The slow cooker is a positively amazing creation. I love approaching my front door and smelling a delicious meal before I even unlock it. Sometimes, that is because my husband is lovingly/messily cooking inside, but sometimes, especially in the winter, it’s because the slow cooker has been working away all day so that a hot, rich meal is waiting for me. Sure, I did the prep work for the recipe, but if a day at my job has happened in between the prep work and the devouring, I hardly remember that I put any effort into it. It’s like working from home—Really, it’s the same amount of effort, but it just feels better. And you can wear pajamas.
Despite my affection for the slow cooker, I’ve also always been kind of wary of it. For years, I thought that all you could pull from it was gloppy, grayish brown concoctions of mush with too much salt and little flavor. When I learned you could make things other than pot roast in a slow cooker, I rebelled, cooking up curries and lasagnas. The one thing I missed out on was that the crock pot classics don’t have to be bland and squishy. Stew can be complexly flavored with varying textures and colors! Gravy doesn’t need to be lumpy! I knew all of these things in the realm outside slow cookery, but for some reason, I had created a mental block against those time honored dishes.
So, when I picked up one steak last week and was trying to think of ways to stretch it to feed my husband and I for a few days, I decided to give good ol’ beef stew a try. It was a hectic week, so the slow cooker was a perfect tool, and my husband was working hard on storm cleanup, so I knew he’d want something hearty. After dumping a few ingredients together, what was waiting on the other side of my door, making the porch smell delightful, was sophisticated in its flavors yet comforting in its essence.
Slow Cooker Beef Stew
- 1 lb. steak (Saylors & Co.)
- 3 stalks celery (Jett’s Natural Produce)
- 4-5 small potatoes (Heritage Farm CSA)
- 1 sweet potato or yam (Heritage Farm CSA)
- 1 large onion (Heritage Farm CSA)
- 1/2 c. tomato purée or a couple of tablespoons tomato paste (I had frozen some purée from my garden tomatoes)
- 4 cloves garlic (Apple Ridge Farm)
- 1/4 c. brown sugar
- few dashes hot sauce (this is Farmers Market blend from Easton Salsa Co.)
- 1 beer (I used a local favorite, Yuengling Lager)
- 2 tsp. herbs de provence (Quartz Hill Farm)(Really look for this blend, it adds an excellent richness to the dish!)
- salt & pepper to taste
- 2 T. cornstarch
- Cut onion into thick slices and place on bottom of greased slow cooker.
- Cut steak into 1″ cubes.
- Slice celery into 1″ lengths.
- Cut potatoes and yam into 1.5″ chunks.
- Layer steak, celery, potatoes and yam on top of onions.
- Pour beer, hot sauce, and tomato purée into large bowl.
- Crush garlic cloves and add to liquid.
- Add herbs de provence, salt, pepper and brown sugar. Whisk until smooth.
- Pour liquid mixture over beef and vegetables in slow cooker. (I go up to this step the night before I plan on eating it, then put the crock in the fridge overnight to just pull out and put on to cook the next morning.)
- Turn slow cooker on low and cook for 8 hours.
- After you finish marveling at how great your home smells 8 hours later, mix the cornstarch with a few tablespoons of water using a fork until it dissolves.
- Add the cornstarch to the slow cooker and turn the temperature to high. Let cook for 15 minutes or until thickened.
- Serve with crusty bread and a beer.