Hey, I hope you had a great weekend.
Here in Canada, we are deep into fall. The kids and I have been exploring our town by playing Pokémon GO. It has been fun discovering new areas.
Today, I will share some comfort food ideas that will help get you through the brisk season.
As the weather chills and the sun sets earlier in the day, it’s always comforting to have a warm, homey meal in the evening. You don’t have to spend tons of money or perform any fancy kitchen tricks to get the flavors and textures you love. Most comfort foods can be prepared using a few basic ingredients. Here are some ideas for concocting your next cool-weather comfort meal.
Hot soup is a staple for cool weather and an optimal combination of cheap, easy and nutritious. Vegetable soup provides tons of delicious nutrients and is typically low in calories. Soup that contains meat or grains add bulk, protein and minerals to make you feel fuller longer.
One major drawback of soup is the potential for high sodium and saturated fat content. Canned and premade soup is usually loaded with salt to enhance flavor while cream, cheese and chowder varieties contain higher fat content due to the added dairy products.
To help control nutritional quality, try making your own from scratch. In a quart pot, add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and saute one half of a diced onion. Then, add a diced carrot and diced celery stalk and saute for about five minutes. Once the vegetables are tender, throw in other vegetables, such as mushrooms, peas or corn, and pour about two cups of low-sodium vegetable stock. To bulk up the soup with fiber and protein, add lentils, beans or hearty grains and shredded or diced meat like lean chicken, turkey or beef. Don’t forget the bay leaf and your favorite combination of spices.
Chili is one of soup’s chunky, tomato-based cousins. It’s ideal for slow cooker meals, delicious leftovers or slopped between two Kaiser buns. Chili is hearty enough to be a main course but can also be enjoyed as a side to compliment other flavors and textures.
The basic ingredients for a reliable chili dish are:
- Ground beef
- Kidney beans
- Tomato sauce
- Chili powder
- Ground black pepper
There are plenty of variations depending on your taste and tolerance to heat. For example, you can decrease the overall fat content by substituting ground turkey for ground beef. You can also add pinto beans, diced green bell pepper and ground cayenne pepper for an extra kick. Top with shredded cheddar cheese or sour cream and eat with a spoon or corn tortilla chips.
Stew is a cross between a hearty soup and a classic meat and potato dish. Like chili, stew is prepared easily in a slow cooker but can also be heated on the stove or roasted in the oven. Stew is most commonly made with large chunks of beef. You can usually find packaged beef stew meat at any major grocery store. If not, you want to select either chuck or round cuts because they are tougher, leaner cuts that yield mouthwatering tender results.
If beef isn’t your preference, you can always substitute boneless lamb shoulder, spicy Italian sausage or even pork belly. For a high-protein vegetarian option, try chickpeas, black beans or quinoa instead of meat.
Whichever protein source you use, you can get that classic stew flavor by adding potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, parsley, thyme and salt. As for the liquid component, you can add low-sodium beef, chicken or vegetable stock and a dab of tomato paste or Worcestershire sauce. Keep some warm Italian bread handy to sop up the broth at the end.
4. Classic Meat and Potatoes
There is absolutely nothing like the smell of a pot roast cooking in the oven and the texture of cheesy sliced potatoes with a slight crisp and tang. Classic meat and potato dishes bring instant warmth and comfort to the most dreadful of days and channel instant feelings of being home.
The best part about these dishes is that you either stick to the basics for a quick and easy meal, or you can jazz them up and play around with your favorite flavors and seasonings. For example, instead of the classic beef chuck or pork loin, try a rib roast, lamb leg or flat-cut brisket. Instead of a simple baked potato, consider roasted red potatoes encrusted with Parmesan cheese, fingerlings drizzled in lemon juice or yellow potatoes au gratin. Go easy on the butter and salt and add some colorful vegetables to balance the nutrient content of the whole meal.
The “meat” of the meal doesn’t necessarily have to come from an animal, however. You can always showcase hearty portabella mushrooms, eggplant, turnips and winter squash. Try marinating the main veggies in olive oil and garlic or crusting them with a rub of fennel, black peppercorn and salt.
The term “casserole” implies that a dish is cooked slowly in the oven. Growing up, you may have been overstuffed with green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, tuna noodle casserole, shepherd’s pie or lasagna. Although these are wonderful tastes of home, consider experimenting with more vegetables and grains and less butter, cheese and breading.
For instance, try substituting thinly sliced zucchini for lasagna noodles and loading up your dish with nutrient-rich greens like broccoli, spinach and kale. Although cheese makes any meal taste delicious, you don’t need that much to create a savory, creamy texture. Play around with interesting, more pronounced cheeses and grate them sparingly throughout the layers instead of slathering your meat and veggies with gobs of shredded mozzarella.
Here are a couple of modern casserole ideas that serve as complete meals packed with nutrients:
- Chicken breast, quinoa and broccoli with Gruyere cheese
- Spinach and artichoke in a light alfredo sauce
- Lentil enchilada with corn, beans and avocado
- Lean ground turkey with kale and whole grain pasta
The possibilities are endless. Just combine your favorite lean meat, vegetables, low-sodium broth, spices and a small dose cheese or cream, throw it all in the oven or slow cooker and presto. You have yourself a hearty meal and leftovers for days.
Even if you didn’t grow up in an Italian family, you can certainly appreciate the versatility and reliability of a classic pasta dish. The hardest part about making pasta is deciding which type of noodle to use. The general rule of thumb is to use light noodles for light sauces and meats and heartier noodles for heartier sauces and meats. Here’s an example of how to appropriately pair some of the most common noodles:
- Macaroni isn’t just for kids, but it does have an uncanny ability to hold cheese. This type of pasta is ideal for cold salads, hot casseroles or baked alongside your favorite meat and veggies.
- Penne, which has a smooth surface, is ideal for stickier sauces, and its sibling, penne rigate, which has a rippled surface, can pick up more butter and oil.
- Rotini is a tightly wound spiral that can capture thick sauces and bits of meat for flavor-loaded bites.
- Rigatoni is a staple for heartier sauces and meats. You’ll frequently find this noodle in southern Italian dishes.
- Farfalle, also known as bowtie pasta, is great in creamy dishes, cold salads and hot soups.
- Capellini, or angel hair pasta, is rather dainty and should be paired with oil-based sauces, pesto, light cheese dishes and tossed with vegetables.
- Fettuccine is usually found smothered in alfredo sauce with shrimp or scallops, but it is hearty enough to handle heavier meat sauces like Bolognese.
- Linguini is a relative to fettuccine and paired commonly with seafood and clam sauce. Like it’s cousin, it can also take on the heavier meats and powerful tomato-based sauces.
There are so many types of noodles, and even more when you consider the Asian varieties. To keep your pasta dish balanced and nutritious, opt for extra virgin olive oil over butter, select leaner cuts of meat, use cheese moderately and more as a garnish than focal point and toss in nutrient-dense vegetables.
There’s no need to grit your teeth through the bitterness this coming season. With these classics dishes, you’ll stay warm and energized in the chilly weather. Just be sure to keep your meals balanced and full of plant-based nutrients so that you stay healthy and strong all year round.
Rick Kaselj, MS
If you want to know what foods will help you restore your natural vitality and get slim and stay slim while ending your muscle and joint pain, then check out the Best Foods That Rapidly Slim & Heal In 7 Days program here.