The slow cooking of food is a great way to save yourself time in the evenings and discover some new flavours.
Even though there is a hint of spring in the air with the fragrance of daphne tickling my nostrils and news reports of chilly temperatures on the wane, there is still plenty of time to enjoy heart-warming slow cooking.
This method of cooking is perfect for our busy lives. Throw the ingredients into the slow cooker while sipping on your morning cup of tea, then come home to a house full of heavenly smells with nothing more to do than to grab a plate and a glass of wine. Having a delicious dinner ready with minimum fuss is an absolute godsend. Meat can be dusted in flour and browned in a pan first if preferred but I'm not up do doing that first thing in the morning - save it for the weekend.
Slow cooking is the best way to tackle the less expensive French bistro style cuts of meat. Beef cheeks and lamb necks may not sound terribly glam but when simmered for hours they become meltingly tender and incredibly flavoursome. Paired with orange, thyme, garlic and dates, the results are delicious and as long as everything is well seasoned, you can't go wrong.
Chickpeas are a good alternative for those not excited by meat - they are inexpensive, nutritious and slow cook perfectly with wine, stock, lemongrass and sweet pumpkin. Served over rice, it is a comforting meal on its own but can also make a tasty accompaniment to fish or chicken as a side vegetable dish with salad greens.
Dried chickpeas need to be soaked before using so the easiest way is to cover them with water before going to bed then draining and adding to the slow cooker in the morning.
Beef cheeks are becoming more readily available. Ask your butcher - you may need to order in advance. Lamb necks are easy to find at supermarkets and butchers, just trim off any excess fat before using.
The key to flavoursome slow cooking is to have a layering of ingredients to provide aroma and taste. Be generous with spices, herbs, wine and stock. Always season well and add a sweet ingredient to provide balance, for example, dates with the beef and orange with the lamb.