Recipe: Basic Beef Stew for the crock pot

Here’s the deal: there’s a million ways to dress up beef stew: Change the vegetables.  Add spices. Use lager or beer for the broth. Brown the meat first. Add Italian Salad Dressing (seriously). Add flour (or cornstarch…or arrowroot) to thicken. Use red wine for the broth.

But before you get fancy, I think it is a good idea to have a grasp on just what it is you’re working with. So here’s a very basic beef stew. It is fine as-is, it would even be fine with fewer ingredients, but it is also great with some additions.

Consider this a canvas.

INGREDIENTS

1lb cubed stew meat (the more marbled the better)

1/2 bag of 16oz frozen green beans (or 1 can, drained)

1/2bag of 16oz frozen corn (or 1 can, drained)

4 carrots, chopped

3 potatoes, cubed (Skinned or not, your call)

4 stalks celery, chopped

3 cans v8 juice–or most of a large can.

1 recipe beef gravy, below (or purchase two jars pre-made…if using pre-made, add one chopped onion to recipe)

pinch kosher salt

freshly ground pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Grease interior of a crock pot (5+qt size). Add all ingredients including gravy. Stir. Make sure vegetables and meat are covered with liquid. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

GRAVY:

1 onion, minced

1/4cup butter

1.5cups water

3 cubes beef bullion

1/4 cup flour

DIRECTIONS...saute onion in butter; at the same time, mix bullion in 1.5 cups hot water. When  onion is translucent, add the bullion mixture to the saute onion and add flour. Stir frequently to keep from burning and evenly cook flour for at least two minutes when the gravy has started to thicken. (if flour is not well-cooked it will be easily tasted).

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Adventures of Logan: Superhero in Aisle 16

My personal superhero.

Logan is at the age where he is starting to be a big boy, but still holds on to wanting to be a little kid, too. So today, when he asked if he could wear his superhero cape to go grocery shopping, I said “yes.”

He used to wear costumes All.The.Time. He’d go to preschool dressed as a cowboy, or an astronaut, or a robot-astronaut-cowboy-firefighter. He often wore a tool belt and hard hat and insisted people call him, “Bob”.

And I secretly loved it.

I loved how confident he was, so happy to be who he wanted to be for an hour, an afternoon, or a whole day. Trying on numerous hats, figuring out just what felt right to him at the time. He didn’t care what other people thought, he only cared about expressing who he felt he was at that moment in time.

It dawns on me how fleeting this is, how maybe tomorrow, next week, next year he wont want to dress up anymore. He’ll be too cool for that; he’ll care more about wearing certain brands than superhero capes. He’ll worry about what others think; he’ll dress to fit-in, to blend-in, to be like his friends….

And that makes me kind of sad. I like grocery shopping with a superhero.

So when Logan asked if he could wear his cape, I thought for a split second about what people would think. I mean, he isn’t 3 anymore. And then I realized it didn’t matter. He’ll worry about that soon enough. For now, we have a mission: to shakedown a store for a hundred items on our list and make perfect strangers smile. And we did both.

Adventures of Logan: …even more things we don’t do in restaurants

Goats:1, Table Manners: 0

Today was Matt’s birthday. My mom was in town and took us all out for lunch.

We didn’t get all dressed-up or anything, but still, I’ve come to expect a certain level of decorum when we are eating somewhere other than off the basement floor in front of the TV.

For example, when we eat at the dining room table, I expect Logan to keep his legs under the table, his elbows off the table, and his mouth closed when chewing. Also, no talking with your mouth full.  When we are at restaurants, I expect him to try and keep his voice down.  Apparently, however, I should be expecting a lot more.

We’d been sitting in our booth, waiting for our food, when Logan decided to change the topic of conversation to our goats. Y’know, the resident perverts of the pasture.

“Goaty grabs Perfect JUST LIKE THIS and DOES THIS!” Logan exclaimed, grabbing the table and then standing up, sitting back down, standing back up, sitting back down…in rapid succession.

I stared at him, blankly….

sitting…standing….sitting…standing….sittingstandingsittingstanding…

What is my child doing? …In a restaurant?!

sitting..standing…sitting…standing…up-down-up-down-up-down…

It was that same sense of surreal quite that happens with the first, deafening snow of the season…when the silence is so thick you can touch it. That was me, in the restaurant, watching my son hump a table.

…sitting…standing…sitting…standing…sittingstandingsittingstandingupdownupdownupdown…

“Is he impersonating our goats humping?” I asked Matt, calmly, trying not to draw any additional attention to our table…on the off-chance we didn’t already have the full attention of every other person at The Whistle Stop.

“Yep. Yes he is. And he looks pretty happy, too ” Matt said.

Awesome.

And that’s when I said the words I’m pretty sure I never, ever expected to have to say in my entire life:

“Logan, honey, please stop humping the table; we don’t do that in restaurants.”

Recipe: Jalapeno Cornbread Beef Casserole in the Crockpot

You know it is a family-favorite recipe when a toddler’s handwriting is all over it…

When Logan was a little baby I used my crock pot all the time. This is one of those recipes we used to eat a few times a month because it was easy, filling and pretty darn affordable.As you can tell by Logan’s notation’s in red, this recipe has been modified a few times, tweaked according to our tastes, and of course made slightly more complicated. However, if you skip the optional ingredients, you still get a delicious dish, if slightly more mild.

The recipe below is a modified version of one published in 2004’s  101 More Things To Do With a Slower Cooker by Stephanie Ashcraft and Janet Eyring. The book is small, spiral-bound, and well worth purchasing if you are in need of some slow-cooker ideas.

…If you read my blog you know I’m generally hesitant about cookbooks and prefer online sources for recipes because I can read comments, tweaks, reviews of those dishes. This cookbook, and 2003’s 101 Things To Do With a Slow Cooker from the same authors, however, are exceptions to this rule. I’ve never had a bad recipe from either of the books.  WITH THAT SAID–these recipes are generally made up of processed ingredients and are not particularly new, unique or complex. That’s great for busy parents who don’t have cooking skills and just want to make something at home; it’s like an entry-level book for brand-new home cooks (like I was as a new mother who didn’t know her way around a kitchen yet)…but the book might not be as satisfying for those of us who prefer fresh, unprocessed and more exceptional ingredients …hence the modifications, below.

This recipe is for a 3-4.5 qt sized slow cooker; double the recipe for 6-7 qt crock pot.

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb ground beef

6 or so slices of bacon (use for grease but is optional)

1 onion, chopped

1/4 finely chopped jalapenos (optional)

1 can (10.75 oz) condensed tomato soup

1 can  (15oz)whole corn, drained

1-2 TBSP chili powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 c water

Topping:

2 cups self-rising cornmeal mix (like Martha White) OR 1 pouch corn bread mix (6.75oz about)

1 egg

2 TBSP butter plus more for greasing the crock pot

1 1/3 c milk if using corn meal mix; 1/3 C milk if using a pouch of cornbread mix

1 c grated cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Cook up bacon; set aside (place in freezer for use another day or crumble and add to this recipe either at the end as a topping or in the beef mixture at the beginning).

Saute onion and jalapeno in bacon grease until tender; separate jalapeno from onion, set both aside. Add hamburger to remaining bacon grease and brown.

Once ground beef is browned, place it and the onion in a greased  3 to 4.5 qt crock pot. Stir in soup, corn, chili powder, salt and water.

In a separate bowl, mix corn meal mix, egg, butter and milk together. Spread batter evenly over the top of meat mixture already in the crock pot. Cover and cook on low heat 5-6 hours or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.Sprinkle cheese over the top for the final 15 minutes of cooking. Makes 6-8 servings.