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Top three festive hacks for your slow cooker

If you’re planning some festive gatherings, or simply like to have an endless supply of mulled goodness over the Christmas period, the humble slow cooker could be the answer to your prayers. You might not think that a slow cooker has much of a place at the Christmas table, but it can be a handy way to keep things warm and free up space if you’ve got multiple dishes cooking on your hob or hotplate. It also means one less thing to keep an eye on when you’re tackling party prep.

We’ve pulled together three classic Christmas recipes you can prepare in your slow cooker, along with advice on tasty twists to experiment with. Watch our quick video guide to making slow cooker mulled wine and get more detail below. Best slow cookers[1] – see the models we recommend for perfect results.

Making mulled drinks in your slow cooker

Using a slow cooker means you can leave the flavours to infuse while you get on with other things, and the gentle heat means there’s less risk of overheating your concoction and boiling off the alcohol.

By switching to ‘low’ or ‘keep warm’ when it’s ready, you can keep your brew at the perfect drinking temperature throughout the evening, so it’s easy to top up thirsty guests. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can also make these recipes on the hob, you’ll just need to cut down the heating times and stick to a gentle heat.

1. Slow cooker mulled wine

Ingredients

  • 250 ml water
  • 4-5 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 star anise, 6-8 cloves
  • 1 orange and 1 lemon, sliced
  • 3/4 bottle red wine
  • 1-2 capfuls rum or brandy (optional)

Method

  1. Slice the lemon and orange, and stud half of them with cloves.
  2. Cook the sugar, water, spices and clove-studded fruit for 20-30 mins on high to allow the sugar to dissolve and the flavours to infuse.
  3. Add the wine and brandy and switch to low for approximately one hour.
  4. Serve in small mugs or glasses, with spare slices of orange and lemon to garnish.

Variations to try

Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavours to find your favourite blend.

Try a splash of blackcurrant liqueur instead of brandy, clementines instead of oranges, or a handful of cranberries or allspice berries. Jamie Oliver uses sliced lime, and adds grated nutmeg and bay leaves to the mix, BBC Good Food recommends squeezing half the orange juices in to sweeten the mix, and adds a splash of Cointreau. Sliced ginger or a ginger tea bag is another way to add some zing.

Shortcuts and cheats

If you’re in a rush, you can buy pre-mixed bottles of mulled wine which are sweetened and spiced already, and simply warm and add some sliced citrus fruits.

Or you could buy a mulled spice kit – these are like small tea bags with pre-mixed spices. Cinnamon sticks can be pricey in big supermarkets, so it’s worth checking in health food shops or independents to see if you can get better value. Ready-mixed mulled wine usually works out cheaper, but you’ll have less control over the flavour and they tend to be less alcoholic too.

Best wine for mulling

We asked Helen McGinn, one of our Christmas wine tasting experts[2], for her top tips on which wine to use.

She suggested using a soft, fruity red. Think inexpensive Spanish, Chilean or Australian reds, and avoid anything too heavy and tannic, otherwise the post-mulling mellow spice flavours will struggle to get through. Her recommended extra is a splash of ruby port.

See our list of the best red wines for winter[3].

2. Slow cooker mulled cider

Ingredients

  • 550ml cider
  • 1 orange and 1 apple, sliced
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, 1 star anise, 6-8 cloves, 1 teaspoon allspice berries
  • 2 tablespoons honey or brown sugar
  • 200ml apple juice
  • 1-2 capfuls rum (optional)

Method

  1. Slice the apple and orange, and stud half the slices with cloves.
  2. Cook the honey, apple juice, spices and fruit for 20-30 mins on high to allow the sugar to dissolve and the flavours to infuse.
  3. Add the cider and rum, and switch to low for approximately one hour.
  4. Serve in small mugs or glasses, with spare slices of orange and apple to garnish.

Variations to try

Try adding some pear slices instead of apple. Nigella Lawson adds cardamom, bay leaves and ginger to her mix, while Jamie Oliver takes things up a notch fruit-wise with sliced clementines and pomegranate seeds.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall uses a splash of sloe gin instead of rum. You could also experiment with other festive tipples such as Winter Pimm’s.

Shortcuts and cheats

As with the wine, you can buy mulled cider for warming, or a ready-made spice bag, which you can heat up with some sliced fruit for added interest.

