- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hands-off cooking is never more appreciated than during the holidays. That’s because we don’t have enough hands to get the basics done. Add in shopping, wrapping and cleaning, and it’s a wonder we can get dressed in the morning.

What a help the slow cooker can be if you just pull it down from the shelf, dust it off and try this simple recipe for holiday entertaining. It’s a beef stew with French flavors to be spooned over cooked egg noodles and served with a green salad and crusty bread.

Red wine greatly elevates the flavor of beef stew, and the beef benefits from the acid in the wine, which tenderizes the meat as it simmers. For dessert? A chocolate cake, of course. Bake a layer cake and surround it with festive greenery.

Remember that when cooking with a slow cooker you need less liquid. Slow cookers don’t have the evaporation that other means of cooking do. This recipe uses a little flour to keep the sauce thickened. If you find your beef stew needs extra thickening, just remove the lid once the meat is tender and let the stew simmer on high power until the sauce cooks down a bit and is the consistency you like.

Five time-shaving holiday ways to use a slow cooker

• Place your favorite warm dip to simmer in the slow cooker on low power. Cover and keep warm until guests arrive. Spoon into serving dishes and serve with chips or crudites.

• Pour in the ingredients of your favorite mulled cider or hot holiday punch. Keep on low power, covered, until you can ladle into cups. The spicy fragrance will perfume your home as well.

• Busy days need homemade soup at the ready for supper. Prepare these in the morning and let cook on low all day.

• Use the slow cooker to slowly cook chicken breasts so you can shred the meat for chicken casseroles and other holiday recipes.

• Make an easy cranberry sauce by combining 1 package of fresh cranberries, washed, with 2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup water in the slow cooker. Cook on high for 2 to 3 hours, or until the cranberries pop open.

All-day beef bourguignon

The preparation time is 15 minutes, and the cooking time — in a slow cooker — is 6 hours on high power and 10 hours on low power.

2 cups thinly sliced onion

1 cup thinly sliced carrots

4 cloves garlic, sliced

2 pounds pre-cubed lean beef stew meat

Salt and black pepper

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 8-ounce package pre-sliced mushrooms

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 bay leaves

1 14-ounce can low-sodium beef broth

1 cup dry red wine

Buttered egg noodles

2 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped, for garnish

Place onion, carrot and garlic in bottom of 4- to 6-quart slow cooker and stir to mix.

Pat beef dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Place flour in shallow bowl. Dredge beef in flour, then shake off the excess. Place beef on top of onion mixture, then scatter mushrooms, oregano and bay leaves on top of beef. Pour beef broth and red wine over beef. Cover cooker and cook beef until quite tender and liquid has cooked down and thickened, 6 hours on high heat or 10 hours on low heat.

To serve, remove and discard bay leaves. Spoon stew over egg noodles and garnish with scallion. Makes 8 servings.


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