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.

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…




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.



garlic oil

Slow Cooker Fodmap Friendly Garlic Oil

garlic oil

Today is a great day for me. It’s the day I get to combine my two food obsessions and talk about slow cookers and FODMAPs. Basically this is a birthday present to myself. North/South Food is five years old this week and I haven’t had time to make a cake to celebrate, so writing a piece about my two favourite subjects will do instead!

I’ve given a little bit of background on Fodmaps before on this post, but if you don’t have time to read back, I’ll give you a crash course here too (bearing in mind my level of scientific knowledge wouldn’t even make it onto a L’Oreal advert voiceover.) They are a relatively recent discovery and research and knowledge into them is ever evolving so don’t take my word as gospel rather than an overview.

FODMAPs as an acronym stands for Fermentable Oligo-saccharides Di-saccharides Mono-saccharides And Polyols which are basically a selection of short chain carbohydrates encompassing certain sugars and types of fibre found in foods. They include:

  • lactose in dairy products
  • fructose in fruits, juices, honey and agave syrup
  • polyols such sorbitol which is found in dried fruit and wine and used as an articial sweetener
  • fructans found in onions, garlic, prebiotics and Jerusalem artichokes
  • galacto-oligosaccharides found in legumes and beans
  • galactans found in wheat, rye and barley

Read more