If you’re reading this from within the mid-Atlantic region, you’ve probably shivered through a cold snap in the past few weeks. In the midst of that deep freeze, I polled my colleagues for their favorite cold-weather comfort foods, to find out what recipes they turn to when there’s a serious chill in the air. And boy, did they deliver, speaking in sometimes passionate tones about their favorite winter dishes.
Classics like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches were celebrated, as well as baked macaroni and cheese, and lasagna. Some were a bit quirky – Brenda makes cornbread and beans when she gets homesick for West Virginia, and me, I order spicy Thai lemongrass soup when nothing else will warm me up. Alyssa likes to whip up breakfast for dinner, and Sara swears by her family’s tradition of hot chocolate and buttered toast.
Numerous people mentioned the comfort of a simmering pot of homemade soup on the stove, whether it is Kate’s scrumptious-sounding sausage and tortellini concoction, or the delicious (and practical!) ham and potato soup Adam makes, using leftovers from Christmas. Then there’s chili made with four pounds of meat – Lori’s family doesn’t mess around.
Now, I hate to be the voice of reason here, but a lot of these recipes have the potential to really pack on the calories. As a public service, I feel the need to offer some alternatives to your favorite, high-calorie ingredients.
If the soup you love is creamy, replacing some of the cream and butter with plain yogurt will give you the same consistency with a lot less fat. Love chili? Go heavy on the beans and lighter on the beef, or choose ground turkey instead. The spices you add can make up for the flavor you miss from all that beef.
And for those who love a gooey baked macaroni and cheese recipe, you can make some changes and still create a savory feast. Use parmesan and low-fat cheddar and low fat milk for a painless replacement. And believe it or not, pureed cauliflower can replace some of the cheese and still give you the consistency you love. Substituting whole wheat pasta for regular will add fiber, keeping you full longer.
Choosing the sides for these comforting meals makes a difference, too. Yes, crusty bread is a perfect companion to a hearty bowl of soup, but slice it a little thinner, then spoon a portion of zucchini and carrots onto your plate.. Winter vegetables like these, as well as onions and mushrooms, are must haves in many wintertime stews, adding heft and flavor, but not many calories.
The best way to keep winter’s chill at bay, of course, is gathering with friends and family. So throw your stock pot on the stove and pull out your largest casserole dish, and share the comfort of your favorite comfort foods!