National Grandparents Day is officially the first Sunday after Labor Day — Sept. 7 this year. To honor grandparents everywhere, I decided to put a desperate twist on one of my fondest food memories of my grandmother: Maw Maw's Country-Style Steak.

The bonus is that this dinner is truly a cheap, fast, good meal. The cost per serving for the steak is less than $2.50.

Our Country-Style Steak is made with cubed steak, round steak that has been tenderized and still needs to be cooked slowly in moist heat. Since we don't have hours to tend the simmering steak on the stove top, we make use of one of our favorite timesaving and labor-saving tools: the slow cooker. With its reliable, steady heat, there's no need to toil in the kitchen stirring and adding water or worrying about burning the steak.

To duplicate Maw Maw's delicious onion-and-mushroom gravy, we turned to condensed soup and gravy mix. A mere five minutes is all it takes to prep the food, and then you choose whether you want it done in six hours (high heat) or 10 hours (low heat). Either way, the results are fork-tender, moist and delicious Country-Style Steak that would make any grandmother proud.

Menu suggestion: Maw Maw's Country-Style Steak

Steamed rice

Green beans



Start to finish: 5 minutes preparation, 6 or 10 hours cooking time (depending on heat level)

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds cubed steak

1 large onion (for 1 cup sliced rings)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 (10-3/4 ounce) can 98 percent fat-free cream-of-mushroom soup (see Cook's note)

1 envelope (0.15 ounce) reduced-sodium brown-gravy mix (see Cook's note)

1 cup water

Cook's note: For testing purposes, we used Campbell's 98 percent fat-free cream-of-mushroom soup and McCormick's 30-percent-less-sodium brown-gravy mix. We used a Crock Pot 6-quart oval slow cooker. Other brands and sizes will also work; adjust cooking times to accommodate. Times stated here are for the oval Crock Pot brand. You may have three layers of steak and onions if your slow cooker is not the oval size.

Cut any large pieces of steak into roughly 4-inch-wide pieces. Place a single layer of steak in the bottom of a slow cooker. Peel and slice the onion into 1/4-inch-wide rings. Place half of the onion rings over the steak. Sprinkle half of the pepper over the onions. Layer the rest of the steak over the rings and top with the remaining onion slices and pepper (see cook's note).

In a small bowl, combine the soup, gravy mix and lukewarm water, and mix well. Pour the gravy mixture over the steak, and cover the slow cooker. Cook on high heat for 6 hours or low heat for 10 hours. Remove steak to a large platter, and spoon the gravy over the steak. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Approximate values per serving: 302 calories (29 percent from fat), 9 g fat (3 g saturated), 100 mg cholesterol, 40 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 1 g dietary fiber, 850 mg sodium.

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap.Fast.Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at © Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross.

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