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Having an allotment means that thanks to a lot of successful vegetable growing, I had copious amounts of carrots, onions, spring onions, sweet corn, beetroot and potatoes to name but a few of the things we managed to successfully grow. One of the things we didn't take into account when we harvested our first batch of vegetables is that we should really only dig up what we need for that week, 2 weeks and so on rather than digging it all up and then struggling to find somewhere to store it all.
I am now a total convert to growing my own, I think some of the reviews that I have written have made that point quite clear, whether I use a growing kit of simply start the process off myself using seeds that I have bought from the local garden centre, nothing quite tastes like home-grown vegetables, honestly it is true. So with lots of vegetables in the house what else is there to make? Yes a stew.
I bought a slow cooker some months ago from Lakeland, I am a huge fan of Lakeland because it sells lots of quirky products that you are never ever going to need but as they make them you want them, items that I am talking about include a Banana Guard that allows you to transport your banana to work or school in its own protective guard to stop it becoming bruised, seriously you don't need it but I bet many of you go to the Lakeland website to look for the product and then there is the islice which is specifically designed to help you cut coupons out of magazines with little effort!
So innovative one might call it but at Lakeland they sell a huge array of items and I had been looking for a slow cooker for some time when I came across their own 3.5 Litre slow cooker which was on offer for £25 having been reduced from £30.99 and as it was a bargain I bought it. Slow cookers do range in price and size so you do need to think about what your needs are and for how many people you will be cooking for on average when using them. Lakeland also offers a 1.5 litre version for £21 and you can buy the majority of their products online.
Now a slow cooker isn't just used to cook stews and casseroles, infact having purchased and been given many slow cooker recipe books I have now found that you can cook cakes, roasts, soups and puddings using your slow cooker. As I mentioned the Lakeland Oval Shaped Slow Cooker is a 3.5 litre version and that holds enough food for 2-4 people depending on your potion size and it comes with a ceramic pot, often referred to as a 'crock' which has cool touch handles, meaning that once your food has finished cooking you can lift it from the slow cooker body without burning your hands and it also keeps your food warm at your table, it is also dishwasher safe. On top of the slow cooker is a glass see-through lid, this is useful because you can then at all times see what is happening inside your slow cooker and you then don't have to keep removing the lid because in doing so, some heat is lost every time you do this. The main part of the slow cooker is the body; silver in colour it holds what is called a wrap around heating element which allows the slow cooker to cook your food evenly as it has the same temperature the whole way round.
When it comes to temperatures on slow cookers you might find that some have low and high and others have an extra heat setting of Auto. With the Lakeland version you get all three options and it took me a while to get used to the settings but once you get the hang of it, it becomes really easy.
The Low setting is used for simmering and very slow cooking on things which take and need a good few hours of cooking, so for example if I have made a beef stew I would prepare everything in advance, by preparing in advance I mean peeling and chopping the vegetables and I always pre-cook the meat so that is browned and then put the stock and the beef into the slow cooker to finish cooking over several hours, this then ensures that the meat is so tender it melts in your mouth. For making a soup I simply put all of the ingredients I need into the slow cooker and leave it to cook on its own on the Low setting which then leaves me with the blitzing to do at a later stage when everything is ready. The High setting is for faster cooking, if I am honest I never use this setting because the whole point of a slow cooker in my mind is that it slowly cooks your food, if I wanted it cooked faster then I would use my oven and hob. The Auto setting is a setting that I do also use and this is for keeping your food warm and for cooking whilst you are out, so you can leave it on at home and go about your day whilst your food cooks and then once you come home your house will be full of lovely aromas and your mouth will be watering. There isn't any need to pre-cook any of your meat or vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker; it is entirely down to you as to how you like your food cooked.
Within the box alongside my slow cooker were 4 recipe cards which are basic recipes to get you using your slow cooker. I don't tend to follow recipes that well, I make it up as I go along once I'm confident enough but I keep the recipes as references. Having acquired a few slow cooker recipe books over the months I have had my slow cooker I have become slightly more adventurous with it in that I cooked a coder glazed gammon and actually bothering to follow a recipe it turned out really well, I managed to impress myself at how easy it was to do, now all I need to conquer is puddings and I can then consider myself an expert.
I do use my slow cooker a lot, it was for me worth spending money on because I cook soups and freeze them and even if you make a stew there is enough to last for 2 days at a time which makes it quite economical to use and easy to look after and keep clean. The only warning I would give about any slow cooker is that the external chrome body does get very, very hot, there is a sticker clearly stating that it is a hot surface, but been a bit dizzy I have burnt my fingers a couple of times. The Ceramic pot inside is also hot to the touch which is why you have the cool handles which allow you to transport it to the table or kitchen surface without burning your hands, but even then you need to remember the body of the pot will be hot.
So overall the slow cooker is probably the kitchen gadget that I have begun to use more and more and I find it really easy to use and really convenient. If I have a really busy day at work the last thing I want to be thinking about when I get home is cooking a meal, so by being a little more organised in a morning I can set everything up to cook when I am at work and then come home to a nicely cooked meal. I can't fault my slow cooker, it makes life much easier and it produces really lovely food that is simple to make, create and put together and it is easy to keep clean and wash using a dishwasher and I wouldn't be without mine.