Sometimes weekends are so choc-a-block full of things to do that sometimes we forget to plan or prepare for dinner. It happens, and we’re not ashamed to admit it, life sometimes just gets in the way.
Why We Chose This Recipe
After a cold winter’s day sometimes we just can’t be bothered cooking, it happens every now and we just loose track of time… That is when the inevitable occurs and we end up on the couch with a pizza feeling like fatties with all of the shame and guilt that accompanies the bloated feeling and residue of oil in the mouth.
Sometimes though, sometimes we are more prepared. Sometimes we think ahead –anticipating the ‘can’t be bothered cooking feeling’ and although it does not happen every time we sure do wish it did. You see, when we are prepared we smash dinner out of the park with an easily prepared, easily planned slow cooked meal – prepared way in advance.
Perfect, comforting recovery food after a long day in the garden trying to tame the mud pit or perfect after a long afternoon in the cold watching the footy and perfect on just about any cold winter’s day. In short sometimes feeling like an adult and remembering to plan a meal in advance is amazing.
Slow cooking and the use of a slow cooker wasn’t really something we had done much of prior to a few years ago. My mum particularly never used a slow cooker, always preferring (and still does) to use the fast paced pressure cooker. Every slow-cooked meal my Mum actually attempted resulted in the slow cooker being placed further, and further back into the cupboard – until one particularly bad piece of beef made us kids all hide it completely and all but erase it from existence.
I didn’t really give too much thought to slow-cooking after that, and why would I after experiencing nothing but failures (sorry Mum) – that was until I spent some time living in the UK, where the wet and cold is never far away and a warm hearty meal is the best cure. I had a new-found appreciation for all things stew and casserole, and being perpetually broke I was always looking for hearty, healthy, cheap meal. Using cheaper cuts of meat, and what ever winter vegetables were available, in abundance, and therefore cheap at the time just made sense. After a few winters living in London I got quite a bit of practice with the slow-cooked meals and have since developed a love for slow-cooked, tender mouth melting meat in a rich, hearty gravy accompanied with delicious winter veg.
After those years in London, and the years since I’ve had ample opportunity to get the slow cooker out and attempt different recipes and I’ve now settled into a good rhythm with a few ‘go-to’ recipes up my sleeve that always just seem to work, with this being one of them. The flavours are just so British and always take me back to a flat-share in run-down over-priced place in North London.
This meal has just about become a must-cook for winter and it definitely gets made a few times every year. The end result always just seems to work and taste good. The meal is just so versatile and the ingredients can be mixed and matched depending on what is available at the time or to individual tastes; Don’t like potato, don’t add it – try pumpkin instead. The price of parsnips has gone through the roof again? Try adding some extra (of the very under-rated) swede.
This recipe makes quite a large meal, it’d easily serve 5 or 6 people but is just as good to cook up for a couple of people as it is a large gathering. Accompanied with mash potato, roast or mashed pumpkin (we went with a roast pumpkin and Potato mash) or a thick crusty bread spread thick with butter this meal just puts me in a warm happy place. It keeps and re-heats perfectly for work lunches and left-overs are perfect to use as a base for a cottage or crusted pie.
Would we make these again?
Give this one a go and we’re sure you won’t be disappointed. Pull out the slow-cooker and just set and forget. It takes only around 20 mins of prep time the night before and a little planning ingredients-wise. A guaranteed pleaser of a dish that just feels like a nice big hug. Perfect for when you know you’re going to be way to busy to cook and just want a nice home-cooked meal instead of a fatty, fatty pizza.
The best kind of beef to use for this meal would be some kind of cheaper cut, specifically the ones for slow cooking, a good butcher will always be able to let you know what will be best and give you some rough advice on cooking times for different cuts. We’ve used Beef Cheeks for the meal in the photos, which means a particularly long (at least overnight) cook but Osso Bucco, Stewing or Casserole Beef work well as does Chuck Steak. These cuts are so delicious slow cooked they just melt in the mouth and fall off the bone (depending on the cut of meat).
