Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Any excuse for dumplings

I was sitting at my desk today, looking out the window at the dreary weather, and wondering what I could eat for dinner. When I did my grocery shopping in the weekend, I bought a frozen chicken with the intention of making another chicken dish this week. Of course, I hadn't taken it out to thaw, so chicken was off the menu for tonight at least.

A quick perusal of the meat chapter led me to decide on beef and mushroom casserole (p123), one of the variations of the standard beef casserole recipe. A casserole seemed like good cold-weather comfort food, and I chose this particular variation because it would allow me to use up part of the bottle of red wine that's been sitting open in my cupboard since I made beef bourguignon.

So, during a brief break in the weather, I popped across to the supermarket and got myself some blade steak, a carrot and some mushrooms. I'd see-sawed between doing a half recipe and a whole one, but I was sold on the half-recipe when I realised just how much 1kg of meat is - way too much for one, even if you're expecting to eat it for several days!

The casserole has to cook for 1 1/2 hours, so I got started as soon as I arrived home. First, chop and fry some onion. While that's happening, chop up the meat into cubes and flour it. Once the onion is cooked, place it in the bottom of a casserole dish, then brown the meat in batches and add it to the casserole dish as well.

The next instruction had me a little confused: "Gradually add stock (or in this variation, stock/wine) to saucepan, stirring." Well, I didn't have a saucepan out - I was using a frying pan as instructed. And I didn't see any reason to add my liquid gradually to an empty pan. So I poured all my liquid into the frying pan (why dirty another pot?) and brought it to the boil.

Once the stock/wine mixture was boiling, I added the chopped carrots, and, in lieu of a bouquet garni, a generous handful of mixed herbs and a bay leaf. It's all very well having recipes that state "one sprig of thyme" and "one sprig of parsley", but if you don't have any in your garden, you have to buy a packet or bunch of each herb every time. Nope, not this time: I'm happy enough with the mixed herbs.

While I was bringing this mixture to the boil, I roughly cleaned and chopped the mushrooms (I'd actually bought way more than I needed for my half-recipe, but I used them all anyway) and layered them on top of the meat in the casserole dish. After that, I pored the contents of my frying pan into the casserole dish, and got it into the oven. The dish was really quite full - and it's my biggest one! Now I'm really glad I didn't decide to do the full recipe.

I know I've already made dumplings, but I loved them so much that I was delighted to see the instruction "serve with dumplings" in the recipe. When the casserole had been in the oven for an hour, I mixed up some dumpling dough and added balls of it to the casserole for the final 20 minutes of cooking time. The casserole was already looking and smelling mighty tasty at this point - I couldn't wait to try it.

Shortly afterwards I was ladling out my dinner. You could argue that it's more of a stew than a casserole; certainly it has a lot of liquid. I guess it depends on your definition of 'stew' vs 'casserole'. I'd have to say, this casserole came out looking a lot more like my idea of stew than the Irish stew I made a few weeks back! Whatever you call it, it's still a good hearty dish for a cold wintery night.

I think this recipe would work quite well in a crockpot. I've still got to try out 3 other variations of this recipe, so I might well use the crockpot next time. But there's one thing you can be sure of: crockpot or otherwise, there's no way I'm leaving out the dumplings!


  1. I'm a big fan of dumplings in cassaroles - what I do when they're cooked is I put the entire crockpot under the over grill and grill the top of the dumplings. The tops of the dumplings end up golden brown and crisp - delicious.

  2. Oh yum - that sounds awesome! I'll have to try it next time.


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