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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.

“Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme” Meatballs

Here’s a really quick and tasty meatball dish. The meatballs are baked, with cherry tomatoes which makes a simple sauce. You can also customise the meatballs by adding chili, cheese or more sauce. They’re great served on crusty bread as mini burgers too!

The meatballs are very herby, cooked with rosemary and sage, and served with more rosemary, thyme and parsley. Hence the name – my homage to the Simon and Garfunkel version of “Scarborough Fair”, a favourite song of mine. I love the live version on the album Live 69 http://www.simonandgarfunkel.com/music/live-1969/.

Ingredients 

1 onion

500g good quality minced beef (I used wagyu beef mince – wonderful flavour)

1/2 tsp rosemary sprigs 

1/2 tsp sage leaves

1 egg, beaten

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce 

1 tsp balsamic vinegar 

1 tsp Dijon mustard 

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2-3 tbls breadcrumbs or a good couple of handfuls 

12 cherry tomatoes 

6-8 truss cherry tomatoes

1/2 tsp chopped thyme leaves 

1/2 tsp torn parsley leaves

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees C non fan forced, 210 degrees C fan forced.

Chop the onion finely, or blitz in a food processor.

Put the beef mince in a large mixing bowl, breaking up the mince with a spoon. You could do all the mixing using your hands if you wish. Add the chopped onion, rosemary sprigs and sage leaves, which have been finely chopped.

Add the beaten egg, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Add the breadcrumbs, mixing to combine so that the mixture holds together. You will need to use your judgement about how much of the breadcrumbs you add to give you a good consistency to make meatballs.

Roll the mixture into golf ball sized balls. Place them side by side, fairly snugly, into a baking dish. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and push them as many halves as you like into the spaces between the meatballs. Scatter some more rosemary springs over the top with more salt and pepper.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes until the meatballs are brown and cooked, but still nice and moist in the middle, if you cut one open.

You could serve as is, but it’s nice to add some more cherry tomatoes. Blister some truss cherry tomatoes in a hot frying pan by dry-frying for a couple of minutes. 

Serve the meatballs with the blistered tomatoes, scattered with thyme and parsley.

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