How to make Beef Casserole (with Beer and Dumplings!)

This casserole may take a while to cook, but it’s a real treat! It’s a little harder than my sausage casserole from last year (link), so you might want to check you’re familiar with the different techniques, which are all linked in the recipe below.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • an oven-proof dish
  • a measuring jug
  • a kettle
  • an oven
  • oven gloves
  • a mixing bowl
  • a couple of spoons

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • 1lb/500g beef (something like braising steak)
  • dried sage
  • garlic powder
  • 4 medium carrots (about the length of your hand)
  • 1 big leek
  • 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
  • 1 parsnip
  • frozen spinach
  • 1 pint/500ml beer or beef stock
  • 4oz/100g self-raising flour (or plain flour and baking powder)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1tsp dried sage
  • 2oz/50g suet

 

Start by turning on your oven to Gas Mark 3, 160°C.

Chop your beef into cubes about 2 inches (2.5cm) on each side. If you like your meat browned, dry fry the beef with a sprinkle of dried sage & garlic.

Photograph of dark red cubes of meat, with a sprinkle of dried herbs & spices, in a casserole dish

Using clean hands and utensils, chop your carrots into chunks (link). Add your carrots and beer (or stock) to the oven-proof dish. (I love the flavour of beer in this casserole, but not quite all of the alcohol evaporates during cooking. So if for whatever reason you prefer not to use alcohol, use stock instead.)

Photograph of a casserole dish filled with chunks of carrot and meat, and beer

Put your dish into the oven. (Don’t forget the lid!) It will take about three hours to cook from this point.

While your meat and carrots are cooking, chop your leeks (link), sweet potato (link), and parsnip (link) into chunks. After an hour and a half, add them to the casserole.

40 Beef casserole (3)

While the casserole continues to cook, make your dumplings. I wrote a detailed method last week (which you can find here), but basically mix together flour, salt, dried sage, and suet, then add water to form a smooth dough that comes away from the bowl easily. Shape this dough into eight round dumplings.

Half an hour before serving, add your frozen spinach (if using) and your dumplings.

Photograph of a casserole dish filled with chunks of meat and vegetables, topped with balls of frozen spinach, and dumplings

Once the dumplings are cooked, the casserole is ready to serve!

Photograph of a brown bowl filled with beef casserole, topped with two dumplings

This beef casserole is definitely not an everyday dish, but if you’re after a warming dish on a rainy day you can’t really do much better! You can of course use potatoes instead of dumplings if you like (add them at the beginning), or any other root veg you fancy! And for a veggie version, try using red kidney beans instead of beef.

If you make beef casserole with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Make Vegetable Soup

As the weather cools down, I’m looking forward to cooking some more warming dishes. And what’s better on a cold day than a hot bowl of soup?

There are so many different kinds of soup, that I thought it would be good to start with the general technique. If you’d like some more specific recipes, let me know!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a large saucepan
  • a measuring jug
  • a kettle

and the ingredients:

  • A little oil
  • onions
  • herbs and spices
  • vegetables
  • stock (link) or stock cube

 

Start by placing your saucepan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and chop your onion. (For soup that cooks quickly, dice your onion (like this), but if you’ve got a bit more time slices (link) or even chunks of onion (link) are fine.)

Add your onion to the pan, along with any dried herbs or spices you want to use. I like to use garlic and ginger in most dishes, and the other spices I use depend on what vegetables I’m using. For example tomato and basil is a classic combination, as is carrot and coriander.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced onion, herbs and spices

Gently fry your onions until they’re slightly golden and see-through. Then add your stock. You need about as much stock as you want soup – I recommend about 250ml or half a pint per person. Put the lid on, and bring it to a gentle boil.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced onion, herbs and spices, and stock

Chop your vegetables and add them to the soup. So that everything cooks evenly, start with the vegetables that take longest (like carrots), and end with the vegetables that need the least cooking (like green vegetables). If you’re not sure how long something takes to cook, check out the Techniques tab here on How to Chop a Carrot.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced vegetables and stock

Once all the vegetables are soft all the way through, your soup is cooked. But if you want to make it thicker or stronger, you can leave it cooking for a bit longer. Before serving, make sure to taste your soup and add any salt or fresh herbs you want to add.

