Winter warmers - By Sheena Rawcliffe.jpg

Winter warmers – By Sheena Rawcliffe

IN PORTUGAL we have recently experienced a considerable amount of rain and, even though temperatures have remained reasonably high, your thoughts may already have turned to warming meals. This weekend we put the clocks back, which will make the evenings seem longer due to the early onset of darkness, and so this week I am offering you two dishes which provide good nourishment, warmth and comfort.

Simple Beef Casserole

with Herb Dumplings

Let’s start with the Herb Dumplings.  These can be an addition to the meal or can be served in place of potatoes, pasta or rice.

Dumplings are among the easiest things in the world to prepare.


• 250g self raising flour.

• 1 level teaspoon of baking powder.

• 125g shredded suet.

• 1 tablespoon of dried mixed herbs

in my view dried is preferable to

fresh in this recipe.

• Cold water.


• Mix the flour, suet and herbs to

gether and incorporate enough cold

water to make a sticky but manage

able dough. Do not add too much

water or your dumplings will be

heavy and sag.

• Lightly flour your hands and break

off pieces of dough roughly the size

of a table tennis ball.

• Place on top of your casserole or

stew   and cook for approximately 20


Dumplings are very forgiving, and so

if you need to keep them waiting

they will not suffer very much!

Your herb dumplings should be light and fluffy.

Simple Beef Casserole/Stew

What is the difference between a stew and a casserole? – a stew is cooked on the hob and a casserole is cooked in the oven. The recipe is the same, so the choice is yours.

You will need:

• 1kg braising steak.

• 3 large onions.

• 2 large cloves of garlic.

• Some fresh thyme – this is coming

into its best at the moment.

• 300g carrots.

• A couple of stalks of celery if possible.

• 2 tablespoons tomato puree.

• 1 tablespoon Worcester sauce.

• 1 tablespoon black treacle.

• Approx 1.5 litres of stock.


The really simple way is to cut the steak into small pieces, along with the carrots and the onions.  Make the stock by using one beef stock cube to each half litre of water. Place everything in a suitable sized casserole/saucepan. Cover tightly. See cooking time below. You may wish to add a thickener to your casserole/stew.

If cooking on the hob, bring to the boil and reduce to a slow simmer, cooking for a further 1.5 hours.

For the best results

Prepare the meat and vegetables by cutting them into bite size pieces.  

Heat a little cooking oil in a large frying pan. Quickly brown the onions, carrots and celery and place in the base of a suitable casserole or saucepan.

Mix two tablespoons of flour with a little salt and pepper in a large polythene bag. Toss the prepared meat in the flour mixture. Add a little more oil to the frying pan and brown the meat on all sides in the hot oil. Take care not to put too many pieces of meat in at any one time, as the reduction in temperature of the pan will cause steam rather than frying heat. Remove the meat and place it in with the vegetables.

The caramelisation of the meat pieces and the vegetables adds considerably to the flavour of the finished dish.  

Strip the leaves from the thyme stalks and sprinkle over the meat and vegetables.

Peel and crush the garlic cloves and place in a large jug along with your chosen stock. The stock can be either home-made or made with stock cubes and water (with the long slow cooking of a stew/casserole and the other ingredients it is frankly difficult to justify making stock from bones, which these days are becoming more and more difficult to find.) Ensure that the stock base is hot. Add the tomato puree, the Worcester sauce and the black treacle and stir until the treacle has melted into the other liquids.

Pour the stock into the saucepan/casserole and cover tightly.

When cooking in the oven, place in a preheated oven at 180ºF for 45 minutes and then reduce heat to 150ºF and cook for a further one hour 15 minutes.