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 Dumplings

Dumplings are an old-fashioned starch that have fallen out of favour somewhat, but they’re a great alternative to potatoes in casseroles and stews. This is a slightly more advanced recipe than a lot of those here on How to Chop a Carrot, but once you’ve got the hang of them dumplings are a great addition to your repertoire!

Although I’ve given the weights in the ingredients, you don’t need any scales for this recipe! I’ll explain how to measure everything using just a couple of spoons!

You will need:

  • a mixing bowl
  • a tablespoon
  • a teaspoon

and the ingredients (for four servings):

  • 4oz/100g self-raising flour (or plain flour and baking powder)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1tsp dried herbs
  • 2oz/50g suet
  • water

Suet is a very important ingredient for dumplings. Suet is basically small lumps of hard fat, coated in flour. So, if you don’t have any, you can make a suet substitute by grating a hard, white fat (like lard) into flour. Make sure that the fat is well chilled before and after grating – it needs to melt as the dumplings cook, not before.

To make your dumplings, start by measuring your flour. Heap as much flour as you can on a tablespoon. This is approximately one ounce (oz) of flour, and you need four of these. If you’re using baking powder, add a heaped teaspoon to the flour.

Photograph of a heaped tablespoon of flour, and a heaped teaspoon of baking powder

Next, add your seasonings to your flour. A quarter teaspoon of salt, and a generous sprinkling of herbs. Stir the dry ingredients together, making sure there are no lumps.

Photograph of a mixing bowl filled with flour, with small amounts of dried herbs visible

Now measure your suet. A rounded tablespoon (where the mound above the spoon is roughly the same as the bowl underneath) is roughly an ounce of suet. Add two to your flour mix.

Photograph of a rounded tablespoon of suet

Gently stir your suet into the flour. Don’t stir too hard or fast, or you’ll squish the suet.

Photograph of a mixing bowl full of dry ingredients

Now we’re going to add the water. To get the right consistency, I recommend mixing with your hands. The exact amount of water you need can vary depending on a lot of different factors, so it’s best to add it a little at a time. You want just enough water to make your ingredients stick together. In fact, when you get it right, the dough should form a neat ball, leaving your mixing bowl and hands pretty clean. If your dough is too crumbly, it needs more water; and if it’s too sticky it needs more flour.

Photograph of a round, pale ball of dough in a mixing bowl

To shape the dumplings, start by cutting your dough into eight pieces. (I find the easiest way to do this is by halving three times.) As quickly and gently as you can, roll each one into a ball, and flatten it slightly. Unless your dumplings are going in the oven straight away, pop them in the fridge to chill.

Photograph of eight round dumplings on an aluminium tray

Dumplings are steamed, so to cook your dumplings gently float them on top of your casserole or stew. They take about half an hour to cook at Gas Mark 3 or 4 (150-180°C). To make sure they rise properly, don’t open the oven door or take the lid off your stew for 20 minutes after you’ve put them in. After this, you can take the lid off to brown the tops of the dumplings.

Photograph of eight pale, round dumplings floating on a red casserole

When dumplings cook, they should roughly double in size. And once they’re cooked, they will sound hollow if you tap them gently.

Photograph of eight larger, golden, round dumplings floating on a red casserole

Dumplings are wonderfully warming on chilly days!

Photograph of a brown bowl filled with beef casserole and dumplings

The trick to fluffy dumplings is to make them as quickly as you can, and give them time to chill before they go in the oven. (It also helps if your hands are cold!) And to make them perfectly match every casserole you make, simply change which herb you use. Some of my favourites are sage dumplings for beef casserole, and parsley dumplings for chicken.

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

How to Chop a Leek

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Like onions, leeks are a type of allium. In fact, they taste rather like a soft, mild, onion. And they look like a giant, tough, spring onion! So if you’re already familiar with chopping spring onions (tutorial here), chopping leeks is quite easy.

Now it’s a step I’ve been known to skip with a lot of veggies, but it is important to wash your leeks. The reason is that the structure of leeks is exceptionally good at trapping small amounts of dirt. Because of this, you may find it easier to rinse leeks after chopping them.

