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11 warming recipes to add to your repertoire, from braised meats to vegetarian chili to stuffed baked squid

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Braising and stewing are interchangeable terms; both mean long, slow cooking in liquid, usually done in the oven to ensure even heat. The result is rich, saucy and tender – in other words, perfect comfort food during these icy months.

When you braise or stew, it is best to make a big batch because these dishes reheat beautifully and freeze well.

In my Personal Chef column on stewing I give all the tips and tricks you need to make good stews. Here are some of my favourite recipes to add to your repertoire.

Braised Chicken with Olives and Figs

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Serves 4

You can use any part of the chicken to make this. I prefer chicken thighs because they are juicy and braise well, but legs work too, as do breasts (although they require about 5 minutes less baking time). Using bone-in chicken will make the meat juicier. If you plan to reheat the dish, cook for 10 minutes less. Reheat at 325 F for 20 minutes or until chicken is hot. Add 1 teaspoon harissa into the sauce if you prefer a spicier take. This dish is best served with couscous – I often use barley or farro couscous.

  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved and seeded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 dried figs, cut in half
  • 12 dried apricots
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 pounds chicken thighs
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 12 green olives pitted and cut in half if large
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Toss cherry tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place cut side up on baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until slightly dried out. Reserve. Reduce oven heat to 325 F.

Cover figs and apricots with wine in a pot. Bring to boil and boil 1 minute, remove from heat and soak for 20 minutes. Strain and reserve fruit and soaking liquid separately.

Season chicken with thyme, salt and pepper.

Heat remaining oil in skillet on medium-high heat. Brown chicken pieces, skin side down, until golden, about 2 minutes, then turn and brown other side. Remove chicken from skillet and place in ovenproof casserole. Drain all but 1 tablespoon oil from skillet.

Add onions and chopped garlic and sauté for 3 minutes until softened. Add reserved soaking liquid, chicken stock, tomato paste and balsamic and bring to boil. Stir in figs and apricots.

Place chicken in ovenproof casserole, add sauce and dried fruit. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Add tomatoes and olives, cover and bake 10 to 15 minutes more or until chicken is just cooked. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle over parsley.

Chicken in a Pot

Serves 4

This is my all-time favourite way of cooking a whole chicken. It is moist and has a sensational sauce. The art of pot-roasting seems to have fallen by the wayside as we roast or grill so much now. Try this, and you will become as addicted to it as my family is. For a complete meal, add a starch if desired and a green crispy veg, such as green beans. For the apple, use a harder one, like Mutsu or Pink Lady, that will retain its shape.

  • 1 4-pound chicken, trussed
  • 4 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 hot or mild Italian sausages
  • 2 apples, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Sprinkle chicken with 2 teaspoons of tarragon, salt and pepper. Heat butter and oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or ovenproof pot large enough to hold the chicken. Brown chicken on all sides until golden, about 2 minutes a side.

Remove chicken from pot. Add sausages and cook for 2 minutes a side, or until browned. Remove sausages, thickly slice on the diagonal and reserve.

Reduce heat to medium low. Add apples and sauté for 2 to 4 minutes or until beginning to soften. Drain any excess fat. Add cider vinegar, chicken stock, remaining tarragon and bay leaf and bring to boil. Return chicken, sliced sausage to pot, cover, and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove cover and bake for another 15 minutes or until juices run clear. Cut chicken into four portions and serve with sausage, apples, and sauce.

Turkey Legs with Cider and Apples

Serves 4 to 6

Turkey legs become rich with braising. Always pat the turkey dry before searing to ensure it browns well. Legs come in different weights. Smaller ones will cook for 15 to 30 minutes less.

This dish tastes like the holidays. The mixture that it’s braised with tastes like stuffing without the filler. You could take that mixture minus the stock, add soaked bread cubes and bake separately at 350 F for 45 minutes. The legs will then bake in the cider and the stock. The chili is used to balance the sweetness of the sauce, but it can be omitted. Serve with roasted parsnips, Brussels sprouts and buttermilk mashed potatoes.

Leftover turkey makes a sensational turkey pot pie. Just thicken the sauce and add any leftover cooked vegetables, cover with a puff pastry crust and bake at 350 F until pastry is crisp and golden.

