Growing up in 1970’s New Zealand, proletariat food fell into two distinct camps, traditional British inspired fare and new-fangled cooking.
There was a battle going on at our house with my mother in one camp and my father in the other. It was a war that was never won. My father had grown up with an extremely modern working Mum, and as a result dinner was more often than not dried out bits of meat that had been cooking all day; there being no time saving conveniences for my Nana such as self-starting ovens, crock pots or heaven forbid microwaves.
So my father had a pathological hatred for anything ordinary, loved international cuisine and regularly experimented in the kitchen with the full fervour of a man pursued by an over cooked lamb roast and grey vegetables. I was an able lieutenant on this culinary quest and am proud to say that he believed me a very fine cook; and yet here we are in the middle of winter and I find myself in urgent need, of a casserole.
Luckily for me I have on hand most of my father’s cookbooks salvaged from one of my mother’s ruthless clear-outs, and amongst them I found a nice little collection of what would have been his attempts to get my mother to cook something decent.
Margaret Fulton, Margaritte Patten and Cordon Bleu. Ironically though it is his handwriting throughout these books (he never could leave a recipe alone), and so I set to finding the perfect casserole to warm our tummies and honour his memory.
But a funny thing has happened to our taste buds with all this new-fangled cooking, they have become fussy and a possibly bit uppity, and a quick evaluation of the parsimonious nature of the ingredients lists in these books told me that these dishes were dull, with a capital D.
Leaving only a couple of books open I began an internet search: Delia, Jamie, Nigel Slater, Nigella but nobody could give me what I was looking for. And I knew what I was looking for. I had 1.2 kgs of cross-cut blade in the fridge and I wanted it perfect, melt in the mouth, dark rich and perfect. The modern doyens and doyennes were getting there, but no one had it really right.
I wanted a deep unctuous gravy, but it had to have a smooth umami flavour and most recipes contained tomato paste, so that wasn’t going to work. I wanted to use Molasses, but all the US websites that use that also called for an American palate, so they weren’t going to work.
I wanted Stout, but I didn’t want to be restricted to using parsley either, so there was only one thing for it, write my own recipe.
Before I share it with you, let me confess that I let Nigel convince me to make dumplings. Now I loathe scones, scone toppers and until now dumplings. But making these little beauties with self-raising flour as well as the traditional suet yielded fluffy little clouds of deliciousness that I had to physically restrain myself from indulging in. Hand grating the lump of visceral fat which is suet, helped in that endeavour.
1 kg cross blade steak (cubed)
4 cloves of garlic
3 stalks of celery
120 grams of button mushrooms
4 Bay leaves
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 Tablespoon molasses
15oz can of Guinness
3 ½ cup of Beef stock
1 1/2 Tablespoon flour
120 grams of self raising flour
50 grams of shredded Suet
2 Tablespoon parsley finely chopped
Heat the oven to 175 degrees.
Toss the cubed meat in seasoned flour and brown in batches. Soften onion, celery and garlic, add thyme and season. Add mushrooms, bay leaves, molasses, Guinness and Stock, bring to the boil, cover and put into the oven for two hours.
For the dumplings sift together flour and salt, then add suet and parsley. Mix gently with a little water to form soft but not sticky dough. Roll into balls about the size of a small egg. Refrigerate and add to stew in the last 45 mins of cooking.