Photograph of a white bowl full of soup

A hearty bowl of vegetable soup is great with melted cheese and a slice of toast, or why not spice it up and serve with egg and noodles?

Soup is such a versatile dish; it’s great for using up leftovers. (Even those half-used jars of sauce lurking in your fridge.) You can even blend everything together after cooking to make a really thick, smooth soup.

If you make soup with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

 

 

How to Make Stock

It’s back to basics this week with a common ingredient for adding flavour to dishes – stock. You probably already know how to make stock from a stock cube, but did you know it’s surprisingly easy to make from scratch?

Stock is, quite simply, water with added flavour. Whenever you boil ingredients in water, some of the flavours (and nutrients) mix with the water. In fact, when you boil vegetables you’re pretty much making vegetable stock at the same time!

Most stocks, however, have more flavour than vegetable water. You can make stock more concentrated, in other words stronger, either by putting in more ingredients or by boiling off more water.

Let’s start with what kind of ingredients you can use for stock. As I said above, you can boil vegetables in water to make a vegetable stock. You can use any combination, but a classic is onion, carrot, and celery (known as a mirepoix).

You can make fish, chicken, or meat stocks by using the parts you might otherwise just throw away – the skin and bones. In fact, making stock is a great way to get the most out of your food.

Now for the method.

Start by chopping your vegetables. The smaller you chop them, the faster the flavour will mix with the water. However, if you’ve got plenty of time for your stock to cook, chunks of vegetables (about an inch on each side) are fine. Bones and skin usually don’t need chopping.

Cover your ingredients with water, and a lid, in a large saucepan or slow cooker. At this stage, it’s better to have too much water than too little. Too little water and your stock can burn, but you can always boil off excess water later.

Boil your ingredients for at least half an hour. As long as there’s enough water left, there isn’t really an upper time limit for making stock. It will just keep getting stronger the longer you boil it for.

Drain your ingredients. Remember to save the water – that’s now your stock! If you don’t think your stock has enough flavour yet, you can put it back in the saucepan and boil it very gently without a lid. (The fancy name for this step is reducing down.)

You can use your stock as soon as it’s cooked, but if you won’t be using it for a while, pop it in the freezer to keep it fresh.

And that’s it! Why not try it the next time you have some ingredients going spare? And come back later this month to find out how to turn stock into soup, or gravy!

How to Make Coleslaw

This is the last of my trio of summer side salads. Coleslaw is a simple mix of carrot, onion, and cabbage in a creamy sauce, but they complement each other perfectly!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a mixing bowl
  • a spoon or two

and the ingredients:

  • carrot
  • cabbage
  • onion/spring onion
  • mayonnaise
  • salad cream (or vinegar)

Start by slicing your onion as thinly as you can. (You can find my cutting tutorial here.) If you find white onions too sharp, red onions are milder, and spring onions are milder still.

Thinly slice your cabbage (tutorial here), and grate your carrot (grating tips here). Put your sliced onion and cabbage, and grated carrot into a large mixing bowl.

Photograph of thinly sliced cabbage and white onion, and grated carrot in a stainless steel mixing bowl

(Save the carrot for last because, once cut, it can oxidise and turn brown. It’s still perfectly edible, but it doesn’t look as good. The sauce, which is the next step, will prevent air getting to the carrot and so prevent oxidisation. )

The sauce for coleslaw is very similar to that for potato salad (you can find my potato salad recipe here). Simply mix equal parts mayonnaise and salad cream. Alternatively, use mayonnaise and a little vinegar for a tangy sauce.