Please note: This recipe is a slow-cooked recipe and takes up to 10–12 hours to cook, depending on the cut of meat used. Ensure you leave yourself adequate cooking time! This recipe is based on our experience using a slow-cooker (crock pot), we’re sure you can make it in a heavy- based pan on a stove top or in a casserole dish in an oven, just adjust cooking method accordingly.
- 2 beef cheeks (or around 350-500g of another ‘casserole’ cut of beef, see note above)
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 1 tsp cracked pepper (or less if your not a huge fan of pepper)
- 1 tbsp dried or fresh thyme
- 1 tsp butter/olive oil for frying
- 2 medium/large sized onions, thinly sliced
- 2 small/medium leeks, thinly sliced (use both white and green parts of the leek)
- 1 tbsp raw sugar
- apx 125mL water
- 330–375mL beer. We used a craft IPA that was in the fridge
- 400g tin diced tomatoes
- 250mL Beef Stock (a simple stock cube dissolved in water is totally
- 1 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
- 2x bay leaves
The beauty of this recipe is that it works with just about any additional veg you want to add. The below are combinations and veg that we’ve used before that we love, but really just use what you have, what you can afford or what you want. Pearl barley is a massive favourite to add, if you’ve never tried it in a stew give it a try.
- handful of mushrooms , fried and caramelised
- 1 parsnip
- 1 medium-sized swede
- 1 medium-sized turnip
- 2 carrots
- 2 small or one large potato
- 1 large Celery stick
- 1/4 cup Pearl Barley or ‘Soup Mix’. If you’re using soup mix be sure to follow packet directions first, some need to be soaked for hours before being added to meals.
- A few sprigs of rosemary and/or thyme
It begins in a frying pan…
- Cut beef into large chunks (If using Osso Bucco leave whole, on-bone). Place the beef, flour, cracked pepper, dried thyme and a pinch of salt into a freezer or zip lock bag (or into a large bowl) and shake (or mix) until all the beef has a light coating of the flour mixture.
- Heat up a large frying pan and add a little olive oil or butter. When the oil is hot add the beef, setting aside the remaining flour mixture. Fry in batches (do not add too much to the pan at once) and cook until the beef chunks are caramelised and browned. Set the meat aside in your slow-cooker pot. De-glaze the pan with a little water and add to the beef for extra flavour.
- Add a little more butter/oil to the pan and add the onion. Fry on low-heat until translucent. Add the leek and fry on low-heat for around 4-5 mins. Add the sugar and a little of the water. Stir and keep adding water a little bit at a time to stop the veggies drying out and burning. Add the onions and leeks to the slow-cooker pot.
- If you’re adding mushrooms lightly sauté them in the frying pan now and add to the slow-cooker pot.
Combine in slow cooker
- Add remaining vegetables to the slow-cooker pot and pour in the ale. Add the vinegar as well. The vinegar will help balance out the ‘hoppy’ taste of the ale. Add the tinned tomatoes, bay leaves and beef stock and stir throughly so all of the meat is mixed evenly through and not just sitting on the bottom of the pot. If you’re cooking with soup mix or pearl barley do not add salt to the meal now, it will stop the beans from softening up and the skins will be chewy – season with salt before serving.
- Place your slow cooker on according to the instructions on your slow cooker. We generally set ours to ‘high’ for the first few hours (or until bed time) and then switch to low.
- Thats it, simple. Leave the slow cooker to do its thing and cook away, slowly. Beef cheeks should be cooked over-night or for at least 10–12 hours. Other cuts of meat may be melty and ready after only 4-5 hours but, provided there is enough liquid in the slow cooker should not suffer any adverse effects if left on a little longer. If you can stir every 1-2 hours to ensure no ingredients are sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.
- Season with salt and pepper before serving. Serve with thick crusty bread, mashed potatoes, pumpkin or just as it is.
Always follow the instructions to your slow-cooker. We don’t recommend leaving your slow-cooker un-attended all day. Always ensure there is enough liquid in the slow-cooker to not burn any ingredients to the bottom of the pan.