining her brother Mr Teenage on the school bus. This means that they both have longer days and are not hanging round the house any more. They get home about 5pm and get homework done before Hubby and I get home from work. Unless they manage to prepare something for themselves - and seriously, Mr Teenager can barely manage to pour boiling water over pot noodles - they are usually hungry.
So, last week we selected two recipes from the Australian Women's Weekly easy slow cooking book. The first of these we had on Tuesday - meatballs in tomato sauce.
Meatballs and spaghetti is a huge favourite in our house, especially with Ms Fussy Eater. But she has a favourite recipe, for Spanish meatballs, made with minced lamb. We're tried other recipes, but she's never satisfied. So, it was a little risky to try this, but the picture looked so good!
I made the meatballs the night before, putting them (in layers) into the crock pot and leaving them overnight. I made the sauce separately in a jug, and poured it over the next morning. It took a bit of preparation.
On monday evening I soaked 2 slices of bread (brown/white mix) in 125ml milk for 10 minutes. Then I whizzed this up in the food processor with an onion, a carrot, 3 cloves garlic. This mixture was added to about 600g lean minced beef, with an egg, 2 tbsp sundried tomato paste, and some dried oregano. I shaped the mixture into small-ish balls, resulting in about 30 meatballs, which I put into the crock pot bowl and left in the fridge overnight.
To make the sauce I softened a chopped onion and 2 more cloves of garlic in a little olive oil. Then I added a can of chopped tomatoes and a can of cherry tomatoes (these were whizzed together in the food processor to avoid any lumps). I also added another 2tbsp sundried tomato paste and 250ml beef stock. This was left in a jug in the fridge overnight.
Next morning I simply poured the sauce over the meatballs and left it to cook on low for about 6 hours. We served it with spaghetti.
I honestly expected to come home to find all the mince stuck together at the bottom of the dish, and that I'd have to just mix it up and serve as bolognaise. But, actually, the meatballs all held their shape beautifully, dispersing themselves around the sauce, which was beautifully rich in texture, colour and flavour. The breadcrumbs in the mix made the meatballs light and not at all dense, like you might find in other recipes.
This was really delicious and everybody had second helpings, and there was still some leftovers. Mr Teenager just covered his plate with parmesan (a usual behaviour) and devoured it. Ms Fussy Eater complained initially that it wasn't the favoured recipe, but then ate everything down quite enthusiastically. She did concede that it might be her second-favourite recipe for meatballs and she wouldn't mind if we made it again.
I think we will make it again!