Not much I can really say about this recipe; the smell of chuck steak and ale, fortified with sweet carrots, onions and a handful of creamy barley, bubbling slowly away at the back of the stove would surely cheer all but the hardest heart in the depths of midwinter.
Of course, you can't have a proper stew without dumplings. Fluffy little orbs of dough poached in the steam of the stew, the bottoms soaking up all the juices, the tops forming the perfect crust. The only meal that was ever guaranteed to unite the whole family when I was growing up was my mum's lamb stew. Lamb neck, barley, carrots and dumplings. Eating it was akin to cuddling under a blanket with your fluffy pyjamas on while hugging a hot water bottle; truly the very best comfort food.
To really guild the lily I have added some crumbled Stilton, still hanging around from Christmas, to the mix. A great combination; the well hung beef perfectly echoes the funky notes of the blue cheese. Even the Ewing - who has previously stated she only likes our friend Stealth's dumpling's, cause of much consternation on my behalf - thoroughly enjoyed these fluffy and cheesy balls of joy. If you don't fancy Stilton then a handful of chopped parsley added to the dough provides a bright, iron-rich edge. You could also consider adding a handful of chopped walnuts, with or without the cheese, for a lovely nutty crunch.
Of course it's petty hard to mess up a simple casserole, so feel free to modify with your own favourite ingredients. Red wine always makes a good cooking medium, as does beef or vegetable stock. Chunks of parsnip, turnip and/or potatoes can take the place of the barley, and if you're really carb-loading in this snowy weather then serve with extra root veg mashed with plenty of butter and pepper.
Steak & Ale Stew with Stilton Dumplings
1kg chuck steak, cubed
2 onions, sliced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
1 (500ml) bottle of ale or stock
100g pearl barley or soup mix
Seasoned flour, for dusting
A few sprigs of thyme
Salt and black pepper
For the dumplings -
175g self raising flour
75g suet (vegetable is fine)
100g Stilton, or other blue cheese, cubed
2tbsp Parsley, finely chopped (optional)
Cold water to bind
Dust the beef lightly in seasoned flour and brown in a hot frying pan.
Slowly sweat the carrots, celery and onion in a casserrole with some light olive oil until softened.
Add the beef, ale, salt, pepper and thyme to the vegetable and bring to a simmer the place in the preheated oven and cook for about and hour and a half.
Add the barley, gently stir and continue cooking until the grains are soft and creamy and the beef is tender.
Meanwhile, make the dumplings. In a bowl mix together the flour, suet, Stilton and parsley.
Make a well in the centre. Add water a little at a time water stirring until the mixture forms a forms a soft dough. Lightly wet your hands and shape the dough into small dumplings.
When the stew is nearly ready add the dumplings, replace the lid and poach for about 20 minutes until the dumplings have risen.
To finish remove the lid and cook for another ten minutes, or until the dumplings are lightly golden.