Best cider for mulling

If mulling cider, Helen suggests using a good-quality traditional cider (not too fizzy) and if you want to extra oomph, add a slug of your favourite spirit once the mulling is done. Whether you’re mulling wine or cider, the secret is to cook it on low and not for too long.

The trick is getting the spice flavours to emerge without heating off the alcohol – which is where your slow cooker comes in.

3. Slow cooker mulled punch

This non-alcoholic version is ideal for kids, non-drinkers, or those on driving duty.

Ingredients

  • 275 ml apple juice
  • 200 ml cranberry or cherry juice
  • 250 ml orange juice
  • 1 orange and 1 apple, sliced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, 6-8 cloves, 1 star anise
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, or ginger tea bag
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Method

  1. Slice the apple and orange, and stud half the slices with cloves.
  2. Pop everything into the slow cooker and give it a good stir.
  3. Leave to cook on low for 1.5-2 hours.
  4. Serve in small mugs or glasses, with spare slices of orange and apple to garnish.

Variations to try

Look out for festive juice options; Ribena sells a limited edition ‘Winter Spice’ fruit cordial, and Belvoir offers a mulled winter punch drink. You can warm these in the slow cooker to make an easy non-alcoholic brew.

Shortcuts and cheats

Use a mulled wine or cider spice bag.

Mixed fruit juice is a good shortcut if you don’t want to buy multiple juice cartons.

Adapting the recipes for your slow cooker

Each recipe above is based on a small (2-3 person) slow cooker. You can then scale this up to match the size of your slow cooker or pan, and adjust the recipe to your preferences and tastes. Double quantities for medium-sized models, and triple them for larger ones.

You don’t need to double the amount of cloves and cinnamon, though – go for half as much again instead. Remember never to fill your slow cooker beyond around two-thirds full.

How to use your slow cooker[4] – advice and tips on getting the most out of slow cooking

Why not also try: Slow cooker hot chocolate

For truly icy winter days, a steaming mug of hot cocoa could do the trick. Add a dash of Baileys to give it an edge, and marshmallows, whipped cream or even a candy cane for a sweeter treat.

Simply mix up cocoa powder with whole milk and a couple of teaspoons of sugar, as you normally would.

Cook on low in the slow cooker for 1-2 hours. Add a couple of handfuls of chopped chocolate (dark or milk depending on your preference) and stir in until melted. You can also add a generous slug of cream if you’re feeling indulgent.

Cook for a further 30 minutes until hot, garnish and serve.

Other slow cooker Christmas cheats

A slow cooker can help out with more than just hot drinks at Christmas. If you’re a fan of the classic braised red cabbage and apple in cider[5] as an accompaniment to your roast dinner, this is a good dish to make in a slow cooker. If you like generous lashings of sauce with your turkey, why not make up a large batch of bread sauce instead.

For more advice on prepping for the big day, see our complete guide to Christmas cooking[6].

Choosing the best slow cooker

During the colder months, slow cookers are a great way of making hassle-free and tasty meals. The long, low heat helps to produce tender meat and rich sauces. However, in our lab tests, we’ve found that some slow cookers give out too much, too little, or uneven heat.

This can result in dried-out or undercooked food, which is not what you want to come home to. It’s not always the cheap models that are a letdown either, some pricey models haven’t lived up to the standards set by the best cheap slow cookers. There are some great cheap slow cookers around – if you choose wisely – but you’re less likely to get extra features, so it’s worth thinking about what settings you can’t live without before you buy.

See our slow cooker buying guide[7] for more advice on finding the best option for you.

References

  1. ^ Best slow cookers (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ Christmas wine tasting experts (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ best red wines for winter (www.which.co.uk)
  4. ^ How to use your slow cooker (www.which.co.uk)
  5. ^ braised red cabbage and apple in cider (www.which.co.uk)
  6. ^ complete guide to Christmas cooking (www.which.co.uk)
  7. ^ slow cooker buying guide (www.which.co.uk)

Pricey kettle fails to impress in Which? tests

Our years of testing kettles have shown that price is no indication of quality. We’ve found expensive kettles that are slow, noisy and waste energy, and cheap kettles that delight with their quick, quiet boiling and easy handling. The latest kettles to undergo our tough lab tests are no exception.

