Slow Cooker

Slow Cooking Do’s and Don’t’s

Slow cookingOver the past few months, I’ve become slightly obsessed with slow cooking. It’s really invigorated my interest in doing things in the kitchen and has made me so much more adventurous with the things that I’ll attempt to make. It also saves time AND money; a slow cooker is cheaper to run even over the course of 6 hours than a conventional oven is to run for one hour, and often the cheaper cuts of meat are the ones which lend themselves best to ‘low and slow’.

With all this in mind, I thought I’d give you a few of the do’s and don’t’s that I’ve picked up over the last few months of reading and researching slow cooking recipes and methods so that you can, as they say, learn from my fails!

Slow Cooking Do’s and Don’t’s:

Do: read the manual! Slow cookers often vary from brand to brand and things that you can do with one slow cooker may not apply to another – for instance, some pots will crack if no liquid is added while others will be fine.

Don’t: put it in the fridge. The ceramic part of your pot can crack if put into a cold fridge and a cracked slow cooker is the saddest thing of all!

Don’t: cook meat from frozen. I know there are a LOT of people who say that it’s fine to slow cook from frozen but I’ve also seen lots of compelling evidence which says that, on a scientific level, the slow cooker just doesn’t heat the meat quickly enough and allows bacteria to grow. People will tell you that it’s fine to do it, but for me it’s not worth the risk.

Don’t: Add milk or cream to a recipe until about half an hour before you want to serve. I’ve seen SO many pictures of potentially lovely meals which have been ruined by split or curdled dairy products.

Don’t: Be afraid of cornflour. People have had disasters when adding it as a powder but mix it into a paste before you add it to the pot and it will really help to thicken meals which have ended up too watery.

Do: Think about fat. Lots of people (me included) adopt a ‘chuck it all in’ attitude and hardly ever brown things off, but this can often leave you with a layer of fat on top of the finished meal. Browning things first allows you to drain fat before you add it to the slow cooker if you don’t want your food to be too fatty.

Don’t: Be afraid to try things! Some of the best things I’ve cooked in my slow cooker have some from chucking things in and giving them a go.

Do: Allow your pot to cool before you wash it. Adding water to a ceramic pot which is cooler than its own temperature can also cause cracks.

Don’t: Use a slow cooker to reheat leftovers. Things which have been cooked and then cooled need to be reheated thoroughly, quickly and evenly, and a slow cooker just doesn’t get things up to temperature quick enough.

Do: Make sure you check that the electrical cable isn’t underneath the pot while you cook as this can be a fire hazard.

Don’t: Add too much liquid. Slow cookers aren’t the same as cooking on a hob and all of the moisture that you add at the beginning will effectively stay in the pot because of the lid. Also, most foods tend to contain liquid which will cook out and add to the overall moisture of the dish.

Don’t: Overfill your pot. I once spend 8 hours waiting for a lamb stew to be ready, only to find the meat half cooked and the root veg hard because I’d put too much in for the heat to be able to distribute through the cooker.

Do: Think about layers. Things like potatoes, swede and carrot are dense and will take longer to cook than meat, so add them to the bottom of the pot as they’ll be closer to the heat and will cook for longer.

Do: Try not to lift the lid too often! The inside of your slow cooker is a little hot-house for your dinner and every time you lift the lid, you let some of that heat out!

Do you have any other amazing slow cooking tips? I’d love to hear them.

(Big thanks to my fellow Fun Slow Cooker Saddos for their input!)

Parenting

Easter – Is it Becoming Christmas 2.0?

Easter EggsEaster has been and gone and there’s still an absolute TON of chocolate adorning my sideboard – you know it’s Easter week when even the kids are bored of the sight of chocolate! I’m doing my best not to help  them with finishing it, but I’m fighting a losing battle really…BB can be VERY forceful if she wants to share something (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). Obviously, we’re totally secular in our family, so Easter is nothing more than an excuse for a nice roast dinner and a lot of chocolate, but I’ve noticed that it’s becoming a huge deal, all of a sudden, like some sort of Christmas 2.0.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about how excessively commercialised Christmas has become in the last few years. Well, it’s ALWAYS been that way in my life time but now more so than ever. Christmas, when I was a kid, was two days of presents and food and that was basically it. Now, it’s Santa visits, craft workshops, advent calendars containing Lego or nail varnish, Christmas Eve boxes, co-ordinating pyjamas for the whole family…the list goes on, and Easter suddenly seems to be following suit.

