Beef stew and dumplings

It seems strange to be writing a recipe for stew and dumplings in July, but with the weather at the moment it doesn’t feel entirely wrong. I must say, the smell of stew wafting through the house is particularly evocative of autumn and winter for me, and therefore I now feel thoroughly confused as to which season we are actually in.

The recipe is really simple and is one I could do in my sleep now. We eat this pretty much every week in winter (with or without dumplings), and I find it works as a great substitute for a roast on a Sunday. My method makes the gravy thick and richly flavoured with no effort at all. It’s the perfect recipe for shoving in the oven on low, and getting on with other things. You just need to give it a stir every now and again.

One thing I will say is that I don’t put potatoes in my stew. I really dislike the grainy texture of potatoes when they’re cooked in this way. I’d much rather have a dollop of creamy mash with it instead. What follows is the quantity I use for two people, although you’ll more than likely have some left over for lunch the next day (GREAT with crusty bread). You can very easily multiply up the quantities for more people.

Beef stew & dumplings
Serves 2

Stew

250g stewing steak

4 or 5 shallots or two small onions

3 carrots

Salt & pepper

A large knob butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 beef oxo cubes

3/4 pint boiling water

For the dumplings

50g suet

100g self raising flour

Pinch of salt

A few sprigs thyme, leaves plucked

Cold water to mix

To serve

Mashed potato

Green vegetables

 

Method

Put a casserole dish on the hob on a medium heat. Melt a large knob of butter with a drizzle of oil. Once hot, add the beef, cut into chunks if you’ve bought it in steaks. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and seasoning (I use LOADS of black pepper, the meat can really take it) and stir everything together. Fry the meat until browned. It will all stick to the bottom and go all gloopy around the edges with the flour and butter mixture but this is GOOD. The burnt bits on the bottom of the pan are what gives the stew such an amazing flavour later on.

Whilst the meat is browning, skin the onions or shallots and either halve of quarter them, depending on their size. Peel the carrots and cut them into sizeable chunks.

Once the meat is browned, add he vegetables and fry for a few minutes. Meanwhile, boil the kettle and dissolve two oxo cubes in 3/4 pint of boiling water. Pour the stock over the meat and vegetables and cover with a lid until simmering.

Put the stew into a 180C oven for 30 minutes. After that time, take the stew out and give it a good stir, scraping the bottom well. It won’t be too yielding just yet, but will soften up gradually. Return to the oven at 150C for another 1 1/2 hours, and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom each time.

Meanwhile, in the last half an hour peel the potatoes and make the dumplings. To make the dumplings, simply weigh out the flour and suet and put into a bowl. Add the salt and the thyme and stir. Add in around 4 or 5 tablespoons of cold water and stir, adding small amounts more until the mixture comes together into a soft dough. Split the dough into four balls.

Once the potatoes are boiling, add the dumplings to the top of the stew and put the lid back on. They will take about 20 minutes to steam; around the same time as the potatoes. Cook your green vegetables and mash the potatoes with milk, butter and black pepper. Serve!

Little Bubbas

I have been craving a visit to Ed’s Easy Diner for ages now, and despite talking about it the other night, we decided against driving the 2 hours to London, having an Ed’s and then driving the 2 hours back (yes, if you haven’t been, it’s THAT GOOD). Also I saw this post on Niotillfem featuring meatball sliders which made me want a burger even more.

At Ed’s I always have a Big Bubba. A Big Bubba is a regular burger with American cheese (we call it plastic cheese in our house) and super-crispy sweetcure bacon. So I attempted to recreate this at home, IN MINIATURE. Oh yes.

I served mine with sweet potato fries (although I also did normal fries because my husband won’t eat sweet potato. I don’t know what’s wrong with him) and onion rings. I bought the onion rings though; one gadget I’m really trying to hold off buying is a deep fat fryer because I will gain 5 stone instantly by frying cheese EVERY DAY. One thing I will say before the recipe is that please, for the love of god, use SMOKED STREAKY BACON. There are far too many burgers out there that are being topped with limp, pale, chewy pieces of back bacon, which is an unforgivable crime. Crisp, streaky bacon is a winner every time, and it has to be smoked. ALWAYS.

Ok, now I’ve got that off my chest, the recipe…

Little Bubbas

Serves 2 (makes 4 Little Bubbas)

For the burgers:

250g pack of lean mince beef

Salt and Pepper

Splash of worcester sauce

Pinch of oregano

1 egg, beaten

Smoked streaky bacon (I used 1 rasher per burger)

1/2 slice plastic “American” cheese per burger

4 small round rolls

For the fries:

Sweet potato or regular potato, cut into thin batons, skin left on

Olive oil (or any oil, really)

Salt

To make the burgers, put the mince into a bowl and break it up a bit with a fork. Then just add in a pinch of salt, a LOT of pepper (I always think beef is better with lots of pepper), a splash of worcester sauce and a pinch of oregano. You could really use any herb – fresh chopped parsley would be good, but I would put in more than a pinch in that case. I only put in a little bit of oregano because I didn’t want them to taste too much like meatballs!

Beat the egg and add just a small amount to the beef mixture (if you add it all it will go slimy and won’t stick together!). Keep adding small amounts until you think there is enough to bind the mixture, and mash it all together with a fork.

To shape the burgers, I used a pastry cutter which is roughly 5/6cm in diameter. I just put the cutter on a plate, and mashed the beef into it, pressing it down as much as possible (especially round the edges) then lifted the cutter off and did the same for the rest. Once they’re all made, cover the plate with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes so that they firm up a bit.

Meanwhile, you can get on with slicing the potatoes. Cut them into matchstick sizes, and, if you’re using regular potatoes, boil them for about 3 minutes (this means that they get really nice and fluffy inside).  If you cook them longer they’ll probably disintegrate, so if you’ve cut them really thinly then boil them for less time. I didn’t bother to boil the sweet potatoes because they’re quite soft and cook quicker than normal potatoes anyway, but I just put them in the steamer pan above the normal potatoes for a minute or so.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and leave them there to steam dry for a few minutes. If they go in dry they will crisp up quicker in the oven. Once the fries are dry, put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment if your trays aren’t non stick (I find potatoes stick to trays REALLY badly and just end up as mush once you’ve scraped them off, so disappointing), and drizzle them with oil. Get involved with your hands to make sure they’re all coated and spread them out into one even layer. They all need to be in contact with the bottom of the tray to cook the best.

Put them in a hot oven (~200-220 depending on how impatient you are!) and leave them to cook for around 15-20 minutes. I like the ends of my sweet potato fries to be pretty burnished (read: burnt) so I put them all in at the same time. If you don’t, then I would cook the sweet potato fries for about 5 minutes less.

Put your griddle or pan or whatever you want to cook your burgers on to heat up, or if you want to grill them, put the grill on to heat up. Get the bacon ready to cook however you like (I put mine on a tray in the oven, it’s just easier!)

Once the pan/grill is hot, drizzle some oil onto the burgers if you’re using a pan (always oil the meat and not the pan, otherwise you’ll just smoke the house out) and cook them to your liking. Put the bacon on to cook. If you’ve compressed the burgers enough they should hold their shape well during cooking.

Once everything’s cooked it’s really just an assembly job with the cheese and the bacon – I just sprinkle the fries with some salt and enjoy!

If you’re a veggie, I think these would be awesome with falafels instead of the meat, and a huge dollop of hummus. Yummmm…