  • 2 large turkey legs (about 6 pounds) split into thighs and drumsticks
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped pancetta
  • 3 pork or chicken sausages, sliced 1-inch thick
  • 3 tart green apples such as Spy or Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut in wedges (about 5 cups)
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 dried chili
  • 6 sage leaves
  • 12 fresh sage leaves

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Season turkey legs with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large ovenproof pot or in a skillet. Working in batches, add turkey pieces and brown on each side, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.

Add pancetta and sauté until beginning to crisp, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in sausages and apples. Sauté for 2 minutes or until sausage browns slightly. Remove to a bowl. Add onions and celery, and sauté for 5 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute longer.

Stir in stock, apple cider, cider vinegar, thyme, dried chili, and sage leaves. Bring to a boil. Return turkey legs to liquid. Cover and bake for 1 hour. Stir in apple wedges and sausage. Bake, covered, for 30 more minutes. Increase heat to 350 F. Remove cover and bake another 30 minutes or until flavours are combined and legs are very tender.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add sage leaves and fry until crisp and slightly curled, about 1 minute. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate, reserve.

Cut thighs in half and serve each with a portion of drumstick meat and sauce. Garnish with fried sage leaves.

Slow-cooked Chickpeas with Spicy Peppers and Arugula

Eva Gruendemann/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Serves 4 to 6

The chickpeas in this vegetarian main are rich, spicy and delicious. The recipe calls for four different types of peppers, which gives depth to the taste, but feel free to use whatever you can find. You may also substitute the hot peppers with 1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne depending on your heat tolerance. While it doesn’t produce the same flavour, the cayenne will give this dish a real kick. Bitter and peppery, the arugula adds a fine contrast to the heat. Canned, rinsed chickpeas are an easy substitute. Just add to the pepper mixture.

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red pepper, ribs removed and cut in ½-inch dice
  • 1 Poblano pepper, ribs removed and cut in ½-inch dice
  • 1 long red chili pepper, seeded and cut in ¼-inch dice
  • 1 banana pepper, seeded and cut in ¼-inch dice
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced ½ teaspoon chili flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
Arugula salad
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
To serve
  • 4 to 6 ½-inch thick slices sourdough baguette, toasted

Drain chickpeas and rinse after soaking overnight. Combine with fresh water, tomatoes, parsley and thyme in a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and slowly simmer, covered, for 1 to 1½ hours or until chickpeas are tender. Drain and set aside, reserving liquid separately.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add red, Poblano, red chili and banana peppers and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes or until softened. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook until garlic is lightly browned, about 1 minute more.

Add chickpeas and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes or until chickpeas are coated with oil and have absorbed the flavour of the peppers. Pour in 2 cups reserved cooking liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 13 to 15 minutes, or until liquid is thickened but still saucy. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss arugula with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Place toast on plates. Spoon over chickpeas and peppers. Top with arugula salad.

Vegetarian Chili

Serves 6

This protein-filled, low-fat recipe is both tasty and nutritious.

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced in ½-inch pieces
  • 2 cups canned tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 zucchini, diced in ¼-inch pieces
  • 1 19 oz. (340 ml) can black beans, drained
  • 1 19 oz. (340 ml) can white beans, drained
  • 1 cup frozen corn, defrosted
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Minced red onions
  • Warm flour tortillas

Heat oil in large pot on medium heat. Add onion, garlic, jalapeno and red pepper and sauté until vegetables soften about 3 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano and sweet potatoes. Sauté for 3 minutes or until sweet potatoes are coated with spices.

Stir in tomatoes, tomato juice, water and red wine vinegar. Bring to boil, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add zucchini, all beans and corn. Cook 15 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon chili into bowls. Add garnishes to taste.

Korean Beef Sticky Ribs

Serves 4

This recipe was given to me many years ago by the chef at a little Korean restaurant that no longer exists called the Red Teahouse. The dish is succulent, spicy, slightly sweet and full of vegetables. Korean short ribs are cut across the bone so that you have 3 or 4 small pieces of bone on each rib. For a perfect sauce, make this a day ahead, refrigerate the cooking liquid until cold then scrape off the solidified fat. I added spinach for colour, but it is not traditional. Gochujang is a Korean spicy paste that is available in many supermarkets. If unavailable, combine 3 tablespoons white miso with 1 teaspoon Asian hot sauce and 1 teaspoon sugar. Not the same, but it works.

