Friday, July 26, 2019

My Slow Cooker Chicken, Vegetable and Broad Bean Casserole to Comfort the Soul

This casserole cooked in my slow cooker is brilliant for time poor people trying to feed a busy family with nutritious food and with minimal fuss. I've aimed to make it as uncomplicated as possible, with minimal chopping and preparation. I grew up eating a lot of chicken and beef casseroles prepared by my Mum, one a week probably, and I generally just make one for us now using what I have on hand and not sticking to a particular recipe. However when I sat down to write up a recipe and test it out I was quite challenged because I wanted it to work for all cooks, those that have time and love to cook and those that are challenged just to get a meal on the table. So this is a recipe with options. I hope you enjoy it and I urge you to try it. Casseroles are really a cinch to make.

This recipe are is easy on the budget and easy on your time. When I was in Perth last week I made an off the cuff simple chicken casserole in the slow cooker for my son's family and my daughter in law said she really enjoyed it. She is French, and I had never thought before about casseroles originating in France. French casseroles were called a Cassoulet,  a beautiful word don't you think so it was the perfect meal to cook for them, particularly during their chilly Winter and with a very young family needing to be cared for. Cassoulets traditionally used meats such as sausage, pork, duck fat and legumes such as white beans, so instead I have used chicken and Broad Beans but the the concept is the same, long slow cooking for maximum flavour.

Our darling grandson is like a lot of children, he can be a fussy eater when it comes to eating vegetables unless they are hidden, and the beauty of a casserole is that the vegetables can be chopped very finely, too soft and small to be picked out, which he will do. So this recipe is for all of those young and older people who need a nutritious meal at the end of the day, with a simple approach, and with the option to chop up all the vegetables finely for fussy kids and adults, if you have the time.

Some people who don't particularly like cooking, also don't like handling raw meat. For this recipe I suggest buying chicken thigh cutlets with the bone in which gives the dish more flavour, but the skin removed if you can buy them that way. Sometimes you can but they are more expensive. Otherwise the skin will need to be removed which is very easy, it just pulls off in a flash, no need to try and cut it off, just pull it off. Wear plastic gloves if you must. There are also people who are good cooks, but still don't have a lot of confidence cooking a simple casserole. This recipe is also for you. A casserole  can  be cooked in a covered earthenware or Pyrex casserole dish in the oven for 1 1/2 hours at 160 degrees if that is what you prefer, it is just as easy except it definitely needs to be taken out after 1 1/2 hours, and checked for seasoning, that it hasn't dried out, or if it needs to be thickened,  and the ingredients will need to be halved to fit in the dish.  A casserole is traditionally cooked in a covered dish in the oven, whereas a stew is commonly cooked in a saucepan on the stove top or over a fire, long and slow.

This recipe serves 6 people as the ingredients will fit into a slow cooker pot, and I try to cook enough to freeze some for another meal. I cook from scratch as much as possible, but I don't want to spend more time in the kitchen than I need to, and this makes it a very economical way to cook, maximising the value of my freezer and the use of my time.

If you like your casserole juices a little thicker, I  suggest dusting the chicken pieces with 2 tablespoons of flour so that the juices will thicken as it cooks. Or the whole thing can be thickened after cooking by adding water to 2 tablespoons flour until it is slightly runny with no lumps, and then stirring this through the mixture while it is still very hot and letting it simmer for 5 minutes or so to thicken. The best way though is to flour the chicken and add a little to the chicken stock as well.

Season the dish to taste and serve with vegetables of your choice such as broccoli and cauliflower, or even brown rice to soak up the juices.


Serves 6 people, and with leftovers

2 kg skinless chicken thigh cutlets, with bone in, skin removed (10 thighs)
3 tablespoons plain flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
20g butter
1 large brown onion, chopped coarsely or a chopped leek.
4 crushed garlic cloves, or equivalent garlic from a bottle
1 1/2 cups cups low salt or homemade chicken stock, or replace 1 cup with a cup of white wine
3 carrots sliced thickly, or finely chopped (whatever you prefer and have the time for)
3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons French Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups frozen broad beans or 1 can white cannelini beans
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon plus extra parsley to serve (or just use all parsley) I have fresh tarragon growing in my garden so I use it.