We found five Best Buys with prices ranging from GBP30 to GBP100, and one pricey kettle that only just escapes being named a Don’t Buy, with a score of 49%. The 16 kettles we tested are recent 2017 models and include on-trend cheap copper dome kettles from Sainsbury’s and Argos, as well as the latest products from brands including Breville, Kenwood, Morphy Richards, Russell Hobbs and Sage. Find out which kettles made the grade as Best Buys, and the expensive model with mediocre results, in our kettle reviews[1].

Latest kettle and toaster reviews

We also uncovered a whopping eight new Best Buy toasters in our recent tests.

But with a Don’t Buy model from a well-known brand, it is worth checking our toaster reviews[2] to find one that will serve up golden toast rather than disappointing patchy slices. If you’re looking to spruce up your kitchen with a matching set, we’ve tested both cheap and pricey options. But are both halves of the set worth having?

Our tests showed huge variation in the performance of matching kettles and toasters, with some exceptional sets having two Best Buys and others including one or more disappointing appliance. Find out more about the sets we’ve just tested below, and follow the links to get our verdict.

Kenwood Turbo kettle and toaster, GBP90 each

Kenwood claims that this premium retro-styled breakfast set can make your breakfast in 60 seconds, which could be perfect for busy mornings. But at nearly GBP200 for the set, expectations are high for this kettle and toaster.

Do both appliances match their promised speed, score well in other tests, and, most importantly, justify their hefty price tags? Read our reviews of the Kenwood Turbo kettle[3] and Kenwood Turbo toaster[4] to find out.

Sage by Heston Luxe kettle and toaster, GBP100 each

With eccentric chef Heston Blumenthal lending his name to this range, this kettle and toaster are certainly different – the kettle sounds a bell when it’s boiled, great for easily-distracted cooks, and the toaster has an illuminated countdown timer telling you when your toast will be ready. But can these pricey appliances do more than just add bells and whistles?

Get our verdict in the Sage Heston Soft Top Luxe kettle review[5] and Sage The Toast Select Luxe toaster review[6].

Russell Hobbs Luna kettle and toaster, GBP30-GBP40 each

With the Luna set you can expect a stylish brushed metallic design at a more wallet-friendly price. The kettle and toaster certainly look impressive, but to find out how they score in our tests read the Luna kettle review[7] and Luna Moonlight toaster review[8].

Sainsbury’s Copper kettle and toaster, GBP35 each

The eye-catching copper finish puts this budget own-brand set bang on trend, and makes it look more expensive than it actually is. Some supermarket appliances have been known to impress in Which? tests, but others have been underwhelming, if not downright dreadful.

Does getting style on a budget mean a drop in performance? Read the full Sainsbury’s Copper Pyramid Kettle review[9] and Sainsbury’s Copper toaster review[10] to see if this set holds its own against more expensive models.

Why pay more for a kettle or toaster?

Pricey kettles and toasters usually go heavy on the style, with luxurious finishes and premium touches. You’re more likely to get more features too, such as extra temperature or toasting settings and light or sound effects to signify when your water or toast is ready.

But with three kettles under GBP60 being awarded a Best Buy, including some stylish options, there’s no need to spend more unless you’ve got your heart set on a particular model. Our cheapest Best Buy is the joint-highest scoring model from our most recent test, with 81%, and would also look smart on your worktop. It’s a similar story for toasters, with five of eight recent Best Buys GBP60 and under.

Watch out though – not every inexpensive product is a bargain. For every great product we find, there are several more average or poor models you’ll want to steer clear of. Get the lowdown on the models to avoid by checking our list of Don’t Buy kettles[11] and Don’t Buy toasters[12].

The most reliable kettles

Buy cheap buy twice?

Not necessarily – a survey of over 4,000 Which? members in 2017 revealed a supermarket brand as one of the most reliable around for kettles. Our research combines analysis of our test data, to see which kettles consistently score well in our tests, and data from kettle owners about how long their kettle lasted and how happy they were with the brand. This gives us a unique insight into how dependable certain brands are and which ones you should consider when buying a new kettle.

Find out which brands make the most long-lasting products and have the happiest customers with our guide to the most reliable kettle brands[13].

