Beef Stew is one of those classic dishes that has been shortcutted and "easied" until hardly recognizable. Nowadays, you can buy frozen beef stew, CANNED beef stew, and even slow-cooker beef stew "kits", which is basically a bag of stew meat (usually sinewy scraps), cut up vegetables, and dubious seasonings, which you simply dump into a slow-cooker along with some water.
I understand the slow-cooker; I really do. I use mine, in fact - quite a lot! BUT, I just can't do slow-cooker beef stew for some reason. The low and slow method yields great beef, but every slow-cooker beef stew recipe I've ever seen calls for adding the vegetables at the beginning of cooking, which results in mushy overcooked vegetables. Even though it takes a little more effort, I like to make beef stew the old-fashioned way - in the oven.
This is one of those recipes that takes awhile. It's time-consuming, but with VERY little prep time; the beef is cooked in the oven, at a low temperature for over 4 hours, leaving it tender and full of beefy flavor. The vegetables are added later, ensuring they will be cooked perfectly and not turned into a mealy vegetable mush.
Any leftovers will freeze really well, and you shouldn't need any side dishes aside from some crusty, buttered bread.
Old-Fashioned Beef Stew
adapted from For the Love of Cooking
1 lb lean round or chuck roast, cut into chunks
1 sweet onion, cut into chunks
6 cloves garlic, chopped
6 cups beef stock
1 can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 cup carrots, cut into chunks (about 3 carrots)
1 cup sliced celery (about 3 stalks of celery)
2 cups red potatoes, cut into chunks (about 3-4 potatoes)
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp cold water (or cold beef stock)
Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the beef and onions; cook for 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the beef stock, diced tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then cover and cook in a 250-degree oven for 4-5 hours.
Remove the pot from the oven and place over medium-low heat. Add the carrots, celery and potatoes, topping off with more beef stock if needed.
Cover and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Whisk together the cornstarch and cold water or stock; bring the stew to boiling, then slowly stir in the cornstarch slurry. Reduce the heat to low and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.