Beef and Guinness Irish Stew

Every picture tells a story (or so they say). Well if that’s so, this picture tells a story of Ireland …


… and brown paper bags


… in the beautiful Ring of Kerry


… and of succulent tenderness …


… with homegrown beauties …


… and Irish family brewers


… and a hot pan of steaming Irish stew.


Beef and Guinness Irish Stew

1 kg/2 lb rump or shin beef, cubed
50 g/2 oz plain flour, seasoned
sunflower oil
2 medium onions, thickly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
300 ml/ 1/2 pint beef stock
600 ml/ 1 pint Guinness

Roll the cubes of beef in the flour to lightly coat them, then brown them quickly in hot oil in a frying pan to seal them. Transfer to a large saucepan.

Soften the onions and garlic in the meat residue left in the frying pan, then add to the beef.

Add the potatoes, carrots, thyme, bay leaf and beef stock to the saucepan.

Deglaze the frying pan with the Guinness and add to the stew.

Bring the stew to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Lift the lumpy things out of the pan with a slotted spoon, then reduce the gravy to half the original volume over a high heat.

Pour the gravy over the meat and veg and serve.

(the broad beans came with us to Ireland from our garden in Devon … we had a glut before leaving and didn’t want to waste them …!)


Boxing Day Pasties


“I am sooooo full,” says Aunty Marg.

“Me too,” says Grandpa Bert.

“I couldn’t eat a wafer-thin mint,” says Mr C.

“Not even a bit of Wensleydale?” asks Wallace.

“Goo goo,” says the baby (but he only had milk, which always fills him up. Besides, he has an inbuilt overflow mechanism for those I’ve-eaten-too-much moments).

There you all are, mindlessly eating chocolate-covered Brazil nuts and hanging around for the Queen’s speech (I had a friend whose Mum used to make them all stand to attention throughout that speech – seriously). Uncle George is trying to solve the fiddly little metal puzzle thing from a Christmas cracker while Oor William is wandering around with what looks like a black slug balancing on his upper lip (another cracker gift). And then someone asks …

“What shall we do tomorrow, then?”

Now, instead of running kicking and screaming from the living room and hiding under the pillow on your bed just to escape your oh-so-wonderful-but-by-now-incredibly-irritatingly-annoying relations for just one tiny moment of peace, why not propose … a Boxing Day walk? Come rain or shine, just wrap up warm and march the troops outside for a bracing blast of fresh air. And here’s the best part. You can gather up all those leftover sprouts and carrots and turkey trimmings and bread sauce and roasties and stuffing, and parcel them up into warm, steaming Boxing Day pasties to hand out to everyone as portable lunch feasts. Outdoors entertainment with the added feel-good factor of counting towards your exercise and economy-drive regimes. Skill.

These leftovers pasties are the easiest things in the world to make, and everyone always loves them. Trust me.

Here’s what you need to do …

Put 10 oz plain flour, 2 1/2 oz butter and 2 1/2 oz lard in a mixing bowl with a good pinch of salt (this gives enough pastry for four large pasties – increase the quantities as needed to make enough pasties for your Boxing Day party).


Use your fingers and thumbs to gently rub the fats into the flour. Don’t squeeze too hard or you’ll end up with a crumble topping mixture. Aim for a fine breadcrumb texture.


Use a tablespoon to sprinkle water over the mixture, cutting it through with a knife until it begins to hold together.


Use your hands to bring the dough together (gently, gently – it needs a bit more handling than the pastry for a sweet, crumbly lemon tart, but you still don’t want it to end up being too tough to bite through). Divide the dough into four equal parts (roughly equal is fine). Wrap each part in clingfilm, flatten with the heel of your hand and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour or so).


When you’re ready to make the pasties, preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Gather together your Christmas dinner leftovers.


Chop the chunky meat and vegetables into bite-sized pieces and mix together with enough bread sauce/gravy/cranberry sauce/stuffing/etc to make a moist but not too sloppy filling.


Roll out each slab of pastry into a rough circle (‘rustic’ is good – there aren’t any Michelin-star inspectors watching!). Place a good dollop of filling into one half of each circle. Wet the edges of the pastry with water using a pastry brush (or one of your kids’ paintbrushes, if all else fails). Fold one half of the pastry circle over the filling and press down to seal the edges. Make some little folds and tucks around the edges to hold the whole thing together (technically called ‘crimping’, but anything that stops the filling escaping in the oven is all that’s needed).


Transfer each pasty to a baking tray (use a spatula if you need a bit more support underneath during the transfer).


Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the pastry is golden and crisp.


