The cold has settled in and we’re in for a long run of wintery days by the looks of it! One comfort is food – soups and homecooked meals fill the kitchen with gorgeous smells that’ll bring them running. Look for dishes based on seasonal vegetables, or inexpensive vegetables which one tends to pass over in favour of something more exotic (think cabbage – how many times do you walk past that and buy something three times the price because you think cabbage is boring).
Potatoes are an excellent ingredient to fill hungry tummies. They’re especially good for us when jacket-baked.
How do you get those gorgeously-crunchy potato skins on jacket-baked potatoes? Easy. Scrub the potatoes and while they’re still damp sprinkle them with salt. Move them to a dry part of the bench, turn them over and sprinkle the top side also with salt. Transfer to an oven preheated to 200°C / 400°F (fanbake) and bake for at least 1 1/2 hours, even longer – up to 2 hours. Immediately you remove the potatoes from the oven, split them in half with a sharp knife, otherwise the steam inside the potato will soften the skin. Either serve as they are, with butter, salt and pepper, or with sour cream, or top them with a homemade Bolognese or tomato sauce – such a great way to use up small amounts of leftover pasta sauce, and you don’t need any added fat!
Alternatively, scoop out the flesh and mash with a little hot milk and butter and pile it back into the potatoes, top with grated cheese and grill until sizzling. Or mix the potato flesh with any manner of ingredients before stuffing it back into the potato shell: chopped ham or bacon or roast chicken, chopped spring onions or snipped chives, canned beans or sweet corn, chopped onion and celery softened in a little olive oil, and so on and so forth. The recipe here is one my kids loved when they were growing up.
One of the great things about pasta dishes is their speed. They’re also nutritious and fill you up. I always keep canned beans in the pantry, and many types of pasta shapes, and with a bunch of rocket from the garden, a meal like this is easy on the budget, and on me – over and done in twenty minutes.
A mug of homemade soup is an inexpensive nutritious after-school warm-up.
Make the soup, even a double batch, then when it is cool, line soup mugs with snap-lock bags and fill with soup. Seal and freeze, then remove mug. Then you have the perfect amount to thaw quickly in the microwave (or in a saucepan) to fill a mug. Potatoes help thicken the soup, and leeks are inexpensive at this time of year. You could use homemade chicken stock in this soup, and even swirl in a little leftover roast chicken at the end.