Beef and Ale Casserole with dumplings

I’ve been craving big meaty dishes  recently. It’s the bad weather of course. That and still feeling sorry for myself after I fell on the ice and banged my head so hard. I still have a bump you know and  I just hope I don’t go bald because I have a very odd shaped head now.

When you think about it, that could have been a really nasty accident, so the best thing to do is to celebrate…. not with champagne… but with dumplings!  There’s something rather lovely about a dumpling, don’t you think?

I used to hate them – as I did anything that reminded me of a school dinner.

How on earth could a mixture of suet and flour possibly taste half way decent? My friends talked of the joys of a decent dumpling, all crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside, bobbing merrily about on a luscious stew or casserole but I still refused to have anything to do with them.

I have no idea what changed my mind but one day I thought it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I thought. I think I’d been to my favourite butcher and seen fresh suet for sale at a ridiculously low price and thought I had to give it a go. I knew that I had managed to conquer other fixed dislikes…. it really does come down to how things are made.

So if I was to experiment, then buying some suet for 33p wouldn’t break the bank, would it?

33p? For 282g? That had to be a bargain and I had to be able to make something decent with it. So I did. I looked up recipes and thought about what I wanted to achieve and then I made my first dumplings.

I’ve never looked back. I’ve made apple and chive dumplings to go with a chicken and cider casserole.

I made minty dumplings to go with lamb. I’ve made all sorts of dumplings and, do you know, I have enjoyed every one.

Now I fancied a beef and ale stew…and what would I do with the dumplings? I thought I would mix beer in them…

I had some lovely beef, just crying out to be made into a stew, and some incredibly beautiful looking carrots from the farm shop….

And I had some ale – Theakston’s XB. It would be the work of moments to get everything ready the night before and then just set it off in the slow cooker when I went to work. I’d be able to sit at my desk all day, knowing that while I was working, the supper would be cooking, and, best of all, when I opened the door of the apartment, I would be greeted by the smell of a rich and delicious stew. I love coming home to the smell of supper waiting for you. But until I become independently wealthy and can afford household staff, it is only going to happen when I sort things out by putting something in the slow cooker the night before…….

I really do think the slow cooker has been worth every penny I paid for it. I was always too cautious to go out leaving the oven on all day but I feel quite safe with the slow cooker. Maybe it is because I grew up with a gas oven and there was always the potential for explosion… I don’t know.

Anyway, fast as you can, peel and chop carrots and put half of them in the slow cooker

Sear the chopped stewing steak in a hot pan with some oil.

Put that in on top of the vegetables

Cover the meat with the rest of the carrot and onion, give everything a quick but generous shake of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and then pour in a bottle of ale.

That pan that you seared the meat in? Look at the lovely meat juices in there…

Add a spoonful of flour and stir it round to mix with the meaty juices

That will thicken the gravy beautifully while it chugs away when I am at work, so there’s no need to worry about cooking it out. Just get a smooth mixture

And pour it over the meat and vegetables in the slow cooker.

And that’s it till the next morning. Maybe ten minutes work, including wiping up.

One word of advice though… if you do this, as I did at 11.00pm, you will go to bed with everywhere smelling of fried meat. Maybe it would be better to do it earlier in the evening.

I wished I’d done it earlier as I lay there, trying to get to sleep, smelling meat that overpowered everything else, including the  lavender that I normally sprinkle on my pillow. Serves me right, eh? I should have got everything done sooner instead of leaving it till the last minute.

See that? Pitch black at 7.15 am and I am on my way out of the door – but not before I have turned on the slow-cooker. I use the Auto setting, which means it starts it off high and then turns down to low for the rest of the day.

And off I go to earn my pennies….

On my return, there’s a glorious smell of meaty loveliness… and all I have to do is mix up some dumplings.

Now, I would have fancied putting some horseradish in the dumplings to give them a bit of a zing, but the Bear hates horseradish (I really will have to do something about that…. ) so I think tonight I will mix the dumplings with beer, instead of water. That should give them a lovely beery, malty kick. Perfect for beef in ale….

