Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Beef Stew and Dumplings

This post does represent me putting my hands up and saying publicly 'I was wrong'.  Not an easy thing for me to do I have to say!  I have been with Steve for a long time now and during that time I have always told him I hate slow cooked beef, that it is dry and chewy and flavorless and that I would much rather have a steak where you wipe its backside and send it to the table, preferably still moo-ing (I like my steak blue - Parisian blue, not English blue).

Steve on the other hand has frequently gone googly-eyed over a slow cooked joint of beef.  He is a Northern boy by way of Lincolnshire and I strongly suspect that gravy runs through his veins instead of blood.  This weekend I caved and agreed to cook him a beef stew with dumplings.  With the proviso that I could get a pizza if I hated it.

I spent ages online looking at different recipes, different cuts of beef, different cooking times and methods and amalgamated a lot of them into this version.
Oh. My. God.  This was incredible.  Lip smackingly, scrape the bowl, stick your nose in and lick it clean good.  The beef had the most rich, succulent, decadent aroma that lit up your taste buds like fireworks night (this would actually work extremely well as a belly warmer on November 5th!); it melted in your mouth, it was gelatinous and sticky and soft. The dumplings were soft and fluffy and mopped up the gravy better than ciabatta (haven't tried it yet?  Next time you have gravy make sure you have some ciabatta).  The noises that came out of Steve as he bolted down his meal were bordering on the obscene.

So I thought I would share this recipe here.  Before I do I have a few announcements / warnings.

1) This is not healthy.  Not even close.  It is worth it.
2) If you cannot get shin of beef or beef dripping, do not substitute.  Please.  I'm begging you.  Just go to your butcher and arm wrestle them until they agree to order it in.  Most supermarkets should have it on their meat aisle shelves though.  It is a really cheap cut of meat.  Beef dripping can normally be found near the butter and margarine.
3) If you have any leftovers, try them on top of a slice of buttered bread the next day.  Trust me - you will never turn back.
4) It takes a couple of hours.  Do not even attempt unless you can spend 2-3 hours near the kitchen.

  • Beef Dripping (10g per 150g of beef) (if anyone can find this is smaller packets than the monster I had to get can you let me know?!)
  • As much shin of beef as you think your family can handle.  Then add a bit more for good measure.
  • Small bottle of red wine (or big and drink the rest.  Whatever floats your boat)
  • 1.5 medium carrots per person - diced
  • 1/2 stick of celery per person - diced
  • 1/2 leek per person - diced
  • 3 small shallots per person - peeled and left whole
  • 1 bay leaf per person
  • 1 clove garlic per person - peeled and crushed
  • 2 fresh sage leaves per person
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped thyme per person
  • Flour
  • 5 Chestnut mushrooms per person - brushed and halved
  • 250ml liquid fresh beef stock per person
  • 100ml beef gravy per person
  • Seasoning - salt and pepper
 For the Dumplings

I cheated and got a just-add-water dumpling mix.  There is a great dumpling recipe here though http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/beefstewwithdumpling_87333

Pre-heat the oven to 180C

In a large casserole dish that is both hob and oven-proof, melt the dripping.
Cut the shin of beef into large chunks.
Season the flour with salt and pepper and coat each chunk of beef in the flour.
Brown in the dripping for about 5 minutes then add a generous slosh of red wine.  Reduce down until bubbling.
Remove the beef and set aside.
Add all the veg bar the mushrooms to the dripping, beef juice and red wine mix and soften.

Add the garlic.

When nicely soft return the beef to the pan and add the herbs.

Pour over the liquid stock, stir it all together, cover, stick it in the oven and cook for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, remove from the oven, stir and add the beef gravy.  Cook for 30 minutes (covered).

Make the dumplings. If you coat your hands in oil it is easier to roll the dumplings as the dough is very sticky!
After 30 minutes, remove from the oven, add the mushrooms and stir in.

Place the dumplings on top of the stew, making sure that they don't touch each other or the edges of the dish if possible.
Cook for 30 more minutes (uncovered if you want the dumplings slightly crispy)

Serve with mash potatoes and green vegetables if you feel like it.  I find this a hearty meal all on its own though.
Stick it on the table.  Tuck in. 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Twin Sisters

Last Sunday I was going absolutely stir crazy in the house.  My plans the previous day to have lunch with some girlfriends in London had been cancelled due to snow and that day I was supposed to be meeting another bunch of girlfriends for high tea in Canterbury - one of our favourite catch up and gossip past-times.  Unfortunately two of the girls live in one of the nearby villages on the Downs and access is up a very long, very steep hill.  This coupled with the deluge of snow we had received meant that all my weekend plans had been cancelled.

My lovely husband is not nearly as daunted by the prospect of skidding, ice and a grisly cold death as apparently I am and suggested we go on a little driving adventure to the seaside.  His excuse was that he wanted to see snow on the water.  I thought he was absolutely crazy but jumped at the chance to get out of the house.  On went the layers and off we drove to Herne Bay (via a quick stop at M&S for some supplies and popped into a friends house in Herne just outside of Herne Bay for a coffee en-route and to confirm another friends birthday plans for the evening).

