Slow cookers became a cook's best buddy when the Rival Co. sold its first Crock-Pot in 1971 - and for good reason. More women were going back to work, so the clever cooking vessel was a lifesaver. No longer were we tied by our apron strings to a hot oven. Dump-and-go dinners were a thing of wonder.
But that all ended about a decade later, and Crock Pots were pushed back into the corner of the pantry. It would be another decade before those mustard-hued and avocado-green rounded vessels re-emerged, replaced by sleek, stainless-steel, high-tech slow cookers. In the 1990s, clever cooks said goodbye to chicken fricassee and other gloppy casseroles and hello to dinners cooked in their Crock Pots on a more-gourmet level - lemon-dill lamb shanks, chicken adobo and seafood paella. Even fancy hot chocolates.
For me, it's all about comfort foods, cooked long and slow, allowing cheaper tough meats to soften like butter.
Slow Cooker Beef Bourguignon is one of my favorites. It's not a lot different from a traditional beef stew, except for the red wine sauce that it simmers in all day. There's something about the slow-cooking process that augments the flavors of the vegetables, beef and wine.
This is the kind of dish that you can make on a Friday and nibble on all weekend long. Serve it with some crusty bread to sop up the delicious gravy.
Slow Cooker Beef Bourguignon
5 slices bacon, finely chopped
3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut to 1-inch cubes
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup flour
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons thyme, finely chopped
5 medium carrots, sliced
1 pound baby potatoes (see note)
8 ounce fresh mushrooms, sliced
Fresh chopped parsley for garnish
In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Put bacon in slow cooker. Salt and pepper the beef, and add to the skillet, searing on each side for 2-3 minutes. Transfer beef to the slow cooker.
Add the red wine to the skillet, scraping down the brown bits on the side. Allow it to simmer and reduce, and slowly add chicken broth, tomato sauce and soy sauce. Slowly whisk in the flour. Add the sauce to the slow cooker.
Add garlic, thyme, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms to the slow cooker. Give it a good stir, and cook on low setting until beef is tender, 8-10 hours. Garnish with fresh parley, and serve with mashed potatoes if desired.
Note: Baking potatoes may be substituted. If using, cut into large chunks - small pieces will disintegrate after cooking all day - before placing in slow cooker.
BACON LOVERS UNITE
For a limited time only, McDonald's restaurants nationwide will salute bacon lovers with three special menu additions: a Big Mac Bacon and Cheesy Bacon Fries, both available through the end of March; and the Quarter Pounder Bacon, which will be on the menu through the middle of April. Get 'em while they're hot.
Email Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.