We all know the telltale signs that signal the arrival of winter – chilling temperatures, hazy damp weather, long nights and lazy mornings. But just because it's winter, that doesn't mean we should forget the healthy produce aisle. In fact, winter is the time for all of us to choose the foods that will give our health a boost while we deal with the chills and ills.

Bart Beek

Research shows that what we eat has a major impact on our health. Thoughtful food selection can lower the risk of cancer and heart disease and strengthen our immune systems.

Experts agree that garlic consumption is a must, as it helps to deactivate colds and flu bugs. It's also known to lower cholesterol, which will reduce the risk of heart disease. So try my garlic-rich lamb kebabs, which are simple to prepare, mildly spiced and quite delicious. In fact, they are heartily endorsed by my whole family, who also love the garlicky parmesan chicken with basil and mustard crust.

Leeks are also a winter power food that rate very highly. They are known to be a powerful tumour fighter, second only to brussels sprouts. The leek, sage and cheddar tart is a winner, with its beautiful crumbly, cheesy pastry, loads of leeks and a scattering of diced pear.

One of my all-time favourite ingredients is ginger. And just as well, too, because it's such a healthy herb root. It has a lot of heat, which is certainly helpful in winter time. It also stimulates circulation, eases congestion in the throat and lungs and is a natural anti-inflammatory.

And finally, the cardamom and ginger panna cotta dessert is loaded with fresh ginger and is a wonderful cold winter dessert that will gently warm the soul.


'Silence of the Lamb Racks'

A special note for Melbourne readers: I have never been disappointed with the amazing quality of the lamb I buy from J & L Meats at Melbourne's Prahran markets. Charlie is the passionate butcher who sources the best produce from Victoria and Tasmania. It's well worth the trip, even if it's only to view the quality of the meats on display.


Preparation time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
Serves: 3 mains

  • 1 x 9-point lamb rack (trimmed and frenched)
  • 3 tblsp Screaming Seeds Outback Blend spice mix
  • 60ml Jingilli extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium brown onions (diced)
  • 1 carrot (peeled and diced)
  • 2 sticks celery (washed and diced)
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (12cm length)
  • 150ml Chianti (light Italian red wine)
  • 330g tinned diced tomatoes
  • 1lt beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • 2 portions creamed potato
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves

Place the onions into a heated pan with a little of the olive oil and lightly brown. Then add the carrot, celery and whole rosemary sprigs. Continue until lightly browned, then add the red wine and stir well to dissolve all the sediments.

Add the stock, diced tomato and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 45 minutes.

Pre-heat an oven to 180°C. Brush the lamb rack with the extra virgin olive oil and coat with the Screaming Seeds spice mix. Place onto a baking tray and roast for 24 minutes, or until the centre of the meat reaches 62°C. Allow to rest in a warm place for 20 minutes.

Remove the rosemary sprig and bay leaf from the sauce, add the chopped parsley and adjust the seasoning.

Place a portion of the creamed potato onto a warmed plate and surround with a ladle of the sauce. Place some baby spinach onto the potato and finish with three pieces of the lamb rack.


Parmesan chicken with basil and mustard crust

I do this delicious chicken recipe quite often for the family and they all love it. Once it's been put together, all you need to do is simply place it in a moderate oven for about 18 minutes. The chicken flesh should be moist and tender and the parmesan top golden and quite crunchy.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Serves: 6

  • 6 free-range chicken breast fillets
  • 100ml unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • ½ cup chopped basil
  • ¼ lemon (juice and zest)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Crust Mix
  • 2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 1⁄3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • ½ cup chopped basil
  • 60g melted butter
  • 2 cups green beans
  • 1 bunch asparagus spears

Melt the butter and add the mustard, garlic, basil, lemon zest, juice and seasoning. Dip the chicken fillets into this warm mix and place onto an oven tray.

Combine together the white breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, basil and the melted butter. Divide this mixture into 6 portions and place on top of each chicken fillet. Place into a pre-heated oven set at 180°C for 20 minutes or until just cooked.

Steam the beans and asparagus spears until just cooked, toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Top with a chicken portion and serve.


Leek, sage and vintage cheddar tartlet

This tart is delicious, served either hot or cold, for lunch or dinner. The pastry is flavoured with vintage cheddar and it smells amazing while cooking in the oven. The leeks become sweet when cooked with butter and are a great match with the diced pears.


