We had friends over for lunch today. Really old and really good friends who we have known since University (I don't really want to add up the years we've known each other...) We had stew again because we love stew, it is still cold enough to want big, hearty meals, and we have a new cast iron casserole dish we wanted to use.
John did ALL the cooking today. Well done John, pat on the back. I planned the meals, wrote shopping lists, shopped, laid the table... When summoned, I interpreted my handwriting on my poorly written recipes and peered over his shoulder in a manner he finds very annoying, saying things like "Oh, you're doing it like that, are you...? I would've done it the other way...I'm just saying."
For the stew you need:
2 tbsps olive oil
3 sticks of celery
1 star anise
2 tbsps plain flour
800g chopped beef stewing steak
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
2 440ml cans of stout or ale
3 or 4 bay leaves
1 tbsp tomato puree
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Roughly chop the vegetables and fry in the olive oil with the star anise for around ten minutes.
Add the meat and flour, stirring well, then add the tomatoes, ale, tomato puree and bay leaves. Cook for two and a half hours, checking it's not drying out half way through. If you think it looks a little dry, add some water and stir well.
For the dumplings: (thank you Mum for the recipe)
10 oz or 280g self raising flour
5 oz or 140g suet
1 tbsp chopped herbs (we used fresh sage and rosemary)
Combine the flour and suet then slowly add a little water at a time while mixing the dumplings with you hands. It's really hard to say how much water you need - like pastry, you just want enough for the mixture to come together without being sticky. When it is mixed, roll golf-ball sized amounts between your hands and put to one side. John made eleven dumplings from this mixture.
When you are ready to add the dumplings, take the stew out of the oven and fish out the bay leaves and star anise. The dumplings soak up quite a lot of liquid so you may want to add a cup full of water at this point. Also, the stew needs to be good and hot and simmering when you add the dumplings, so that they cook properly. Place the dumplings on top and gently push half way under.
Put the stew back in the oven and cook, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes. We ate the stew with mashed potatoes as not all the kids like dumplings (except Oscar, who ate three) and green beans.
And then, because dumplings aren't fattening enough, we had Sticky Toffee Pudding. The recipe is from Nigella Bites and can be found here. I have used it so much that my copy of the book falls open on that flour and grease splattered page. Basically you make a sponge mixture, and put in in an oven dish. Then, pour over boiling water and dot with butter and sprinkle with muscovado sugar. At this point, John said "this just looks wrong".
But have faith, because magic happens in the oven. The sponge rises to the top and bakes, leaving a toffee sauce at the bottom, and it comes out looking like this.
No need to make a separate sauce. Just eat it, with cream or ice cream or on it's own.