Thursday, April 28, 2011

Slow cooker chocolate custards

I don't often make desserts in the slow cooker but this one looked so easy I had to give it a go.  Making baked custards really works in a slow cooker as it is excellent for giving the slow gentle heat needed.  These only take an hour too, which means yet again it is way more economical to make these in the slow cooker rather than the oven. It is also ideal as it makes just 4 servings, just enough for an indulgent treat with no tempting leftovers! Again this comes from the Simon and Alison Holst slow cooker book.....
Year-round Recipes for Crockpots and Slow Cookers
If you use your slow cooker alot I would definitely recommend owning both of their books.
Rich Chocolate Custards

80g dark cooking chocolate, broken into squares
1 cup low fat evaporated milk
2tbsp sugar
2 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Turn slow cooker to high to preheat it.  Warm a medium pot over a very low heat on a stove and add the chocolate.  Once it starts to melt, add the evaporated milk, sugar coffee and vanilla extract.  Keep the heat very low and whisk or stir until the chocolate is completely melted, then take off the heat.
While the mixture cools down, prepare 4 1/2 cup ramekins by spraying with non stick spray.  Break the eggs into the warm but not hot chocolate mixture and beat with a whisk until well blended, then pour the mixture through a sieve into a jug, and from the jug into the individual containers. 
Turn the slow cooker to low and carefully place the filled containers in it.  Pour hot, almost boiling water into the cooker until it comes 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. (I placed mine on jam jar lids to diffuse the heat more).  Cover and cook for about 1 hour or until the centres of the custards feel firm when jiggled slightly. 

Lift out the custards, allow to cool, then cover with cling film and refrigerate.  To serve, loosen the edge of each with a thin sharp knife and invert onto a flat plate. I decided to brulee mine, so didn't refrigerate them, leaving them to get to room temperature before using my trusty gas torch to create a yummy crackly caramel top.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Beef and Beer Casserole

Slow cookers are the bees knees when it comes to casseroles. They really do produce something quite fabulous without the expense of running your oven all day.  I use to think casseroles were for the uninspired but have come to seriously appreciate the flavour and comfort that a well made casserole can offer.  Of course there are so many variations, and my usual quandry is do I go with a beer base or red wine base- this time it is the beer base because it works so darned well with the cheesey cobbler topping that I often use to spin this out, serve it one night with mash and vege, the next night in individual dishes with the cobbler topping.  This option is great for the freezer as you can freeze in individual portions and have a great meal in minutes when you don't feel like cooking. Or a snack for your teenage boy with the gargantuan appetite! 
This recipe comes from Simon and Alison Holst again, from the other slow cooker book I have of theirs..
100 Ways to Use Slow Cookers and Crockpots
The cobbler is a modified version of a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe.
Beef and Beer Casserole

For 4-6 serves

700g chuck or other stewing steak
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 rashers bacon, chopped
2 tsp oil
1 1/2 c beer
1 tbsp golden syrup or treacle
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt

Turn the slow cooker onto high and coat with non stick spray.  Cut the meat into 2cm cubes, discarding fat but leaving the connective tissue, since it tenderises as it cooks.  Place it in the slow cooker.  
Lightly brown the onions, garlic and bacon in the oil in a large frypan for 5 minutes. Meantime, put the remaining ingredients in with the meat.  Add the pan contents when ready, stir everything together then put on the lid.
Turn the heat down to low and cook for 6-8 hours.  Taste before serving and add extra salt or brown sugar if necessary.  About 15 mins before serving, thicken the liquid with cornflour mixed to a thin paste with water and switch the heat to high.  

Cheese Cobbler topping

200g self-raising flour
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp chilled butter, cut into pieces
100g cheddar, grated
1 big handful chives, chopped
2 large eggs
70ml whole milk

Sift the flour and salt, rub in the butter and stir in the cheese and chives. Whisk the eggs and milk, and stir into the flour mix - it should be fairly sloppy.  Drop spoonfuls of cobbler dough all over the top of the casserole (you can do this in one large dish or in individual ones, just adjust the cooking time to suit). Brush lightly with more milk and bake, uncovered, for 35 minutes until the cobbler is golden.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Asain style slow cooker pork belly

Now that daylight savings has finished and the evenings are cooler I am seriously hankering for comfort food.  I really love this turn of season time, where lighter, easier cooking makes way for hearty and more involved dishes.  The slow cooker gets dusted off at this time of year and for me it is a staple of winter cooking.  So much so that I am devoting these next 3 posts to it! I am a sucker for this kind of cooking, the ease in which things are produced, the flavour that results and the fact that often it is cheaper cuts of meat that are best used in this way make me quite enamoured with this one piece of kitchen equipment! I think it is the busy cooks best friend and there is nothing nicer than returning home to  the great smell of dinner cooking and the prospect that not a lot needs doing to get dinner on the table.
This meal is one of my favourites.  And who doesn't like pork belly???? Even my son who is near phobic about animal fat happily eats this without disecting the hell out of it.  Because of the slow cooking process the fat almost blends into the meat making this a delicious melt in the mouth dish.
The recipe comes from this book on slow cooking which I use a lot-Year-round Recipes for Crockpots and Slow Cookers
It comes from that trusted pair Simon and Alison Holst and I really recommend it as a bible if you use your slow cooker alot.  They have put out two books on slow cooking and I have them both and over winter they get a great deal of use.
I serve this with stir fried veges and some rice with fresh chopped coriander stirred through.