 I saw so much hype surrounding Easter on Facebook and various groups that I’m in and I was genuinely shocked to see that it’s become such a huge thing. Suddenly, instead of one egg each from parents and any that kind relatives buy, people are doing huge baskets of eggs per child, and that doesn’t include the Easter egg hunts that everyone seems to be doing. I’ve even seen parents forgoing the chocolate altogether and buying TOYS for their kids for Easter.

It seems that you’re doing Easter all wrong if you don’t go to your local farm to see lambs being born, make home-made papier-mache Kinder eggs big enough to store a large toddler and fill it with surprise eggs (because, apparently, that’s THE thing to watch on YouTube now – kids unwrapping Kinder eggs. I know. GROAN) and jump wholeheartedly on the Easter bandwagon. What WAS a £1.50 per kid thing has suddenly become like Christmas 2.0.

I’m completely aware that what other people choose to do with their kids is absolutely none of my business, so feel free to take this whole post with a massive pinch of salt, but I do find the excessive nature of Easter quite negative. When I was a kid, I was happy with the one, maybe two eggs that I got from family and sometimes my Nan and Grandad would send me a fiver instead of an egg because they didn’t want to overload me with chocolate, and that was cool. Two weeks off of school with some chocolate in the middle. Why does it need to be so much more than that? Aren’t we giving our kids a very wrong message?

I won’t go into the religious side of that because, quite frankly, it’s not about that for most people and the actual celebration of Spring and fertility at this time of year FAR pre-dates Christianity. However, it’s becomes such a friggin’ carnival now that it won’t be long before we’re putting up whole houses full of decorations and wrapping presents for the kids to unwrap on Easter morning!

What do you think? Am I being a massive grump or do you find this new ‘Easter on Steroids’ thing totally distasteful? Leave me a comment below.

Home

How to give your home and garden a spring makeover

Each spring we give the house a thorough clean from top to bottom and look out into the garden debating which area to tackle first. Instead of just donning the rubber and garden gloves, why not plan a mini makeover for your indoor and outdoor space too? It won’t even take much in terms of funds or time and some of these simple changes can completely transform a space.

Inside the house

Change your feature wall

Many of us have a wall in our living room or bedroom that creates a contrast to other aspects of the room – perhaps it’s a striking wallpaper design, a bold colour or a gallery wall put together with mismatched frames and fun artwork. If you’re looking to makeover your inside space, switch out the décor on this wall for something new, whether it’s a different colour of paint or a simple swap out of the pictures in those frames.

Introduce a new theme

If your walls are still bare and the shelves are a mish mash of stuff you’ve collected over the years, have a good de clutter and create a theme in each room. Perhaps a monochrome look in the living room (which should be easy to achieve with some black and white cushions and minimal colour) or some pastel accessories to your white kitchen to create a kitschy look.

Feature some natural elements

Instantly enhance your home with the addition of fresh flowers around the house. It’s the perfect way of introducing a spring makeover with natural elements of the season, and you can either pick up some bunches from the supermarket or take them from your own garden to place in vases around your home.

Get a handle on things

Kitchen and sideboard drawers and cupboards can be instantly revamped, simply by swapping out the handles. You can either pick up some funky new designs from stores such as Urban Outfitters or Etsy, or you could get crafty and make your own with items from around the home – these dinosaur and animal handles are quirky and fun!

Outside in the garden

Freshen up the plant life

If your hanging baskets have been neglected since Autumn and the flower beds are barren, some new plant life could instantly give your garden a fresh new makeover. Choose flowering shrubs in bold colours, fill hanging baskets with colourful seasonal flowers and bulbs to introduce some much needed colour and rejuvenation.

Revamp your garden furniture

Over winter, the elements can cause havoc on wood and metal garden furniture as they succumb to peeling varnish, paint or even rust. Take this opportunity to get the sand paper and the paint stripper out and relieve your furniture of any old paintwork, then choose a bright, bold colour – perhaps a pretty teal or a sunshine yellow to evoke those feelings of spring. Apply it and be sure to seal it with weather proof clear varnish once you’re done! Simply adding some colour to your outside space can give it a much needed refresh and makeover.

Fashion and Style

Make Dress Shopping a Doddle

I may not be the most girly of girls, but I really do love it when it gets to spring and summer so that I can start to wear dresses again. Don’t get me wrong, I wear dresses in autumn and winter too, but that’s always with tights or leggings – there’s nothing quite so nice as being able to get your legs out when the sun is shining!

