One Basic - Eight Variations.
So here again is a recipe for the basic Bechamel that alone is delicious served with fish, eggs or vegetables, plus eight easily made variations. Ideally make a large batch of Bechamel, then freeze in small amounts, thaw, then add ingredients to make the richer sauce you wish.
basic Bechamel sauce: makes 2 pints (F)
2 pints (1.1 ltr) milk
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 small onion, quartered
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
4 oz (100g) butter
4 oz (100g) plain flour
salt and pepper
2 tblsp single cream
Put the milk, vegetables, bay leaf and peppercorns into a saucepan and heat gently until just beginning to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and leave to stand for half an hour to infuse the flavours.
Melt the butter in a large pan and stir in the flour. Cook for one minute. Then gradually add the milk, pouring this through a sieve to catch the solid matter (this can be discarded, or the veggies used in a dish or soup), and stirring continuously until the sauce is smooth and thick. Season to taste and stir in the cream.
To freeze: turn into 4 or 8 pots or rigid containers, leaving half inch headspace. Cover surface of sauce with a fitting sheet of greaseproof paper. Cool completely, seal and label. Freeze and use within 6 months.
To serve from freezer: thaw overnight in fridge, then beat well and reheat gently. Can also be reheated from frozen if put into a double saucepan or non-stick pan, stirring all the time.
Once the sauce has been beaten and heated, the following can be added (based on using half a pint of Bechamel):
cheese sauce: add 2 oz finely grated Cheddar cheese, and cayenne pepper to taste. Serve with fish, vegetables, eggs, pasta.
mushroom sauce: add 2 oz finely chopped and sauteed mushrooms, quarter teaspoon of Marmite, and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with steaks, chops, vegetables, fish.
mustard sauce: add 1 - 2 level tsp dry mustard mixed with 1 tsp each vinegar and water. Serve with oily fish such as herrings or mackerel, also with poultry.
tartare sauce: add 1 good tablespoon freshly chopped parsley; 2 small gherkins, finely chopped; and 2 level tsp capers, also finely chopped. Serve with fried fish.
watercress sauce: add half a small bunch of watercress, finely chopped; and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with fish, eggs, and poultry.
curry sauce: add 1 level tsp curry powder or paste; 3 level tablespoons of stewed apples; 1 level teaspoon tomato puree (or ketchup); half a small onion, finely chopped and sauteed; and 1 tablespoon of sultanas. Serve with meat, poultry, and hard-boiled eggs.
green sauce: add 2 - 3 tablespoons finely chopped mixed fresh herbs (basil, chives, parsley, fennel, savory, thyme, tarragon...). Serve with fish, eggs or vegetables.
tomato sauce: add 1 large tomato, skinned and finely chopped; 1 level tablespoon tomato puree; 1 shallot, finely chopped and sauteed; and basil to taste. Serve with meat, fish, vegetables, pasta.
We normally think of a pate as made with meat. The word itself just means 'paste', so there can also be vegetable pates which are not just for vegetarians, but also enjoyed by those with more carnivorous tendencies. Here is a pate made with mushrooms. As it will freeze, another dish to tuck away ready for the festive season.
Mushroom Pate: serves 8 (F) (V)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed (opt)
4 oz (100g) butter
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 level tablespoons plain flour
8 oz (225g) mushroom, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh fennel or dill
zest and juice of half a lemon
5 fl oz (150ml) double cream
Melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the onion for 3 minutes until beginning to soften, then stir in the garlic (if using). Cook a further minute.
Toss the celery in the flour, then add this to the pan with the mushrooms. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring all the time.
Remove pan from heat, cool slightly then add the lemon zest and juice, herbs, salt and pepper to taste.
Choose to either mash together the cooked ingredients, cool then stir in the cream, and spoon into a dish. OR...put the cooked mixture into a food processor or blender to blitz into a really smooth mixture.
To serve now: Chill, garnish with slices of mushroom, and eat with crispbreads.
To freeze: wrap pot/s in clear film or foil, seal and label. Use within 3 months.
To serve from freezer: unwrap, then thaw in fridge for 4 hours. Garnish as above.
For those thinking about buying a slowcooker (or maybe even given one as a present this Xmas) here are a few facts taken from the instruction book that came with my crock-pot. Admittedly I have had this pot some 25 years or more and used regularly. It has a removable ceramic interior, so the food can be taken and served at the table. New models may differ, but they all work in much the same way. Always follow instructions that come with your slow-cooker, for they may differ slightly from those given below, although they all work in much the same way.
This is not critical because of the very gentle way of cooking. Even if a dish is ready to eat after 6 hours of slow-cooking, it will not overcook, and still be delicious to eat after 8 hours.
Most slow-cookers have two heats: Low and High. The low setting (on mine) uses 115 watts of electricity, the High uses 160 watts. Barely more than an ordinary light bulb. This alone save a great deal of fuel when it come to cooking.
Abnormally cold room temperatures or if the crock-pot sits in a direct draught will affect the cooking performance of the crock-pot, particularly when on the Low setting, and should be avoided. However, if there is no choice, then use the High setting.
One hour on High is approximately equal to 2 - 2 1/2 hours on Low. You can speed up cooking times if a recipe takes a long time on Low and you wish to eat earlier than planned. Cook the first quarter of the time on High, then the rest of the time on Low. the meal should be ready earlier, but will not spoil if having to be left longer on Low.
Preferably do not stir when the food is being cooked, especially when the cooker is set at Low as lifting the lid will lead to loss of heat and this means increasing the cooking time. An exception is when rice is being cooked as this benefits from a quick stir. Also when cooking on High for short periods, an occasional stir helps to distribute flavours and keeps the gravy smooth.
