Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Beef Provencale

As expected, we've been using the crock pot more often as the weather turns colder, the evenings get darker, and we're all busy with work and school. Next week is mid-term break, the clocks will go back and it'll be Halloween before we realise.

At the moment, we are using the crock pot about 3 times per week - on Sundays and then two mid-week dinners. With the kids so busy with after school activities, hubby back at his musical society, me on the parents' association, and both of us doing mom/dad taxi, it's amazing that we all manage to sit down to eat together at the same time, most evenings.

Beef Provencale
Beef Provencale
Yesterday (Tuesday) we had this delicious beef stew, based on a recipe from a weightwatchers magazine. As usual, we prepared it all the night before, including browning the beef. That saved time yesterday morning, and by the time I got home from work the stew was bubbling and hubby had prepared his famous mashed potato.


I browned about 500g stewing beef, cut into chunks. I put the beef, along with the juices left after I deglazed the pan with a splash of water. To this we added: 2 onions, cut into quarters; 8 peeled garlic cloves, left whole; a can of chopped tomatoes; 1tbsp tomato puree; 2 tbsp dried thyme; a beef stock cube; a red pepper, cut into strips; and a splash of water. This mixture was left overnight in the fridge.

Next morning I simply set the slow cooker to cook on low, and left it all day - about 10 hours in total. When hubby got home, he prepared his mashed potato.

The Outcome

I think I am getting better at judging the quantity of liquid to add into a dish like this. The reciped called for 300ml beef stock, but the only liquid I added was the little bit from the pan, the can of tomatoes, and the splash of water to rinse out the can. As a result, the stew was perfect in terms of its quantity and consistency of sauce. The meat was beautifully tender and there was a lovely flavour.

There was easily 5 good helpings of stew - 6 at a stretch. Only three of us ate (see below) and we all had second helpings. There was plenty left over, which hubby will take to work for his lunch on two days.

The Verdict

Ms Fussy Eater had been sick earlier in the day, so she just had mashed potato. Mr Teenager wolfed his helping down and then demanded more - so that's a good sign. Hubby said it was delicious, and just the thing for a damp, dark night.

This definitely goes on the list for repeating.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Slow cooker cheesy lasagne

The other evening, I found myself in a twitter chat about using a slow cooker. This is not something that I usually discuss on twitter, but somebody had tweeted a question about suitable recipes and a number of people responded. I found myself in a small group chat about what can or can't be cooked, and one person said that they liked to make lasagne. Now, lasagne isn't something that I'd considered making in my crock pot, I thought it was largely reserved for stews and dishes with a sauce, or else long, slow cooking of meat, so I have to admit that I was quite intrigued. I asked if the person (who tweeted) had any hints, and she pointed me to this recipe for Slow Cooker Cheesy Lasagne on

At this point, I should say that I make a damn good lasagne, the conventional way. I was taught by a fellow student, many years ago, who had an Italian girlfriend at the time. I don't have a written recipe, but my version is really good, and my family Loves it (with a capital 'L'). But, for my first time, I didn't trust myself to use my own recipe and instead I decided to follow (more or less) the slow cooker recipe.

However, I did notice that the slow cooker recipe contains a LOT of cheese. I do like cheese, but in general I try to stick to a low fat diet, so I had to make a couple of adjustments to the recipe to bring the fat content down. I used low fat cottage cheese (rather than the full fat recommended) and I halved the amount of mozarella. I also used about half the quantity of lasagne sheets. The lasagne still filled my crock pot almost to the brim, so it was plenty for 4 of us.

Cheesy lasagne
Slow Cooker Cheesy Lasagne
I made this on Sunday. It takes just 4 to 6 hours in the crock pot, and I didn't want to overcook it, so it wasn't suitable for making on a weekday. But on Sunday I just prepared everything and switched it on at about 1pm. Our delicious dinner was ready to eat at 6:30pm, giving me plenty of time to get out to the Galway BakeFest in Leisureland with Ms Fussy Eater.


I browned about 450g lean minced beef with a chopped onion and 2 cloves of garlic, minced, in a large pan. Once browned, I added about 800g passata, a large tablespoon of sundried tomato paste, a pinch of salt and a decent sprinkling of dried oregano.

In a separate bowl I combined 350g low fat cottage cheese, about 40g freshly grated parmesan, and 200g grated mozarella cheese. This is quite a thick, sticky mixture.

I put a layer of the meat into the bottom of the crock pot and covered this with a layer of (wholewheat) lasagne sheets. I had to break the sheets up to get them fitted into the pot, because it's an oval shape. I used about 3 sheets, so the lasagne was in a double layer in some spots. Then I spooned about 1/3 of the cheese mixture on top of the lasagne. I repeated this twice more, finishing with a layer of cheese.

I then switched the crock pot on low and left it for about 5 and half hours.

The Outcome

This looked very odd as it was cooking, especially with the lumps of cottage cheese on top. Ms Fussy Eater looked in at one stage, about an hour into cooking, turned up her nose and exlaimed "Eugh, I'm not eating that!".

Later that evening, though, the aroma was too delicious for her to turn up her nose. On opening the lid of the pot, it was clear that the lasagne was quite saucy, and it didn't come out in clean layers (see the picture above). The pasta itself was very well cooked and the cottage cheese had transformed itself, somehow. The recipe fed the full family of 4, with generous portions.

The Verdict

Despite appearances, the lasagne was very good. The whole family devoured it in about 15 minutes and there were no leftovers.

Mr Teenager, on first seeing it, asked if he could put it into a sandwich (he was recently introduced to Sloppy Joes). He declared it to be delicious. Ms Fussy Eater also finished off her portion very quickly, leaving nothing on the plate. She also agreed that it was very good, but said she preferred the "normal" lasagne. Hubby, who has always enjoyed lasagne, was very pleased with the result of the experiment.

I think I will probably make this again, especially if I want the time during the afternoon to do something else. It was great to put everything together early in the day and then forget about it. I might try adapting my own recipe to see how that works out. But in the meantime, another success story.