References

  1. ^ kettle reviews (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ toaster reviews (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ Kenwood Turbo kettle (www.which.co.uk)
  4. ^ Kenwood Turbo toaster (www.which.co.uk)
  5. ^ Sage Heston Soft Top Luxe kettle review (www.which.co.uk)
  6. ^ Sage The Toast Select Luxe toaster review (www.which.co.uk)
  7. ^ Luna kettle review (www.which.co.uk)
  8. ^ Luna Moonlight toaster review (www.which.co.uk)
  9. ^ Sainsbury’s Copper Pyramid Kettle review (www.which.co.uk)
  10. ^ Sainsbury’s Copper toaster review (www.which.co.uk)
  11. ^ Don’t Buy kettles (www.which.co.uk)
  12. ^ Don’t Buy toasters (www.which.co.uk)
  13. ^ most reliable kettle brands (www.which.co.uk)

Black Friday 2017: only two weeks to go

The biggest shopping day of the year is just two weeks away, and if you’re planning on bagging some bargains, now is the time to start doing your research. Friday 24 November is the date to circle in your diaries, but don’t wait too much longer before you start planning ahead. Many of the special offers you’ll see on the day won’t be as exclusive as they seem, but some can offer great value – with just a little swotting up you can spot the difference and make sure you don’t get caught out.

Check out all our top tips, advice on your rights and the products to watch out for in our guide to Black Friday 2017[1].

Make the most of Black Friday sales

With the frenzy of marketing around Black Friday, it can be tricky to figure out whether or not you’re getting the best value for money on your purchases. Follow our expert shopping tips to get ahead of the game:

  • Research the products you want beforehand: A bargain is only a bargain if the product’s a good one. We’ve got lab test results for thousands of products on our website, so use our expert reviews to find out which products are best and avoid getting lumbered with a Black Friday dud.
  • Analyse prices before you start shopping: Knowing how much a product has actually been sold for previously will help you work out if a ‘deal’ is really a deal.

    We have a useful Price Predictor feature on some of our most popular product categories that shows you how prices have changed over time. Read our guide on how to use Price Predictor[2] to save on your purchases.

  • Create a wishlist: Many online retailers, including Amazon, let you set up a wishlist where you can add all the things you want to buy. Then, instead of trawling through all the Black Friday deals, you can just click straight through to your list of desired products to see if any are discounted.

For all the best shopping advice, read the full list of our top 15 shopping tips for Black Friday[3].

What do retailers have in store?

Although Black Friday is officially a couple of weeks away, some retailers will start their promotions early.

Historically, Black Fridays have seen retail websites crash and high street shoppers come to blows in manic pursuit of bargains, so the extra time should come as welcome news for consumers. Spreading the bargain-hunting period across a number of days can help reduce the risk of impulse buying and give you a chance to check that the deals you’re being promised are genuine. In previous, years we’ve found that almost half the Black Friday deals we tracked were actually cheaper before or after the day itself, so it’s worth researching the price history of a product before trusting that a Black Friday discount offers a genuine, unique saving.

Read our guide to make sure you know how to check if a deal is real.[4] Amazon launches its 10-day long Black Friday promotion at midnight on 17 November. New deals will be revealed on each of the days that the promotion is running.

This will include the retailer’s popular Lightning Deals, which offer special discounts on a small number of products for a brief period of time. Amazon Prime members will be able to browse 30 minutes before other shoppers. Some retailers already have promotions up and running.

Halfords has begun a series of weekly countdown deals in the run up to the big day itself, with offers on bicycles, tools and roof boxes all available. You can expect several other shops to announce early sale dates soon – keep an eye out for stores starting their discounts from early next week.

Choose the right deals for you

We’ve been monitoring the prices of popular items all year, and put together our own lists of deals we think you should look out for. Check out our guides to the best Black Friday TVs, laptops and other tech products[5] and the best Black Friday coffee machines, vacuums and other home products[6].

For the deals that we think may not be as good as they seem, read our guide to deals to be wary of this Black Friday[7].

References

  1. ^ guide to Black Friday 2017 (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ how to use Price Predictor (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ top 15 shopping tips for Black Friday (www.which.co.uk)
  4. ^ how to check if a deal is real. (www.which.co.uk)
  5. ^ best Black Friday TVs, laptops and other tech products (www.which.co.uk)
  6. ^ best Black Friday coffee machines, vacuums and other home products (www.which.co.uk)
  7. ^ deals to be wary of this Black Friday (www.which.co.uk)

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