Our Ents Editor, Aine O’Connell, turns Domestic Goddess and gives you the lowdown on the best dishes and foods that are comforting, quick to make and most importantly, won’t break the bank.

It is winter now, lads. It’s dark, cold and more often than not, pouring rain. It is weather that begs a body to crawl home to mammy’s stewed meat, soup and rice pudding. Clichéd sounding as it may be, sometimes there’s little that beats a home cooked meal. I know I’ve found myself craving warming, nourishing foods of late. Then enter the problem: I have a kitchen about the size of a matchbox. It contains an oven, fridge and a microwave, and not much room for anything else. Enter another problem: as a student, I am more often than not flat broke, and when I do have money it goes on essentials like new lipstick and cinema tickets. What’s a girl to feed herself when it’s too cold for round three of pasta and grated cheese? After almost two years of living in Dublin, allow me to share some culinary wisdom.

The first important thing about winter food, to me anyway, is that it’s got to be comforting. Think richness, spices and best eaten with a spoon. The second is that it’s got to be either deeply healthy or deeply unhealthy; I’ve got to be sent to heaven or to hell with wintry food. Think autumn spiced soup or macaroni cheese; there is no middle ground. Mercifully, I try to veer on the side of my health. I’ve seen a thousand recipes for homemade soup online, and while I love to make my own, in a tiny kitchen that isn’t feasible. But that’s no reason to eat crap from a can: keep an eye out for 2 for €3 deals on soup in Tesco or Dunnes, and don’t be afraid of the weird flavours Aldi and Lidl can offer up. Canned soup isn’t the spawn of the devil; it’s dirt cheap, filling and incredibly warming. So the next time you have a spare few euro, pick up a few cans of Heinz for emergency days, or better still, grab a carton of the fresh stuff on your way home from college.

For the more culinary-talented among you, winter comfort food is easy to make and often very cheap. Mercifully, I can justify dispensing with salad over the winter months – it won’t win you any friends, after all.  Chance your arm with a packet of steak chunks (between €3.49 and €4.99 in Aldi and Lidl), a can of tomatoes, an onion and a carrot and stew’s your uncle for 2-3 days: all for about a fiver. I could link a recipe, but stew is literally a case of “get your ingredients, fry the ones that might kill you, fire the rest in on top of that and leave the whole thing for an hour”. Provided you can cut up vegetables and open tins, it’s pretty foolproof.

Another excellent thing to make that’s wonderfully cheap and comforting is the humble pasta carbonara. You’ll only need pasta, eggs, bacon and some cheese to make it and in my experience, a little of this goes a long way, so be prepared to share. The trick with carbonara is to let everything mix together properly without scrambling your eggs; keep it on a low temperature to prevent this. While you’re at it: garlic bread. Is there another food more comforting? Save yourself a few quid by mixing garlic salt with whatever spread in the house and grill a baguette covered in the stuff – it’s even better than the real thing.

Dessert is my real passion: while I don’t get to have it every day, I certainly think about it every day. I tend to keep it simple, but occasionally like to break out the baking tray.  I love bread and butter pudding: well, my version of it, anyway. Take a loaf of white bread, butter it, and add custard mixed with some milk. Add some raisins and bake…delicious, not particularly nutritious but incredibly comforting. This is made extra good by chocolate powder in the custard/milk mix. Not quite Michelin star, but definitely a good one for the days you’ve been rained on and have to do a hideous assignment.

I have to admit that these recipes may not be as good as anyone’s mothers. It’s hard to do so without about twenty years of experience. However, if it’s a hideous Tuesday night, there’s certainly nothing wrong with any of these for cheap, warm, nutritious meals that don’t take mad skills (or any skills really) to make.

Photo: Clemens v. Vogelsang/ Flickr