croatian horse stew with gnocchi

For week five, we’re going to Croatia!


And be warned, today’s stew contains a stable ingredient. Literally, because I’m using horse. When Paul told me I’d be getting my lips around a black beauty, I thought my birthday had come early, but he merely meant this tasty horse-based stew from Croatia. Now listen – you can swap beef in if you’re a big fan of the whinnying little buggers, but I’m not, so into my belly it goes.

Speaking of horses, I’m handing over the reins tonight to my other half, who I’ve blackmailed into writing a blog post to give my fingers a rest. He’s out of beta, and releasing on time! Enjoy!

A bit of an unusual one for today – and not just for the choice of meat but because I (Paul!) am writing today’s post, instead of James!

I’m usually the ‘behind the scenes’, younger, more handsome (James edit: he’s not) half of Two Chubby Cubs – I tend to cook the meals whilst James works his magic on them fancy words in the posts. I don’t mind, I quite enjoy cooking (though I’m still very much an amateur) and I can never be arsed after a day typing at work to then do the same at home. And, it lets me catch up on my boring programmes that James whinges about (look, Korean war bunkers ARE interesting. I don’t care what everyone says) (James edit: they’re not).

I’ve had a bit of a backward route into cookery, it has to be said. At school I can remember making shortbread and rolls, and the rest of the time was spent gossiping and trying to stealthily hit the ‘Emergency Stop’ button for the electric ovens so we didn’t have to do anything (90%+ success rate, btw) and could go back to yakking. It’s only really been in the last few years that I’ve had a stab at anything other than the plastic film on a ready meal and bunging into the microwave.

I suppose I can blame my mother for that, mealtimes at home at their most exotic never ventured past a jar of Uncle Ben’s Sweet and Sour Sauce poured over a pack of slightly-frosty Kwik-Save Chicken Wings in a Pyrex dish. She did dally with switching to BBQ Sauce somewhere in the mid-90’s but realised the error of her ways and went back to the lesser of the two evils. The chicken was never pre-cooked and whilst I’m not sure if that mattered it always had a slight pink hue and a chewy texture that made you feel like you had a corner of a baby wipe in your mouth. To this day I still can’t eat chicken that has any bones. For the only time in my life I’m solely a breast man.

One thing I did like though was Mince ‘n’ Mash which I still love, though is essentially a pack of mince boiled in the water of tinned carrots and chopped tomato juice. I love it. James can only digest it if it has half a jar of Bisto poured in and half a pack of couscous so the actual meal itself is so diluted he can’t taste it. He just doesn’t appreciate a bit of povo-grub.

It was during my mid-teens that I learnt that too much of a good thing can actually start to get on your wick. Ma offered me once a ‘Freschetta’ pizza that was on offer at the local Spar – you remember it – the four cheese (and it was only ever the four-cheese one I was given. Pepperoni was 10p more) – where the crust rose in the oven. It was DELICIOUS. But, of course, once I said that it was like a red rag to a lazy bull. The very next day I counted and I swear this is all completely true) SIX of the bloody things piled on top of each other, a pile that never, ever seemed to go down no matter how hard I tried (and by God, did I try). To begin with I was in absolute heaven – I even managed to figure out the best way to eat it – use the crust to squeeze out the sauce from under the cheese and mop it up, so that it doesn’t spoil the true heaven that is frozen four-cheese gooiness on a frozen yeasty-floury slab. Lahhhvely. Soon though I started to miss actually going to the bog and the Freschetta love affair was over. “But you said you liked ‘em!”, she said, dodgy tab hanging off her bottom lip that she bought from some gypo at Whittlesey market. “I did! But after three weeks I could really do with some bloody vitamins!”. My protestations fell on deaf ears and I had to wait until the offer at Spar ended before I could once again actually have a crap and eat something else. A similar crisis of the bowel nearly erupted a few weeks later when a delivery of water-damaged Findus Crispy Pancakes filled up the freezer but I knew I had to act fast and feigned an allergic reaction to the breadcrumbs. I cried in relief when I saw those yellow fingers reach into a plastic bag and put that jar of “Uncle Den’s” (times were hard) into the cupboard and calm was restored.

