Life has been pretty hectic lately, so my slow cooker has been working overtime. If I do nothing else, each weekend I at least roast a whole chicken in the oven and put a beef stew in the slow cooker. This guarantees us lunch and dinner for at least two days with a minimal amount of effort on my part. (Therefore leaving me with a little more energy to devote to baby wrangling.)
When it comes to the beef stew, I basically just throw in whatever is on hand: a lovely grass-fed roast, aromatics like onion and/or garlic, hearty vegetables like butternut squash or sweet potatoes, lighter vegetables such as bell pepper, summer squash or zucchini, roasted eggplant, and fresh tomatoes and spinach, and lots of fresh herbs. There honestly isn't much of a science to it, which is also the beauty of it! This is a recipe you can really only mess up by cooking the roast too long. So, a word to the wise, don't overcook. Grass-fed beef takes about thirty percent less time to cook than its conventional counterpart. Also, if you choose a tougher cut of meat, as we often do since feeding a family can get pricey, make sure to marinate your meat in acid (vinegar, red wine) and cook it slowly - on low!
Kitchen sink beef stew (variation no. 1):
2-3lb grass fed roast or London broil*
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small sweet onion OR about 1/2 package frozen diced onions
2 cups homemade beef or chicken stock
1 package cubed butternut squash (one of my Trader Joe's favorites!)
about 1/2 cup bell peppers (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup roasted eggplant (or raw!)
2-3 medium fresh organic tomatoes OR 1 large can organic diced tomatoes
lots of fresh oregano and thyme
salt & pepper
Rinse your meat and pat dry with a paper towel. Season well with salt, pepper and a bit of granulated garlic and/or onion for good measure. Set aside. Place your onions and minced garlic in the bottom of the slow cooker, and pour in your stock. Then layer in your hearty vegetables, butternut squash, red potatoes or sweet potatoes. Place your roast on top of the vegetables and add in the bell peppers, eggplant and fresh tomatoes. Top the entire pot with diced fresh herbs, about 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme and 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano. Cook on LOW for about 4 to 4&1/2** hours. After four hours, remove the roast and shred it with two forks. (Place one fork in the center of the roast and hold it with your non-dominant hand, then use your dominant hand to shred with the other fork.) If the roast is not done to your liking, cook for 30 more minutes. Give the stew a good stir and serve as desired. We like ours with cauliflower 'rice' or just by itself!
Other variations we enjoy include:
butternut squash + roasted eggplant + bell pepper + tomato + kalamata olive
sweet potato + zucchini + bell pepper + tomato + cilantro + lime
red potato + roasted eggplant + tomato + thyme + kale (add in for the last 15 minutes)
butternut squash + cauliflower + curry powder + spinach (add in for the last 15 minutes)
Honestly, you can really throw in whatever fresh or frozen vegetables your have. Frozen diced onions are an easy time-saver for this and many other recipes. Also, I buy organic sweet bell peppers in bulk during peak season, and slice and freeze them for later use. Just remember to layer your stew as follows: aromatics (onions, garlic), then stock, then hearty vegetables (potatoes, butternut squash), then your meat, then lighter vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, summer squash), then top with fresh herbs.
*For more cost-effective cuts of meat, marinate for 12-48 hours in an acidic mixture. I like 1 cup red wine, 2 tablespoons coconut aminos OR 1 tablespoon aminos and 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, 1 tsp each of dijon mustard and minced garlic. Marinate overnight for best results.
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**I know that sounds like a small amount of time, but trust me. I've eaten one too many overcooked grass fed roasts in my day, and four hours will most likely be sufficient.