The moment that first wind-blasted needle sleet hits you full-on in the face, it’s “Goodbye New Year’s diet, hello beloved Crock Pot.” And according to all the oracles, the needle sleet (and tornados, and serious snow dumps) might be around for a good part of early 2016.
So stave off the winter blues with simple comfort foods: casseroles, slow cooker classics, thick stews and other dishes as comforting as a heavy blanket. Here’s a roundup of the greats to get you through the first week of below-freezing temperatures. Riff on them till spring arrives. Hopefully, that’ll be before May.
1. Macaroni & Cheese
Mac n’ cheese is such an obvious comfort food, it needs no clever context, so we’ll just list eight things you could put in it to make it different kinds of delicious. (Not more delicious. That’s not possible.)
Try with bacon (obvs), chili (instant main dish!), broccoli, lil smokies, a sunny-side up egg, lobster (you’re fancy AF), truffle oil (you’re fancy but within budget), or caramelized onions for the advanced.
2. Pot Roast
A raw pot roast is intimidating because it’s a big chunk of meat that looks like it would be tough as boots if cooked wrong. That is where your slow-cooker comes in (an affordable investment). Salt and pepper the pot roast, brown it, pour some mushroom soup over it, and leave it in the slow cooker with veggies for the entire day. Eight hours, minimum. Invite over everyone you know to eat it, because five pounds of meat is no joke.
3. Chili with Beans
There is a never-ending argument about whether or not “authentic” chili has beans in it. However, when you’re trying to cook something that will warm you but not scorch the crap out of your taste buds, beans are a good idea.
Just simmer ground beef, tomatoes, onions, chiles and chili powder for a few hours. To the basic ingredients, you can add black beans, or white beans, whatever beans—my personal favorite are the pink beans a.k.a. habichuelas rosadas that you find in the Mexican food section. Grate a little mountain of cheese on your chili. Throw some Fritos on top. Is it authentic? Does it matter? It tastes awesome.
4. Irish Lamb Stew
It rains approximately 364 days of the year in Ireland (not fact-checked, just a guess), so no wonder they have hearty stews down to a culinary art form. Nothing fancy, no surprises—the classic Irish stew is made with slow-simmered meat (we recommend lamb), root veggies and stout beer to add that delicious rich flavor.
5. Chicken & Dumplings
We don’t spend enough time loving the classic Southern dumpling, a product of our nation’s thrifty homemakers, by way of many immigrant cultures. Carb-laden pillow of culinary comfort, it’s best with lots of tender chicken in a greasy broth. This dish is so good on a rainy night, and so much easier than trying to make noodles yourself.
6. Lamb Shank
Another cut of meat that’s intimidating to contemplate, but pretty easy to cook as long as you do it right. Low and slow – that’s the trick. You can season this cut simply with salt, pepper, rosemary and a million garlic cloves; or do a classic red wine sauce. Brown and then bake, or throw dem shanks in your slow cooker. Add some veggies.
It takes quite a while to cook (though not the whole day) and should be so tender the meat falls off the bone. Also please note, the bones comprise at least 50% of any lamb shank you’ll buy, so do not think one or two shanks will feed the masses.
7. Hungarian Goulash
When parents in the 80s were feeling peak domestic and ambitious with their Betty Crocker recipe cards (these were a real thing), they’d make goulash. It had very little in common with the authentic version, which originated with nomadic Magyars who cooked them in cast-iron pots over an open fire.
Modern goulash is basically a meat soup or stews with peppers, carrots, tomatoes and serious amounts of paprika. Eighties homemakers would add noodles, but that’s sacrilege. The egg noodles (thick ones, not spaghetti) go alongside.