One of the great things about winter is that so many of our favorite comfort foods happen to be really frugal, too. If I can contain most of my baking urges to breads and main dishes and skip the buttery, sugary desserts, we're all set! ;)
I'm partial to some of these foods because they remind me of my childhood -- cold Ohio winters, sitting in the kitchen of my parents' old farmhouse, eating foods we'd grown and preserved throughout the warmer months. But before that starts sounding too rosy -- I do remember all the hard WORK involved... ;)
My family "did things" very simply. Special events were a bit rare and a big deal, and holidays were special because special stuff just didn't happen that often. We didn't have elaborate celebrations or gift exchanges, but that was okay. A day off school because of snowfall, or family gatherings -- it was special because it was our family... and I like that.
...and, our favorite cold-weather comfort foods are pretty simple, too.
Beans! Oh, all right, you already know I love beans... filling, delicious, and frugal. I almost always cook my beans from dried beans. I either cook a big batch and freeze some of them, or cook a big batch and we eat all of them!
On a chilly day, some freshly cooked beans waiting in the crock pot is a perfect meal. And not many perfect meals are that cheap. ;)
What do I like besides pinto beans (and some toppings)? Here are a few easy from-dried-grains recipes for variety:
White chili is so easy, and a welcome change if you eat "regular" chili often. We love this soup!
Hearty Beef and Lentil Chili is one of my newer discoveries. If you've never cooked with lentils, this is a great place to start!
Lentils don't get any easier than this Easy Lentil Soup recipe! Despite its simplicity, it's delicious. Our whole family likes it. I got lentils in bulk (25#) and this is one of the ways I serve them! :)
This veggie bean soup with spinach is one of my personal favorites. I can't get over how good it is -- when I follow the recipe. ;) It's meatless, colorful, and affordable. I like to buy the big 3-pound bags of spinach at Costco and make several meals with spinach, including this soup! (Leftovers freeze great, as well.)
This Gourmet Bean Soup is really as easy as 1, 2, and 3. You may end up standing at the stove wondering if you really did everything you were supposed to do for this recipe! Start it early, and then get busy doing other fun stuff (or make some dinner rolls and a salad while the soup cooks). :)
Beef and Barley Soup is one of my childhood favorites. I have a similar version made using wheat: Wheat Berry Soup.
My mom's vegetable soup... one of the common Sunday lunches after church. My mom would make this in the morning, leave it to simmer, and we'd come home to a hot lunch (only we called it dinner, of course). Having vegetable soup in the crock pot (or in the fridge, waiting to be warmed up) is one of my best tactics for affordably filling hungry tummies after a day (or part of a day) away from home. :)
While this one won't save you time (compared to making loaves of bread), it really ups the presentation of your pennies-per-cup soup when you serve it in a homemade bread bowl! Everyone LOVES these bread bowls when I make them. :)
Easier beans or soups during busy days and weeks:
Make large batches and freeze leftovers for a quick meal later.
Bread or rolls (made and then frozen) are a great side with soup.
Most soup recipes can be easily adapted for the crock pot.
Have a plan! My downfall is that soups need to be started early, despite the little hands-on time required. Having a menu plan is a huge help! :)
A favorite winter tradition: Sunday night popcorn! Dark before 5 in the evening, and we'd pull out the air popper and pop lots and lots of popcorn. My mom usually served home-canned apple juice or grape juice with our popcorn. Popcorn is a great frugal snack (even though I don't grow my own). :)
I don't usually get too fancy with beverages, but here are a couple I turn to when a friend comes over (or it's just been One Of Those Mornings).
Chai Tea Latte (pictured above) -- or this from-scratch spiced chai tea! Mmm... cardamom... :)
Hot cocoa on demand. This stuff totally saves my morning some days. :)
Since this is rather decadent (hello, eggs and cream and maple syrup!), I've been saving it to make when we're having company. No one can refuse homemade egg nog -- what a treat! :)
Joshua's specialty is making homemade sparkling grape juice (or other juice) when we have company. It adds a festive touch without costing much! :)
What do you like to make from-scratch this time of year? I'm sure I'm forgetting things. We have a more relaxed December than most... and hang out at home a lot. ;)