Simple, hearty meals may not have the glam factor of a prime roast, or the finesse of a pan-fried fillet of fish, but they are mighty delicious and warm the soul like nothing else.
Having said that, so many disasters have resulted from my experimental nights at home where I basically empty the entire contents of my fridge into a single pot, only to find, half an hour later, that what I created is not really edible.
I soon realised that the same love that goes into that roast with all the trimmings is what's needed to make a simple, warming, nourishing and hearty meal work.
Part of this love is combining the right balance of flavours and textures and knowing which ingredients are essential to create a flavoursome base. Then adding other ingredients to give the dish body and texture.
Think of how you would make a favourite like minestrone, which sounds simple enough but brought at least one MasterChef SA contestant to her knees.
You begin with your basics like chopped onion, garlic, celery and carrots and soften them along with your salty, fatty bacon and diced potatoes. This sets up your dish's flavour profile right there.
Then you add your tomato paste and the best organic beef stock you can find (I only use Woolworths' liquid beef stock; it makes all the difference). 45 Minutes later you are ready for a flavour explosion; the one you were after.
Now you add the 'oomph' factor with protein-packed haricot beans (tinned is completely fine), carbo-loaded spaghetti, lycopene-rich canned tomatoes and handfuls of anti-oxidant rich fresh parsley. As soon as the pasta is al dente, you'll have a meal that all Italy would be proud of.
Hearty, robust meals can work for a dinner party too, and I suggest you try Abigail's Autumn minestrone with smoked ham rasher and baby carrots served with a olive and almond pesto. It is a work of art.
MY FAVOURITE PIES-IN-A-POT
There's something so seductive and special about serving everyone individual pots of pies. Our butternut , sweet potato and coconut pot pie is one for the vegetarians.
For those who love the taste of Portuguese trinchado, try deep-dish trinchado pot pies
I often also leave the fragrant filling in the pot or pan that I prepared it in and simply cover it with buttered phyllo pastry before baking it as is.
You can do this with MasterChef judge Andrew Atkinson's chicken pie, just make sure that pot or pan is oven proof.
No time to bake a pie from scratch? Pop in to Woolies and then jazz them up with these suggestions.
LAMB SHANK MAGIC
It took me a while to appreciate a good lamb shank but I fell in love once I tasted a fall-off-the-bone lamb shank that was moist with a glutinous texture. It's all about giving it love and time.
There is nothing better than sweet pumpkin mash to compliment the rich robust flavours of the lamb, as Abigail did in her fall-off-the-bone lamb shanks on sweet pumpkin mash.
Another of my favourites is a recipe for entertaining is beer-braised lamb shank and rosemary veloute that Luke Dale-Roberts conceptualised for TASTE.
I was lucky enough to taste some of it after the shoot and the creaminess of the beer sauce is sublime. It can be forgotten in the oven before serving which is what a stress-free dinner party needs.
Not exactly lamb shank, but I'm also loving lamb shoulder with herb dumplings right now.
PORTABLE POT ROASTS
There's something about cooking food in a cast-iron pot that enriches it like no other cooking vessel can.
Potjies done for hours over simmering coals is one of our greatest meals, but if the weather's not good, you can easily do it in the oven.
A recipe I make every winter is pot-roasted sticky oxtail with port and dried fruits. Oxtail is so affordable yet enormously rewarding. I recently used ostrich neck instead, and it was as sublime.
A simpler version is Phillippa's slow-cooked oxtail and beans that can easily be doubled up to feed a hungry crowd.
When my vegetarian friends come over I make them a hearty bean hot pot with gorgonzola and fresh sage.
If I have leftover beans from this recipe I simmer them with stock then blend to make a hearty soup and serve sprinkled with cheese and croutons.
I can go on and on about simple, hearty winter food, but I think this should do for starters.
If you have any hints and tips for me on how to make mine better or what to do with the leftovers, please send them to me.
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Lots of love