Monday, January 7, 2013

Beef stew from the slow cooker

As much as I'd prefer to throw the ingredients into the slow cooker and walk away, the end result always tastes much better with a little stove-top cooking on the front end.

This stew is a good example. Sautéing the vegetables and browning the beef deepens the flavors and colors. You'll end up spending a few extra minutes cooking and have a skillet to wash, but the additional work is worthwhile.

When you're using a slow cooker, remember that you'll need less liquid than when cooking on the stove or in the oven, because you'll lose almost nothing to evaporation. In addition, you'll need more herbs, because the seasonings fade during the long cooking time. When your dish is done, taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary.

And finally, resist the urge to open the cooker and check on the stew's progress. Heat dissipates so quickly each time you lift the lid that a quick peek could add an hour to the cooking time.

Yield: 6 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
2 large cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces baby bello mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds round steak, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-size pieces
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup reduced-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add onion, celery, carrots, garlic and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften and start to brown. Transfer to a slow cooker.

Combine flour and salt and pepper to taste in a plastic food storage bag. Add steak. Close bag; toss to coat steak with flour.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the skillet. Add steak; cook until browned on all sides, stirring as necessary. Add steak to the slow cooker along with tomatoes, broth and thyme.

Cook until tender, about 6 hours on high or 10 hours on low heat. Taste and adjust seasonings. If desired, serve over cooked noodles or mashed potatoes.

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