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Classic beef stew is what warms the chilly days, inside and out.
For a kid who grew up hiding most vegetables on her plate, beef stew was an Event.
It was filled with all the vegetables I liked (carrots, onions, potatoes) and I could eat as much as I wanted, even with my football-playing brother there, because the slow cooker was tested to its capacity every time.
Beef stew meant I could also eat as many dinner rolls — or flaky biscuits, depending on what was on sale — as I desired, slathered with smooth-yet-unmelting margarine. (This particular addiction continued in college, as my meals were sometimes composed only of Crescents and Parkay.)
Beef stew was also one of the few meals my mother cooked, and so my mind wanders to those days as a child every time I pull out the slow cooker. Even if I’m not making beef stew, I think of those chilly days when dinner was an anticipation.
When you live in Wisconsin, you and winter come to an understanding. You expect to wear your snow pants under your Halloween costume, and to make sure your mittens aren’t packed away when your May birthday comes.
In return, winter helps you embrace its beauty. It reminds you of the rush that comes when you step out into the brisk day, and how you radiate once your hands are wrapped around that cup of cocoa.
It draws you in to yourself, to your family, and to the table where, if you are lucky, a pot of something has been simmering all day, permeating the air.
Living in the South, my children eat beef stew, finding comfort in the aroma and the ritual, but not really knowing why. It’s in their blood, their bones, but they don’t realize it yet.
Do we ever realize these things, while we are young? All we recognize the savory broth, moving over our lips and filling our stomachs, and the restful night that is sure to come.
Classic Beef Stew
- 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1/2 pound carrots, sliced
- 1-2 Russet potatoes, cut into small chunks
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth
- 1/2 cup beer
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- Season the beef with the salt and pepper. In a large skillet (or your slow cooker if it has a saute option), sear the beef on all sides, then transfer to the slow cooker.
- Add the onion, carrots, potatoes, thyme, beef broth, beer, and tomato paste and stir to mix.
- Cook on high for 6-8 hours.
- Scoop out 1/2 cup of broth and whisk together with cornstarch to make a slurry, then stir the mixture back into the stew. Let cook briefly to thicken, then serve.