When browning beef for a stew (whether you're making it in a slow cooker, or a regular old pot or Dutch oven), it's less important to get all the sides of the cubes of beef barely browned than it is to get a couple of sides nicely caramelized. Getting all six sides of a cube-ish piece of meat is a bit painstaking, and I'm absolving you from the task.
I actually read about a cool browning technique recently that helps if you are making a large amount of stew. Instead of browning all of the beef that's been cut into small pieces, just buy the stew meat in a whole piece and cut it into steaks, or buy the meat in steak form. Heat a little oil in a pan until it's quite hot and then sear the steaks on both sides, until nicely browned. Then cut the meat into 1 1/2-inch pieces. A nice deep browning on a couple of sides trumps barely browning on multiple sides.
If you didn't have time to brown the beef at all, you would still end up with a flavorful beef stew, but it's really worth it.
Parsnips look like pale carrots, beige in color, with a wider bottom near the root. They have a wonderful nutty sweetness. Look for smooth, hard parsnips with no sprouting. You could also use all carrots, or mix in potatoes or other root vegetables instead.
SLOW COOKER BARBECUE BEER BEEF STEW
Serves 4 to 6
Start to finish: 6 1/2 hours (includes six hours in the slow cooker)
3 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 cup barbecue sauce, homemade or store-bought
1 cup beef broth
¾ cup beer
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup ½-inch pieces peeled parsnips
1 cup 1/2 inch pieces peeled carrots
1 pound egg noodles
Season the beef evenly with salt, pepper and the garlic powder.
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Working in batches, brown the meat until it is browned, about 8 minutes for each batch. Don't crowd the beef cubes in the pan. Set the meat aside.
Pour off all but 2 teaspoons of fat from the pan and add the onions. Sauté them for 3 minutes, until lightly browned, and add them to the slow cooker. In the slow cooker, mix together the barbecue sauce, beef broth, beer, honey and mustard. Add the parsnips, carrots and browned beef to the slow cooker and stir to combine.
Cook on low for six to eight hours, until the meat is tender. When the stew is ready, prepare the egg noodles according to package directions. Serve the stew hot with noodles.
Nutrition information per serving: 596 calories; 112 calories from fat; 12 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 189 mg cholesterol; 761 mg sodium; 75 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 18 g sugar; 45 g protein.
Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, "Dinner Solved!" and "The Mom 100 Cookbook." She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at Katie@themom100.com.