You can go home again: Perfect cold weather recipes for warm and cozy meals

Wisconsin Cauliflower Soup, courtesy of the Aldrich Guest House. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

Shepherd’s Pie Casserole, courtesy of Convivium Urban Farmstead. PHOTO CREDIT: Michelle London Telegraph Herald

Italian Sausage and Rice Casserole, courtesy of Convivium Urban Farmstead. PHOTO CREDIT: Michelle London Telegraph Herald

Susie Droessler with a batch of her Smurf Soup. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

Homemade Sloppy Joes. PHOTO CREDIT: Michelle London Telegraph Herald

Gourmet Grilled Cheese. PHOTO CREDIT: Michelle London Telegraph Herald

Susie Droessler PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

Douglas Mahan PHOTO CREDIT: TH file

Comfort food means different things to different people. But one fact remains the same: It all comes back to family and childhood memories. PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

Comfort food means different things to different people. But one fact remains the same: It all comes back to family and childhood memories. PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

Comfort food means different things to different people. But one fact remains the same: It all comes back to family and childhood memories. PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

Irish novelist Cecelia Ahern said, “Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.”

And she’s right.

Scientists say people often crave certain foods because those meals remind them of childhood memories or foods they remember being given when they were sick (chicken noodle soup is almost certainly a universally loved comfort food).

Winter brings a lot of comfort food recipes out of the pages of family cookbooks. When northern winds blow and the mercury drops, we want to feel warm and cozy. And there’s nothing that does that better than comfort food.

Wisconsin Cauliflower Soup

Douglas Mahan co-owns Aldrich Guest House in Galena, Ill., with his husband Robert.

This soup, a recipe that Mahan found and modified to make it his own, has become a favorite of guests at the bed and breakfast.

“One thing I always tell people is that it’s a big batch of soup,” he said. “Cutting the recipe in half is perfectly fine if you don’t want soup for days.”

Customize the soup to your liking with additional toppings like green onions, bacon bits or any other favorites.

You can substitute cream or half and half for the milk if you want a richer soup, but Mahan said he thinks milk serves that purpose well in this particular recipe.

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1½ cups water
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 heads cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups white cheddar cheese, shredded

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the flour. Gradually stir in milk, water and vegetable broth. Add cauliflower and heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until cauliflower is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Use an immersion blender in the pot and blend until smooth. You can also use a regular blender (be sure to remove the center of the lid to allow steam to escape), blend the soup in batches until smooth, then return to the pot. Heat soup over medium heat, stir in the Dijon mustard and cheese until combined and melted. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm with additional salt, pepper and cheese as toppings.

Smurf Soup (Cream of Tomato Soup with Drop Noodles)

Susie Droessler, of Menominee, Ill., is a baker and the manager of the Galena Farmers Market. Smurf Soup was a staple in the Droessler house when her children were small. The mother of four and grandmother of 10 still makes it whenever her kids and grandkids come home to visit.

“When they were little, our children had to be coaxed to eat this soup,” she said. “But then we started calling the noodles ‘Smurfs,’ which were popular in the 1980s, and they loved it.”

  • 2 quarts canned tomatoes, mashed
  • ½ cup celery, chopped
  • ¼ cup onion, minced
  • 2 cups water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring tomatoes, celery, onion and water to a boil. Add salt and pepper. Prepare the drop noodles while waiting for tomato mixture to boil. Mix together eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Add flour a bit at a time until it becomes a thick paste. You might not need all of the flour. When tomato mixture comes to a boil, cut noodles into the pot a half-tablespoon at a time. Continue simmering for 5 minutes after last noodle has been dropped in. Add 1 pint of heavy cream before serving. Serve with cheese and crackers.

Convivium Urban Farmstead’s casseroles

Since 2020, Convivium has given away casseroles every week through its free casserole program, a program that came into being during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

“There were thousands of pounds of fresh produce in the gardens that needed to be used,” said Ashley Althoff, who works in operations and administration at Convivium. “We distribute about 250 casseroles a week.”

In addition to that, Convivium posts all of its casserole recipes on its website.

“My definition of comfort food is food that makes you feel warm,” Althoff said. “It gives you that loving and reassuring feeling that you’re being taken care of.”

Shepherd’s Pie

  • 8 ounces instant mashed potatoes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cups mixed vegetables, fresh or frozen
  • (diced carrots, corn, peas or your choice)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ cup beef broth
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste

Follow package directions and make the mashed potatoes. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large saute pan on medium heat, add the chopped onions and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink. Add Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper. Add the beef broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Add more beef broth if necessary. Layer the beef mixture in a 9-by-13 casserole or baking dish, then layer the vegetables over the beef. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of both layers. Use a fork to make peaks in the mashed potatoes so they get well-browned. Bake for 30 minutes or until browned and bubbling.

Sausage and Rice Casserole

  • 2 cups uncooked minute rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup chopped kale or spinach
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ cup red onion, finely diced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¾ pound ground Italian sausage
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a large casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Mix rice, water, sausage, kale or spinach, tomatoes, red onion, salt, pepper and garlic powder in the casserole dish, making sure it is spread evenly. Use the back of a spoon to submerge the veggies into the liquid. Spread the parmesan evenly over the top of the casserole. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes or until rice is fully cooked. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Hygge food I am a huge proponent of hygge, the Danish and Norwegian practice of creating a cozy and warm atmosphere in your home. That often means enjoying a good meal with people I care about, curling up with a good book or enjoying a crackling fire in the fireplace.

The Germans call it gemütlichkeit, the Swedes call it mysa, the Dutch call it gezelligheid and the Finnish call it kalsarikännit (which translates to “getting drunk at home in your underwear”). Whatever your word is, it all means the same thing — do what makes you feel comfy, cozy and happy.

Sloppy Joes

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1½ pounds ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1½ cups beef broth
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 hamburger buns

Heat the oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook until cooked through, crumbling as it cooks. Drain any excess fat. Add the onions and peppers. Cook until the veggies are tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, paprika and chili powder and cook about 1 minute. Stir in beef broth, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Stir in ketchup, Dijon, Worcestshire and brown sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve on buns.

Grilled Cheese

  • 2 slices sourdough bread
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 slice cheddar cheese
  • 1 slice Havarti cheese
  • 1 slice gruyere cheese
  • ¼ cup shredded parmesan

Heat the pan over medium-low heat while preparing the sandwich so the pan will be hot and ready to go. Spread butter on the inside of the bread slices, then add the cheddar, Havarti and gruyere slices to one of the buttered sides. Sprinkle on the parmesan, then top with the other piece of bread. Spread a thin layer of mayo over both of the outside slices of the sandwich. Place in the pan and grill on both sides until each side is golden brown and the cheese is melted through.

Michelle London writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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