Carnevale begins this week. It is traditionally celebrated as a time for feasting before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. But how do you prepare a feast when you are busy with so many other things? With your slow cooker, of course! I’d like to suggest Bargemen’s Beef Stew, a recipe from my book The French Slow Cooker that gets its name from the men who operated shipping barges on the Rhone River. They were too busy to spend a lot of time cooking, but wanted something delicious to eat, so they developed this simple recipe with an unusual technique. The cubes of beef — I prefer chuck — are tossed with a bit of flour and layered in the slow cooker with sliced onions. That’s it. The meat and onions will cook in their own juices. Put the lid on, turn on the cooker, and come back hours later to tender meat. That’s when you add the flavoring ingredients. Finely chopped garlic, parsley, and anchovies are blended to a sauce with mustard and vinegar. Stir it into the meat and it’s ready to serve. It’s great with noodles.
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a feast without dessert. My choice is a Coffee Caramel Flan. It’s made with only 6 ingredients, most of which you probably have in the pantry. I’ll make it the night before I plan to serve it so that it has a chance to chill before serving. This is one of several flan recipes and other desserts, like Cannoli Cheesecake and Bittersweet Cocoa Almond Cake, you will find in my new book, The Mediterranean Slow Cooker. First you make caramel which is simply sugar and water cooked until brown, then you add a creamy filling made with coffee, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. In the gentle steamy heat of the slow cooker, it cooks up satiny smooth and rich tasting. Serve it as is or with a dollop of whipped cream. Here is the recipe, but before you begin, check to see that you have a dish or pan that will fit inside your slow cooker.
Coffee Caramel Flan
Dark strong coffee is a popular beverage throughout Spain. It’s even used to make this version coffee flavored version of flan. Canned sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk are convenient to have in the pantry so you can put this dessert together any time.
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
Place a rack in a large slow cooker.
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and the water. Cook over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved about 5 minutes. Simmer the mixture without stirring until it begins to turn brown around the edges, about 10 minutes. Gently swirl the pan until the syrup is evenly caramelized.
Protect your hand with an oven mitt. Pour the hot syrup into a 6-cup soufflé dish, turning the dish to coat the bottom evenly. Let cool until the caramel is just set.
In a bowl, whisk together the evaporated and sweetened condensed milks. Beat in the eggs, yolks, and coffee until blended. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
Place the dish on the rack in a large slow cooker. Pour hot water to a depth of 1 inch of around the soufflé dish. Cover and cook on high for 2 to 2-1/2 hours minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
Protecting your hands with oven mitts, carefully remove the dish from the slow cooker. Let cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate until chilled, several hours or overnight.
To serve, run a knife around the inside of the dish. Invert a serving plate on top of the dish and quickly invert the two. Carefully remove the dish allowing the caramel to drizzle over the cream. Cut into wedges to serve.