Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lovely day for a Guinness

I've discussed before that I am lacking a fundamental life skill - the one that involves combining edible ingredients with heat and producing something, well, edible.  When I was single my dinners frequently consisted solely of breakfast cereal, or for protein, beef jerky and a serving of cottage cheese.  Yep - I'm not what you would call a foodie.  It's just sustenance.  If it tastes good, bonus, but I'm not much of a discerning critic.  Fortunately, D is gifted in this area and generally enjoys cooking.  However, there are times when when the banality of keeping us fed frustrates him, and I make an attempt to step up my contribution in that area.

On the eve of St. Patrick's Day this week, I was listening to NPR on the morning commute and I heard an interview in which Nigella Lawson was gushing over this amazing Irish stew that she'd had in a London restaurant and had replicated in a recipe of her own.  Have you seen this woman cook?  How is she not a million pounds, what with the generous dollops of butter and cream and huge great sploshes of chocolate sauce or olive oil or other sinfully delicious ingredients she includes in her recipes?  My theory, based on observations of her cuppeth runnething over, is judicious use of some industrial-strength foundation garments.  Just saying.

She described, in her usual sensual manner, how this "voluptuous and pleasurable stew" should be paired with potato bread and followed by Guinness chocolate cake to create an Irish-themed dinner to celebrate the Emerald Isle's patron saint.  I figured I could do this, since the it involves my favorite kind of cooking: assemble and press play on some appliance or another.  So I trundled off to the local posh supermarket in search of rib lamb chops and bottled veal stock.  Strike one and two.  Lamb is nearly $10 per pound and I couldn't countenance spending that kind of money on meat I was only going to stew within an inch of its life in the slow cooker.  And the clerk just kind of looked at me blankly when I asked if they carried veal stock.  So I decided to make beef stew spiked with Guinness.  That's kind of Irish, right?  Whatever... I picked up the beef and a bottle of Guinness and headed home to make the potato mash and knead the bread dough for like, ever, and set it to rise overnight in the fridge.

St. Paddy's day morning, I assembled the stew ingredients in the slow cooker, punched down the bread dough and formed it into a loaf and left both to percolate during the long work day.  When I got home, I popped the risen potato bread loaf into the oven and mixed up the Guinness chocolate cake.  You start by melting butter into the Guinness and adding cocoa, creating this rich chocolate syrup that smelled divine.  Definitely a pleasure to create.

So, here are the grades for my efforts at creating an Irish-themed dinner (recipes are here):

Guinness Beef Stew: B+
I started with Nigella's recipe, substituting chicken bullion stock and Guinness for the veal stock, cubed beef chuck roast for the lamb ribs and adding carrots and peas to the veggies listed in the recipe.  However, Auntie Google told me that, when converting oven recipes for use in a slow cooker, I should reduce the liquid.  I can't abide soupy stew, but shouldn't have used as little liquid as I did, as I ended up with a very sturdy stew - the kind that keeps its shape after you ladle it into the bowl.  However, it tasted good and the husband liked it, so I consider that a minor success.

Potato Bread: Fail D+
The NPR link didn't include Nigella's recipe for potato bread, so I consulted Auntie Google again.  I was assured that adding potato to bread dough somehow made it lighter and fluffier.  But I think I left it too long in the second rise in order to accomodate my work schedule.  It's also possible that I didn't use enough flour to offset the moisture included in the potato.  During baking, I tap-tap-tapped on the loaf to check for doneness again and again at 10 minute intervals until I had baked it for nearly double the recommended time.  But when sliced into it, I was left with a dense, heavy, still somewhat moist loaf.  What a disappointment.  I should have stuck with the rustic sourdough bread by Portland French Bakery that is sold at Costco - two huge loaves for about $3 and no 25 minute kneading sessions required.  On the plus side, if I stuck a little handle on top of my round potato loaf, it would make a great stand in for the granite stone in a pick-up curling match. 'Cuz you never know when one of those is going to break out.

Update: D tells me that the potato bread, when sliced really thinly and folded over a bit of gruyere cheese, is actually a revelation.  So I've revised the grade to a D-.  Seriously though, I want to give this potato bread thing another go - maybe on a weekend when I can stay on top of the timing of the rise cycles.

Guinness Chocolate Cake: A
The Guinness cake was quick and easy to prepare.  I halved the recipe and blitzed the ingredients in the food processor after preparing the Guinness chocolate syrup on the stove top in a matter of minutes.  Baked in an 8-in cake tin and topped with whipped-cream-infused cream cheese icing meant to evoke the creamy head on a perfectly pulled pint of Guinness - it's hard to mess this up.  Chocolate - good.  Whipped cream cheese icing - good.  What's not to like?  Guinness adds a dark chocolate bitterness that makes it a bit more intense than your usual chocolate cake, so that might not be to everyone's taste.  But our verdict?  Yummy. 

Barring the dessert, I'm disappointed in this effort, but it wasn't an epic fail.  I've identified things to try differently and hope to improve next time.  That is something of an accomplishment for me.  Slainte!


  1. Okay. First of all,if you and Meredith continue to make these incredible meals, I'm going to have to stop reading for two good reasons...

    1. it makes me hungry and that's never good for the diet


    2. I'm starting to feel like the worst mother/future wife in the world because I can't seem to find time to make these labor intensive meals during the week and I have no desire to ruin a perfectly nice weekend by hanging out inside instead of socializing


    Okay. I feel better now. Any chance I can get the cake recipe to share on the blog and link to you?

    Big hugs! Thanks for setting the bar so stinking high! ;)

  2. Ah Nicki, that is the beauty of these recipes. I'm with you on not wasting weekends cooking!

    The stew took about 10 - 15 mins of chopping (including the beef) in the morning before tossing it all in the slow cooker. It was ready to eat when I got home.

    The cake took about 5 mins to melt butter into the Guinness and another 5 mins to whip up in the food processor and pour into the baking tin. Plus another 5-10 mins to whip up the frosting and slather it on when the cake cooled.

    The only time intensive part was the bread, which I would have skipped in retrospect anyway.

    Of course, wrecking the diet is a whole 'nother problem...

    Here is the link to the recipe, which I've updated in my post as well:

  3. Oh yum, I am so going to try that Guiness cake! Although I'm not usually a fan. I drank a whole one when I got to the top of the Guiness museum in Dublin (it's kind of the done thing, plus, it was free). It took about an hour, and I felt really sick afterwards. No more Guiness for me. But Guiness in cake? 'Nother story.