It’s best to leave the pasties to cool a little on wire racks so that the bottoms don’t go soggy from the steam as they’re sitting on the baking tray, but do parcel them up while they’re still warm and head out with your crowd for the hills and wide open spaces …

These pasties were designed for the Feeding the Masses project hosted by Most Wanted, the lifestyle magazine from This project aims to create a collection of recipes for feeding large groups of people over the festive period. Importantly, some dinner hosts face a great deal of financial pressure around this time of year, and they want to prove that feeding a small army needn’t be costly or too stressful – no matter how big their appetites are. Each recipe in the collection should therefore feed 10 or more people for around £3 per head. I hope that these Boxing Day pasties achieve this aim … assuming you have sufficient leftovers from a previous meal, the only real cost involved is in the ingredients for the pastry. I find that coming up with tasty ways to use leftovers is one of the most thrifty food tips that we live by in our family. Between you and me, I often enjoy the leftovers more than I enjoyed the meal they were leftover from … but shh, that’s a secret 😉

Baked Bean and Sausage Pasties

What keeps you going?

I’ve been asked that question many times over the last several months as I’ve struggled with the twin demons of anorexia and bipolar disorder. And my answer has always been, “My family. My children.”

Take yesterday, for example. There we were, in the middle of a busy supermarket – my three children and me (always an expensive way to do the shopping) – deciding what to cook for their dinner. Surrounded by so many tasty options on the shelves in every aisle, M nevertheless said, “Baked bean and sausage pasties – the ones that you make.”

So that was what we did.

Times like this are what keep me going.

Baked Bean and Sausage Pasties

7 oz bread flour (I know, an unusual choice of flour for pastry – but it needs to be strong enough to hold the filling)
3 oz butter
2 tins of baked beans and sausages

Rub the butter into the flour and stir in just enough water to form a dough. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 mins or so.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Divide the pastry into four pieces. Roll out each piece into a circle.

Empty the cans of baked beans into a sieve to strain out most of the runny tomato sauce (otherwise the pasties disintegrate into a soggy mush. Trust me – I’ve tried it).

Spoon four mini sausages (assuming there are 8 in each tin. Can you tell I know my Heinz baked beans …?) and a quarter of the baked beans into the centre of each pastry circle. Brush the edges with water and stretch the lower half of the circle up and over the filling. Seal the edges and crimp. Snip two or three slits in the top of each pasty to let out the steam (and sauce!).

Place each pasty on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 25 to 30 mins until the pastry is golden and cooked.

Eat warm.

Kate’s Marvellous Medicine

Let me say straight off that my sister named this post. It wasn’t my idea to put myself in the title, but she insisted. I’m not altogether sure whether it’s a compliment or a dig – after all, she was likening my style of cooking one evening to George’s method of creating a medicine for his Grandma in Roald Dahl’s story of George’s Marvellous Medicine:

George had absolutely no doubts whatsoever about how he was going to make his famous medicine. He wasn’t going to fool about wondering whether to put in a little bit of this or a little bit of that. Quite simply, he was going to put in EVERYTHING he could find. There would be no messing about, no hesitating, no wondering whether a particular thing would knock the old girl sideways or not. The rule would be this: whatever he saw, if it was runny or powdery or gooey, in it went.

It all started with a fridge full of leftovers. There was half a chunk of cooked beef brisket, a slightly bendy parsnip, the bulb end of a small and apparently seedless butternut squash and a couple of boiled potatoes. Because of my inability to keep tabs on the contents of the vegetable drawer when in a supermarket, there were also about three separate bags of carrots, all in various degrees of freshness.

It all needed using and O wasn’t around to judge, so I decided to throw everything together into a sort of parsnippy, potatoey, carrotty, beef stew. With a tiny bit of butternut squash. So what if it’s Summer?

The tiny amount of butternut squash that I could add to the stew became even smaller when I discovered the seeds clustered in the very end of the bulb. Lucy became rather excited at this point and rescued the seeds from where I’d scooped them out onto the pile of peelings designated for the compost bin. In a moment of brilliance, she doused them in olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and roasted them in the oven until they turned golden and puffed. Wow. They were absolutely delicious, each seed exploding in your mouth with an intense, toasted popcorn flavour. From now on, I’ll be buying butternut squash for the seeds alone!

It was then that things started to become more complicated. A couple of the girls’ friends from the village popped in and commented hungrily on the tasty smells coming from our kitchen. I took pity on them and found myself inviting them to stay for dinner. Uh-oh. What had started out as a meagre stew for my sister and me now needed to expand rapidly to satisfy the appetites and expectations of four ravenous children as well.

Carrots. Kids like carrots and I had a vegetable drawer full of the things. I chopped them all up and added them to the pot. I also poured in a tin of tomatoes for good measure. As I stirred the stew however, I had a growing feeling of unease. No way were the children going to eat this. It was far too lumpy. All those carefully diced vegetables and finely sliced onions just weren’t the sorts of things I could imagine disappearing quickly from the plates of these girls.

The Magimix food processor comes in handy for moments like this. The stew transformed into broth at the push of a button. Instead of serving it with mashed potato, I could now present it as a pasta sauce. No problem.

Only there was a problem. It wasn’t until after I’d added the beef to the mulch that I realised it was still too grainy – I hadn’t blended it for long enough, and now it was too late to tip it back into the Magimix for another attempt. I looked for a more hopeful second opinion, but Lucy agreed. No way were the children going to eat this.

That was why things got messy.

