Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Crockpot stew- a working mom's dream....

I love my crockpot. I won it, about a year and half ago. 

My previous crock was a regular ol' crockpot- two settings, high and low. I was happy with it, and always assumed that the new-fangled ones were a waste of money. 

I was wrong. 

You'll be seeing more recipes for this baby, including perfectly roasted chicken, in the future. But for today, I'm going to give you my stew recipe. It takes a little prep, but it's oh-so-worth-it! So what say we fill 'er up?
And have a bowl of this?

We now interrupt this recipe in progress with a HINT ALERT:

In the following recipe, the reason that you will brown your shallots (or onions, if you prefer) first is that this will aid in browning your meat. When I make fried chicken, for example, even though I don't plan to serve onions with the chicken, I always brown some sliced onion or shallot in the oil first. It makes anything breaded or floured brown faster, more evenly, and taste better- it's some chemical interaction with the oil and the onion family. (No, I don't know why or how- do I sound like a chemist? Consider it one of God's culinary miracles- I do!) A truly great Southern cook I once knew taught me this, and I've tested it both ways- onions first is the hand's-down winner! You can always use some browned onion or shallot in a side dish anyhow, right?

We now return you to your previously scheduled recipe. Thank you for your time.

You will need:

1-2 shallots, finely diced, or 1 finely chopped onion
3 stalks celery, finely diced 
a few shakes of Bay Seasoning
peanut or other oil to saute, and to brown beef
2 lbs. lean beef, cubed, or
1 lb. beef or pork, plus 1 lb. bulk sausage
flour, to coat
2 T. (or more) beef soup base
2 c. water
1-2 lbs. carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
5 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 c. raw barley
2-4 c. water
a couple of dashes of worchestershire sauce
a couple of dashes of soy sauce
black pepper, to taste
1/4 c. chopped Italian parsley
optional: add a couple of T. of leftover pizza or other tomato sauce, for extra zing

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven or skillet, and start browning your shallots. When they're getting golden, throw in the celery, and saute until it reaches high color, just a couple of minutes. Dump these into the crock pot, shake a little Bay Seasoning on that, and add more oil to the pan. Allow the oil to heat for a couple of minutes, while you dredge your meat in the flour. In batches, so as not to crowd the pan, brown the meat on all sides. (If you're using sausage, cook it without the oil, and then brown the meat in the remaining sausage grease. It's sooo good!) When the last batch of meat is browning, dump in a couple of tablespoons of the leftover flour, and let it brown along with the meat- instant roux! When the meat and the roux are done, cut the heat to the pan, remove the meat, and as much of the "scrapings" from the bottom of the pan to the crock pot. Let the pan cool a bit, and then add the soup base, and 2 c. of the water, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze it. Pour the resulting liquid into the crock pot. Get every bit that you can- this is what makes the stew! Now dump the carrots, spuds, and barley in the crockpot, too. Is the liquid high enough to cover the potatoes (and keep them from turning grey from air exposure)? Add enough water to cover. Add a couple of dashes of worchestershire, the pepper, and the parsley, and you're all set!

On the day that you plan to serve the stew, set your crockpot on Low for 8-10 or more hours, or on High for about 4-5. Stir once or twice, if you get the opportunity- if not, no biggie, just stir really well when you get home.

Ahhhh....is there anything better than hot, great-smelling food, at the end of long day?

Especially real food that's all cooked...

...and completely ready to eat?

One more brief tip: you don't have to buy "stew meat" to make this. This batch was made with some cut or other of round steak, that was on clearance at the Winco. (Scored 2.68 lbs. of extremely lean beef for $6! Seriously! It made my day!) Any lean meat will work, though- I've made this with pork sirloin, too, and it was great. So do what works best for your budget- it's all good!

Now I've got to go dish everybody up, and then wash up. I don't know about you guys, but my hands are seriously cracked this week- think I'll share my homemade lotion recipe with you all, later on. For now, though- dinner time!

 Linking up to Craft-O-Maniac Monday- best thing about my Monday mornings!

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