There’s a lot to be said for a home-cooked meal, but when you’re a skint student in a shared kitchen, it’s not often you get to eat winter comfort food unless you’re on a trip back home.
Yet you don’t need Gordon Ramsey’s cooking skills, Nigella’s kitchen equipment or Delia Smith’s budget to splash out on some easy but warming homely meals. Whether or not you choose to share is up to you, but here’s our top winter warmer recipes that won’t break the bank. Each is priced per serving.
Jack Monroe’s 42p Mushroom Mac and Cheese
A blissful cheesy delight that’s easy to stretch, Jack Monroe’s mushroom mac and cheese is the perfect winter comfort food – and ingredients can be easily substituted and played around with to introduce new flavours. Only basic-range and own brand ingredients are required.
Serves 3 @ 42p each (or two hungry people!)
1 tbsp sunflower oil
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp flour
Half a ball of mozzarella
Scant edge of a teaspoon of mustard
15g hard strong cheese
A slice of bread.
Peel and finely chop the onion and toss into a saucepan with the oil. Cook until softened and season with the salt before sprinkling in the flour. Mix so that the flour coats the onions.
Add a splash of milk and beat to form a paste. Keep adding a splash of milk at a time but keep the mixture moving so that it doesn’t catch and burn or go sticky. When all the milk has been used, slice or crush your mushrooms, add them to the pan and stir through. Add your cheese and mustard and crank up the heat. Stir until all melted.
Remove the mixture from the heat and mix in with the pasta before transferring to an oven-proof dish (or mix in the dish if it’s easier for you). If there’s any cheese left, pop it on top and then cook for 45 minutes at 180C.
BBC Good Food’s 54p Beef & Vegetable Casserole
A traditional casserole, this can be frozen, so you can hang on to extra portions.
Serves 5 @ 54p each
2 sticks of celery, sliced
2 carrots, chunkily sliced
5 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 crumbled beef stock cubes
850g stewing beef in chunks (it normally comes like this, but if not, cut it up)
Put the kettle on with 600ml water. Pop the celery, onion, carrots, bay leaves and a sprig of thyme into a casserole dish with the oil and butter. Warm trough and soften for 10 minutes, then stir in the flour followed by tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce and beef stock cubes.
Gradually stir in the boiled water and finally add the beef. Bring to a gentle simmer before covering and putting into an oven heated to 160C for two and a half hours. Uncover and cook for a further half an hour until the sauce has thickened and the meat is tender.
Jack Monroe’s 28p Caribbean style Chilli
A bargain recipe and a completely vegan one, this makes for a nice twist on a standard chilli con carne, and something new to try. This can be served with rice, cornbreads, naans or pittas as an added extra.
Serves 4 @ 28p each
1 tbsp Caribbean seasoning (most supermarkets now do a generic or a Caribbean branded seasoning)
1 tbsp oil
A handful of frozen peppers (or 1 fresh one, any colour)
400g kidney beans
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
100g frozen spinach
A pinch (or two) of chilli flakes or cayenne pepper
Chop the mushrooms and add them to a pan along with the oil on a high heat. Don’t worry about it being too dry a fry – this is one recipe when charred edges work well! Slice the pepper finely if it isn’t already, add that, and stir in the Caribbean seasoning. Leave for five minutes with just occasional stirs to make sure it doesn’t stick.
Drain and rinse off your kidney beans and add them in too, alongside the ketchup, the spinach and half a cup of water. Cook for a further 10 minutes to thicken the sauce, then serve when it’s how you like it!
Whatever recipes you find online, don’t splash out on fancy ingredients just because they’re listed. Use the internet and search for cheaper alternatives.
For example, replace risotto rice with long grain – and eat more anyway (risotto rice is shorter and fatter!). Always buy frozen spinach over fresh, as it shrinks down so much anyway, and don’t bother with fresh lemons or limes when juice extract will do just as well.
Flavoured oils are often rarely worth the investment; instead just mix some flakes or leaves of the desired ingredient with whatever cooking oil you use. Unless you need a very specific herb or spice, then the supermarket’s basic-range ‘mixed herbs’ or ‘mixed spices’ will do just fine for a taste boost. Cooking chocolate is also a total unnecessary expense and the cheapest own-brand chocolate can just be used instead!
There’s lots of cooking hacks and tricks and if you’re really looking to make things easy for your winter meals, invest in a slow cooker. You can pick one up for about £30 (minus any student discount, of course) and then just pop ingredients in and leave all day as you go off to lectures, events and whatever else fills your schedule. Easy!
However you choose to food yourself this winter, be sure to look out for any money-off offers or discounts. Don’t be afraid to ask for a cut-price – it’s always worth a try.