I know it doesn’t look good, but sieving the whole mixture was a master stroke. The liquid that drained from the lumpy, gooey mulch was smooth, clear and perfectly flavoured with a balance of carrot, tomato, parsnip and butternut squash. Far from having cooked up something destined only for the dustbin, we had created an award-winning pasta sauce.

Fortunately, the girls thought so too.

It doesn’t happen very often in my experience of cooking for children, but what better endorsement is there than plates like these?!

The only downside was that Lucy and I were left with a pan full of mush for our dinner. Yum.

This was when Lucy came up with the title for this post. She watched me pull a random selection of spice jars from the shelf and dump the powders indiscriminately onto the top of the mulch.

“Great,” she commented. “Kate’s Marvellous Medicine.”

I gave it a stir, shoved it in the oven and ignored it until the children were in bed.

Eh voilà!

Beef curry.

It was a tasty one, too. Even Lucy said so, which is quite something considering that she had witnessed the madness of the whole evening’s cooking process!

Apples Galore

Many years ago when anything was possible, I pushed an apple pip into the ground and it grew into an apple tree. My apple tree moved with me to two new childhood homes and eventually grew sweet apples that I ate in memory of that first original fruit.

When my parents moved to Devon earlier this year, they tried to bring some part of this apple tree with them. My Dad attempted to graft some winterbound twigs onto new stock, whilst a friend planted fresh cuttings in a transportable mini cold frame. It was the wrong time of year, it was the nature of things – all of these much-appreciated attempts failed (although I still have a pressed leaf from the cuttings of my apple tree).

At the same time as when my parents were preparing to pack up their moving crates however, O and our children planted a new apple tree in our front garden with its own story to tell.

Last November, O brought home a young apple tree from St Bridget Nurseries. He told us how a staff member at the nurseries had helped him to carry the tree to his car. It had been a struggle to wedge the tree into the boot of the car without snapping or trapping any of the precious branches, and they were both tired from the effort. Having recently been in the States where he had learned to reach automatically for his wallet at times like this, O offered to tip the man. The man replied that he wanted no tip, but would instead welcome an apple from the tree the following year.

We planted the tree and worked hard to lay turf over the ground before the first frosts came, only to wake up to an unprecedented covering of snow that lasted for the first two months of our newly-designed garden’s life.

As the ground began to thaw and the dark days started to lengthen, we worried that the young tree had not survived the ill-timed freeze and watched anxiously for signs of growth. Crocuses and daffodils planted at the foot of the tree peeked tentatively through the grass as if unsure about the rewards of pushing upwards through the frozen earth. Buds on the tips of the bare apple tree branches swelled minutely and we held our breath as we waited for Spring to explode.

Among the apples we have collected from our tree this year, one is reserved for the man from the garden centre. We will be taking it to him later today. Fingers crossed he enjoys his slow-to-mature tip!

I’m not alone in turning my thoughts to apples at this time of year. Yesterday saw the 21st anniversary of the autumnal celebration of Apple Day with events around the world to inspire and inform an orchard revival. Close to home, Otterton Mill is hosting food tasting, apple bobbing and other family activities tomorrow, whilst we have the opportunity to press our own apples into juice at Matthews Hall in Topsham on Sunday (perhaps we may grow sufficient apples for a drop or two of juice next year!). There’s still time to discover an Apple Day event near you …

Apparently, the association of apples with Hallowe’en is all down to the Celts. They believed that fruits grew magically in the Island of Apples, an enchanted place that was only accessible by passing through water. So next time you find yourself snorting water as bobbing apples bonk your nose at a Hallowe’en party, it may help to remember this mystical isle.

One of my own favourite apple traditions as a child was to throw the peelings over my shoulder to discover the initials of the person I would marry. Well, would you just look at that … spooooky!

I thought that now would be a good time to share a recipe I was inspired to create recently. It’s a dish for those seasons of mellow fruitfulness when the morning mists cling to the path of the river towards the estuary and the crisp evening skies fill with the aroma of wood smoke from bonfires and hearths.

Pork and Apple Sausage Parcels in Apple Stew

2 small onions, halved and cut into long slices
2 sticks celery, diced
6 mushrooms, diced into large chunks
1 green chilli, chopped finely
3 dessert apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried thyme
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
150 ml chicken stock
8 oz pork fillet
6 pork and apple sausages
6 rashers unsmoked back bacon
500 ml dry cider

Using an ovenproof 10″ saucepan with lid:

Fry the onions, celery, mushrooms and chilli in 2 to 3 tbsp olive oil to soften.

Add diced apples, herbs and chicken stock.

Cut the pork into 4 slices, then bash each with a mallet into rectangles. Split 3 of the sausages from their casings and divide the sausagemeat between the pork rectangles. Roll each rectangle and wrap with bacon (1 1/2 slices per pork parcel). Secure with string.

Split the casings of the remaining sausages and make balls out of the sausagemeat. Add to the pan and fry to brown.

Place the pork parcels on top of the apple stew and add the cider (it should come halfway up the sides of the pork parcels).

Cover and place in the oven at 160 degrees C for 1 1/2 hours.

Untie the parcels to serve. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice.