18 Warming Recipes You'll Love Eating Outside in Any Weather
You’ve likely seen the Danish term ‘hygge’ as it applies to cozying up our lives, like lighting candles, wrapping ourselves in comfy blankets, and sipping hot tea on the sofa. We're all in. But due to our new normal—meaning the enduring coronavirus pandemic that has invited an excess of time spent indoors, socially distant—we have another Nordic lifestyle trend we're honing in on: friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv). The term translates to “free air life,” and it’s all about enjoying and appreciating fresh air and nature—no matter the weather.
Indeed, as we face the looming transition from crisp fall temps to callous winter weather, continuing to spend time outdoors will become more important than ever—for our mental and physical health. Our favorite way to embrace friluftsliv? Preserving the outdoor dining trend in a way that warms us to our souls. To help you get started, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite cozy foods for cold weather, which go far beyond casseroles or canned soup. In fact, there’s tons of fresh flavor packed into these easy entrées, from a paprika-spiced shrimp served over creamy polenta to a free-form enchilada made with butternut squash and salsa verde. Vegetarians can indulge in the creamy mac and cheese, while meat-lovers will go crazy for a decadent beef potpie. If you’re a sucker for the classics, you’re not alone—our Chicken and Dumplings is our most popular recipe to date (and we made sure to include it in this list). But we didn’t just stick to the savory options: try a mile-high double-crust apple pie or a simple, five-ingredient French toast-inspired soufflé, and serve it alongside our spiced mulled wine.
Enjoy these meals surrounded by friends and family at a safe distance in the comfort of your own backyard. Set up space heaters, keep a stack of cozy blankets close by, light up your fire pit, and pass around warm thermoses of tea. Now’s also the time to take an extra minute to set the patio table, use real silverware, turn off your phone, light some candles, and listen to the sound of the falling leaves blowing in the wind. After all, friluftsliv is all about welcoming positivity and enjoyment into outdoor activities. We think the best place to start is right here at the dinner table, safely surrounded by loved ones in nature.
Decadent Mac and Cheese
It turns out that mac and cheese isn't one size fits all—there are a few different styles. There’s the creamy classic style, the kind of mac and cheese that spreads out when you drop it onto plate. And then there’s Southern-style mac and cheese, which is more like a casserole. It’s thicker, denser, and you can cut it into square pieces. This recipe falls somewhere in between: It's super creamy, but evaporated milk ensures the sauce is extra thick sauce. Decadent is no exaggeration; it includes six cups of freshly grated cheese total, including Gruyere, cheddar, and American cheese. Yes, American (don’t turn up your nose): it adds that ooey, gooey, extra cheese flavor we all loved as kids.
Beef and Beer Potpie
Did you ever think potpie could be, well, hip and modern? Enter this version, which is made in a cast iron skillet. Instead of a traditional crust, all you have to do is cover the meat, vegetables, and sauce you’ve made in the skillet with a sheet of puff pastry. Not only is this method easier, but it guarantees a flaky tender crust every time. The recipe calls for beef chuck and vegetables that are more interesting than plain old peas, like leeks and butternut squash. A cup of stout beer, like Guinness, adds tangy complex flavor to the sauce.
Classic Chicken and Dumplings
The magic in this recipe starts with whole skin-on chicken thighs. They’re browned in the pot, and then simmered with water and aromatics to make a homemade chicken stock that serves as the base of the soup. The chicken gets shredded and the stock is thickened with a bit of flour. Other recipes that call for shredded rotisserie chicken and store-bought stock don’t achieve the same robust flavor that this one does. Just a few ingredients go into the dumplings, which get dropped by the spoonful right into the soup and cooked for about 15 minutes. Parsley is the ideal fresh garnish for the hearty meal.
