6 Easy Comfort-Food Recipes That Actually Start With A Mix
If there’s one thing that can make comfort food even more comforting, it’s when it doesn’t take a lot of effort.
I know there are those who say food should never be used to comfort. But I submit that those people have never been on the working end of an out-of-sorts teenager who comes home from school or practice or rehearsal and finds warm chocolate-chip cookies waiting for them.
Of course, when food is used to cover deeper, long-term emotional issues, it loses its power to authentically comfort. But when otherwise healthy minds and bodies are involved, it truly can soothe and restore. Back in the day when my little family used to eat dinner together on a regular basis, I can’t tell you how many times I watched four people with varying degrees of rough days behind them gather at a table and unload burdens.
And if there’s one thing that can make comfort food even more comforting, it’s when it doesn’t take a lot of effort to pull it together. Enter THE MIX. Boxes and bags of everything from seasoning to main ingredients put you at least two or three steps ahead in the comfort-food game and get you a lot closer to your goal of eating, conversing and unwinding together. Here are six comfort-food recipes that avail themselves of some convenience products without losing their culinary warm-blanket appeal.
Cheesy Sausage Egg Bake
¾ cup cheese garlic biscuit mix (I used part of a 7.75-ounce bag of Bisquick cheese garlic mix and saved the rest for future use)
1½ cups milk
1 pound uncooked bulk sausage (I use ½ pound turkey sausage and ½ pound chorizo, but you could use any kind of pork sausage or Italian sausage)
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups shredded cheese (such as Monterey Jack, pepper jack, Colby-jack or cheddar), divided
Optional garnishes: sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro, sliced fresh avocado, chopped fresh tomato, lime wedges
Preheat oven to 400°F. In a 10-inch oven-safe skillet, cook sausage until no more pink remains. Drain off excess grease. Reserve 3/4 cup black beans; stir remaining beans into sausage mixture in the skillet, along with 1 cup of the cheese.
In a medium bowl, stir together the biscuit mix, milk and eggs until no more dry biscuit mix remains. Pour over sausage mixture in the skillet. Bake for 20 minutes, then top with remaining shredded cheese. Bake 5–10 minutes longer, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm topped with reserved black beans and optional garnishes if desired.
Loaded Baked Potato Soup
Serves 4 (as main dish)
2 (4 ounces each) packages instant mashed potatoes (I used Idahoan Buttery Homestyle)
3 cups reduced sodium or salt-free chicken broth, divided, plus additional as needed for desired consistency
2 cups water
1 cup whole or 2 percent milk, plus additional as needed for desired consistency
Toppings: shredded cheddar cheese; cooked bacon, crumbled, OR bacon bits; sliced green onion; sour cream
In a large pot or microwave-safe dish, bring 2 cups broth and 2 cups water to a boil. Off the heat or out of the microwave, add both packages mashed potatoes and stir with a fork until no dry potato mix remains. Let stand 1 minute. Mixture will be thick. Add remaining 1 cup broth or stock and 1 cup milk and stir until incorporated. If a thinner consistency is desired, stir in additional broth or milk. If soup has cooled too much, cover and return to microwave or burner to warm through, about a minute. (Stir constantly if on the stovetop.) Serve warm topped with cheese, bacon, green onion and sour cream.
Comforting Corn Casserole
1 (8.5 ounces) corn muffin mix
2 eggs, beaten
1 (16 ounces) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (16 ounces) can cream-style corn
½ cup butter, melted (I use vegan stick butter)
1 cup sour cream (I use Daisy light)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or coat with nonstick cooking spray a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Stir all ingredients together until no dry muffin mix remains. Pour into prepared baking dish. Bake for 45–55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.
Toasty Italian Chicken and Cheese Hoagies
1 packet (approximately 1 ounce) dry Italian salad dressing mix
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (if frozen, no need to thaw)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup chicken broth
4 French sub rolls or hoagie rolls, split
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
4 slices provolone cheese
Optional: jarred roasted red peppers, drained
Spray slow cooker insert with nonstick cooking spray and place chicken in the bottom. Drizzle olive oil over chicken, then sprinkle each chicken breast evenly with dry Italian dressing mixture. Pour a little chicken broth over each piece of chicken, then pour remainder in the bottom of the slow cooker. Cook on LOW 4–6 hours, or until chicken is cooked through.
When chicken is cooked, shred with forks right in the slow cooker. Leave in slow cooker (set on lowest setting) to stay warm while you prepare the rest of the sandwiches.
Preheat oven broiler to LOW broil with the top rack 6 inches from the broiler element. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and lay your split and opened sub or hoagie rolls out on it in a single layer. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise and parmesan cheese, stirring well. Spread 1 tablespoon of this mixture on each half of your rolls. Broil on LOW for 1 minute. Remove from oven, but do not turn off broiler.
Mound shredded chicken on bottom halves of sub rolls (you will probably have chicken mixture left over; this can be frozen to use another time). Top with roasted red peppers, if using, and slices of cheese. Return pan to oven and broil 1–2 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly. (Watch closely!) Serve immediately.
Cinnamon Sweet Potato Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
1 (13.9 ounces) box cinnamon streusel muffin mix
1 (15 ounces) can cut sweet potatoes, in water or syrup (they may be called yams, even though technically they aren’t)
Water, eggs and oil as called for on box of muffin mix
Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat 12 regular-sized muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray or line with paper baking cups. Drain sweet potatoes well and dump into a large bowl. Mash well with a fork or potato masher. Add water, eggs and oil in amounts directed on muffin package and mix well. Add muffin mix and stir together just to combine, until no more dry muffin mix remains.
Divide muffin batter equally among prepared muffin cups. If muffin mix comes with a streusel topping, divide this equally among muffins, if desired. Bake for 15–20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool 5 minutes in the pan, then remove muffins to a wire rack to cool a few minutes more. Cool completely before storing any leftovers.
Hot Cocoa Kiss Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen cookies
1 box (15.2 ounces) devil’s food cake mix without pudding in the mix (I use Duncan Hines)
3 packets (0.98 ounce each) instant hot cocoa mix with marshmallows
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅓ cup vegetable oil
24 Hot Cocoa Hershey’s Kisses (or other flavor of your preference), unwrapped
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line it with parchment paper. With a fork, mix together the cake mix, hot cocoa mix and baking powder in a large bowl. In a small glass measuring cup, beat together the vegetable oil and eggs. Add the oil mixture to the bowl with the cake mix mixture and stir together until no more dry mixture remains. The dough will be very stiff. (Call it your arm workout for the day.)
Roll level tablespoons of dough into balls and place a couple inches apart on your prepared baking sheet. (You’ll need to do this in batches; bake only one sheet at a time.) Bake for 7–9 minutes, until cookies have puffed and are just starting to crack. Remove from oven, and immediately press a piece of candy into the center of each cookie. Cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store airtight.
—All recipes by Elizabeth Spencer