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!

A stress-free Sunday dinner for six: toad in the hole with sticky onion gravy and roasted root vegetables and pain-au-chocolat bread and butter pudding

As we’re now in June it sort of seems wrong to be cooking roast dinners on a Sunday now. That said, I do still feel like I want to eat something ‘traditional’ on a Sunday, and as I had family coming round a couple of weekends ago I thought I’d cook the toad in the hole I posted about here. I feel I need to reiterate the sheer magnificence of this batter recipe; it earned me several ‘wows’ as I bought it to the table as it rises spectacularly. Despite saying I loved this with baked beans in my original post, I didn’t really feel like I wanted to serve up baked beans for Sunday dinner. So I caved in and made this sticky onion gravy (I admit it doesn’t look very appealing on the picture, mine looked nothing like that!), and I have to say I’m completely converted. The gravy was thick, sticky and richly flavoured with the caramelised onions, and better still took very little effort to achieve and made the house smell lovely whilst the onions were sweating down. In fact for this whole dinner I remained calm and serene, and for the last hour before I was due to put the sausages in the oven I was twiddling my thumbs because I’d already prepared everything! Most unusual.

I decided to serve this with a pretty weird array of vegetables. I was partly using up what I had left in the fridge and partly cooking all my favourite things! I ended up with peas, broccoli, honey-roasted carrots, steamed asparagus, new potatoes, roasted baby leeks and honey roasted beetroot with balsamic vinegar. The beetroot recipe is from here, and it was the piece de resistance – It was so fresh and earthy, but the sweetness of the honey and reduced balsamic totally took it to another level. My family were pleasantly surprised when they saw the beetroot on the platter, leading me to believe it’s a rather underrated and underused vegetable in this context. I’ve got more plans for beetroot, I’m just waiting for my little seedlings to show their heads!

As for the dessert, it’s an old favourite of mine cobbled together from two different Nigella recipes: the pain-au-chocolat pudding from How to be a Domestic Goddess and Nigella’s Grandmother’s ginger-jam bread and butter pudding from Nigella Bites. I’m not really a huge fan of bread and butter pudding in its traditional form – I find it can be stodgy and cloying at the best of times, but the buttery pastry of the pain au chocolat is so light and delicate it really makes this special. The reason I’ve partly used the recipe from Nigella Bites is because in this recipe the custard requires no cooking; in fact it requires nothing more than a bit of measuring out and whisking, and the result you get is a really wobbly, tender custard which is amazing with all of the crispy bits of charred pastry that are sat proud and have got caramelised with a little help from some demerara sugar and butter blobbed on top.

To feed six I used the recipe that I posted in my Toad in the Hole post a couple of weeks ago, but increased the quantities to 150%. My husband sceptical about the size of the tin that I used; he wasn’t convinced that it was big enough for six of us compared to the tin I ususally use to feed us two. I stuck to my guns though and used it (but cooked a few new potatoes for extra carbs just in case) and it turns out we had leftovers! I used my favourite ever sausages, Lashford’s special sausages (that’s what they’re called!) in the thick variety. I usually buy the thin ones for everyday use but thought they’d be a bit weedy in this scenario and would get lost in the batter; there was no fear of that happening with these monsters though, each sausage was the size of two normal large sausages that you’d buy in the supermarket so I suppose allowing two each wasn’t exactly necessary. Oh well, the leftovers didn’t go to waste, they went in my lunchbox a couple of days later! So enough with the chat, on with the recipes:

Toad in the hole

This recipe, with half again (i.e. with 6 eggs)

Sticky onion gravy

From the recipe posted above, although I used:

3 large onions

1 tablespoon sugar

Large knob of butter

1 tablespoon plain flour

1 tablespoon thyme

Splash Worcester Sauce

1 pint beef stock (I just used a couple of oxo cubes dissolved in water)

