Winter warmers

Bart Beek, photography by Justin Field | VOLUME 29, ISSUE 4
There's no better way to warm up on a chilly winter's evening than with a generous helping of cosy, nourishing comfort food.
There's no better way to warm up on a chilly winter's evening than with a generous helping of cosy, nourishing comfort food.

There's something very addictive about a slow braise roasting in the oven as its aroma wafts through the house on a cold winter's day... and they're so simple to make because time and the oven's low cooking temperature do all the work.

During the cooler months we're naturally drawn to richer, heavier foods as our appetites grow and we crave delicious comfort food. With a little thought and planning, winter favourites can be as healthy and nourishing as the foods we eat during the warmer seasons and, since slow-braising techniques often call for cheaper, secondary cuts of meat, it's a great way to reduce the food budget.

This cooking method slowly breaks down tougher cuts of meat and gently releases the flavours of added ingredients. Make a big batch and enjoy delicious leftovers the next day, or store in the freezer for a ready-made dinner - like my recipe for beef, pumpkin and red wine pie that makes 10 generously sized pies.

Another winter favourite is my slow-roasted lamb shoulder. The bones in a typical shoulder of lamb are awkward to carve around so, to make things easier, choose a boned and rolled cut instead. Or try my roast chicken with a fresh, quick tandoori marinade on a bed of roast onions, or the potato and herb layered pastry tart with a crisp pastry crust and smooth, creamy centre. I've also included an aromatic seafood broth made with tomato, fennel and garlic and a mix of fish, mussels and prawns.

Everyone loves a self-saucing pudding with a delicious crunch on the top and rich, thick sauce underneath - this one combines sweet dates, cinnamon, and brown sugar with walnuts for added texture. Enjoy hot with lashings of whipped cream or ice cream!

Seafood broth with tomato, fennel and garlic

This delicious, fresh broth takes just 20 minutes to make and is the perfect dish for a winter's night in. The flavour of fresh fennel and fennel seeds matches seafood very well, while the saffron adds a semi-sweet honey note to the dish. Cook the seafoods last and quickly, keeping them moist and tender.

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Serves: 4

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 brown onion, sliced
1 small fennel bulb, sliced
1 stick celery, sliced
2 tblsps tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 lemon, zest and juice
1lt fish stock
1 pinch saffron
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
200g white fish, diced
12 green prawns, cleaned with tail on
12 black mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
1/2 cup parsley, torn
Crusty bread, to serve
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a deep saucepan and add in the garlic. Cook on low heat for 30 seconds, then add in the fennel seeds, sliced onions, fennel, and celery. Turn up the heat and sweat the mixture until soft, but don't allow to colour.

Add the tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds, then deglaze with the dry white wine, boiling and stirring well. Combine in the lemon zest, stock, saffron and tomatoes.

Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for 20 minutes for flavours to infuse.

Add in the fish, prawns and mussels and cook for several minutes with the lid on until the seafoods are just cooked and the mussels have opened. Stir in the parsley, a little lemon juice and serve with fresh, crusty bread.

Roast tandoori-spiced chicken with onions, garlic and fennel

This is a delicious and stunning way to roast a chicken. The fresh tandoori marinade takes just 30 seconds to make and imparts a delicious flavour and amazing colour to the chicken. Trussing the chicken ensures even cooking and no burnt legs and wings.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 1/4 hour
Serves: 4

1 x 1.5kg free-range chicken
2 small brown onions, sliced 1cm thick
8 sprigs thyme
1 lemon
3 fresh bay leaves
2 eschallots, peeled and halved
1 whole head garlic, halved crosswise
1 baby fennel, trimmed and quartered
50ml olive oil
2 small white onions, peeled and halved
2 small red onions, peeled and halved
Salt and pepper, to taste
Several nasturtium leaves, to garnish

Sub recipe

Tandoori marinade
1/2 cup natural yoghurt
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsps cumin powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 lime, juice only
1 tblsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt

Combine all tandoori ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

Main recipe

Pre-heat the oven to 185°C. Line an oven tray with baking paper and place the brown onion slices and four thyme sprigs onto the centre.

Rinse the chicken with cold water and dry inside and out with kitchen paper. Rub 1 cup of tandoori marinade all over and inside the chicken. Slice the lemon into thick slices and insert into the chicken cavity, along with the bay leaves and two thyme sprigs.

Truss the chicken with butchers string and place onto the onions and thyme. Roast in the pre-heated oven, basting with the tandoori marinade several times during the roasting process.

Combine in a bowl the halved eschallots, garlic, fennel, olive oil, remaining thyme, red and white onion halves, and seasoning, coating well. Place onto a baking tray and place into the oven. Roast until cooked.

Remove the chicken when the internal temperature reaches 76°C. Present with the roasted vegetables and trimmings of your choice.

Potato and herb layered pastry tart

This is a delicious and stylish method of presenting potatoes. It's really a layered potato and herbed crème fraîche tart that's fully encased in a crunchy butter puff pastry. Use a skewer to test if it's cooked - it should go through without any resistance. Allow the finished tart to rest for several minutes before removing from the baking tin.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 1/2 hours
Makes: 8 to 10 portions

2 sheets butter puff pastry
1 egg, for brushing pastry
2 tblsps butter
1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 brown onions, sliced thin
1 x 10cm rosemary sprig, leaves picked
200g crème fraîche
50g parmesan, grated
600g waxy potatoes (Dutch cream or desiree)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 165°C. Line a buttered baking tin with a layer of butter puff pastry, allowing the pastry sides to come out and over the edges. Chill until required.

