This post is my entry to the Co-op Electrical Shop competition. Here are the details:
Now that winter is upon us, there is one thing in particular that comforts us, year upon year, warming our hearts and making us feel human again: food. Nothing quite compares to a chunky beef stew or a hearty, peppery broth to help you thaw out on a cold winter’s night. Piping hot, substantial and incredibly tasty, winter comfort food provides something of an antidote from the arctic British weather conditions that chill us to the bone.
Well now there are more reasons to get cooking your favourite winter dish, as The Co-operative Electrical are offering the chance to win £750 worth of electrical goods!
All you have to do is write a blog post about your favourite winter warmer recipe and mention the http://www.coopelectricalshop.co.uk competition in your post. Then, simply email Promotions@co-operative.coop, including the web address of your blog post. There is also one runner up prize of £250 to spend on the site.
When you ask me about winter food, I think of stews above anything else. The trouble with stew is that it’s often not very photogenic. It’s often wall to wall brown, really. Not that there’s anything wrong with brown, but it makes a blogger’s job harder. Having said that, I still opted for a stew, though I called it stovies in the end. Stovies are a Scottish recipe, and one of those recipes that it’s hard to nail down. It’s a meal that’s really designed to use up leftovers from your Sunday roast, so you could throw more or less anything in and call it good.
My experience of stovies has always been stew-based – the stovies I’ve had, or made, have all been meat and veg in plenty of gravy. When I asked my parents, though, they remembered stovies from their school dinners, which was more of a hash situation – mashed potato with bits in, if you like. Two heaping spoonfuls of it, if my dad’s memory serves him, and everyone elbowing each other out of the way for seconds.
I’ve stuck with the stew-style stovies I’m used to, if only because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to bake cobbles on top of them, and that’s really what I wanted to do. Cobbled Stovies is another way of saying Stew with Scones On. Actually I might like Stew With Scones On better. I’m going to add that to the title.
Here are your ingredients for one giant dish that will serve about six (though someone will have to go without a scone, so really it serves five):
- 450g stewing steak
- 2 tbsp flour
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 500g potatoes
- 500g casserole veg mix (yep, pre-prepared)
- 500ml boiling stock
- 5 – 6 sausages
- 1 tsp HP brown sauce (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 50g peas (optional)
- green veg, to serve
- 100g plain flour
- 50g oats
- generous pinch salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 30g frozen, grated butter
- 1 tbsp chives
- 75ml cold milk
I bought ingredients specifically to make the stovies with, rather than using leftovers, and as you can see, these ingredients covered the four main food groups: meat, vegetables, potatoes and sausages. You might think that ‘sausages’ and ‘meat’ are the same food group. Clearly you don’t have an appropriate appreciation for sausages.
The veg was a pre-prepared casserole mix of onions, leeks, carrot and swede. Chopping a swede is one of the worst kitchen jobs, I like to avoid it when I can. The spuds are lovely red skinned numbers that I found in the reduced section (so they kind of are leftovers, in a way). The meat is your basic stewing steak, and the sausages are beef and Ayrshire bacon. I know, bacon *in* a sausage. Why have we never thought of this before?
The first thing to do is coat the meat in the flour, salt and pepper. This helps add flavour and colour to the meat, as well as thickening the gravy.
Next, brown the meat in the vegetable oil, over a medium heat, then fire in all the veg and the potatoes. Relish all the colours in the pot now, because they are soon to be a thing of the past.
Cook over the medium heat for about five minutes, stirring often. Scrape the bottom of the pot as much as you can. Once the meat is browned and the veg has started to soften round the edges, pour in beef or vegetable stock, and stir again.
The brown is already beginning to creep in. I know, it’s not appetising. It will already smell incredible, though, so you’ll look past the brown soupiness of it. Put the sausages on top, if you’re using them, cover the pot, and lower the heat right down. The slower you cook, the softer everything will be. Simmer for one hour, stirring as you remember, always scraping up the bottom of the pan.
After one hour, have a taste. Season if it needs it – this could include crumbling another stock cube in there if you feel like there isn’t enough flavour, it’s up to you. Don’t overdo it, because you still have some cooking and concentrating time to go. Personally, I chose to add a secret ingredient.
This was a little moment of kitchen inspiration, and the result was extraordinary. Just one teaspoon gave a massive kick in the rear to the stovies, making them buck up their ideas about how good they should be tasting.
Now, leave the lid off the pot, increase the heat just a little, and reduce for 30 – 45 minutes, until thickened and ready to eat. All the veg will be soft, and much of it will have disintegrated into the gravy. The potatoes will be cooked but not mushy – this is why it’s important to cook slowly, and over a low heat. Turn the heat off, and turn your oven on to 220C – that’s a very hot oven. Put the casserole dish you’ll be using in to heat, too.
What you’re doing next is making scones to go on top of the stew. I recently wrote a scones post that you can have a look at if you’re not sure about technique. The scones I made had chives and oats in them. They were meant to have thyme in them, but I bought a package of thyme and then lost it somewhere. I’m not even kidding. I had it when I got in from the shops, I’m pretty positive, and I have no idea where it went after that. Hopefully I’ll find it before it takes root anywhere.
The basic method is to mix the flour, oats, baking soda and salt, then rub the grated butter in, until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. Then, add the chives. Follow up with the milk, stirring and cutting it in until clumps of dough form. Bring those clumps together by hand, to make a ball of dough, and you’re ready to cut some scones!
On this occasion, I worked the dough more than I usually would, to give a denser, breadier texture. This extra kneading only amounted to four folds and turns of the dough, though – it’s still important not to knead it completely into submission, or you’ll have sullen, bready lumps on top of your stew, glowering at you as you try to eat dinner.
Take your pre-heated casserole dish out of the oven (SUPER CAREFULLY), and pour the stovies in. If you want to add some green veg, you can add it now – I went for peas. The stovies will sizzle round the edges of the casserole dish, this is alright but do watch out for any spattering that’s going on. You can see a little bit of this sizzling here:
Cut out your scones and place them straight on the stovies:
Brush the tops with milk, then put into the oven for ten minutes.
A lot happens in those ten minutes! The scones puff up and brown on top, and the stew does a little more thickening, so that you can serve it up without it creating a puddle.
The stovies are still brown, of course, but you can serve them with some green – I found flower sprouts in the shops, and bought them out of curiosity. They’re good! Like a kale-brussel sprout hybrid, as @freshfoodco described them to me.
The scone cobbles on top are like a middle ground between bread and shortcrust pastry, and frankly we really need a middle ground between those two. They are a perfect addition to the stew, and they’re tender enough to break apart with your fork. It’s a one-bowl, one-item-of-cutlery kind of meal.
Thus ends the tale of Cobbled Stovies.
I hope I win the competition.
PS – if you’re in any doubt over the greatness of stovies, just ask Dustin Hoffman.