Christmas Eve Comfort Food – Christmas Carollers’ Casserole:
Elizabethan Spiced Beef Stew
Christmas Eve is often a very busy time, with last-minute present wrapping, and even buying in some cases, plus all the preparations for the big day with mounds of potatoes to peel, sprouts to trim and “pigs in blankets” to make. For us, it is the night we put our tree up – I know it may seem late to lots of my readers, but the mystery and excitement of finally dressing the tree is wonderful, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. We have deviated from this tradition over the years; after my daughter was born we used to relent and put it up on her birthday, St Lucy’s Day on the 13th December, but as she got older, we reverted back to Christmas Eve and so the family tradition has been restored.
I used to boil and bake a festive ham and make piles of sandwiches, mince pies and sausage rolls, and nice though this was to have a “running buffet” throughout the evening, more recently we have all enjoyed a sit down meal together on Christmas Eve, and this recipe for Christmas Carollers’ Casserole, or Elizabethan Spiced Beef Stew has become a frequent request for our Christmas Tree decorating supper. The beef is beautifully spiced with added honey, chestnuts and plump prunes, and it is a very “well-behaved dish”, keeping warm for a few hours, as well as being easy to reheat.
It’s a dish that can also be prepared in advance, and I have often made it in my slow cooker (crock pot) in the past, which works beautifully and allows you to forget all about it after the initial cooking steps. Plus, the aroma of all the spices in this recipe are redolent of Christmas and are very enticing. We often forget that British cookery was one of complex flavours and excessive spicing, for those who could afford spices of course; and the Elizabethan period was famous for its spiced meat dishes, often exotic and sweetened with honey, they are very similar to what we consider to be the cooking of The Maghreb nowadays, a region that is defined very loosely as North Africa.
This is a dish to eat with mulled wine or sherry, by a roaring fire with candles lit and excitement mounting; it’s a dish to share with all the family and is perfect when served with spiced red cabbage, and I have a recipe here, Spiced Red Cabbage with Apples, as well as piles of fluffy mashed potatoes. It’s a veritable Christmas Carol of a recipe, with high notes of spices and low notes of tender, rich beef……it also has a fruity jingle with plump prunes and nutty chestnuts, it’s simply divine and I will be making it again this Christmas Eve, as we decorate our tree. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do, think of it as an English Tagine, comforting and yet slightly exotic…..and if your little ones aren’t keen on spices, just cut back on them, but experience has proved that children love this dish as much as the grown-ups! That’s it for today, see you soon with more Christmas and seasonal recipes, Karen
* In association with Schwartz*