Photograph of thinly sliced cabbage and white onion, grated carrot, two large dollops of mayonnaise and a splash of vinegar in a stainless steel mixing bowl

Mix everything together really thoroughly – using a fork will help break up the onion and cabbage. And it’s ready to serve!

Photograph of coleslaw in a white ceramic dish

Coleslaw is a really refreshing dish, and even though it’s a classic it’s fun to play with too! Try using different types of cabbage, or even brussels sprouts! Or you could add beetroot to complement the carrot, or some finely chopped nuts to make the sauce even creamier. And of course, you can add herbs and spices to make it even more flavoursome!

If you make coleslaw with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Make Quinoa Salad

This was one of my first inventions that I was really proud of! It’s a great summer dish, and a really satisfying salad.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a saucepan
  • a large mixing bowl
  • a kettle
  • a measuring jug

and the ingredients (for 4 people):

  • 200-250ml quinoa
  • 1 stock cube
  • garlic
  • coriander / cilantro
  • 2 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • frozen peas, such as petits pois
  • 16 cherry tomatoes
  • cucumber

Start by washing the quinoa and leave it to drain. (I wrote in more detail about quinoa here, so if there’s anything that’s unclear please check it out!)

Place your saucepan on a gentle heat, and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions). Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), then your diced onion, garlic, and coriander.

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion, coriander and garlic powderBoil a kettle and mix together the stock, according to the instructions. Add the quinoa, then the stock, to the saucepan. (Remember: use three times as much liquid as quinoa.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing onion, stock, quinoa, and seasoning

Dice the carrots (you can find more detailed instructions here), then add them to the saucepan.

Photograph of a saucepan containing onion, carrot, and quinoa

Put a lid on the saucepan, and let it boil gently for 20 minutes.

While the saucepan is boiling, dice your tomato and cucumber. (You can find more detailed instructions here: tomato, cucumber.) Put the frozen peas, and the tomato, in a large mixing bowl, but keep the cucumber separate for now.

Photograph of a large mixing bowl with diced tomatoes and peas in

Once the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid, it should be cooked.

30 Quinoa salad (18)

Add the cooked ingredients to the mixing bowl. This will thaw out the peas, and cool the quinoa mix at the same time. Finally, add the cucumber.

Photograph of a large mixing bowl containing quinoa, peas, diced carrot, tomato, and cucumber

I like this salad best when it’s just made and still slightly warm, but if you’re not going to eat it straight away remember to chill it in the fridge.

I originally designed this recipe as an accompaniment to falafel, but garlic and coriander are such versatile flavours that it goes with nearly anything! You could add some beans, have it with a burger, or even diced ham!

Photograph of a white bowl filled with quinoa salad, topped with diced ham

If you make quinoa salad with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Make a (Yummy) Salad

Salads sometimes get a bad rep, and it’s true that’s it’s very easy to make a boring salad. (The one I grew up with was lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes and no dressing.) But as a light summer meal, or as a side dish, salads can be great.

Salads are so simple to make that I think it’s a shame not to learn how to make them interesting. So in this post I want to share with you some of the tricks I’ve learned.

1. Mix it up

There is nothing wrong with lettuce, cucumber, and tomatoes, but have you ever tried grating some apple into your salad? Do you like beetroot, mushrooms, or olives? What about adding in some vegetables that you’d normally cook, like peas or cabbage? The more variety in colour, texture and taste your salad has, the more fun it will be to eat.

2. Season it!

The biggest mistake I (and I suspect other people) always made with salads was not seasoning them. It’s amazing how much difference even a little sprinkle of salt can make. But don’t stop at salt – try adding herbs, chilli, lemon, ginger, garlic, vinegar; even soy sauce or honey! You can use just as wide a range of seasonings on a salad as you can in cooked foods.

3. Add some fat

Salads are full of fibre, slow-release carbohydrates, and vitamins, but they don’t tend to offer much in terms of fat or protein. This can mean that they don’t make you feel full for long. Adding some healthy fats to a salad is a great way to make it more satisfying. You could add an oil such as rapeseed or olive oil, nuts, seeds, cheese, or even avocado! Personally I like poppy or sesame seeds, because they also add a little crunch.

