Written in collaboration with Annabelle White

Coming home after a cold, wintery day, you want to arrive to a warm, dry and welcoming home. You can never plan for the weather but you can plan for the best support team in the kitchen.

My favourite winter support partner is my slow cooker, or crock-pot. The distinctive aroma when you open the front door and smell a simmering stew or hearty soup radiating from the crock-pot is incredibly positive and helpful.

The good news is that prices on slow cookers have never been better — on sale you can even get a good brand for under $50 — and you can use them to make a bunch of winter recipes New Zealanders love. To celebrate the crock-pot as a real asset when home entertaining, I’d like to share with you these slow cooker recipes that produce meals perfect for sharing with family or friends.

My Winter Menu: 

*All recipes and methods can be found at the bottom of this section.

Winter soups are always popular and my slow cooked pumpkin soup recipe is dairy free and includes a little spice. Make this the day before you need it and place in the fridge. When you get home from work, throw on the kettle, pull the soup from the fridge and heat it up in a pot. Pour the hot water into the slow cooker bowl, swirl it around and discard (doing this fast tracks the heating of the bowl). Now fill the bowl with the heated soup, turn it on high and cover, now it’s all ready for when the visitors arrive or the family are hungry!

I like to place serving bowls by the crock-pot and leave blue cheese, chopped parsley, coriander, salt and pepper and even a little crème fraiche nearby. Everyone can help themselves as they please and it means no waiting on people — you’re not a fine dining restaurant! In another crock-pot, you can have the chicken stew you’ve made and people can help themselves with rice and salad on the side. Winter meals made easy!

One of my favourite crock-pot recipes is quite delicious. My simple fruit pudding is just like the beautiful baked desserts your granny used to make. Somehow the gentle crock-pot heat transforms this simple, relatively healthy pudding into a masterpiece. The dried fruit literally melts into a lusciousness that is hard to explain, except to say it’s incredibly delicious!

So, how do you make it? The night before, make the pudding and place in a steamed pudding bowl. Cover with either the lid or paper and foil secured with string. Place it in the slow cooker with a good level of water, put the lid on top and leave it for seven hours on high. As soon as you wake up, turn the crock-pot off. You can leave the pudding inside all day if it suits. When you’re ready to eat it, simply slice and reheat in the microwave for 40 seconds, before serving with hot custard and cream.

Another winter warmer favourite is the simplicity of a tray bake and it’s definitely one of the healthy dinner ideas Kiwis will love. To make, simply place everything onto one baking tray, throw in the oven and walk away. Much like one of the glorious NZ roasts, a tray bake gives you time to sort out the kids, walk the dog or catch your breath. It’s wonderful when the oven does the work! Similarly, with some planning vegetables can also be placed in the oven to roast, before being jazzed up to serve with the chicken bake.

It’s often said but I can’t emphasise it enough: If you have good planning and the right equipment, your winter home will be a mecca of harmony, warmth and delight. The wafting aromas from the slow cookers and oven will only bring joy to everyone!

Here are the recipes and remember — keep warm, cosy and well-fed this winter.

Funky Pumpkin Soup

This is a simple, traditional pumpkin soup recipe without any milk or cream, except for an optional garnish. You can remove the curry and ginger if you prefer plain flavours. After making the soup, if the pumpkin flavour needs extra vibrancy, add a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice, it will lift the flavour of the whole soup. By using your food processor the chopping of the vegetables is made easy. And finally, a stick blender makes an easy job of transforming the vegetables into a luscious soup.

Ingredients 

Knob of butter and a little olive oil

1 onion, chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 Tbsp mild curry paste

3-4 rashers bacon, rind removed and chopped

½ buttercup pumpkin pieces, peeled and seeded

5 cups chicken stock, or 4 cups stock and 1 water

Light seasoning of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Coconut cream to garnish

Fresh herbs — such as coriander or thyme — for garnish

Method 

  1. Place the butter and oil in a large stockpot. Add onion, garlic and ginger and cook on a gentle heat until softened. Add curry paste, and when fragrant (allow just 30-60 seconds), add chopped bacon and pumpkin pieces.
  2. Constantly turn the pumpkin in the paste and bacon mixture to avoid catching – this is an important stage for flavour enhancement. Add the stock (or stock and water) and cook until the pumpkin has softened, and then process with the stick blender.
  3. Season and garnish with coconut cream (optional) and fresh herbs.

Top Tips: 

  • Better made a day ahead of serving
  • Serve with a basket of bread
  • The reason for the combination of butter and oil at the beginning of the soup is that butter gives great flavour but oil increases the ‘flash point’. In other words, it behaves better when heated!
  • Remember, the soup will only be as good as the stock

Mum’s Chicken Stew 

My mother loves her crock-pot. It sits proudly on the bench and she says after 55 years of cooking every night, she often finds it hard to get enthusiastic about cooking dinners and slow cooker meals are the best solution. She throws some favourite ingredients into the crock-pot and leaves it on low all day. After nine hours the aromas are magic and all that’s needed is some rice and a salad. Best of all, the slow cooking takes simple ingredients, like chicken thighs and root vegetables, and transforms them into a stunning braise with full delicious savoury flavours and super tender meat. Serves 6.