Roasted beetroot with balsamic vinegar and honey

4 small fresh beetroot

1 tablespoon thyme

4 cloves garlic, skins removed

Olive oil

1 tablespoon runny honey

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Honey-roasted carrots

12 small, young carrots (you don’t have to use young carrots, but the skins will be so thin and tender that you don’t have to peel them)

1 tablespoon thyme

1 tablespoon honey

Knob of butter

Olive oil

Pain-au-chocolat bread and butter pudding

6 large pain-au-chocolat (I know they don’t come in “sizes” but generally the ones you get from a bakery are larger than those pre-packed ones, so if you buy those you might need more)

4 large egg yolks (freeze the whites!)

1 large egg

3 tablespoons caster sugar

500ml double cream

200ml full-fat milk

A knob of butter

2 tablespoons demerara sugar

Method

First, slice the pain-au-chocolat into slices around an inch thick. Arrange them in a dish (I tend to arrange them alternately thick side up and then thin side up as in the picture so different bits get crispy). Really pack them in tightly; the last few pieces should be a squeeze to get in! Leave them to dry out a bit, this will help them to absorb all the liquid better later.

Next, prepare the vegetables. Wash and quarter the beetroot (I didn’t bother peeling) and put into a baking tray with the oil, garlic cloves and thyme. Wash the carrots and out them in a tray with the butter and drizzle them with the oil and honey and sprinkle with the thyme.

If you’re making other vegetables prepare them now (for me this meant washing and trimming the asparagus, trimming the baby leeks, halving the potatoes and cutting the broccoli up).

For the onion gravy, heat the butter in a pan and slice the onions. Add the onions to the pan and stir. Cover with a lid (or a plate in my case!) and cook gently for around 10 minutes. By this point they should be really soft. Add the sugar and cook for a further 15 minutes or so until the liquid is gone and they’re golden and caramelised. Set aside.

For the pudding, whisk together the egg yolks and egg with the caster sugar, then whisk in the cream and milk. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 220C. Mix up the eggs and milk for the toad in the hole and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes. Whilst it’s resting, put the sausages in a pan and put them into the oven to get browned. At this point, put the beetroot into the oven. Turn the sausages after about 10 minutes to get evenly browned.

After about 20 minutes the sausages should be nicely golden brown and the beetroot should be on its way to being roasted. Take the beetroot out of the oven and add the butter to the sausages and put back into the oven to get hot. Add the balsamic and honey to the beetroot and toss everything together. Whisk the flour into the batter for the toad in the hole, then take the sausages out of the oven and add the batter. Once the batter is in the tin, put it back into the oven, along with the beetroot and the carrots. Cook for 20 minutes or until the batter is risen and golden, and the vegetables should be nice and roasted and burnished.

Whilst the everything is in the oven, add the thyme and Worcester sauce to the onions and reheat gently. Once they’re hot again, add the flour and stir, and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the beef stock and stir gently. Simmer the gravy for 10-15 minutes until it’s thickened. Cook any other vegetables you’re serving.

Just before you serve up the dinner, pour the custard mix over the pain-au-chocolat and really press down so that they soak up the custard. Leave for a minute, then pour more (it should just about hold this much mixture). When you’ve got all the custard in, dot the bits of pastry that stick out with butter, and sprinkle the top with demerara sugar.

Once the vegetables are cooked, the toad in the hole is browned and puffed-up and the gravy is thickened, you’re ready to serve! Serve the toad in the hole as quickly as possible so it doesn’t sink and you’ll get more compliments! I took mine to the table before I plated up the vegetables.

The last thing to do is reduce the oven temperature to 180C and put the pudding onto a baking sheet. Cook for 45 minutes (it can cook whilst you eat) and then take out the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. The pudding should be really wobbly in the centre and really wonderfully golden and crunchy on top. Serve with cream or custard.

See, easy!

Chicken, leek and bacon pie

This is a recipe that I’m slightly obsessed with at the moment. For me, the combination of chicken, leeks and bacon is a complete winner – the leeks are sweet and soft, the bacon is smoky and salty and the chicken provides some chunkier texture which pulls everything together.