Salads can be a really fun, interesting food, so it’s well worth experimenting with them to find some that you like. I’d love to hear about your favourite creations in the comments!

How to Make Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie (made with beef) and Shepherd’s Pie (made with lamb) are classic British dishes, made of a rich, meaty filling topped with creamy mashed potato.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a wok or deep saucepan with lid
  • a saucepan with lid

  • an oven-proof dish

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • A little oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 500g beef, lamb, or Quorn mince (a.k.a. ground meat)
  • 2-3 carrots
  • tinned chopped tomatoes or passata
  • tomato puree
  • mixed herbs
  • salt
  • 3-4 potatoes
  • butter or margarine
  • a splash of milk
  • hard cheese such as cheddar
  • frozen peas or broccoli

My favourite way to make cottage pie is by combining savoury mince (you can find last week’s recipe here), and mashed potato. It’s a lot easier to make sure everything is cooked properly, because you can’t really stir a cottage pie! You can also make this recipe using leftovers, but I’ve written out the full process here.

Start by chopping your potatoes into chunks (tutorial here), and putting them on to boil in your saucepan. If you want really smooth mash it helps to peel your potatoes, but you don’t need to.

Photograph of a saucepan containing chunks of potato, roughly covered by water

While your potatoes cook, make your savoury mince.

Place your larger pan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions)

Add your diced onion to the pan, along with a generous sprinkle of mixed herbs. (Adding a little garlic can help bring out the flavour of the meat, but it’s optional.)

Photograph of a wok containing diced white onion and mixed herbs

Add your mince, and stir it gently while the meat browns.

23.4 mince

Grate your carrots, then add them to the pan. (Remember to leave the top on while grating to save your fingers – you can find more tips in my tutorial here.)

Photograph of a wok showing mostly grated carrot

Add a tin of passata or cooked tomatoes. Remember to rinse out the tin to get all the flavour out of it. Stir everything together and leave it bubbling gently while you make the mash.

Photograph of a wok containing savoury mince

 

Now you can check on your potatoes. If they’re ready for mashing, they should feel nice and soft when you poke them with a fork. Drain off any water, then use a fork, masher or even a food processor to mash them. You can add a splash of milk to make the mash softer, butter or margarine for richness, and a little salt for extra flavour.

Photograph of a saucepan containing mashed potato (and a masher)

Your savoury mince should be ready by now, so taste the sauce. If it tastes like it’s lacking something, try adding some more tomato puree (or ketchup), or a little salt.

Now it’s time to assemble the pie!

Pour the savoury mince into your oven-proof dish, and smooth it roughly level with a spatula. (You may want to preheat the dish; you can pop it in the oven for a few minutes, just remember to wear oven gloves!)

Photograph of an oval glass dish filled with a smooth layer of savoury mince

Add the mashed potato on top of the mince.  Make sure you add it a little at a time, or you’ll make a big dent in your mince. If you smooth out the mash with a fork, it gives you little ridges that go all crispy in the oven. Plus they look nice! Finally, add a little sprinkle of grated cheese.

Photograph of an oval glass dish filled with a layer of mashed potato, topped with grated cheese

Finally, crisp up the top of the pie in a hot oven (Gas Mark 6 or higher), or under the grill. Once all the cheese is melted, it’s ready to serve!

Photograph of a generous serving of cottage pie and peas on a white plate
Serve with a generous helping of peas or broccoli!

Like all my recipes, there are a lot of ways to make variations on cottage pie! You could try any of the different variations on savoury mince for the filling, or why not top with sweet potato instead? Or, if you want to impress your dinner companions, why not bake individual cottage pies? Just use a small oven-proof dish for each person (and a baking tray to make them easier to take in and out of the oven!)

Photograph of a small, oval, glass dish topped with sweet potato on a white plate with a serving of peas

If you make cottage pie with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!