Not the prettiest of photographs today. Food photographer I ain’t. Nevertheless I thought I’d take a shot of a stew that I said might put a smile on my face during these darker months.

Don’t ask me for a recipe as there isn’t one. Whatever is as hand might go in the pot. My latest version had oxtail and a piece of beef from the local butchers. It was a lesser known cut. I can’t for the life of me remember what he called it. That went into the slow cooker after being browned off with a selection of lightly fried vegetables from the fridge, onions of course, a red pepper, a carrot cut into rounds and half of a massive leek. I threw in sliced mushrooms as well. They’re one of my favourite vegetables.

There’s always pulses. Pearl barley is my go-to ingredient. This time I added a can of green lentils. There might be dried beans if I remember to soak them. I mostly forget. All there is to do then is to chuck in a can of chopped tomatoes, stock and whatever flavouring that I can lay my hands on. As well as raiding the herbs and spices cupboard (paprika, piri piri seasoning, mixed herbs) I’ll pop in sauces. A hearty splash of Worcestershire, tomato puree, ketchup, dark soy and supermarket knock off HP all go together to make a never to be repeated supper dish.

And of course there’s dumplings made with self raising flour and suet, in a 2:1 ratio seasoned with salt and pepper with a good dash of dried herbs. You can’t have a stew without these babies and they’re so easy peasy. Done in the time it takes to brew a cuppa. I’ll make the rest of the dish when I get up and it simmers away all day. The dumplings are added late in the afternoon and steam for a couple of hours. I’ll turn them over after a while so each side gets soaked in all that lovely juice. That’s it. A real winter warmer of the cockles of the heart. Another good thing is that there’s always leftovers!

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