Advent Calendar 9: Goulash

My mum makes phenomenal goulash. When I was growing up, on a sunday evening, we would gather as a family in the lounge to watch some silly tv, chat about our day and eat a simple meal. We were a busy family (my brother plays sports, my mum was a teacher…) so there usually wasn’t time for a traditional roast dinner. We often had delicious jacket potatoes with varied toppings and left overs. However if more time was available, mum would whip up a delicious rich beefy goulash, let it cook for a couple of hours, and serve it with boiled potatoes and sour cream. Yum.

This recipe of hungarian origin is easy to throw together. Like all good beef stews, it’s a  little bit of chopping, and a whole lot of leaving it alone to bubble and brew for a couple of hours. I know I’ve put several beef stews in this advent calendar, but these warming, hearty dishes are perfect for the winter season. They’re great crowd pleasers and show stoppers for impromptu entertaining, perfect meals to fit other tasks like card writing and gift wrapping around, and for a little bit of effort you get a lot a reward. They’re also exactly what I’m eating right now, and they make me think of spending time with family, and therefore christmas.


400g stewing beef (I used shin)
2 onions
2 peppers (one green, one red if you have them)
Handful of flour
2tbsp tomato purée
2tbsp paprika
1 tin chopped tomatoes
75ml wine (red or white work)
300ml beef stock
Salt and pepper

Chop up the beef into one inch cubes.

In a large pan, brown the meat. Remove it from the pan and add the chopped vegetables.

Soften the veg for about five minutes or until the onions are sweated. Add the flour, purée, wine, paprika and seasoning and stir through to make a loose paste.

Put the meat back, then add the tomatoes and stock. Give the stew a good stir to combine all the ingredients.

If your pot is ovenproof, pop the lid on and bake in the oven at 180c for 1 1/2-2 hours. Otherwise, you can cook the whole dish on the hob, covered, for the same amount of time, removing the lid for the final 20-30 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

Serve will mountains of fluffy mash, sour cream, and sprinkles of paprika.

I’ll add photos of this delicious redder-than-red stew asap. I hope you’ll give it a go!

Natasha x


Advent Calendar 8: Stoverij

Hasn’t the weather turned super chilly of late? All I want to eat is warming soups and stews and live under a duvet. Alas, I have to, you know, work and such, so this ideal is not feasible 24-7, but eat least when I have the time I can whip up something warming and delicious.

Stoverij is a belgian comfort and/or drunk food that is well loved. It’s traditionally served with chips, which makes it probably the best stew in the world. It’s also full of rich beef, beer and chocolate. Does it get any better?


  • 1 carrot
  • 1 leek
  • 1 small onion
  • 400g stewing beef, cut into inch cubes
  • handful of plain flour
  • knob of butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1tbsp brown sugar
  • 500ml ale
  • Beef stock cube
  • 25g dark chocolate

Heat some oil in a pan, and brown the beef in 2-4 batches. Try not to over-crowd the pan, or the beef will stew rather than brown off nicely.


Chop the veg into small pieces and fry off in the butter for approximately five minutes, or until soft.

Sprinkle over the flour, sugar, seasonings and herbs. Deglaze the pan with a glut of the beer and stir the ingredients through.

Crumble in the stock cube, add the rest of the beer and return the meat to the pan. Stir through, then cover and lower the temperature pretty much as low as it will go. Cook for 2 hours until the meat is soft and the sauce thick. If your sauce isn’t thick enough, remove the lid, raise the heat and give it a good blast for 10-30 minutes.

Finish with the chocolate, stirring it into the sauce to melt it down. This will leave you with a rich, cocoa scented stew. Serve with chips if you want to go full Belgian, or mash and vegetables.


I love this stew- it is pure and indulgent comfort food. It goes great with any veg (particularly my candied carrots) and potatoes, and the silky, rich gravy is addictive. If you haven’t, for any reason, access to beer, you can replace it with stock, cider or wine, though this will affect the flavour/authenticity.

Stay warm, kittens!


Advent Calendar 2: Beef and Apple Slowcooker Stew

This recipe is a simple winter warmer that anyone who is old enough to operate a frying pan and use a kitchen knife can make. And if you fall into the younger brackets of that age group, I think you should make it. Here’s why.

Christmas is the time of year that children have oodles of time on their hands, and weary students trundle home for a break from their studies. It’s the time of year that parents break the bank to spoil their loved ones, and also pick back up the full time care of their children, no questions asked. To have one of their own offer to take over the cooking, even for just one meal, would be a huge help to them and greatly appreciated.

