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Sep 11, 2012 02:23 PM

Newbie slow cooker user seeking some expertise :)

Hello there,

I bought the following at the store today, and I was wondering if I could get some directions to how to cook this in a slow cooker:

- beef stew seasoning pack
- cubes of beef boneless stew
- cream of celery soup
- no salt beef broth
- black beans
- lentils

Questions I had before getting started:
Should I be browning the beef?
How much water is needed?

Thank you very much for helping me out.

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  1. Search this board using the terms :beef stew","slow cooker", and "crock pot". You will have inferior results unless you sear your beef on the stovetop first. Buying cubed of stew beef was a mistake. You probably got round, which is inferior to chuck or brisket. Next time get a boneless chuck roast and cube it yourself.

    You should add the carrots to the crockpot at the same time as the seared meat. You
    can use the carrots for the whole time, or add them closer to the end of cooking. If they are in there the whole time, their flavor will be all but gone by the end of cooking. Don't use both the seasoning pack and the cream soup. Too much salt. Personally, I would not use prepack seasoning but that's your call. It's okay to use it with no-salt broth. No water needed - the meat anad veg will add plenty. If you want to make it a lentil stew, the lentils will need from 30-60 minutes in the crockpot depending on how hot it is. Don't use the broccoli - the crockpot will turn it to bitter mush. I'd save the black beans for another dish since it sounds like what you want to create is a beef stew.

    1 Reply
    1. re: greygarious

      Thank you greygarious. I appreciate all the advice. Thanks for the heads up about the broccoli.

    2. If you're new to slow cooker cooking you may have been led to believe that there is something mysterious about the device. That's not true. You can simplify your introduction to the slow cooker if you remember that it is essentially a device that relies on the principal of braising for cooking food. They don't all have the exact same temperature settings (ranging from off/low/medium/high to some series of numbers representing cooking temperature levels) but they all work the same way. Try a simple braised stew with the ingredients you have listed:
      Heat beef broth to boiling point, lower to slow simmer.
      Meanwhile, turn on slow cooker to high.
      Add about a cup of the beef broth (mixed with heated water if necessary to bring liquid level up to just cover the meat) to the slow cooker.
      Brown the stew meat in a skillet, remove and set aside.
      Chop the veggies and saute in the same pan, set aside.
      Add browned beef to the slow cooker, season to taste.
      Add a clove or two of chopped garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.
      Stir and Cover.
      Cook for 1 hour on high.
      Add black beans, reduce heat to medium.
      Cook additional 2 hours.
      Test beans for tenderness, allow to cook longer if necessary.
      Add lentils and cook additional 20 - 30 minutes or until lentils are nearing tender
      Add sauteed veggies and cook until tender, about 10 - 15 minutes longer.
      You can maintain some very hot water on the side to keep the liquid at the level you desire but make sure it's at or near the boiling point when it goes into the cooker and avoid adding more than necessary.
      My advice is never to cook with canned soups as an ingredient. They're extremely high in sodium and can often overwhelm all of the wonderful flavors that you can develop quite naturally with fresh ingredients.

      6 Replies
      1. re: todao

        Thanks todao! I was not expecting a reply of this length and detail. It is extremely helpful. I will give it a go tomorrow morning and I will return with a summary and more questions.

        1. re: ctklai

          Like todao mentioned with the canned soups, "too much" can definately be too much when it comes to the slow cooker.

          I am not in anyway trying to discourage you from your stew but back when I was a novice, I back-pedelled to doing just meats in the slow cooker first and then once I figured those out, moved on to multi-ingredient recipes.

          1. re: cleobeach

            Hi cleobeach, thanks for the input.

            If you were me, how would you approach it? Would you just put the meat in with the non salt broth?

            1. re: ctklai

              I don't use broth. I sear and season the meat with whatever strikes my fancy - salt and pepper or one of the assorted seasoning blends I have. I generally have a wine on hand and will put a litte of that into the pot too.

              That being said, if you are looking to produce a stew or liquid type of dish to serve over rice or egg noodles, you would want to add broth.

        2. re: todao

          Is this too much beef broth?

          1. re: ctklai

            I'd reduce the broth to a level that just covers the meat. As chefj points out, you are likely to have more liquid in the finished stew than less.

        3. I would cook the broccoli separate. It does not take long, and wouldn't fit in a 'beef stew'.

          I would put the cream of celery soup in the back of the pantry.

          Are the beans and lentils cooked (in cans) or raw? It would be a challenge to make sure they cooked in the same timeframe as the beef. Canned could be included, but might disappear by the time the meat is done.

