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Winter warmer slow cook – Spice up your life!

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I can’t believe I just coined a phrase from the Spice girl era but you know how phrases stick…! Back in September I went to Morocco for a few days and if you ever want some inspiration for some awesome flavour combos this is the place to go.

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Home of the traditional tagine it is all about the slow cook.  Any meat cooked long and slow offers up delightfully tender morsals, and is so much easier to digest.

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Herbs and spices have long been used for medicinal purposes and now that we are into the colder months it is totally worth nurturing your immune system – along with your soul – because good hearty food will always put a smile on the face, when it is cold and bleak outside! 🙂

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I implore you to experiment with different spice combos.  Here are a few little tit bits I found out about the different spices I brought back from Morocco:

Turmeric: anti-inflammatory and anti viral. It contains something called Curcumin which has a positive effect on cholesterol levels and to top it off, it apparently helps improve insulin sensitivity – so slows down the rate at which sugars enter the blood stream.

Star Anise: More anti-viral, anti fungal, anti bacterial goodness and packed full of anti-oxidants!

Paprika: Vit A, E and Iron

Cumin: contains lots of Iron, anti-oxidants and with antiseptic properties it is another immune booster.  It is also apparently good for your digestion too.

Coriander: Vit A, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium and Potassium – in a word good! 😉

Cayenne: anti-fungal and apparently boosts your metabolic rate – bring on that heat!

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I like to use grass-fed not grain fed meat.  This is much better as animals fed just grass are far healthier, which is then passed on to you – you are what you eat after-all!

Grass fed meat contains loads of Omega 3 fatty acids, which most people are lacking, simply because our bodies do not make it and we have to get it from our food or with supplements.  It is most commonly thought of as being found in oily fish. But really variety is key in a healthy diet, so worth getting your Omega 3 from different sources for the ultimate benefits.

Apparently an Omega 3 fatty acid deficiency can cause a range of health issues including: fatigue, depression, poor circulation, and mood swings.  From what I understand, it is important to get the ratio of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids right (3:1 is about right)- too much of the 6 creates inflammation in the body while the 3 reduces inflammation.

Slow cook Beef served in an Onion Squash Bowl!

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Ingredients:

1.5 kg of stewing steak, or beef brisket, or even beef cheeks work well with a slow cook – rich and full of flavour.

couple of Star Anise

couple of dried Bay leaves

1 desert spoon ground Turmeric

1 desert spoon ground Paprika

1 desert spoon ground Cumin

1-2 tsp of Cayenne pepper depending on how spicy you like it.

chopped fresh Coriander

Juice and zest 1 Lime

1 desert spoon Cinnamon

good pinch of Himalayan salt

Black pepper

6 whole cloves of garlic

6-10 whole peeled shallots

200ml of red wine or if you prefer 2 tbsp of madeira – this is optional make it up in water if you prefer.

And enough water to cover the meat and veg

200g Chestnuts roughly chopped (vacuum packed or tinned but not in juice)

A handful of flaked almonds for topping

A handful of fresh spinach per serving

1 onion squash or pumpkin cut in half, seeds scooped out, then carve the flesh out to make a “bowl.” This will make two bowls but obviously, use more squash if you have more people to feed. The stew will make enough for 5-6 people.

Method:

Pre-heat the oven 150C

1) I let the meat rest at room temperature for at least half an hour or so before cooking.  If using a brisket or the cheeks I leave them whole – however with stewing steak I usually chop it into fairly large chunks. Then I rub the spices and seasoning into the meat and place in a large casserole pot.

2) I sear the meat to get some colour all over. I then add the garlic and shallots and allow them to get a little colour.  I then add the wine or madeira and allow that to cook off for a couple of minutes, before adding the lime juice and zest and enough water to cover the vegetables and the meat.

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3) Bring it up to a simmer and then pop the Casserole (lid on) in the oven for at least 4 hours. You only need to check it and stir it after about 2.5 hours – just check there is enough liquid to cover the meat – if not just add a splash more. In the meantime you can cut the squash/pumpkin in half and scoop out the flesh:

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Then wrap the shell in foil like this ready for the oven later:

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Time to have a rest or get your chores done – the beauty of a slow cook is you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen! 🙂

4) At the 4-5 hour mark I take out the bay leaves and the star anise. I then add to the casserole, the roughly chopped chestnuts and scooped out squash/pumpkin flesh. If the liquid in the pan is looking a bit low eg the meat is not covered I top it up with a touch of water.  I also put the foil wrapped onion squash/pumpkin shell into the oven this will take about 45 minutes to an hour to cook – turning it over half way through cooking – obviously you want it to still retain it’s shape so that it can be used like a bowl.

5) Around the 5-6 hour mark the meat should be lovely and tender.  If your happy with the tenderness of the meat bring it out of the oven and let it rest for at least 20 minutes (lid off). If you have used a brisket or joint of meat gently shred and slice the meat after the meat has rested.

6) Assembly time. Into the cooked squash bowl put a handful of spinach and then add a ladle-ful of stew (the spinach will wilt/cook instantly) and finish with some flaked almonds, chopped coriander or a couple of leaves of spinach for extra colour.  A real bowl of comfort and health! 🙂

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