Slow cooker beef and ale stew with dumplings
In my determination to get out of my boring food rut, while at the same time focusing on weeknight dinners that can be served up within 30 minutes, I’ve invested in a slow cooker. (Read more about my Healthier Mummy challenge here: Do you have mealtime déjà vu?)
I love the way a slow cooker takes advantage of your body’s natural rhythms. It feels much more constructive to be preparing ingredients when you’ve got more energy (early in the morning) or are not starving (just before you go to bed), than when you’re frazzled and demented with hunger after the kids’ bedtime.
You might think that a slow cooker meal – which could take 10 hours to cook – defeats the point of my 30-minute challenge. But I think it still counts. This is because it never takes longer than 30 minutes to chop the veg and prepare the ingredients, and often less. I just get up a bit earlier on a slow cooker day to do the preparation.
And crucially, in the evening, it takes zero minutes as it’s already ready. You only need to spend time preparing if you want something else to go with it, like couscous or vegetables.
If you’re adding dumplings in the evening, as in the recipe below, I’ve discovered that it saves a lot of time later if you weigh out the suet, flour and any other ingredients that morning or the night before. Leave in a covered mixing bowl until you need them.
It then takes precisely one minute to add water, stir and shape the mixture into dumplings, and pop them into the slow cooker. I can do this just before taking the kids up to bed, so that by the time I’ve finished reading stories, oh joy, the dinner is ready.
Cooking using a slow cooker has banished some of my evening stress and tension, and so made me more patient with the kids: there’s a certain warm, comforting glow from knowing that the food is ready and you just have to ladle it out.
Then you can put any leftovers in the freezer for those nights when you would like a home-cooked meal but are too tired, or take them to work for lunch the next day (my lunchtime bagel is almost a thing of the past). All hail to the slow cooker.
Recipe for slow cooker beef and stout stew with dumplings
So far this is one of my favourites for a rainy, wintry day. It’s a healthier adaptation of a recipe from Hamlyn’s 200 Slow Cooker Recipes, cutting back on the oil and amount of beef, and adding extra veg (swede) to ramp up the vitamin content. The dumplings are a cold day treat, and mean that you don’t need to bother preparing any other carbohydrates to serve with it.
I also cut out a couple of steps by adding all the veg at the beginning to make it less complicated for busy cooks.
1 tablespoon oil
600g (1.3lb) braising beef, cubed and any fat discarded
1 large onion, chopped
2 to 3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp plain flour
300ml (½ pint) Guinness or stout
300ml (½ pint) beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato purée
2 bay leaves
Half a small swede
1 large leek
Salt and pepper to season
For the dumplings
150g (5oz) self-raising flour
75g (3oz) shredded vegetable suet
5 to 7 tablespoons water
(You can also add 3 tablespoons wholegrain mustard here but I didn’t because I was serving it to the kids too, and they’re a bit funny about mustard.)
Preheat the slow cooker if necessary, according to your manufacturer’s instructions. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the beef, a few cubes at a time, until all the pieces have been added to the pan. Fry over a high heat until just beginning to brown, then add the onion and fry, stirring, for 5 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and flour, and then gradually mix in the stout and stock. Add the tomato purée and bay leaves, and season. Bring to the boil, and transfer the mixture to the slow cooker pot. Add the carrots and leeks. Press the meat below the surface of the liquid. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
Make the dumplings. Mix the flour, suet and mustard if using, salt and pepper in a bowl. Stir with enough water to make a soft but not sticky dough. With floured hands, shape into 12 balls.
Stir the stew and add the dumplings onto the top. Replace the lid and cook for 30 to 45 minutes on high, or until the dumplings are light and fluffy. Enjoy!