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 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!

How to Grate Anything (except your fingers)

A grater is a very useful piece of kitchen equipment; so much so that it made it into my top 20 (link)! It’s a great (or should that be ‘grate’) tool for quickly chopping ingredients very finely.

A grater is essentially a metal plate with sharpened holes in it. You can get a variety of shapes and sizes, but my favourite is a box grater because it has multiple sizes of holes in the one tool. Also, your grated ingredients (mostly) collect neatly underneath.

To use a grater, hold it steady in one hand. (Usually your non-dominant hand.) Hold your ingredients in your other hand, and apply gentle pressure as you rub your ingredients up and down the grater. Just keep your fingers out of the way – while graters aren’t as sharp as knives, they can still break your skin.

I think perhaps the most common ingredient to grate is cheese. Grated cheese is perfect for on top of pasta dishes, mashed potato, or in sandwiches. You can buy grated cheese, but it’s often much cheaper to grate your own, and it’s a good ingredient to practice grating. If you have, for example, a large block of cheese, you can grate quite quickly, especially if you’re not using all of it. However, the closer your fingers are to the grater, the more slowly you need to grate.

I also like to add grated vegetables (and even fruits like apple) to enrich sauces for dishes like pasta and curry. (All the flavours meld together in a blend of deliciousness!) The easiest vegetables to grate are those that are quite sturdy, particularly root vegetables like our old friend the carrot.

When grating a carrot you’ll want to chop the bottom (or ‘tail’) end off, and cut out any blemishes as usual. However, if you leave the top end on for now, you can use it as a ‘handle’ as you grate, to help keep your fingers safely out of the way. Other vegetables that come with their own ‘handles’ include parsnips and courgettes. With rounder root vegetables like sweet potatoes, you may find they need chopping into smaller chunks before they’ll fit on the grater.

There are many more ingredients you can grate, including chocolate and even some spices! But the best thing about a grater is that once you know how to grate one thing, you can grate most of the rest of them too! It’s a really useful kitchen skill.

How to Make Pot Roast Vegetables

Whether you’re making Sunday lunch, Christmas dinner, or just a warm winter treat, pot roast vegetables are melt-in-the-mouth delicious!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • an oven-proof dish
  • 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)
  • ½ large or 1 small swede
  • 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
  • 1-2 parsnips
  • dried mixed herbs
  • salt
  • oil

 

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

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

Put your chopped vegetables into your oven-proof dish.

Photograph of an orange oven dish filled with chopped carrot, onion, potato, and swede

Add salt, oil, and herbs to the dish. You just need to cover the vegetables in the dish, like in the picture below.

Pot Roast Vegetables 2

Stir or shake your seasonings and vegetables together. Photograph of an orange oven dish filled with chopped carrot, onion, potato, and swede, lightly coated in herbs and oil

Place the lid on your dish and put it into the oven. It will take about two hours to cook from here.

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

After your dish has been cooking for about an hour, add your sweet potato and parsnip chunks. Give your veggies another good stir or shake together, but be careful – it’s hot!

Photograph of an orange oven dish filled with chopped carrot, onion, potato, swede, parsnip, and sweet potato, lightly coated in herbs and oil

After another hour in the oven, your dish will be ready to serve! Serve it alongside whatever source of protein you fancy – it goes fantastically with a huge range of meat and veggie options!

Photograph of a brown serving dish filled with roasted carrot, onion, potato, swede, parsnip, and sweet potato

You can roast a huge variety of vegetables, this recipe is just the start! Feel free to play with the seasonings too – try adding pepper, or using sage, rosemary and thyme instead of a pre-made mix of dried herbs.

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

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