Jo’s Vietnamese-style beef curry

Vietnamese-style beef curry

In the office where I work, about 95% of our conversation revolves around food. Appreciative mumbling through mouthfuls of cake that someone’s baked and brought in, dissecting last night’s episode of Masterchef or Bake Off, or reminiscing about such childhood delights as corned beef. (Remember corned beef?)

In the year (almost to the day) since I’ve worked there, I’ve picked up loads of new recipes from my team following mundane conversations about what we’ve all been doing with our Christmas leftovers or from snooping over someone’s lunch, going: “Ooh, that smells amazing!”

This recipe came from one such occasion, when my colleague Jo was enjoying what looked and smelled like a delicious bowl of leftover curry at her desk next to me. It was a recipe from an old slow cooker book, which ended up being shared with the whole team. I think pretty much all of us have cooked it at least once since, so I guess it’s our official team dish (if that’s a thing – if not, it should be).

This is my own version of the curry, but I’ve included Jo’s original, slightly ‘rustic’ iPhone picture of the recipe at the bottom.


  • The seeds from 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick, cracked open
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 average sized red onions
  • 500g beef casserole steak, cut into chunks
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, topped and tailed and tough outer leaves removed
  • Green chillies – I usually use three or four, with a couple of them deseeded. Adjust to your own preference though.
  • A thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Half a beef stock cube
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • A large carrot, scrubbed or peeled and diced into roughly 1cm pieces
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 a teaspoon ground cinnamon

Add the cardamom seeds, cinnamon stick, star anise, cumin seeds and coriander seeds to a dry pan and toast until fragrant. Remove the star anise and cinnamon stick and set aside. Put the rest of the spices into a pestle and mortar with a pinch of sea salt and grind to a powder. Set aside.

Slice one and a half of the red onions into half moons, add to the pan with a dash of oil and a pinch of salt and and fry until nicely softened. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Brown the meat in batches in the pan and set aside, covering with foil.

Whizz the lemongrass, chillies, ginger, garlic and the remaining half a red onion with a blender wand until they form a smooth, fine paste. Add the paste to the pan with a drizzle of oil and a small pinch of salt and fry off until nicely coloured.

Add the other fried onions back to the pan, along with the toasted and ground spices, coconut milk, half stock cube, soy sauce, carrot, turmeric and ground cinnamon. Stir everything together and simmer for a moment until you have a nice curry sauce consistency.

Add the contents of the pan to a slow cooker along with the beef (including any meat juices) and stir together.

Cook in the slow cooker on low for as long as possible – ideally at least 6 hours. You could also cook this long and low in an oven.

Before serving, fish out as much of the cinnamon stick and star anise-y bits as you can, and maybe warn any fellow diners that there might still be some surprise bits lurking…

Serves 2 hungry people or 3 normal people.

Vietnamese beef curry original recipe


Slow cooker osso bucco

Osso bucco

Osso bucco is one of the many things I’ve been meaning to make for ages, and I finally got round to making it after buying some veal shanks (labelled as osso bucco) in the yellow sticker reduced section of Sainsbury’s before Christmas. I stashed them in the freezer (as I do with most of my yellow sticker purchases) and thought I’d cook them this week as part of my quest to empty the freezer.*

I used the ‘Bruno’s osso bucco’ recipe from the Leon Naturally Fast Food book as a guide, but essentially made it in the same way I would instinctively make a casserole. You could dust the meat with flour before browning it, but I added flour later instead (as I normally do). I also forgot to add a stock cube, but it was fine without – and I probably wouldn’t bother next time.

Osso bucco is traditionally served with saffron risotto and gremolata. However, I decided to keep it truly one-pot by chucking in some pearl barley. Not authentic, but tasty nonetheless. I did have the ingredients for gremolata, but completely forgot to make it. Never mind!

