Holy moley – my last post was about preparing for Thanksgiving and now it is already December! As if life weren’t busy enough before, this is the month when things really get crazy and routines go out the window. In addition to the usual after school activities, my family has half a dozen holiday parties in the next several weeks, all sorts of Girl Scouts/skating/church activities, piano recital, holiday concerts, book projects, the baking of several hundred cookies, Christmas shopping and probably loads of other things I forgot. Whew!
My tolerance for planning meals in the midst of all this is quite low. However, they days when it is suddenly 6 p.m. and I find myself with nothing to eat for dinner because I didn’t feel like planning and/or cooking I remember why it is so important to keep doing this. Even more than usual, it is important to have a family meal together since it can be easy for everyone to go 16 different directions and lose that chance to reconnect. And the last thing anyone needs during this season of hors d’oeuvres, cookies, cheese and drinks are the extra calories, fat and sodium that come with takeout meals. I find myself relying more and more on both my freezer and slow cooker now.
Winter is the perfect season for the warm stews and casseroles you make in the slow cooker. By buying meat and frozen veggies ahead and freezing them you can just thaw out the day before, throw them in the slow cooker and have a tasty meal for dinner with minimal planning.
Last week I found myself at the store, but without much of a list. I was at the grocery with a good meat department, so I stocked up on things I can put in the slow cooker – cubes of stew beef, chicken thighs, pork loins. I also grabbed a bunch of in-season veggies (sweet potatoes, squashes, cabbages) because I know that these tend to store well and lots of the things that are in season now can stand up to being in the slow cooker for several hours. So the other day when we all went to the tree farm to cut down our Christmas tree and I had no plan for dinner I decided to pull some beef cubes out of the freezer, thaw them in the microwave and patch together a beef stew in my slow cooker. Voila – after a cold and windy day spent traipsing around a farm we were welcomed home to the delicious scent of warm meal.
Some recipes you really need to measure and be exact (pretty much anything you bake). But some recipes, especially stews and soups, you can just add a little of this and a little of that and come up with something delicious. This is the approach I took to this stew – what do I have in my kitchen that I can add to this beef to make something yummy? Experimenting can be fun and you may surprise yourself with what you can come up with. Here is the “recipe” (not entirely exact) of things I put into my stew. Use whatever veggies and seasonings you have on hand if you do not have these ingredients.
By using a little improvisation and a little planning you can make sure your family has a nutritious, delicious meal during the holiday season.
Slow Cooker Beef Stew
This is a very free-form recipe for beef stew. Basically, you make it with whatever things you have on hand. You can try other spice combinations; roseary would taste wonderful in this hearty stew. Using soy sauce is a trick that I have learned does well with cooking meat in the slow-cooker. It makes it taste more savory. Ideally, the beef cubes dredged in flour and the onion would be browned before adding the liquid, but this extra step seems to defeat the simplicity of the slow cooker. Besides, this stew is perfectly yummy as it is! This recipe freezes beautifully.
- 2 pounds cubed stew beef
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 onion (shallots are nice, too)
- 1 or 2 cloves crushed garlic
- Someveggies: any combination of carrots, potatoes, celery, frozen peas, winter squash, cabbage, cut into approximately 1″ chunks (should total about 2-3 cups or whatever looks about right)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
- 1 TBSP soy sauce
- Liquid to total 1 1/2 cups: beef broth or red wine or both
- Put meat in slow cooker. Mix together flour, salt and pepper. Toss meat cubes with the flour mixture. Add everything else.
- Cook on low for 10 hours or high for 6 hours. Taste, addmore salt or soy sauce or pepper as needed.