Preparation time: 15 minutes
Total cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves: 8 portions

For the cheddar pastry

  • 270g plain flour
  • ¼ whole nutmeg (grated)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 150g cold unsalted butter
  • 75g grated vintage cheddar
  • 4 to 6 tblsp cold water

Sift individually the plain flour, nutmeg and salt. Place into a food processor and add the butter (cut into large cubes) and the grated cheese. Blend quickly until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then add the cold water. Process for several seconds until it combines together, then remove and form a ball. Flatten, wrap with cling film and rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry and carefully place onto a 35cm loose-bottom rectangular flan tin. Gently push in the sides and then roll with a rolling pin to cut the pastry. Blind bake for 10 minutes, then remove the paper and rice and finish cooking for a further 10 minutes

For the filling

  • 3 small leeks (halved, washed and thinly sliced)
  • 50g butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1½ cups thickened cream
  • 1 cup continental parsley (chopped)
  • 6 fresh sage leaves (chopped)
  • 1 cup grated vintage cheddar
  • 1 medium firm pear (peeled, cored and diced)
  • 14 small trussed tomatoes

Melt the butter and cook the leeks until soft and tender. Season well and set aside. Combine in a bowl the cream, eggs, parsley, sage leaves and cheese. Add the leeks and stir through.

Scatter the diced pear amongst the pastry cases and top with the egg mixture. Scatter the tomatoes on top and bake at 185°C for 30 minutes or until just set.


Gourmet 6

Lamb kebabs with onions and lime

These spiced Indian kebabs are made with lean lamb, which is ground very fine and tightly wrapped around chopsticks. Tenderisation is achieved by the addition of the yoghurt and they are then spiced with ground white poppy seeds, ginger, garlic and several other spices from the north of India.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Serves: 6

  • 600g lean lamb mince
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tblsp fresh ginger (grated)
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp ground white poppy seeds
  • 2 tblsp besan flour (chickpea flour)
  • ½ cup natural yoghurt
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tblsp ghee
  • 1 red onion (cut into rings)
  • 1 lime (cut into 6 wedges)

Mince the lamb even finer using a food processor and place into a bowl. Toast the besan flour in a dry frypan until lightly golden and set aside to cool.

Combine all the spices, garlic, ginger and yoghurt with the lamb and flour and mix to a smooth blend.

Place neatly on to metal or bamboo skewers and smooth out until you have flat sausage-shaped kebabs.

Brush the kebabs with some of the melted ghee and place onto a pre-heated grill plate.

Grill until crispy on the outside and present with onion rings and a lime wedge.


Xacutti chicken

Also known as Sha-kooti, this very fragrant and tender chicken curry is made with a spicy masala mix. It's always served with steamed basmati rice and perhaps a side dish of dal (flavoured lentils). It is a specialty from the west coast Indian state of Goa and I love this served with a spoon of the southern Indian tomato relish, kasoundi.


Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6

  • 6 chicken thighs
  • 2 medium brown onions (finely diced)
  • 2 tblsp ghee
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 2 tblsp grated fresh ginger
  • 4 tblsp Xacutti masala mix (see below)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole cloves
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 3 tblsp tomato puree
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Lime juice, to taste
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup coriander leaves
  • ½ cup toasted dried coconut

Xacutti masala mix

  • 3⁄4 cup desiccated coconut
  • 4 dried Kashmiri chillies
  • 1 tblsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tblsp coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp black peppercorns
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tblsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tblsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tblsp poppy seeds
  • ½ tsp chilli powder

Pan roast the first nine ingredients of the Xacutti masala mix until deep golden then grind in a mortar and pestle or food processor. Add in the chilli powder and when cool, place into an air-tight jar and refrigerate.

Remove any fat and skin from the chicken. Heat a deep, heavy-based saucepan and add the ghee, stirring until melted.

Fry the garlic and ginger for 1 minute, then add the onions stirring well and cook for several minutes. Add the turmeric, cloves, cinnamon sticks and the Xacutti masala.

Fry together until quite fragrant, then add the chicken. When lightly coloured, add the coconut milk, tomato puree and stock and cook with a lid on until tender. Season with the lime juice and salt and serve with coriander and rice.


Cardamom and ginger panna cotta with strawberries

The combination of cardamom and ginger gives off a beautiful Indian flavour to this simple dessert. I like to gently stir the mixture above ice while it's cooling and wait until it thickens slightly. Then I quickly pour it into the moulds. This will suspend the vanilla seeds evenly through the mixture. I like to present this with fresh berries lightly glazed with a sweet saffron syrup and a spoon of fresh passionfruit seeds.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 4 minutes
Serves: 8

  • 900ml double cream
  • 1 walnut-sized piece of fresh ginger (sliced)
  • 12 cardamom pods (flattened)
  • 8 tblsp caster sugar
  • 1 split vanilla bean
  • 6 x 2g sheets gelatine leaves
  • 1 punnet strawberries
  • 2 passionfruit
  • 2 tblsp chopped pistachios
  • 60ml saffron syrup

Place the cream, sugar, ginger, cardamom pods and vanilla bean together into a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 4 minutes then turn off the heat and strain.

Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until soft, squeeze out the excess water and add to the cream mix. Stir through until dissolved.

Cool the cream mix by placing the whole bowl into a sink of ice water and gently stirring. When cooled down and just starting to thicken, pour into oiled (sweet oils) moulds and refrigerate until set. It's best to leave this to set overnight.

Present with the strawberries, pistachio nuts, passionfruit and a spoonful of the saffron syrup.