All you will need to make this delicious and hearty stew (beyond the ingredients) is a frying pan, a knife and a slow cooker, or an ovenproof lidded saucepan. The measurements below are for a slow cooked meal. If you don’t have access to a slow cooker, reduce the cooking time to two hours, and add at least an extra litre of water.

Beef and Apple Stew

  • 400g stewing beef (shin is excellent in this dish, but any tougher cut will work fine)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 large carrots
  • 1 eating apple
  • ½ tbsp mixed herbs or a bouquet garni
  • 2 stock cubes (beef or vegetable)
  • 500ml cider
  • 1tbsp cornflour

If your beef isn’t already in bitesize chunks, cut it up. Then, brown it in a frying pan, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. You want nice caramel colouration on all sides of the pieces. Once browned, pop the cooked beef into the pot of your slow cooker.



Core the apple, and chop it and the other veg into bite size pieces. Add them to the pot and mix them into the beef pieces.

Sprinkle over the herbs, crumble in the stock cubes and add plenty of salt and pepper.

Pour over the cider and mix the ingredients together. This may seem like a rather small amount of liquid, but so long as the liquid is about half as deep as the whole mixture, you should be fine.

Pop the lid on the slow cooker and turn it on to ‘high’. Cook for 3 hours.


Mix the cornflour with a drizzle of water until a paste is formed. Add this to your stew and mix through thoroughly. Recover the pot and cook for a further two hours. (It bears mentioning that this would be very early to add a thickener like cornflour in most recipes, but in slowcooking so little moisture is lost that its fine to add the flour now. It won’t thicken the sauce too much- it’ll just help it become more gravy-like.)

Serve with mashed potatoes, braised leeks and any other veg you fancy.

This recipe is pretty flexible- it would work very well with pork or rose veal, and you can replace the cider with beer or water if you like. You can also feel free to add other vegetables, or reduce the beef and up the veg content.

The final product, after barely half an hour of actual labour, is aromatic and flavoursome. The cider gives tart fruitiness, while the beef makes it intensely savoury and satisfying. The apple will likely melt away to thicken the gravy, leave the inoffensive peel to blend in with the other veg. If you want to be pedantic and peel your apples, then do, but it really isnt necesscary.

So there you have it- an incredibly easy and tasty meal to warm your cockles this winter.


Is ‘Hearty’ unhealthy?

Short answer: NO.

Longer answer: No, not really. It certainly needn’t be.

Longest answer: See below.

I love Autumn and Winter. The clothing is cuter, men so look so goshdarn dapper in their winter coats, knitwear makes a glorious technicolour comeback and the food is to die for. I’m talking richness and spice and warmth, giving you a great big hug’n kiss from inside. It’s the season is crisp, magic-laden evenings curled up on the sofa under a blanket eating stew and mash and watching great telly.

Or is that just me?

Hearty eating goes hand in hand with that. Like the birds and  beasties, our lizard brain demands we start preparing for the shortages of winter. Theoretically, we need to expend more energy keeping warm than we would in the summer months, and good eating is part of that. It’s also the season of the harvest, and the glut of food needs preserving or scoffing, lest we waste it.

Of course for most people in modern Britain a twist of a dial will help keep you warm. Jumpers and thicker duvets help too. We don’t need to fatten up like wild things any more to get us through, and the supermarkets will be well stocked, even with disgustingly out of season goods, all winter through.  Still, Autumn is the season of stews and, some would say, stodge. But I’m not convinced the two go hand in hand, or that the latter is really necessary or applicable.

It might be rather out there for a tubby lass such as myself to suggest, but you can have your stew and eat it, and not put on a dress size in the process. You can even eat for the season, eat great tasting food, and still eat yourself slim.

I eat red meat, so for me an autumn staple is a beef stew, whether it be a broth, casserole or goulash. Spoiler alert, but red meat is’t unhealthy. Eat nothing but and you’ll probably notice it, but it’s packed full of protein and iron. Choosing braising steak with as little visible fat as possible, using minimal fat when cooking and bulking out your stew with scrumptious veg are all ways to make your autumn eating healthier. It will also often help your food go further and  therefore save you money for Christmas!

