The little birds...

If you watch little birds you will see they are busy and happy! Using whatever they can find they create the most gorgeous little nest.
I would be the little bird with some glittery thread in her nest!
We can be like this. Happily working away with the things that are available to us to create a beautiful and happy home.
All the while with a little song in our heart.

Banner by Free Pretty Things for You.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Crock Pot series. Casseroles, Pies and Curries.

My crock pot has been working hard and each week I think of ten more things I should be posting to do with slow cooking generally!  One of the best things in the world is when I forget I put the crock pot on early and come home. As you approach the door to open it you can smell something beautiful. Then the penny drops "Oh yes! I already put dinner on!" What a feeling of relief! That has happened to me many times. It's the best!

Today I will concentrate on casseroles and pies. These go together as I am saying please make good quantities when you make casseroles so that you have left overs! Well cooked down meat is tender and flavorsome and makes perfect pie fillings. This gives you at least another meal and one that is different and could be frozen.

If you have any casserole recipes you love making them in the slow cooker is just so easy. The only variation might be you will possibly need less liquid in your recipe. Alternatively do it as per usual and later if it is too much liquid toss in some baby potatoes, or some rice or something to soak up the juices. It is not a problem.

It is optional to brown meat before you put it in the crock pot. Many recipes say to. I NEVER do. The whole idea to me is easy, less dishes, less washing up... so I never do. And things are always rich in color and fine. But that is a choice.

I will give some of my total cheats recipes in case you need a starter. Or you could buy some of those packet mixes that you throw over your meat and add some vegies to. If this gets you going then go for it. Overall this is still healthier than getting takeaway any day! This is very easy cooking!

Some of my easiest combinations are:

Chicken... could be fillet, thigh, pieces... add lots of vegies thickly sliced... carrot, celery, onion, a drained tin or corn, beans or peas... anything you want. Throw over a can of cream of chicken soup. Cook all day. Stir a couple of times along the way. Is yum and a simple country chicken flavor. Serve on night one with mashed potato or over rice. The rest becomes chicken pies.

Beef... any... sliced or cubed. Onions, carrots, mushrooms, capsicum (optional). Sprinkle with a little soy sauce. Pour over a tin of tomato soup. Let cook all day. Serve with potatoes with sour cream. It is yummy. I used a lot of sliced mushrooms in this. And again the left overs make wonderful beef pies. Beef and Mushroom pies actually!

Lamb... shanks, chops, fillets... onions, any vegies including tiny potatoes or potatoes quartered... pour over a jar of tomato pasta sauce or a can of tomato soup or some other tomato mix. Add a few sun dried tomatoes if you have them.  This cooks down to a rich flavor and if it's shanks to the point where the lamb is falling off the bone. It is so good! The left overs still make pie, I just remove them bones and the filling is perfect. This is really good with mashed potato too as the sauce is very rich.

Apricot chicken. Chicken, dried apricots or a drained tin of apricots or both. A small tin apricot nectar. A packet of french onion soup mix. Carrots, anything else you want. Serve with rice. I do not make pies from apricot chicken. Andy likes this meal so I make it but it doesn't seem like pie filling to me!

These are simple and versatile. I tend to use lots of vegies. If I am planning potatoes ie to add sour cream and potatoes I just pop whole potatoes in and they will be cooked too.

They are all surprisingly good and will use up the vegies you have on hand. I tend to use way more vegetables than meat. As the flavors cook down everything tastes beautiful. These are all good hearty meals in cold weather.

Then to your left overs...

I keep puff pastry in the fridge always! With your left overs simply line a pie dish with pastry, add your filling and top with pastry. Or top with mashed potato and make a kind of shepherds pie. This is really good!

I freeze pies the right size for us or make individual portion sized pies. They look nice I think. For children or smaller pies a muffin tray becomes a pie maker. Just cut circles to fit and add tops! This gives you 12 individual pies that can be frozen or used for dinner another night. So handy! Pies are so portable, can be a whole meal, freeze perfectly and transform your casserole into something different! I always think pies are nice gifts.

If my pies are going into the freezer I lightly bake them and not over brown them. (So that when they are heated they don't end up dry or too dark).

With pies in the freezer you never need take away. You always have meals for when things go crazy and you are too busy. And people will rave over your famous pies. How do you get the filling so tender they ask?

I also always keep tomato relish and various sauces that are good with all of these. I think a relish is great with a pie.

Really, your own family favorite casserole recipes will work. Otherwise if you have certain ingredients to use up try googling for recipes. I like to use up what I have.

The other thing that is simply fantastic in the crock pot is a curry. Long slow cooking develops flavors and tenderizes meat. I am a terrible spicy cook. Terrible. So I am not even sharing a recipe here. If you have curries you like I say make them in the crock pot. But Andy likes a curry and so do the girls. Sooo I cheat. I add a flavor base and there are many to choose from that are brilliant. The first time I did these everyone was so impressed. I confessed I did nothing except toss it all in and pour over a packet of mixture. And no one cared they were too busy eating.
On the weekend I made a large amount of Butter Chicken this way. It was wonderful and made three meals, two for us and one for the new baby family!