*Our usual plan is to use up enough of our frozen food so that when it snows (which it inevitably does), we can put any remaining food in a cool box on the balcony and defrost the freezer. This worked last year, but we’re forecast snow this weekend and we’re nowhere near eating everything in the freezer…


  • 2 rose veal shanks (sometimes sold as osso bucco) or 2 slices of beef shin
  • Olive oil
  • An onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 sticks of celery, washed and finely chopped
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • A tablespoonful of flour
  • A generous glug of white wine
  • A tin of chopped tomatoes
  • A large carrot, scrubbed or peeled and cut into small chunks
  • A teaspoonful of dried sage
  • A teaspoonful of dried oregano
  • A sprinkling of pearl barley (equivalent to a couple of tablespoons full)

Osso bucco

Heat up a deep, wide pan and brown the meat on both sides. Remove and set aside. Add a small amount of oil to the pan and fry the onions and celery, adding the sea salt to draw out the moisture and stop them catching. Once the onions start to turn translucent, add the garlic and fry for a few more minutes. Add the flour and stir in until it’s coated with oil. Turn up the heat and add the wine, stirring everything together.

Turn off the heat and add the chopped tomatoes (I whizzed them first in a food processor because that’s what I do) along with the carrot, herbs and pearl barley.

Put the contents of the pan into a slow cooker and add the meat, making sure it’s submerged. Cook on low for at least 6 hours. The meat should fall away from the bone during cooking so you can easily discard the bones before serving.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, I’d suggest putting this in a low-ish oven for a couple of hours, so that the meat becomes tender and the bone marrow leaches out into the sauce.

Serves 2.

Osso bucco

Happy New Year!

As is always the case over the festive season, I’ve over indulged, food and drink wise, on a scale that could rival King Henry VIII. There have been moments when I’ve felt as though I’m one Malteser away from slipping into a diabetic coma. I’d reached the stage where I was spending most of my time laying on my back on the sofa like a helpless tortoise, whimpering feeble requests for fennel tea and steamed vegetables. I may be exaggerating slightly, but you get the idea. I certainly shouldn’t complain- unlike many unlucky people I know, I’ve managed to survive December without contracting norovirus or a stinking cold.

Now that 2013 has arrived, I can get back to something resembling normality and enjoy a fresh start. While it will be nice to eat some extra healthy food after all the excess, I’d be lying if I said I’d turned over a completely new (lettuce) leaf. As I write this, I can smell the ham that is slow cooking in Coca Cola in my kitchen (the Nigella classic). We also had people over last night to help us welcome in the New Year, and as well as cooking this chilli, I made the chocolate digestive cheesecake from Lorraine Pascale’s Home Cooking Made Easy. Oh. Em. Gee. If a cheesecake-induced coma is a thing that is possible, then I think it nearly happened last night. Not that it wasn’t good- I just should have dished up smaller portions (a word of advice- an eighth per person is TOO MUCH, PEOPLE!) If I made it again, I would consider using a plain digestive base rather than chocolate digestives, as the extra chocolate made it quite tough to cut through. Also, I would probably leave off the melted chocolate topping as I made a bit of a mess of it and, to be honest, the cheesecake is amply rich enough without it.

This is what's left of 'Cheesecake-ageddon'.

This is what’s left of ‘Cheesecake-ageddon’.

Ham in Coca Cola

Ham in Coca Cola – before and after.

Luckily, the weather finally got its act together today after being mostly wet and windy for the last few weeks. So, we made the most of it by enjoying a refreshing walk in the park to assist the recovery from what will henceforth be referred to as ‘Cheesecake-ageddon’.

Anyway, I’d like to wish you all a very Happy New Year. Here’s to a marvellous 2013.

*Eats a fistful of antacid tablets and reaches for the Berocca*

Bean and chorizo stew

In the words of House Stark: “Winter is Coming”. This is my favourite time of year- I know it’s a bit sad when the nights begin to draw in earlier each day, and getting out of bed for work when it’s cold and dark is a pain in the arse. However, I like getting all cosy at home in a big jumper and eating something suitably stodgy. We’re also at that nice stage at the moment where the weather hasn’t turned properly cold yet and the autumn sun is making everything look lovely (listen to me- what an old romantic I am).