Optional vegetables can be added: 500g button mushrooms cooked whole, or a couple of chopped zucchinis, or some small new potatoes, 2 per person


This is a special note for my "time poor" cooking friends:-
The following is the method I would use for cooking a casserole when I have plenty of time, and for maximum flavour.  However, not all the Steps are absolutely essential, and when you just need to get a meal on the table, with minimum work, please  eliminate steps 2, 3, 5, and even 7, if you can't be bothered with Broad beans.  It will still work and taste delicious. If you aren't going to toss the chicken in flour for browning and thickening which is fine, reduce the amount of chicken stock to 1/2 a cup, a casserole generates a lot of its own juices anyway. You can also dust your chicken with flour and not brown them, and add 1 cup of chicken stock, that will work just as well.

*Step 1.
Wash the vegetables, except the onion, and chop either finely for hidden vegetables in your dish, or into small bite size portions.

Step 2. Toss the chicken in the flour in a large plastic bag, shake off the excess and reserve the excess flour.

Add oil and butter to a frying pan and fry the chicken thighs quickly on moderately high heat until browned. (You might be able to do this in your slow cooker if it has the settings.)  Set chicken pieces aside.

Step 3. Cook the onion, carrot and celery in the same fry pan stirring until softened. Add the garlic until it is fragrant.

*Step 4. Place half the vegetables in the slow cooker pot. Add the chicken pieces and chopped herbs on top, cover with the rest of the vegetables and onion. If you haven't browned the chicken and cooked the vegetables, at this point pour the chicken stock, tomato paste and mustard  over the vegetables straight into the pot.

Step 5.  Add the stock or white wine, tomato paste and  mustard to the same fry pan with any extra flour,  stir and bring to the boil and thicken slightly, loosening all of the delicious brownings in the pan with your spoon. Then pour this over the contents of the slow cooker.

Step 6. Cook on low temperature for 3 hours.

Step 7. Meanwhile place the broad beans in a medium heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Stand for 2 minutes and drain. Peel away the grey skins.

Step 8. Remove the lid of the cooker and add the broad beans to the cooker pot. Close the lid. Cook on low for another 30 minutes. I have a Stew/Curry program on mine which I use for the last 30 minutes. Test at the end of this time that the chicken is cooked and the vegetables are tender.

Step 9. Season to taste.

Step 10. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley and even some chopped nuts such as walnuts and some green vegetables or serve it with brown rice. The Aussie way is to also just eat it on toast for real comfort food.

Serves 6 with approx 320 calories per serve.

Another quick tip to save time,  the chicken can be browned off the night before, the vegetables sauteed, and the stock and sauces made. Store them in the frig overnight in separate containers, and then just assemble in the slow cooker in the morning or when you have time. We all know that the morning is when the mayhem starts.

So my friends do you prefer to cook a casserole in your oven or in your slow cooker if you have one? Do you eat casseroles very often? I'd love to hear from you.

Bon appetit.

Best wishes,


Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Glory of Perth and the Glory of Grandparenting

We are in Perth, Western Australia at Social Manna. Most mornings we have been venturing down to the closest local coffee shops on the Albany Highway, as you do when travelling, for our morning coffee.  This is the renowned coffee and restaurant strip of Perth, so there is plenty of competition and choice. A new establishment called Social Manna has become our favourite. The name reminded me of the expression "Manna from Heaven" which originally refers to a Biblical story where God  miraculously provided food to the Israelites as they wandered through the wilderness. Manna has many food connotations, such as referring to an edible substance from the tamarisk tree, and to a type of flat bread made with honey. What a great name for an eatery.

 Little Hugo our grandson has sometimes come with us to Social Manna, and as we enjoy our flat whites, he handles a Baby Cino with drinking aplomb. If I can steer him past the amazing array of cup cakes and delicious croissants on offer I am doing well, however we have very occasionally weakened and share a cupcake or two with Mr. HRK, but not the chocolate ones tee, hee. Grandparents are created to spoil their Grandchildren sometimes aren't they?

An interesting selection of house made butters are offered for self serve to complement croissants and breads, and the Umami butter was really tasty.

Umami Butter
A variety of wraps, pastries, quiches, salads are also on offer, but on the weekend all seats are taken with locals indulging in a wide selection of breakfast, brunch and lunch meals.