Curries could also come under the stretch a meal classification as the extras that go with a curry mean a little bit goes such a long way. You can have your rice, naan bread, a little cooling salad (I just finely chop cucumbers and tomato) and a raita. Mum has mint in the garden. I pick a big bunch, wash it and get rid of thick stalks and any nasty bits and then blend that into a couple of cups of thick yoghurt. Add a dash of cumin. Blend until smooth. I like a really creamy yoghurt for this. It is so easy and lovely. (and makes it seem like I did more than just use a packet mix!)

All these bits and pieces mean your curry goes a long way and is delicious. I serve this as a serve yourself meal and it seems really nice but is so easy.

It is winter here and warming meals are just the thing. All the girls who are in summer, I hope this will be helpful later when things cool off!

For all of these ideas my general rule is to get them on by mid morning and let them go until dinner. I always use high setting. And I always have my crock pot at least half full. If you have a small amount I would cook on low. Overall I would rather cook on high and turn it down later than the other way around. Mix your ingredients so your liquid part is coating things. Stir a couple of times. If you are out stir before you leave and when you come back in the door.

Slow cooking is so good to bring out the flavor of things, tenderize the meat and bring a richness to your meal. Perfect for stews, curries and casseroles. So easy. And food like this improves over a day or two so making enough for two meals or your pies gives you at least one night off.

Getting dinner on in the morning and not having to cook in the evening can be a life saver.  This one thing has helped me so much in my life!

Have a wonderful week! It rained here last night so I am very pleased I did heaps of washing over the weekend and it is all dry. Now the rain looks like settling in.
I am off to the supermarket so that I can finish my post for Wednesday on Pantries and Preparedness. Talking to the supermarket staff about the baby formula etc I made another discovery. One that boggled my mind! And one that greatly affects what I think about storing some reserves. That is coming on Wednesday. I had better get busy! xxx


  1. Your crock pot meals look delicious and what great tips you shared! You are sharing some valuable and very usable information in this series ... thank you!

    1. Dear Patsi, Thank you! I know its out of season for you but stewing fruit and fruit pies could be in season!
      Have a great week! I love a new week! Lots of love,

  2. A very helpful post Annabel. So many choices for delicious meals, and slow cooking is such a great way for busy people to get nice meals on the table. Even the not so busy can benefit from slow cooking. It can free up your day to fit in other things like craft ~smiles~ I will be saving your suggestions and trying them out on my family.

    Thank you for this series, it will be a life saver for some.

    Wishing you a blessed week,


    1. Thank you Tania and I know you are not eating meat but I guess the boys do... but I hope the slow cooker helps you. As you say there are so many things we could be doing, all help is gratefully accepted!
      As I write it is raining steadily. I hope it keeps going and you are getting it too. With love,

  3. Excited about your Wed. post or maybe I should be nervous:) I love my slow cooker. When it is hot and I don't want to turn the oven on , it's perfect. Any news on Laines new website yet?

    1. I agree Becky, I love the slow cooker in summer. I have used it outside too for BBQs etc.
      The last I heard from Laine was when Harper was born... so 5 weeks ago. I am not feeling too hopeful about the website just now. This could change and I would be excited and let everyone know if I knew. I am glad we can still read Laines Letters, thankfully. And I do every time I need a lift. xxx

  4. It will be interesting (or perhaps troubling?) to read what you share on Wednesday.

    I have a whole chicken I'm presently getting prepared for the pieces to go in the slow cooker for chicken Indonesian that I will freeze and am removing the breast meat for butter chicken for tonight. I cook the butter chicken on the stovetop as it has to have spices cooked etc. Am tempted to get the smaller crockpot out and just throw all the ingredients in and see what the finished product tastes like! I even saved a recipe for a crockpot version of stir fry beef and broccoli to my Pinterest boards the other night. You add the broccoli in the last half hour. Just enough time while I cook the rice!

    Thanks to you Annabel, I cook ahead at least one meal a week for the freezer now, and bulk cook something i.e. Stock, Apples, pumpkin etc and freeze in portions for base of new foods. Because I'm home, I have usually just cooked for that day with some leftovers. Planning some extras has been a life saver while I was sick.

    1. Dear Kaye, I am so glad for you to have those spare meals. Tiredness, sickness or helping others etc all mean we need nights off. Its a relief!
      I think knowledge really is power re our pantries, preparedness and all the skills that can help us save money. It is kind of exciting to be learning so many new things! And we need to. I dont think the economy is anything too thrilling!
      My stock in the freezer is going to be handy tomorrow. I got 3 kilos of zucchinis for five dollars something so soup is going on tomorrow. I have the stock thawing overnight.
      Have a really good week! And I hope you are 100% better, lots of love,

  5. Annabel loving this series. If I have something that needs thickening I use either red lentils or rolled oats, pop them in about 1/2 an hour before you need to be dishing up the meal.

