At our home in the winter, we usually keep the temperature low enough so that we're all pretty comfortable if we're wearing comfortable hoodies and slippers around the house. If someone wants the temperature a little higher, they're free to adjust it, but most of us actually like sitting around in our hoodies, maybe with a warm blanket on our laps and a cup of coffee nearby. We're comfortable and our energy bill is fairly low, so things are good all around.
Still, it's kind of nice to walk into a warm room, where there's a wonderful aroma of something finishing up or freshly pulled out of the oven. It's a little winter perk that I love so much.
When you make something delicious at home during the winter and that oven is running, the heat is working in your favor, making that room a little warmer than the rest of the house. That heat stays there for a while and gradually dissipates throughout the rest of your home, slightly cutting back on how much your furnace needs to run to keep your home toasty.
That warm room and those wonderful smells don't cost much at all, with the heat produced actually working in your favor. Making things in the oven is one of the best parts of winter at home, in my opinion.
Yet many people leave their ovens dormant during the winter months. Cooking at home can be intimidating, particularly for people who aren't yet handy around the kitchen, and many people view recipes as time-consuming and require a lot of equipment.
What follows are six of my favorite super-simple things to make in the oven during the winter months. All of these things will make your kitchen warm, fill your home with nice aromas, and put a smile on your face during cold weather without much cost or effort at all.
A super-simple loaf of no-knead homemade bread.
Making bread is about as simple as getting a bowl, putting some flour and water and yeast and salt in it, stirring that mixture up, letting it sit for a while, putting that dough ball in a pan, and baking it. It smells absolutely delicious as it finishes cooking and fills your kitchen with warmth.
My favorite simple bread recipe is this no-knead bread recipe from Serious Eats. You simply mix the four ingredients in a bowl, let it sit out for twelve hours, put it in the fridge (covered) for five days, pull it out again and let it warm up to room temperature, then bake it. Although that article talks about a Dutch oven, this bread works just fine in a loaf pan. No kneading required at all — just mix it once, let it sit for a while, then make it into a ball and toss it in a greased loaf pan to bake. Utterly delicious.
Four-ingredient peanut butter — or chocolate chip peanut butter — cookies.
I absolutely love the smell of baking cookies, and I adore the taste of peanut butter. You can make amazing peanut butter cookies with just four ingredients, a bowl, a spoon, and a cookie sheet — make it five if you want to add chocolate chips to the dough.
I'm really partial to this four-ingredient peanut butter cookie recipe from Averie Cooks. You can add a cup of chocolate chips right to the cookie dough if you want — I find that the result tastes a lot like a peanut butter cup in cookie form. It also contributes this warm peanut butter aroma to your kitchen as they're cooking (and afterward) that's simply delightful.
Note that those are eggless cookies — they're kind of thick and really soft. Here's a slightly more complicated (meaning you mix a few more ingredients in the bowl) peanut butter cookie recipe that's similarly delicious that produces a more traditional cookie.
A "spaghetti bake" for a simple dinner that will fill your kitchen with the scent of herbs and spices.
All you need for this is 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, a box of spaghetti and a jar of your favorite pasta sauce. You can also pick up some frozen meatballs.
Preheat the oven to 350º Fahrenheit.
Cook the spaghetti according to package directions (but break the dry pasta in half first before you put it in the boiling water) and drain it. Put the pasta back in the pan, then dump in the whole jar of pasta sauce and mix it thoroughly. Take a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and coat it very very lightly with oil to minimize sticking (you can use sprayable canola oil if you prefer).
Make layers, alternating the pasta and mozzarella, making sure to spread the layers to the edge of the pan. That's it.
Pop it in the oven for 35 – 40 minutes. The longer you cook it, the browner the cheese on top will get, so just bake it until the cheese on top looks amazing to you. Serve.
As it's baking, your kitchen will fill with the scents of herbs and spices, and it's so simple. Plus, with a 9-by-13-inch pan, you'll have great leftovers, as this stuff reheats incredibly well.
Mouth-watering banana bread loaf.
Banana bread smells absolutely wonderful when it's baking and it's incredibly soft and moist and warm when you eat a slice when it's freshly out of the oven, with just a bit of butter on it. I want to go bake a loaf of banana bread right now.
Banana bread is also really easy to make. All you need is a greased loaf pan and some common dry and wet ingredients: bananas, sugar, an egg, butter, flour, baking soda and salt. That's all you need for basic banana bread, and you can add a small amount of whatever you like for additional flavor, such as chopped nuts, chocolate chips, cinnamon, or vanilla — it's all good.
Here's the basic banana bread recipe I use. You basically mix the wet ingredients in a bowl — bananas, eggs, and butter — and then add the dry ingredients, starting with sugar and then with the other items (including any extra items you like, such as some chopped nuts or chocolate chips). It turns into a thick batter, which you then put in a loaf pan and bake. Easy as can be! It smells wonderful and is a fantastic little sweet treat.
Scones, both for now and for tomorrow's breakfast.
Scones are just about as easy as banana bread and use a very similar ingredient list, but you don't even need a loaf pan for these, just a baking sheet. Scone dough is really thick, so you just make a big ball of it, slice it into eight thick wedges, separate them a bit and bake them. It smells fantastic, depending of course on what flavors you add, but that's part of the beauty of it. Scones can basically be whatever flavor you want.
This basic scone recipe from King Arthur Flour is a good one to work from. Even that recipe says to fill in the blank with whatever dried fruit, sweet chips or other items you want to add to the scones. I love blueberry scones and chocolate and peanut butter scones, myself.
King Arthur Flour's recipe says to mix together the dry ingredients, mix together the wet ingredients in another bowl and add the wet to the dry ingredients while stirring before separating and baking. That's it. It smells so good, too.
Get up early and make a really easy breakfast casserole.
All you need for a really good breakfast casserole is eggs, bread, shredded cheese, a bit of cooked chopped meat like bacon or sausage, some savory vegetables like chopped onions and peppers (which you can buy frozen at the store, already chopped, at a nice price), a tiny bit of milk and some garlic and black pepper for flavor. It cooks together in a greased baking dish and smells incredible as it starts to finish, and it reheats wonderfully too.
I like this simple version from AllRecipes as a starting point. Our actual home recipe is tweaked pretty heavily to take into account everyone's various taste preferences.
If you want, you can literally make it the night before. Just cover it and put it in the fridge. You'll want to add just a bit more to the baking time, maybe five minutes or so, but you can just get up in the morning, turn on the oven, and pop it in there. It'll smell wonderful by the time you get out of the shower and be ready to pull out when you're just about ready to go for the day.
Warmth from the oven makes a home more inviting and comfortable in the winter.
The items cooking inside fill your home with wonderful aromas. The heat actually works in your favor (as you want to heat your home in the winter) rather than working against you. All of it works together to create a sense of coziness that's hard to replicate any other time of the year.
Enjoy your oven this winter. Put some simple recipes in there to bake, often. Your home and your belly and your heart will be glad you did.