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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.

Notting Hill Dining – The Shed

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Here’s another innovative and delicious dining experience I’d like to share with you.

In December 2016 in London, I was keen to eat at The Shed, in Notting Hill, one of the restaurants of the Gladwin Bros. The brothers hail from West Sussex, brought up on a vineyard and farm. Their restaurants feature produce from their farm in Nutbourne, in Sussex. Here’s the link to the website: http://www.theshed-restaurant.com/

I had read about their food philosophy using “seasonal farmed and foraged food”. It was with a sense of anticipation that I arrived for a late lunch not quite knowing what to expect! I love the idea of a restaurant called The Shed – was it in an actual shed? And is a shed in London the same as a shed in Australia?

I was not disappointed. The charming but unremarkable exterior – not very shed like – soon revealed a casual kind of lean-to interior that was definitely shed like!

The food was very good. Flavourful, generous, and with some innovative techniques in evidence. The menu, shown here, is made up of fast cooked and slow cooked dishes, as well as mouthfuls, cures, cheeses and puddings.

I went for a couple of slow cooked dishes with great sourdough bread, a wonderful pudding and a glass or two of wine including their own Nutbourne rosé sparkling.

It was rather a lot for this solo diner, but as the purpose of my UK food adventures was research for The Quirk and the Cool, I really felt I needed to research properly! Or perhaps I’m just greedy…

The pumpkin gnocchi with Tunworth crispy sage and seeds, was a knockout. Nothing insipid about these gnocchi – their flavour was every bit as intense as their colour. The dreamy creamy sauce that accompanied them was delicious. I’m not sure of its composition, and regret I didn’t ask.

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The beef cigars, with Shed mustard and tarragon, were a revelation. They were suggested by my helpful waitress  – I was dubious about what they actually were – but on arrival they looked sensational and tasted the same. The photo says it all! They seemed to be slow cooked beef, finely shredded, and condensed into crisp pastry “cigars”.

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I am a huge bread fan – so I must make mention of the Shed Maltstar sourdough bread. And the butter. I could probably have an entire meal of quality bread like this offering! But I wouldn’t, as then I would have no room for pudding, which was definitely worth having.

The Shed Magnum Viennetta parfait was a recreation of the commercial classic, which I actually don’t remember having eaten, so I have no basis for comparison. But as a lover of ice cream, it was luxurious, textured, creamy, very “home made”.

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I stayed for an hour and a half, just enjoying the quirky and quaint atmosphere.  When you dine alone, you get to people watch, and I was interested in my fellow diners – who seemed quirky too – they looked creative, and right at home in the shed, which had been turned into a very creative eating space.

I loved the whole experience. Eating at The Shed is another reason to return to London in the near future!

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Slow Cooked Food and Cast Iron Ware

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A friend recently married, has acquired the Rolls Royce of slow cooking cast iron ware, Le Creuset.

http://www.lecreuset.com.au/Resources1/product/Material/Cast-Iron/

These wonderful cast iron cooking utensils have been hand made in France since 1925. I own several Le Creuset casseroles and baking dishes, as well as a grill pan and some ceramic dishes.

I also own some cast iron ware in other  brands, but Le Creuset is definitely the “top”.

If you are interested in long slow cooking, cast iron ware is the only way to go.

Here, for the benefit of my newly married friend, and as requested, are the links to some slow cooked food in cast iron ware, including that other wonderful cooking device, the tagine.

https://thequirkandthecool.com/2014/04/08/jamie-olivers-shin-stew/

https://thequirkandthecool.com/2014/08/23/jamie-olivers-mexican-chilli/

https://thequirkandthecool.com/2014/05/03/slow-cooked-beef-cheeks-in-pedro-ximinez-movida-recipe/

https://thequirkandthecool.com/2013/10/27/moroccan-chicken-tagine-with-dates-apricots-and-couscous/

https://thequirkandthecool.com/2013/05/09/tagine-of-lamb-shoulder-with-apricots-and-raisins-pomegranate-couscous-and-avocado-salad/

https://thequirkandthecool.com/2013/06/09/winter-pies-beef-and-red-wine-pasties-ham-leek-and-mushroom-baby-pies/ The recipe for beef pies includes a slow cooked beef and red wine filling.

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Slow Cooked Beef Cheeks in Pedro Ximinez – Movida Recipe

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This recipe hails from MoVida Bar de Tapas, restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney, from the cookbook MoVida: Spanish Culinary Adventures.

http://movida.com.au/slowly-braised-beef-cheeks-in-pedro-ximenez-with-cauliflower-puree-carillera-de-buey/

I cooked the beef cheeks in the oven rather than on the stove top as the original recipe suggests. The temperature needs to be low and the cooking time long.  This is slow cooking at its best!

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cookbook MoVida: Spanish Culinary Adventures
cookbook MoVida: Spanish Culinary Adventures
cookbook MoVida: Spanish Culinary Adventures

Ingredients

1.5 kg  beef cheeks
125 ml  olive oil
3 carrots, roughly chopped
1 garlicky bulb, halved
1 brown onion, sliced
500 ml  Pedro Ximenez sherry
500 ml  red wine
3 bay leaves
3 tablespoons thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Method

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees C or even lower if your oven is hot (like mine).

Trim the beef cheeks to neaten them up and remove any sinew and silver skin. Season well.

Heat half the olive oil in a large heavy-based baking dish over high heat. Brown the beef cheeks for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden, then remove from the pan.

Add the remaining olive oil, then add the carrot, garlic and onion and sauté over high heat for 12-15 minutes, or until well browned. Stir in the sherry, wine, bay leaves, thyme, sea salt and 500 ml water.

Reduce the heat and add the beef cheeks.  Cover and place in the oven to cook for 3-4 hours, or until the cheeks are beginning to fall apart.

The sauce from the beef cheeks should by now be reduced and glaze-like. If it needs further reducing, remove the cheeks from the baking dish, cover with foil to keep them warm and simmer the sauce over high heat on the stove top until nicely reduced. Gently reheat the cheeks in the sauce if necessary.

I served the beef cheeks with slow baked yellow, orange and purple carrots, and grilled corn tortillas to soak up the sauce – mash or pappardelle or rice would also be good.

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