Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A spicy beef braise for the first day of Autumn

...and the start of a new project.

Over the next year I plan to meet the challenge of cooking exciting, flavoursome, and varied meals on a budget. 'Credit crunch' and 'recession' have been overused in the UK lexicon recently, but it is undeniable that many of us are experiencing economic dips of varying degrees.

At the time of writing I am nearing the end of a well-paid job that has kept my husband (Dr K) and me nicely insulated in a comfortable bubble of financial security. It is with excitement, even enthusiasm, rather than dread that we choose to face our financial future, in all its uncertainty...and potential!

Nonetheless common sense requires that as chief cook and bottle washer (except on the rare occasions when Dr K manages to park me in front of the tv and takes over the stove) I look for ways in which to reduce our domestic outlays.

But so often budget cooking, frugal food, and recession beating family meals are dull, repetitive, and distinctly uncheering. I am not someone who enjoys cooking 5 kilo of reduced price minced meat into pasta sauce and freezing it for a quick and joyless weekday meal. Who wants to buy baked beans in bulk, or pad everything with potato?

I am determined there must be another way, a path to joyful cooking on a budget, fun food that is still frugal. Join me in my project by commenting on my posts, sending me your ideas, and setting challenges. I would love to hear from you.

The First Recipe

Beef braising steak is cheap in Scotland, and a much better option than stewing steak. Give it a little tlc in a low oven for a few hours and it will tenderise beautifully, falling apart on the fork into rich, meaty shards.

On the first properly autumnal day we have had, damp and cold but still green, with only the tops of the trees starting to fade into russet, I wanted something warming but still reminiscent of the summer we briefly enjoyed...


  • Scotch braising steak, 1 per person

  • 2 tablespoons plain flour

  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

  • 1/2 tablespoon english mustard powder

  • 1 red/spanish onion, finely diced

  • 2-3 plump and juicy garlic cloves, finely sliced

  • 1 medium red chili, finely sliced (deseeded if you don't like too much heat)

  • 2 stalks celery, finely sliced

  • Good pinch dried thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon fresh leaves

  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes

  • 2 bell peppers (I used 1 yellow and 1 orange) fairly finely sliced

  • Fresh chopped flat leaf parsley (for garnish)


  • Preheat your oven to 140 centigrade / 284 fahrenheit

  • In a shallow dish, mix the flour, paprika and mustard powder.

  • Heat a little vegetable oil in a cast iron casserole or frying pan. Dredge the steaks with the seasoned flour on each side, and brown.

  • Either removing the steaks from the casserole, or in a separate pan, heat a little more vegetable oil and add the onion, garlic, chili, celery and thyme. Cook over a gentle heat for around 5 minutes until all the vegetables are softened and fragrant.

  • Add the steaks to the vegetables in the casserole, or put the contents of both pans into an oven-proof dish.

  • Pour over the entire tin of chopped tomatoes, stir together briefly, and cover.

  • Cook the casserole in the oven for around 2 hours, checking the moisture level after 1 hour.

  • After 2 hours add the sliced peppers, stir together again, re-cover and cook for another 40 minutes - 1 hour. When ready the tomatoes and vegetables should have formed a tangy, spicy sauce and the meat should be very tender and richly flavoured.

  • Serve with freshly chopped parsley to contrast with the tomato.

We ate this with snappy green beans, and then shared a perfect fruit salad of ripe greengages and the tail end of the summer berries.


  1. This is a great blog :) I especially relate to the comments about chowing your way through gallons of bolognaise that you have frozen. I am a bit squeamish about reheating food from the freezer anyway, so I am always looking for recipes that will be more interesting and make me feel like I have made some effort :)
    I also *love* the way you write. You have a beautiful turn of phrase.
    I'll leave it there, before I start to sound a bit bonkers.... ;)

  2. No no, don't stop, I can feel my ego swelling... Seriously, thanks for the encouragement :-)