Slow Cooker, Soups and Stews: Suggestions for Superb Winter Meals

1/4/12 - By sarah

I realize that we all feel stuffed from the holidays and either inspired or offended by all the happy magazines encouraging us to get fit, eat less, declutter and so on, but the good news is that in a couple weeks we will all forget how much we ate and be ready to hunker down with some good wintertime eats. I love, love, love spending the day in my kitchen with something simmering away in the slow cooker or on the stove for hours, while I bake bread or help the kids in and out of their snow gear eighty times (it used to snow, I think…). It’s the most peaceful, contented perfect way for me to spend a day, so I’ll indulge the magazines, take a breather and then resume the comfort of comfort cooking.


Here are a slew of recipes that welcome in the winter — and sometimes, other seasons too, but let’s just go with the moment.


Black Bean Pumpkin Soup sounds weird, but it’s not at all. Like most recipes over at Smitten Kitchen it really works, and it’s got wonderful tang and richness. It makes a lot, so freeze some and enjoy it on a night when you remembered enough to take something out of the freezer, but not enough to actually plan a meal.

You’ll feel healthy eating Butternut Squash and Apple Soup, plus it’s also good for eating on the couch with tasty bread and a movie that your husband won’t watch with you. It’s a chick soup. From Ina, Goddess of the kitchen.

This is a flawless Minestrone from Michael Chiarello, whose California-fresh Italian food is often too complex for me to try. This soup involves a lot of chopping, but the pay off is incredibly flavorful. A few changes I make include beef broth instead of chicken, half as many zukes, and I usually prepare the whole thing in the morning and toss it in the slow cooker to simmer for the day, throwing the cooked pasta in for the last 10-20 minutes. I also toss in a parmesan rind if I have one on hand — I keep one in my back pocket for just these kinds of soup moments. Another minestrone recipe suggests slathering a piece of fresh bread with pesto, topping with slivers of proscuitto and mozzarella, broiling the whole heavenly thing until bubbly and serving the minestrone over top. This is very, very tasty.

I loved Campbell’s beef and barley as a kid, so I thought I would try to make the real deal and this Beef, Mushroom and Barley is a lovely version. No doubt much better than the canned variety! From the mysterious ‘Food Network Kitchens,’ try it with a fresh green salad.

I think Tyler Florence makes great food. Rich, filling and good fun to cook. This recipe for Ultimate Beef Stew has a wonderful wine & orange-infused flavor that is sophisticated, but still hearty and warming.

I realize that Mujaddara with Spiced Yogurt is neither soup nor stew, but it’s a delicious (and cheap) veggie dinner that has a nice wintery thing going on when you tuck into a big bowl on a cold night. The spiced yogurt is tangy, with nice heat, and yummy on just plain rice as well. Just don’t make it too spicy, because it takes away from the mujaddara. From Food52, where it was awarded best lentils. Congratulations humble lentil!


Is there anything more comforting than pasta? I think not. In fact, my 7-yo would eat it every single day for the rest of her life.

I’ve made Emeril’s not-from-a-box, real deal macaroni and cheese  many times for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s obviously kid-friendly — I cut the spice way down — and it’s delicious. Also serves as a nice accompaniment to a roast chicken Sunday dinner.

Mario Batali’s sophisticated pennette with cauliflower ragu is perfect for a cold winter’s night dinner party. It’s so full of flavor, it’s vegetarian and it’s just enough work to feel like an accomplishment, without being overwhelming. Excellent re-heated as well, which is good, because it makes a ton. For the carnivores at your party, this Bolognese sauce  from, is a guaranteed hit. It’s my husband’s favorite dish of all time; it will make your house smell like Italy (the parts that smell like yummy food), and you will feel like a rock star making something that tastes so similar to great restaurant food. I follow these recipes to the letter — they don’t need any help from me.


We eat a lot of tacos around these parts. We even have a semi-unofficial Taco Tuesday thing going on, but usually it involves blah chicken and questionable salsa. These Southwestern Pulled Brisket Tacos from Smitten Kitchen though, are the farthest thing from blah. Savory, saucy, shreddy and so, so good with SK’s pickled onions and some queso fresco. I think I need to make them this weekend. 

The decadent French stew, Ina’s Coq au Vin, is only sort of a slow cooker recipe, because I do the whole thing on the stove in the morning and then throw it in the slow cooker, bubbling away until dinnertime. I also don’t break down my own whole chicken or use homemade stock, still it’s quite perfect, and when served over cous cous, with a salad and a big glass of wine, you’ll feel like your hunkering down at a French bistro, even if you’re actually watching your kids get 17 million pieces of cous cous stuck in their booster seats.

Zesty Slow Cooker Chicken BBQ is beyond simple, not at all fancy, and perfect for a casual party, game night or any old day of the week. I try to get a higher quality barbeque sauce and Italian dressing, so it’s not just high fructose corn syrup on a roll. Either way, it’s quite satisfying.


I’ve discovered two slightly unorthodox, but nonetheless delicious recipes involving meat and grapes. Conveniently, it being January and all, they are both high on the Superbowl-feasting scale. The Sausage and Grapes from Food Network is relatively easy, even if you take the time to seed the grapes. Any grapes will do, but the seedless grapes aren’t as sweet, so I don’t think they work as well. We ate a six-person portion, plus mashed potatoes and we were but three people, it’s that divine.

The Grape Jelly Meatballs are slow cooker-rific. Throw everything in, bake your meatballs, get a hoagie roll and watch some sort of organized sport on television. It’s that simple.

This not-so-humble Shepherd’s Pie, the quintessential Irish comfort food, is heaven in a pie plate from Anne Burrell. It’s basically a long simmering lamb stew with the greatest mashed potatoes you’ve ever eaten mounded on top. I mean, really.