While the country was coated in ice like a wedding cake we got thinking about ways to keep warm in winter -- without having to go on holiday to a tropical island.

That got us thinking about meals that make you feel warm. Fortunately it's something oily raggers throughout the country have been thinking about too. Crockpot meals are perfect for chilly days. Just throw everything into the pot when you leave to go to work and by the time you get home dinner will be ready.

M.N. from Wellington has a favourite: Place mince in the crockpot, add a chopped onion, garlic, salt, pepper and a packet of dried tomato soup mix. Stir thoroughly.

Then add handfuls of chunky veges such as carrots, celery, pumpkin, kumara, potato -- almost anything at all.

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Mix then cover with a tin of Mexican spiced tomatoes and two tins of water. (Any type of tinned tomatoes can be used for this recipe - we wait for the specials at the supermarket and stock up.) You can make your mixture the night before and leave in the fridge, then just before you go to work turn on the crockpot and when you get home your meal will be ready.

We serve it in bowls with a handful of finely sliced cabbage and fresh bread or toast to accompany it.

Homemade soup is also super-easy to cook and best of all its cheap.

Y.W. from Christchurch says: To make very cheap stock for soup and other dishes, keep a 3-litre tub in the freezer and progressively add onion, garlic, carrot and celery trimmings and peelings as you make them.

Don't add too much of the brown outer skin of onions as it is bitter -- go for the ends and inner skins. Spring onion trimmings and leek trimmings also work. Also add chicken bones, raw or cooked. When the tub is full, add the contents of the tub and two teaspoons salt, 10 peppercorns, 4 to 6 bay leaves a big handful of parsley, and lots of water, into a big pot.

Simmer for four hours. Allow to cool, lift out most of the solid stuff with tongs, and sieve the liquid. Taste and add a little more salt if needed.

You can do the same with other bones, such as beef and lamb. But don't mix red meat and chicken.

T.S. makes a free soup -- well, almost: pop any cooked veges left over from dinner into a clean icecream container and store in the freezer. Cut all the veges into approximately the same size first and continue to do this until container is full. Defrost.

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Fry an onion in a little oil, add contents of container, add home-made stock or a teaspoon or two of stock powder mixed in water, and simmer 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and puree. Season with salt and pepper. You can add 1/4 cup cream if desired for a rich creamy soup.

Lilley has a great soup recipe for using up those tough broccoli stems. "You will need: 1 diced onion, 1 large broccoli stalk diced, any left over broccoli florets, 1 large potato, 1 vege stock cube dissolved in 2 cups water, 1 teaspoon butter, 1/4 cup milk or cream, 1/4 cup cheese (optional), and salt and pepper.

Saute the onion in butter until clear, then add broccoli and potato. Cover with vege stock and simmer for 30 minutes until very tender.

Blend and season.

Reheat with a little milk or cream. Sprinkle with cheese if you like.

Soups are also ideal for work lunches -- use a thermos to keep them warm if you don't have a microwave at work.

If you have a favourite winter meal you would like to share, please send it to us by visiting our website or writing to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.

* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. oilyrag.co.nz