It’s really getting cold now, with thick layers of ice on everything seeming commonplace, and it seems like my slow cooker is going on very frequently in an attempt to combat the incessantly encroaching cold. Before I left to go to work the other day I put a beef and Guinness casserole in the slow cooker and it was an absolute delight to come home to. The minute I walked in the front door I was hit by the rich, rib-sticking aroma of beef that had been slow-cooked in deep, yeasty beer. Heaven indeed.
Yesterday morning I realised that I wasn’t really in the mood for cooking anything complicated for dinner so I made a beef casserole in the slow cooker which I served with buttered neeps and it was delicious. Although I would usually make the base of my casseroles with diced onion or shredded white leeks it’s sadly a very high FODMAP food so it’s off the menu. However, I’ve read that the green leafy tops of leeks are actually low FODMAP and therefore are suitable to eat without feeling any unwanted side effects.
Now, I’ve thought about testing this before, but I’m so reluctant to buy leeks (or spring onions whose green tops are also fine) because I’d be unable to use the full vegetable and it would go to waste. Thankfully however, my aunt and uncle who have an allotment generously gave me two huge leeks that had beautiful, massive, flourishing green tops and I certainly wasn’t going to waste time in putting them to good use. The oniony flavour of the leek tops within the beef casserole was also enhanced by the addition of a bouquet garni, which is a muslin bag or tea bag case that’s filled with dried herbs, such as thyme, bay leaves and rosemary and it infuses the herby flavours throughout the casserole as it slowly cooks throughout the day.
I’ve written about the numerous benefits of using a slow cooker before and today is no different. I just love the fact that you can throw fairly cheap ingredients into the slow cooker and leave it to cook throughout the day, allowing all of the composite flavours to meld together to create a rich, unctuous casserole that greets you after a long day at work.
This beef casserole with buttered neeps is an incredibly easy, but luxurious and flavoursome, meal. Its slow cooked beef melts in the mouth and is accompanied by the soft, sweet carrots that have been lightly seasoned with the herby flavours of the bouquet garni. It’s just a great slow cooked casserole that’ll satisfy the whole family.
700g casserole beef
4 large carrots (cut into bite-sized pieces)
50g of green leek tips (thinly shredded)
80g gluten-free gravy granules (At the time of writing, Tesco’s G/F gravy is good because it does not contain onion powder.)
A litre of boiling water
1 neep (or swede) peeled & cut into small chunks (no more than 240g of prepared neep/swede in total)
30g butter (or dairy-free version)
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
Leave your slow cooker to cook all day.
To make the buttered neeps cut your neep or turnip into small chunks and boil in heavily salted water until soft.
Drain and mash before adding the butter and white pepper and mashing further. Taste for seasoning and then serve alongside the beef casserole.
Now that spring is creeping in, with its sporadic sunny, but chilly days it’s tempting to get work done in the garden. However, I know fine well that if I’m going to be working in the garden all day the last thing I’ll feel like doing when I get in is cooking a decent meal from scratch. I think a hot bath to take the chill from my bones (helped along by a warming glass of wine or two) will be a much stronger calling. So it was with a great deal of foresight that I prepared this beef madras in the slow cooker before I headed outside the other day.
The beauty of using the slow cooker to cook a curry is that it allows the spicy flavours to permeate into the casserole beef throughout the whole day while the slow cooking process also tenderises the meat. As a result, you’ve got a wonderful meal to come home to after a hard day’s work with very little effort and minimal prep work involved.
Upon tasting this beef madras, I discovered that it was a bit on the spicy side for my family so I kept my (dairy-free) portion aside and added lactose-free double cream into the rest. I don’t mind quite a generous amount of heat in my curries, but the addition of the cream seemed to be a resounding success with my family because it tamped down the heat of the chilli in the curry while adding a luxurious richness. Equally, you could omit the madras curry powder and use a garam masala curry powder instead, which will add flavour, but not heat.
If you like meals that involve very little work to prepare and curries with plenty of body and flavour then this beef madras is definitely one for you to try.
