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Beef Casserole: Isolationist Cooking in the Covid 19 Era

We are living in strange times, in the era of Covid 19. Like a lot of people, I am spending time at home, socially isolating to avoid unnecessary contact with people. I am shopping carefully, stocking up on staples, without going overboard, and thinking about what dishes I can cook with what’s in the freezer and pantry, and don’t require last minute shopping.

I will post a few of these recipes over the next few weeks. To start with, here’s a recipe for a beautiful beef and red wine casserole. I recommend buying some good slow cooking beef cuts and freezing for just this kind of recipe. The other ingredients that are not pantry staples are carrots and onions, and thankfully these can be acquired and then will last quite a long time, ie you can buy and keep on hand for a couple of weeks until you need them.

I began to write this recipe at the end of a Sydney summer, but it soon became apparent it would be a great start to my “isolationist cooking”.

It’s late March 2020 in Sydney. Just a month ago we were sweltering in a hot, hot bushfire summer with humid days and even stickier nights, when the temperature overnight barely dropped a degree or two, making sleeping and living difficult.

But the rain came and the cooler weather with it. Autumn is definitely in the air. While we will have plenty of warm days to come, there is enough cool weather to make me feel like starting some autumn cooking: cakes and tarts with autumn fruits, and nourishing, robust casseroles, rich with root vegetables and red wine.

This is a simple beef casserole recipe that I developed from the memory of many family meals and my own efforts at throwing a few things in a pot and coming up with something tasty!

Beef + onions + carrots + red wine + herbs = a pot of deliciousness.

Here’s the basic recipe. For the beef, any cheap cut of beef is great. My preference is for shin (gravy) beef, but that cut is hard to get in Australia. Chuck steak is good, as well as blade beef.


Ingredients

1 tablespoon plain flour
Sea salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
500g casserole beef cut into small pieces
4 shallots or 1 large onion, chopped
4 -6 baby or small carrots, cut into chunks or keep whole if small enough
1 tin whole peeled tomatoes
1 glass red wine
1 teaspoon vegemite or marmite dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
Bouquet garnis – bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary, tied together
A pinch of sugar to season

Method
Pre-heat oven to 140 degrees C.

Dust the beef pieces in the flour and salt and pepper by placing them in a zip lock bag and shake. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed casserole on the stove top.

Fry the beef in small quantities to avoid “stewing” the meat, until brown on all sides. Remove the beef to a plate, add a little more oil to the pan if necessary, and fry the shallots and carrots.

Return the meat to the casserole. Add the tomatoes, roughly chopping as you mix in to the casserole. Add the red wine and vegemite/marmite and water and the pinch of sugar.

Cook on a medium heat with lid off for 5 minutes, then transfer the casserole, with lid on, to the pre-heated oven. Cook for about 3 hours or until beef is very tender. I check after 2 hours and test the ”doneness” of the beef. It is usually a little chewy and needs further cooking. If the beef is cooked to your liking, by all means serve now.

If there is lot of liquid in the stew, now is the time to leave the lid off and return to the oven.

Remove from the oven when finally cooked, and serve. Or the casserole can be refrigerated or frozen until you are ready to use.

I like to serve the beef casserole with rice or couscous or some potatoes baked in their jackets.

A really tasty recipe that not only is easy to make from the pantry and freezer but it’s a lovely way to spend time in these isolationist times.

Apple and Almond Orchard Cake

 


I made a cake last week for a communal dinner – First Friday Feast – where the theme was “from the ground up”. Lots of ideas sprang to mind, and I eventually settled on the orchard theme, apples and almonds that grow in the orchard, and are obviously above the ground. The orchard theme is particularly appropriate as Sydney finally heads into autumn after a sweltering summer.

The recipe is a version of Diana Henry’s Swedish Apple, Almond and Cardamom Cake from her column in the UK Telegraph, see here for the original recipe.

I substituted cinnamon and a little ginger for the cardamom as I’m not a huge cardamom fan. I currently have some lovely fragrant cinnamon from Vietnam, which I love using in bakes.

Here’s the recipe. I served the cake with some lovely glacé fruit, orange slices and apricots and fresh herbs. I also made my own version of muscatels by slow roasting some black grapes in a very low oven. Possibly not worth the time, when muscatels are so readily available, but they certainly had a lovely caramelised flavour.

Ingredients

150g butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing

175g light brown sugar

50g marzipan, broken into little chunks

3 large free range eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

½ teaspoon almond extract

4 Granny Smith apples

175g plain flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

75g ground almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons milk, if needed

2 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons apricot jam, to glaze

Method

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Butter and line the base of 
a 23cm springform cake tin.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar together until pale and fluffy, then beat in the pieces of marzipan – the marzipan will break down and become amalgamated. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the almond extract.