Melt the butter with the olive oil. Cook the garlic for 20 seconds, then add in the sliced onions and picked rosemary leaves and cook until lightly golden. Set aside to cool.

Combine in a bowl the crème fraîche, parmesan, cooked onions and seasoning. Slice the peeled potatoes thinly using a mandolin or a V-slicer. Place into the crème mixture and gently combine.

Place the potato mix in tight layers into the puff pastry-lined pan; fill until 4cm high. Press down lightly, then top with the second puff pastry sheet, trimming to form a neatly fitting top sheet. Brush all edges with a little of the beaten egg and fold the bottom sheet over to close the tart.

Make several cuts into the top, brush with beaten egg and place into the oven. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown, crisp and the potatoes are tender (test with a metal skewer).

Rest for a few minutes before removing from the baking tin, cut and serve at once, or chill and use as required.

Beef, pumpkin and red wine pies

Once you've made a beef pie with oyster blade you'll never use any other cut, it's that good. Oyster blade is cut from the strong muscle group in the shoulder and becomes meltingly tender, flavoursome and succulent when braised, stewed or pot-roasted for an extended period.

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 2 1/2 hours
Makes: 10 x 280g pies

30g unsalted butter
50ml extra virgin olive oil
1.8kg beef oyster blade, cut into 2cm dice
3 tblsps plain flour
3 garlic cloves, crushed
150g middle bacon, diced
4 sprigs thyme
3 brown onions, diced
300g small button mushrooms
500ml Shiraz
400g tinned chopped tomato
2 bay leaves
400g pumpkin, cut into 2cm dice
30ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg, beaten
3 sheets butter puff pastry

Toss the pumpkin cubes with 30ml olive oil and season well. Place onto an oven tray and roast at 180°C for 20 minutes or until golden and tender. Put aside until needed.

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C. Heat a large heavy-based deep-sided frypan and add in the butter and 30ml of olive oil.
Lightly dust the diced beef with flour. Fry until brown in the hot butter/oil mixture. Do this in several small batches and remove the sealed meat to a bowl.

Add a little more olive oil to the pan and sauté the garlic, diced bacon, thyme, onions and mushrooms. Cook for five to six minutes on high heat until golden brown, fragrant and sizzling.

Add the red wine a little at a time and stir to deglaze the sediments that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, bay leaves and seasoning. Add in the seared beef cubes.

Cover with a lid and cook in the pre-heated oven for 1¾ hours, stirring occasionally.

When the beef is tender, remove from the oven and strain the juices into a pan. Boil until reduced and slightly thick, then return back to the beef. Remove the thyme stems and bay leaves. Combine in the pumpkin cubes and refrigerate until cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 185°C. Portion the pie filling into individual pie dishes. Brush the dish rims with a little beaten egg and cover with a circle of butter puff pastry. Brush the pastry tops with beaten egg and score to allow the steam to escape. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.

Slow-roasted lamb shoulder

I prefer a perfectly roasted lamb shoulder over roast lamb leg. Roasting it slowly makes it so succulent and moist and removing the main bones makes it easy to present on the plate.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 3 hours
Serves: 4 to 6

1 x 2kg boned and rolled lamb shoulder
4 cloves garlic
1 cup rosemary, thyme and oregano leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small lemon, zest and juice
1 tblsp juniper berries, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt flakes
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into long thick slices
2 brown onions, peeled and cut into thick slices
1 cup red wine
1 cup water
1 cup fresh garden herbs

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Place the garlic, herbs, olive oil, lemon zest and juice into a food processor and blend quickly to form a coarse mix. Place into a large bowl and add in the crushed juniper berries, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Place the lamb leg into the mix and rub well all over.

Place the carrots and sliced onions into a roasting tray. Top with the lamb leg and any remaining garlic mix, then pour the wine and water into the tray.

Place into the pre-heated oven and roast, uncovered, for 30 minutes until brown. Remove and baste all over with the pan juices. Cover with aluminium foil. Turn the oven down to 150°C and place back into the oven.
Roast slowly for 2.5 hours until tender and succulent. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Present with fresh herbs and carve to order.

Date, walnut and cinnamon self-saucing pudding

During the cooler months, there's nothing more comforting than a family dinner with an old-fashioned pudding for dessert. In this recipe, I've combined my favourite wintery pudding ingredients and serve it hot with lashings of whipped cream.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Serves: 8 to 10

150g dates, pitted and chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3/4 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
70g unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tblsp butter
1 cup boiling water

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C. Brush an ovenproof baking dish with a little melted butter.

Combine together the chopped dates, bicarbonate of soda and ¾ cup boiling water. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.

Cream together 1/2 cup brown sugar and 70g of softened butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Sift together the self-raising flour and ground cinnamon and add in to the batter.

Add in the walnuts, dates and soaking water and combine well.

Place into the buttered baking dish and scatter the remaining cup of brown sugar over the top.

Combine the tablespoon of butter with a cup of boiling water and gently pour over the back of a spoon onto the pudding batter.

Place into the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until golden and cooked through. A metal skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean.

Serve hot with ice cream or whipped cream and dust with icing sugar.