Casserole

Idaho Stew (Beef Coffee Stew)

It was only when I finally moved to Cape Town to be with my partner that I realised I had, in fact, moved in with my own private flavourphobe.

From the very first meal I made us, it was abundantly clear that any thoughts I may have been harbouring about bringing about instant flavour-reform to his palette were a complete waste of time. His tastes preferences were set and I would simply have come to terms with the fact that there wasn’t going to be a belacan-epiphany or a glorious moment of garlic-redemption on the immediate horizon. Regardless how I felt about it, I had made my proverbial table so, for now at least, I was just going to have to eat at it.

Beef Coffee StewFor the first few months I dutifully made the plain dishes he enjoyed, but like all good spouses I was really doing what we do best – biding time. An errant garlic clove here, an extra splash of Worcestershire sauce there, little by little I tested the waters and after a while I began to introduce new dishes for his consideration. Some of these offerings were more successful than others, some were downright disasters, although with hindsight the roasted lamb with anchovies was particularly ill considered!

And then I discovered the recipe for this incredible stew.

On paper Idaho Stew fit the bill perfectly; it was a simple, old school beef braise with one small twist – it had coffee in it! It may seem minor now, but please remember that, culinarily speaking, South Africa was a very different place back in 2000. Back then the mere notion of sushi was downright provocative and the thought of cooking a savoury dish with coffee was considered, at best, daring to most South Africans (let alone my dearest flavourphobe)! So yes, back then this humble stew was a risk, but I had to try it, lest I be condemned to making sausage, peas and mash for the rest of my life.

So one night I bit the bullet and dished up my ‘daring’ new stew for dinner. With baited breath I watched as he eyed my latest offering with understandable suspicion. “What is it?”, he asked. “Oh, nothing weird, just a stew” I said, in what I hoped was my most casual voice. “Hmm, okay”, came the reply. Clearly he wasn’t convinced, perhaps the lingering trauma of that damn anchovy lamb was playing on his mind. In spite of his obvious suspicions he took a bite, albeit tentitively and after a moment of furrowed consideration he took another, then another – the stew was hit! It was only once his plate was cleared that I dared divulge the contentious ingredient.

“Coffee? Really? You can’t taste it”.

Wow, he was taking this surprisingly well.

“You can definitely make this again”.

Oh, sweet success!

“But next time may I have it with rice and not mash?”.

Sigh. Okay, so you’re still a freak, but I’ll take the win.

To this day Idaho Stew remains a firm favourite in his limited pantheon of acceptable meals and I still make it often, although he normally refers to it as “his coffee stew” suggesting a secret revelry in the kudos of his expanded palette. These days I usually have a couple of handy portions of this stew in the back of the freezer which I whip out for my partner when we have guests and the menu isn’t to his taste. Unfortunately, this seems to have given his much loved “coffee stew” a bad rep as one of “Brian’s meals”, which is, frankly, simply a byword for dull.

Nothing could be further from the truth! This rich stew is chock full of flavour and should appeal to the whole family…whether or not you dare to tell them that the secret ingredient is coffee is, of course, entirely up to you!

Click here for the recipe

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Spanish Pork Casserole with Chorizo & Butter Beans

A true one-pot wonder, this simple Spanish inspired casserole is big on flavour and refreshingly light on effort. Other than the initial stages of browning the ingredients, this dish pretty much takes care of itself and rewards with a tasty family friendly meal that can be adapted to cater to almost all tastes and preferences.

Spanish Pork Casserole with Chorizo & Butter BeansNow I have to be honest, this wonderful casserole is about as Spanish as chow mien is Chinese or California rolls are Japanese, but these days cultural authenticity is hardly an impediment to being the poster child of world cuisine. The modern maxim seems to be, “If a dish tastes good, who cares?” and rightfully so. After all, when the results are this tasty, I’m all about the muddled.

So whilst only vaguely Spanish, this simple dish is nevertheless brimming with classic Iberian flavours and, for a change, all the ingredients are perennial pantry staples. Admittedly I take it for granted that my larder resembles an over-stocked cornucopia of random ingredients, but this isn’t the sort of dish that calls for long forgotten packets of shrimp paste, bamboo leaves and jellyfish (yes, I do actually have the latter lurking in the depths of my fridge!). I digress, however.

Thankfully, significantly less exotic pantry staples are required for this dish, namely tins of butter-beans, chopped tomatoes, chorizo and smoked paprika. Admittedly smoked paprika isn’t necessarily a staple pantry item, but is readily available at most supermarkets or it can be substituted with regular paprika and a pinch of chilli powder or flakes. You can also use chickpeas instead of the butter beans and the fennel seeds can be omitted if you don’t have any…like I said, this recipe is nothing if not adaptable.

Note: As with most stews and casseroles, this dish will be all the better from a night chilling in the fridge.

Click here for the recipe

Ossobuco

OssobucoArguably the figlio preferito of Lombardy’s regional cuisine, ossobuco is, perhaps, the ultimate Italian braise. This is not a dish for the fainthearted, this is real stick-to-your-ribs fare! I would categorise ossobuco as lick-your-plate food, something that, even in the politest of company, I cannot help but do!

Sadly though, like many other Italian classics, ossobuco has suffered more than its fair share of well intended culinary-meddling and is, more often than not, worse off for it. Of course, there is never a definitive version of any Italian recipe. Familial traditions and regional variations are the norm throughout Italy and, as a result, there are countless interpretations of how to cook ossobuco. But as with all culinary classics, there are always rules and whilst none are ever truly set in stone, these are the three “ossobuco rules” that I recommend adhering to:

  1. Meat: Ossobuco should only ever be made with veal shanks. Unfortunately this isn’t really negotiable, as it simply would not be ossobuco if it was made with beef shanks, or perish the thought, lamb. Whilst the braise still works well with either beef or lamb shanks, you could not in good conscious call the dish ossobuco if you used either of these.
  2. Bone-marrow: Ossobuco literally translates as bone-hole, so it should come as no surprise that bone-marrow is an inescapable part of the dish. In fact, sucking out the tender veal-marrow is integral to the joy of eating ossobuco. If you are still haunted by Mad Cow disease, then this most definitely isn’t the dish for you!
  3. Accompaniments: In truth, ossobuco can be served with just about anything; whether it be with a crisp potato rosti or with buttery mash, it will be delicious. But just because it tastes good, doesn’t make it right! Traditionally ossobuco is always served with risotto alla Milanese and is typically garnished with a sprinkling of gremolata. Sometimes tradition knows best and this is such a time, the combination of all three elements is simply stellar! Even if you don’t serve it with the risotto, I would urge you not to skip the gremolata – it is very easy to make and elevates the ossobuco to an entirely different level.

For aficionados there are, of course, a myriad of other do’s and don’ts: should tomato be added, red wine or white? To be honest, our pantries and situations do not always allow us the luxury of perfection so, rules or no rules, we have to make do with what we have available.

As much as I absolutely love ossobuco, I usually have mixed emotions whenever I see it on a menu and I never order it lightly. Despite my mind being awash with those pesky “rules”, provided the basic tenets are adhered to, my leap of faith is invariable justified and I still enjoy my dining choice irrespective of my skepticism. Testament, perhaps, to ossobuco’s infinite variability and appeal. I guess you just can’t keep a good dish down!

For more Italian Classics from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe