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Rad's Nuclear-Grade Crock-Pot Stew

Julie & JuliaWhile watching the film Julie & Julia recently (starring Meryl Streep, about the life of Julia Child and a fan of hers), I was surprised to learn that world-famous chefs do not always test the recipes found in their books. [Surprisingly good flick, btw. Made me hungry.]

No such culinary shoddiness here. I've fixed this stew at least 50 times .. probably closer to a hundred. So I've had plenty of opportunities to experiment, discovering what works (sometimes by accident) and what doesn't.

ORIGINS » The idea for this stew came from a professor who taught a class in Psychology. He was a real Clinical Psychologist, with a practice .. who said:

"If you get nothing else from this class, get this » what you eat affects your mind and your emotions. So I suggest this to all my students, and this one suggestion alone is worth the price of the course. On your way home after class, stop by Target [store down the street], and pick up a Crock Pot. You can get one for fifteen or $20.

Then stop at the grocery store and buy all the veggies that grow IN the ground » potatoes, carrots, onions, leeks, beets, parsnips, turnips, garlic. Whatever you like. Chop 'em & up and throw everything in the pot. If you like, include some meat. Before you go to bed, turn the pot on LOW.

When you wake up in the morning, have a bowl of that for breakfast. If everybody did this, instead of starting their day with sugary pastry or a cream-filled doughnut, I'd have *half* the clients I do now."

Crock PotEQUIPMENT » I use a 6-quart (oval-shaped) programmable | Crock Pot (slow cooker) made by Rival. (Notice the small link to on their Products page. So I think Rival manufactures the Crock-Pot brand.)

My 6-quart programmable is not the original Crock Pot I purchased after Psych class that day. (I got an 'A', btw .. for my first class held in a big auditorium.) It gave me many years of faithful service and was quite battered upon retirement. If we are what we eat, then I'm the person I am today because of that crock pot.

Crock pots with manual controls are nice cuz they're stupid-easy to use (» OFF/ON, HIGH/LOW). But I like the ability to program the cooker to shut off if I happen to be cooking at night. Used to have to set my alarm .. to wake in the wee morning hours .. to manually turn off the cooker .. then go back to bed. (Over-cooked stew will turn to mush. Trust me.)

I now see they make a 6½-quart model. I've often wished for a little more space, so I'd probably get one of those if I were looking today.

HARDEST PART » The hardest part of this receipe is chopping up everything. After the chopping is done (and the meat is browned), you're done. It also takes time to swing by the grocery store and pick up the ingredients, so it takes some planning .. unlike my Pasta Puttanesca recipe, which includes ingredients that store well.

FRESH IS KEY » Speaking of ingredients .. I get all my stuff the same day I make the stew - the day before at the very earliest. With fresh ingredients, it's hard to go wrong. I feel that getting fresh ingredients is the main reason why the stew always turns out so well.

NUTRITIOUS » There's something 'grounding' about eating a bowl of veggies grown IN THE GROUND. Hard to describe, but many friends make comments such as, "I feel better already," while chowing on a steaming bowl.

MeatWHAT'S DA BEEF? » Yes, I like meat. But not too much. For a 6-quart pot, 2½ to 3 pounds seems a good amount. Less than 2 pounds will resemble vegetarian stew, while more than 3½ leaves little room for veggies.

Obviously, this is personal preference. Some days I feel like more meat, while others, I crave more veggies. So my meat tends to fluctuate from 2½ to 3 pounds per batch.

I've tried nearly every cut. First thing I learned is that stew made with stew-meat that's on sale always turns out disappointing. Hey, I love a good sale much as the next guy (more, probably), but it seems there's a reason for these sales.

I always have good luck when using a whole chunk of meat, rather than smaller pieces of stew meat (which seem to be the scraps collected from different cuts). Inferior beef, you'll notice, seems to produce a surprsingly-large quantity of water (liquid) when browned .. as if they over-hydrated the cow before sending it for slaughter. The worst is beef that smells old. That's never a bargain.

My favorite cut for stew (after much experimenting) is » tri-tip. Here at Trader Joes they sell pre-packaged cuts of tri-tip at reasonable prices. Often, these cuts come marinated, which seem to work fine. The stew always turns out good, and these packages of tri-tip cost only a little more than stew meat. Either way, any whole cut usually works better than smaller scraps (stew meat).

BONES » I also try to pick up a few small ribs (3 or 4) .. for the bones. I usually get the smallest package they have. Grandma used to say, "The flavor's in the bones." Sounds weird, but bones do seem to make stew taste better (and more grounding). See if you don't agree.

This recipe continues on the next page .. see here » Rad's Nuclear-Grade Stew (Page II)