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Cold weather comfort food

This current spate of frigid temperatures reminds me of my childhood and the snow-filled winter days in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Granted, we don't have the snow, but the termperatures sure indicate it could happen!

When the weather would turn cold like this, my mom would pull out the stock pot and make really good, warm, filling comfort food to stave off the cold or warm us up after a long day of sledding, skating, snowball fights, hockey games and building snow forts and snowmen.

Beef stew, chili, mac 'n' cheese, my grandmother's hamburger soup all warmed us up for dinner and the smell would waft through the house all afternoon, lending anticipation to the coming meal.

Today, it's a lot easier to make the same wonderful measl without spending a lot of time cleaning and chopping veggies, thanks to prepackaged, frozen vegetables.

I've also tried to lighten up the recipes so the fat content isn't as high.

Mom's beef stew

1 to 1 1/2 pounds of stew meat (I like to trim as much fat off as possible or just buy really lean meat)

2 packages of stew vegetables

1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper to taste

3 Tablespoons flour

Add olive oil to skillet on medium-high heat. Add meat and brown on all sides. Transfer meat to crock pot.

Once all the meat has been browned, add a crushed bay leaf and enough water to cover the meat. Set crockpot on low setting.

Take the skillet with the oil and meat leavings and add flour. Stirl with slotted spoon or whisk until smooth. You may have to add some water if it gets to clumpy. Continue to add water until you have a smooth, thick paste.

Add to the meat and stock in the crock pot and ook several hours. You can add a beef buillion cube if you like to the crockpot.

About an hour before serving, add vegetables to crock pot.

If stew seems soupy instead of thick, mix more flour with some of the stock from the crockpot to create a thick but pourable batter and add back to the pot.

Once vegetables are heated and tender, serve with warm, crusty French bread or biscuits.

Serves 6-8.