Some time ago a friend of mine asked me if I’d consider doing a blog post on fajitas, but every time I made chicken fajitas I never felt as though they were interesting enough to feature on my website. However, I came to realise that this was down to two reasons. One, I’m utterly bored to death with eating chicken in fajitas when there are much more interesting options out there instead. And two, I needed to know more about how Mexicans created authentic fajitas (i.e. what meat did they tend to use? How did they marinate it? And what herbs and spices did they use?). This realisation led me into an investigative journey into the chemistry that creates a fantastic fajita.
WARNING! SCIENCE AHEAD! READ ON AT YOUR PERIL!
(But it’s quite interesting so I’d keep reading if I were you…)
The perfect fajita is made up of a number of components which come together to produce a wonderful medley of Mexican flavours: a warmed soft tortilla; juicy, slightly seared around the edges meat which is encrusted in paprika, cumin and chilli; and soft, buttery guacamole that’s sharp, but aromatic, with freshly squeezed lime juice. Bliss.
Although, there’s more to it than just serving the right combination of ingredients for people to cram into a tortilla, the meat’s got to be treated right in the first place in order for it to give its all to the diner’s palate. That’s where the chemistry comes in. Upon investigation, I’ve discovered that the best meat to serve when making fajitas is beef. To be precise, good quality lean skirt steak (also known as flank).
The unique structural fibres of steak enable it to absorb the oils, acids and salts of a marinade much better than chicken or pork ever could and allow it to retain the flavours of the herbs and spices we choose to add, but it’s the important chemical effect of the marinade that leads to the production of a beautifully soft and juicy piece of cooked beef.
The best steak fajita marinade will always contain three elements: oil; acid; and salt. The oil works on three levels: it emulsifies the marinade and allows it to coat the beef efficiently; it dissolves the oil-soluble flavour compounds within the spices, enabling them to be absorbed into the meat; and it also provides a protective layer around the meat when you cook it over a high heat, hopefully helping it to retain its natural moisture. The acid, in the form of fresh lime juice, tenderises the meat and breaks down the connective tissue, leading to a softer and easier to chew mouthful of beef. And lastly, the marinade’s salt content dissolves myosin (a muscle protein) which gives the beef a slacker texture and helps retain its moisture. Also, by using soy sauce instead of plain old salt it introduces glutamate and protease (found naturally in soy sauce) into the marinade which add umami flavours and tenderise the meat further.
I did warn you there’d be science.
In an ideal world I’d marinade the steak fajita strips overnight to really let the flavours be absorbed by the meat, but if you take the notion to make these I think you can get away with an hour’s marinating (that’s what I did, to be honest). And in terms of cooking the meat, cook it fast over a really high heat and try to cook the steak medium to enable the natural juices of the steak to remain.
Serve the steak fajitas with a plethora of delicious accompaniments so that the people at your dining table can build the perfect fajita to suit themselves. Sombreros and stick-on handlebar moustaches are entirely optional though.
Ingredients for the marinade:
500g of skirt steak (cut into strips)
1 heaped tsp paprika
1 heaped tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp celery salt
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground chilli
¼ tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsps. tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
The juice of 1 lime
100g red bell pepper (cut into thin slices)
100g green bell pepper (cut into thin slices)
8 corn tortillas (or gluten-free tortillas)
To make a basic guacamole:
The juice of ½ a lime
8 cherry tomatoes (quartered)
¼ tsp fine salt
Put the steak strips in a large bowl and add all the ingredients into the bowl with it (apart from your guacamole ingredients, obviously). Stir it all thoroughly and leave to marinade.
When you’re happy that your meat’s marinated enough put a griddle pan or a large frying pan over a high heat.
Drain and discard the liquid from the steak marinade before putting the steak and the slices of pepper into the hot pan.
Cook the steak to your preferred liking. Once cooked, put the steak in a serving bowl and cover with foil and let it rest for 5 mins while you make the guacamole.
To make the guacamole:
Half your avocados and remove the stone. Use a spoon to scoop out the avocado flesh and mash it in a bowl before adding the rest of the guacamole ingredients. Mix them all together and place in a serving bowl.
Serve your steak fajitas with warm, soft tortilla wraps, the guacamole, chopped fresh coriander, salsa, crème fraiche or sour cream (or a non-dairy version), re-fried beans, grated cheese (or a non-dairy version), and slices of fresh chilli.