Beef, Pumpkin and Barley Stew

This hearty, seasonal stew is just so good on a cool evening - and it makes great leftovers! Serve with crusty buttered bread for a true Fall treat. This recipe makes 10-12 servings.

PREP TIME: 10 minutes
COOK TIME: 6 hours 0 minutes

2 1/2 pounds stew meat or chuck roast, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 pound crimini or button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
2 cups baking or sugar pumpkin, peeled, seed removed and cut into 1 inch cubes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 cup red wine
4 1/2 cups beef stock
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme, or the leaves from two fresh sprigs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup barley
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped for garnish

Pat the beef cubes dry with a paper towel and season with salt.

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and sear the beef cubes on all sides, working in batches so as to not overcrowd. Use a slotted spoon to remove the beef and set aside.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and add the onion. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until onions are just beginning to brown on the edges. Add garlic and tomato paste and sauté for another 2-3 minutes, until tomato paste becomes fragrant. Deglaze the pan with red wine, making to scrape up any brown bit from the bottom of the pan. Let wine reduce by about half and remove from heat.

Put your slow cooker on low and add pumpkin, mushrooms, celery, barley, stock, beef, onion mixture, salt, bay leaf, thyme and vinegar. Cook for 4 hours and up to six. Meat should be tender and pumpkin pieces should be easily pierced with a fork.

Pull the bay leaf from your stew, season with salt and pepper to taste, garnish with parsley and serve warm.

* Cook's Note: Although you may be tempted, never remove the lid from your slow cooker during the cooking process. Removing the lid, even just to stir, can add up to an hour on the final cook time.