Of dad and dumplings

(There has been a bit of a break between my last missive and this one, we are in the process of redecorating our little kitchen. I have finally managed to finish writing this sitting at my dad’s old computer at my parents’ house, where me and the boys are staying while Barry, the dashing decorator, paints the kitchen).

When I sat down to write this I was struck by a memory. When I was a wee girl and dressed up for a party or some other occasion my dad would look me up and down and say “you’re as pretty as a picture…” there would be a pause “…a picture of a dumpling”. It was one of those comforting family rituals, a joke between me and my dad, just for us. The origins of the joke are lost, I always meant to ask him about it, perhaps I even did and have forgotten what he said. I can’t ask my dad about it now, he died in May of this year. It seems that this is what his death means for me really, a repeated absence at times when in the past connection would have been possible. I miss him.

‘Dumpling’ remains a term of affection I use often with my own children and even occasionally my husband (he’s less keen to be fair!).

I think my dad would have liked this blog, he was a good cook himself and a far better writer than I. His blog, Wee Jokes, is still there and contains the amazing, powerful, unflinching poetry he wrote in his last few months. Go and have a look, I’d like that.

Beef stew and dumplings

I’ve made beef stew lots of times but dumplings were something I had never attempted before and I was apprehensive that they would turn out heavy and lumpen. A light touch with the dough and using self-raising flour meant my worries were unfounded. Leaving them peeping out of the stew and cooking them uncovered meant they had a lovely crunchy top. Proper rib sticking wintery fare.

  • 750g stewing steak, cut into large chunks
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned plain flour
  • A small turnip (or what Scottish people, like me, call a turnip – a swede? The one with the yellow flesh not the tiny wee white kind. I’m not the first to ponder this as this rather amusing article proves…)
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 medium leeks
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 large onion
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

For the dumplings

  • 100g self raising flour
  • 50g suet (or grated, frozen butter works too, my mum says)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 5 tablespoons cold water, or thereabouts

Preheat the oven to 170 c/ gas mark 3/ 325 f

You will need an ovenproof casserole with a lid (ideally one that can go from stove top to oven…)

Toss the stewing steak in the seasoned flour and shake off the excess.

Brown the meat in batches.

If you are transferring the stew to a casserole to put it in the oven then deglaze the pan with a little of the stock and pour it into your casserole dish so you don’t lose any of the nice meat juices and flavour.

Chop all the vegetables into rough chunks and add to the casserole along with the browned beef.

Add the vinegar and the Worcestershire sauce to the stock and pour it over the meat and vegetables.

Tuck the bay leaves and the thyme into the middle.

Put the lid on and stick it in the oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours until the meat is tender.

To make the dumplings mix the flour, suet, salt and herbs together in a bowl and add water until you have a soft, pliable dough. Take small lumps and roll them into balls using floured hands. This amount should make about 8.

Pop the dumplings on top of the stew, mainly submerged but with the tops peeping out and return the dish to the oven without the lid for 20-25 minutes.

When it is done the dumplings will be bigger and lightly brown and crispy on top. As pretty as a picture.