Frugal Comfort Foods

Winter comfort foods are the best. They fill you up, they make you feel warm inside, they’re comforting, and most of the time they’re cheap. Of course, you can make winter foods that much better by cooking them fresh. Not only will you reduce the calories and sodium, but it’s friendlier for your budget, too.

My Top Seven Winter Comfort Foods:

  • Homemade chicken pot pie
  • Chili with cheddar cheese and tortilla chips
  • Fish and chips
  • Turkey and bean soup
  • Jambalaya
  • Tuna casserole
  • Lasagna

All of these are delicious and filling. Most of them also include low-cost ingredients. Sure, you can buy most of these dishes frozen and heat them up, and you might even find a coupon for it, but comfort foods are so much tastier when you cook them yourself. Cooking them fresh will also warm you up because you’ll be standing over a hot stove or oven.

Low-Budget Alternatives

If you’re on a really tight budget, you can make most of these comfort foods even cheaper by eliminating ingredients. Meatless lasagna is still fantastic. Take the shrimp out of jambalaya to reduce the cost. You could also substitute red rice and beans instead of traditional jambalaya. I found a recipe in one of those “How to Eat French” books a few years ago that combines yellow rice, black beans, and sausage. He spices it up with cumin, garlic salt, gumbo file, and Worcestershire sauce.

For chili, you can buy fairly cheap cuts of meat, or make veggie chili, and beans are always on sale. You could make your own tortilla chips by cutting up corn tortillas and frying them. I sprinkle them with seasoning salt for extra kick.

Homemade Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

This weekend, I had a craving for chicken pot pie – the ultimate comfort food. Rather than buy a Swanson’s pot pie, I modified a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa (which is unfortunately no longer available on the Food Network site.) The biggest change I made was swapping out her carrots and pearl onions for potatoes. I also cut the recipe in half. Here’s my version of the recipe:

2 skinless chicken breasts (about ½ pound)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 medium white rose or Yukon gold potatoes (about a pound), peeled and cubed
2.5 cups chicken stock
1 chicken bouillon cube
6 tablespoons butter
1 yellow or brown onion, diced
6 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup frozen peas
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons dried parsley or ¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
Frozen puff pastry, refrigerated savory pie crust, or homemade savory crust (leave out the sugar)

  1. Prepare the crust as instructed.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Brush the chicken breasts with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then roast or grill. Cube them once they’ve cooled.
  4. Peel and cube the potatoes. Steam or boil them until fork tender (about 15 minutes for steaming.)
  5. Dice the onion. Melt 6 tbsp butter in a stock pot, then sauté the onions over low heat until translucent (about ten minutes).
  6. Heat the chicken stock and add the bouillon cube.
  7. Add the cornstarch to the onions and stir for two minutes.
  8. Add the chicken stock and simmer for one minute, or until thickened.
  9. Add the cream and stir well for one minute.
  10. Add 1 tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, frozen peas, chicken, potatoes, and parsley. Stir well.
  11. Spoon into small pie tins.
  12. Layer crust on top. Poke with a fork to avoid bubbles. Arrange the pies on cookie sheet, then bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the crusts brown and the filling is bubbling.

I didn’t have large enough ramekins, so I used mini aluminum loaf pans that held a little over a cup of filling. The recipe made four servings. After they were completely cool, I covered two with aluminum foil, put them in freezer bags, and froze them for later. If you wanted eight pies, you could double the recipe. You’d also need a much larger stock pot.

All told, this recipe probably cost about the same as four frozen pot pies, but these were much tastier and healthier. To me, that’s an important part of comfort food. What are your favorite comfort foods?

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