It cooks your dinner while you go out to play - all hail the slow cooker
Slow cooker devotees rave about their appliances with levels of enthusiasm usually reserved for lovely cups of tea and the David Beckham pants adverts. It's a convincing argument. But I'm no gadget junkie - I've already ruthlessly abandoned two juicers, a cast iron casserole dish and an enormous blender. To make it into my permanent kitchen collection, the Slow cooker will have to be indispensable.
My fake wife
Hannah Williams may argue that the Slow cooker doesn't do anything a casserole dish can't, but I reckon there's something in them. Three main themes crop up over and over in Slow cooker adulation. 1) They make the cheapest cuts of meat taste amazing. 2) They're blindingly simple to use. 3) Using one means your dinner's ready waiting for you when you come in from work.
Number three is my favourite. The idea of coming home to a piping hot home-cooked meal is amazing. The Slow cooker sounds like a 1950s housewife, only better because it really is just designed to cook and won't end up feeling trapped by its gender, lamenting a lifetime of broken dreams. Brilliant.
The taste test
On to the challenge, and first thing into the cooker is a cheap cut of beef. When it comes to meat, I'm a bit prissy. I'm amazed at people who can chomp their way through meat cavalierly - if my molars meet over the slightest hint of gristle, it's game over for dinner. This fussiness means, though I love it, meat is a rare treat in my diet. The Slow cooker has everything to gain in this test.
7am and I'm still in pyjamas, browning braising steak in a pan for a beef stew recipe that came with the cooker. You have to pre-brown the meat to make sure it doesn't lose its moisture in cooking. Hannah's been pretty disparaging about the appeal of cooking steak first thing in the morning, and I have to admit, she has a point. My stomach's turning at the scent rising from the pan; I can only describe it as 'cow'. My boyfriend thinks I'm being precious. "It smells exactly like mince," he says. So if you like the smell of mince, you'll be OK.
Once the meat's done, it's a case of bunging the other ingredients into the cooking pot, covering and switching it on. That's it. Off I go to work. When I come home 10 hours later, it's like walking into a childhood memory. The kitchen smells gorgeous. Warm, snugly and cosy - all thanks to the Slow cooker in the corner. I mix up some dumplings and add them to the pot. 30 minutes later I'm in comfort food heaven. I've converted to cheaper meat. Even choosing organic braising steak was £13 per kilo cheaper than the fillet steak I'd usually plump for.
Best of all, because the Slow cooker needs to be at least half full, I've made loads. The leftovers go into the freezer for future suppers. And the cleaning up couldn't be simpler. The pot lifts out of the heating element and washes like a casserole dish. So far so good.
My second attempt at slow cooking throws up what seems like a basic design flaw. This is a machine that's been pitched to me as something that will cook for me while I'm at work, but it has no inbuilt timer and most of the recipes that came with it have a maximum cooking time of 4-5 hours. Suddenly my fake wife is not so obliging.
The world's your oyster (stew)
Slow cooker manufacturers, Crock-pot, have a handy table that helps you convert 'normal' recipe times for your Slow cooker. Armed with this new knowledge, a world of recipes opened up. On Saturday a lentil and sausage stew cooked itself while I trotted off to the cinema. I returned expecting dinner only to realise that '4-6' hours is quite a big margin, 2 hours in fact. Waiting an extra hour to eat made me a bit grumpy but the end result was delicious enough to win me over.
On Sunday, I did my weekly shop, a load of washing and went for a lovely walk while a scrumptious chicken stew with parsnips, sage and cream simmered away obediently.
Then I had to stop. After three massive batches of cooking my freezer was rammed to the gills. If you're cooking for a family, a Slow cooker is a dream. It's also good if you're the kind of person who follows a recipe to the letter. If you're more of an 'add a bit of this and that' cook you'll find it odd not tasting your food till it's dished up.
Slowly does it
The Slow cooker's an unusual appliance for us modern people with our instant-access attitudes. It took a bit of planning to fit it into my routine but once we were up and running it was liberating letting a meal cook itself rather than nursing a boiling pot on the hob. I like it, but there definitely needs to be more of an adjustment period before I understand it properly - just like a real wife.
Charlie cooked with the Meyer Prestige 4.5Litre Slow cooker
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