So of course, since Vertel sent it to me all the way from Oz, I had to do something from the One-Pot book the next available opportunity. After paging through the book and figuring out what was actually possible to make, what looked good, and what seemed like an appropriate challenge for my skill level, I selected “Beef In Beer With Herb Dumplings”. Complete meal in a single pot just as promised, and a nice beef stew as fall finally starts to get good and cool for us sounded like just the thing.
So here’s the recipe as printed, from “All In One”, by… no author given. Apparently some sort of committee, called “Love Food”.
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
8 carrots, sliced
4 tbsp plain flour
salt and pepper
1.25 kg/2 lb/12 oz stewing steak, cut into cubes
425ml/15 fl oz stout
2 tsp muscovado sugar
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
For the herb dumplings:
115 g/4 oz self-rising flour
pinch of salt
55 g/2 oz shredded suet
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, plus extra to garnish
about 4 tbsp water
Preheat the oven to 160 C/325 F/Gas Mark 3. Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole. Add the onions and the carrots and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the onions soften. Meanwhile, place the flour in a polythene bag and season with salt and pepper. Add the stewing steak to the bag, tie the top, and shake well to coat. Do this in batches, if necessary.
Remove the vegetables from the casserole with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the stewing steak to the casserole, in batches, and cook, stirring frequently, until browned all over. Return all the meat and the onions and carrots to the casserole and sprinkle in any remaining seasoned flour. Pour in the stout and add the sugar, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to the boil, cover and transfer to the preheated oven to bake for 1 3/4 hours.
To make the herb dumplings, sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Stir in the suet and parsley and add enough of the water to make a soft dough. Shape into small balls between the palms of your hands. Add to the casserole and return to the oven for 30 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Okay, every dinner starts in the grocery store, so we’ll start with ingredients. Two tablespoons of sunflower oil… which we do not have and I have never seen in the store. Googling up the properties of various cooking oils, it looks like the closest match that’s available in the grocery store is probably sesame oil. Okay, check.
2 tsp muscovado sugar
…That’s another new one on me. Running Google some more, it appears it’s some sort of unrefined molasses-like sugar. We’ll grab the brown sugar and call that close enough.
55 g/2 oz shredded suet
The only place I’ve ever seen suet in the store was in the aisle with the birdseed, and I’m fairly certain the stuff isn’t considered food-grade for humans, however intriguing the prospect of using the stuff with the premixed fruit and nuts is. Searching some more, apparently it’s some sort of treated beef tallow from just above the kidneys, and my odds of seeing it in a rural American grocery store are slim and none. Given the properties it’s listed as being used for, I’m thinking Crisco will be our go-to substitute.
Okay, ingredients covered, let’s move on to the cooking!
Preheat the oven to 160 C/325 F/Gas Mark 3. Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole. Add the onions and the carrots and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the onions soften.
1. As amusing as spectators may find the sight of you frantically tearing apart the kitchen while some cranky and burnable ingredient undergoes its cooking time on the stove, this time it would be a good idea to make sure we have absolutely everything we’ll ever need in the course of making this recipe, out, visible, and ready to hand. The onion and carrots are easy, as is the stew beef, regular flour, salt, and pepper. Given that the household herbs and spices are organized on a basis of the fifteen most frequently used in a nice little spice rack and the rest stuffed into random pantries and cabinets around the kitchen, almost all of which are well above your head and require a stepstool to entirely see, it’s time for another incredibly fun game of SEASONING SCAVENGER HUNT!
2. Thyme first. We don’t have any fresh and it will have to be dried. Start by searching the lefthand cabinet above the food processor where you dimly recall stuffing it last. Try the cabinet over the spice rack. Try the accidental spice rack, which has a nicely marked and completely empty bottle labelled “thyme”. Try the other cabinet that requires half-climbing into the counter to search, just in case. This will fail to make thyme materialize where there was none, but it will at least make you feel like you tried.
3. Back to Google*. According to Yahoo Answers, marjoram and tarragon make workable substitutes for thyme in beef dishes. Now go look for the tarragon. You won’t find it, but that bottle of bouquet garni you stumble across will probably be even better, especially given as the ingredients given don’t include a huge variety of flavors.
4. Now for your oil. Ransack the cabinets and make the belated discovery that while you have plenty of peanut oil, you don’t have a drop of sesame to be found. Looks like vegetable oil will have to do, as the olive and coconut aren’t really heat-stable enough, and the peanut will probably bring flavors we don’t want**.
5. Gut the cabinets searching for the self-rising flour. Whine to your increasingly unamused spouse, who will just tell you that it’s “in the pantry”. Spot the mostly cashed-out bag hiding behind and under a few other things as you gloomily contemplate the prospect of the Bisquick boxes that haven’t been touched in at least two years and probably longer.
