Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Beef Casserole for a Cold Night

Sydney has been unseasonably cold this week, with maximums of 14C and worse. While I know that the rest of the world must look at this and laugh, Sydney is almost uniquely unprepared for weather like this. Houses are designed to catch draughts and stay cool, and big open plan rooms are sometimes hard to heat. To make matters worse, the shops are already stocking what they call "first summer"; nothing makes me feel colder than looking at little cotton tees in July.

So, it is weather like this that makes me want to stay home, do the crossword and put something in the oven for a few hours. I am convinced that a casserole helps warm the room as well as providing dinner, or maybe I have just been seduced by the fabulous smell that drifts from my kitchen when I leave something cooking for a couple of hours...

This recipe comes from Belinda Jeffrey's 100 Favourite Recipes. It is what I consider to be a lovely old-fashioned tasty casserole; the sort my mother used to make at this time of year. It serves 4-6 depending on your appetite, so I usually have a nice box of it to freeze, and it does freeze well. It is also very easy to reheat, if you are the type to cook on a Sunday afternoon for the following week. Hope this makes you nice and warm!

Beef, Mushroom and Red Wine Casserole
adapted from Belinda Jeffrey's 100 Favourite Recipes
2 tbls olive oil
350 g slab of bacon cut into small chunks, rind reserved
1.5kg blade or chuck steak cut into 5cm cubes
1 large onion, finely diced
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 1/2 tbls plain flour
2 tbls brandy
2 cups red wine (Belinda suggests Shiraz)
1 bay leaf
2 tsps fresh thyme
2 1/2 cups chicken or veal stock
olive oil
18 spring or pickling onions
250g button mushrooms

Preheat the oven to 180C. Heat the oil in a casserole pot, then add the bacon and fry gently until it is pale golden. Remove from the pot and put aside.

Increase the heat and add some of the beef chunks. Fry the beef in batches until it is browned all over. Remove beef from the pot and put aside. Reduce the heat a little and add onion and garlic (and a little more olive oil if you need it). Cook these for a few minutes until they start to smell fantastic and the onion is becoming translucent. Next, sprinkle on the flour and cook it, stirring constantly, for another couple of minutes.

Return the beef to the casserole pot, and toss it with onion, garlic and flour. Pour in the brandy and red wine, and give it all a good stir. Scrape up any of the nice brown bits from the bottom of the pan for extra flavour. Add the bacon chunks, rind, bay leaf, thyme and a grinding of black pepper to taste. Pour in enough stock to cover the meat, then press a piece of baking paper onto the surface. (This will keep the pieces of meat at the top of the casserole nice and moist; they can get a bit dry and tough otherwise.) Cover the dish tightly, then put it in the oven and cook it for two hours.

After 1 1/2 hours, heat a little oil in a frying pan, and saute the onions until they are golden, then set aside and saute the mushrooms. Stir onions and mushrooms into the casserole, then return it to the oven for another 15 minutes or so. When the casserole is ready remove from the oven and scoop out the bacon rind and the bay leaf. Garnish with a little parsley, and serve with potatoes and salad.

++ Instead of serving with potatoes on the side, I like to cook potatoes and then add to the casserole with the onions and mushrooms. I love the way they sop up the juices!

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