Cooking on a budget to escape the winter blues

By Jimmy Boswell

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Winter is a time when we see a rise in our power bills due to the cold weather. Many of us are on a tight budget so I thought this week I would chat about using cheaper cuts of beef such as gravy beef (shin), blade, and chuck steak that give us wonderful meals and help keep us within our household budget.

Inexpensive cuts of beef are my first choice when I am making winter warmers in my slow cooker. They have bags of flavour and are far cheaper allowing us to serve a full flavoured stew for sometimes up to half the cost of other leaner cuts.

Shin, chuck, neck, skirt and blade

These are the best-known type of braising beef cuts and are cheaper and often on special. Braising refers to the cooking technique where the meat in browned first in a pan and then cooked in liquid on a low heat in a covered pot for a long period of time.

I watch out for specials of these cuts and get a kilo here and there and put them in my freezer for later use.

Topside and bolar are also great cuts to look out for on special and braise well. All of these are very tasty cuts of beef that can be sliced or diced and slow cooked with ease.

Tips for slow cooking cheaper beef cuts

Brown the beef first in small batches, if necessary, to maintain a high heat in the pan. This caramelises some of the juices in the pan adding to the flavour. You should do it in the pot you will cook in, ideally a cast-iron flameproof casserole with a tight-fitting lid.

If you need to, toss the beef in a little flour before browning, make sure the meat it is not overly wet and only a light dusting clings to the outside. This will give your meat a good colour.

When seasoning slow-cooked dishes, do so lightly at the beginning. This method encourages reduction of the liquid, so the sauce can become much more concentrated and easily get too salty. Adjust the seasoning at the end of cooking.

Cook the beef at the correct temperature at the start of cooking. The liquid in the pan should not be allowed to bubble at all vigorously, but just tremble in the centre of the pot. This lets the meat become meltingly tender but not fall apart.

Covering the dish with a tight-fitting lid or foil is also very important, especially with some braised dishes in which the meat is cooked in relatively little liquid. It stops the sauce reducing too much.

Making a slow-cooked dish the day before will improve the flavour immensely. Chill it overnight, then reheat and simmer gently for the briefest time possible before serving. Cook it just long enough to be heated up to a nice eating temperature.

ITALIAN SLOW COOKER BEEF STEW

This is an adaptation of a family recipe that I grew up with. It is made with tomatoes, potatoes, garlic along with other seasonings and vegetables. The herb mix is what gives this slow cooker recipe that fresh Italian taste and will impress family and friends.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1kg diced (25mm 1 inch) cubes of beef shin, blade, bolar or topside roast

3 tbsp plain flour (Use rice or potato flour for Gluten-free)

3-4 tbsp oil. I use olive oil.

2 400g cans Italian diced tomatoes

1 cup beef stock, chicken or vegetable stock. Add 2 cups of stock if not adding wine.

1 cup red wine (optional)

2 medium onions, chopped

1 cup diced celery

3 large carrots, washed and chopped into chunky pieces

3 medium potatoes or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 bay leafs

1 tsp dry oregano

1 tsp dry rosemary

1 tsp dry thyme

1 tsp dried basil

tsp ground black pepper

salt to taste

Method

Add the flour to a large plastic bag, season with salt and pepper. Add the beef cubes and shake well to cover all the cubes evenly with the flour.

Remove the cubes to a bowl shaking off excess flour. Reserve the flour for later.

Add the oil to a large fry pan or heavy metal skillet over a medium to high heat and brown off the cubes in batches. Do not add all of the cubes in one lot as you will loose too much heat and the meat will not brown off and get that caramelized coating on the outside. Add the browned cubes to your slow cooker.

Reduce the heat under the fry pan to medium and add the wine or 1 cup of stock and simmer for a few minutes scraping the fry pan with a wooden spoon to get all of the caramelized flavours that have been left from browning off the meat. Add this to the slow cooker and add the other ingredients except the tomatoes and herbs into your slow cooker bowl.

Mix through with the cubes and then top with canned tomato and herbs, stir and cook on low 8-10 hours or until tender.

Add 1-2 tbsp of the reserve flour if you want to thicken and stir through about 1 hour before you want to serve. This will thicken the stew nicely over the last hour of cooking. Stir 2-3 times while its thickening. Remove bay leafs before serving.

I serve either in a bowl with fresh breads (Gluten free if required) or plated with seasonal fresh greens.

- Hamilton News

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