Saturday, 16 March 2013

St. Patrick's Day Menu Part I: Slow-Cooker Irish Beef Stew

March 15, 2013

SmartCooks here.  It's mid-March, depressingly mid-winter but, nonetheless, I have the spring cleaning bug.  It's my version of March madness, characterized by hauling furniture out of every room and digging cat hair out of cold air vents. This frenetic activity is watched closely by the cat-kids who pounce on the vacuum cleaner, cleaning supplies and each other.  Whatever amuses them... 

What amuses me is comfort food at the end of the cleaning day.  Twice in the past week it was Irish Beef Stew, cooked all day in a slow cooker, with enough for both my household and that of close friends, one of whom is recovering from surgery on a broken wrist.  

The Slow Cooker Irish Beef Stew is Part I of three postings on the perfect meal to melt those winter blues and toast St. Patrick's Day at home. Part 2 is Irish Soda Bread to accompany the stew.  Part 3 is the Apple Loaf for dessert.  

A Word About Guinness Beer

All of the various recipes I consulted on the foodie blogs featured Irish Guinness beer as an integral part of the Irish stew experience.  Off I trundled to my local LCBO to purchase a can.  Seems like I wasn't the only person with the same idea as I got the last two cans in stock although not sure the other purchasers were doing it for the stew.  But home I came victorious and added the 3/4 cup I needed for the stew.  

Husband nobly 'offered' to finish what remained of the beer while watching a hockey game.  As he finished the can of beer, he called me into the TV room to ask me if I could hear a rattle in the can.  He shook it hard.  No doubt about it.  There was definitely a foreign object of some kind in there.  

I said a few unmentionable **#*! words thinking I would have to pitch the broth and start over.  We found a can opener, opened the lid and pulled out a white plastic ball.  I said a few more choice words to express my frustration.  I checked the second can by gently shaking it and, indeed, there was a suspicious sound.  

Before pitching the meal and starting over, I Googled "Guinness beer plastic ball?" and, lo and behold, it was a 'widget' or device patented in Ireland specifically for Guinness beer.  The purpose of the nitrogen-filled widget is to release the CO2 from some of the beer in the can to create the head.  

Who knew? Anyway, I was relieved at not having to pitch the Irish stew and start over. 

On to the Irish Beef Stew

Recipes for Irish Beef Stew called for various ingredients, ranging from different types of root vegetables to thicker or richer gravies.  I did a mix and match and cranked up the slow cooker for 5-7 hours on high (8-9 hours low) and ended up with a rich, flavourful and comforting stew.  Enjoy! 

Slow Cooker Irish Beef Stew 
2 lbs lean organic stew beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 lbs potatoes, combo of baby white and red, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
2 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup), or more if desired
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into thin stalks or rounds
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T salted butter
2 cups no-sodium beef broth
3/4 cup red wine
3/4 cup Guinness draught
2 T tomato paste
1 T sugar
1 T low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 T dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 T cornstarch, mixed with 1 water
Salt and pepper, to taste

Chop all the vegetables and put into the crockpot. Rinse the meat and pat it dry, then salt and pepper the beef.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add beef to the pan and brown on all sides, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook for one minute.  Put beef in crockpot on top of the vegetables.

Add butter to the skillet, then the beef broth, red wine, beer, tomato paste, sugar, soy sauce and thyme. Stir liquids while scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil for a few minutes, then simmer for 10-12 minutes. Add cornstarch and water.

Pour broth mixture into the crockpot over vegetables and beef. Add bay leaves and cook on high for 4-6 hours or 6 to 9 hours on low.  

Before serving, remove bay leaves. 

Add Part 2, Irish Soda Bread, from the next SmartCooks recipe.

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