Polenta Bake With Shrimp
This grown-up comfort food is Southern-inspired and served in a single skillet. The whole family will be grateful for this meal, which is quick and simple enough to pull off on a weeknight. Parmesan cheese and whole milk ricotta add plenty of creaminess to the polenta, while tail-on shrimp are coated in butter and paprika for big flavor. To get a deep char on the shrimp and cherry tomatoes, they’re broiled before they go in the skillet. The dish gets a sprinkling of scallions right before serving for a vibrant splash of color and crunch. Ready your skillet (and forks).
Skillet Spinach Lasagna
Delicious lasagna is an impressive feat on its own. All of those layers require time and patience. Granted, it’s not always the most gorgeous dish though—until now. This version is delicious, impressive, colorful, and is made in a skillet that you can take right to the table. The skillet isn’t just for cosmetic purposes—starting the cooking process in here ensures the outer edges achieve maximum crispiness. Layers of tomato sauce, lasagna noodles, spinach, and ricotta mean tons of flavor in every bite. To serve, cut the dish like a pizza instead of into squares.
Free-Form Enchilada Verde
A casserole made out of enchiladas is one of the tastiest things we’ve ever heard of—and the easiest (there’s no need to fill and roll individual enchiladas). Store-bought salsa verde, available in the international aisle of most supermarkets, is a fantastic shortcut ingredient that packs a big dose of flavor. Sliced butternut squash bakes in with the tortillas, salsa, beans, and cheese until it’s tender. Just before serving, even more cheese is added and the whole casserole is broiled, making for a layer of warm crispy Monterey Jack. Everything gets topped with sour cream, cilantro, and jalapenos for a little zest.
Baked Spaghetti and Meatballs
Spaghetti and meatballs may not seem like the most labor-intensive dinner, but you still have to get out several different pots and pans to boil the pasta, bake the meatballs, and warm up the sauce. This recipe cuts out all of the pots and separate cooking times by brilliantly cooking everything together in one casserole dish. (Really!) You’ll want to opt for normal spaghetti, not angel hair, which will cook too quickly and turn to mush by the time the meatballs are done. The dish gets topped with fresh basil leaves, but we recommend serving it with a salad tossed in vinaigrette to add some extra greens to your meal.
No snow day would be complete without some good old-fashioned comfort food—and nothing says comfort quite like carbs and cheese. But making a version that’s golden-brown and crisp on the outside and ooey-gooey on the inside isn’t quite as easy as it seems like it may be. You only need a few pantry staples to start—white bread, cheddar, and butter—but then a few simple tricks will ensure the best sandwich possible. Heat the sandwich over low heat with plenty of butter, and cover the pan to help the cheese melt. Pair the buttery, cheesy sandwich with a hearty bowl of tomato soup for the ultimate cold-weather treat.
Old Fashioned Apple Pie
Yes, apple pie is synonymous with the crisp, cool days of the fall. But there’s nothing quite like the smell of one baking in the oven to remind you of home, either. On a cold winter day when the snow is swirling outside, get out your peeler—it’s the perfect time take on this project. Use Granny Smith apples, which can handle the heat without losing their shape and have a nice tart, crisp flavor. For a twist on the classic, add a handful of shredded cheddar cheese (a savory spin!) or a teaspoon of Chinese five-spice powder. It may be chilly, but you can’t forget a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
French Toast Soufflé
Soufflés are one of the ultimate winter comfort foods: they’re best eaten warm from the oven, and their soft and fluffy texture is crave-worthy on dreary days. Though they sound fancy, they’re actually quite easy to pull off. In fact, this maple-sweetened beauty requires just five ingredients. The key is to beat your egg whites until stiff peaks form—which means when you unscrew your mixer’s whisk attachment and hold it up vertically, the whites stand upright and don’t droop back into the bowl. The stiff peaks are what cause the soufflé to rise in the oven, so mastering that technique will result in a perfect treat every single time.
