There is a perception that winter cooking is laborious and difficult. We are more confident to throw together salads in summer and let a braai take care of the meat, but we are less confident with deeper dishes as there is a perception that it’s much hard work.

It really isn’t.

Winter cooking can be not only the most satisfying but also the most relaxing.

So I want to help you with this. I have shared recipes and a menu plan of sorts for a Sunday lunch I put together last Sunday that will warm not just your kitchen and home but be a nutrient dense meal for the whole family without needing to be slaving in the kitchen for hours.

I have learnt that people get overwhelmed with how to cook in winter and are missing the utter pleasure of leisurely Sunday lunch cooking and the heat it brings to the kitchen, to loved ones bellies and to your soul.

There is a perception that winter cooking is laborious and difficult. We are more confident to throw together salads in summer and let a braai take care of the meat, but we are less confident with deeper dishes as there is a perception that it’s much hard work.

It really isn’t.

Winter cooking can be not only the most satisfying but also the most relaxing.

I’d like to prove it with giving you my secrets to making everybody think you are a great cook when actually you aren’t. You just have tricks up your sleeve to work well with ingredients cleverly in a way that is rewarding for you and creates unparalleled soul and warmth in your home and kitchen as well as packs a nutrient dense meal, the ones we most need in winter.

I have too often been accused of being a good cook and I also recoil from the compliment because I know that I am not a good cook per se. I am just somebody who knows how to produce incredible meals that are so rewarding to others and so tasty in a way that fills up others and myself.

I’m going to share my secrets with you because I think this is the right time and I want to motivate you into a warm kitchen and home so that you aren’t getting into the car as much to find warmth and rewarding food elsewhere.

You simply are not going to get the same quality of nourishment out there – than you can produce in your own kitchen using the produce from these incredible farmers.

You can create something beautiful at home and create a different kind of cosy Winter culture in Jozi centred around your homes that will have ever looking forward to Winter cooking and entertaining – without needing to be a great cook, much like I pull off regularly.

See my ideas and recipes for a beautiful winter home cooked Sunday lunch.

This Sunday I followed my own format and we had the most beautiful lunch. A warm table filled with beautiful food and dishes, that was cooked in such a leisurely way that it made home and it made me feel as filled up as everybody else and it made home warmer and more soulful than any restaurant could have done.

I was once again accused of being a great cook because it turned out so well and I know – and I’m going to reveal it to you – that the beauty of the meal and how happy it made everyone had absolutely nothing to do with my being a good cook – and everything to do with having some very special tricks up my sleeve for making incredible food without being a good cook which I’m going to share.

Our Sunday lunch that was utter soul and too delicious for words was this:

  • Slow cooked Alsersyde Leg of Lamb with a rich red wine gravy
  • Rosemary, garlic, orange and yoghurt sauce
  • Roast pumpkin with cranberries, orange, black sesame seeds and rocket
  • Steamed broccoli and butter
  • Avocado, pickled sun-dried tomato and endive salad

The meal sounds impressive, it looked impressive, every dish tasted so incredible in its own right, everybody at the table was just in utter heaven with it and here’s the thing, it was the easiest meal in the world to cook.

It certainly had nothing to do with me being a good cook. At all.

It was the most absurdly easy meal to make. The most complicated and laborious part of it – was chopping the garlic for the lamb and I mean it.

Not only that, but what people also don’t understand sitting around the table with all these dishes that look like tons of effort – is that actually – the meal was an utter relaxing pleasure to make. A pleasure I want us to revel in, in Jozi winters because it provides deep nourishment across all three .

