I like cooking “themes.” When I cook, I try to make sure that my main dish goes with my side dish, and it’s nice if I have a dessert that matches as well. Alex doesn’t understand this. Often I’ll make comments to Alex like “I don’t know what we’ll have with the chicken” and he’ll suggest something like “cherry asparagus,” just because he sees a can of cherries and a can of asparagus together. And he’s trying to be funny. But this is a perfect (and real) example of food combinations that we’ll never experience – cherries + chicken, yes; chicken + asparagus, yes; cherries + asparagus, no. That is, unless someone has a good, actual recipe.
Holidays are great because they give me themes! Cooking Light magazine had a St. Patrick’s Day themed section, and just because the brownies had been failures didn’t mean I was going to give up on the other recipes! I decided to make the Beef and Guinness Stew and Brown Soda Bread for dinner.
Beef and Guinness Stew was a perfect recipe for a slow cooker, even though the instructions didn’t call for one. I decided that I would simply prepare everything on Wednesday morning before work, rather than do part of it the night before (when I’d already made two recipes). I bought stew meat, but I still had to cut up all the vegetables. The cutting of all the onions, carrots, parsnip, and turnip, plus assembly of everything in the slow cooker, took somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. [It’s a good thing that I have a little extra time structured into my mornings.] Perhaps the most significant other departure from the recipe was that I decided not to brown the meat and onions in advance – I just tossed everything into the slow cooker. This was my first time cooking with parsnips and turnips – I’m pretty sure I’d never had either of them. I used one of each, which ended up being more than the quantity called for. I omitted the raisins, and the oil/butter which I didn’t cook with. I started the slow cooker on low at 7:30am, and turned it off at 5:30pm. It may have cooked a little longer than it needed to.
The Brown Soda Bread looked incredibly easy to make, and it was. I got home from work and immediately turned on the oven. I had the batter ready to go into the oven before it was even pre-heated. It took me less than 5 minutes to mix all the dry ingredients together (whole-wheat and white flours, steel-cut oats, wheat germ, brown sugar, baking soda and powder, salt), toss in an egg and some soured milk (in place of buttermilk), and pour into a pan. I love recipes that come together this quickly and easily.
We dished out the Beef and Guinness Stew, and cut into the bread while it was still warm because there wasn’t time for it to cool before we ate! Alex was surprised that an Irish stew wouldn’t have potatoes in it. I hadn’t even thought about it. There was nothing wrong with this stew, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly good, either. I wonder if browning the onions and beef prior to putting them in the slow cooker would have made that big a difference in the outcome of this recipe. Alex thought there were too many onions, and was disappointed that there were no potatoes – potatoes give beef stew the pizazz that it needs to impress Alex. [Edit: Alex argues that the potatoes don’t really add pizazz, but that without potatoes, stew is “just okay” instead of good.] I enjoyed the unique flavor the turnips gave the stew, but the parsnips didn’t enhance the recipe at all for me.
Beef and Guinness Stew ultimately wasn’t interesting enough to make it my go-to beef stew recipe, but I’m willing to give it another try in the future. I would brown the beef and (fewer) onions prior to slow cooking (which would be following the recipe a little more closely), and use carrots, potatoes, and some larger chunks of turnips (if they were available). If that didn’t improve the recipe, I probably wouldn’t try it a second time.
Brown Soda Bread was dense yet tender. I really enjoyed the texture of the oats in it. It felt healthy and hearty with a hint of sweetness. I only buy us whole-wheat bread, and I may make us this sometimes instead of buying loaves of bread for us in the store. If you don’t like whole-wheat bread, this isn’t for you – but if you do like your bread to be hearty and nutritious, give this recipe a try. It goes well with stew.