slow cooker pumpkin

Freekeh and Feta Stuffed Pumpkin

slow cooker pumpkin

I have to admit I’m a bit guilty of using my slow cooker to cook meat and meat only, especially now my fodmap friendly diet is so carnivorous. So I was delighted to see that this month’s Slow Cooker Challenge was to go veggie to give me the excuse to branch out a bit.

One of my favourite dishes to cook for Slow Cooked was a whole stuffed pumpkin which I filled with sausage and cannellini beans for a Bonfire Night meal and I’ve been wanting to revisit it.

Luckily I had stockpiled a few medium sized orange pumpkins from Halloween to play around with, but if you can’t find them now, Lidl are going a dinger on the seasonal squashes at the moment instead. I wanted to go a bit Middle Eastern since I recently got a bag of freekeh and I am not afraid to use it.

Freekeh is a green cracked wheat that’s been smoked to help release it from the husk. It is particularly associated with Palestinian cuisine and is now more easy to find here through Ocado and even  Tesco. I scored my bag from Khan’s Bargains in Peckham and I’m a bit obsessed with it. The added smokiness means it packs an umami punch I often find a bit lacking for me in vegetarian food (I blame my anchovy obsession.)

I made a slow cooker lamb stew recently and chucked half a cup of dried freekeh into it to see if it would work. I love pearl barley in the slow cooker so assumed this might work well (unlike rice which turns to glue for me) and it exceeded my expectations with bells on.

This time I knew it would work perfectly in the pumpkin which works like a mini slow cooker within a slow cooker. I also wanted it to be easy like my usual slow cooker style with a minimum of prep so it went into the hollowed out pumpkin as it was along with some feta, green olives and cherry tomatoes and some water and it was good to go.

I added a sprinkle of sumac to serve since I was going Middle Eastern. This is the dried powdered berry of the sumac bush and it’s got a wonderful tart, lemony flavour that’s deeply savoury. I’m using it a lot right now where I would have used pomegranate or when I’m out of lemons. It’s best added toward the end of cooking as heat destroys its nuance or it can be used raw in salads or dressings.

Freekeh and Feta Stuffed Pumpkin (serves 2)

  • 1 medium pumpkin or onion squash
  • 100g dried freekah (or barley)
  • 75g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 50g feta, cubed
  • 200ml vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sumac (or zest of 1/2 lemon)
  • 25g pumpkin seeds

Cut the top off the pumpkin and scoop all the seeds and pulp and flesh out. Wash the seeds under the tap and leave to dry in some kitchen roll.

Put the dry freekeh into a bowl and add the feta and cherry tomatoes and season it all well. Add the smoked paprika and mix it all well together and tip it all into the pumpkin. Add the water or stock.

I’ve been using slow cooker liners for certain dishes after I was very kindly sent some to try. They are great for dishers where stuff gets really baked on or it’s difficult to lift stuff out to serve it. You may be better at trying to get a piping hot pumpkin out of a confined space than I am, but do give them a go.

Put the filled pumpkin in the (lined) slow cooker and put the lid on the slow cooker. Cook on low for 7 hours for a 600g pumpkin or 8-9 for one that weighs up to kilo.

Just before you are ready to serve the pumpkin, toast the reserved seeds for a few minutes in a dry frying pan until golden brown. Lift the pumpkin out of the slow cooker and scatter the seeds and the sumac inside it and then cut into wedges and serve.

Play around with different grains such as pearled spelt or buckwheat or try a variety of dried pulses to fill the pumpkin. There are so many ways to make squash and pumpkin interesting in the slow cooker and make a great Sunday lunch centrepiece that is meat free and hopefully avoids the goats cheese-mushroom risotto trap for vegetarians!

This is my entry in this month’s Slow Cooked Challenge hosted by Farmersgirl Cooks and BakingQueen74.



conkies hero shot

Bajan Slow Cooker Conkies

conkies hero shot

Years ago I used to go out with a guy whose dad was from Barbados and he used to regale me with tales of warm Caribbean beaches and amazing food while we were sitting in my freezing cold kitchen in London. He often talked about conkies and I thought he was winding me up. What kind of name was that? My only access to the internet then was sneaking into the uni computer room without being noticed on while on my year out so it was hard to check.

