Autumn is finally here in the UK and for me, it is the finest of seasons. The nights may be getting darker, the weather is certainly getting colder, but it all adds to the cosiness of a season that I always anticipate.
When it comes to comforting food, this is the season to eat; hot stews and casseroles, filling sticky puddings and hot custard, steaming oat porridge with syrup. These are the foods of the North East England Gods and I champion every single one of them.
The slow cooker comes into its own during these frugal and busy times and it sits there begging for yet another meaty stew to help fill the house with mouth-watering smells to come home to each evening. Some decent chunks of braising beef, lots of root vegetables, woody herbs and a slosh of red wine and stock are all that is required to make a heavenly stew. And if you can top it with some dumplings, an invention born to stick to your insides and fill the most rumbling of tummies, you can guarantee smiles on faces all round. Enjoy the seasons.
Beef and Root Vegetable Stew with Herb and Mustard Dumplings
2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
800g braising beef cut into large chunks
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 handful of roughly chopped thyme or 1 tbsp dried thyme
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 heaped tbsp seasoned plain flour
250ml red wine
250ml beef stock
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
2 leeks, sliced into large chunks
1 small swede, peeled and cut into chunks
For the dumplings
200g self-raising flour
100g margarine or butter
1 tbsp English mustard
4 tbsp chopped chives, thyme and parsley
Salt and pepper
1 - Pre-heat the slow cooker or the oven to 160C/GM4.
2 - In a large pan or casserole dish, heat up the oil. Add the beef and fry quickly to seal all over. Remove with a slotted spoon.
3 - Add the onion and cook for a further 5 minutes. Return the beef and stir in the herbs and tomato puree. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 1 minute.
4 - Add the wine and stock and bring to the boil. Add the vegetables then either pour into the slow cooker or place the casserole dish into the oven.
5 - If cooking in the slow cooker, cook on a low setting for 5-6 hours. If cooking in the oven, cook for 2- 2 and a half hours, checking every hour to see if the liquid is sufficient.
6 - To make the dumplings, run the flour and margarine together then stir in the mustard, herbs and a little salt and pepper. Pour in enough water so that when mixed with hands you have a soft sticky dough. With floured hands form walnut sized balls.
7 - For the final 45 minutes cooking time, place the dumplings on top of the stew and cook until plump and cooked through.
8 - Taste for seasoning. Serve with seasonal greens.