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I’m Baaa-aack… And I Brought Beef Stew

beef stew
Originally uploaded by debbieharrysmom

So it’s not exactly a New Year’s Resolution, since I avoid them at all costs, but lately I’ve been missing Words to Eat By. I’m not sure anyone else has, but I thought it was time to start blogging again. Heck, what’s two+ years among friends?

As the weather’s gotten colder, it’s no surprise that I’ve been turning to heartier, cozier cooking. The slow cooker’s been getting quite a workout, with butternut squash risotto, beef barley soup, roast chicken (and overnight chicken soup made from the picked-over bones), and brisket all in regular rotation. And then there’s this beauty, a deep, richly-flavored beef stew that has an impressively long ingredient list, but comes together in less than half an hour. It’s based on a recipe called “Mom’s Beef Stew” from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, one of my current favorites.

Now that I’ve got the hang of this slow-cooker thing (heck, it’s been two years!), I’m comfortable improvising. So while the original recipe called for browning the meat and using red wine vinegar, I skipped that first step and subbed balsamic—I think it made for a smoother, more subtle flavor. I also swapped a few glugs of red wine for some of the beef broth, and left out the called-for celery and mushrooms since we didn’t have any. The peas I skipped because Stephen doesn’t like them. Just as I finished cleaning up from my prep I realized I’d forgotten the onions, so I chopped them quickly and tossed them in—slow cookers are blessedly forgiving that way. And I did something daring: I started with frozen meat. Honestly, for all I know it’s not safe—so don’t do it unless you’re willing to take a bit of a risk—but I’ve been doing it regularly, and so far so good. (Mom, no need to call. I know.)

I put everything into the slow cooker at about 10:30, and by lunchtime the apartment smelled so good I could barely stand it. By 6 dinner was ready, so I switched it to Warm. And soon after, Stephen, Harry, and I sat down to a filling, warming, and relatively inexpensive dinner. Stephen and I really enjoyed it; Harry less so. But then again, junior crossed his arms and pouted without even tasting it: “I don’t like that.” He and I shared some leftovers for lunch today, and with a little mustard and cinnamon on top (don’t ask) he seemed to like it just fine.

Debbie’s (formerly Mom’s) Beef Stew
Inspired by Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook
Serves 6

5 small or 4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. salt
10 grinds black pepper
2 lbs boneless beef chuck, trimmed of excess fat
2 large onions, cut into 8 wedges each
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 T. low-sodium soy sauce
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1/2 t. sugar
pinch of ground cloves
1 bay leaf

Spray the slow-cooker bowl with non-stick spray. Place the potatoes inside, and top with the carrots.

In a Ziploc bag, combine the flour, paprika, salt, and pepper. Add the beef and toss, shaking off any excess, and put the beef on top of the carrots. Top with the onions, and stir gently, trying not to disturb the carrots and potatoes.

In a bowl or 4-cup measuring cup, stir together the broth, wine, tomato paste, soy sauce, balsamic, sugar, and cloves. Pour into the cooker. Tuck the bay leaf into the stew. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours (timing will depend on your cooker and whether or not you use frozen meat). Discard the bay leaf, and serve with crusty bread.

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