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And now for a slow cooker recipe!

The Christmas before last, my mum and I visited my brother and his wife who live in England. My brother is a talented cook, who mostly (unlike me) relies on his imagination to throw together yummy meals. At the time, he had recently discovered the magical world of slow cookers and raved about his new appliance. One evening during our stay we had a gorgeous beef stew which was miraculously waiting for us when we got home from a hard day’s money-spending. It was cool, and I had read about slow cookers a couple of years previously thinking “I should get one of those”, but actually I was not that bothered – I have no idea why. Luckily my mum knows me better than I know myself, and when she returned to Greece two days after me, she surprised me with a gorgeous little purple Crock Pot which she had lugged all the way back for me. Well, I can safely say this has now become my favourite kitchen gadget (um, after my iphone of course).

To be honest, this didn’t happen overnight. As I mentioned in my first post I like to follow recipes. So to start using my slow cooker I turned to –where else- the internet, to find some. I searched and searched, but wasn’t very happy with what I found. It seemed that most recipes were for a pot roast of some kind and always involved tins of cream of something soup, or dried soup, or jars of ready-made sauce. Don’t get me wrong, flipping back the ring of a can of Heinz Tomato Soup is one of my favourite ways to make dinner, but “recipes” featuring, for example, a can of cream of chicken AND a can of cheese soup (which I didn’t even know existed till then) did not sound very appealing. I was starting to feel quite disappointed when I stumbled on A Year of Slow Cooking. Now that was more like it! A blog with a healthy balance of mostly “from scratch” meals, but with a few quick and easy solutions for when you just can’t be bothered! Plus the added bonus of Stephanie’s great sense of humour. That’s when I got well and truly hooked on the slow cooker. A few months later I started using Twitter (an obsession I’ll talk about another time) which introduced me to a whole new world of food blogs, such as Kalyn’s Kitchen, The Perfect Pantry, Healthy Green Kitchen to name but a few. These all include some great slow cooker recipes, and Kalyn has now started a new site called Slow Cooker From Scratch, a great place to find exciting Crock Pot recipes – and not a tin of soup in sight…!

My Bolognese Sauce is based on a recipe by a well known Greek TV chef called Elias Mamalakis, who is also the publishing manager of the Greek version of the BBC’s Olive magazine. I have adapted the original stove top recipe for the slow cooker. What I usually do is make a batch and freeze half of it, either to use in a mini lasagne for two, or for a quick, easy meal after a long day at work. I hope you like it!

Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce
Serves 4

You’ll need:
1 Tbs olive oil
500g minced (ground) beef
3 Tbs white wine vinegar
1 Tbs onion powder or 1 small onion, chopped finely
1 tin / 400g chopped tomatoes
1 cup / 250ml tomato passata (passata is a thick juice made from crushed and sieved tomatoes. Find more information here)
½ cup / 125ml vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp sugar

What you do:

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan, over medium heat. If you are using regular onion instead of dried, add it to the pan and cook it gently until translucent, about 5 minutes. If not, heat the oil over medium high heat and start at step 2.
  2. Turn the heat up to medium high, and add the minced meat. With a wooden spoon break up the minced meat as much as possible and keep stirring until there are no more pink bits.
  3. Add the vinegar to the pan, and keep stirring the meat until the vinegar evaporates and the juices start to reduce. A couple of minutes should be fine.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to the slow cooker. Add one tablespoon of pan juices. How much juice you get after frying will depend on how fatty your meat was. If it was lean you probably won’t have much, so just tip the contents of the pan into the slow cooker without worrying about slotted spoons and all that.
  5. Add the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker. Give it all a stir.
  6. Turn slow cooker to low and cook for at least 8 hours. Mine usually stays on for about 9-9 ½. I’ve never cooked this on high, so I don’t know how long you should leave it, I assume about 5 or 6 hours?
  7. Serve over spaghetti with a generous amount of grated cheese sprinkled on top.

For those unlucky people who don’t have a slow cooker, try this:
Use 3 Tbs olive oil and only 1 cup of chopped tomatoes. Omit the stock.

  • Follow steps 1 -3 above, but in a saucepan rather than a frying pan.
  • Add chopped tomatoes and passata, bring to a boil.
  • When it starts bubbling add the spices, salt, pepper and sugar (and onion if using dried).
  • Stir and turn the heat down to medium low or low (depending on how hot your stove gets). You want a slow simmer. Cover the pan leaving a small gap and let the sauce simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour for best results.

Update on 30th Septmeber 2012:
Kalyn has kindly featured my recipe on Slow Cooker from Scratch! Yay! Check out the post for more fab slow cooker pasta sauce recipes, or the recipe index for loads more ideas.