14 July 2014

The winter kitchen

This winter has been the coldest winter in a long time in many parts of Australia. Where I live, we usually have a sprinkling of days in July and August when the night time temperature falls to about three or four degrees. This year we've had much more than that, and colder. Right now we're at the end of a two week run of cold nights and winds that go right through you. Australian houses where I live are set up for the heat rather than the cold. We don't have an open fire or a heater as such; we have reverse cycle air conditioning but I don't like using it. Hanno and I disagree on the safety of wood burning stoves. I would like to have one for winter warmth, he thinks they're polluting and unhealthy.

So in times such as these, when winter winds make us all rug up, I turn to my kitchen for warmth. I make casseroles, soups, roasts and other slow cooking meals that give the impression of warmth when it's cooking, then fulfils the promise when we eat it. So far, it's kept me going.

The one dish I keep returning to on very cold days is beef casserole. It's easy to prepare, nutritious, hearty and when I cook it in the slow cooker, it takes only about 20 minutes to prepare. If you're working outside the home on these cold winter days, there would be nothing better than this dish to welcome you back home at night. If you could prepare this meal on a Sunday afternoon, and make a double portion, you'd have two excellent winter warmer meals for two of your work days during the week.  

I know there are quite a few readers who don't cook much. I had an email from a young man last week who told me that it's been two years since he left home and he's only cooked three meals. I want you all to try this so I'm giving basic instructions for all the new cooks. Following this recipe will give you a superb meal that can be the basis of your expanding recipe file.  Here's is the step-by-step guide on how to do it.

This ingredients list is based on a family of four to eight, depending on ages. Please adjust to your own circumstances but remember, even if it's just one or two in your family, this will sit very well in the fridge for two days or it can be frozen in portions and eaten later.
You'll need:
  • about 1kg/2.2lbs gravy beef, shin beef or blade steak - cut in 5 cm/2 inch squares. Meat cooked slowly will shrink and having the meat in bigger portions helps it stay moist.
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 5cm/2 inch pieces
  • 2 sticks of celery, cut into 5cm/2 inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons plain/all purpose flour
  • two tablespoons paprika - you could substitute chilli, curry power or curry paste
  • ½ cup chopped parsley

Optional extras: if you have vegetables in the fridge that have to be eaten, this is the ideal dish to add them to. Any of these would be ideal - capsicum/pepper, zucchini, turnips, parsnips, a small amount of cabbage, cauliflower, kale, silverbeet/chard, Brussel sprouts, sweet potato, potatoes.

On Sunday afternoon, or in the morning before you go to work: 
  1. Cut the meat into large squares.
  2. Place plain flour, salt, pepper, paprika (or chilli/curry) into a bowl and mix.
  3. Coat the meat in the seasoned flour.
  4. Put a large frying pan on the stove and add two tablespoons of cooking oil. I use virgin olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add half the meat and brown it on all sides. Remove the meat and repeat with the other half. Remove the meat. Remember, you're just browning the outside of the meat at this point. You're not cooking it. Browning the meat will give the casserole a deep, rich flavour, so don't skip this step.
  1. Into the same pan, add all the vegetables and brown them for about five minutes. 
  2. If there is any seasoned flour left over, add it and mix it in.
  3. Add the meat back to the pan with the vegetables. At this point, it should look like the photo above.
  1. Pour over enough water to just cover the meat. Not too much water, just enough to cover.
  2. Stir the meat until the sauce starts to thicken.
  3. When the sauce is thick, pour the casserole into your slow cooker, add the parsley and put the lid on. Remember, nothing is cooked at this stage. You've just developed the flavours and caramelised your ingredients. They will cook in the slow cooker.
  1. If you're doing this on Sunday, place the inner part of the slow cooker in the fridge at this point. Tomorrow morning as soon as you get up, take it out of the fridge and sit it on the bench for a while so it's not going on the heat straight from the fridge. Take no notice of this step if you're cooking it straight away.
  2. When you're ready to cook the casserole, turn the slow cooker onto the low setting if you're going to leave it all day, or high if you want to eat the meal in about four hours.
  3. Place the lid on. Make sure there is nothing touching the slow cooker - no tea towel or plastic cups etc.
This must cook for at least four hours but can be left all day or overnight on a low setting if you prefer. Depending on what vegetables you've included, you won't have to add anything else. But if you want to bulk this meal out a bit for the men and boys in the family you could serve it with rice, buttered noodles, dumplings, mashed potato or crusty bread.  The beauty of this dish is that when you walk into your home after a hard day's work, you'll smell this cooking and you'll know you have a hearty meal ready to serve when you're ready to eat it. Ask everyone to put away their coats and bags, wash their hands, and get the children to set the table while you're mashing the potatoes and pouring the drinks.

Any leftover casserole can be placed in a covered bowl for eating tomorrow or in a freezer bag or container for eating at another time. I hope you enjoy it. Next week, I'll share an equally delicious chicken meal that can be cooked while you're out at work or busy at home with other things.



  1. Rhonda, Please check out Rocket Mass Heaters. They burn cleanly and store heat very well for slow release to your home. Being in an area where you only need it a few times a year, you could easily get away with a very small unit that will burn sticks and such from around your property. Also rocket stoves, or rocket masonry heaters. Cheers,

  2. This sounds like a fantastic meal. Thanks so much.
    JB from New Brunswick, Canada

  3. Having a well insulated home helps keep your house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. If you can add insulation and thermal windows it's always a savings for a/c and heating. There are many new wood burning stoves that burn wood efficiently and cleanly so you may want to check them out like James said.

