Slow cooker beef, mushroom and barley stew

Use a slow cooker, InstantPot or ingenious Wonderbag!

Some dishes just scream ‘comfort food’ and this is one of them. It’s not fancy nor is it fussy to prepare, but is sure is delicious. The most significant thing about this recipe, and the reason I’m posting it today, is that I cooked it using an ingenious new device I just learned about. It’s called the Wonderbag and it’s pretty darned amazing. It’s like a giant, pumpkin-shaped pillow (scroll down for photos) and it’s filled with recycled material to create thermal insulation which retains the heat from initially simmering a pot on the stove. Pop a hot pot into the Wonderbag and without electricity, it will continue to cook your dish for hours. Designed for environments where fuel is scarce and sometimes toxic, the portable, eco-friendly Wonderbag is also useful for camping, potlucks, trips to the beach and entertaining when stove or oven space is at a premium. I often think about how hard women work all over the world to feed their families, often in the most adverse situations. Wonderbag was designed for them and the company has launched a Buy One, Donate One program. This means that for every Wonderbag purchased in Canada, one is donated to a family in need in Africa. I’m happy to promote this great tool in honour of International Women’s Day. For more International Women’s Day inspiration, please visit this great online gallery – it’s a curated exhibition of gorgeous photographs of women around the world.

You can simmer this delicious stew on a stovetop, in the oven, in a slow cooker or in the amazing Wonderbag!

This is the ingenious Wonderbag. It's light, soft and squishy, and it performs exactly as promised.


  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) pot or pearl barley
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons (15 – 30 mL) olive oil
  • 3/4 pound (340 grams) stewing beef or steak, in 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) cubes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter (or olive oil)
  • 10 medium button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon (1.25 mL) dried thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon (2.5 mL) cider vinegar
  • 4 cups (1 L) beef broth
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) frozen peas, thawed
  • chopped fresh parsley and grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish


  • Put barley in a small bowl and add 1 cup (250 mL) water. Cover and let sit for 3 – 12 hours.
  • When ready to prepare stew, over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon (15 mL) oil in a medium to large heavy duty pot. A 3 – 5 quart Dutch oven with short handles is ideal for this recipe.
  • Add as much meat to the pot as will fit in a single layer without overcrowding. Sear the meat until it is browned on all sides then remove from pan.
  • Cook any additional meat in the same manner, adding a bit more oil as needed. Remove meat and season with salt and pepper.
  • In the same pot, add a bit more oil if needed then sauté onions and carrots until tender. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring often. Remove the sautéed vegetables and add to reserved meat.
  • Add butter to the pot and when it is melted, add mushrooms. Cook, stirring gently, until mushrooms have softened. Sprinkle with thyme leaves and add vinegar.
  • Add barley and soaking liquid to the mushrooms. Return reserved meat and vegetables to the pot as well, adding beef broth and water to the pot and stirring to combine.
  • Alternatively, you can sear the meat and saute the vegetables then transfer everything to a slow cooker and proceed as you would for any soup or stew recipe.
  • If making on the stovetop or using a wonderbag, let stew boil gently for 10 minutes then transfer the covered pot to the Wonderbag, following the detailed instructions provided for securing the pot inside the bag. Alternatively, cook at a low simmer on the stovetop for about 40 minutes, or until barley is tender.

The Wonderbag is easy to use - just set the piping hot pot on a trivet and cinch the bag shut. Leave it alone and in a while your meal is ready!

  • Let the stew cook inside the Wonderbag for 4 – 6 hours.
  • Just before serving, stir in the thawed peas and let rest 5 minutes.
  • Garnish individual servings with parsley and Parmesan and serve hot.

Serves 4.


  • The Wonderbag works best with heavy duty pans; they must not have long handles or they won’t fit properly in the bag. Cast iron (or enamelled cast iron) is best; the Wonderbag can hold pots ranging from 2 to 9 quarts in size.
  • For this recipe, the partially-cooked soup was at 212F when I put it in the Wonderbag; when I opened the bag and removed the lid 4.5 hours later, the stew was at 165F. The vegetables were tender but not mushy and the meat and barley were perfectly cooked.
  • Cooking time naturally depends upon what you’ve put into the pot. Rice only takes an hour!

Author: Paula Roy

Welcome to my kitchen! I love simple dishes prepared with passion and am always seeking to find new methods to make food as fun and flavourful as possible. If you enjoy this space be sure to check out my Rogers TV Ottawa cooking show, Paula Roy's Favourite Foods, available on local cable, streaming and a dedicated playlist on Rogers TV's YouTube channel.

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