I have several family members who are now venturing out on their own and starting their own homes, or going off to college. One of the first things I love to give is a crock pot. This is a versatile piece of equipment and it can even be used in some college dorms. I even tuck in a couple of easy recipes and some tips to get them started. Here is one of them for making beef stew. Adapted from an old recipe of my grandmother's, It is simple and anyone can follow the directions to make a delicious, hearty meal with little effort. The pot does most of the work of cooking the meal.

You will need:

A crock Pot. I prefer one with a removable crock, but they all work well.

2 pounds of chuck or rump roast cut into 1 inch cubes. You can also purchase stew beef at the grocery. This is usually provided already cut into large chunks. I will usually cut each of these chunks into smaller, bite sized pieces.

1 cup chopped onions. You can cut these into large chunks if you prefer a chunky stew. Otherwise dice to about 1/4 inch pieces.

1 cup diced celery

1 cup carrot rounds. Cut the carrots into rounds that are bite sized. After washing and removing the ends, simply cut 1/4 inch slices from the carrots.

4 large potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces. I love using the buttery gold potatoes or small reds cut in half, but an Idaho will be fine..

2 cups canned or fresh tomatoes. I like to use the canned, chopped stewed tomatoes for a little extra layer of flavor.

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 bay leaf

3 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil

2 cans or 1 quart chicken broth

1 can cream of mushroom soup

Saute' the onion, celery and carrots in the oil until the onion becomes translucent. Coat the meat pieces in the flour. Cook the meat with the onion mixture until just browned all over. This will add a good flavor to the stew. You could just add it to the pot without browning if you are in a hurry, but I suggest that you take the few minutes required for this step. It will give you a better flavor in the end.

Pour this mixture of meat and vegetables into the crock pot. drop in the bay leaf. You can go ahead and turn the pot on to let it get started heating up.

Pour the chicken broth, tomatoes, salt and pepper in, stirring well to mix the salt and pepper. Add the potatoes and give it one more stir.

If you haven't already, set the pot on high and cover. Let cook about 5-7 hours or until the meat is tender.

30 minutes before ready to serve, stir in the can of mushroom soup.

Heat your bread and toss together a quick salad. Serve with a steaming bowl of this hearty beef stew and you will see smiles around the table as your family and friends take comfort in the time-tested meal.

I am Barbara Cagle and I have been working and playing online since 1989. I am a certified teacher and as such I find that people are constantly asking me how to do ____.

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