I forgot all about these strangely named items until I went to the fantastic In a Pikkle last year for one of their legendary bottomless rum punch brunches and Barbadian hospitality. They came up in conversation somewhere around the second slice of rum cake and this time I did go home and Google them to see if they were real.

And not only were they, but they sounded delicious to boot. Made with grated pumpkin, coconut, cornmeal and spices before being wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, they are traditionally eaten in Barbados to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. As I’ve never celebrated Bonfire Night or been to Barbados in my life, I thought I’d give them a go in the slow cooker and see what all the fuss is about.

A little bit time consuming with the grating and steaming, they can be made a couple of days in advance and reheated or frozen til needed, they were so delicious the effort was well worth it. Ironically for a Caribbean treat, they’d be excellent served warm at a bonfire party in a cold British garden.

Bajan Slow Cooker Conkies (makes 20)

  • 500g of a mix of pumpkin, sweet potato or carrot
  • 150g desiccated coconut
  • 75g plain flour
  • 150g cornmeal or polenta
  • 150g sugar
  • 150g raisins
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 nutmeg, freshly ground
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
  • 120g melted butter
  • 900ml milk

These are easy to adapt so everyone can eat them. Just use pumpkin and carrot if fodmapping. You could sub in spelt or gluten free flour if required and use non dairy versions of the milk and butter. I find desserts the hardest thing to make for people with dietary requirements so these could be very handy if dealing with a multitude of needs.

Start by grating your peeled vegetables. If you have a food processor, then note the distinct gleam of green in my eyes. You need to make a fine batter for the conkies so you’re going to grate those veg on the finest gauge of dimples and that is hard work. I found singing tunelessly helped distract me from my aching arm.

Put the grated vegetables in a large mixing bowl. The pumpkin smells amazing at this point like a sweeter version of cucumber that was a nice farewell to summer as the clocks went back. Add the desiccated coconut. If you have a random Halloween coconut in the house, by all means crack it open and grate the flesh of it too. Clearly you have better arm muscles than me.

Add all the dry ingredients including the fruit and stir them through well. I prefer things less sweet, but you could use up 200g of sugar if you like. Melt the butter and stir that in along with the vanilla and almond essences. Start adding the milk a cup at a time. You want a consistency to your conkies that is just turning into a batter but not liquid, so you might need more or less milk depending how moist your vegetables are.

conkie batter

When the batter is mixed, set aside and cut 20 squares of greaseproof paper about 20cm by 20cm. Measure out 20 lengths of string about 15cm long. You could do this first, but I actually found the way the paper rolls up took up more space when I was trying to mix stuff. If you have banana leaves handy, then you’re in luck. Tell me where you got them because even in Brixton, they are hard to find outside Christmas time for pastelles.

I used a 6.5 litre slow cooker for these and put seven small ramekins in the base. Six went in upside down and the seventh on its side to make a base on which to rest the conkies so they steam without touching the water which should come as far up up the ramekins as possible to allow this.

Lay out a piece of string, setting a square of greaseproof paper on top and put two spoonfuls of batter in the centre, neatening it up a bit with the back of the spoon if needed. Fold the paper like a parcel so the batter is completely enclosed and the ends are tucked in. Tie the string in a parcel bow too and snip any really long ends.

Set your conkie on top of the ramekins in the slow cooker crock as you wrap and tie each one. I got 16 into mine in about three layers, but all 20 will fit. I just wanted to steam some traditionally to test them for people who don’t have a slow cooker so kept some aside. (They took 50 minutes in my electric steamer FYI.)

conkies in crock

Put the lid on the slow cooker and steam the conkies on high for 8-9 hours. The conkies should be firm to the touch when cooked. They are best served cooled for about 15 minutes before unwrapping if straight from the slow cooker. You can make in advance and give them about a minute or so in the microwave from frozen or 30-40 seconds from chilled.

They are excellent just as they are, eaten from the paper with your fingers or served with some ice cream as a dessert. They will be firm and glossy when cooked with a sweet, spiced buttery flavour that will convert anyone to pumpkin desserts even if they fear the traditional pie. They also made an excellent breakfast even if they did make me yearn for Bridgetown.


