Saturday 14 May 2011

Slow Cooking Veggie Style

If like me you are a busy mum, the slow cooker is a kitchen essential for cooking meals when you are short of time.  Often seen in today’s society as an unwelcome throwback to the 1970’s, the humble slow cooker has saved many a dinner time in my house.  It slowly cooks food at a low temperature consistently over a number of hours and you can leave it on low whilst you are out of the house.  The longer the food cooks, the deeper the flavours of the dish are as they intensify over time.  By just throwing a few ingredients in a pot and leaving them to cook, you can create warm hearty meals, which are especially ideal in the winter and delicious throughout the rest of the year too.

The slow cooker is a must-have appliance for meat eaters. There are lots of recipe books around to cater for meat in the slow cooker.  However, I often struggle to find or think of original vegetarian dishes which can be cooked in the slow cooker.  My most cooked fail safe slow cooker recipes include vegetarian chilli and Bolognese, along with pasta bake and apple crumble.  If anyone has any more interesting tried and tested slow cooking recipes, I would love to hear them!

One of the easiest recipes which I slow cook is vegetable stew.  Chop any vegetables you like (a stew pack is good to use in winter).  Fry the vegetables for 5-10 minutes, drain the oil and add to the pot with about 600mls of gravy, a tin of chopped tomatoes and some herbs.  Cook on a low heat for 4 – 6 hours until the vegetables are soft.  Serve with rice or crunchy bread, You could also puree the mixture to make a soup.  Once cooled, this recipe can be frozen.

The meal which I cook most often in the slow cooker is Quorn chicken and vegetables in white wine sauce. As it cooks over a long period of time, it creates such a lovely creamy flavor and ensures that the vegetables are soft and the chicken pieces are tender.  I tend to chop the vegetables quite small for my little ones.  If I was cooking this to serve immediately, I would make my own white wine and cream sauce, but in the slow cooker I have found that pre-prepared sauces fare better when cooking over long periods of time, plus they are quicker if you are short of preparation time.

Sometimes, I serve the stew with rice, or crusty bread.  However, I have also discovered that it makes a fantastic pie filling.   I just let the mixture cool for a couple of hours, or refrigerate once cool if I am not preparing the pie until the next day.  I then make the pastry, and add the pie filling. 

Vegetarian Chicken and Vegetable Pie


For the Filling:
1 Onion chopped
2 Carrots chopped
2 Leeks Chopped and washed
200g Mushrooms chopped
1 Pack of vegetarian chicken pieces
Olive Oil
2 Tins/Jars of White Wine and Cream Sauce (I use Homepride white wine and cream sauce)

For the Pastry:
250g Plain Flour
100g Butter, cubed
Pinch of Salt
5-6 Tablespoons of cold water

You will need a slow cooker placed on a low heat.
1) Chop the onion, mushrooms and carrots into small pieces.  Fry in a little olive oil for 5 – 10 minutes until the onions and mushrooms are soft (the carrots and leeks will soften in the slow cooker). Drain of any oil and add to the cook pot.
2) Heat the pan again with olive oil and fry the chicken pieces until brown for 5-7 minutes. Drain the oil and add to the cook pot
3) Empty the white wine and cream sauce into the pot and cook all of the ingredients on a low heat for four to six hours.
4) Once cooked, remove from the  heat and allow to cool.
5) For the pastry, sift the flour into a bowl and add the butter and salt.  Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips and continue doing so until the flour and butter are combined and the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
6) Add 3 tbsp of cold water and using a round edge knife start bringing the dough together. Add the rest of the water gradually until the dough is formed.  Roll into a ball and refrigerate for 30 minutes before use (can be kept for 3 days in a polythene bag)
7) Grease the pie dish with a little oil.  Once ready to use, halve the dough and roll out one half of the dough thin enough to cover a pie dish.  Cover the dish completely with pastry and then go round the edge with a knife to cut off the excess mixture. 
8) Add the chicken and vegetable mixture to the pastry and smooth over
9) Take the remaining pastry, including the excess and roll out the pastry until large enough to cover the top of the pie.  Spread over the top, and join together with the pastry on the base.  Make sure that the pie is completely closed so that the filling doesn’t leak out.

The Pie can be baked from fresh for 30 minutes in the oven at 200 degrees, gas mark 6.  This particular pie will be going as part of a food package to a friend, hence why its has not yet been cooked in the photos.


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