6. Snag your Santoku and a cutting board and start merrily chopping up the carrots. Give the trimmed-off ends to your Kitchen Bitch, who has developed the mysterious power to instantly vanish from whatever location in the house or yard she’s in and re-materialize curled up politely at the feet of anyone wielding a chef’s knife.
7. Well well, Mr. Onion, we meet again. Gingerly trim the ends and peel, then start slicing. Fortunately, the farmer responsible for the biological weapon that routed you last time has apparently been caught, as this one can be cut with minimal ill effects to the cook. Midway through slicing, remember that you have a food processor, which has a slicing disc- which would be absolutely perfect for the slicing requirements (must be thin enough to release maximum flavor over a long braise, but thick enough to be catchable with a slotted spoon) without depending on your questionable knife skills.
8. Unearth the food processor from the wall of cocoa mix and cocoa mix ingredients your spouse has been going through in response to some sort of autumn nesting instinct. Extract the old blade and go after the slicing disc. As this is a new food processor, you’re going to have to learn how to insert a disc-based attachment, which is a larger challenge than it would seem because the disc has absolutely no apparent holes, clips, or other devices to attach to any part of the food processor’s interior. Wrestle with it for awhile just in case it will somehow morph itself to the interior- you never know with these new gadgets.
9. Resort to reading the manual. After combing through the entire thing three times, it appears the one and only instruction related to the slicing disc, after extensive and overwrought warnings about not cutting yourself with it, is “insert disc”. Helpful. Make a mental note to send a thank-you gift to the manufacturer, possibly some sliced dead squirrel.
10. Once again, enlist spouse. After the obligatory attempts to see if the physical nature of the disc will somehow alter when put inside the food processor bowl, a search of the cabinet the slicing disc was found in turns up another component, shaped vaguely like a giraffe neck, whose apparent purpose is to attach to the motor spindle inside the bowl and bring the surface of the disc up to just below the feed tube. Naturally, how it attaches to said disc is as arcane and counterintuitive as possible. Between both your efforts, the food processor will have once again proved far more a time-sucking implement than a time-saving one.
11. Reassemble the food processor with disc in place. Insert onion pieces into feed tube. Push “on” and watch as nothing happens. Push “on” several more times just in case, as the machine remains completely inert. Consider submitting this to F My Life. Optional: discover that Kitchen Bitch was merely being polite taking the carrot pieces and has spit them out and scattered them around the floor, preferably with your bare feet.
12. Re-summon the spouse, who points out that, in order to protect you from you, the food processor will not activate unless all pieces are completely locked down, and your lid is .0006 millimeters away from “locked”. Now it works. Fortunately for the future of the food processor as anything but a reactive target, it works quite well for the original purpose you had in mind and the onion gets nicely thinly sliced in a heartbeat- so long as you don’t count all the leadup.
13. Slice the stew beef into smaller pieces. Ah, sweet uncomplicated beef, I love you so.
14. Pour the tablespoon of oil in the dutch oven and turn the burner to “low”. Insert sliced onions and carrots. Stir for five minutes. Note that nothing really has happened, least of all softening of onions; the cookbook and the Viking corporation evidently differ on what qualifies as “low”. Turn to medium low and repeat.
Meanwhile, place the flour in a polythene bag and season with salt and pepper.
15. …A what? After some contemplation, a freezer-sized Ziplock probably qualifies as a polythene bag of the correct dimensions. Put in the flour and half a teaspoon of the premixed pepper and salt you and spouse have taken to keeping around for this kind of step in cooking.
Add the stewing steak to the bag, tie the top, and shake well to coat. Do this in batches, if necessary.
16. Zip the top and shake. Make a note to write the Prime Minister of Britain with news of amazing technological breakthroughs in the former colonies.
Remove the vegetables from the casserole with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the stewing steak to the casserole, in batches, and cook, stirring frequently, until browned all over.
17. Fish out as much of the vegetables as you can get, since you don’t really want any of the onions burning while you brown the meat. Put in about half the bag of floured beef pieces, then lunge for the oil as they promptly stick to the bottom of the dutch oven and begin forming the sort of crust you can easily see requiring steel wool to remove later. Either this is a case where the cooking oil is an ingredient that really shouldn’t have been halved when halving the rest of the recipe, or the book is just plain stingy about needed fats.
18. Toss around until browned. If you want you can spend the first part of cooking keeping each piece carefully separate and turning each when one side is browned, but it turns out it’s a lot less of a pain in the ass just to keep stirring and tossing them until they’re all more-or-less evenly browned. Extract this batch and put it with the vegetables.