Having said that, finding dresses which flatter my shape can be a tricky affair – I’m a classic apple shape, which means I carry the bulk of my weight on my chest and tummy, while my arms and legs are slimmer by comparison. Finding dresses to accomodate my bust, hide my tummy and NOT look like I’ve been draped in a tent isn’t the easiest task, which is why I’m pleased to have found Lyst.co.uk

Lyst is a site which remembers the way you shop and curates a personalised shopping experience just for you, suggesting items that you might like, a bit like a helpful friend or sister would! When you sign up, you get taken through a bunch of slides showing items from specific designers and asked if you like it or not and then based on these preferences, serves up a load of suggestions.

One of the things I love about it is the massively wide ranges of budget the site covers – I have to admit that I flinched a little when I saw the first dress it served up for me; no matter how beautiful it is (and, believe me, it is beeeeeeautiful), I’ll probably never spend £1022 on an Alexander McQueen frock. However, scroll down a tiny bit and there’s a bunch of stuff from ASOS, TopShop and Fashion Union which are far more suited to my price range.

The next part, however, is where Lyst really comes into its own. Each item has a button overlaid which gives you the option to “Lyst It” – click this button and you’ll have the option to add the item to any one of your bespoke lists. Wedding planning? Finding a holiday wardrobe? Trying to mix things up, style wise? Add it to a Lyst and you’ll be able to come back to it any time you like and either buy it or bin it. This is brilliant if you’re a window shopper and especially if you like to browse during that annoying week before payday where dress purchases are a thing of pure fantasy!

You can also look at other people’s Lysts, too…click on the image below to see my full Lyst!

Summer Dress Inspiration

Lyst

Head over to Lyst to make your own Lysts and for lots more fashion inspiration!

Home

7 Ways To Spruce Up Your Garden On A Budget

gardenGardening is one those occupations that doesn’t require a fortune. Like many passions you can spend a lot of money on expensive tools, plants and landscaping, but alternatively you can simply spruce up your garden with the minimum of equipment and stay well within your budget. Tree maintenance experts from Memorial know everything there is to know about this topic – they’re experts in the field.

Here’s how:

1. Plant hedges

If your fencing is looking shabby but you still have to protect your garden’s boundaries take a look at some of the hedges on offer from ashridge nurseries.

Jasmine, for example, is wonderful as it will reward you with sweet smelling blossom in the summer and still act as a sturdy partition in the autumn and winter months. You can also plant hedges to separate one part of the garden from another in order to make your garden look more attractive.

2. Tools – keeping your costs down

Those bright new shiny tools at the garden centre may look magnificent but most of them also carry a hefty price tag. Expert gardener, Alan Titchmarsh suggests that you can save a fortune by scouring car boot sales and other outlets in order to track down some essential garden equipment.

You will need some shears, secateurs, a spade and a fork, but you don’t need to invest in expensive power tools. Just remember to keep your blades free from rust by giving them a good clean after use.

3. Plants for the summer

Instead of buying your summer plants during the months of June, July and August, buy them as seedlings or plugs in the spring. This is far more cost effective, and as long as you nurture your baby plants throughout the spring you should be able to sit back in the summer and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Invest in perennials; they will give your garden colour for years.

4. Seeds are wonderful

Another way of sprucing up your garden is to get rid of any plants that haven’t done well the previous year and replace them with seeds. You can grow the seeds in trays in your greenhouse, and then plant them in your borders or you can plant the seeds directly into the soil.

Always mark the area where you have planted the seeds and keep them happy with a good layer of compost as plant food.

5. Garden furniture on a budget

Eating outside during the summer months is an annual pleasure but old garden furniture can be expensive to replace. In order to get over this problem, instead of investing in brand new furniture look out for second hand tables and chairs on Gumtree.

Always store your furniture inside over the winter months; this will prolong its life. You can always strip your wooden varnish and then colour and re-varnish your furniture in a bid to give it a new lease of life.

6. Check your pots

Some pots are damaged by the frost, so it’s a great idea to ensure that all of your containers have survived the winter. The magazine Yours suggests painting your pots to give them a makeover.

7. Pruning is good

It’s surprising how much smarter your garden will look after a bit of pruning. As long as frost isn’t forecast give your shrubs and hedges a vigorous session with the shears. This will promote growth and make your garden look a lot smarter.