Seasoning Sauce
  • 6 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
  • 1/4 cup Korean Gochujang
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Beef Ribs and Vegetables
  • 4 2-inch thick crosscut short ribs, about 3 lb. total
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch wedges
  • 1 small rutabaga, peeled and cut into ½-inch wedges, about 1½ cups
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 250 grams white daikon radish, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch half moons
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 2-inch strip orange peel
  • 3 cups beef or chicken broth or water
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 cups sliced baby spinach

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Combine garlic, Korean gochujang, soy sauce and pepper to taste. Set seasoning sauce aside.

Season short ribs with pepper. Heat oil in an ovenproof pot over high heat. Brown ribs well, in batches so as not to crowd the pan, on all sides, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to a dish.

Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from skillet. Reduce heat to medium. Add red onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add rutabaga, carrot, radish and seasoning sauce. Cook until seasoning sauce begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

Return ribs and stir in orange peel and star anise. Add stock, bring to a boil then cover and bake until beef is fork-tender but not falling apart, 2 to 2½ hours.

Remove the vegetables and ribs carefully. Divide ribs into portions by cutting between the bones. Skim off any fat from the cooking liquid. Add honey to the cooking liquid. Bring to a boil on high heat then reduce to a simmer until sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. Return meat, vegetables and spinach to the sauce, simmer until meat and vegetables are heated through and spinach has wilted about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place in serving bowl and serve with rice.

Beef a la Provençale

LauriPatterson/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Serves 4 to 6

This is like a beef bourguignon, the classic beef stew cooked in red wine. It parts company with tradition at the end with the garnish of whole cooked cloves of garlic and firm green olives instead of onions and mushrooms. The garlic becomes sweet when cooked for a long time. If you do not have a stove-to-oven casserole dish, cook in a skillet and then add to an ovenproof dish.

  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 pounds stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup carrot, sliced
  • 1 cup onion, sliced
  • 3 cups beef or chicken stock, homemade or store bought
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 heads garlic broken onto cloves
  • ½ cup pitted green olives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 300 F degrees.

Place wine in a pot on high heat. Bring to boil and boil until wine is reduced by about two thirds. It should be slightly syrupy.

Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Season well with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil on high heat in an ovenproof casserole or skillet. Sauté meat, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil until nicely browned on all sides. Add more oil as needed. Remove to a dish and reserve. Pour off all fat except for 2 tablespoons.

Reduce heat to medium, add carrot and onion and sauté until slightly golden, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the reduced wine and stock or bouillon. Add tomato paste, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Return meat. Cover the casserole and set in the lower third of the preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for about 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

Place garlic cloves in a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes or until garlic is softened slightly. Remove garlic and slip off skins. Add to stew after it has cooked for 2 hours. When meat is tender – another 1 hour – cool and chill overnight. Remove fat and bring to boil. If sauce is not thick enough, simmer for a few minutes while it reduces.

Add olives and boil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until well flavoured and slightly thickened. Garnish with parsley.

Curried Lamb Shanks

Serves 4

These shanks are slow-cooked and end up glazed with the rich sauce. If you make this the day before and refrigerate it, it’ll be easy to skim the fat. Serve with steamed rice. Curry pastes are available everywhere, from mild to extremely hot. Pick your preference or use 3 tablespoons curry powder.

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons medium Indian curry paste
  • 4 lamb shanks
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 cups beef or chicken stock
  • 1 cup canned tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1 inch-by-2-inch piece orange peel
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ cup chopped coriander

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Combine 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and curry paste and rub lamb shanks with two-thirds of curry mixture. Season with salt.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown lamb shanks on all sides for about 2 minutes per side or until a dark brown colour. Remove from pot.

Turn heat to low and add more oil if needed. Add onions and cook slowly for 10 minutes or until incredibly soft but barely coloured. Add ginger, garlic, garam masala and remaining curry mixture and sauté for 2 minutes or until fragrant.

Add stock, chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, sugar, orange peel and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Return shanks to pot, cover, and bake for 1 hour. Turn meat, bake 30 minutes longer, turn again, uncover, and bake 30 minutes longer or until lamb is very tender and sauce is rich. Skim fat from sauce. Remove bay leaf and orange peel and sprinkle with coriander before serving.