19. Add remaining beef. Lunge for the oil again. As this is now more oil needed than was in the original recipe for twice as much meat and vegetable, we can probably come to the conclusion that the book’s unnamed author doesn’t like to add any more fat than absolutely necessary- or even as much as is absolutely necessary.
Return all the meat and the onions and carrots to the casserole and sprinkle in any remaining seasoned flour. Pour in the stout and add the sugar, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to the boil, cover and transfer to the preheated oven to bake for 1 3/4 hours.
20. Put everything back in the pot, sprinkle, and stir. Go on an impromptu hunt for the bottle opener, which as usual anywhere but hanging from its designated hook, and pour in the stout***. The original calls for 15 ounces and the bottle holds twelve; pour about three-quarters and save the rest for the cook. Scrape a share of brown sugar off the brick you found in the cabinet and stir. Add a bay leaf, kick it up to a boil- which happens nearly immediately- then cover and try to toss it in the oven.
21. Here’s a step you should have taken when you went to pre-heat it: finding out if the oven racks are in the right position to accomodate a dutch oven. They aren’t, so now it’s time to juggle a hot dutch oven, oven racks heated to 325, and two oven thermometers. Optional: reflect on how maybe real oven mitts instead of using damp dishtowels all the time might be handy.
22. Stuff the dutch oven in there and slam the door shut gratefully, because now it’s time to walk away for nearly two hours. Use the time to take a shower, noodle around in Warcraft, and wash the food processor for round 2.
To make the herb dumplings, sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Stir in the suet and parsley and add enough of the water to make a soft dough.
23. Put the regular blade back in the food processor and dump in the flour, salt, and shortening. This would be a great time to have an actually timely brainstorm- wouldn’t dumplings going in a stew that involved beer, beef, and onions, be even better with some cheese? They certainly would, you mad genius, you. Add some shredded cheddar, then chop up some of the parsley (naturally, you only need one stalk of the giant bouquet) and add that as well.
24. Pulse the food processor a few times, periodically scraping the too-warm and sticky shortening off the sides of the bowl. Once everything’s more or less evenly mix, transfer the pre-dough to a bowl and add the water. Eyeballing the dough and figuring that it’s probably going to be sticky, flour up your hands and start rolling balls.
25. Now is the time to discover you really didn’t mix it well enough when you added the water, as well as probably using a bit too much- the last few balls are unbelievably sticky and leave more of themselves on your fingers than they contribute to the dumplings. Get as much dough into usable form as you can, then put the bowl of rolled pre-dumplings into the fridge to let that shortening cool off more, since it’s not yet quite time to add them.
26. Occupy yourself another fifteen minutes. Preferably with something that won’t require you to wash your hands again.
27. Extract the dutch oven and your bowl of dumplings, then open the lid. Turns out that stout reduced almost all the way; now it’s time to have a panic moment. Aren’t dumplings supposed to be cooked in liquid? Make an effort at burying the dumplings in the beef and onions. Panic a bit more as the stickiest ones start to fall apart. Stop screwing with it before you do even more damage and put it back in the oven for another half an hour.
28. Remove the dutch oven and open again. While the dumplings that had started to fall apart have created a sort of bread layer in their areas, the ones that didn’t turned out just fine. As is traditional, take the portion of food with the mutant dumplings for yourself and serve the rest to your spouse. Sprinkle with the rest of the chopped parsley and nom.
This turned out really nicely, dumpling uncertainties and all. (I probably should have just dropped them on the surface and let the baking take care of itself.) The cheese was as good an idea as I thought it might be, and the reduced stout made for a really nice slightly sweet and very savory sauce. The onions had hit that state where they’re half sauce and half vegetable, and the whole mess disappeared down both our throats rapidly. This halving of a recipe that was supposed to serve six wound up being just a hair short of feeding two hungry adults to complete satisfaction; I think if you added a chopped turnip it would not only bring some extra flavors that work well in a winter braise, but fill out the bulk to just-right. I also wound up wanting more dumplings than I got, and would probably use the original serves-six-supermodels recommended amount of dough.
*Once upon a time I saw a show about some ridiculously rich Silicon Valley guy’s “wired house”, which included a refrigerator with full internet access, complete with monitor, built into the door. At the time I thought it was a hilarious example of excess and gadget-lust gone mad, but at this point the idea of having access to a search engine ready to hand in the kitchen sounds really, really appealing.
**As it turns out this is wrong and peanut oil is popular for frying because it IS flavor-neutral and highly heat-stable.
***Breckenridge’s dark oatmeal stout, if you’re curious. I like mine a bit sweeter and not as dry or malty as Guinness, and this fits the bill nicely for me.