It's official! The clocks may not have changed yet but the daffs are out as are the celandines and primroses. Our mimosa is covered in bloom and scenting the driveway and half the road. The magnolia in the background is stunning and holding on to its petals better than usual (usually the first good gust strips half the tree).
We went for a walk at lunchtime and didn't need hats and gloves. In fact by the end I was regretting that I hadn't put on a lighter coat. On Monday we were virtually hiding below the hedge line because the wind was so bitter.
However, it is not time to put away the stew pot yet. I was planning on doing Sausage Casserole (see post from 6 February) but when I opened the fridge I realised I also had some beef shin so rather than cook stew tonight and tomorrow,I thought that I would cook them both tonight as the beef casserole takes about three or four hours to cook to make sure that all of the meat is meltingly tender.
1) Heat some olive oil in a frying pan on a high heat and throw in about half a pound of smoked streaky bacon (450g) chopped into chunks. If you're feeling rich you could use pancetta but it's really not necessary.
2) When it's brown and slightly crispy remove it to your casserole pan.
3) Chop about 2lb (1kg) of beef shin into good sized chunks. If it still has the bone in you'll probably need about 2.5lb or 1.25kg.
4) Fry the beef in batches until brown on all sides removing the done bits to the casserole. If you put too much in the pan it will braise not brown.
5) Deglaze the pan with a large glass of red wine (whichever wine you fancy that night will do)and then tip the wine in the casserole.
6) Whilst all the frying is going on roughly chop 2 large carrots, a very large onion or 2 medium ones and about 4 sticks of celery.
7) Heat some more oil and gently fry the vegetables.
8) Tip the vegetables into the casserole and a couple of tablespoons of passata and enough beef stock and water to cover it all.
9) Season and add a bay leaf and some thyme (or whatever herbs you have to hand)
10) Put the lid on the casserole and bring to the boil.
11) Turn the heat down as low as it will go and cook for 3 to 4 hours until you can shred the beef with a fork. Check on the pot occasionally to make sure it hasn't dried out too much and add stock or water if necessary.
12) Serve with Marvellous Mash