Use all the kit.Our slow cooker menu is designed with optimal convenience and flavour in mind. We recommend that you have some other kitchen appliances on hand – such as a blender or food processor, as these may be handy for some recipes.
Safety first!Place the cooker on a flat surface. My suggestion is to always use your slow cooker on a flat, heat-safe surface — like your kitchen countertop! — away from piles of loose papers or random kitchen towels, or where puddles of water might form (in other words, away from the sink or an open window).
Vintage style cooker?So you’ve pulled out old aunt Berta’s cooker from the shed? That’s awesome! Please do me a favour and stay present for the first cooking session (after giving it a real good clean!). You don’t know what might happen. You can also check the heating element and calibration. Fill the slow cooker 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full with tap water (tepid, not too hot or cold), set it to the low setting, and then check with a food thermometer after eight hours. The thermometer should read at least 85°C. Personally I don’t believe in buying new stuff if it can be avoided so we have a hand-me-down from my mother in law and it’s great! Of course I have had to send some time getting to know the machine, and now we have a relationship for life.
Prepare in advance.If you’re short on time in the morning, prepare everything you need for your slow-cooked meal the night before, put it into the slow-cooker dish, cover and store in the fridge overnight. Ideally the dish should be as close to room temperature as possible, so get it out of the fridge when you wake up and leave it for 20 minutes before turning the cooker on. If you need to heat your dish beforehand, then put the ingredients in a different container and transfer them in the morning.
Size matters.Sorry lads, but it does… In the test kitchen we have found that using the right size slow cooker is pivotal to ensuring the cooking time is correct. If you slow cooker is a rather large one, it’s probably suited to 6-8 serves, where as a smaller one is suited to 4 servings. This makes a difference in that the surface area in a larger cooker will mean that a smaller portion will cook too quick, and may even end up drying out. Conversely, jamming too much food into a smaller cooker will likely slow down the cooking time because the poor thing will be overloaded.
To brownor not to brown?We definitively recommend that you brown the meat (or other ingredients) when it gives the option to. It might not seem like a necessity but it’s well worth spending a few minutes at the start of the recipe to optimise flavour in your dinner. You’ll thank us later!
Low fat – full of flavour.You don’t need to add a lot of oil to a slow cooker, the contents won’t catch as long as there’s enough moisture in there. You don’t need a lot of fat on your meat either. Normally when you fry meat, a lot of the fat drains away, this won’t happen in a slow cooker so trim it off, otherwise you might find you have pools of oil in your stew. This will give you a healthier result and it’ll still be tasty.
Leave it aloneOnce cooking, leave the slow cooker alone. I mean seriously! Step away! Fiddling and stirring will only increase the cooking time and could possibly affect the end result. Slow cookers are designed to do their own thing so you don’t need to keep checking the contents. Every time you take the lid off it will release some of the heat, so if you keep doing this you’ll have to increase the cooking time.
Root vegetables that take longer to cook will need to go at the bottom of the pot – closer to the heat element, whereas softer ingredients such as capsicums can go at the top, so that they don’t end up cooking to mush.
If you are going to cook frozen food in the slow cooker, such as a frozen piece of meat, it is recommended by the appliance manufacturers that it is first defrosted, and that the rest of the ingredients you add into the pot are room temperature (stock, canned tomatoes, etc.) or slightly warmed. This is to ensure that all the food reaches the proper cooking temperature within a safe cooking time, as designed.
To ensure your food is cooked safely, the contents of the slow cooker all need to reach 60-70°C within two hours of operation. The newer slow cookers on the market do this fairly reliably because the sides and the bottom both have heating elements; older slow cookers usually just heat from the bottom, which can make them less reliable for cooking frozen foods. As with all appliances, refer to the enclosed manufacturer instruction booklet for clarity regarding your specific cooker.
Leftovers? That’s a win!For me the whole point of using a slow cooker is to get some leftovers for lunch or even another dinner. It’s a cook once eat twice type scenario, which is great for busy folk like me.
As with all food that gets stored in the refrigerator or freezer, leftovers from your slow cooker need to be cooled on the countertop to about room temperature before placing into the fridge or freezer for storage. Do this within two hours of finishing cooking. Do not put the hot slow-cooker insert directly into the fridge.
When it comes to reheating, do not reheat food in the slow cooker. Again, it can take too long for the food to come up to a safe temperature. Safety experts recommend reheating cooked food on the stove or by another quicker method, until steaming. After that you can place the food in a slow cooker to keep it warm for up to two hours.
Get creative!For me slow cooking is about so much more than meat and three veg, although that’s nice too! I like to experiment with vegetarian dishes and different types of grains and even pasta!
Designed for ease.We have designed most of our recipes to include as little hands on time as possible, as this is the beauty of slow cooking to me. That was you can enjoy a beautiful and flavourful meal which will fill your house with a stunning aroma, without being a slave to the stove for hours. So you can spend more time doing what you love. You’re welcome and enjoy!
Oh I just love this time of year! Anyone who knows me knows that I am a true autumn fanatic! The cold, chilly mornings and beautiful, sunny days. The rainy days when you don’t see the sun for a long time and the fire is constantly lit when someone is in the house. I love how relaxed this time of year can be and all the obligations seem to go away, I guess people become more recluse in winter. As much as I love to be social, this comes as a welcome break when there’s time for self-reflection and getting stuff done.
This time of year can be a hard time for people who like to eat seasonably, but I’m here to tell you it needn’t be! You might want to add a slice of tomato to your sandwich or some snow peas to your stir-fry, and capsicums grow all year around right?
Well, not quite. Sure, these days you can get more or less anything from the supermarket at any time of year, but that’s not the point.
For me, going to the Farmers’ Market, or connecting with some of our local growers is the best way to figure out what’s really in season. We do have some suppliers who continue to grow tomatoes and cucumbers all year around, and they use sustainable ways of heating a hot house so I don’t see a problem with sneaking the odd outlier into the menu (I’m no complete fanatic). However, I think it’s nice to make the most of what is grown within the seasonal window for many reasons.
Here’s my top 5 reasons why seasonal eating rocks:
- The food is more likely to be locally sourced and thereby higher in nutritional content. No shipping around the country (or God forbid from abroad) equals less loss of nutrient. Bonus points for lower food mileage! Double bonus point! You’re supporting the local community at growers – you’re winning at life!
- All the colours of the rainbow are still there – just visit your local Farmer’s Market and you’ll find purple, green, orange, yellow, red and white. Including a bit of everything means you’re getting a varied nutrient profile. Win!
- You might get to try something new, how does a side of yakon, daikon, turnip or golden beetroot sound?
- Less sprays and nasties are used for seasonal growing. The produce that’s in season can handle the jandle of the weather’s antics so they don’t need a helping hand from artificial sprays. Whatever your thoughts are on organic eating, that has to make sense, right?
- It’s all about the taste. Ever eaten a tomato in the middle of winter? Does it actually taste like a tomato or do you have to use your imagination a lot?
Below is a list of simple substitutions for summer produce in winter.
Summer varieties of lettuces – kales and cabbages or winter lettuces (more hardy varieties)
Tomatoes – radishes and baby turnips, finely sliced
Cucumbers – fennel and sprouts
Capsicums – finely diced pumpkin or butternut, kohlrabi or turnips
Aubergines/eggplants – mushrooms
Courgettes – broccoli or broccolini
I encourage you to go out and find the most delicious, fresh seasonal produce and cook up a storm!
Of course we are only human and we do make the odd exception here and there…. Every now and then we throw in the odd tomato or cucumber, just to keep things interesting. Because that’s what we’re all about: interesting and delicious meals, with minimum fuss.
Have a great week and happy cooking!
It’s been a busy week here at Emma’s Food Bag HQ, with preparations for Auckland Food Show next week and a big batch of new delicious recipes to trial (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it).
We are featuring this stunner on the dinner table tonight for our Inspiration and Original Menu foodies. If you like a crunchy slaw with a difference and a delicious crumbed piece of somethin’ somethin’, with a side of tart, sweet and bite, I urge you to give this a try. And I feel like that that should sum up pretty much the entire population of the world.
I know some of our customers have already enjoyed this dish, and can you blame them? (No you can’t and I am one of them). The feedback we’ve had has been great, unsurprisingly.
Celeriac is a fun vegetable to play with too. It looks fun, it tastes fun and it’s quite uncommon, which I personally think is the funnest.
Pork schnitzel with celeriac slaw and apple and walnut sauce.
Serves 4For the schnitzel:
4 pork schnitzel
3 tbsp flour
2 eggs, beaten
120 g breadcrumbs
3 tbsp olive oil for frying
For the apple and walnut sauce:
4 green apples, sliced
1 tbsp honey
4 tbsp water
40 g chopped walnuts
For the celeriac slaw:
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 pots natural yoghurt
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
600 g celeriac, julienned
2 carrots, grated
½ cup curly parsley, chopped
To prepare the schnitzel, place between layers of clingfilm and bash with a rolling pin or mallet to tenderise and flatten. Sprinkle both sides of the schnitzel with flour then season with salt and pepper. Whisk eggs in a bowl and place breadcrumbs in another bowl. Dip meat in egg mix, drain off excess and then coat with breadcrumbs. Set aside.