If you’re not sold on it just by seeing the words CHICKEN, LEEK and BACON together, then maybe the recipe will sway you. It’s really easy and doesn’t really require any specific measurements. I just kind of throw it all together and put as much in as looks right!

Sometimes I think I could eat the entire pie, but really this serves 2 greedy people, with maybe a bit to spare for lunch the next day

Chicken, Leek and Bacon Pie Filling

4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs (Sainsbury’s do good free-range ones and they’re super cheap)

A few rashers of bacon

2 leeks

A few carrots

A few tablespoons of plain flour

A large knob of butter

A tablespoon of dried thyme

1/2 glass white wine (optional)

Glug of liquid chicken stock or stock cube

Salt & pepper

Pastry

I use the half-fat-to-flour method that my nan used, and for the fat part use half butter and half vegetable fat (my nan used lard, can’t bring myself to use it though)

I use about 80g of butter to cover an enamel pie dish around 20cm in diameter so 160g of plain flour, plus a pinch of salt. If you want to make the pastry richer you can use an egg yolk but I only tend to do that for sweet pastry cases, the butter makes this rich enough for a savoury dish, in my opinion.

Method:

Heat a small amount of oil to a saucepan or casserole, and snip the bacon into the pan and leave to get crispy (if it doesn’t go crispy now it never will, I can’t stand that wobbly white fat on bacon, yuck)

Meanwhile,  chop the leeks finely (I usually cut them in half lengthways, in half again, and then finely slice) and add them to the pan with a large knob of melted butter to get soft in all the bacony juices. Peel and chop the carrots into 1.5cm -ish chunks.

When the leeks are soft, snip the chicken thighs into the pan (I barely ever use a knife to cut meat!) and fry until it’s all turned white. Add the carrots in and stir. Add 2-3 tablespoons of flour, salt and pepper (not too much salt, the bacon will be salty), and a good tablespoon of dried thyme. Stir in with everything else until the flour has combined with the buttery juices to make the roux which will thicken your sauce.

Add a generous glug of liquid stock, or a stock cube crumbled, and add enough boiling water to cover the mixture. Then add the white wine, and stir everything until combined. Simmer the mixture for around an hour or until it’s a nice thick consistency. The chicken should fall apart easily and the leeks will have almost melted into the rest of the sauce.

While the pie simmers away, you can get on with the pastry. One thing I will say: PASTRY IS EASY. Honestly. Do not fear it, especially if you have a food processor as it makes the whole thing incredibly easy and fast!

Just make sure the butter is really cold, straight from the fridge. Weigh it, and cut it into cubes. Add it to the processor with the flour (don’t need to sift, woo) and salt. Run the processor until the flour and butter look like breadcrumbs. While the motor is runnng, slowly add cold water until the mixture starts to come together into a dough in the processor. Then turn it off, take the dough out, squash it all into a ball, form it into a patty and wrap it in cling film and leave it to chill in the fridge for half an hour. This method is great because it involves little handling of the pastry so it keeps it cool.

If you don’t have a processor you can still do it by hand. Just dice up the butter nice and small, and add to the flour and salt. Rub the two together with the tips of your fingers, until you reach the breadcrumb consistency. Then slowly add the cold water until it comes together as a dough, and then squash it together, make the patty, clingfilm and refrigerate as usual.

When the pie mix is cooked, add it to your pie dish, and then roll out the pastry. I usually just roll it out into a rough circle and then squash it into the tin (nothing fancy here) and trim the edges. Then just lightly slash the top (not all the way through the pastry) with a sharp knife and make a hole in the centre for the steam to escape. Brush the top with a beaten egg or some milk and put in the oven for 20-30 mins until golden and crisp.

I usually eat this with loads of green vegetables (it is especially good with the new season asparagus). Enjoy!