Sunday, 29 April 2012

Weekend beef stew... Or is it a casserole?

This weekend I have been abstaining from cooking, as I'm visiting my sister up North. That doesn't mean I'm not eating well, as my sister is at least as good a cook as I am. On the menu this weekend, among other things: veggie soup with home baked bead rolls (Sis makes the most amazing bread rolls in the whole wide world, I think they deserve a future blog post of their own), pancakes with chocolate spread and strawberries, meat stew and apple crumble with home-made fro-yo. She even made home-made almond butter which turned out amazingly creamy and much tastier than the store bought one (not to mention cheaper as well). There was a bit of a discussion about the name of the meat dish, is it a stew or casserole? Well. It's a stew, it's cooked in a casserole... Pick your favourite, as I'm typing this on an iPad and typing on the virtual keyboard is a bit of a pain, I'll stick with stew as its quicker to type.

I wonder whether mine and Sis' shared love for cooking is a result of genes or environment. This would be a good tangent to air some thoughts about the whole nature vs nurture debate, but I won't go there. All I can say, in our childhood home almost all food was home-cooked. Both my mum and dad used to cook, with dad cooking if we had pizza, steaks or BBQ and mum cooking the rest. We also cooked a lot with my sister, even as kids. We would plan a three course menu, and then we were allowed to have the kitchen all to ourselves. Our parents always ate everything without complaining, although I'm sure not everything turned out perfect. We had several cookbooks we liked, one was a UNICEF cook book for kids, with recipes from all over the world and drawings of how to prepare the dishes. From that book, one popular recipe on our menu was prawn cocktail and avocado. We also had a Donald Duck cookbook, and our favourite recipe was crumbly raisin cakes that we would make for pudding. We also used to cook Grandma Duck's pork chops, which were oven baked in cream on a bed of sweet corn. And my mum had a black binder full of recipes. Some where cut from magazines, others were just scribbles on a piece of paper. It contained recipes for such 80s classics as mocca squares (I guess only Finns know what these are, they are a bit like brownies, I will most certainly post the recipe sometime) and lime meringue pie. These were often baked and served when my parents would have guests and my mum would cook up a feast. So, we certainly grew up in an environment which encouraged us to learn cooking skills, made us appreciate different kinds of food and above all, think of home cooked food as the norm instead of ready made meals or takeaways.

So, the recipes below are stolen from and cooked by my sister.

Beef stew (serves 6-8):
800g diced beef
Butter or oil for frying
One big lee
3 onions
3 parsnips
One small swede
4 carrots
1/2 bottle of red wine
2 beef stock pots or cubes
Bay leaf
Black pepper

Roughly chop all the veg. Brown the meat in butter or oil in the casserole (or a frying pan if you don't have a casserole that can be used on the hob). Add the veg, and fry for a few more minutes. Add the wine, stock cubes, spices and water to fill the casserole. Bake in a 175 degree oven for at least 2 1/2 hours, but the longer the better. Serve with salad and mashed potatoes or sweet potato mash.

Apple with a hint of rhubarb crumble (serves 6-8):
10 apples
Rhubarb (we only had 1 stalk, but I bet more will be great)
1tsp Vanilla paste
1tsp ground cloves
1tbsp cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
175g Demerara sugar
150g white flour
200g rolled oats
1tsp ground cloves
1tbsp cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
200g butter

Peel and chop apples and rhubarb, cook them in a little bit of water for about 10 minutes together with the spices. To make the crumble, mix all dry ingredients and spices. Cut butter into small cubes and use your fingers to make a crumbly dough together with the dry ingredients. Use a big ovenproof dish (26-28 cm), place the fruit on the bottom and spread the crumble on top. Bake in 175 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until a beautiful golden brown. Serve with frozen yoghurt and strawberries.

Frozen yoghurt:
950g organic, full fat Greek yoghurt
3tbsp organic honey

Freeze the ice cream maker over night. Mix yoghurt and honey. Chill in the ice cream maker while the crumble is baking.

The verdict:
After a hike in the Peaks, this was the perfect hearty meal to get warm and make up for the calories we shed climbing Grindsbrook, and almost getting blown away by heavy winds on the way back down.

The stew is heavenly, it was cooked for three hours and then left in the hot oven over night to bake. The veg gets really sweet and tasty after the long cooking, and the meat just crumbles. If you like you veg really crunchy, this is not for you, but if you like full flavours and super tender meat, you should definitely try this out.

I usually wouldn't make a crumble myself, and that's one of the exciting things of eating someone else's cooking, you eat things you wouldn't think of doing yourself. I love the combination of hot and cold, so I loved the crumble. Piping hot apples, the sweet crumble adding crispy texture and then the velvety smoothness of the ice cold yoghurt was heavenly. I think frozen yoghurt was a much better choice for this than ice cream, as it wasn't too sweet, and was a great contrast to the sweet crumble. I'm embarrassed to admit my self control broke down completely, and I not only went back for seconds but even for thirds. I can't wait visit this restaurant again.


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