Thursday, November 03, 2011

Stew weather

While friends in San Francisco and Texas have been posting Facebook updates about the temperatures in the 80s, the forecast around Seattle is calling for on and off rain showers over the next few days. So my hankering for some comfort food has been growing by the day.

I snagged some beef stew meat last week, along with some carrots, celery and a slow cooker seasoning pack. As I looked through my slow cooker recipe books and online, I was reminded that many recipes never say "season meat" or "brown meat before putting in slow cooker" (except for those that say, almost as an afterthought at the end of the recipe: "season as needed with salt and pepper"). But seasoning and browning yields a much more flavorful and visually appealing dish in a slow cooker, although you have to go light on any salt because that can intensify as it cooks.

I always think about novice cooks trying a recipe for the first time who might logically conclude they simply can't cook because they "followed the recipe exactly" and still ended up with a bland meal.

I remember a former co-worker who didn't know what I meant when I  started off telling her about a dish I'd made by explaining, "It's really easy to make. First, saute the meat."

She looked at me perplexed. "Like in water?" she asked. Although her mom was a very good cook, she'd just never learned even the basics of cooking herself.
Ava seems to be picking up those basics early by helping me cook. I've let her season and stir dishes in progress and for this one, I let her cut the brown mushrooms with a lettuce knife (dull, but sharp enough for mushrooms), season the meat, spray veggie wash over the vegetables and rinse them, and mix the slow cooker seasoning packet with water before pouring it in the bowl.
I cut up 4-5 carrots, a head of celery, and a small bag of organic red potatoes. I tossed it all into the slow cooker crock (I think it's a 5-6 quart one) and cooked it on high for 4 1/2 hours since I was going to be close to home, but the ingredients could definitely hold up to 8-9 hours on low if I made this on a work night.
Unfortunately, we dished up and snarfed down several bowls of the end result served over hot rice before I remembered to take a (bad) picture. But it was delicious and everyone found some part of it to enjoy. Jason and I had big heaping bowls full of the entire dish. Ava prefered buttered rice with pieces of the falling-apart tender meat, and Dylan preferred the carrots most of all, but ate some of the buttered rice, with a bit of meat and juice from the pot.
This is going into the regular meal rotation for this fall.

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