Autumn cooking is my kind of cooking- oozy risottos, chutneys and jellies made from foraged ingredients or gluts of fruit shared by friends and colleagues, warming curries and comforting casseroles and stews. I’ve been enjoying all the autumnal blog posts that have been popping up in my feed recently- lots of pumpkin and squash recipes and good hearty dishes to stick to the ribs.

My slow cooker tends to see a lot more action over the autumn and winter months, and this is one of my favourite slow cooker recipes. It’s cheap, nutritious and tasty. This recipe serves four (or two with some portions left over for the freezer or for lunch the next day).


  • About 125g chorizo, cut into small half moons/ chunks
  • About 250g of mixed dried beans (I usually use a mixture of red kidney, cannellini, haricot, black turtle, pinto, adzuki and mung beans and chickpeas)
  • An onion, halved and chopped into half moons
  • 2 sticks of celery, washed and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoonful flour
  • A generous glug of red wine
  • A tin of chopped tomatoes
  • About a tablespoonful of thyme (use fresh if you happen to have some, but dried is fine)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 vegetable stock cube, crumbled
  • 200ml water
  • A couple of heaped tablespooonfuls of pearl barley
  • A carrot, scrubbed or peeled and then diced

Soak the dried beans overnight or for at least 8 hours in plenty of water with a bit of bicarbonate of soda added to it. When they’re soaked, drain them well and add to a pan with enough water to cover. Bring them to the boil, then let them simmer with the lid on for 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside. (Don’t be tempted to miss out this step- The beans need to be soaked and boiled in order to get rid of toxins in their skins that can apparently cause severe stomach cramps.)

Add the chorizo, onion and celery to a pan and fry until the onion is looking translucent but not brown. Some fat should come out of the chorizo but add a bit of olive oil if the onion and celery need it to fry in. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or so. Add the flour and mix in until all the flour is coated with oil. Turn up the heat, add the red wine and simmer for a minute or so, stirring to mix everything together. Mix in the chopped tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, stock cube and water, then add the drained beans, pearl barley and carrot.

Put the whole lot into a slow cooker and cook on high for about 4-6 hours, adding water if it looks dry.

Eat with some nice crusty bread for dippage.

For the vegetarian version, leave out the chorizo and add a teaspoon of smoked paprika instead.

Beef Tagine

I’m not going to advertise this as any kind of ‘authentic’ tagine recipe (although I’m not sure what that might even be), nor is it cooked in a proper tagine pot (although it could be for anyone who has one). I’ve never even been to North Africa. It’s just my interpretation of a beef tagine that I cook fairly regularly in the slow cooker and it tastes good, which is what’s important. The slow cooker has the same effect as a tagine pot, cooking the meat slowly so that it’s nice and tender.

I don’t tend to add dried fruit to tagines because Owen has a weird thing about dried fruit in savoury food, but you could easily chuck some in to this recipe. Perhaps some dried apricots or figs or whatever you fancy.


  • 60g dried chickpeas
  • A level tablespoonful of caraway seeds
  • A level tablespoonful of cumin seeds
  • A level tablespoonful of coriander seeds
  • A teaspoon of ground coriander
  • A teaspoon of ground cumin
  • A teaspoon of ground ginger
  • A teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • A teaspoon of paprika (not smoked)
  • 500g beef stewing steak, cut into chunks
  • A handful of flaked almonds
  • An onion, sliced into half moons
  • 1 or 2 red peppers, chopped into small chunks or strips
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Half a teaspoon of chilli flakes or a red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • A tablespoon of cornflour
  • A tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Half a large preserved lemon
  • A tablespoon of honey
  • A beef stock cube

Soak the chickpeas overnight or for at least 8 hours in plenty of water with a bit of bicarbonate of soda added to it.

Into a large, deep, dry frying pan, add the caraway, cumin and coriander seeds and toast on a medium heat until they start to become aromatic but without burning them. Add the seeds from the pan into a pestle and mortar and bash until they’re powdery and fragrant. Add the bashed seeds along with the ground coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon and paprika to a bowl with the beef chunks and rub with clean hands to coat the meat. Set this aside for a moment.

