When I’m planning any event at home, I always like to have as many things done in advance as possible, I don’t like the thought of being stuck in the kitchen whilst everyone else is having a good time!
So for the main dish for my Halloween Dinner Party I decided to make use of one of my favourite pieces of kitchen equipment: my slow cooker, and make my tried and tested beef stew. It’s simple to make, I can leave it to do its thang overnight and not worry at all about it.
My husband came up with the name ‘Ghoul-ash’ for it as we couldn’t think of anything else. It wasn’t a goulash at all, just a regular beef stew…
After the party we watched Scared Shrekless, the Halloween edition of Shrek and I said “We should have called it Swamp Stew.” Again, hindsight!
I don’t have any photos of the preparation, as by the time I put my stew together it was about 11pm and I was tired but I’ll tell you how I make it…it is really easy and the longer you cook it, the better it becomes!
You need a joint of beef that is suited to slow cooking, some carrots, some onions, a butternut squash (I usually use parsnips, but switched them for the squash), a glug of olive oil, a jar of beef gravy granules, a spoonful of English mustard powder, salt, pepper and some hot water. I can’t give exact quantities because it’s something that I cook without even thinking about it!
I chop the carrots in half, depending on their size, maybe thirds – I keep them quite big because they mush down too much during the long cooking process. I peeled and cut the butternut squash into big chunks for the same reason. The onions get peeled and then sliced into chunky rings.
I put the slow cooker onto high for 20 minutes and throw in the vegetables with a splash of water leaving them there whilst I sear the beef which I’ve seasoned with salt and pepper, on all sides in a hot frying pan with a drop of olive oil.
I then put the beef on top of the vegetables and pour in the juices from the pan.
In a mug that I’ve filled with hot water from the kettle I stir in a couple of spoonfuls of gravy granules, a spoonful of English mustard powder and some salt and pepper. I then pour this over the meat and veg, bung on the lid, turn the slow cooker down to low and leave it overnight. It really needs a minimum of 12 hours to be at its best (in my experience) by the time we ate this stew it had been cooking for about 20 hours!
As the stew cooks, more liquid appears in the pot from the cooking process and I tend to turn the meat around in the gravy to baste it. I also add more gravy granules to thicken it up and give it a nice beefy flavour. Sometimes I throw in some peas, sweetcorn or mushrooms after it’s been for a few hours, and I also usually make dumplings which go in for the last hour.
By the time it’s cooked, the beef is so tender and the vegetables, which I leave chunky haven’t dissolved away into nothing.
To go along with the Ghoul-ash (or Swamp Stew as I really want to call it now!) I made Spooky Spuds (mashed potatoes) and Poisoned Peas (mushy peas).
Everyone knows how to make mash – but just in case… peel and chop up some potatoes and boil until tender. Mash up with some butter and milk, salt and pepper.
To make the Poisoned Peas I boiled some frozen peas in a saucepan of salted water with some sprigs of fresh mint until they were tender. I then mashed them up with some butter, salt, pepper and some dried mint to intensify the flavour.
I mashed the potatoes about an hour before my guests arrived, and did a Jamie Oliver trick of putting them in a bowl covered with foil on top of a pan of simmering water. I did the same with the peas.
To serve I portioned out the meat as best I could – it really does just fall apart – and a big spoonful of gravy and vegetables on top.
For the Spooky Spuds, I was originally going to pipe the mashed potato into ghost shapes, but I couldn’t locate my piping bag, so just fashioned them into little piles with a spoon. I blobbed on some ketchup for eyes and mouth. Finally the peas went on the side.
It went down well with my guests, and is a family favourite on a cold evening!