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It turns out that you can brown the meat ahead of time and then put it in a crock-pot with water and the bay leaves, very useful if you don't mind doing prep work before hand. My family found it a bit lacking in taste as far as spices go, My mother said that she thought it would be good with more garlic as well, and I added a few dashes of sweet hungarian paprika to the soup when I was browning the meat, but I will add more next time. we love things with rich flavor, when you are choosing a vegetable mix, I reccomend one with some baby potatoes in it, because putting in frozen potatoes which were almost fully cooked already turns them into little balls of mashed potatoes almost. next time I might have a rosmary bread with it, but all in all, a very good and hearty soup.