Now that restrictions are easing and life is slowly returning back to the new normal, now is a good time to think about how you want to structure your new days and get the most out of your health and life.
Some of us have been so used to going through life on autopilot; at times working for hours on end and not giving ourselves any time to breathe. If this sounds familiar to you, one of the simplest ways I've found to help switch off and slow down is to take the pressure off (literally).
A slow cooker is one appliance in the kitchen that makes winter days that much easier. It gives you one less thing to think about, provides nourishing meals that are simple to prepare and allows you to have more time for other activities. Another positive right now is that the smell that radiates whilst cooking in a slow cooker makes the house feel like a home again, not a school, not an office and not a lockdown bunker!
Slow cooking is a traditional method of cooking that uses a gentle flame or heat for a longer period of time. This slow process enables ingredients to retain the vitamins and minerals that could be destroyed using other methods, such as being cooked on the barbeque or in the fry pan or oven. Slow cooking also helps break down the cell walls of vegetables and meat, making them much easier for our bodies to digest so its great news for people who want to look after their gut health. (Hello... Love Your Gut powder!)
If you’re new to the slow cooking lifestyle, prepare to have an extra hour or two on your hands and a whole lot less stress too!
I’ve included some of my favourite fast ways for living the slow life, into a simple guide here...
Firstly, be sure to use the right sized slow cooker. When you’re filling it up with all of your nourishing ingredients, it should be filled between one-half to two-thirds full. It’s better to not use too much liquid as the meat and veggies contain some liquid and this will flow out as they cook. If you add too much liquid to the cooker, it can add on extra cooking time and not be as robust in flavour.
While I love using leaner cuts of meat as much as the next foodie, meats that are higher in fat take longer to break down and will stay juicier and tender in a slow cooker than leaner cuts. It’s absolutely your preference as to what you would like to use.
When it comes to meat, if you do want to add an extra element of complexity to the flavour of your dish, you may choose to brown meat before adding it to the slow cooker. As the slow cooker helps food retain its moisture, meat won’t brown once it’s in the slow cooker.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan I absolutely love adding red lentils to my slow cooked vegetable dishes and the slow nature of cooking them makes them taste so tender and creamy. The other good news is that they don’t need to be pre-soaked, another win for anyone with a sensitive digestive system. You can also sneak some greens in there too, like kale or spinach or add some prebiotic fibre rich veg such as sweet potato or fennel bulbs.
Lentils are simple to make at the best of times but slow cooking them makes them really easy! And don’t worry if you cook them for too long, all you need to do is turn them into a soup. Soups are also lovely to make and combining them with Moroccan style spices such as cumin, ginger, coriander and all spice will take the dish to the next level.
I know it’s exciting the first time you’re trying something new, but just as you don’t (or shouldn’t) open the oven every few seconds when you bake a new cake, try to refrain from opening the lid of the slow-cooker every few minutes when you’re making a stew. I recommend not to keep peeking inside or stirring its contents. Opening it up allows the heat to escape, adding an extra half-an-hour to your cooking time.
If you’re using frozen foods, I recommend defrosting them beforehand. Frozen foods can take longer to get to the right temperature to kill off potential bacteria, increasing your chances of developing food-borne illnesses.
Another favourite thing about my slow cooker, especially when I'm feeling lazy is that I throw whatever ingredients I want into it in the morning, for example, garlic, onion, vegetables and lamb, and come back to a fragrant meal in the evening.
Bone broths are good too, and are an excellent meal for a slow cooker plus they can help support thyroid function. They contain zinc, which is essential for immunity and healing the gut, as well as iron. By slowly cooking meals, you’re able to enhance their flavour and boost gut health.
1/2 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 garlic clove, crushed or finely grated
Heat half the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium–high heat. Season the shanks with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Working in batches, cook for 4–6 minutes, turning occasionally, until browned all over. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to the pan and sauté the carrot, celery and garlic for 3–4 minutes, or until softened.
Stir in the broth, then return the shanks to the pan. Add the thyme sprigs, celeriac, sweet potato and parsnip and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat to low, then cover and simmer for 2–2 1/2 hours, or until the lamb is tender and falling off the bone, turning the shanks halfway through.