Peel, core and chop two of the apples Into small pieces and stir them into the mixture.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt, and add the ground almonds, cinnamon  and ginger. Gently fold this mixture into the batter, adding it in three lots. If the mixture is really stiff,  add the milk.

Peel the other apples, halve, core and cut them into thin wedges. Toss the wedges with the sugar.

Spoon the batter into the springform tin and arrange the apple wedges on top in concentric circles. Be neat, but no need to be too fussy!

Bake the cake for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cover the top with aluminium foil if it looks like it’s browning too quickly.

Cool the cake for about 
15 minutes, then remove the outer ring. By sliding a knife between the cake and the base, carefully move the cake from the base. Quickly invert the cake and peel off the baking paper, and invert again. Carefully put the cake right side up on to a plate and leave to cool completely.

To glaze cake, put the apricot jam in a small saucepan with 1 tablespoon of water and heat until the jam is liquid. You will need to sieve the jam to make sure it’s smooth. Using a pastry brush, brush the jam over the top of the cake.

Serve with glacé fruit or fresh fruit or even some bunches of green herbs. Cake is always good with whipped cream or ice cream!

Autumn Jams

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I love making jams and marmalade at any time of the year. April in Sydney is that in-between season, when you’ve made all your berry jams and before the start of marmalade making.
I found some late season, beautiful little plums at the Orange Grove markets. Also some organic pink lady apples, and some quinces, which inspired me to make some autumn jams.
So I came up with Plum and Apple Jam, Plum Raisin and Vanilla Jam and Quince Marmalade. I have adapted some recipes from the wonderful book Jams, Jellies and Marmalades by Margaret O’Sullivan, which has been my jam-making bible for many years.

Plum and Apple Jam
Ingredients
I kg plums
1kg apples
1 cup water
Pinch of salt
Juice of a lemon
2 kgs sugar (or a little less)

Method
Halve the plums and remove the stones. Peel and core the apples and chop.
Put the fruit into the preserving pan (large saucepan) with the water and salt.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes OR until soft. (The plums will disintegrate quite quickly).
Add the lemon juice, then slowly add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.
Boil rapidly until setting point is reached, approximately 20 minutes.
Test for a set by placing a little jam on a saucer in the freezer for five minutes. The surface should be set and wrinkle when pushed with a finger. If the jam is not set, return the pan to the heat and cook for a further few minutes until setting point is reached.
When setting point is reached, skim, and pour into sterilized jars.

Plum Raisin and Vanilla Jam
Ingredients
500 gms plums
Sugar
Juice of a lemon
100 gms raisins
Vanilla bean

Method
Chop the plums and remove the stones. Measure the fruit and add sugar equal to 3/4 of the amount.
Put into a preserving pan and cook slowly for about 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until setting point is reached (see Method for Plum and Apple Jam).
Stir in the lemon juice and raisins. Pour into sterilized jars, and then carefully place a section of vanilla bean (opened to release the seeds) into each jar of jam.

Quince Marmalade
Ingredients
2-3 quinces (whatever you can fit in your preserving pan).
Water
Sugar

Method
Put the quinces into a preserving pan with enough boiling water to cover and parboil so that the skin will come off easily.
Peel, core and chop the quinces, then weigh them.
Return the quinces to the preserving pan with the water used to parboil. Remove any excess water (the water should just cover the quinces).
Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add sugar equaling 1/2 the weight of the quinces.
Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. When the quince mixture starts to turn red, mash with a potato masher, getting rid of any big lumps.
Spoon into sterilized jars.

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Autumn Salad Niçoise

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A very simple throw together salad based on some lovely April produce from the Orange Grove Markets in Lillyfield  – the Niçoise part is some Italian tuna in oil.

Line a salad bowl with a mixture of salad leaves –  I used baby spinach, radicchio, baby cos, green coral and baby bok choy.  You could rub the bowl with a garlic clove for more depth of flavour.

Add sliced spring onions, sliced green beans and roughly sliced avocado for the green part. Scatter a few cherry tomatoes into the salad.

Add the oil from a small tin of tuna (I prefer Sirena), then roughly flake the tuna and add to the bowl. Crumble a handful of Persian feta into the salad.

Lastly squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, drizzle with some balsamic glaze, and add a few grinds of black pepper. Gently toss all the ingredients together. Serves one or two at a pinch!

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