It’s at this time of year that we start thinking about eating winter comfort foods, which means that there’s no better time to either invest in buying a slow cooker or retrieving yours from the back of the cupboard. If like many of us you go out to work every day then there’s nothing better than coming home to the lovely smell of a winter stew ready to serve up with a jacket potato, some creamy mash or seasonal vegetables.
One of the great things about slow cooking is that you can also buy cheap cuts of meat, such as lamb and beef as these will be lovely and tender after a day of slow cooking.
If you don’t have a slow cooker then prices start at as little as £14.95 for a Crock-Pot, I bought one a few years ago for around £20.00 from a leading supermarket and although there’s very little difference between the heat settings, it has worked well for years. When investing in a slow cooker just make sure that it’s large enough for your family, as sizes do vary.
There are so many wonderful dishes you can cook in a slow cooker, from Boeuf Bourguignon to Coq-au-Vin to one of my kid’s favourites - rice pudding. However one my all time favourites is Ainsley’s Succulent steak and ale pie, but instead of cooking on the hob I prefer to pop into the slow cooker for the day, then when ready, I pour the stew into smaller pie dishes, top with ready-made puff pastry and finish off by baking in the oven on 190c for 10 minutes.
You will need:
- 25g / 1oz plain flower
- 900g / 2lb diced stewing or braising steak
- 5 tbsp sunflower oil
- 25g / 1oz butter
- 225g / 8oz small chestnut mushrooms
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 300ml / 10fl-oz beef stock
- 300ml / 10fl-oz brown ale
- 1 tsp tomato purée
- leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
- 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 500g / 1lb-2oz packet chilled puff pastry
- 1 egg, beaten, to glaze
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Season the flour with salt and pepper, put into a bowl with the beef, and toss together well until all the pieces are coated.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large, flameproof casserole, add half the beef and fry over a high heat until browned. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the rest of the beef. Set aside.
- Add half the butter and the mushrooms to the pan and fry briskly over a high heat for 2 minutes. Set aside with the beef. Add the rest of the oil and butter, the onions and sugar to the casserole, and cook over a medium-high heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently until nicely browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Stir any remaining seasoned flour into the onions, followed by the beef stock, brown ale, tomato purée, thyme leaves and Worcestershire sauce and bring to the boil, stirring.
- Return the beef and mushrooms to the pan, season with salt and pepper, part-cover and simmer for 1½ hours until the beef is just tender and the sauce has reduced and thickened. Leave to go cold.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6.
- Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and then put a 1.75litre / 3pint pie dish upside-down in the centre of it. Cut out a lid which is about 2.5cm / 1' larger than the dish, and then cut a small hole in the centre to let out the steam during cooking.
- Spoon the filling into the pie dish. Put the pastry lid on top of the filling, and push it against the pie dish to form a good seal.
- Brush the top of the pie with beaten egg and bake for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and the filling is bubbling hot.