Deep-Dish Pizza With Turkey Sausage and Brussels Sprouts
Thought you could only find deep dish pizza in Chicago? Think again. The key to re-creating the cult favorite at home is to line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with pizza dough. After covering the bottom and the sides with the dough, fill it with pesto, lots of shredded cheese, crumbled turkey sausage, and thinly sliced Brussels sprouts. As it bakes, the crust will crisp, the sausage will cook, and the cheese will melt and bubble. Trust us—once you’ve tried this technique once, you’ll want to make deep dish pizza with all of your favorite fixings.
Slow-Cooker Pork Ditalini Stew
Served with crusty French bread and a leafy green salad, this stew is the perfect wintertime dinner. Hoping to get ahead on meal prep on Sunday? Prep the soup ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. Then, on the morning you want to serve it, transfer it to the slow cooker and let it cook during the day. The genius part about this stew is that you add the pasta in during the last 10 minutes, so you don’t even have to dirty another pot. If you’re not a fan of pork, try this dish with ground beef, turkey, or chicken.
Tortellini With Squash, Egg, and Breadcrumbs
On cold, wintry days, sometimes a good meal is the only thing that can cheer you up. This vegetarian main is both comforting and bright, thanks to chewy pasta, crunchy breadcrumbs, and the creamy fried egg on top. Feel free to get creative with the veggies—both cherry tomatoes and spinach would be tasty, too. If your kids love cheese tortellini (and who doesn’t?!), this is a great way to change up your routine without straying too far from their comfort zone. If you’re not confident in your egg-frying abilities, crack the eggs into a small bowl before sliding them into the pan. This will ensure they don’t break going in.
Open-Faced Croque Monsieur
If there’s one comforting classic everyone can agree on, it’s gooey, melty cheese. Anyone who’s made homemade macaroni and cheese will recognize the cheese sauce used in this genius sammie: It’s a creamy béchamel, thickened with the traditional flour-butter roux. Assembling the sandwiches is a fun hands-on activity for the whole family—spread Dijon onto thick slices of bread, layer on the ham, pour on the cheese sauce, then sprinkle on some Parmesan. Then, let the broiler do its magic until the cheese is bubbling and the whole sandwich is warm. Then, it’s time to devour—no utensils necessary.
Fast Italian Fish Stew
This incredibly delicious, healthy fish stew will warm you up from the inside out. Here, you'll cook halibut fillets until their skin gets crispy and browned, then you'll serve them over garlicky tomato and bean stew and top everything with a squeeze of lemon and fresh herbs. Serve with crusty bread (throw it on the grill for more rich, charred flavor) and a bright white wine.
Chocolate Zucchini Cake With Sweet Potato Frosting
Cold weather often means lots of temptations, making it a tricky season for those trying to maintain a healthy diet. That’s why we’ve included this delicious cake in the round-up. Although it tastes indulgent, it’s packed with good-for-you ingredients. The base of the cake is filled with whole grains and fresh zucchini, and the rich chocolate frosting is made almost entirely from sweet potatoes. Genius? We think so. Have your kids take leftovers to school with them—it’s a dessert all parents can feel better about feeding their kids—or bring them to work with you the next day. It’s guaranteed to be a hit with dessert lovers of all ages.
Apple Cider Donuts
There are few things better than the smell of freshly-made donuts, which is why we enjoy frying our own at home. These ones are wonderfully light and airy, and rolled in a dusting of cinnamon sugar. If frying donuts intimidates you, fear not—we came up with a way for you to conquer your fear in 10 easy steps. If you’re still wary, try making donut holes instead of full-sized donuts. The process is the same, except you’ll cut out smaller circles, which fry more quickly and are easier to get in and out of the hot oil.
Spicy Mulled Wine
Don't think for a second we forgot to include cozy cocktails to serve alongside your comfort food dishes. This deliciously retro mulled wine calls for a hearty dose of black peppercorns, spicy fresh ginger, cinnamon, and star anise, making it even warmer—and less saccharine sweet—than traditional recipes. Can't find Zinfandel? Merlot or Cabernet will work just fine. Pair with a crackling fire, snowy landscapes, and a cozy winter sweater.