Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Frugal Foodies - Slow Cooker Beef Stew

I've been falling in love with our slow cooker and plan on using it more often. Since my husband has a new work schedule for fall, I'm going to be managing picking up the kids from school, doing homework and making dinner all before he gets home. Since I'll have been at work all day up until I get the kids, I won't have much time to do any prep work.

Which is where using the slow cooker will come in handy. Unfortunately, I've found that a lot of the recipes I've seen using a Crock Pot look, well, less than flavorful. I guess that may come par for the course when you dump a bunch of food in a pot and leave it be. So, I've been on the lookout for recipes that still fall in line with my "foodie" approach to cooking and baking and, as I find them, I'll be sharing. (Note: I really dislike the term, foodie, it sounds really pretentious, but I have a soft spot for alliteration.)

Here's the first one I made this week, with some heavy doctoring for flavor. The goal is to have enough food to last two dinners and require minimal work during the actual dinner time. Since we'll also be making large dinners on Sunday for leftovers, this will only require that I scurry last minute one night a week to get something on the table. And, most likely it will be something easy, like eggs.

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

1 1/2 lbs beef stew meat
2 Tablespoons olive oil (optional)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb small Crimini mushrooms (cut in half if large)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1/8 cup dry red wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 Tablespoons butter (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

You have two choices. You can either put all the above ingredients in your slow cooker and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or you can sauté some of the ingredients first to give it a more complex flavor and crust.

If you do the latter, sauté the onions and mushrooms in olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat until they start getting soft (about 5 minutes), add in the garlic, red pepper flakes and tomato paste and cook until brown (about 3 minutes). Add in the red wine vinegar and soy sauce to heat. Place cooked ingredients in the slow cooker. Add the beef to the pan, searing the outside to give it a crust (a few minutes per side). Put sauteed beef into your slow cooker. Add the red wine to the pan to deglaze it and then put the wine, chicken stock, and thyme into the cooker. Commence with the slow cooking. This additional prep took me about 20 minutes.

This recipe was inspired by the Slow Cooker Beef & Mushrooms recipe over at Sweet Anna's.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday!


Kate said...

Except for when I'm just cooking beans in the crock pot, I always brown my ingredients before putting them on for a long simmer. As you say, the flavor is very "meh" without this step. My suggestion for saving yourself cooking time with the slow cooker is to think about whatever comes out of it as a topping for something else, whether it's pasta, potatoes (boiled or mashed), or whatever. The starchy stuff is usually little to no trouble to cook, and that gets you through more meals with little hands-on cooking time.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a good rabbit stew recipe with hard cider that I adapted to the crock pot. Bulked it up with lots of extra veg too --> more meals.

P.S. I'm fine with the term foodie and consider myself one, but I can see that the way it's used could come off as pretentious sometimes.

Brad K. said...

I tried a Butternut squash in my slow cooker (with beans and some other things), and the squash was very good.

I chopped the squash into rounds, and hacked off the skin. Then chunked the rest and put in the cooker.

That lasted me a couple of meals as a side dish.

Kristi said...

LOL. We must be on the same page. I made crock pot beef stew yesterday as well. Here's my recipe which uses V-8, but you could probably use an equal amount of tomato juice or canned tomatoes instead.

1 lb beef stew meat, cut into 1" cubes
1 Tbsp butter
2 Cups beef broth
2 Cups V-8
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp marjoram
1 bay leaf
1 Cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp red wine

Saute the beef in butter until browned. Transfer to crock pot. Stir in remaining ingredients except peas, corn, water, flour and wine. Cover and cook on high 5-6 hours, or low 8-9 hours. Uncover, remove bay leaf. Stir in peas and corn. In a measuring cup, combine water, flour and wine. Slowly stir into beef mixture. cook on high, stirring occasionally until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Dea-chan said...

What's nice is to do BBQ pork or a pot roast and let it cook down, then you can reduce the sauce and serve it on buns or bread or however you want. Then you also have super tender, falling apart meat to put in fajitas (super quick), tacos (super quick), stir fries (if you prep your vegetables and keep them in baggies, this is quick).

At least, that's what I usually do. Or make tomato sauce.

Kimberly Gische said...

We use both a slow cooker and a pressure cooker (which we call the "fast cooker") to get dinner on the table faster. We will prep the fast cooker the meals the night before (after the kids are asleep) so that the time from in the door to at the table is as short as possible.

When we have a bit more time, we will make more involved things in the pressure cooker. Chili-in-an-Hour is one of our favorites.

Favorite slow cooker recipe:
Pork, Apricot, and Squash Stew
(aka Pumpkin Pie Pork)
(Slow Cooker Stews – BHG p25)
(serves 4-5)
Cook in large skillet over medium-high heat until brown. Drain off fat, then transfer to
the slow cooker:
- 1.5 lb boneless pork shoulder roast, trimmed and cut into 1” inch cubes
- 2 Tbsp cooking oil
Add to ~4qt slow cooker:
- 1½ lb winter squash (butternut), peeled and cut into 1# pieces
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- ½ c dried apricots
- 2 Tbsp raisins
Add meat.
Sprinkle with :
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 1 Tbsp packed brown sugar
- ¾ tsp pumpkin pie spice
- ¼ tsp salt
Combine and pour over meat:
- 1 14oz can chicken broth
- 1 Tbsp steak sauce(?)
Cover and cook on low for 7 hours, or on high for 3.5 – 4 hours.

Anonymous said...

if using a crock pot, you absolutely have to brown many/all of your ingredients before starting the cooker because in cooking, so much of the flavor comes from the caramelization and slow cookers just don't get hot enough to produce much flavor on their own.

Greenpa said...

For us it's called "the back of the stove", and is mostly seasonal. A very old practice, for anyone with a wood stove; the temperature of the stove top varies with the distance from the firebox; the "back" being mostly the coolest part, where there is little danger of making things boil so fast they boil over; or cook dry.

Today's the Autumnal Equinox; and- it's cool enough that I may in fact light the annual fire this evening; we're already sleeping under 3 blankets, so as NOT to have to light the fire- but- that strategy is running thin.

Once the wood cookstove is going (it's our only heat) we not only have slow-cooker potential, but the oven is always hot; and there's no energy penalty for turning it on.

One thing I can tell you from years of experience; while "pease porridge in the pot, nine days old" MAY, in fact, be extremely tasty; much yummier than 1 day old; there DOES come a point where longer cooking does NOT improve flavor any more, but destroys it.

I once tried to have "stock" going, perpetually; adding to it, taking from it- but it got yucky after about 5 days; I think just purely from overcooking. No chance whatever of any spoilage; it was always simmering. Just overdone to the point of "bleah."

Or else- there's a trick to it I haven't learned yet. :-)

Karin said...

These 2 books by Beth Hensperger have had really good reviews: 'Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook' & 'Not your Mother's Slow Cooker Family Favorites'. I got mine from the library but should add that I hate cooking — just love reading cookbooks — so I've only salivated over the recipes but not actually tried them.

gracie said...

My favorite slow cooker recipes come from "Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker" by Robin Robertson. They are tasty and economical, and if you prefer, can easily be doctored up to add meat or stock. Good dessert options also.