This month, let dinner cook itself while you are out having fun on the slopes, at the ice rink, or wherever your winter wanderlust takes you. Your crockpot, stove, or oven is your snowy-day ticket to warm, hearty comfort food that's ready when you are.

If you don't own a crockpot or don't like the idea of having an appliance running while you're away from home, I've also included recipes that may be prepared in advance on the stovetop or in the oven, refrigerated, and then heated at dinnertime later that day or the next. When heating a meal that's already cooked, remember not to let it come to a boil, which will cause the protein to become tough.

Old-Fashioned Oven-Baked Beef Stew (Serves 6)

This stew reminds me of the type I grew up eating on cold winter nights in Buffalo. It involves a bit of upfront work, but once you've got everything chopped and the meat browned, it's hands-off until dinnertime.

1 T canola or vegetable oil 2 pounds lean beef round stew meat --cut in 1 1/2 in. cubes (approx.) 1/3 cup flour 1 t salt, plus more for salting the beef before cooking 2 t garlic powder 2 bay leaves 1 14-oz. can diced tomato - undrained 24 fluid ounces low-sodium beef broth ½ cup dry red wine (I use Cabernet Sauvignon) 2 t Worcestershire sauce 2 Yukon Gold potatoes -- peeled and cubed 4 medium carrots -- sliced 2 stalks celery -- diced, optional 1 medium onion -- diced

-*- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat oil in 4-quart Dutch oven (a heavy oven-safe pot) over medium heat.

-*- Season the beef with salt and pepper, and brown it in the oil. Do this in several batches to get good browning (don't crowd the meat). As it's browned, remove the meat and set aside on a platter or tray until all the meat is browned.

-*- Add all the meat back into pan along with the flour, salt, garlic powder, bay leaves and a little pepper. Stir in tomatoes, broth, wine, and Worcestershire; mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the vegetables and stir well.

-*- Cover and bake for 2 ½ hours, or until the meat is very tender, stirring once or twice.

This meal may be prepared a day ahead of time, cooled, refrigerated and then heated up in a saucepan over medium-low heat at dinnertime.

Slow Cooked Peanutty Chicken (Serves 3-4)

This recipe can be doubled or tripled, and will fill the crockpot better if it is. If you can't find tubes of ginger and garlic in the produce section, use about 1 teaspoon of minced fresh ginger and garlic.

Nonstick cooking spray 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter 3 T low-sodium tamari sauce 1 squeeze of ginger from the tube 1 squeeze of garlic from the tube 1 squeeze of Sriracha or other hot sauce (or crushed red pepper flakes - to taste) About 1/4 cup of low-sodium chicken broth 1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs.) 1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

-*- Spray the crockpot insert with nonstick spray. Turn to Low.

-*- Combine the peanut butter, tamari sauce, ginger, garlic, hot sauce, and broth in the crockpot and whisk to combine. Place the chicken breasts in the pot and use a spoon or spatula to coat them with the sauce.

-*- Cover and cook for 3 to 5 hours, or until chicken is cooked through. You will have to stir this once or twice while cooking to make sure the sauce doesn't burn on the bottom of the crockpot, if yours is as hot as mine.

-*- Serve with wedge of lime, a starch or grain (I went with quinoa), and vegetable (I used baby spinach, julienned and stirred into the quinoa) for a very delicious dinner.

This meal may be prepared ahead, cooled and refrigerated, and heated on the stovetop over medium-low heat at dinnertime.

Slow-Cooked Salsa Chicken (Serves 4-6)

Looking for a versatile, tasty dinner with a Tex-Mex flair?

Then look no further! Try Salsa Chicken on top of rice or a baked potato for a quick weeknight meal, or as a taco or tortilla filling, as a nacho topping, or as a traditional meal with a side salad or vegetable. Best of all, you might even have all the ingredients on hand in your pantry and fridge.

2 pounds boneless chicken breasts and/or thighs (I used breasts, cut in half) 1 can kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed 1 cup frozen corn kernels 1 jar salsa

Spray your crockpot insert with nonstick spray. Lay the chicken pieces on the bottom of the pot. Place the beans, corn and salsa on top of the chicken. No need to stir. Cover and cook on low for 3-6 hours. (Timing depends on how hot your crockpot runs and whether you use breasts or thighs.) If you are not eating this right away, cool off the meal, refrigerate, and heat on the stovetop over medium-low heat at dinnertime.

Recipe adapted from Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O'Dea