Mary Helen’s No Peek Beef Stew: Updated

Remember when I told you I’d be sharing “best of/most requested” recipes again? And that I’d update and adapt them so if you had to substitute an ingredient, you could? 

Well, here’s a much loved stew recipe: Mary Helen’s “No peek” classic beef oven stew. Perfect for a cozy winter supper.

The recipe calls for tapioca – I had none so subbed in a smaller amount of flour. Ditto with the tomato juice. I subbed in beef broth with a good dollop of tomato paste. 

Mary Helen Spry was my best friend, Carol’s Mom. She was the most gourmet cook around. I had my first taste of whole cauliflower drizzled with cheese sauce at Carol’s house. 

Dinner at Carol’s was eaten at the table, with platters of food. 

At our home, supper from my Mom’s Lebanese kitchen was usually served from a big cast iron pot on the stove. 

No matter, though. We both enjoyed dinner at each other’s home.

Now I’ve made numerous versions of classic beef stew that were delicious, but none are as easy as this and the taste is yummy. 

I used my enameled cast iron pot. This heavy pot allowed the stew to cook at an even simmer in the oven. Just make sure your pot and lid are ovenproof. 

Here’s the recipe updated with substitutions if necessary.

Mary Helen’s “no peek” oven beef stew 

I used a 2 pound chuck roast, my favorite for stew.

After trimming, I got a little over 1-1/2 pounds beef. Stewing beef is good, too. 

Potatoes are added toward the end so they don’t get mushy.

Stew cooks, basically unattended, in oven about 3 hours. Now my friend and colleague, Matt Swaim of the Sonrise Morning Show on Sacred Heart radio told me this morning when we chatted about beef and its origins in Bible days, that he always uses thyme in his stew. Annie Mitchell, host of the show, always adds a bit of soy to her stew and cooks it in her pressure cooker. So there you go – try those and let me know how you like it!


About 2 pounds beef, cut in 1-1/2” cubes 

Salt and pepper to taste

About 3 cups onions, chopped

A good teaspoon garlic, minced – my addition 

3 ribs celery, cut up 

4 medium carrots, peeled if you want and cut into nice chunks

1-1/4 cups tomato juice or one can beef broth mixed with 1 generous tablespoon tomato paste – I like the beef broth version better

1/3 cup quick/instant cooking tapioca or 1/4 cup flour – see note

1/2 teaspoon dried basil (optional but good)

About 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut up in large pieces

Beef base if necessary 


Preheat oven to 325. 

Pour thin film of oil in bottom of pot. 

Put beef in. If using flour sprinkle it over meat and toss to coat. 

Then add everything but potatoes and beef base.

If using tapioca, just add it and everything but potatoes and beef base. Give it a stir. 

Ready for the oven

Cover and cook about 2 hours. No peeking! 

Add potatoes and cook another 40-60 minutes, until meat is tender and potatoes cooked.

Taste and add a bit of beef base or bouillon to enhance flavor. 

Stew too thick? Add a bit of hot water.


Stir some frozen, thawed peas in at the end.

Add a splash of red wine vinegar to each serving.

Cook in crockpot: 

8-12 hours on low, 4-6 on high. 

Add potatoes at beginning of cooking time. 

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