          Browning the beef adds flavor, but goes against the 'dump and plug' philosophy of slow-cooking. For the same reason you could also saute the vegetables.

          The meat and vegetables will release juices during cooking, and little moisture will be lost. So you shouldn't start with any more liquid than you want to end up with; preferably start with less.

          10 Replies
          1. re: paulj

            "Are the beans and lentils cooked (in cans) or raw?"
            That's an excellent and extremely important point that I missed. Evidence that teamwork on this forum is so valuable.

            1. re: todao

              The beans I plan to use are raw. I plan to soak them in water overnight, I wonder if this will affect the way I use them. Will I need more water than usual for beans as they tend to make the solution more viscous?

              Anyways, thank you all for your help!! It was a huge success.

              I browned the stew and sauted the veggies before hand. I preheated the broth before I poured it into the slow cooker. I cooked it for 4 hours on high before adding the veggies in for 40 minutes. Sided it with rice and here was the result.

              I will try the same,according to the advice with black beans and lentils tomorrow without beef.

              Thanks again everyone!

              1. re: ctklai

                Yesterday's America's Test Kitchen was on slow cookers. They did chicken soup, pork loin, and bread pudding. In both cases they browned the meat and veg first. In all 3 cases they cooked on LOW for 4 hours.

                1. re: ctklai

                  That looks great. It's what I would have done with the searing but I wasn't sure if you were looking for paulj's theory of dump and cook for crockpots. I don't like the results of dump and cook. Searing/sauteeing almost always makes for better results, both stove top/oven or crockpot. for meats and vegetables.

                  1. re: ctklai

                    Looks very good!

                    Also, keep in mind that slow cookers today cook at a higher temperature (thanks to FDA regulations, despite no one becoming ill from the lower temps at which they used to cook). But many slow cooker cookbooks out there have recipes that were for the older slow cookers. Recipes that say cook for 8-10 hours on low can often be cut *way* back to 6 hours on low. Your 4 hours was probably the maximum length of time to cook the stew on high heat.

                    The picture above of your slow cooker seems to look like you have a smaller crockpot - maybe 3 quarts vs. a larger 5 or 6-quart? As paulj said - the crockpot will create it's own liquid, so always go with less. Many recipes call for 1 cup or less of liquid. It might not cover the items in your slow cooker to start, but once the lid goes on, it starts creating condensation and that gets added back into the liquid. So if you do have a smaller crockpot, stick to 1/2 to 1 cup of liquid max.

                    BTW - I make homemade chicken stock in my larger crockpot all the time. Sauté a mirepoix of chopped onions, carrots, and celery, and dump that over frozen chicken carcasses (whole chickens and/or bones from chicken breasts/legs/thighs). Add a bouquet garni bag - I use cracked peppercorns, a bay leaf, and some thyme (dried or fresh) and pour water over all to cover. Let that simmer on low heat for 24 hours, and then strain very well. Allow the chicken stock to cool, and then freeze it in small 1 or 2 cup containers for easy use later. SO much better than store-bought stock!

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      Being that I just stocked up on whole chickens, I will be saving the carcasses and trying this method! Thanks.

                      1. re: LindaWhit

                        Couldn't you simulate one of those good old-time slow cookers by plugging a new one into a timer? Load it up, set the timer for 4 hrs. The food will sit at room temperature for that time, and start cooking a noon just like the old ones? As you say, no one every got sick, or at least, the news papers didn't publish stories about an epidemic of slow-cooker food poisoning (the internet was in its infancy back then).

                        1. re: paulj

                          It's possible that would work, paulj. I also know of some people putting things like chicken or beef in par-frozen, and cooking it for the full time as noted in the crockpot cookbooks.

                          1. re: LindaWhit

                            Could you prepare everything in the crockpot insert for stew the night before, leave it in the fridge then place the insert in the cooker, the next morning, just before leaving for work, and turn it on low to cook all day? or might there be a danger of cracking the cold insert as it heats up. Or maybe the ingredients would get kind of 'water logged' sitting in the fridge all night waiting to be cooked the next day.

                            1. re: dixiegal

                              I would leave the liquid out of the stew and add it in the morning before you leave for work. Perhaps taking the crockery out of the fridge when you *first* get up and letting it come to as close to room temp as it can before you leave for work would help. I've often thought about the crock cracking as well. But it is a slow and low heat, so I'd like to hope it wouldn't crack. Perhaps writing Rival and asking them (or looking at their FAQs page) might help.

                2. I put the onions in first, diced, with just a little oil. I put the cooker on "high" and let the onions cook for awhile before adding anything else.