Beef and Ale Stew – Feeding the Masses

by Jenny

When I was first asked to come up with a dinner party for less than £3 a head by the lovely people over at Most Wanted I was a little intimidated by the task. That was until it occurred to me that coming from a family of 6 children it was something my parents did on a nearly nightly basis as I was growing up.

My contribution to the Feeding the Masses challenge at just under the threshold at £2.91 a head is:

Beef and Ale Stew with Salt and Pepper Dumplings
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Garlic and Chilli Cabbage
Roasted Parsnips

This recipe is inspired by my boyfriend’s Aunt, who is well known for her fantastic buffet lunches for huge crowds, and always includes a delicious boeuf bourguignon, found bubbling away in a slowcooker. Beef and ale stew is a fantastic thrifty alternative to beef in red wine, as it is just as tasty but the alcohol is a third of the cost. The recommended quantity of beef per guest is 175g, but I’ve scaled it back to 160g each and added pearl barley which is a fantastic filler and will help create an incredibly thick gravy. It’s a great way to cheaply make your stew go that bit further.

I have used Chantenay carrots and shallots as they are currently cheaply available at my local supermarket but they can be easily substituted for regular carrots and onions cut into chunks. They make no difference to the flavour they just look pretty.

I love stews as they are a great way to make a cheaper cut of meat luxurious. They are particularly good when it comes to feeding guests as you can do the majority of the work long before you need to get ready for your guests and they fill your house with the most delicious smells.

I found it easier to allow an extra hour in my cooking time for the stew, that way you can remove it from the oven and keep it warm either on a hot plate or a stove top on low whilst you cook the rest of the dishes. I only have a regular sized oven so I couldn’t fit the stew with all the sides in there at the same time. I have included a mixture of textures and cooking styles for the sides as it creates a nice variation.

I’m always frustrated when you read budget meals that presuppose that you have cupboards full of exotic ingredients. Whilst maintaining a well stocked arsenal of herbs and spices is an excellent way to liven up simple dishes, it is something more easily built up over time. For the sake of these recipes you will only need salt, pepper and oil (I prefer olive oil, but a relatively flavourless oil will do just as well) in your kitchen before you go out shopping.

Beef and Ale Stew

1.6kg stewing beef
500g Chantenay carrots
300g shallots peeled
500ml ale
1 tsp dried thyme
3 dried bay leaves
3 beef stock cubes
200g pearl barley
a generous pinch of salt and pepper

Using kitchen towel dry off any excess liquid from the meat, this helps it to brown.

With a frying pan on a high heat brown each side of the beef in oil. I found this was best done in batches of about ⅓ of a pack at a time.

Add all the ingredients to a stewing pot or slow cooker and top up with boiling water until all the ingredients are covered.

You will need to leave enough room in the top of the dish for the dumplings, so you don’t want the ingredients to come up further than an inch below the top of the dish. If your dish isn’t big enough you can split it between two, it’s worth asking among your friends to find if they have one they can lend you to save having to invest in a new one.

Cover the stew with a lid.

If cooking in the oven place in an oven preheated to 160C for 3 hours.

If using a slow cooker (which I did) cook for 1hr on high and then at least 5 on low.

Check the liquid level periodically, topping up with boiling water if the level gets too low.

Salt and Pepper Dumplings

150g beef suet
300g self raising flour
a large pinch of salt a very generous amount of black pepper
a small jug of cold tap water

In a bowl mix together the suet, flour, salt and pepper

Slow start adding the water, one glug at a time, mixing well with your fingers in between each addition until it forms a dough. It should be wet enough that it isn’t flake, but it shouldn’t be so wet that it’s sticky. If you do add too much water just add a little flour so it comes back to a firm dough.

Divide the dough into 20 and roll into balls.

About an hour before the stew is ready add the dumplings to the top of the stew, and return to the oven.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

2.5kg sweet potatoes

These take about a 40 minutes to an hour to roast at 200C depending on their size (that’s for medium sized ones scale the time up or down if they are larger or smaller).

Place in a tray in the oven until the skins are brown and loose against the shrunken flesh.

Peel away the skin and discard.

In a bowl mash the flesh until smooth, it’s so soft I did mine with a silicone spatula, but a fork works just as well.

Roasted Parsnips

1kg parsnips

Peel and chop into large sticks.

Place on a baking tray and sprinkle with oil, shaking the tray a couple of times to make sure they are all covered in it.

Bake at 200C for about 40 minutes until slightly browned.

Garlic and Chilli Cabbage

4 large cloves of garlic
2 chillies
Salt and Pepper
1 head of Savoy cabbage

Roast the garlic, still in it’s papery skin for about 20 minutes, and the chillies for 10 minutes in the oven with parsnips (at 200C).

Pop the roasted garlic out of it’s skin into a mortar and pestle (a bowl and fork will do just fine too).

Add a glug of oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Finely chop the roasted chillies up, it’s worth trying a bit now to judge their spiciness. Depending on how hot they are or the spice tolerance of your guests add some or all of the chilli to the rest of the ingredients.

Mash until they form a paste.

Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage, wash well, cut away the stalks and slice into 1cm thick strips.

Quarter the rest of the cabbage, remove the core, slice into strips and then rinse clean under a tap.

Place in a large saucepan with boiling water and cook for 5-8 minutes until just tender. Err on the side of under rather than overcooked.

Spoon off about 2 tbsp of the cooking water into the bowl of chilli and garlic and mix well to loosen the paste.

Drain the cabbage and return to the pan adding the chilli and garlic paste to it.

Either stir in, or preferably, cover with a lid and carefully shake to toss all the ingredients together.

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