Ingredients 

3-4 potatoes, peeled and in chunks

1-2 kumara, peeled and in chunks

3 carrots, peeled and in chunks

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

850g-1kg chicken thighs, roughly chopped into big chunks

2-3 garlic cloves finely minced

2-3 Tbsp fresh herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme all work well)

Salt and pepper

410g can cream of chicken soup

A slurp of red wine (about ½ cup or chicken stock with 2 Tbsp lemon juice)

Method

  1. Place the root vegetables (the first three ingredients) in the slow cooker first with the onions, place chicken on top and then the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours.
  2. Serve with rice.

Top tips:

  • Do not lift the lid! Every time you do, you slow the cooking process by 30 minutes.
  • Once you’ve tried this recipe once or twice, experiment with lamb or pork pieces as well.
  • If you’re busy in the morning and the thought of peeling vegetables is too much, do it the night before. Leave them covered in the removable slow cooker bowl and put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning just place the chicken and remaining ingredients on top and return the bowl to the slow cooker to cook.  

Slow Cooker Lamb Shanks

One of the great delights for the home cook is coming home to a house full of luscious aromas with no fear of food being over-cooked. Slow cooker recipes make this possible and lamb shanks always enjoy a long slow cooking. Ideally the meat should simply fall from the bone and if the meat is hard to move away from the bone, just cook them some more! With our love of lamb, this recipe is the epitome of good, hearty Kiwi food.

Ingredients 

4-5 lamb shanks

¼ cup flour

1 Tbsp mixed herbs

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

¾ cup port

2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

2 stalks celery, sliced and roughly chopped

2 medium potatoes or kumara, peeled and roughly chopped

¼ cup tomato paste

1 cup beef stock

2 Tbsp fresh rosemary

1 Tbsp brown sugar

Method 

  1. Have the lamb at room temperature. Combine the flour with the herbs and toss the shanks in the flour before placing in the slow cooker.  
  2. Add all the ingredients into the slow cooker. Any remaining flour can be added as well.  
  3. Cover and cook on high for 5-6 hours, or low for 8-10 hours.

Easy Lemon Chicken 

This oven tray bake is fantastic for a busy family! It’s one of those easy dinner ideas Kiwis will surely enjoy, both for its taste and simplicity. Serves 4.

Ingredients 

4 single chicken breasts

2-3 large potatoes, diced

Salt and pepper

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp minced garlic

1 ½ tsp Italian seasoning

Method 

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C
  2. Arrange chicken in a single layer on a shallow pan before arranging potatoes in the same pan.  
  3. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Combine vegetable oil, lemon juice, garlic and seasoning together and brush onto chicken and potatoes.
  4. Bake at 180°C for 50-55 minutes, or until chicken is done and potatoes are tender when tested with a fork.

Top tip: 

  • Serve with a salad and steamed green beans

Steamed Fruit Pudding 

Without a doubt, this is the best fruit pudding I’ve ever made — and all without the hassle of topping up water in a large pot on the stove. If you’ve ever needed a reason to buy a slow cooker, this is it! It is, unquestionably, the best way to cook a fruit pudding. Simply cook for 7-8 hours on high and serve with custard and cream. Serves 12.

Ingredients 

500g mixed fruit (I use sultanas, raisins and chopped apricots)

½ cup brown sugar

75g butter

¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 Tbsp brandy (or use a little more orange juice)  

1 tsp baking soda

2 eggs, lightly beaten

½ cup grated carrot (optional)

1 cup self-raising flour

1 tsp mixed spice

Method 

  1. In a saucepan, combine mixed fruit, brown sugar, butter, orange juice and brandy (if using). Heat until the butter is melted and mixture begins to boil.
  2. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for 10-15 mins, then add baking soda and allow to cool completely.
  3. Grease and line the base of a 10 cup pudding bowl.
  4. Add eggs and grated carrot (if using) to the cooked mixture and mix until well combined. Fold through flour and mixed spice. Pour mixture into prepared bowl, cover with double layer of foil and secure tightly with string. Cover with lid.
  5. Place in the slow cooker with water up to the half-way point of the basin.  Cover and cook on high for 7-8 hours.

Top Tip: 

  • This pudding is perfect if you make it in the evening and turn it off as soon as you wake in the morning. Leave to cool in the slow cooker and then just reheat in the microwave when you need it — it literally “melts” the fruit and it is incredibly good.

Simple Steamed Pudding 

This recipe is perfect if your family doesn’t like dried fruit. Using the slow cooker to make this pudding is great news on two levels: You don’t have to worry about water levels in the simmering pot and the gentle heat produces a lovely moist pud! Investing in digital scales is also a good idea to help with your baking – it makes it so easy.

Ingredients 

115g butter

115g (approx. ½ cup) sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

150-170ml milk

225g (approx. 1 ¾ cups) self-raising flour

Orange zest

1-2 Tbsp of your favourite runny jam

Method 

  1. Cream the butter and sugar well. Add eggs and milk with the flour and finally the orange zest
  2. Place the jam in the bottom of a well-greased steamed pudding bowl and pour the mixture on top. Cover with baking paper and foil and secure with string
  3. Place in a slow cooker on high for 4-4.5 hours
  4. Serve with custard and cream, or both!

Top Tip: 

  • After four hours on high, turn off the slow cooker and leave the pudding there. It will keep warm until you serve it around an hour later.

Happy cooking! Keep an eye out for more of HRV’s tips for making this winter the best yet.