  4. Yum, looking forward to next weeks chicken delight!

  5. I truly love my slow cooker in winter. I've been getting into the habit of spending one day a month dicing onion, carrot, and celery and dividing into ready-to-use portions to keep in the freezer. It has made it very easy to simply tip these prechopped ingredients into the slow cooker with meat, lentils etc in the morning. It is such a relief to walk in the front door after a long cold day to be greeted by delicious smells wafting from the kitchen!

    In terms of winter heat we have a gas fireplace which we just love. It's the only heating in our whole house and is installed in an original fireplace. I usually put it on for 30 minutes or so while I'm making dinner and that's enough heat to keep us warm all evening. It's a nice compromise between the atmosphere of a wood fire and the practicality of gas in the city. Stay warm! xx

  6. Hasn't it been cold this year! It takes me back to the winters of my childhood. Perfect weather for a warming stew :) Stay warm Rhonda x

  7. I live in the Midwest of the USA, where we had a very cold winter. Now the Polar Vortex is returning this next week. In what is usually the hottest time of the year! Instead of subzero temps as we had in January, we will have highs around 70 (Fahrenheit). But our normal high is 85. I knew I had a whole chicken in the freezer and thought it a perfect week for chicken soup. It is defrosting right now, ready to be stewed on Tuesday or Wednesday. I hope this does not mean another cold and snowy winter come December...

    1. Brenda, I am glad you posted this. I live in Indiana and had not heard that the cooler weather coming to us this week is due to the Polar Vortex. Interesting! I am MUCH more welcoming of the Polar Vortex in July than I was in January!

  8. Yes it has been cold here on the Darling Downs too. Our house is insulated but still cold and we don't turn on the heater until we really have to now that electricity rates have gone up here in Queensland. I think we have been spoiled by mild winters for a few years and above average autumn temps which didn't ease us into winter. Still, a frosty morning means a sunny day so that is a blessing. The slow cooker is getting a good workout in this weather.

  9. I was going to make curry chicken tonight but as I haven't got all the slices I might make this and also it can go in the slow cooker at lunch time so I don't have to cook tonight. Good timing and yes Brisbane got down to 2.6 degrees on Saturday which is really unheard of. 20 years since it was hat cold. Have a good week. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

  10. Your recipe sounds delicious. I can't wait to make it.

    Our house in Dalby is an old Queenslander cottage with no insulation and single pane windows. A huge change for me, coming from the midwest of the US. We have a gas heater in addition to the reverse cycle air conditioner that we've been over-using and I'm sure come the bill, we'll regret it.

    We've only been here a year, so we're still getting up to speed on the weather and everything else. Well, that's my excuse for this year anyway. So happy I came across your blog and book at the library. I'm reading both ends of your blog!


  11. My slow cooker has been working overtime with this cold snap. I have never seen so many days of frost so early in the season...and I did not plan for it with my garden either. The beef stew looks yummy Rhonda :)

  12. In the UK we are used to more cold weather than warm as a rule.
    Stews & casseroles are what keeps us going too.
    Hope you warm up soon Rhonda.
    Best wishes,
    Angela (south England) UK

  13. Thank you for posting basic recipes on your blog Rhonda. I believe it's hard for women of my generation to even comprehend that quite a lot of the younger generation are unable to cook from scratch. I think I understood a little better last week while I was looking up the 'red dot specials' at Woolies. Out of 59 items (I think), there were only 3 that weren't packet foods...Omo, scotch fillet and fabric softener. The rest were all in packets or cardboard boxes! People on a budget are obviously going to look through the catalogues and stock up on 'specials'. They don't really stand a chance do they?

  14. That sounds so yummy! You explain cooking very well. I'm wishing I had some meat in the freezer now that I've read your recipe. I have some bacon ends though so think I might cook a soup tomorrow. It's the first time I've used bacon ends so I'm not really sure what to make. Surely just any soup I would normally put bacon with?

  15. This is one of my favorite type of meals, just the thing I like to make in the winter. Thank you for sharing the directions - how wonderful for people who haven't cooked much to have you walk them through the recipe!

    We have heat installed in our home, but the house also has a wood stove that was in the home when we bought it. We use it first for heat, and as it is in the basement our floors are toasty warm all winter. Sometime winters we don't even turn the heat on due to the wood stove.


  16. This looks so good. I will try it your way next time I make a slow cooked beef. Thank you.

  17. We must have been on the same wavelength, Rhonda! I made the slow cooker beef casserole on the weekend and DS finished the leftovers last night. I put potato in mine to fill DS and also to save extra saucepan washing. Pea and ham soup tonight with extra serves that will go in the freezer. I'll defrost the wholemeal buns to have with it :).

  18. That is a great example of simple nourishing meals, Rhonda. I've been cooking that since I moved out of home into my first flat when I was 21, and I still cook it on a regular basis during ever winter, adding whatever extra vegies I have in the fridge each time. I don't have a slow cooker; I just cook mine in a Corning Ware casserole in the oven for around 2 hours at about 160 deg. C. It is a very forgiving recipe - I just check the oven every now and then to make sure it isn't drying out.

  19. This recipe is so delicious! I made it today and the directions were so clear and foolproof! It has a perfect blend of flavors and is so hearty and filling! Thank you for taking the time to share it! Definetly making this again!


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