No, they did not get in a fight.
A whole U.K. experience! In my kitchen!
Okay, so, not really, but I’m going to pretend because I like the U.K. and I also like beef stew and English muffins. And, oh, my lord, these English muffins turned out so much better than my first attempt.
My first attempt, almost exactly a year ago, was disastrous. I seem to remember bringing them to work and coworkers and children alike pointing and laughing. Or pretending not to laugh if they sort of kind of liked me. But those English muffins, hoooooo boy. They were thick and dense and chewy but not in the way that’s enjoyable. In the way that you know you did something wrong. The recipe was difficult, too. It called for metal rings that you would scoop the dough into and then use the metal rings to heat the muffins. That was extraordinarily difficult. The worst part: they were a recipe from my sure-fire website.
It hurts my soul to say it, but Smitten Kitchen, you failed me. Hopefully just this once, but those English muffins were unmitigated disaster. Here is some visual evidence:
Like I said: dense, chewy, and nothing like the English muffins I expected.
I had always meant to try again, but I had just never gotten around to it…until I was rereading one of my favorite cooking blogs: The Little Library Cafe.
I love this blog.
It’s not just a cooking blog — it’s centered around recipes inspired by books, so most of her posts not only have a glorious, gorgeous recipe and pictures, but a touching story of how the book relates to her life or her experience with cooking. If she wasn’t so good at it, that’s what this blog would have been about. I’m considering doing a once-a-month inspired-by-a-book recipe à la Little Library Cafe, so stay tuned for that. I have plenty of touching and heartfelt literary tales.
Anyhow, I was feeling a little sad today since I didn’t have any big baking plans. Usually, Sunday is my big baking day. I make goodies to take the work the next day or prepare for lunches for the week ahead. Aside from my normal breakfast sandwiches, I didn’t have any good ideas for what to make or bake. So I was thumbing through her blog, working my way back through all her recipes to see if anything struck my fancy.
And lo and behold, there were these English Muffins from A Little Princess. First things first, I love Frances Hodgson Burnett. I started off by watching A Little Princess and The Secret Garden obsessively when I was little (my god I wanted a secret garden and a key and a robin friend and Dickon was so cute) and then moved my way up to reading the books eventually. Even now, when I’m feeling sick or have a day where I just want to feel comforted and better, I will turn to those movies. They have the power of childhood hope and imagination, and the books bring that sense of the quiet, calm, cultured English sensibility that I find so grounding in this rough-and-tumble American life. Just as I turn to my real cousin to ground me when I feel untethered in the wind, I turn to the British to tether my literary sensibilities.
So I decided to give these English muffins a try, to rekindle the hopeful spirit of Sara as she and Becky enjoy the private little supper provided by kind neighbors (or the mythological Indian spirits as I so fervently believed it was back then…every girl is a princess and deserves to be taken care of like one!).
And boy, did these English muffins deliver! I’m surprised I have any left. I think I’ve eaten about four and my husband about three since I finished cooking them two hours ago. My recipe made about 14, but I think some of mine were a little small. Follow the instructions exactly — she really means it when she describes how the dough will be and how long you should wait. Five minutes of cook time is perfect on each side, and each one comes out like a delicately toasted dough pillow, full of lightness and a faint sweetness and mingles with an unquenchable desire to eat just another one. I’ve got six left and I consider that a miracle.
And then I paired them with the beef stew I made.
Ooooooops you can already see a bite taken out of one of the English muffins. But that’s how good they were! They couldn’t last until after the picture was taken!
Irish Beef Stew
- 1 lb beef stew meat
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 can Guinness stout (or other stout, but why use other than Guinness??)
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 rutabaga (or 2 small)
- 1 large parsnip (or 2 small)
- 2-3 carrots
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp Worcester sauce
- pinch of thyme
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- 2-3 bay leaves
- Heat a drizzle of oil in a large, deep pan, like a Dutch oven. You want plenty of room for all the liquids to mull around.
- Liberally salt and pepper your beef stew meat, then put in the hot pan and brown on all sides. Add in the diced garlic cloves at the end. Remove to a separate bowl.
- Deglaze pan with a drizzle of Guinness (scrap up all those delicious burny bits!) and then add the chopped vegetables. Cook those down for about five minutes. Remove to a separate bowl.
- Add in the rest of the Guinness, the beef stock, the tomato paste, the thyme and cayenne pepper, and the Worcester and whisk to smooth the tomato paste out. When smooth, add back in the meat and the vegetables, and add the bay leaves.
- Allowing to simmer over low heat for probably at least two hours, to allow for flavor to develop and vegetables to soften.
- Test stew for doneness by testing pieces of vegetable to see if they are too crunchy, depending on taste.
- Enjoy with English muffins.