Here at Grandparentslink, we think this is the best time of year for cooking. There’s no holiday pressure – that’s history as our guests have all gone home. Old man winter might be trolling around outside; and all this means is that we might be indoors a little more than expected.  So, if you’re at home today, this is the perfect time to drag out a heavy soup pot, pick some spices, and get something warm and comforting simmering on the back burner.

One-Pot Pasta e Fagioli (Italian Pasta and Bean Stew)
One-Pot Pasta e Fagioli (Italian Pasta and Bean Stew)
For the beans:
8 cups water
2 ½ tablespoons salt, divided
1 pound dried cannellini beans

For the soup:
½ pound (5 to 6 pieces) thick-cut bacon, diced
2 large yellow onions, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup white wine or water
1 bay leaf
½ pound pasta
5 thyme sprigs
10 ounces baby spinach
2 teaspoons salt
Pepper to taste


  1. Combine the water and 1 ½ tablespoons salt in a large mixing bowl and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the beans, cover the bowl, and let stand at least 6 hours or overnight.
  2. In a heavy stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon. Once all the fat has rendered, remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all put one tablespoon of bacon fat. Cook the onions slowly with ½ teaspoon of salt so they start to caramelize and turn golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the celery and cook just until the celery is softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Remove half of the onion mixture and reserve with the bacon. Deglaze the pan with one cup of wine or water, scraping up any brown residue that has formed on the bottom of the pan.
  4. Drain and rinse the beans and pour them into the pot with the remaining onions. Add the bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of salt, and enough water to cover the beans and onions by 1 inch. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook for 1 hour, then begin checking the beans for doneness. Check the beans every 15 minutes until they are completely soft and creamy. (This can take up to 2 ½ hours depending on the age and exact variety of your beans.)

→ Make-Ahead Tip: At this point, the soup can be chilled and refrigerated for a day or two before serving. The soup (or a portion of it) can also be frozen for up to three months.
Set the pot of cooked beans over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Add the bacon, reserved onions, thyme, pasta, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente. Add more water if necessary so the pasta is submerged. Add the spinach to the pot and stir until it is wilted. Remove the bay leaf and the thyme stems. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.

Lentil, Mushroom & Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie
Lentil, Mushroom & Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

5 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1 cup brown or green lentils, washed and picked over
3/4 cup steel-cut oats
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound cremini mushrooms, divided
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves


  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Prick each sweet potato several times with a fork and place on a baking sheet. Roast until very soft to the touch, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, cook the lentils.
  2. Place the lentils, oats, bay leaf, salt, and 5 cups of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil and lower heat. Simmer uncovered until the lentils are soft but not mushy, stirring occasionally to keep the oats from sticking to the bottom of the pot, 15 to 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and drain mixture into a colander or fine-mesh strainer.
  3. While the lentils and oats are cooking, finely chop half of the mushrooms and set aside. Cut the remaining mushrooms into quarters. Warm the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the quartered mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook until browned and soft. Add the chopped mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent. Lower heat to medium and add the lentil and oat mixture, followed by the vegetable broth, wine, tomato paste, soy sauce, paprika, parsley, and a few grinds of black pepper. Simmer mixture for 5 minutes. Taste, and add salt or correct the seasonings as needed.
  4. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Peel sweet potatoes and place the flesh in a medium bowl. Use a fork to mash into a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Evenly spread the lentil mixture into a 9×13-inch baking dish. (For thicker layers, use a 9×9-inch pan.) Spoon the sweet potato mixture on top and smooth with a spatula. Bake until the filling is bubbling at the edges, about 30 minutes.

Slow-Cooker Beef and Barley Stew with Mushrooms
Slow-Cooker Beef and Barley Stew with Mushrooms

Canola oil
1 (2- to 3-pound) chuck or round beef roast, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, diced
8 to 10 ounces medium whole white button or brown mushrooms, stems trimmed
3 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups beef stock
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup pearl barley


  1. Fill the bottom of a large frying pan or skillet with canola oil and set over medium-high heat until the oil is hot. While the oil is heating, season the meat generously with salt and pepper.
  2. Working in batches, add a single layer of meat to the bottom of the pan. Let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes until the cubes loosen and are seared golden-brown. Flip the cubes and sear the other sides. When all sides are seared, remove the meat to the insert of a slow cooker that holds at least 4 quarts. Sear the remaining meat in batches. If there is any liquid in the pot after the last batch is finished, pour it over the meat. Place the pan back on the stove.
  3. Heat 1 teaspoon of canola oil in the pan and cook the onions with a pinch of salt until they are translucent and brown around the edges. Add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt, and cook until they have released all the moisture and have turned golden-brown. Add the celery and cook until just softened.
  4. Clear a space in the middle of the vegetables and sauté the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the thyme and bay leaf.
  5. Pour the wine into the pot to deglaze, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon as the wine bubbles. Let the wine reduce down until most of it has evaporated or been absorbed by the vegetables. Transfer everything to the slow cooker.
  6. Add both stocks to the slow cooker and top with enough water to cover the meat and veggies by about 1/2 inch. Cover and cook for 4 hours on low. Stir in the barley, cover again, and cook until the meat and barley are tender, about 2 hours more on low. Skim off any fat if desired, taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.



*Recipes reprinted from: