Friday, 7 November 2014

1: Catherine Atkinson & Jenni Fleetwood - Slow Cooker, One-pot & Casserole – Cooking the Books



Starter:      Baked Field Mushroom with Hazelnuts

Main:         Irish Stew

Dessert:     Pumpkin & Banana Cake

Obviously, this week is a pumpkin week, so I needed to find a book that would help me use up the tasty flesh, definitely as a starter or main course, and possibly as a dessert. I hadn’t considered the actual food I’d have in my house each week before setting myself this challenge…maybe I’ll get better as I progress, choosing my recipes first, then ordering to fulfil it rather than the other way round, as was the situation this week! As well as pumpkin, I have much veg. including carrots, squash, beetroot and salad. As for protein, it’s a choice of whole chicken, scallops or diced lamb. Fruit includes options of apple, orange, kiwi or grapes. I also have a ready supply of eggs from our three chick-chicks and standard store cupboard ingredients.

I really wanted to start with my newest addition, Nigel Slater’s ‘Eat’, in a gorgeous yellow fabric cover, but he has no pumpkin recipes at all, so you’ll have to wait for a little treat from him next week. Instead, I chose (no, not Heston, although I’m going to have to get that one done sooner rather than later I think –  maybe its a holiday project!) one of my two slow cooker / one pot books. This book also includes tips for using the cooker in different ways and so, after reading these, it was with a little trepidation that I chose to use the pumpkin in a slow-cooked cake.

Starter: Baked Field Mushroom with Hazelnuts

Easiness: 9/10                                                                                                                         Taste: 7/10                                                                                                                                Make again: 8/10                                                                                                                     Cheats & Changes: I used pecans as I had them for the cake, but the recipe does state you could use any unsalted nuts. It also suggests that they should be eaten very fresh, so to buy small packets you’ll use quickly or nuts in shells – too much phaff for me, stick with the small packets!


Garlic mushrooms are always a favourite, especially since we visited River Cottage on a mushroom foraging course and learnt how to cook them properly. Unfortunately, they’re one of those things I don’t cook often enough so I was pleased to find a twist on this recipe, even though these are baked rather than fried. It’s a case of mixing crushed garlic with olive oil and lemon zest, leaving to infuse, then pouring half of it over some large mushrooms. Bake the ‘shrooms for about ten minutes before removing, sprinkling with chopped hazelnuts and the rest of the oil, then bake for another ten minutes. Before serving, sprinkle the parsley over the top. Crusty bread to dip is a must!


These were scrummy and could be used as a side dish for meat, as well as a vegetarian main if served with couscous / rice or similar. They were yummy, as you’d expect from a basic garlic mushrooms recipe, but the nuts really added to the earthy flavours.


Main: Irish Stew

Easiness: 10/10                                                                                                                        Taste: 6/10                                                                                                                                Make again: 8/10 (Frankie had seconds!)                                                                                   Cheats & Changes: erm, none, I just didn’t stick to the quantities, as usual. You could use ready prepped veg and cubed lamb.

I’m not really sure how ‘Irish’ this is, or how traditional, but it was very simple and quite tasty. Frankie even had seconds. You’re meant to make it with mutton, but unless you live near a fantastic butcher, this is quite hard to come by so I used stewing lamb instead. Neck of lamb would work well too.


This really was easy to make. Fry some lamb to brown then remove from pan. Fry off chunky carrots and onions until browned. The recipe says to quarter onions and cut wide slices of carrot. Add lamb back to pan with water to just cover then simmer for an hour. Add chopped potatoes to the pan along with a few sprigs of fresh thyme. The recipe doesn't say whether to peel or not, but I left mine skin-on. Cook for another hour. Leave to settle, season well, as there’s no salt or pepper added during the cooking process (something I was a little unsure about) and stir in a knob of butter and chopped parsley before serving.


Now I can’t make it look ‘nice’, well, not without a warm filter anyway, but it did taste good, just don’t forget the seasoning or parsley. And a little confession – I stirred in a good blob of mint sauce! 

Dessert: Pumpkin & Banana Cake (in a slow cooker!)

Easiness: 8/10                                                                                                                         Taste: 5/10                                                                                                                                Make again: 0/10 (There are far quicker and more reliable recipes out there!)                                 Cheats & Changes: none


A cake in a slow cooker? Nope. I’ve heard of it but never had the guts to actually try it out until now. I read the ‘tips’ and followed the instructions, but my main challenge was to find a cake tin than actually fit into my cooker as it’s not a large oval one, but a round one with a smaller base and a lip around the top. The tin also needed to have a ‘built in base’ rather than a spring form tin or one with a loose bottom (that would be dreadful!) or the water that creates the steam to cook it would seep in slowly but surely. As it turned out, I couldn't find a solid base tin, so used a loose based one with a cake-liner, coated it in foil and crossed my fingers: But I’m fairly certain the authors of the book didn’t have this completed vision in mind when they created the recipe…


Not only was the cake heavy, the icing was really more of a sauce, despite me putting it in the freezer for an hour to try to firm it up. Indeed, the question, “Is that icing?” was muttered as the OH wandered past! As for moistness, well, with all that water, it certainly wasn’t dry, and the taste? That was good too – why wouldn’t it be? It had cake ingredients in it! If you like this sort of cake, I’d suggest using an old favourite Good Housekeeping Banana Tea-Bread recipe I have instead and substituting some of the banana for pumpkin if you need to use it up. Quicker and far more reliable.


So my first week of ‘Cooking the Books’ had it’s ups and downs: I certainly won’t be cooking cake in a slow cooker again, not without the right tin anyway, and I’m going to try to cook more garlicky mushrooms of one sort or another.  But on the whole, as Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad!

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