120g of self raising flour and 60g of that lovely suet … mix it together with

a teaspoon of stock granules… I need to put some seasoning in – salt and pepper is good,  but I thought this might round the flavour out ….

 And instead of mixing it with cold water, a couple of tablespoons of beer will do just fine.

That does, of course, leave you with the rest of the bottle to deal with…..which might not be considered a hardship.

Anyway, roll that slightly sticky dough into dumplings (remember they will expand in the stew)  and pop them in, but because I am using a small two-person slow cooker, I can only get four in… so the rest go into the oven alongside some little potatoes which are baking….

they will  crisp up beautifully… while the others baste  in that gorgeous meat and gravy

They swell plumply as they bob about…..

And the baked ones have a gorgeous crispy crust…

Look at that – steaming, savoury beef in ale with dumplings that make you laugh with pleasure.

Can’t ask for anything more, can you?

Lamb stew and minty dumplings

While I was preparing to get back to work I went shopping to get supplies in. I saw that the butcher had some stewing lamb and I thought that there would be nothing nicer to come home to, after a day at work than some slow cooked lamb that I could pop some dumplings into, to cook while I got changed and then we could settle down to a hot meal.

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The lovely thing about slow cookers is that you can get everything prepared (and when I say prepared, I am not talking about a huge investment of time… maybe 5 minutes or so?) anyway, you can do that the night before and then start the slow cooker in the morning before you leave for work.

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Fry off the meat (you can see why it is a good thing to do this at night… I certainly wouldn’t want to be frying meat at 6am) until it is browned on the edges. This helps the gravy develop a good colour and a decent flavour.

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While that is sizzling, chop an onion and some garlic and think about the way you want to go with the lamb stew. I thought about using some spices… sort of a tagine feel but in a toned down way. I looked about to see what we had and found a bag of dried peaches. I had thought there might be some apricots but there wasn’t, so peaches it was going to be.

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They are pretty sharp in flavour which is a good thing with lamb as that is sweet in itself . I hadn’t actually used dried peaches before so this really was going to be an experiment.

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Because I was using fruit in there I looked for spices to go with it… and found a tin of tagine spices…

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By now the lamb was browned off and I put it into the slow cooker with the chopped onions.

Then scattered a handful of dried peaches on top

And then sprinkled the spice mix.

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Some stock granules over the top of that and pour in some water.


That took just over 9 minutes and that is because I was having to wash my hands in between each step to take a picture. If you aren’t doing that  😉 you can expect it to take a lot less time

 And that’s it for the night. Lid on and leave it unto the morning when you can turn it on before you go to work.

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Set it to Auto and then set off to work.


The good thing about a slow cooker is that the Auto function starts it off as high to get things going then goes right down to low to tick over until you get home….


What to do with it? When I started out I was thinking of minty dumplings but then I hadn’t thought of the tagine hint….and by the time I got home we had a friend to feed as well. That was good news and there was certainly no problem about that but what it did mean was that dumplings for three people wouldn’t fit in the small slow cooker…

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Anyway, I got in and tasted it.. it wasn’t too spicey… there was a hint of spice, sure enough, but it wasn’t totally tagine. It was a mix of sharpness from the fruit, warmth from the spices and and meaty juiciness. Dumplings would go, after all. Maybe not dumplings poached in the gravy… but they could be baked and then placed on top…

I needed to thicken the gravy slightly – at the moment it was just the slow cooked lamb juices and the water… a delicious stock but it needed to be thicker. mashed celeriac, lamb and dumplings 028 If you take a  couple of spoonfuls out of the pot and mix it with some cornflour, it mixes easily in the bowl you can add it straight back in to the main pot without making it lumpy. Now that is is thickening nicely… on to the dumplings!

First of all, put the oven on, if it isn’t on already. 200 degrees C should do it.

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So, in a bowl put 80g of self raising flour ( add a couple of teaspooons of baking powder if you use plain) and 40 g of suet..