For the apple sauce, peel, core and slice the apples and put in a saucepan with honey and water. Cover and cook over a medium heat until apple is just cooked through – you don’t want the apples to end up too soft. This will take about 6-8 minutes. Stir in chopped walnuts and season with a pinch of salt, then set aside covered until the rest of the meal is ready.
Prepare the celeriac slaw while the apple sauce is cooking. Firstly, mix lemon juice and yoghurt in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Peel the celeriac, remove any brown bits, and cut into paper-thin slices (a mandolin or slicing attachment on a food processor is handy for this). Stack a few slices and cut into thin matchsticks then add into the bowl with the lemon yoghurt dressing. Alternatively, you can coarsely grate the celeriac to save time, but the salad will not have quite the same crunchy texture. Peel and grate the carrot and stir into celeriac salad. Chop the parsley and stir through the slaw.
Heat olive oil for the schnitzel in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Once shimmering, add crumbed schnitzels and cook on each side about 1-3 minutes until golden. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to do this in batches.
To serve, spoon celeriac slaw onto plates, place schnitzel on the side and top with apple and walnut sauce.
I’m sure many of you out there have had an interesting week – it’s school holidays after all. From what I can gather from parents of school-age kids, that’s a thing.
We had our own version of a school holiday kinda vibe at out house this week, even though young Kenzie is only 3. She got sick. The kind of sick that meant she was contagious enough to have to stay at home, but not sick enough to stay still. Conjunctivitis – you’re a special kinda hell raiser….
But I’m gonna be honest – I kinda loved being home with her for three whole days. It felt like a holiday (even though I was working most of the time – but you know what they say: “love your job and you’ll never work a day in your life”) A couple of yeas ago, when the business was still so young and we were still finding our feet, there is just no way I could have had three whole days out of the office, regardless of the staff we had. There is just no way, it would have been so overwhelming! But now, I can proudly say that the business is systematic enough to “run it self” in a way. I can take time out with a sick child, and the world doesn’t end. I am proud of that. So proud.
So we hung out. We played around with some slow cooked meals, because as you might know, there might maybe, possibly, hopefully be a slow cooker menu on the cards for this winter. yay 🙂 We ate lots of food. It was good. In the evening time, we enjoyed out “regular meals” from the Inspiration Menu, much like many of our customers. One of the absolute highlights was the “Crispy Berbere spiced chicken thighs served on puy lentil and vegetable medley “.
You might not know this, but this meal first appeared when the business was only 4 months old. I was just finding my feet in the recipe creation gig, and I fell in love with this spice mix! Then, somehow, this meal went into hibernation for a few years, until one day when I was flicking through the archive, reminiscing about the good old days (haha). I stumbled upon it and thought I have to cook this again! So i did. Here it is.
Berbere spice mix. In all its glory.
Emma’s Berbere Spice Mix
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground fenugreek
1 tsp ground all spice
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
It’s a beautiful, fragrant (not hot spicy) spice mix originating from Ethiopia, featuring ground fenugreek, paprika and cardamom, just to name a few. It’s commonly used in meat dishes and vegetarian stews alike, to add a depth of flavour and richness to a meal.
So go ahead, get your creative hat out and start making dinner magic. Or, if you prefer the tried and tested recipe, here’s what we did with the Berbere spice mix.
Crispy Berbere spiced chicken thighs served on puy lentil and vegetable medley
For the lentil medley:
240 g puy lentils, rinsed
2 brown onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Berbere spice mix
4 tbsp tomato paste
4 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
For the chicken:
800 g chicken thigh, skin on
2 tbsp Berbere spice mix
Drizzle of olive oil
Method:Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC.
For the lentil medley, rinse the lentils in a sieve, then drain. Finely chop the onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottom frying pan with a lid over a medium heat. Add the chopped vegetables and sauté for 4-5 minutes, until softened. Stir in the spice mix (reserving some for the chicken), tomato paste and then pour in the stock. Add the lentils, cover the pan partially with a lid and cook for 30-35 minutes, until lentils are tender yet firm. Check the liquid in the pan towards the end and adjust as needed – the goal is a saucy lentil medley, but not a soup.
Handy hint: If your pan does not have a lid simply cover it tightly with a double layer of tinfoil.
Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and place into an oven dish, skin side up. Sprinkle with the remaining Berbere spice mix, ensuring even coverage all over the chicken. Place in the oven with the skin side up, and cook for 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time.
To serve, slice the chicken with a sharp knife and serve on top of the vegetable and lentil medley.