Boo to the Flu!

Every year we hear about “how bad the flu is this year.” And every year I don’t know a single person who gets it/has gotten it. The last time I was sick with the flu, I was 18 years old. That was… a while a go. By God’s grace I have escaped this year, but I’ve known several who have been impacted. So what do I do when situations like these arise? I feed people. I consider it my obligation as a Christian to be a blessing where I can. I believe the Lord blesses me and my household not just for ourselves, but to be His hands and feet to bless others. The whole commission can be found in Matthew 25:31-46, but the verse which stands out to me most is verse 40.

“‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

Matthew 25:40

Mind you, I wasn’t running into a flu-quarantined situation like some caped crusader. I maintained a safe distance and we sanitized the nursery toys at church with extra diligence. But I did as I always do and just doubled up on what we were making for dinner and packaged it up for them. One such family has been faithfully serving in our church for more than a decade and have been such a blessing to me that I couldn’t not be a blessing. Plus, I figured they’re probably burnt out on ordering delivery at this point that they need a home-cooked meal.

This is where those disposable catering pans come in handy. For years I was buying Hefty EZ Foil disposable 9×13 cake pans with lids at Walmart every time I was cooking a meal for someone. (It’s so much better than loaning out all your dishes and hoping they come back. Plus, one less thing for the receiver to think about.) They were ok, but they were smaller than I needed and the plastic lids were always too flimsy. They have their time and place, but I needed an upgrade. A couple years ago, while shopping at Sam’s, I discovered their selection of steam table (catering) pans with matching lids! They were of course sold separately and were initially pricier than the ones I was getting at Walmart, but so many came in a pack and they cost less per piece that I was saving tons of money in the long run while getting exactly what I needed. Also, in many cities these pans can be recycled.

So what were we having for dinner that night? I’d been itching to break out another recipe from The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook and since comfort food seemed entirely appropriate, good old-fashioned Beef Stew With (herbed) Dumplings (page 220, if you already have your copy) seemed fitting! And oh-so-comforting and delicious it was! The final result was an incredibly dark, earthy stew capped with aromatic rosemary pillows. It was an unsophisticated workhorse of a dish doing its job of filling and satisfying the partaker. It’s no wonder it was listed in the “Downstairs” recipes. It was a fill-’em-up meal to keep you going.

Since The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook is distinctly British, there were a few ingredients that even my precious World Market didn’t regularly carry. I could have sought them out (at an exorbitant cost) on Amazon or pay for shipping at British Corner Shop, but I was crunched for time and I was still able to make an amazing dish using the recommendations given — among other tweaks.

For the stew: The first ingredient called for lard. I don’t usually keep lard on hand, so I opted for a mix of vegetable oil and bacon grease. I did use malt vinegar since I was able to score some Sarson’s. Plus I can use the remainder on some fried fish later on! If you don’t want to buy malt vinegar or can’t use it due to dietary restrictions, ACV will substitute just fine. Here in America, Worcestershire sauce is fairly prevalent so it was easy to source and use. The alternate suggestion for mushroom ketchup admittedly is something I’d never even heard of before. If you are as intrigued as I am, you can find it here. Black treacle is basically the British version of our American molasses. Blackstrap molasses was recommended as a substitute, but my Grandma’s molasses worked equally well. If you are interested however in being as authentic as possible, you can find black treacle here.

Finally, let’s discuss the beer. No specific beer is indicated, so you could use any cheap variety that you want. You could also use Guinness as I have seen that one listed in many chili/stew recipes. The only problem being that if you aren’t a drinker, you’ll have some remaining from the pack just lying around since they generally sell them in packs of 4-6 (to the best of my knowledge). An adequate substitution here would be either mushroom/beef broths or a cola drink.

For the dumplings: These were slightly simpler, yet I still managed to mess them up a little! The recipe calls for 3oz (about 3/4c) shredded suet or shredded cold butter. Suet is another unique ingredient (found here) that I swapped with butter. The only trouble was that instead of weighing the final shredded result to 3oz, I mixed in the entire 3/4c of butter! This rendered super moist dumplings, but they sure were so buttery! Too buttery in my opinion. Lesson learned.

I included a few generous slices of simple, homemade Boston Cream “Pie” in with the meal because every comfort food meal should include dessert! For the cake, I just baked two layers of yellow cake, filled them with vanilla pastry cream (you can use vanilla pudding), and topped it with rich chocolate frosting. Easy peasy!

Have you had a chance to try any of the recipes from The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook? Tell me what you made/are planning to make in the comments below!

Currently Reading: The Flipside of Feminism by Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly


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