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Chop up some mint

Add that and a sprinkling of stock granules to the flour and suet and then add a couple of teaspoons of water and mix together

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Form into dumpling shapes and put on a baking tray

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Fifteen minutes later… look!

Serve up the lamb and balance the  dumplings on top….

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Oh they were delicious! Light and fluffy with a soft middle and a gorgeously crispy outside…. what a good thing it was that we needed more than could be cooked in the slow cooker.

Sometimes you discover things by accident and are really glad you did.

Chicken in cider casserole with apple and chive dumplings

I was wondering what to make for supper and looking round to see what we had when I spotted the last  Bramley apple in the fruit dish. My aunt has a huge tree in her garden so whenever I go to see her, I come away with the cooking apples.

Chicken, I thought. Chicken casserole and I’ll add the apple… and make the gravy with a bottle of cider! And maybe dumplings to go on top…. just the thing for a blustery day. So off I went to the butcher’s and came back with legs and thighs (my favourite bits of the chicken – so juicy and flavoursome) I got a leek, some sweet onions and a couple of carrots, too.

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First thing to do was brown the chicken in the casserole dish. If you are using a slow cooker, just brown them off in a frying pan. It won’t take long and it does make a difference. Besides it melts out some of the fat which is a good thing.

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While they are browning chop your vegetables. You of course can add whatever you fancy. Onion and leek are good as they sweeten over the cooking time and I am going for a sweetly savoury, rich and delicious casserole here, a soothing meal rather than a spicy one. Carrots look pretty, so they can go in!

Take the chicken out and add your vegetables, stirring them round gently so they pick up some of the brown and caremelised bits of the chicken that are stuck on the dish.

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Then lay your chicken bits on top the vegetables. I sprinkled some Knorr Granulated Bouillon over the chicken (much easier than cubes) as I needed some stock in there

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Then, pour in the Bulmer’s apple cider!  Look at it froth beautifully. That is going to go perfectly with the apple and make the stock taste delicious. The smell as it hits the hot dish is incredible

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I peeled the Bramley, cored and cut it into pieces and quartered some mushrooms. They went in on top of everything.

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And that was it….into a preheated oven at 160 degrees so it could bubble away this afternoon. A couple of hours at the most and it would be ready.

But I wanted this to be the perfect casserole. Dumplings are always a good move… light and tasty, floating on top of delicious gravy….

For them you need flour – I used 40 g of self raising  – and 20 g of beef suet. This will make 6 lovely little  dumplings, perfect for the two of us and with two of them left over so that a certain person can take some casserole for his lunch the following day. Double the quantity, I think, for more people.

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When I make dumplings, I often chop into the mix some herbs – maybe lemon zest and some thyme, or chives… and there I was staring at the chopping board where the peel from my Bramley lay…. why not, I wondered? I nibbled a bit of the peel – definitely sharp flavoured and appley. If they added just a hint of appleness to the savoury dumplings… well, that might just be considered a triumph!

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So I chopped the apple peel finely and chopped up some chives


I added some salt to the suet and flour and a tablespoon or so of  cold water… then stirred in the chopped chives and apple peel

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Look how the colour changes slightly as it comes together

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Then I rolled the dumpling mix into 6 little balls.Brisket, chcicken casserole and dumplings 032

Before you put the little morsels of dumpling loveliness into there, stir in, if you have any, a spoonful cream. Cream in a chicken gravy is perfect. The apple and cider sharpen it so it isn’t too rich and the mixture of it all together is just so delicious.

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Then, add the dumplings.   

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I pop them on top of the casserole (remembering to leave space for them to expand a bit) maybe half an hour before I am ready to serve it. If you are doing this in the slow cooker then just turn the heat up to high for the last half hour.

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Look at them… flecked with the green of the chives and the apple…

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And that, let me tell you, was delicious. The chicken was tender, the gravy was smooth, both sweet and savoury and the dumplings had a gorgeous taste of apple running through them. How inspired was I to think of adding the peel?

I think I am on to something with that!