Scrumption slow-cooker beef stew.

Slow cookers have become one of the hottest gadgets in the kitchen. They've been around forever, but since the economy took a turn for the worse, more people are cooking at home. And slow cookers make it possible for working families.

The following recipe is just one great idea for slow cookers. Use it as a jumping off point. You don't have to have the exact measurement for the vegetables, and you can use different vegetables if that's what you have on hand.

SCRUMPTIOUS SLOW-COOKER BEEF STEW
Makes 6 servings

This recipe is based on one from Desperation Dinners, a column that appears occasionally in the Dispatch Food section. You'll only use half the package of soup mix; store the remaining package in a resealable bag.

1 cup peeled cubed potatoes 1 cup (about 20) baby carrots 1 cup diced celery 8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms 1 1/2 pound lean beef cubes for stew 1/2 envelope dry onion soup mix 2 bay leaves 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) fat-free beef broth 1 can (10 3/4 ounces) reduced-fat, reduced sodium cream of mushroom soup 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes with juices 1/2 cup frozen green peas 3 tablespoons cornstarch
Place potatoes in the bottom of a slow cooker. Scatter carrots over the potatoes. Add celery then all remaining ingredients except peas and cornstarch in the order given (do not stir; the potatoes and carrots won't get tender if they're not on the bottom of the pot).
Cover pot and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or until the meat is fork tender.

Remove lid. Stir stew well. Rinse peas with warm tap water to defrost slightly. Add to pot.

Mix cornstarch with 3 tablespoons water until well blended. Add half of cornstarch mixture to slow cooker. Stir gently but well. Add remaining cornstarch mixture if necessary to reach desired consistency.