Saturday, April 14, 2012

More than just stir-fries and salads

Mum and Dad were in Christchurch the other day, and kindly brought me some fruit and vege from their garden. Among these were a number of green peppers, which made me laugh, since my own capsicum plant is doing very well.

With a surfeit of green peppers to deal with, I ate a number of stir-fries and similar, before remembering an Edmonds recipe that would take care of the final remaining pepper: beef and pepper casserole (p123). This was the only variation of the standard beef casserole recipe that remained uncompleted.

I took some chuck steak out of the freezer the following morning, and when I got home from work, set about chopping it into cubes, and dusting with flour. Then I got the onions cooking while I chopped the pepper and added it to the pan.

An added bonus of choosing this recipe is that I got to use the cast-iron casserole dish that was a Christmas present from my parents. Since my Summer eating consists of salads and other light meals, the dish has been waiting patiently in the cupboard for the weather to cool down. I expect I'll use it a lot during the winter.

I transferred the onions and capsicums from the frying pan to the casserole dish, and began browning the meat. I'd made my usual mistake of flouring the meat too early and allowing it to get gooey. It was messy trying to separate the pieces as I scooped them into the frying pan, where they started to brown alarmingly fast.

Here I discovered the cause of  my milk scorching the night before. Of the large elements on my stove, I don't generally use the right-hand one, the left being handier to the bench. I'd switched while cooking the onions, because the left-hand element does not sit quite flat, and food doesn't cook evenly. It was only when I put the meat in that I realised the element was red-hot, despite a medium-low heat setting.

So that explains the burnt milk, and now I have the delight of selecting either an uneven element, or one with dodgy temperature control, whenever I'm cooking in a decent-sized pan. Meanwhile, I persevered with the scarily hot element long enough to brown the meat, and placed it in the casserole dish on top of the onions and peppers.

I was quite surprised to see that the next step involved heating stock in a separate saucepan, then adding carrots, seasoning and a bouquet garni, before transferring the stock to the casserole dish. I don't recall this step in the previous variations of this recipe I completed, so either I've forgotten or I missed that instruction previously. Well, I was making my stock up from powder and boiling water, so that didn't need heating, and I wasn't about to dirty a pot for no reason. I ignored the instruction and added everything straight into the casserole dish.

The casserole had been in the oven a bit over an hour when I went back into the kitchen to mix up some dumplings. I took the casserole out of the oven, plonked in a few dumplings, and put it back. In another 15 minutes or so, I was ladelling out a bowlful of casserole and dumplings.

Beef and pepper casserole does not differ greatly from the other variations I've tried - they're all nice, though I still maintain this recipe is more of a stew than a casserole. The only difference was, of course, the green peppers, which were a far more successful addition than I anticipated. I usually have them raw in salads or lightly stir-fried to keep the crunch. Casseroled, they are not crunchy, but instead have a lovely silken texture. So bear that in mind if you're ever inundated with capsicums - there's nothing wrong with a good stir-fry, but it's not your only option.

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