Okay, the beef stew was, in fact, very tasty. I'm feeling much less grouchy with a day's distance from making the damn thing. It was really nice to have a healthy, hot meal ready for the family to eat in the twenty minutes we had to eat dinner between Hebrew school and basketball practice.
So I can say it was worth it, although I still maintain it took way too long to assemble it last night. (Plus, the cookbook's proviso "Like all stews, this one gets better with age, so . . . cook it a day or two before serving" is ridiculous in the context of a busy family's Crock Pot cooking.)
I will try it again, but next time I'll try a few modifications to see if I can make it more quickly.