Monday, October 11, 2010

Low and Slow: Sunday Beef Stew

There are few things I love more than an unscheduled Sunday afternoon. This is especially true when that afternoon arrives in October, my favorite month. Most especially true when that October Sunday afternoon precedes Columbus Day, which is a school holiday for my children, which means the usual craziness of Sunday afternoon, running around and preparing for the week—five days’ worth of clean clothes, homework done, etc. etc.—does not apply.

Today, in celebration of the long, slow afternoon, I decided to bake a loaf of bread and fill the slow cooker with beef stew. When I was growing up, beef stew came from a can labeled Dinty Moore and appeared on my dinner plate only when we were camping. I’m not sure why this was, because my brother and dad and I all loved Dinty Moore stew and refrigerator biscuits, and my mother could have solved many dinnertime dilemmas by relying on these as staple items in her arsenal.

These days, I don’t eat much of anything that comes from a can. My enduring love for the slow cooker led me to experiment with various recipes until I came up with this version of beef stew, which is perfect for a long afternoon of slow cooking. Any combination of vegetables will work; root vegetables are a good choice because they hold up through several hours of cooking. Although this recipe calls for red potatoes, you can certainly use sweet potatoes instead, as I do in Moroccan Beef Stew, or even russet potatoes cut into bite-size chunks. But if you’re using more tender vegetables (like the peas in this recipe), add them toward the end and give them just enough time to heat through. Ten minutes should do the trick.

If you’re really ambitious, you can get the slow cooker going before you leave for work in the morning and turn it to Low heat. But, if you’re just hanging out on a Sunday afternoon, turn the heat to High and let the stew ingredients mingle for about five hours.  

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Sunday Beef Stew

Ingredients:

1 lb. stew beef, cut into chunks
2 T. flour
1 T. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, roughly cut into chunks
4 carrots, each cut into chunks (or 1 cup baby carrots)
5 or 6 red potatoes, cut into quarters
½ cup dry red wine (optional)
2 to 3 cups beef broth
2 T. cold butter
2 T. flour
1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Directions:

Place the stew meat in a large re-sealable plastic bag with the 2 T. flour. Shake until each piece is coated. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet, then add the flour-coated beef. Brown each piece on all sides. Transfer the browned meat to the slow cooker; pile on the garlic, onions, carrots and potatoes. Add the red wine (if you're using it), then enough beef broth to cover the meat and vegetables. Turn the temperature to high, walk away, and find a way to occupy yourself for the next four to five hours.

About an hour before you're planning to serve dinner, combine the butter and flour in a small bowl. Cut together with a fork until they're combined and no loose flour remains. Stir this mixture into the slow cooker and watch as it magically thickens the beef broth.

About ten minutes before you're ready to eat, stir in the peas and allow them to warm through.

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