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Last weekend I had a moment. I was sitting on my couch, watching Sunday football, sipping a cup of tea, and flipping through a crockpot recipe book, when it dawned on me that fall has officially arrived. While I’d normally lament the end of my favourite season, we had such a hot summer here on the west coast that I’m actually looking forward to it, and to the prospect of meals that include elements that are actually served hot and not eaten on an uncomfortable chair on my balcony. However, when preparing for a new season, things don’t just “fall” into place–you need to put them there. So to prepare your kitchen and dining room for the chillier season, I’ve put together a list of a few key ingredients you’ll need (see what I did there?).

Preparing the kitchen

If you were to have asked me a month ago to cook a meal in anything other than my toaster or microwave, I would have laughed in your face. I mean, there were a few days this summer where I’m pretty confident the temperature in my apartment was equivalent to that of the surface of the sun. Now though, with cooler evenings, the time has come to bring back some essential fall and winter appliances.

Crock-Small.jpgFirst, for fall and winter cooking, a crockpot is essential. If you already own one, now’s the time to bring it out of storage and dust off those tried and true recipes. If you don’t already own one, you really should, because whether you’re single like me, or cooking for a family of six, crockpots make life both easy and delicious. Really, all you need to do is toss in a bunch of ingredients and hit start. Then, eight or ten hours later you come home from work to an amazing turkey chili, a fabulous vegetable soup, or a chicken potpie that will make you drool. If you’re of the single or two-person variety, a smaller crockpot like this 2.4L capacity one is more than sufficient. Or, if you’re like my brother and sister-in-law who have four pre-teens, a larger capacity crockpot like this 5.7L Cook and Carry Smart Pot is a much better option. Not only does its larger capacity suit a larger family, but its tight-fitting lid and carry handles allow you to bring it with you wherever you might want to go, so if you’re late for soccer practice, just grab your stew, a few bowls and you can dine on the sidelines. Or, you can always use a larger crockpot to cook up a big batch of your favourite dish and freeze it in portions for the weeks to come.

Next, to prepare your kitchen for the penMicrowave.jpgding Canadian winter, you need to make sure you’ve got a functional microwave. Not only will a microwave warm up all those frozen crockpot meals, but when dinners transition from the fresh salads and sandwiches of summer to multi-dish meals that sometimes take hours to cook, you’ll want a means to heat up the leftovers. However, not all microwaves are created equal. My old microwave would do a fabulous job of burning the edges of whatever I put in it while somehow managing to keep the middle ice cold. It was impressive. But with newer models like this Panasonic Prestige Plus 2.2 cubic foot microwave, energy is circulated within the oven via cyclonic wave technology to ensure whatever you’re trying to warm is heated evenly throughout.

Lastly, I highly Breville-Sous-Chef.jpgrecommend a food processor like the Breville Sous Chef. Preparation of meals in the fall and winter can sometimes take much more slicing and dicing time, so with a food processor, all that extra work is child’s play. In fact, the Breville Sous Chef features 24 settings so you can choose virtually any thickness for your ingredients as you want. Then when it’s done doing all the hard work, toss those ingredients into your crockpot and you’ll be next dinner’s super hero.

Preparing the dining room

dining set.jpgNow that you’ve got the tools needed to whip up fabulous fall and winter-friendly meals in minutes, you need somewhere to enjoy them, and a dining room is a great place to do so. When I look at my friends with partners and kids, and even when I look at myself, I honestly can’t think of a single one of us who routinely sits at the dining room table to eat their meals; and that’s kind of sad. When I was growing up, we ate dinner at the dining room table every night and briefed each other on what happened in our day. Sure, there were some days when I hated every second of it, but now, I look back on our meals together fondly.

Even better? Dining room tables can serve double duty as a place for your kids to do homework, and even for you to do your own homework. When I was growing up, I was lucky enough to have my own room, complete with my own desk, but I preferred doing my homework at the dining room table because it allowed me to still be in proximity to my family. Even though we were all doing our own thing, we were all doing it in the same place.

The great thing is that a dining room set doesn’t have to cost you and arm and a leg and be reserved for holiday meals twice a year. Sets like this one from Monarch are reasonably priced and provide a great place for your family to connect.

There’s no escaping the fact that winter is on the horizon, and depending on where in Canada you call home, that might mean some temperatures below zero that are just completely inhuman. So why not take this early fall time to prep your kitchen and dining room for cozy nights in, complete with quick and delicious meals, and time spent around the dining room table.