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.



sea salt caramels 2

Easy Salted Caramels

sea salt caramels 2

As my blogging career goes on, I grow fonder and fonder of making things with sugar and better and better at it. I always know we’re at the crossover time from autumn to Christmas when I get the urge to boil sugar. There was rather good bacon toffee and hot buttered rum caramels and there was less successful fudge, but this year I wanted something equally sweet and impressive but much simpler to make as gifts.

I found it when I was making brigadeiros for the Brixton Blog. These are a Brazilian party favourite made from cooked condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter and then rolled into a ball and coated in hundreds and thousands. They are all chewy fudgeyness and crunch at once and I have no idea why they aren’t better known outside Brazil.

But that seemed too simple for me. I needed to give the recipes a little poke and twist to make it fit me and my love of condensed milk. I decided to omit the cocoa powder and add sea salt to the condensed milk instead for a lighter creamier, more grown up feel.

And then I remembered I had some popping candy I impulse purchased in Waitrose one day I was killing time in there. I would roll my creations in popping candy and make them pure big kid fun in one easy step. It also looks awesome with the colour of the caramelised condensed milk.

These are a great way to make homemade sweets in under an hour (most of which is cooling time) and for mere pennies if you’re looking for eyecatching gifts over the next few weeks. They’ll keep for about 3 days once rolled in the popping candy or up to 5 if you use that glimmer sugar for baking decoration instead.

Easy Salted Caramels (makes about 25)

  • 1 x 397g tin of condensed milk
  • 25g salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 25g popping candy

This is so easy and quick to make. Put the entire can of condensed milk into a heavy saucepan along with the butter and sea salt. Heat on a medium heat, stirring constantly. Do not take your eye off it or stop for a second or it will burn.

Enjoy the calming rhythm of stirring and cook the condensed milk this way for about 8 minutes or until it thickens up and looks stiff and leaves a void on the base of the pan when you drag a spatula through it.

Take off the heat immediately and add the vanilla extract, beating it through well. Pour the mixture out onto a lightly greased plate, smoothing it out so it isn’t too thick and leave it to cool for about 45 minutes.

Then using a teaspoon, scoop up a spoonful of the cooled caramel and roll it into a ball. Dredge it through the popping candy and place in a petit four case. Repeat until you have about 25 caramels.

Kids will love the rolling and dredging so feel free to use as much imagination for the coating as you fancy. This is the time to hit up the baking aisle and see what you can find.  You could also try varying the flavours in the caramels and using chopped nuts or desiccated coconut to roll them.

They are unashamedly simple and sweet and utterly delicious, like really good white chocolate. It took more willpower than I thought I had to give mine away…

sea salt caramel

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.

chicken skin stew

Crispy Chicken Slow Cooker Stew

chicken skin stewFew people in the world love slow cookers more than I do. I will never be a crazy cat lady living alone with a selection of kitties, but I will be surrounded by my beloved crockpots. At the height of recipe testing for Slow Cooked, I had seven slow cookers in my one bedroom flat and I’ve never been better fed nor warmer.

The only issue was that sometimes I wanted a little bit of bite to my food. Slow cookers do make everything very tender and soft which is both their selling point and their disadvantage to some people. I’ve cheated slightly here and added a non slow cooker step to this chicken stew to further convert the slow cooker sceptics who think it makes everything brown and tasteless.

Chicken thighs were slow cooked with lemon zest, stock, black olives and potatoes. About 20 minutes before the end, I added some chopped kale to wilt it down in the slow cooker and then for my masterstroke: the chicken skin from the thighs was crisped up under the grill and served on top of the stew. When I say it was good, I mean I’ve thought of nothing else all week waking or sleeping….

Crispy Chicken Slow Cooker Stew (serves 4)

  • 6 chicken thighs, skinned and boned, skin reserved
  • 450g potatoes
  • 1/2 celeriac
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 small jar of black olives
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 50g smoked pork sausage (optional)
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 bag of curly kale

This is ridiculously easy to make. If you aren’t fodmapping, an onion would work well here or some sweet potato instead of celeriac. Don’t buy skinless chicken thighs or you’ll lose the magic.

Start by pulling the skin off the chicken thighs carefully in one piece and lay each piece on one sheet of kitchen roll, folding another sheet over the top of it. This will help dry the skin out so that it crisps up better later.

Snip the bones out of the chicken with kitchen scissors and tie them together with a bit of kitchen string. You’re going to pop them into the stew to add flavour but you want them easy to fish out again.

Cut each chicken thigh into six to eight bits and put in the slow cooker crock. Chop the potatoes and celeriac into 1 inch chunks and add along with the lemon zest, lemon juice, chicken stock, olives, whole anchovy fillets, sliced pork sausage and salt and pepper to taste. I used those tinned black olives because I love them and don’t care that they are basically dyed green ones sold on the cheap.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook it all on low for 8 hours. About 25 minutes before you want to eat, you need to do two small steps to add crunch and texture to a good, if pedestrian stew.