Hand drawing of a green and white leek

To start chopping your leek, first remove about 1cm off the root end. Also remove the dried out ends of the leaves, and any dried out whole leaves. (Some people recommend removing all the dark green parts – while these are slightly tougher they soften when cooked, especially when slow-cooked.)

Hand drawing of a green and white leek with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

For slow-cooking, I recommend chunks of leek. Starting from the green end of the leek, simply cut off chunks about 2cm (a little under an inch) long. These chunks are perfect for roasts and casseroles, and they take about an hour to cook at Gas Mark 4 (180°, or 160° fan).

Hand drawing of a trimmed green and white leek with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

For faster cooking, slice your leek instead. Just like with chunks of leek, start from the green end of the leek. (This helps the leek stay together while you cut.) For most uses, I recommend slices about ½ cm thick, which you can pan-fry in 10-15 minutes. Thinner slices will cook faster.

Hand drawing of a trimmed green and white leek with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

When cooked, leeks become soft and translucent, just like onions do.

Leeks are great for giving a milder, sweeter, onion-y taste to dishes. They’re especially good with potatoes – why not try frying some sliced leeks in butter, and mixing them in with mashed potatoes? They’re also great in casseroles!

How to Chop a Swede – into chunks

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Hand drawing of a swede

 

 

 

 

Swedes, also called rutabaga and occasionally turnips, are a tough root vegetable with surprisingly bright yellow flesh. They’re a great winter vegetable!

 

 

 

Starting from one end of the swede, chop off a thin layer of the thick skin or dried up flesh. Then cut off a slice about 2cm (a little under an inch) thick.

Hand drawing of a swede showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

The skin of swedes is very tough, so it’s best to peel it off. I find it easiest to do this one slice at a time – lay the slice of swede on your chopping board and cut downwards around the edges. For some of the slices, you may need to angle your knife a little. Just remember to keep your fingers out of the way.

Hand drawing of a slice of swede showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Keep cutting off and peeling slices until you’ve got as much swede as you want to cook. (You can get swedes in quite a lot of different sizes; the big ones will often last for two meals.) Chop each peeled slice into chunks about 2cm (a little under 1 inch) on each side. Remember we want the chunks to all be about the same size, so that they cook at about the same time, and absorb any flavours from herbs, spices, or sauces evenly too.

Hand drawing of a slice of swede showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Swedes are very hard, so they can be difficult to chop. Make sure you’ve got a good, sharp knife, and you may want to practice your chopping skills on carrots and potatoes before you tackle a swede.

These swede chunks are perfect for roasts, casseroles, and stews. They take about 2 hours to cook in an oven at Gas Mark 4 (180°C, 160°C in a fan oven). You can also boil swede, although I’d recommend cutting it into smaller pieces. Once they’re cooked, swede chunks should be soft enough to easily poke a fork into.

A photograph of casseroled swede chunks on a grey plate

How to Chop a Parsnip – into chunks

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Parsnips are a funny-looking vegetable – they’re a bit like carrots but much paler and their shape is kind of exaggerated. Parsnips are quite soft for a root vegetable, and they have a unique flavour. In this tutorial, we’ll be making parsnip chunks.

Just like with carrots, it’s best if you can avoid peeling your parsnips to preserve the mineral content. Rinse them off under clean running water, and give them a scrub with a clean washing-up brush if they need it.

Chop the very top and bottom off the parsnip. When you chop the top off, check for for brown discolouration inside. If there is any, just chop a little bit more off the top.

Hand drawing of a parsnip showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

(If there are any other blemishes, you can cut a small ‘V’ shape either side of the blemish to get rid of it, just like with carrots.)

The shape of a parsnip makes it a little harder to cut chunks all the same size. Remember, we’re aiming for chunks about 2cm (a little under an inch) on each side. So I would start from the skinny end of the parsnip, like in the picture below.

Hand drawing of a parsnip showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

When you reach the top of the parsnip, place it on its flat surface to cut it into thirds or quarters, depending how wide it is. Hand drawing of a parsnip chunk showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Chunks of parsnip are great in roasts, but they’re good in casseroles and stews too. Because they’re soft, parsnips only take an hour to cook in an oven at Gas Mark 4 (180°C, 160°C in a fan oven). Once they’re cooked, parsnips should be soft enough to easily poke a fork into.