The secret to planning and making a gorgeous, soulful Sunday winter lunch where everything is scrumptious but you don’t have to be a good cook – or drive yourself half demented sweating over a stove – which I most certainly didn’t here – is knowing the following and learning how to make the best out of these secrets:

  1. When you are cooking with organic fresh ingredients – very little is required of them to make them taste great. In fact the less you do – the better. They are so full of flavour you don’t need or want to adulterate that. You just need to be creative about what to mix up and pay attention to presentation and you can create what looks like a masterpiece and something really inviting – so simply.
  2. The best chefs I have met – and I have had the pleasure of meeting so many as our paths cross often because there’s something I share with them – an utter passion for the best quality ingredients – know this.
    They know that the hardest part of their job is finding the best ingredients and they know that this means connecting to the country’s best farmers, and they do. If your meal is planned around what’s organic and in season – and you are fussy about your meat and finding true pasture reared meat – your job is half way done. You’ve already got the most important part of the meal – done.
    The bold, strong and defining taste is already there before you’ve lifted a finger to an oven or a knife. Anything after that is a joy, you’re just working to best present the food – not to have to complicatedly cook something difficult.
  3. Slow cooking and roasting is the easiest way of cooking something stupidly delicious without needing to put much work into it. People get so impressed with the quality and taste of a slow cooked roast done so well, it produces the most ridiculously unctuous gravy – but the utter illusion of it – is that as impressive as it is – it’s a way of cooking that is easy and allows you so much time to leisurely get on with other things or prepare the rest of the meal. Slow cooking is rewarding and a joy – and in Winter too – it warms the kitchen.
  4. Plating is very important. If you plate and present the dish on a pretty plate – you make the food look and taste even more delicious.
    The table looks inviting and homely and it adds so much to the food with such little effort. I’m thinking of the roast pumpkin dish I made – if I had just dumped that on a white plain plate – it would not have had the joy of the impact it created before it was even tasted. Yet – just something as simple as serving it on a beautiful white and blue bowl and then knowing to lift it with some fresh green in the form of rocket – transformed into something incredible – just by choosing the right plate to present it beautifully.
    It’s the simplest thing to do, yet so rewarding and has just an impact on the visual pleasure of the food – which is where it all starts.
    The pleasure around the table starts with what people are seeing first and you can really delight peoples’ senses and get them excited about what they are about to eat just with that alone.  When we’re cold it’s always a good idea to put candles on your table too, people are wanting warmth and become sensitive to flames and the tone of light, why we love soft lamps in winter and find bright light cold.
  5. Set your table for a Sunday lunch the night before, it gets you excited for what you’re going to prepare and makes you feel relaxed in the morning as you leisurely get on with other things. If you are putting in a roast like the lamb one I’m going to suggest, dress it too the night before so that you only need to get it into the oven in the morning.
  6. Get children involved with making the table look pretty, they get a sense of occasion and involvement with it. Ask them to go outside and find winter things to decorate the table with, dead leaves that they can put on a wooden plate as decoration or winter flowers.
    My daughter came back one with a handful of dead twigs and we put them in a glass bottle and it looked beautiful. Getting everyone involved in making the table inviting and lovely also adds to the sense of occasion that comes when everybody knows there is going to be gorgeous lunch.
  7. To increase the pleasure and ability to cook a meal like this leisurely – another silly detail but that has great impact on being able to enjoy the process is pre-selecting what plates you are going to serve your dishes on the night before. It gets you feeling even more ready and at ease that you have a vision for what it’ll look like.
  8. Cook with music. This might sound crazy but you set the cosy home with your mood. If family and friends see you in the kitchen relaxed with a  good glass of wine listening to your favourite music, music that fills you up, they will be drawn to the warmth your happiness and atmosphere in the kitchen has created. It becomes so rewarding to create in the kitchen this way, and it’s entirely effective to everybody in your orbit.
    You’re enjoying yourself and the centre of the home’s atmosphere and warmth comes from your vibe in the kitchen. People will call you an incredible cook while you’ve just had gorgeous creative easy time with yourself in the kitchen, with your music, relaxed and happy.
    The warmth that adds to your home that will radiate from within you – is the magic you bring – no need to be an incredible cook at all.