 The decor of Social Manna is in keeping with a trendy restaurant with lots of whimsical and nostalgic items and memorabilia on display. The selection of collector's spoons is impressive and all coffees are served with a spoon collected during someone's travels. I'll have to resurrect the ones that I have stored away at home. I remember the days when it was the done thing when travelling to always take home a spoon and a tea towel as gifts. I still sometimes buy tea towels as gifts though, do you?

 Positively charged Rose Quartz water, and Amytheyst water didn't seem to noticeably increase my energy levels, not as much as coffee anyway,  but it's certainly a nice touch.

 The alphabetically arranged frequent coffee buyers cards are testament to the success of this business, and the more you buy, the cheaper it gets.

We are also in Perth to  meet our beautiful new twin grand babies, Finn and Evie, they are such a blessing, and to spend time with our adorable 3 year old grandson. We came over for his 3rd birthday party and he loved being the birthday boy. He is at an age now where he understands what a party is.

We are helping out where we can, and today we babysat all three beautiful little ones whilst their parents went out for lunch. Their Mother, Myrtille, has hardly been out in three weeks, as the three hourly feeding ritual necessary for premature twins is all consuming, and then catching up on sleep takes care of the available time. Our son Matthew is on Paternal leave as well, however looking after twins and a toddler needs many extra sets of hands,  so it was nice to see them go out, on their own, to enjoy the sunshine of a beautiful Perth day (somewhat of a rarity) and feel human again. In between our stints of grand parenting, we have been exploring Perth. It is a beautiful city, and whilst we are Queenslanders and love Brisbane as a capital city, Perth has so much to offer.

We went to explore the new Optus sports stadium and bridge,  both impressive architectural landmarks for Perth. We were there before the AFL fans and the Soccer fans converged on the stadium for two huge games this weekend, and the locals have been abuzz talking about the games.

As we drove towards the stadium however the weather turned cold and the skies cloudy, a true Mediterranean winter's day, so the photos are somewhat black and white. Believe me though on a sunny clear day the Swan River provides a magnificent backdrop to these architectural achievements. An invigorating walk to the stadium along the beautiful Swan River, and we met these superstar swans, after all it is their river.

 Then a walk along the foot bridge, which resembles a roller coaster, that can also be climbed. Sydney Harbour bridge watch out, you now have a rival.

Where have all the fans gone? They are on their way for the big game.

After all of the walking, talking and exploring, we ventured into the Stadium cafe, and enjoyed sharing a meal of Fish (Hake) and Chips, Western Australian style. Mr. HRK also had a Hot Chocolate which he loved. It is a very impressive cafe/restaurant and from the size of the kitchen, unfortunately that area was partitioned off at lunch, it  hosts some very impressive dinners.

A day out in Perth isn't complete without a visit to the Kings Park Botanical Garden. Parking was at a premium on the day we visited as it is school holidays, and because of where we parked we found ourselves venturing into the Rio Tinto naturescape area, a treasure trove for kids to climb, play and connect with nature, get down and get dirty in the wet sand basins, and hopefully soak up the message of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Refuse. A wonderful concept.

Mr. HRK and I have been to Kings Park a few times  previously so I didn't go overboard with photos, however this stunning orange Diels Grevillea really took my eye, and it was gratifying to see so many Italian bees on the beautiful flowers like the one below.

The majestic views from Kings Park and the Eternal flame over the Swan River and the City of Perth  are breathtaking on a clear day, and this probably sets this botanical garden apart from most others around the world. The mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP are well represented in the skyscrapers on the city skyline.

Despite all of the beauty and amazing food and coffee spots that Perth has to offer there is also an underbelly which is obvious to the visitor and one that residents are fully aware of, that of homelessness. In Victoria Park alone where we are staying, many a vacated shop front along the street has a homeless person sleeping rough outside the front door. There are many social problems causing this, and of course drugs are also attributed a lot of the blame. This is certainly a scourge that a lot of cities around the world are now facing and hopefully some solutions to this problem will be found by Governments, welfare organisations and society in my lifetime. I live in hope.sunny

On a happy note, have a great week my friends and enjoy whatever it is that you are doing.

Thanks for dropping by, and best wishes from Perth, it's a sunny day.