That’s probably why I got so fat. Not that I was ever that skinny before the pizzas came along, heavens no, but I certainly didn’t learn how to eat anything remote healthy. Couple all of that along with some knock-off sweets (Twax, Bouncy, Sprinters…) and it was a recipe for juvenile diabetes and a future shopping for clothes in the ‘husky’ sections at out-of-town garden centres.

This sort of thing pretty much carried on into my late-teens and didn’t end even after I left home. I soon went off to University and my bad eating habits carried on there. This time, however, with even less cooking as I realised my mother’s ability to switch the oven past 180 degrees made her look like Raymond Blanc next to my paltry skills and inability to even know how to chop an onion. I also had to get by on a paltry budget – £400 a month was my bursary and a good £370 of that was earmarked for fags, Lambrini and the monthly mince along to the Dot Cotton club (a gem on an otherwise clap-riddled, drab East Anglian gay scene. RIP Dot!). I also had to buy all my shopping in one go (immediately after that payment went into my account) before I pissed it all up the wall at the on-site Burger King, so it almost entirely went on crisps, chocolate and Diet Coke (gotta watch that figure, after all!) and for some reason no end of sauces. I remember coming home with bags and bags but having nothing that I could throw together into a proper meal, but you could have an absolute fiesta if you came to Room 231 armed with a battalion of breadsticks. This carried on and on and on and eventually I reached the whopping weight of 28 stone. There’s a picture of me somewhere where I’m standing against a wall, but my head is miles away from the wall itself. It’s awful. A combination of bad food and bad habits meant that any sort of weight-loss was going to be impossible (not that I was even trying). I became responsible mostly too for preparing the meals at the place I worked (hospital) which meant easy access to an endless supply of biscuits and other tidbits. I once ate 12 individual cherry cheesecakes that were destined for the patients’ table in one shift (sorry about that) and I routinely had a pint of whole milk and a packet of chocolate bourbons stashed out the back to get me through the day. I was also drinking loads in the evenings which would have meant even more calories bunged on top of stolen NHS produce. No end was in sight, but, I was young and I didn’t really care and I never really felt that ‘fat’ so had no intention of stopping.

The rest of Paul’s story will come tomorrow! Don’t want to spoil you all, after all, it’s late and I want my hot chocolate. Tonight’s recipe:


To be fair, I think I’ve managed to bastardise two separate recipes here, but it stays fairly close to a Croatian staple – a stew from the Dalmatia area of Croatia. It’s normally served with gnocchi with parmesan, hence I’ve put them on above. It’s not the best picture, sorry.

A note on the horse. Horse is a very lean, very slimming meat and very good if you’re on a diet and don’t have any qualms about eating the poor buggers. I bought mine from but you can very easily swap it for beef, though try and get something nice and lean. I’ll say neigh more about it except to tell you it tasted like good lean meat!

The syns come from red wine (worked out at 2.5 syns per serving) and the gnocchi (1.5 syns). You could have it with mash and save the syns right there, and perhaps make a gravy with one of those red wine stock pots then I think it would be free. But honestly.

to make croatian horse stew with gnocchi, you’ll need:

ingredients: 750g of horse steak or beef with no fat, cut into chunks, two large red onions, rosemary, 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar, two cloves of garlic peeled, a drop or two of oil or if you must, Frylight, two carrots, a celeriac, a bay leaf, two cloves, salt, pepper and paprika. You’ll also need a beef stock cube and some water. Oh, and around 300ml of red wine. I know fuck all about wine, go for something decent but remember it’s going to just evaporate off so…

to make croatian horse stew with gnocchi, you should:

recipe: slice your onions (Remember, use a mandolin. Quick and easy, just like the author) and chuck them in a pan with a bit of oil and salt to saute down. Add your horse/beef and brown it off. Now, cut up your carrot and celeriac and chuck them in, just for a moment or two, and chuck the red wine after it, high heat, let it boil off a bit. Finally, put everything into the slow cooker with all the spices and bay and seasoning, put on low, and cook until you really want it. Cook gnocchi by hoying it into boiling water and when it floats, serve up with the stew. You can have 70g of light parmesan if you want, but you don’t need that much!

I actually did something a bit different – I cut the horse and onions up the night before and marinated them in the red wine overnight before the night they were slow-cooked. You could do this, but it’s not that necessary.


J, and for one night only (and well, tomorrow), P!