Kitchen Makeover! Cracking the Crockpot Part I

slow cooker beef

slow cooker beef“I use my crockpot a lot and can’t get the stew gravy to taste of anything!” @msetoonie tells us on Twitter.

Crockpot cooking is a God-send for busy mums everywhere – throw a pile of ingredients into the machine, put the lid on, walk away for seven hours and then, as if by magic, a cooked meal is ready and waiting. What’s not to love?

The only problem, @msetoonie has identified, is that often crockpot casseroles and stews are rather lackluster.

Food in crockpots doesn’t get a chance to intensify, unlike cooking in an oven or on the stove, because the pot is sealed and no liquids evaporate. Also, because the heat in a crockpot is very gentle, ingredients never come into contact with the intense temperatures needed to caramelize and add a deeper, sweeter flavour to the dish.

However, all is not lost – if you follow the techniques below you will be able to produce slow-cooker dishes which pack a punch.

Crockpot flavor techniques

The first idea involves some extra cooking but it will definitely improve the end result – you just need to brown any meat or vegetables before adding them to the pot. This will significantly increase their visual appeal and the overall taste.

Second, spices cooked in a crockpot lose their intensity so always be generous with the seasoning.

And finally, removing the lid from the pot half an hour before serving, turning up the heat to bring the contents to a simmer and adding in some complementary, strong-flavoured ingredients will transform the taste dramatically.

Good ingredients to throw in at the end might be preserved lemons, olives and harissa with a Moroccan flavoured lamb stew; or prunes, orange zest and a little orange juice to a beef stew.

Here’s our first recipe to get you started! We’ve suggested the addition of an intense olive tapenade to the beef casserole to help boost the flavours.

Beef stew with tapenade

Serves 4


800g beef brisket
1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
100g (approx) stoned, black olives
1 bay leaf
1tsp thyme
2 glasses red wine
150ml fresh chicken or beef stock or 1 stock cube + 150ml water
Salt & pepper to season.
1tbsp tapenade


If you have time, heat a little oil in a frying pan and brown the brisket all over, otherwise just add the brisket to the pot without browning.

Place all the ingredients other than the tapenade in the crockpot, making sure the onion, celery and olives are placed at the bottom.

Cook for 7 hours on low until the beef is meltingly tender.

When ready to serve remove the brisket from the pot and turn the heat up so the sauce is simmering.

Add the tapenade and stir well.

Slice the brisket and serve with the tapenade-enhanced gravy and perhaps some mash and greens.

Next week, we’ll bring you a great chicken recipe for another flavor-packed slow-cooked meal.

If you have a kitchen nightmare you’d like us to help you with, send your problem to [email protected] or contact us on Twitter @MyFamilyClub and we’ll get it sorted!