Fodmap Friendly Chicken Liver Pate

pateA recent health glitch involving the gallbladder I had removed when I was 18 means I’ve been stuck in the house recuperating for the last week or so. In between Googling to see if I need to see a gastroenterologist or an exorcist, I’ve almost been enjoying being round the house so much. The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity and it’s oddly comforting to have the chance to start doing more cooking than I’ve managed recently.

Coinciding with the weather becoming distinctly autumnal, the slow cooker has come back into action for more than just a whole chicken or a shoulder of pork and I’ve been enjoying de-fodmapping recipes from Slow Cooked and rediscovering some old favourites. I’ve also been meal planning again rather just eating variations of meat, rice and spinach for dinner every night in a fodmap inspired food funk.

I’ve managed to roast a chicken, make soup from it and whip up a batch of ragu that filled the freezer and made some Tuesday night cannelloni so far in the slow cooker. I felt extremely organised in between naps until I realised I’d managed to forget to put the chicken livers I’d defrosted into the ragu…

Armed with a tub of previously frozen offal and the memory of having to chuck a bag of mince in the bin the previous week because I’d been too ill to eat it, I couldn’t bring myself to throw more food out and my mind turned to pate.

I love love love pate. One of my great comfort foods has always been pate on toast. It’s a thing of joy to have a good pate filled with duck or chicken livers whether you go for rugged and chunky or smooth as silk. I even like the ones of more dubious provenance piled inch thick on toasted cheap white bread. Pate is my jam.

Except that all pate one can buy contains alliums. It’s a festival of shallots/garlic/onions/delete as applicable and thus out of the reach of my sticky little paws now. Even my own slow cooker version uses shallot. And just to add annoyance, there is often dried fruit too. I needed to adapt it but not lose flavour.

I decided to go creative and try to use up leftovers. A half drunk bottle of red wine went over the chicken livers to marinate them and depth. Since I’m supposed to watching my fat intake so as not stress my gallbladder area out and I’m not up to going out to buy double cream, I roasted some pumpkin with caraway seeds and fresh thyme to use instead. I browned some butter and fried the livers lightly in it.

Everything got blitzed together with a splash of brandy and it all went into the slow cooker in ramekins. Once cooked and cooled, I covered the tops of the ramekins with clarified butter and froze the ramekins inside a bag. Each one takes about an hour to defrost so I can have no fuss, low energy allium free lunches with ease and extra smugness.

Fodmap Friendly Chicken Liver Pate (serves 4)

  • 250g chicken livers
  • 100ml red wine
  • 100g pumpkin (or sweet potato if not sensitive)
  • 150g butter (see below for instructions)
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon brandy or red wine
  • dash lemon juice

Whether your chicken livers are fresh or frozen, it’s best to gently rinse them and remove any discoloured patches. Then carefully remove the gallbladders that are attached. These make the pate bitter otherwise. The irony of doing this to a chicken while my body was reacting to someone doing it to me was not lost on me. At least they gave me the good drugs at the same time.

Put the chicken livers in a non metallic bowl and put the red wine over them. Marinate for at least an hour or preferably overnight. This is the one time it’s appropriate to soak your liver in red wine.

While the livers do their thing, roast your pumpkin (or sweet potato or butternut squash if non fodmapping). I buy wedges of pumpkin in Brixton market and roast them chopped into chunks with the skin still on and then peel it off when it cooked.

You’re going to go through the cooking life cycle of butter next. Put all 150g in the pan, chopped into small cubes and melt it gently. Simmer it until it starts to foam and reduce and when the foaming dies down and it stops moving, pour half the butter through a sieve that you’ve lined with some muslin or a clean cloth into a bowl. The clear butter you collect is your clarified butter. Set aside until needed.

Then brown the remaining butter. Keep stirring it over a slightly higher heat and let it heat until the butter foams furiously again and turns brown and smells nutty but not burned. Watch it closely and take it off the heat at this point, pouring it into a clean bowl to cool slightly. You need to do this even though you’re going to cook in it because otherwise it will burn when you heat it again.

Heat the browned butter in a frying pan on a medium heat and when it bubbles slightly, add the chicken livers and the fresh thyme and caraway seeds. Keeping the livers moving the whole time, cook it all for 2 minutes. It’s fine if they are still pink in the middle.

Take the pan off the heat and tip the contents into a large bowl along with the cooking juices, add the pumpkin and lemon juice and with a handblender, blitz it all until it is smooth and silky looking. Add the splash of brandy and put into ramekins.

