Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Casseroles and Crockpots = Comfort and Economy

Many of you may have visited in shopping for your own kitchen or perhaps in selecting gifts. They carry everything from the smallest kitchen gadget to professional-caliber equipment. An online discussion between one of their writers and kitchen experts, Jamie Sward, and I focused on trends that we had both noticed as more and more people are affected by the economic downturn, and are trying to economize to make the most of the holidays. This post is the result of that exchange and includes Jamie's input as well as my own take on the return to comfort food.
Since times are tough and the economy isn't looking so good, the effects of the deteriorating economic situation can be seen everywhere, including in the kitchen! To save money, people are dining in rather than going out, buying their groceries in bulk, and looking for ways to maximize more expensive ingredients such as meat and seafood. In times like these, comfort foods play a dual role - they help stretch the food dollar and they have a tendency to lift spirits. When it comes to making these time-honored and comforting food classics - having the essential kitchenware helps by cooking your dish properly and even cooking your dinner for you while you are at work! Crockpots and casserole dishes allow you to make and store larger quantities of food, helping you save money and time by making food for a few days at a time. Just about any stew, soup, chili or pasta dish can be made as a casserole or in a crockpot. You can start with some simple dishes, and then get more adventurous as you become comfortable. Here are some of our favorites:

Macaroni & Cheese

Jamie and I agreed that regardless of whether we're talking about the orange stuff (for kids, not foodies) or the homemade variety - mac & cheese is a quintessential comfort food. The is nothing to make your mouth water more than a delicious homemade macaroni & cheese with a breadcrumb topping. I have to say that mac and cheese is a dish that my kids agree is best made by my mother! The best thing about mac & cheese is how customizable it is. The ingredients are so basic that they leave plenty of room for individuality and personality. Throw in some bacon, sausage, veggies, and use gourmet cheeses - whatever you want! You can keep it simple and purist, or make it a gourmet delight. Bake it up in a big glass casserole dish and you've got a nice hot meal for the entire family! (Just watch out for the "cheese hogs" in your family who try to take
more than their share of the cheesy top!)

Homemade Chili
Chili is the perfect comfort food for those cold winter months. Make it in a crockpot and it is not only easy, but stress free! Just throw in all of your ingredients - beans, onion, pepper, tomatoes, corn, ground beef, etc. and let it cook for a few hours and you've got a hot, spicy meal that is sure to warm up both your heart and soul! You can find white chili, vegetarian chili, and mega-meat chili that will appeal to even the fussiest eater. The Dowd family's favorite is a spicy bison chili topped with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream and sliced avocado (you know we love to play with our food)!

Whether it is a way to use up your leftovers, or your Mom's heirloom recipe, soup is perfect when you are feeling under the weather or to ward off that mid-winter chill. There are many soups that are perfect for the crockpot - just throw all of your ingredients in and let the slow cooker do the work. Leftover roast beef can become a vegetable beef soup, your Christmas ham can be the basis of a bean soup, or meatballs can become a great Italian wedding soup.I guarantee that your leftover Christmas bird will taste just as good served in a bowl as it does served in your finest Christmas dinnerware!

These are just three universal examples of comfort foods that Jamie and I had in common. In our family, turkey pot pie made from our holiday turkey is comfort food, as is shepherd's pie with its mashed potato crust, and slow-cooked pot roast. Casseroles and slow cookers are great tools for home cooks who are short both time and money. Start with a few core basic ingredients that your family likes, and don't be afraid to try something new or experiment a bit with a recipe to make your own comfort food favorites. By using a crockpot or casserole to make your favorite comfort food, you can even cook once and eat twice (or more). Some newer crockpots offer features such as a delayed timer, removable crocks and even locking lids that let you take your comfort food to share. For meals that save you both time and money, you just can’t beat that!

What about family's favorite casseroles or comfort foods? Is there a family soup or stew recipe, or a casserole that everyone always asks you to bring to the office potluck? Is there a special casserole dish that holds not only food, but memories for you? Let us know what equals comfort food to you.


Passionate Eater said...

One thing I love is tuna noodle casserole. It is a feel-good staple in my home.

Deborah Dowd said...

Passionate Eater- Tuna casserole was not big in my childhood, but my husband often craves tuna a la king, which he remembers from meatless Fridays!

Anne @ Pink Galoshes said...

I say yes to crock pots as well! Macaroni and cheese, so good, so easy to prepare!

australian food said...

Tuna casserole was big in my childhood! My grandmother always prepared it yummmy!

Rumela said...

Casseroles and crockpots are really good. I love eating them and they really make a filling comfort food. The children love it too.

chopinandmysaucepan said...

Love macaroni & cheese and especially love leaving the yummy bacon bits for last :)