Chinese Simmered Pork Belly

For 4-6 Servings

750g fresh belly pork
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp sherry (I use mirin)
1/4 c water
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp grated ginger root

(I also added 2 tbsp brown sugar, just because I think it works better)

Turn slow cooker on to high.  Score rind of pork about 5mm apart.  Place meat, skin side up on a folded piece of foil and put into slow cooker.  Add the remaining ingredients, then turn pork several times to ensure it is coated with the flavourings.  Cover and cook for 4-5 hours, turning meat over once or twice during cooking. To serve, lift meat out and place skin side up on a board and cut into slices.  Pour spoonfuls of cooking liquid over each serving.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Baked Apples

These are the most ridiculously easy dessert possible and a great store cupboard favourite of mine.  There are all manner of variations one can make - any sort of dried fruit stuffed into them can be substituted and changing things up keeps it interesting.  They are a great dessert to make when the oven is already on and require very little preparation, the oven does all the work.  My favourite at the moment is dried cranberries which when combined with some sultanas and some orange zest make this seriously yummy.  You can also experiment with different sugars, using a dark muscovado sugar with some dates gives a rich dark caramel flavour that works extremely well.  You can add to the whole experience by serving with ice cream or a proper vanilla custard, or if you are more virtuous perhaps some greek yoghurt. You can make this as decadent or austere as you like, either way it is a tasty and easy (and cheap) dessert.

Baked Apples

4 apples
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
150g dried fruit (dates, prunes, apricots, cranberries, raisins, sultanas all work well)
1 tsp orange or lemon zest
pinch of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180 C.  Soften butter and mix with brown sugar.  Add dried fruit, zest and cinnamon, mix to combine.  Core apples and  fill cavity with fruit mixture.  Place apples in oven proof dish and bake for 30-40 mins until soft. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dual Iced Jam Tart Cupcakes

Over the course of Glen's illnes I found myself the recipient of much unexpected kindness.  A good deal of that kindness came from one of the foodie forums I belong to- Violet's Pantry.  A like minded group of people, all serious about cooking, it has transformed from our shared love of food to so much more.  The shared interest has extended beyond food and it has become a community which shares celebrations and commiserations, which marks births, marriages and deaths as well as the daily minutiae of life. I have been very grateful for the support I have received from what has become a close knit group.
Much of the kindness has been in the form of moral support, but equally I have found countless parcels coming my way, 'cheer' packages which indeed have helped to raise a smile on days when I have needed it.  Alot of them seem to follow the theme of baking, these people know me well! After all, who wouldn't feel a little better after flicking through a book of beautifully baked and decorated goodies?
This book certainly lifted my mood. Love Bakery It is called Love Bakery - Cupcakes from the heart. It is so beautifully put together and showcases everything that I love about cupcakes.  Who would have thought you could have so many variations on one small cake- but I am still entranced by the possibilities of flavours and decorations for cupcakes which is why I am still making them.  They are still being gratefully received by those who eat them too! These cupcakes were for a good friend of mine's birthday.
This recipe is somewhat standard for a cupcake, differs though from the Hummingbird version in that it is not as sweet, but I think the Hummingbird recipe probably keeps better.  The nifty thing about this recipe is the method for filling them, using an apple corer- and then there are all the variations you could make for filling them, in this case it is with strawberry jam, but of course you are limited just by your imagination here.  This was a straightforward and delicious recipe that I will be trying again.

Dual Iced Jam Tart Cupcakes

For the cakes:
125g butter
125g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
125g self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp milk

For the frosting:
125g butter
250g icing sugar
1 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp strawberry extract
Red food colouring paste

Strawberry jam to fill
Sugar paste roses or other flowers to top

To make the cakes:
Preheat oven to 180 C. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with cupcake cases.  Add the butter, caster sugar and vanilla extract to an electric mixer and beat for 7 minutes or until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one by one and mix for 2 minutes.  Mix the flour and baking powder together in a separate bowl, then add to the mixer until incorporated.  Add the milk and mix for a further minute.
Use an icecream scoop to divide the mixture evenly between the cases.
Bake for 25 mins.
Remove baked cupcakes from the oven and immediately transfer to wire rack, leave to cool.

To make the frosting:
Cream the butter in the mixer for 2 minutes until light and fluffy.  Add the icing sugar and milk and mix for a further 2 minutes until well blended.  (if you want it even lighter add a little more milk).
Divide the frosting in half and spoon into 2 separate bowls.  Add the vanilla extract to one bowl and mix well.  Add the strawberry extract, if using, to the other bowl.  Dip the tip of a small knife into the red food colouring, add to the strawberry frosting and mix well.

To assemble:
Use an apple corer to remove the centre of each cupcake.  Fill with a tablespoon of jam and replace the sponge core. (I used a piping bag and piped the jam into each cake, much easier and cleaner!)

Place the vanilla frosting down one side of a large piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and pink frosting down the other side.  (I place my piping back into a very tall jug to do this, folding the top of the bag over the top of the jug- it helps to keep it steady and makes for easier filling)
Pipe swirls of frosting over top of cupcakes.  Decorate with flowers, sprinkles and maybe some edible glitter.