A photograph of roast parsnip chunks on a blue-grey plate

How to Make Sausage Casserole

Casserole is one of my favourite winter dishes. It does take a couple of hours in the oven, but it doesn’t take much preparation. This is a good, basic recipe to get you started with casseroles.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • an oven-proof dish
  • a measuring jug
  • a kettle
  • an oven
  • oven gloves

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • 4 medium carrots (about the length of your hand)
  • 2 medium onions
  • 4 potatoes (about the size of your fist)
  • 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
  • 8 sausages (meat or vegetarian)
  • stock cube
  • frozen peas (I like petits pois)

 

Start by turning on your oven to Gas Mark 4, 180° (160° fan).

Chop your carrots, onions, and potatoes into chunks. (You can find more detailed instructions here: carrots, onions, potatoes)

Boil the kettle and make up about half a litre of stock. Different stock cubes vary, so make sure to read the instructions!

Put your chopped vegetables, and meat sausages if you’re using them, into your oven-proof dish. Pour in the stock. Your vegetables and sausages should be more or less covered by the liquid. If they’re not, add a little more hot water from the kettle.

Photograph of a glass dish filled with chopped onions, carrots, and potatoes, and sausages. The ingredients are mostly covered by liquid.

Place the lid on your dish and put it into the oven. It will take about two hours to cook from here. Because of all the liquid, casserole is unlikely to burn. It’s best to stay where you can smell it, but you don’t need to watch it the whole time.

Chop your sweet potato into chunks. (More detailed instructions here: sweet potato)

After your dish has been cooking for about an hour, add your sweet potato chunks.  If you’re using vegetarian sausages add these too. You can stir everything together if you want, but be careful – it’s hot!

Photograph of a glass dish filled with cooked chopped sweet potato, onions, carrots, and potatoes, and sausages. The level of liquid is lower than in the first photo.

About five minutes before you want to serve your dish, take it out of the oven and stir in the frozen peas. The peas will cook from the heat in the dish, and then you’re ready to serve!

Photograph of a brown dish filled with sausage casserole, on a brown plate with a brown bread roll.
Sausage casserole is a complete meal by itself, but it also goes great with a nice brown bread to soak up all the gravy!

You can create a lot of yummy variations on a good sausage casserole. You can add all sorts of different root vegetables, herbs such as sage or rosemary, and spices such as paprika. You might also want to add salt – I haven’t included any in this recipe because the stock and sausages can be salty enough by themselves.

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

How to Chop a Sweet Potato – into chunks

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Sweet potatoes are a fun alternative to ordinary potatoes, or just a great vegetable in their own right! They’re softer than carrots and potatoes, so they cook more quickly too.

Although you can eat the skin of a sweet potato, it is very tough and tasteless. So this is one of the very few vegetables I would peel. This means we don’t need to check the sweet potato over for blemishes – they’ll all come off with the skin. Some people like to use a peeler, but I prefer to use a simple kinfe method which I’ve explained below.

Start by chopping the very ends off the sweet potato. Sometimes these will be little pointy root ends, and sometimes they’ll be flat (see picture below).

Hand drawing of a sweet potato showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Next, cut the sweet potato in half widthways. This gives you a flat surface to rest the sweet potato on while you peel it. Cut thin strips of skin off from the top to the bottom, making sure to keep your fingers out of the way.

Hand drawing of half a sweet potato showing peeling guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

Once your sweet potato is peeled, there are a couple of ways to chop it into chunks. The first is, like with potatoes, to just keep halving until you reach chunks about 2cm (a little under 1 inch) on each side. You could also start by cutting slices about 2cm thick, and then chopping each slice into chunks.

 

Sweet potato chunks

Whichever method you choose, try and make sure your chunks are all about the same size. This lets them cook at about the same time, and absorb any flavours from herbs, spices, or sauces evenly too.

These sweet potato chunks are perfect for roasts and casseroles, and take about 1 hour to cook in an oven at Gas Mark 4 (180°C, 160°C in a fan oven). Once they’re cooked, they should be soft and sweet. Beware of overcooking them though – they’ll still taste good but they tend to fall to pieces!

Photograph of roasted sweet potato chunks on a white plate