Add the flaked almonds to the dry pan and toast them on a medium heat until they start to colour, but again, don’t let them burn. When they’re nicely toasted, add them to the pestle and mortar and bash them gently to break them up a bit. Set aside.

Brown the spice rub-covered meat in batches in the dry pan and remove with a slotted spoon into a bowl.

Add a small glug of oil to the pan and fry the onion and peppers on a medium heat until the onion turns translucent. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for a couple of minutes more.

Add the cornflour and stir in until it’s coated in oil.

Add the tinned tomatoes (whizzing them first in a food processor if you like), then refill the tin a third full with water and swill around to get the remainder of the tomato-y goodness. Add this water to the pan as well.

Remove the flesh from the preserved lemon with a spoon and discard. Finely chop the remaining lemon peel and add to the pan.

Add the honey and crumble in the beef stock cube, and drain and add the chickpeas. Add the browned meat along with any juices.

Stir everything together before putting into the slow cooker and cooking on low for 6-8 hours. Serve with cous cous, and maybe sprinkle some more toasted almonds on top to finish.

Another bloody recipe for chilli con carne

I know, I know- the last thing the internet needs is another recipe for chilli con carne. On top of this, I went through all my cook books today and counted up eleven different recipes for chilli (and that was just the basic ones, not including vegetarian ones and what not). Despite this apparent saturation of the market, I’m going to go ahead and post my contribution anyway.

I often find myself making this when we have people visiting, as I can just plonk the pot from the slow cooker on the table and let people help themselves. It’s also a bit of an indulgent Saturday night favourite in our household- ideally washed down with a cold beer (perhaps Sol or Desperado) or a nice glass or three of red wine. We enjoyed this earlier tonight while watching the new series of Doctor Who (Geronimo!) and followed it with Nigella’s glitzy chocolate puddings.


  • 60g dried kidney beans
  • 500g lean beef mince or turkey mince
  • About 125g chorizo, cut into small half moons/ chunks
  • 1 large brown onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped into small pieces
  • Fresh red chillies- as many as you like, finely chopped
  • A handful of cumin seeds
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • A tablespoon of cornflour
  • A generous glug of red wine
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes
  • 6 (ish) sun-dried tomatoes- I use the ones that come in jars of oil, chopped into small bits
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • A few drops of Angostura Bitters (optional)
  • 2 squares of dark chocolate (the darkest you can get but at least 70% cocoa solids)

Soak the dried beans overnight or for at least 8 hours in plenty of water with a bit of bicarbonate of soda added to it. When they’re soaked, drain them well and add to a pan with enough water to cover. Bring them to the boil, then let them simmer with the lid on for 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside. (Don’t be tempted to miss out this step- The beans need to be soaked and boiled in order to get rid of toxins in their skins that can apparently cause severe stomach cramps.)

Fry the mince until cooked and drain off any excess fat or liquid. Add the chorizo, onion, red pepper and fresh chilli to the pan and fry for a bit. Some fat should come out of the chorizo but add a bit of oil if it looks a bit dry. Add the cumin seeds and garlic and fry for a bit longer to get them nice and fragrant. Add the cornflour and stir until it is coated by the oil and juices. Turn up the heat, then add the red wine, allowing it to bubble away for a bit. Add the chopped tomatoes (I like to whizz these in a food processor first but don’t worry if you can’t be bothered with this), sun-dried tomatoes, cumin powder, smoked paprika, Angostura Bitters (if using) and the drained red kidney beans.

You can add chilli powder or flakes to adjust the heat to how you like it.

Put the whole lot into a slow cooker and cook on low for 4-8 hours. (If you don’t have a slow cooker, I’d suggest cooking this on a low heat on the hob for about an hour or until the kidney beans are cooked through) Shortly before serving, pop in the squares of dark chocolate and stir in thoroughly until melted. Serve with basmati rice with sour cream dolloped on top.

Serves four (or two with another two portions for the freezer).

Cooking away in the slow cooker.

One of Nigella’s glitzy chocolate puddings.