Cool, dark winter nights call for hearty food to warm you from within, and what we love about this season is the opportunity to dust off the slow cooker and whip up some super simple suppers. With just a little bit of preparation and a whole lot of patience (no opening that lid!), you can create a range of delicious dinners to keep you going through the cold snaps.
Though this handy kitchen gadget is often associated with preparing some delicious stews and casseroles – and tasty ones at that – there are a whole host of other amazing meals that can be created with just this one device. From whole chickens to lasagne and breads to sticky toffee pudding, there is an exciting range of mouth-watering recipes that can be enjoyed. Below, we are going to highlight some of our favourite classic for weekday winter meals to impress.
Chicken and chorizo paella
A popular combination, and for good reason, chicken and rice are two essential ingredients that make up many dishes that are loved across the world. Add a few more ingredients to liven up these staples and discover a whole host of dishes, both traditional and adapted, that are sure to make it onto your favourites’ list. The best thing about crock pot chicken and rice is that it is versatile – whip up a delicious biryani, prepare the perfect paella, go Thai or Italian and get creative, and most of all take the time saved while your delicious meal cooks away to focus on other tasks in the home.
For a delicious take on the classic paella, fry off some chunks of chicken and chorizo (depending on how many you’re cooking for) until golden and add to the slow cooker. Cook an onion, garlic, paprika and saffron and add a big splash of white wine before reducing and adding to the cooker along with rice, chopped tomatoes and stock. Cook on low for around two and a half to three hours and about 30-45 minutes before the end add some king prawns and peas. Serve with crusty bread.
Beef and root vegetable stew
The perfect classic British dish that warms you right through on cold winter evenings, a beef stew promises heartiness, wonderful aromas and always leaves you with enough for a few more portions. What more could you want?
Make sure you pick top-quality stewing steak and don’t skip out on the dumplings; they really make this dish. What is great about a stew is that it can actually be quite versatile; you can pop in as much root veg as you like, swap out the meat for chicken or lamb or omit it altogether, and play around with your favourite herbs and spices – cumin is great with beef here.
To prepare, fry off some beef in a pan and add a little flour to soak up any oil, add a chopped onion and leek, your herbs/spices and your root veg – parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes are all winners. Add stock and don’t forget about white potatoes as they will thicken the stew. Add the whole lot to the slow cooker and cook on low for eight to 10 hours or high for at least four hours. An hour or two before the end, make up the dumplings as per packet instructions (with suet), add a little parsley to the mix and pop into the mixture.
Have you ever popped a whole chicken in a slow cooker? If not, then why not? There’s something quite delightful about dining on chicken that has been slowly cooked – the meat simply falls off the bone and plenty of moisture is retained thanks to the way it’s cooked. Add to that the oh-so simple preparation and the little effort involved and you really will question why you never cooked it this way before.
Obviously, you will need to have a cooker big enough to fit the size of chicken you normally use for your household – or reduce the size of the chicken – and then simply add a few ingredients for that succulent roast. Choose a selection of your favourite flavours – bay leaf; lemon, rosemary and garlic; a selection of spices – add to the butter and spread under the skin and sit the chicken on top of a thickly chopped onion and carrots chunks. Cooking times will vary but leave at least six hours – on low – (a meat thermometer is a good gadget to have here) and extend the cooking time if need be. Serve with a selection of steamed or roasted vegetables and you will never want to cook a roast chicken another way again.
Elevate the simple sausage by popping it in a warming casserole and rejoice in the joyous flavours that are produced as a result. This dish can be made with peppers and beans or sweet potato and tomatoes for a different result, depending on your tastes. Brown the sausages in a pan before transferring to the slow cooker and flavour with tomato puree, stock, herbs and pepper; add bacon, garlic and a splash of wine if you wish and pop in some peppers and beans after two hours (on low, then cook for another three) for a wholesome dish.
Serve alongside some mashed potato, pasta, bread or on a baked potato and cook up some vegetables for a delicious weekday dinner that the whole family will love.