    I must agree that even if you are home, some days can be quite busy and having a meal ready at the end of the day is a life saver.


    1. Thanks so much Lynette. I love the idea of the lentils. I like to use beans but most need a long cooking time and are not much good for this later adding to soak up liquid I wasnt expecting. But lentils would work! There is a lot of goodness in the juices so I never want to waste them.
      If the slow cooker is doing the work you can get more knitting done and I can get more crochet done!
      Have a great week. Many thanks, Annabel.xxxx

  6. Yum, I am really enjoying cooking in the cold weather. I haven't made apricot chicken in ages and everyone likes it - thanks for the reminder!
    I am intrigued about what you found out - can't wait for Wednesday now!

    1. Hi Jayne, Apricot chicken appears regularly. I have used fresh apricots, dried, canned, or mixed these according to what I have. I have to say a few dried apricots added is good!
      I spent two hours in the supermarket learning stuff today! I hope I can deliver on Wednesday now! Many thanks! xxx

  7. Annabel, Thank you for so many wonderful ideas! I love using my slow cooker and you have given me some new ways to cook dinner! :) I don't bother to brown my meat first, either. To me, its just an extra unnecessary step! lol

    Your pies look divine! And using a muffin tin for "mini" pies! Great idea!

    Can't wait to read your next pantry post! Have a wonderful day! Love, Teri

    1. Dear Teri, Thank you! I should have said I pop non stick baking paper under my pies. Then if I am freezing them I freeze them in the muffin tray. Once frozen I remove from tray and freeze in a large snap lock bag. So the tray isnt taking up so much room and you get your tray back. Then I just get a pie or two out as I need them.
      I spent ages in the supermarket today doing "research" and it was very interesting!
      The more we know the better prepared we can be. Lots of love Annabel.xxxx

  8. Another slant on the crock pot mine was full on Saturday with slow cooked dog food. I bought 3 kilo of pet mince and a kilo of liver and mixed that with ends and bits and pieces of finely chopped vegetables that would not have made it to the dinner table. I added 3 cups of organic rolled oats. To this I added water and some seasoning packets from noodles. This made a huge amount of dog food in fact I needed 2 crock pots and our crock pots are large. This is a huge saving of what our dog food was costing us. I then freeze it in large ice cubes and put them into a freezer bag. 6 ice cubes of pet food feeds the dog and the cat a meal. This is saving me a large sum of money over a year. I often make two or three varieties at a time for variety and I add eggs often if I have an abundance.

    1. Dear Mel, I think making dog food is a massive saver. I think probably healthier too. We used to add meat meal. I dont even know if that exists now? And also cod liver oil. That worked so well. I could not even find that to buy recently. I would like to find that though. I had not thought of this kind of cook up in the crock pot. It would be good fun if someone thought that this was dinner! :)
      Have a good week. I am thinking of you! Lots of love,

  9. Annabel, I have all your recipes copied by hand into my recipe book you gave me. I love that they start " Annabel's.....".
    Mel, great tip about the dog food. I never thought of that. Also Annabel thank you for the recipe of the Mint Yoghurt. How easy is that?
    I learnt from a friend years ago that as soon as breakfast is over, I should start working out what we are going to have for dinner and do what prep I could towards that. I have stuck to it through the years, and it has been a lifesaver as very often the day doesn't go as planned, especially if someone gets sick.
    Thanks so much for the wonderful series.

    Love Helen xxx

    1. Helen the mint sauce/raita is so easy that it is ridiculous but it is so nice. The thicker yoghurt and creamy the better. I use Swan breakfast yoghurt as it is really thick and smooth and slightly sweet. Anyway it works so well. I would say use two really big handfuls of mint at least.
      I am so glad you like the series. I have much to come! xxx

  10. Your pies are too beautiful to eat!

    1. Thanks Lana. They are so handy. A pie is a meal all in one pastry! When the girls were little they were in charge of decorating. Oh we had some good ones, mice and birds and interesting things! lol
      Have a great week!xxx

  11. Lovely post Annabel. I was talking to my neighbor and she adds some sago to her crockpot to thicken and soak up juices.

    1. Sago! Good idea! I really like sago, we always used to call it little hailstones.
      I should use it again especially with apples, pears etc.
      Have a lovely week Barb and thank

  12. Annabel this makes me want to cook.
    I have to say I really really learnt something new from here today. I would not have thought about making pies in a muffin tin.......brilliant idea. This would really suit us as DD5 would not eat a bigger size pie and me with diabetes either but would be a great treat now and then.
    Who says learning stops when you leave school.
    Great blog as always
    Aly xxx

    1. Dear Aly,
      I have a few sized and shaped muffin tins. I have man size (texas) tins down to small. That means suitable sizes in the freezer. For you, if you want less pastry, do yours in little ramekins and dont put pastry on the bottom, just a little bit on top. Then it will be fine for you too. This reduces pastry by about two thirds.
      Im so glad this was helpful! xxx

  13. Great post and the pies look wonderful, thank you for the great ideas. Thanks also for sharing at Good Morning Mondays. Blessings


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