Monday, 5 December 2011

Red, Red, Red Beef

Well, who can believe it's December already? It seems to come around faster every year.

Last year I 'hosted' my first Christmas - my husband and I were married last year, and we also moved into our first own home, so having family to stay with us and being able to cook for them was lovely! We're hosting my side of the family this year, so I'm in full planning mode once again.

It's easy at this time of year to survive on snack food and canapes at parties, and to supplement that by opening the inevitable boxes of chockies you receive from friends, neighbours, colleagues and other well wishers. So that by the time December 25th rolls around... the last thing you feel like is cooking and eating a giant turkey and plum pudding with all the rich trimmings that accompany them!

I've found being organised and planning is the key to enjoying December. This is probably nothing new. But I make a real effort to have at least 4-5 good, healthy meals planned for the following week, so I just shop for those meals in my weekly shop. It means I don't spend more than I need to, we waste barely anything, and we always know what's for dinner that night, so there's no 5pm despair. This isn't an original idea, and it may be simple, but it can make a real difference - and your body will thank you for it.

This week I have a simple beef casserole with lentils for you. It's a great healthy weeknight dinner if you're home early enough to allow for the cooking time, and if not - it's a nice comforting
meal for Sunday nights. Here in New Zealand, it's almost getting too warm for casserole these days, but Northern Hemisphere readers may appreciate the recipe!

Red, Red, Red Beef

600g beef, diced (I used rump steak, but chuck or blade steak would also be good, not to mention economical)
cooking oil spray
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 large carrot, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 courgette (zucchini), sliced
1 cup red wine
2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp red curry paste
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups beef stock
1 Tbsp dried rosemary, or a couple of sprigs fresh
1/2 cup red lentils (brown also fine)

Preheat the oven to 170(C). If you have a casserole dish that can be used both on the stove top and in the oven, spray that with cooking spray. If not, spray a large frypan to start with. Place the casserole or pan over medium-high heat. Brown the beef in two batches, and set aside.

Spray the pan with a little more oil, turn down the heat a little, and cook the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and courgette until softened. Add the red wine and simmer until the liquid reduces - by about a half. Stir in the flour, curry paste, and tomato paste until smooth. Add the beef stock and rosemary, and bring the mixture to the boil.

If you've been using a frypan, now is the time to transfer the mixture to an oven-proof casserole dish (sprayed with more cooking spray to avoid sticking). Tip: I put my casserole dish in the oven while it preheats, so that you're not putting your nice hot beef into a cold dish and losing all your heat.

Place the casserole in the preheated oven and cook for an hour. Then add the lentils, cover again and cook for a further 30-40 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Season to taste and serve. I served my casserole on its own but it would be yummy with mashed potatoes or couscous, and some steamed greens.

Next time I'll post on something Christmassy, if you need inspiration in the meantime head over to my blog where I have Christmas Cake and other baking and gift ideas. Have a lovely week!