Saturday, February 12, 2011

Crock Pot Cooking: Beef Stew

As promised, here is my first recipe for use in a slow cooker:

Beef Stew
stew beef pieces, or you can cut a roast into small pieces
potatoes                        carrots
onions                           frozen corn
salt                                pepper
oil/butter                        flour
stock (or water and beef base)
Cast of characters
This photo does not accurately depict the quantities I used. Some of the potatoes were already in the pot, I ended up putting in more carrots, and I didn't use two whole onions. You can't tell it from their position in the photo, but these were onions I was culling from the onion basket, so there were some bad spots in them. Stews and soups are an excellent way to use up small, or less than perfect veggies, or to finish up using the last one or two of something you have on hand.
Chop up the veggies. As you can see, we don't peel potatoes for our stew and I like to cut the carrot quite small. This is a personal choice as I really prefer to eat carrots raw. Chopping them small keeps me from biting into a huge chunk of carrot. If you like them cooked, cut them bigger. One of my favorite ways to sneak things like carrot, onion, or zucchini into things so the kids can't tell it's there is to grate them finely.
We cut our stew beef into smaller pieces than it is sold in the store. It's much easier for smaller mouths to eat, plus it allows a smaller amout of beef to stretch and feed more people. Here it's already cut up and I've sprinkled it with freshly ground pepper and seasoned meat tenderizer. I use the tenderizer in place of salt since it's primary ingredient is salt. You can find them made with papain as the tenderizing agent and no added MSG. Also, you need be careful about how much meat tenderizer or salt you use. Beef base and commercial stocks/broths tend to have a lot of salt, so you wouldn't want to add much, if any to your stew if you use them. I don't put salt in my homemade stock, so I'm free to add what I want to the food I'm using them in.
Next, add your stock (or water and beef base). I was out of my homemade beef stock, so I used some of my chicken stock and added about 1Tbls of beef base. If I were using water I would probably use approx. 2Tbls beef base (for this quantity of stew). I prefer to use a beef base I find at the health food store instead of one from the regular supermarket. I don't like to use things with long ingredient lists of things I can't pronounce. That's why I would much rather use my own stock to begin with.

At this point you put on the lid and turn it on. If you started in the morning, turn it on low, if you started at noon, turn it on high.

About a half hour before serving, add frozen corn. Again, this is a personal preference, if you don't want it, don't add it.
Now it's time to thicken your stew.
Heat butter and olive oil in a skillet.
Add flour. I used some Kamut flour I had ground a few days before (and kept in the freezer). You can use white flour if you want. I also added some more salt and pepper since I had already tasted the broth in the stew.
Just make sure the ratio of flour to oil/butter makes a rue that isn't too thick. Here it's just starting to bubble. Mine is this color because of the olive oil and whole wheat flour. If you make it with white flour, or don't use olive oil, it will be lighter.
You really need to cook this rue kind of slowly (med-high heat), stirring often until it starts to brown. It's a little harder to tell with a darker rue, but you'll see it getting a little browner, and it will start to smell....well, toasty. Once it does start to brown it can burn quickly, so turn down the heat and keep stirring until it's all a little darker. Then add it to your stew, stirring as you pour it in the pot, and...
there you go. Thick, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs beef stew. Make sure to taste it to see if it needs any additional seasoning before serving.
You can use other veggies if you like and you can omit some of the things I've listed if you want; stew is kind of, whatever-you-want-goes. I would not remove the onion though. Even if you don't like to eat onions, they impart a wonderful flavor to foods you cook with them.

Enjoy your stew!
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  1. I was, but so were the garlic cheddar biscuts Bree and Beenie made. :)