If there are (or have been) voltage reductions while the food is cooking in the pot, these may adversely affect cooking times, and some adjustments may be necessary.
Preparation of meat and vegetables:
These MUST be done in a different pan. Pre-browning of meat is advised as this gives better results.
Vegetables should be cut into small pieces as they tend to cook more slowly than meat and should therefore be placed on the bottom of the pot (or nearest the heat source) with the meat and liquid on top.
Frozen vegetables, such as peas and sweetcorn should be added during the last half hour of cooking so that they retain their colour and texture. To ensure they do not reduce the working temperature too far, they should be at least partially thawed before adding.
Dried vegetables are ideal for crock-pot cooking. Just mix them in with the other ingredients in the crock-pot.
Because there is very little evaporation, most recipes require less liquid than usual, up to half a pint should be sufficient. The amount of liquid used will also affect the appearance of meats. Using less liquid will give a browner appearance.
As so little liquid is used, at the end this will be concentrated and full of flavour. If stock is not used for meat and poultry, a stock cube can be used for extra richness.
Milk and Cream:
Milk, cream, sour cream/creme fraiche, and yogurt tend to break down during prolonged cooking, therefore if wishing to use them, add them during the last hour of cooking only.
Dumplings should always be cooked on the High setting, so if a meal is being cooked on the Low setting, switch to High before adding the dumplings and cook for approx. 30 minutes more.
Frozen cooked meals:
The crockpot is ideal for reheating frozen cooked dishes taken straight from the freezer, as the slow, gentle heat prevents the food drying out.
When re-heating ready-cooked frozen dishes such as stews, casseroles and tarts, leave them in their foil wrappings, put in the pot andand add 5 fl oz (125ml) water. Heat on Low for 4 - 8 hours depending upon the weight and shape. For a complete evening meal, add a foil parcel containing small scrubbed and greased potatoes, and leave the lot on the low setting for 6 - 8 hours.
The instructions above refer to a slow-cooker of just over 3 pints capacity. Cooking times vary when smaller quantities of food (that those shown in the recipe book) are used. Times given are applicable only when the pot is at least half-filled.
(NOTE: Lakeland limited sell a smaller slow-cooker suitable for one-two persons, this should come with its own instruction book.)
Here is a curry sauce that can be made in a crockpot, for the long slow cooking enables the curry spices to blend thoroughly, and this makes it much more enjoyable. So - if you have a slow cooker, love eating curry, then why not make up a larger amount and freeze it away. To keep the balance correct, use level spoonfuls. If a curry buff, you may wish to use different spices to give different flavours, if so, make sure to label freezer containers with each type of sauce (Korma, Rogan Josh, Jalfrezi, Masala...), for once frozen many will look alike.
Crock-pot Curry Sauce:
1 oz (15g) lard or dripping
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder or to taste
1 tablespoon plain flour
half pint (250ml) brown stock
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 tablespoon chutney
1 dessertspoon lemon juice
2 oz (50g) raisins or sultanas
salt to taste
Melt the fat in a frying pan, and fry the onion. Add curry powder and flour and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, gradually stir in the stock and remaining ingredients. Transfer to the crock-pot and cook on Low for 4 - 6 hours.
If you wish to turn this into a curry (not to be frozen), add COOKED meat or fish during the last half hour of cooking - which should then be turned to the High setting.
Browsing through the recipe book that came with my slow-cooker, this gives a dish that can be made with left-over turkey from Xmas. Although we are still a few weeks away from the festive season, better to pass this on now so you can file it away, rather than me forget to give it to you nearer the time (as I surely would).
Crock-Pot Turkey Pilaff:
12 oz (300g) cooked turkey meat
1 onion, finely chopped
1 small green bell pepper, de-seeded and chopped
4 oz (100g) button mushrooms, left whole
4 oz (100g) easy-cook long-grain rice
1 x 210g can chopped tomatoes
half pint (250ml) water or stock
quarter pint (125ml) dry white wine
salt and pepper
Put all ingredients into the crockpot, and cook on Low for 6 - 8 hours, or on High for 3 - 4 hours.
Although most of us tend to do our baking in the oven, we can still use a crock-pot to make a cake. This recipe (again from the manufacturers cookbook) uses a packet sponge mix (some of these can be very inexpensive), but adds that a home-made sponge batter based on two eggs (with 4 oz each flour, butter and sugar) could be used instead. Serve warm as a dessert, this is not quite a 'cake', but no doubt any leftovers would eat well cold.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake:
2 oz (50g) butter
4 oz (100g) brown sugar
1 packet sponge cake mix
1 x 380g can pineapple slices
Set the crockpot to High and put the butter in the stoneware pot to melt. Mix the cake according to instructions, using the strained pineapple juice as the liquid required.
When the butter has melted, use a little of it to grease the sides of the pot, then stir in the sugar to the rest of the butter, making sure this is spread evenly over the bottom.
Arrange the pineapple over this, with a cherry tucked into each hole in the centre of the pineapple rings, then pour in the cake mixture, spreading as evenly as possible. Cook on High for 1 hour, then turn to Low and cook for a further 3 hours or until the cake is risen and firm. Invert onto a warm serving dish.
Cold weather affecting the temperature of a slow cooker, reminded me to say that there is nothing written in stone that says all cooking has to be done in the kitchen. A slow-cooker cooks just as well in a hall, living or bedroom. The same could be said about baking bread in a machine. Or cooking a meal in a Remoska. If something is electrically controlled, it should be able to be used anywhere there is an electric socket.