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August 2018
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Meg Reviews Recipes: Continental Rich Beef Casserole recipe base

Another 40g sachet meal base. Again, got it from Coles (I prefer Coles to Woolworths in the grand battle of Australian supermarkets because firstly, Coles supermarkets seem to have a better range of products most of the time, and secondly, Coles has been the nearest supermarket to where I've been living in the past two rental properties. If I had to recommend supermarkets here, I'd suggest Coles first for range and price, IGA second for range, and Woolies a distant third after those two, because sometimes Woolies has products you can't get elsewhere. Aldi don't have a shop anywhere near me at present, so they're not being rated).

This one has the same problem as all other Continental recipe base sachets, namely that the instructions are apparently written in Flyspeck 3, and I need to pull out my reading glasses to be able to make sense of them. Which is annoying.

It's a pretty basic beef casserole recipe, where they ask you to add 500g of lean beef (I went with a couple of pieces of chuck steak, which isn't lean, but is cheap and good for casseroling), 2 sliced onions, 3 cups of halved mushrooms (I went with a 250g pack of sliced mushrooms instead), 2 sliced carrots, 1 1/4 cups of water, and two tablespoons of tomato paste to the recipe base. It's supposed to take about 1 1/2 hours to cook if you use rump or topside as your beef; I chose to do things in my "slow-cooked in the oven" fashion, where it's cooked on a high heat for an hour, then turned down and simmered for the rest of the afternoon. They do say the recipe can be cooked in a slow cooker (I suspect the answer there is basically "cut the water content down by half", because slow cookers are very good at retaining liquids). The advice is to serve it with mashed potato and broccoli - I'm going to be doing the mashed spud, but skipping the broccoli, because Himself won't eat it, and I therefore see no point in paying about $4 per kilo (current price at Coles) for the wretched stuff only to throw it in the bin. The recipe method is "put all the solid ingredients - beef, onion, mushrooms, carrot - into a casserole dish; combine the recipe base, water and tomato paste and pour over, then bake for 1 1/2 hours at 180C" - it is very hard to mess this one up.

Once it's cooked up, there is a lot of gravy. This may be the fault of me using sliced mushrooms rather than whole - I know mushrooms shed their juices like it's going out of style. So, provide lots of mashed spud, or crusty bread, or even rice or pasta, to soak up the excess. Next time I cook this, I might just try a single cup of water, rather than a cup and a quarter. The overall taste is good - it's nothing fancy, but it's a nice reliable beef casserole, and something easy enough to whip up in the morning when you're in need of a decent meal that evening. Himself quite liked it, in as much as I could get a coherent opinion out of him ("yum" doesn't really tell me much).

The cooking can be time-shifted either by doing the "slow cook in the oven" trick, the "straw box" trick (bring casserole to a boil early in the morning, take from oven, place entire casserole into a box tightly filled with insulating material - traditionally one used straw for this; I've had good results from using scrunched up newspaper - and leave, covered in insulating material, for the rest of the day, before bringing it out and reheating if necessary), or just using a slow cooker to cook things up. Or, conceivably, you could do all the prep in the morning, pop the whole thing into the bottom of the fridge for the course of a day, and bring it out to put into the oven as soon as you got home - it'd probably need a bit more cooking time than shown on the packet, maybe about 2 hours, but still do-able.

Skill Level: 0.5 out of 5. If your kid is old enough to be trusted with a sharp knife to chop up meat and vegetables, they could put this together as a very early effort at making dinner for the family.
Spoons/Fuss and Bother: 4 out of 5, mostly for the inconvenience of having to take off my seeing glasses and fetch my reading glasses in order to be able to render the instructions even vaguely legible. Seriously, Continental, a larger font would definitely help here. Australia does have that ageing population thing - larger print might expand your market!
Overall: 4 out of 5
Considerations: The package (once you put on your reading glasses or get out the magnifying glass) warns for wheat and soy, and also points out this is made on equipment which also processes products containing milk, peanut, egg, sesame, fish and crustaceans. If serving to vegans, perform protein substitutions as required. Don't serve this to people allergic to onions, mushrooms or tomatoes. Probably neither Kosher nor Halal - certainly I can't see any indications it might be - so if you're planning on serving something like this to a friend who keeps either of those dietary codes, check with them first.

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