Rustic Baked Beef Stew

Let it not be said I don’t take shortcuts nor enjoy comfort food.

1 round peasant or sourdough loaf
1 1/2 – 2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 carrots, scrubbed or peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
3 potatoes, scrubbed or peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes (I use petite dice)
2 bay leaves
1 – 2 cans beef broth
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Take your sourdough loaf and cut out the top, leaving the “wall” of the bowl about one inch thick. Slice the top crust off to make a lid and set it aside with the bowl. Take about half the remaining bread and shred; put aside on a plate. You can freeze the rest of the bread for later use as croutons, bread crumbs, etc.

In a large saucepan (or dutch oven) over medium heat, brown the stew meat; drain. Add the meat to a large covered casserole dish. Place the chopped carrots, celery, potatoes, and bread on top of the meat. Combine the tomatoes, bay leaves, 1 can of beef stock, cornstarch, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour into the baking dish. Add remaining beef stock or water as needed; it does not need to cover the veggies but you don’t want the stew to dry out. Cover and bake for 2 hours, or until meat and vegetables are tender (alternatively, you can bake for 4 hours at 325).

Take the stew out of the oven to briefly cool; raise the temperature of the oven to 400 and place the bread bowl and lid inside to warm and crisp it. When the bowl is done, ladle the stew into the bowl (it won’t all fit) and top with bread lid. Refill the bread bowl as needed until you’re scraping into gravy-soggy bread – the best part of this dish!

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