Firstly, remove the centre stalks from the kale. I detest the way supermarkets sell kale all chopped up with big bits of withered stalk in the middle. Luckily I can get it as a whole leaf and just rip the leaves off the centre which makes it much less bitter. Wash you kale and add it in the slow cooker. Put the lid back on for 20 minutes to allow it to come back up to temperature while wilting the kale.

Secondly, season the chicken skin well and heat your grill as hot as you can without setting the smoke alarm off. Line your grill pan with foil and lay the chicken skin out. Grill for 4-5 minutes under a very hot grill so that the skin bubbles up and becomes crispy. Keep an eye on it as it can go from golden to charred very easily.

Use a sharp knife to cut these chicken skin scratchings into strips. You want to serve them as soon after cooking as possible either on top of the whole crock served at the table or scattered on top of individual dishes of the stew. They don’t reheat well, but you won’t have leftovers when it’s this so that’s academic really.

There’s the perfect mix of bite and crunch and beautifully tender meat and I think this is probably one of the best things I’ve ever cooked. Everything else I ate this week suffered from not being this stew. You need to make it. Trust me. I know slow cookers after all…




Ecuadorian Potato Patties


I am so invested in my Irish obsessiveness about potatoes that I always forget they are in fact South American in origin and am surprised when I see them in recipes from those regions. An Ecudorian cafe has opened near me and when I Googled what llapingachos were, secretly hoping it involved llama, it turned out to be potato cakes filled with cheese. I’m sure you understand nothing about those words disappointed me despite the lack of weird shaped animal.

Potatoes have become even more important to me since going low fodmap because basically they are my fall back option now when eating out. There are always chips on a menu and for some reason other potato dishes rarely contain onion or garlic. I will never go hungry when there’s a spud around but I like to add to my repetoire of potato recipes where I can.

The original version I found of these sounded lovely but distinctly heavy on the onions. They also come in a hominy corn version I reworked for the Brixton Blog and since I was making a batch of the accompanying peanut sauce, I thought I’d tweak them to be onion free.

I know some fodmappers won’t be able to do the mozzarella inside them due to the higher lactose levels in softer cheeses. You could try using parmesan which is very low lactose or making a lactose free bechamel sauce which you chill and use to fill them instead like potatoey croquetas. Or you could go carnivorous and use leftover meat from a roast or a bit of bacon in the centre instead? I’d say the world is your oyster, but that would be awful here…

Instead of onion, I’ve added lots of green scallion (only the white bit is fodmap unfriendly), fresh parsley and a bit of fresh coriander for flavour. Make sure to use nice starchy baking potatoes and you’ll get a great shape on the patties. I froze some and they cooked well straight from the freezer for a quick brunch that combined champ, potato bread and Ecuador in one.

Ecudorian potato patties with peanut sauce (serves 4)

For the patties:

  • 4 baking potatoes
  • 2 scallions, chopped (green part only if fodmapping)
  • medium bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • medium bunch fresh coriander, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 125g mozzarella, grated
  • 2 -4 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the peanut sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
  • 250ml milk (non dairy or lactose free is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground achiote (see below)
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce (use tamari if wheat free)
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1 red chilli, chopped or teaspoon hot sauce (optional)

These patties are super easy to make. I had the best results baking my potatoes to keep them drier and starchier and by baking, I mean shoving the baking spuds I bought in the microwave whole two at a time for 12 minutes. If you have the oven for something else, then use that method.

Allow the potatoes to cool down enough to handle them and split them in half and scoop the middles out into a bowl. Add the scallions and fresh herbs and season and mix in well.

Wet your hands slightly and scoop out a handful of the potaro mix into a ball, flattening it slightly onto a plate or lined baking tray. Using your thumbs, push outwards from the centre to make a hollow. Fill with grated mozzarella and then cover the cheese up again with potato so it’s completely hidden. You may need a little pinch of extra potato from the bowl.

Repeat until you have between 10 and 12 patties. Any cheese that doesn’t fit works incredibly well straight into your mouth as you put the patties into the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes. They’ll be fine in there for up to 24 hours so make ahead if you like.

When you are ready to eat them, heat the oil in a frying pan on a medium high heat and fry the patties for about 3 minutes each side. They should get a nice crisp crust without burning and the cheese is melted. I did about 4 at a time and kept the first batches warm in a low oven.

As the patties fry, make the peanut sauce by mixing the peanut butter with the milk over a low heat. I used the Sainsbury’s Basics peanut butter I had which is slightly sweetened and it was fine so don’t worry about fancy stuff if you don’t have it.

Add the spices once the peanut butter and milk combines. Achiote is a seed used in South American cooking (and known as annatto in the Caribbean). It adds a warm yellow colour and a slightly spicy flavour not unlike nutmeg. It’s not fodmap tested and if you don’t want to use it or can’t get it, substitute it with 1/2 teaspoon more of paprika and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. Add the juice of the lime and the soy sauce and then take the peanut sauce off the heat and stir through the fresh coriander and chilli if using.

Serve the patties as hot as possible with the peanut sauce on the side and some fried eggs on top. A little tomato salsa or avocado if you can eat them wouldn’t go amiss either. A dish like this reminds me why brunch is a brilliant thing.