Every time I hear someone waxing romantic about winter, I cringe.
Early long nights, frequent bad weather, concomitant vile driving conditions and biting winds make me — and, I suspect, many of us — miserable. It can feel like one long, dark, bleak tunnel.
I know what I need to prevent my spirits from sagging.
I want bright colors: red, yellow, green, orange, anything that offsets gray skies. I want those colors to brighten my life, and I want the same from my food.
I want big, deep flavors. No light citrus or the sweet acidity of my favorite fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes for me. Gone is the gazpacho I sought all summer. I want the intensity of a meaty fond at the bottom of the stew pot, the perfect balance of a beefy carbonnade served over a bed of buttered noodles, the complexity of a chile-rich red pork posole garnished with shredded cabbage, radishes and cilantro.
I want lots of fat and lots of protein — the fat to satisfy me and the protein to hold me over until the next meal. Now that we no longer demonize fat and cholesterol is no longer the bad guy, we can afford the luxury of something rich and filling on a cold night. Cheese fills the bill here, because, as everyone knows, cheese makes everything better. Americans ate nearly 40 pounds of cheese per person last year, so a lot of people must agree with me.
"Comfort food" often means it's going to be relatively bland, filling and familiar, something that we loved as children. We may well love exotic flavors and unexplored cuisines as adults today, but when it comes to comfort food, we want something we find completely commonplace.
But comfort food can't comfort the cook if he or she has spent all day laboring in the kitchen. So, in my book, comfort food should be relatively quick and easy to prepare, one-pot prep if possible, and from kitchen to table in under 30 minutes — or be able to cook quickly in an electric pressure cooker or all day in a slow cooker.
Here are two soups made with cheese that hit every one of those needs for me. Both are fast, easy, reasonably inexpensive and provide sustenance when the wind howls 'round the eaves.
Cauliflower is having a moment, for sure. That's a good thing. It has some of almost all the vitamins and minerals you need every day; it's high in antioxidants and fiber, and low in calories. It's also a bargain. Those are all major selling points for me.
The cauli-chowder is bright orange and rich with Cheddar cheese. It adapts easily to an electric pressure cooker but is so fast and easy to make that there's no reason to haul out the slow cooker.
You'll want to cook the cauliflower until it is extremely tender, so it will purée easily. A splash of half-and-half makes this soup even creamier, and it's especially friendly to low-carb diets. Just leave out the croutons, and garnish the bowls with more cheese.
Cheeseburger soup certainly sounds plebeian. Food snobs may sniff at the pasteurized processed product we used in it, but nothing melts like American cheese, which is one reason that it makes incredible macaroni and cheese.
Nothing tastes more authentic on a cheeseburger than American cheese, and this soup, garnished with the traditional trimmings, mimics every flavor point in our national favorite. If you happen to have some crumbled bacon around the house, it goes well as a garnish on this soup, too.
Moreover, it's inexpensive to make. Serving soup for supper one night a week was the best tip I gleaned years ago when I interviewed budgeting pros on how they manage their grocery dollars. I've tried to do so ever since.