How this ends up making you able to produce a gorgeous meal in a warm home without any hard work or fuss, I’ll walk you through my past Sunday lunch as an example so that you can see how little fuss this was.

  • Friday – made sure I had what I was going to need for the lunch just by writing a list and making sure I had it all throughout the week. I always design my lunches around what is seasonal and in-store for the week and then just decide what I feel like making and writing a list and ticking off things during the week as I go along. I do not want to be flying around shops like a loony tune on Saturday.
  • Saturday – only preparation was dressing the lamb on Saturday night so that I didn’t have to do that on Sunday morning, laying the table and taking out the dishes I wanted to present the food on. That just helps me with being able to get the food on Sunday feeling like the table is already ready.
  • Sunday morning – popped the lamb in the oven.
  • Got the pumpkin dish ready to pop in the oven for once the lamb is done – 10 minutes to put the pumpkin in the dish, squeeze the orange juice, add cranberries, honey, butter and olive oil and rosemary.
  • Mixed together the ingredients for the sauce – as simple as just mixing them together – all of 10 minutes including chopping the garlic. Then I could just leave it out to rest and the flavours to infuse – added it to the table already in the morning.
  • Added some olive oil, apple cider vinegar and garlic to a jar of sun-dried tomatoes to soak so that they would be marinaded for the salad that I was going to throw together at the end.
  • Basted and checked on the lamb and went out with my family to a market!
  • Everything was ready and the lamb is slow cooking for 4 hours, so we had time to just leave it doing it thing while we went to a market. You have hours in between the morning and early afternoon to just relax and get on with other things or read a book if you wanted to – so little to fuss about and that’s the beauty of slow cooking.
  • The house was warm because the slow cooking also warms the kitchen up considerably, and I was able to unwind knowing my meal was under control.
  • Early afternoon – returned from market – music back on and it was time to take the lamb out. I took it out covered it in foil to rest and then cranked up the oven to put in the pumpkin bake which just required 40 minutes on high heat to turn into something of beauty.
  • Drained the roasting pan dishes into a pot to make the gravy. Added wine to the juices and let it reduce softly.
  • Lamb resting, pumpkin dish on, gravy doing it’s own thing gently.
  • All I had to do now is make the seasonal salad which was avocado, endive and the marinaded sun-dried tomatoes now all ready – simply a matter of assembling on a gorgeous plate and putting it on the table.
  • Ten minutes before the pumpkin dish is ready – all I had to do for the broccoli was heat water and boil it for 5 minutes – ready to add a blob of Mooberry butter. The end.
  • As the broccoli goes on, it’s time to carve the lamb.
  • The pumpkin dish is nearly ready, the salad is done, the rosemary sauce is already on the table, the gravy ready to put into a gravy dish and all I have to do now is get the pumpkin dish onto a gorgeous pre-selected platter – toss over some black sesame seeds and rocket, put the broccoli on the plate – get it to the table.
  • Arrange the lamb onto a pretty platter, toss over some rosemary sprigs for garnish and add that to the table.

Lunch is ready.

I didn’t do anything difficult or complicated, enjoyed every step of the process.

The table looks beautiful, every dish in its own right is delicious and looks gorgeous on just good platters, there’s a heavenly smell all over the house, I’m relaxed and happy which has everybody at ease and there we all are eating the most delicious food around a warm table with no compromise on nourishment at all. Never mind we still managed to lope around a market in the sunshine mid-day.

Do you get why I battle to accept being called a good cook for meals like this?

Anybody can make beautiful meals like this – it’s a very happy feeling to bring people you love around a table in winter and create this kind of comfort and it’s easier in winter because slow cooking makes it all so easy and gives you so much time to do other things and do lunch in a leisurely way.

I’m going to highly recommend that you we do this more in winter and that we create a Jozi culture of more indoor winter cooking because it’s worth it and more nourishing.