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My niece Jamie is a married mom of three with a demanding full-time job as an accountant for a big company.  With no time to cook, she just laughs and says, “I don’t even know how to feed my family!” Husband Jerry is not an admitted cook, either.  And that’s the way it is for lots of young moms and dads.

Here she is with her mom, my dear sister-in-law, Carolyn. (Jamie, right; Carolyn left)

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After she said that to me, her words kept coming back, and I decided to look through my own recipes for something she could make without much hassle outside of planning and shopping–which is half the battle of cooking.  (The first half is deciding what’s for dinner.) Finally, here’s a big pot full of food with favorite Italian flavors that nearly everyone can enjoy.

ADD SALAD AND BREAD? While the stew is a full meal, if you want more, buy the best baguette or loaf of Italian bread you can find.  Grab a bag of chopped Romaine and some cherry tomatoes. Cook up the cherry tomatoes in olive oil and garlic, pour it all over the chopped Romaine that you’ve sprinkled with salt and pepper, and squeeze a lemon over all.  Your salad is done.

COMPANY COMING? Take this easy route. In addition to the salad and bread, grab some wine — see below for basic ideas, but add a bottle of Prosecco–sparkling Italian wine–to begin the night. Next, buy a stick of good-quality hard salami, slice it thinly, and serve with some great crackers, a little cheese, and some marinated olives and peppers for starters.  Pick up a variety of tiny individual containers of really good ice cream for guests to choose from for dessert.  Make espresso laced with a little grappa (Caffé corretto) for the final sip.

below:  stew in the slow cooker before cooking

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FROZEN MEATBALL SLOW COOKER STEW    8 generous servings

Don’t want potatoes? Skip them and add small chunks of zucchini during last hour or so of cooking instead.   This dish could go a number of ways–other fresh vegetables could be added toward the end or it could lean toward Mexico with chili powder, a bit of cumin, some frozen corn, and a can of  drained pinto beans or hominy in lieu of the potatoes.  Like green peas?  Stir in a 1/2 cup of frozen or fresh peas for the last 30 minutes.  What about a version with chopped bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and/or sliced marinated artichokes? Keep the basics for this stew in your pantry and freezer so you can make it anytime.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound bag baby carrots
  • 1 pound potatoes cut into 1 – 1 ½ in. chunks or the small baby, red potatoes, which might need no cutting at all
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces fresh sliced mushrooms
  • 16 ounces (one pound) Pre-cooked, frozen meatballs (purchased or homemade and frozen ahead)
  • 1 large onion, chopped coarsely (use more if you like onion a lot)
  • 2 15-ounce cans beef broth, low sodium (or one 32-ounce box)
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic (2 teaspoons chopped) or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon each dried oregano and basil
  • 1 bay leaf, optional
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper or a few drops of hot sauce, optional
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese and optional sliced Kalamata olives for garnish

Directions:

  1. To 6-quart Slow Cooker, add carrots and  potatoes; sprinkle generously with pepper.  Add mushrooms, meatballs and onion.
  2. In a bowl, whisk flour into beef broth with 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  3. Add the beef broth mixture mixture and rest of ingredients to Slow Cooker (except Parmesan and Kalamata olives.) Sprinkle again with a little fresh ground pepper.  Stir gently, leaving carrots and potatoes at bottom of pot as they take longer to cook.
  4. Set to “low” and cook all day. 8 hours is plenty.  (I’ve also cooked this on high for 4-5 hours)
  5. Ladle into bowls and top with cheese and/or olives, if desired. Serve w/ crusty bread and salad.

SHOPPING LIST:

  • PRODUCE:  Bag of chopped Romaine     Basket of cherry tomatoes   Clove garlic   Large onion  8 ounces fresh sliced mushrooms      1 pound baby carrots       1 pound baby or other potatoes
  • OTHER:  Parmesan cheese       Sliced Kalamata olives (if using)
  • FROZEN:  16 ounces frozen meatballs–or make ahead and freeze
  • CANNED:  15 ounce can chopped tomatoes and 2 15 ounce cans low sodium beef broth

PANTRY ITEMS:

All purpose flour, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper or hot sauce (if using), dried oregano and basil

I originally published this as a “Valentine’s Day for Dummies” cooking article a few years ago.

Cook’s Note:  Don’t need so much food? Cut this in half and cook in your 3-4 quart slow cooker. Leftovers freeze well without potatoes.  Traveling to dinner or potluck?  This meal travels well. Secure the pot with heavy rubber bands, wrap well in big old towels, stick in a box or not, and carefully stow this hot dinner on the floor of the backseat in the car. Don’t forget to bring the grated cheese and bread.

Optional ingredients and changes:  My sister likes to use at least some sweet potatoes in this stew, as well as celery, as did another friend. Both of these cooks offered that the resulting dish was more soup-like than stew. My thought: if you’re adding other ingredients that may add liquid to the stew, you might want to increase the flour blended into the broth to 1/4 cup.

WINE:  Inexpensive Chianti or Barbera. 

PRINTABLE RECIPE WITH SHOPPING LIST:  Italian-meatball-crockpot-stew-8-generous-servings

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WANT MORE EASY MEALS TO PLAN AND COOK?  Click here for a post of 10 simple and delicious dinners–such as…

Chicken and Noodles

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DINE OUT TO END CHILDHOOD HUNGER IN AMERICA

THIS MONTH, MAKE EVERY MEAL COUNT.

When you dine out at participating restaurants, you’ll help feed children who don’t have enough to eat.  Click here to look for restaurants in your area who’ll donate part or all of their profits to NO KID HUNGRY.

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Cook some simple new meals this fall and share them with some friends–old or new, or stop in a restaurant to help end childhood hunger in America!

Alyce