Oven-braised Spare ribs

David Crowther/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Serves 4

The Southern U.S. has many ways of cooking spare ribs. Some are cooked with a tomato-based sauce, some a vinegar-based one. I love vinegar-based sauce because it balances the fat and gives more flavour to the meat.

These ribs are first braised in the oven, then finished on the grill or in the oven. Serve with the sauce from cooking the ribs as well as my take on a superb chocolate barbecue sauce I had in Charleston, S.C. I like slabs of white bread or grits alongside.

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 racks pork back ribs
Barbecue Sauce
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine apple cider vinegar, mustard, brown sugar, hot pepper flakes, cayenne and salt. Whisk to dissolve sugar. Pour over ribs. Marinate for one hour on the counter, turning once.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place ribs, marinade and 1 cup of water in a baking pan and cover with foil. Bake for 1 to 1½ hours or until ribs are tender. Reserve ribs and braising liquid separately. If braising liquid is thin, pour into a pot and boil for a few minutes until it thickens.

Heat oven to 450 F. Place ribs on a rack and blast them for 10 to 15 minutes, glazing occasionally with the braising liquid to keep them moist. Otherwise, preheat your grill and grill them for the same amount of time until they are well glazed. Baste occasionally with braising liquid, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Whisk chocolate barbecue sauce ingredients together in a pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. Let simmer 2 to 3 minutes until sugar dissolves. Cool.

Cut ribs in pieces and serve with chocolate barbecue sauce and remaining braising liquid for dipping.

Braised Pork Shoulder, Bitter Greens and Cannellini Beans

Janine Lamontagne/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Serves 6

Easy to make, keeps well and freezes, too – this dish is a reader favourite. You could call this an easy cassoulet, but it is much better than that. Make sure to get Italian cannellini beans as they have excellent taste and texture. In a pinch you can use white kidney beans, but I find they take longer to cook. I have also used navy beans, which have lots of flavour too. Using a mixture of bitter greens gives a real oomph to the dish. If you use canned beans, add after the pork is cooked.

  • 2 cups dried white cannellini beans
  • 4 slices lemon, ¼-inch thick, seeds removed
  • 6 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 dried red chili pepper
  • 2 pounds pork shoulder, cut in approximately 2-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups onions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon slivered fresh sage leaves
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 8 cups sliced bitter greens such as dandelion, arugula, kale or mustard greens

Cover beans with water by 2 inches and soak overnight. Drain and rinse. Place in a pot and cover with 2 inches fresh water. Add lemon slices, rosemary sprigs and dried chili. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until beans are mostly softened but still with some bite. They will continue cooking with the pork. Drain, reserving beans and cooking liquid separately. Remove and discard lemon slices and chili.

Preheat oven to 275 F.

Season pork with salt, pepper and chopped rosemary. Heat oil in large ovenproof casserole. Working in batches, sear 1 to 2 minutes per side or until browned. Remove to a plate and reserve. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from pan. Reduce heat to medium and add onions. Cook for about 5 minutes or until softened. Add garlic and sage and continue to cook until garlic is softened, about 1 more minute. Add stock and 1½ cups reserved bean cooking liquid. Bring to a boil. Stir in pork and beans. Bring back to a boil and cover.

Place in oven and bake, covered, for 2½ to 3 hours or until pork is tender and beans are incredibly soft. Raise heat to 350 F. Stir in sliced greens. Uncover and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes or until greens are softened.

Stuffed Baked Squid in Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

The size of the squid determines how many you need per serving ­– I plan for two six-inch squid per person. Squid needs to be either cooked very quickly or braised for a longer period, which gives it a soft-as-butter texture. Don’t fill the squid too full because they shrink as they cook, which can cause the stuffing to seep out. Serve with sautéed rapini and a small pasta, such as orecchiette.

  • 8 squid with tentacles
  • 6 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped onion
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs
  • 1 fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 cup pureed fresh or canned tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
  • Small onion, chopped

Chop tentacles and reserve. Wash squid. In food processor, place tentacles, mushrooms, garlic, bread crumbs and parsley. Process until well combined. Season well with salt and pepper. Stuff mixture into squid bodies and skewer opening with toothpick.

Heat olive oil in skillet and brown squid about 1 minute each side. Remove, add onions and sauté 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, return squid, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add basil and cook 15 minutes longer or until squid is tender when pierced with a fork.