Claire BullenAfter a long, busy day at work, it's all anyone can do not to fall behind. And upon returning from the daily grind, one's heart (and stomach) hopes for a meal ready on the table. Only, there isn't one, and once again, it's back three spaces. Takeout? No way. Not again. Resigned, it's back to the microwave with a frozen dinner that promises to be marginally healthier.
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How can one keep this sad situation from happening again? There's a solution - why, the slow cooker, of course. It was once popular, and while it hasn't caught on quite like the microwave, it should - and its popularity isn't quite as tame as one would initially believe. After all, there's even a brand, Crock-Pot, which has become synonymous with the appliance.
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So as anyone can see, with a little planning and a modest investment, a true home-cooked meal can be had for very little work. A 6-quart model can be had for just shy of $30, and a programmable one shouldn't run north of $45. Just think of the possibilities! Imagine coming home to everything from a stick-to-your-ribs beef stew full of fresh ingredients, to a comforting, garlicky Spanish soup.
Dishes that would ordinarily take hours on the stove (in other words, things that busy people would never dare make on a weeknight) are cooked to perfection at a steady rate, leaving the rest of the day open to everything else that has to get done. Serve these meals with a quick salad, some warm crusty bread, or a side of vegetables and save the leftovers for the next day for lunch. That's a winner.
Crock-Pot Beef Stew Recipe
This is a super meaty beef stew that has more of a clear broth than the gravy-like Dinty Moore version. If you like the broth a bit thicker, toss the cubes of beef in flour before browning. Crock-pot temperatures vary - I find that the smaller crock-pots are often hotter than the large ones, which this recipe was scaled for originally, but as always with beef, low and slow makes it the most tender.
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3 pounds cubed beef for stew
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup red wine
5 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 pound coarsely chopped carrots
1 pound cubed red potatoes
2 cups chopped mushrooms
3 cups minced onions
3 cloves of peeled garlic
1 cup beef broth
2 bay leaves
Season the beef with salt and then brown it in batches over high heat without crowding the meat in the pan. Once you get some nice carmelization on both sides, remove from the pan and place in the crock pot. Deglaze the pan with 1 tablespoon of the red wine and, over low heat, stir in the thyme and rosemary, then remove the pan from the heat and pour over the beef in the crock pot.
On top of the beef, add in the black peppercorns then the vegetables. Pour the beef broth and the rest of the red wine over the vegetables and nestle the bay leaves among the ingredients. Cook in the crock pot on high for 1 hour, then cook on low for 7 hours, stirring after the first couple hours.
Special Designations: Nut-free, Dairy-free
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