Chicken is a great option if you don’t eat red meat, but if you want to go leaner, try turkey. It’s readily available these days, very low in fat and was one of the super foods the 2012 Olympians loaded up on to help build muscles and stay fit and strong. Precooked and added to broths it is scrumptious, and in slower cooks the leg meat shouldn’t go dry. A lot of people dislike turkey because it has a reputation for being dry and tasteless. Sorry dears, but you’re cooking it wrong. I can’t get enough of it.

I think a lot of the stigma of hearty = unhealthy comes not from the stews and soups themselves (unless they’re swimming in butter and lacking vegetable content) but what we eat them with; generally starchy carbohydrates. Again, these aren’t in themselves complete no-nos. Portion sizes and cooking methods play their part. For example, buttery mash is delicious, but perhaps not every night, hmm? Stews go great with boiled or baked potatoes which can be made with zero added fat. Rice or Pearl Barley are great options too, and if you can go brown when it comes to rice, more’s the better. And be sure, when it comes to serving, particularly if you’re having mash or bread and butter, that fresh veg plays a part on your plate.

I’ve rarely met anyone who doesn’t at least put on a pound over the A/W season. With all the feasting we get up to, it’s impossible to avoid. But equally, I don’t think it’s appropriate to feel guilty, particularly if you are dieting, over eating hearty seasonal food. It may seem bad for you compared with a salad, but chances are it has a greater nutritional value, considerably less fat, and is going to make you feel ten times better on a cold and blustery Autumn day.

And with that, I’d better check on my Goulash.


Summer Colds suck

Speaking as someone who has had two colds in less than two months, and has been ill between both of them with a persistent sore throat and tonsils that are big enough to enter the World’s Strongest Man contest (I call them Gaston and Hulk), I believe the titular sentiment to be completely true. You can’t even cool down properly when your fever goes up, short of sitting in the shower, and just when the weather finally gets good enough for a couple of hours to go outside and enjoy it, you’re penned up inside, clinging onto the kitchen counter for balance as your head swims in snot, hacking up your internal organs and wondering if you can make Lemsip any less heinous by turning it into an iced tea blend.

I’m trying to eat better (illness + lethargy + lack of time= junk), and right now trying to eat myself well. So I made a broth: simple to make, simple to eat, tasty and nutritious. The following uses Turkey, as I don’t eat Chicken, but the recipe would work just as well with Chicken, or with extra veg or a meat substitute to make a hearty soup.



Turkey Broth

  • 1 large onion
  • 500g new potatoes
  • 200g carrots
  • 1/2 swede (approximately 200g)
  • 80g pearl barley
  • 2 vegatable stock cubes, made up with 900ml water
  • Diced turkey
  • Salt, Pepper and Herb de Provence

In a large saucepan, gently fry off the onions (roughly chopped- you’re ill, remember) in a smidge of light olive oil.

Cube your potatoes 1-2cm cubes and dice your carrots and swede into 0.5cm cubes. You want them to cook within 20 minutes at a simmer.

Once the onions are fried, add the remaining vegetables and turkey to the pan. Stir to thoroughly mix.

Boil the water and dissolve your stock cubes in it. Pour into the pan.

Thoroughly rinse the barley in a sieve, and then add to the pan.

Season with salt, pepper and a pinch or two of herb de provence, thyme or your preferred green herbs. Give the pot a good stir, raise it to a vivacious simmer and go and collapse for 15-20 minutes while it cooks.

Serve with bread. Best eaten under a blanket to chase the sick away.


Breast meat can become a little dry in this recipe, but it still tastes good. You can always brown it in the pan with the onions, then remove before adding all the vegetables, and return to the pan for the last 5 minutes. In this case, make sure it is cooked through before serving. If in doubt, use leg meat, which is often cheaper than breast anyway.

This recipe is suitable for people with wheat intolerance (without the bread of course, or with a gluten free substitute) if you chose a gluten free vegetable stock cube (such as Knorr). It’s also dairy free, and if made with just vegetables or a meat substitute, is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. It tastes amazing; warm, savoury, hearty but not heavy- like a hug in a bowl. Whilst I’ve made this in summer (and it isn’t *too* heavy to eat in the warm weather we’re finally having in England), this simple dish is suitable for a winter warmer, and is definitely a mid-week meal: it takes less that 40 minutes to prepare from scratch, including chopping veg.

If you’re interested, I took lots of pictures of prep etc, so I’ll pop them on Tumblr.

I’m going to go back to nursing my chest infection. Blech. If you’re poorly too, fell better!