Set these in the slow cooker crock and fill it halfway with boiling water and put the lid on and cook on low for 2 hours. Or set them into a roasting tin, fill halfway with water and bake in the oven at 140℃ for 45 minutes. Either way when cooked, lift out of the water and allow them to cool.

Pour enough of your clarified butter over each cooled ramekin of pate to cover the surface well. You may need to melt it again first. You don’t want it an inch thick but enough to be noticeable. Allow it to cool and thicken. Pop the ramekins of pate in a freezer bag and seal. Freeze for up to 3 months or eat the pate from the fridge within 3 days.

I was delighted that I froze three quarters of my pate because when I started eating it in front of Don’t Tell The Bride that evening, it was so beautifully smooth and delicious I could have worked my way through the whole lot in one sitting. This way I got to feel smug that I was pacing myself and lying in bed eating pate instead of letting a man organise me a wedding I would hate. What a perfect evening.



teff cookies

Teff and Spelt Brown Butter Cookies

teff cookiesMy lovely blog readers know this already, but many people don’t know that gluten free doesn’t automatically mean wheat free. My wheat free Fodmap friends have to explain this one everytime and I’m guilty of it myself when checking labels for them, seeing gluten free and assuming it’ll be fine. Ahem…

I’ve been on a mission to try and make desserts for a friend who can’t do lactose or wheat while I can’t do fruit. It’s incredibly difficult. A dry meringue? Dark chocolate? That’s about it so far and just to be helpful, I hate dark chocolate on its own. Far too worthy for me when I occasionally crave something sweet.

I’ve been reading up about baking with non wheat flours that are Fodmap friendly and then when I went to the Nour Cash and Carry in Brixton a few days ago, they had bags of red teff flour for under £2 which is a massive bargain. (I also got millet and sorghum to try as well as I’m trying to cut down my wheat consumption so I don’t overload my temperamental body any further.)

I was in the mood to bake and while cleaning out my fridge, found a bar of dark chocolate that might have been in there as long as the beetroot that expired last May. I needed to distract myself from my poor housekeeping and thought chocolate chip cookies would be an idea as teff flour is supposed to have a rich cocoa flavour that works well with butter and chocolate.

Teff flour

I adapted this recipe for a no chill dough that uses melted butter to give a chewier cookie, subbing spelt and teff flours in and browning the butter. They tasted amazing but were a little dry on the first go. I’ve reduced the teff flour as it absorbs liquid which is lower here because of browning the butter.

I’ve also made the cookies are smaller than the original writer suggests to keep them softer. You also need to work the spelt more to activate the gluten it does have which is a big adjustment for me since I’ve trained myself never to overwork wheat gluten. This is all part of the fun of trying new baking!

Spelt and Teff Brown Butter Cookies (makes 24)

  • 120g butter, browned (see below)
  • 75g white sugar
  • 75g brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 200g white spelt flour
  • 50g red teff flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 bar dark chocolate

Some people with very high lactose sensitivity may not be able to handle the butter here, but for me, vegan baking is a big no-no. Not only is butter the closest thing I get to a religion, the vegan substitutes of chickpea water, applesauce and flax egg are all massive Fodmap triggers for me. I also can’t have honey or agave. My body wants Tate and Lyle and proper butter or it will have a digestive tantrum. And if my body demands butter, who am I to argue?

Start by browning the butter. Put the butter in a pan and melt it well, turning the heat up slightly once it is liquid to get it to foam and reduce some of the water content. Keep stirring it and let it heat until the butter turns brown and smells nutty but not burned. Watch it closely and take it off the heat at this point, pouring it into a bowl to cool slightly.

Give it five minutes and then use an electric whisk to beat the sugars in until it is a gorgeous creamy toffee coloured emulsion. Add the egg and beat in lightly and then add the vanilla.

Sift in the spelt flour. I find it clumps a lot in the packet and can be lumpy when you bake with it if you don’t sift or sieve it well. Mix it in well and add the teff flour and baking powder. The dough should come together in a soft ball that comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. Add the chocolate. I bashed my bar up with a rolling pin and chopped it roughly so the chunks were big.

teff dough

Pull balls of the dough off and roll into walnut sized balls. Flatten them with a fork on trays lined with baking paper. Don’t go crazy handling the dough but don’t worry about playing around with it. Spelt likes a bit of affection. Bake for 7-8 minutes on 180℃. The dough will be very dark when it goes in and come out considerably paler. Don’t let the cookies look cooked as you want them to stay as soft as possible.

Cool on the tray for 2 minutes and then onto a rack and allow to cool slowly. They will be deliciously chocolately and buttery with the best flavour of a cookie I’ve had in a long time and softer and chewier than my first batch. I still want to refine them further so if you have any tips on teff or spelt or make these, let me know in the comments. I’ll get some lactose free milk in for you…


Fodmap Friendly Frikadellen


frikadellenThis was going to be my year of meatballs and then life got in the way and I haven’t made any at all, let alone hosted soirees filled with them, but when I decided to throw a Eurovision party, I knew they would be on my menu.

I was catering for one non pork eater, a wheat free Fodmapper and a roomful of people with appetites like gannets (the best kind of people I find) so I wanted something substantial. I looked for Austrian inspired recipes, got sidetracked into wurst jokes and decided to go German with frikadellen instead.

These are a slightly flattened meatball which makes them easier to cook and quicker to roll than small ones so when making loads they cut that corner quite well. My dilemma was what to lighten them with. Pork mince was out and so were breadcrumbs. I went for everyone’s favourite anti-carb and used grated courgette instead and it worked very well alongside the small amount of apple I used and the fresh rosemary that gave the sweetness and flavour onion and garlic usually offers. I know some Fodmappers can’t do apple but the amounts are small enough that most people could.

I then rolled and flattened the frikadellen and chilled them well before pan frying them for about 3 minutes each side in advance to give a nice crust. I then put them on oven trays close together and baked them in the oven for 20 minutes at 180℃ when I wanted to serve them. This allowed me to serve hot food with a minimum of fuss and washing up.

A plate of these each with a mountain of dill and gherkin infused potato salad fortified us beautifully for all night Eurovision fun. I’m sure it was them and not the export strength gin that saw my friend and I still celebrating the Irish referendum at 5am by listening to Jedward’s Lipstick

Fodmap Friendly Frikadellen (serves 4-6)

  • 750g beef mince or 250g pork and 500g beef
  • 1 medium sized apple such as a Bramley or Braeburn
  • 2 medium or 1 large courgette
  • 3 stalks fresh rosemary
  • 1 large bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper

These are lovely and easy to make but need chilling time so don’t rush them.

Put the chilled mince into a large bowl and break it up really well with your hands. This is surprisingly hard work. Peel and grate the apple into it.

Grate the courgette and then chop it roughly too. You want something slightly shorter than grated but not actual pulp so don’t use one of those electric choppers. Add the courgette along with the well chopped fresh parsley. I have finally got a spice grinder and was able to turn my rosemary into a fine powder. It’s the best thing I’ve bought in an age and where electricity trumps doing stuff by hand.

Whichever way you chop your rosemary, add it in too and season it all generously. You want a little bite from the pepper. I used a little bit of white pepper too as I really like its flavour. (I was always under the impression it was ‘common’ when I was a kid, but I bought mine in Waitrose for the slow cooker…)

Mix all the flavourings into the meat well and add the egg half at a time and then keep mixing well with your hands. It should be quite a stiff paste. Then pinch up a good hefty handful and roll roughly into a ball and then flatten it so it looks like a mini burger or slider. Put on a plate or lined baking tray and chill for at least 30 minutes. I gave mine an hour to be sure.

Then fry on a medium high heat for about 5 minutes each side, turning every 2-3 minutes to allow them to brown but not burn. You’ll need to do them in batches in the pan to give you room to flip so if you scale up, it’s easier to finish them in the oven as above. Rest them for 10 minutes to make them juicier and easier to eat. I’m going to try them in the slow cooker next time too!

Any potato salad will go well or a nice crunchy slaw of finely mandolined  red cabbage, carrot and radish or daikon. But be careful if you mandolin. I had to give my leftover meatballs to a friend who spent Friday night in A&E thanks to one. Her finger was too bandaged to cook but she said the frikadellen made an outstanding meatball sandwich that almost made up for it all!

*PS, no photos of the cooked ones. They got devoured too fast for that and the kitchen was too chaotic for pre table photos.