It's snowing. You'd love to tell the kids to grab their boots and mittens for a family fun day of sledding, skiing, or skating. But balancing playtime and weekend chores is tricky — when will the laundry get done if we spend all day outside? And what's for dinner, anyway?
With a little planning, putting together a delicious winter meal even after a day on the slopes or ice is not an insurmountable task. You can sit down to a home-cooked meal just by keeping a few ingredients on hand. That's where beans come in.
Beans top the list of convenient pantry ingredients and recipes you might overlook at other times of the year. But with the season's lack of fresh produce, you should grab them and add them to your meal planning. The little legumes are the perfect cold-weather food that can break you and your family out of the pasta and potato rut. Inexpensive and easy to prepare whether canned or dried, beans can form the foundation of a hearty dinner, are full of protein and fiber, and offer calcium and iron — two nutrients that are tough to come by in other vegetables.
Another great point for beans: You can't beat their versatility. Put them in quesadillas, soups, salads, and dip. A classic red chili, dressed up with tender chunks of beef and a rich gravy, makes a showstopper of a dinner. If you've got a slow cooker, prepare the recipe ahead of time and let the chili cook itself while you head outdoors. It's easy to get everyone involved, too: First, brown the meat yourself, taking care not to let young children close to the stove, because browning meat sometimes splatters. The kids can help you chop veggies and sprinkle spices into the cooker insert. Not only is this meal great because it allows you to do other things while it simmers, it also makes the house smell divine.
There are lots of dishes you can cook this way, like beef stew, vegetable cassoulet, or brisket, and there's always a way to include the kids in preparation. Have little ones read the recipe out loud, measure dry ingredients, and choose garnishes to add at serving time, like grated cheese, hot sauce, or chives.
Check out two of our favorite recipes below (adapted from The Ski House Cookbook by Tina Anderson and Sarah Pinneo). They're perfect proof that there's no limit to what your family can do for great eats when it's chilly outside. With a handful of simple ingredients, a dash of creativity, and a bit of teamwork, and perhaps a slow cooker, you can enjoy the best of winter.
Mogul Beef Chili
Spice measurements are given as a range: the upper end of the range should produce a chili of medium spiciness; the low end represents the "bunny slope" for even the youngest children. Serves 4.
What you need:
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
- 1 red or green bell pepper, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
- 3 to 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1⁄4 cup chili powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1⁄4 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 0 to 1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 12 ounces ground beef
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 1⁄2 pounds chuck stew meat, cut into 1" cubes
- 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed or pureed tomatoes
- 2 (14-ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
What to do:
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, cayenne, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about 6 minutes. Scrape the vegetables into the slow cooker insert.
- Return the skillet to medium high heat and add the ground beef. Season with salt and pepper and cook, breaking up the beef with a spoon until browned, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a slow cooker.
- Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining tablespoon oil. Salt and pepper the cubed beef on all sides. When the skillet is hot and the oil is just beginning to smoke, add the cubed beef in one layer. Brown the cubes well on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes, and then transfer to the slow cooker.
- Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add 1⁄4 cup water. Scrape the skillet with a wooden spoon as the water boils to loosen all of the cooked bits from the bottom. Pour the liquid into the slow cooker.
- Add the diced and crushed tomatoes and the beans, stir everything together, cover, and cook on high for 6 hours, or until the beef cubes are fork tender.
- Remove the largest chunks of beef one at a time to a plate. Using two forks, shred the meat, then replace it in the pot. Stir the chili and serve hot.
Black Bean Dip
Makes about 2 cups
What you need:
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained, liquid reserved
- 3⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1⁄4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon cilantro, optional
What to do:
- Place the garlic, lime juice, and oil in a food processor and process until the garlic is chopped finely. Add the beans, cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Puree until smooth. Alternatively, mince the garlic by hand and mash everything together with a fork. The dip will have more texture but will still taste great.
- Add the reserved bean liquid as necessary to reach the desired consistency. Transfer the bean dip to a bowl and stir in the cilantro, if desired.