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a stew's brewing 
by Stephanie Cloutier 
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Mother Nature isn't always your best friend. You arrive home after a long day of hard work, suffering from the cold that penetrated beneath the layers of clothing you wore. You're exhausted and hungry. The thought of spending an hour or more in the kitchen isn't as appealing as calling for your next take-out meal. Here's my solution to the problem: heat in the microwave on high for a few minutes and serve immediately. Before assuming that it's a frozen dinner, it isn't: it's a stew.

Stews are my guaranteed, no-fail, winter dish. They're a great solution when preparing dinner every night isn't an option; they provide you with a quick pack-it-and-go lunch the next morning. Not meant to be a one-person dish, these all-in-one-dinner meals should be made in a large batch, excellent for feeding 4 to 6 people, or smaller households over the course of several meals. For those who enjoy their dinners solo or as a couple, stews make great leftovers. Divide the extra into a few Tupperware containers and freeze in convenient-sized portions for future meals.

Not only are they the perfect meal, they're also hearty, healthy and versatile. The ingredients can be changed depending on what you have available in the fridge. Not as stringent as baking, measurements for a stew can be modified. As long as the base of the recipe remains the same -- for example 1 cup of chicken stock can replace 1 cup of water, or add two sprigs of rosemary instead of one -- your stew will be delicious and uniquely different every time you make it.

The inspiration of making stews hits me when the autumn arrives and the idea of having neatly stacked plastic containers in my freezer excites my gastronomic senses. I scan over my recipe collection, eager to try new ones; I look forward to making my long-standing favorites too.

While stews may take a few hours to prepare and cook, they are easy to make. They're best done on snowbound days when the Domestic Goddess mood is shifted into overdrive. If spending the whole afternoon cooking isn't an option, slow cookers can make stew dinners easier. Get your ingredients ready in the morning, turn on the cooker, and when you get home, you'll have a delicious, hot meal ready and waiting for you.

So, embrace those cold winter days. Ladle big spoonfuls of your best stew in a bowl, cozy up on the couch for dinner, and see how the winter just became a little more bearable.

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