I cooked Monday for Inter-Faith Hospitality network (IHN) families; it’s something I’ve done for years at more than one church. It’s a way of living life that makes a lot of sense to me; I like to cook and there are people who need dinner. Here in Colorado Springs at First Congregational Church, we bring already cooked or nearly finished complete meals to a church kitchen where families without physical homes gather, eat dinner with us, and then spend the night. A group of churches and temples work together and the homeless people spend a week at one place and then move to another while awaiting jobs and/or permanent housing. It gives all of the congregations a chance to participate without burdening any one financially or otherwise with the full-time housing of the ever-changing group.
Typically, but not always, a dinner coordinator makes contact a couple of months ahead and asks what I’d like to make; for other churches there’s a set menu for each week. The families aren’t the same, so it doesn’t matter if there’s meat loaf on Monday and chicken with rice on Tuesdays, etc. every time. That gives the dinner coordinator a repeating group of tasks that the volunteers become used to. For instance, if I’m a shopping volunteer, I might know that every two months I’ll make a run to Costco for fresh milk, ground beef, chicken pieces, broccoli, spinach, etc. Once a year, I might need to buy paper napkins and cocoa mix. If I’m a cooking volunteer and I’m scheduled for Wednesday, I know I’ll be making baked potatoes with toppings. I find I like both options, though the latter gives me time to spend with other volunteers cooking in the kitchen rather than fixing food on my own at home.
This week, my IHN dinner was beef-vegetable soup — a big pot full. Here’s a very similar soup I put on the blog several years ago. (Saturday I cook again and it’ll be chicken noodle soup. Simple, favorite meals are best.) A salad went along with it and Rabbi Mel Glazer brought rolls, butter, and cheese pizza for the kids. I had bought two big chuck roasts at Costco, so had one left for the next day at home.
A freak fall storm hit and I decided to throw it into the slow cooker with whatever else I could find. I wanted to work on my office and also had the western regional manager for Blue Star coming down from Fort Collins to show me the ins and outs of my new range–shown below. A dog sitter was scheduled to visit late in the afternoon; I needed dinner without much work.
(Below: This is the exact range and color I purchased, a 30-inch all-gas RNB304BV1SS model. Made in Pennsylania and shipped to Colorado, it’s a good-looking work horse and is one that I look forward to learning more and more about.)
Last year I made a similar meal with larger chunks of beef — not a stew, per se. This would be a true stew and was as simple and luscious as I hoped. I didn’t gild the lily by making cheddar mashed potatoes; the heat of the stew yelled for something to calm it down. Rice would be perfectly acceptable, as would thick slices of toasted baguette. I’m not a big slow cooker cook, but am always wondering why I don’t use this sweet appliance more when I do pull it out and put it to use. If you’d like to cook more slow cooker meals, try Kalyn’s Kitchen’s wonderful Slow Cooker from Scratch blog.
SLOW COOKER GREEN CHILI-BEEF STEW WITH BACON
Lots of veggies here to make you happy. Feel free to change them up. Parsnips or turnips would work well, as would potatoes or sweet potatoes if you’re not serving this stew over the cheddar mashed potatoes (Recipe below) or rice. You could throw in frozen peas or corn for the last half hour if you have some. As always, please check labels on canned good or packages for Gluten-Free option.
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- Crushed red pepper*
- 2 slices bacon
- 2 .5 – 3 pound chuck roast, cut into 1 – 2-inch pieces
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Kosher salt
- 2 medium onions, cut into eighths
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red and 1 yellow or orange bell pepper, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 4 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 16-ounces chopped cooked green chiles (I used a jar of 505 roasted green chiles.)
- 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
- 1 heaping tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/2 cup white wine or water
- 2 cups chicken broth
Heat oil in a large deep skillet until nearly smoking; add a pinch of crushed red pepper along with the bacon and the beef. Season meat well with black pepper. Cook until well-browned; turn, and brown other side. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
In the meantime, to a 6-quart crock-pot set on low, add the onions, garlic, peppers, carrots, half of the green chiles, all of the tomatoes, and half of the oregano. Season with another 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, a pinch of crushed red pepper, and stir. When meat is well browned, chop the bacon, and add both the bacon and beef to the crock-pot on top of the vegetables. Spoon in the remainder of the chiles and sprinkle with the rest of the oregano.
Pour in wine and broth. Stir. Cook on low for eight hours. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve alone or over cheese mashed potatoes (below) or hot rice seasoned with pepper and chopped fresh parsley or cilantro.
* This is, on a scale of 1 – 10, about a 5 on the heat index. It will “cool down” by eating it with rice or potatoes. If you like flavor, but not so much heat, buy mild green chiles and skip the crushed red pepper.
If you’d rather make this in the oven, use a heavy dutch oven instead of the skillet. Follow directions through pour in wine and water and stir. Bring to a boil; cover and braise on the middle rack of an oven pre-heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 1/2 hours. Check on the stew mid-way through cooking and add more liquid if it seems dry; it should have plenty of sauce. When the cooking time is up, remove carefully from the oven and check for doneness; if everything’s tender and bubbly, it’s done. If not, replace for another fifteen minutes or so and re-check.
CHEDDAR MASHED POTATOES Serves 6
- 6 large white, very well-scrubbed potatoes (about 3 pounds), cut into eighths**
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black or white pepper
- 1 tablespoon softened salted butter
- 1 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (I like Vermont–Cabot– or English Cheddar–a white cheese, if you can), plus a little extra for garnish
- 1/2 -3/4 cup hot milk
- 2 tablespoons chopped green onions (just greens is fine, but both the greens and white will work) or chives — See note below if serving meat over potatoes.
1. Place potatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt with 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a 6-quart pot and cover with water–plus an inch or so. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are just tender.
2. Drain and put potatoes back in the hot pan with the butter and the cheese. Mash well by hand and then stir in about half-cup of the milk. Mash again, adding more milk if needed, until potatoes are moistened and tender. Taste, adjust seasonings, and spoon into a bowl. Garnish with green onions or chives, if using, and a little of the grated cheddar.
**I don’t peel these, but you’re welcome to if you’d like. I like the texture of hand-mashed and unpeeled potatoes and am all over that fiber.
MAKE IT INTO A FALL DINNER PARTY for 6:
Make it simple by asking friends to each bring something. The non-cooking one heads to the wine shop.
Starters: an inexpensive, but festive Spanish cava in flutes, some seasoned nuts and a bowl of spicy olives. A small basket of crackers or something else crunchy along with a small piece of Manchego or sharp cheddar. Not much. (Sweet flutes are often found for very little cash at thrift shops. Have a variety; let folks choose the one they like.)
First Course: a crunchy fall salad with avocados, butter lettuce, sharp cheddar, shallots, and a sherry vinaigrette (Here’s one that might work, though it has a red wine vinaigrette.)
Main course: the stew and the mashed potatoes with a slice of two of baguette to sop up the sauce
Dessert: sautéed apples with cinnamon ice cream
Wine: a California Chardonnay for the salad and an inexpensive Syrah for the main course. Calvados would be lovely for dessert.
(Below: Tucker with Rosie underneath him–a favorite gimmick of hers. It won’t last long as I think she’ll end up taller than he is.)