Tony Tobin gets out his crockpot

Kitchen Diaries: Surrey Life's celebrity chef Tony Tobin on why slow cooking is the new fast food

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2009Kitchen Diaries: Surrey Life's celebrity chef Tony Tobin on why slow cooking is the new fast foodI called my bank the other day and got a very earnest sounding recorded voice: "I'm afraid all of our agents are busy at the moment". At 8am on a Tuesday? I called back at 1pm, thinking that everyone who normally calls a bank would be eating their lunch. "I'm afraid all of our agents...." Through my exasperation, it struck me that despite the downturn, lots of people still appear to be very busy. Maybe it's because everyone is being so mercilessly stretched? (I mean stretched time-wise, but in today's climate you never know!). One thing's for sure; it looks like the sort of days that I pine for - leisurely paced and dotted with scrumptious meals that last for hours - have become a thing of the past. Perhaps, like the concept of 'a pension that you can retire comfortably on', leisurely-paced lives will just become a historical curiosity that occurred between 1950 and 1999. Being busy, it seems, is just one more annoyingly routine part of everyday life, along with recorded bank voices, The X Factor and buy-one-get-one-free offers. Occasionally, I'm tempted by the vision of truly getting away from it all, to the sort of total retreat that you see on Grand Designs. You know, the home hewn into the side of a mountain, with deer and eagles joining the happy couple for breakfast next to their indoor waterfall. Mind you, I'll probably turn on the TV tonight and get a picture that says: "I'm afraid all of our broadcasters are busy at the moment..." So, this month I'm not going to bore you with how lovely life would be if we retreated into caves and reconnected with our inner hunter-gatherer. Instead, I'm going to offer some ways to tackle the busy-ness problem head-on in your cooking and make life a lot easier. As anyone who knows me will testify, speed and quality are not necessarily mutually exclusive when it comes to cooking. The trick is that you need to see preparation and serving as distinct from cooking. There are delicious meals that take ten minutes to prepare followed by five hours to cook and then ten more minutes to serve. You can always say to your family and/or dinner guests that it took you nearly five-and-a-half hours to make it, but the vast majority is simply 'oven time'. And during oven time, you can go for a run or read the kids a story or even book a table at a fantastic local restaurant (hint!). Crock of gold One of my favourite ways of gaining brownie points, without putting in brownie effort, is a crockpot. A big old Le Creuset, all heavy iron and funny colours. It's like having your own private chef that does the hard work while you're spending your time holding for the bank. If you don't have one, I suggest you go and visit my favourite French gourmand, Babette, at the Art of Living cookshop in Reigate. She'll see you right and probably give you culinary tips into the bargain. Once you have your pot, seal your meat chunks, roughly chop a few veg, sling them in, pour in some stock, a glass of wine, add seasoning and pop it into the oven. The contents will look rather helpless and sorry for themselves but after a few hours in the oven, hey presto, a culinary wonder. Okay, you can sear a piece of fish in a minute, but if you only have a chunk of slightly tough rump steak, a minute's worth of cooking simply won't do. The oven is your friend and its slow patient attentions can tenderise, enhance and tease out the best qualities from the most reluctant ingredients. The contents that looked so unpromising to start with hold their own little crockpot party as soon as the oven door closes. They put on some music, have a drink, get to know each other and find out they all get on famously after all. Now, April is not a typical crockpot month, but for me it is a time when we should relish the swansong of hearty winter foods before the tidal wave of salads and fruit washes over us. So, my recommendation is this: yank that neglected and unloved crockpot out of the cupboard, dust it down and put it to good use. There are hundreds of simple recipes that you can follow to feed a family with minimal effort. Crockpots have been one of the cornerstones of rural cooking for centuries, and just think of all the hours you'll gain during the oven time. Who knows, you might even end up getting through to the bank...

Tony Tobin's crockpot rump stew (serves six to eight)This is the classic rump stew. Cut the carrots nice and big and make the cup of red wine a large one... then let the oven do the rest!Ingredients

1kg rump steak trimmed and cubed 3 cloves garlic 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons thyme 2 medium onions quartered 4 large carrots sliced into thick chunks 1 cup red wine 300ml good beef stock A splash of Worcester sauce Pepper


In a large frying pan, brown the beef all sides in a little oil adding the salt and some coarsely ground pepper. Then place the beef in the crockpot and top with the thyme and onion. Put carrots around the side. In the pan you browned the beef, add the stock and red wine. Cook until it bubbles deglazing the pan (scraping up the browned bits!) as you go. Pour this on top of the beef. Place lid on the crockpot and cook at 180c for about 4 hours. Serve with baked potatoes for a really hearty meal.

Tony Tobin has been a regular on the BBC's Ready Steady Cook for over a decade and runs two acclaimed restaurants in Surrey: The Dining Room in Reigate and POST in Banstead.

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