Herne Bay was beautiful in the snow - eerily quiet with the beach covered in deep drifts.  We come here frequently in the summer (some good independent boutiques help to break a day up on the beach and the Italian ice cream at the Band Stand is divine) but this was the first time I have seen it quite like this.  Normally you struggle to find somewhere to park in the summer as the place is inundated with sun seeking locals and tourists alike but today the place was like a ghost town! We ventured onto the beach and Steve had to help me as the snow covered pebbles kept dropping away under my feet.  I had my iPad with me so got some OK pictures on that of the pier and the water lapping by the end of the wooden groynes.  No snow on the water though which was a shame.
We only spent about 30 minutes in Herne Bay in the end as it was just too cold and decided to hop back in the car and nip down the coast to Reculver.  Reculver is tiny and despite living in the area for 10 years, it took me until last Summer to finally figure out how to get to the Towers (the ruined St Mary's Church) which are one of the coastal landmarks.  It is so well know to mariners that they nicknamed the towers the 'Twin Sisters' hundreds of years ago.  It's the oddest journey - you basically end up driving through a dense residential area to a country lane near the back, down the lane following the same route as the old Roman road that led to Canterbury, past a holiday caravan park or three and it opens into a wide car park with the seacoast directly below and a cosy pub (The King Ethelbert Inn) nearby with the Towers reaching up into the sky overhead.  I love this place - it is a beautiful spot and would be great for a picnic when the weather warms up.
In the snow it was magical.  There were some families with kids (only about 6 people in total) sledging near the side of the Towers.  Other than the laughter of the children it was deathly silent with the pervading smell of burning cedar wood coming from the pub next door floating on the air.  Heavenly.

The Towers themselves are ancient with the central structure in surprisingly good condition and the remains of the Roman fort built nearly 2000 years ago behind  - all surrounded by fields and the sea and the glinting lights of Herne Bay in the distance.  We arrived just before sunset and I wish I could take credit for the photo.  Sadly that has to be claimed by husband - he took it on his phone of all things.  Reculver to me is wild, untamed and moody.  The coast around the Towers is treacherous and filled with rocks with little beach to access and it appeals to the hopeless romantic within me.  The Towers are such a lonely, isolated edifice.

Places like Reculver are one of the reasons I have set up this blog.  It is so tucked away and off the tourist trail that most visitors to Canterbury won't ever get to see it.  These towers have been standing guard over the coast since the 12C and the fort a thousand years longer.  It is a wonderful place and I can't wait to picnic here with some friends in the summer, listening to music, drinking chilled Sauvignon Blanc and playing frisbee and rounders in the shelter of the Twin Sisters of Reculver.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Pay It Forward

I first came across the Pay It Forward concept via Facebook of all places; it was doing the rounds there a few weeks ago and was such a lovely idea that I joined in (and now have a bunch of people who will be getting something from me out of the blue at some point this year - I can't wait to surprise them!  The hard part for me will be not completing it before the end of February!)

I spotted today that Laura (left) from Life as an Hourglass was also joining in so thought I would share the love some more by doing a blog post on the concept.

It is really very simple.  The first five people to comment on this post will receive from me, sometime in the next calendar year, a surprise! This could be anything from a handmade goodie, a box of your favourite beauty products or something random to just make you smile. There will be no warning to when you'll receive your gift and it will happen whenever I feel the urge to contact you. The only catch is the five people have to do a similar post on their own blog with a copy of my pic and a link to this post.  Make sure I have someway of contacting you to send you something!  
Please excuse the horrific and very old picture of me.  I didn't have many options available
I think that Pay It Forward is such a lovely way to cheer up someone in 2013.  My 2012 was a turbulent year with some fantastic highs but also some really, really low lows so I want to do something in 2013 that will help people smile.  I will make sure I blog about each of the little somethings that I send out as well.  Creative hats on!

Will you Pay It Forward?

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Snow Day means comfort food

I'll admit that I am playing rather fast and loose with the term snow day here. While the majority of the UK has been wrapped in a soft blanket of the cold white fluffy stuff, here on the Costa del Kent we seem to have missed the worst of it and have got a light dusting. It has still been enough to cancel my plans to meet some old school friends for lunch in London though as our transport system seems to shut down the second the first snowflake hits the train tracks. Grrr.

This is big jumper dress, thick tights and a big bowl of steaming pasta weather.
This pasta dish is so quick and easy and is one of my go-to meals when I need something fast and warm. I've cooked it so many times and is never comes out the same but it is always lovely. As long as I have some dried pasta and a tin of tomatoes in the house I can whip this up.

Today's version included fresh basil, pancetta, oregano and mozzarella; anything I had in the fridge that needed using up. You can do it with bacon lardons and dried basil but just cook for a bit longer and drain off the excess liquid. Go easy on extra salt as well, you get a lot from the pancetta. I also smother in Tabasco, but that is a matter of taste.

How can you resist?

Friday, 18 January 2013


18th January 2013

After umming and aahing for months years I have finally decided to launch into the world of blogging.  I used to keep diaries when I was little so I'm hoping that this won't be too different!  It will also force me to (finally) learn how to use my camera that currently makes me look like a complete techno-whizz when I hold it but in reality scares the beejeebies out of me.  Who knows, I may even bite the bullet and venture into the completely mysterious world of photo editing!
Look how pretty the fields are in the Spring!
So here is a bit of an intro.  I'm older than 28 (cough), married to the most amazing man (yay!), have a cat (Gypsy) and moved to Canterbury from London to go to University here and never went back.  I love my city and the surrounding areas of the Garden of England and want to share that with the rest of the world.  If I'm honest, I don't miss the dirt and grime of London at all and, being less than an hour away, I can still visit if the whim takes me.

This blog will (I hope) showcase my favourite places to eat, drink and make merry, the little secret shops and boutiques and the hidden gems of this beautiful corner of England as well as anything else that takes my fancy.
I may as well explain the name while I'm here.  Miscriant is a nickname my husband gave me years ago when we first met- it's a play on Miss + my maiden name and yes, I know you normally spell it 'miscreant' but that just doesn't tie in with my maiden name! It has kinda stuck and is now my Twitter moniker as well. I promise I'm not a lawbreaker, rascal or knave. 

I'm heavily into amateur dramatics and am part of a local Players group so that may well get mentioned.  You have been warned.

With that in mind I hope to update at least once a week.....