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Joyful Winter Home Cooking

by Christina Mitsi

I’m not a Winter person. I hate the Manchester rain and the cold and don’t see the appeal of staying in on the sofa under a blanket and watching Christmas films (Bah! Humbug!). But there’s one thing about Winter that I do enjoy and that’s the food!

I love getting in the kitchen and making warming stews and proper comfort food to last through the winter months. So I thought I’d share some of my favourite Winter recipes and the products I use to make them.

Recipes for a joyful, winter experience

Of course, for any recipe, you need the right tools. As a former chef, my kitchen is understandably packed with knives, gadgets and cookware but if you are a novice and need the basics then the first thing you want is a good chopping board and knife.

All my knives are Global knives but a sharp supermarket-bought knife is absolutely fine, one tip I must give you is that a sharp knife is a much safer knife than a blunt one. Forcing a blunt knife through a carrot that then slips is more likely to cut you than a sharp knife effortlessly slicing through tough veg.

My chopping board is from the new homeware range from Dame Mary Berry (because who are you going to trust when it comes to cooking and baking?!) available from Harts of Stur. It fits perfectly onto your worktop with its non-slip groove and is big enough for everything from chopping watermelons to kneading bread. I also got the colander from the range which is ideal for draining boiled vegetables, pasta and essential when making roast potatoes for Sunday Lunch.

We’ll start with my absolute favourite which doesn’t have a fancy French name or use ingredients that are impossible to source, it’s just a good beef stew. My love for this dish started when I used to stay at my Nanna’s for the weekend and she’d dish up a bowl of stew with a crusty roll and proper salted butter after a long day of activities. But as an adult, my love for it has only grown because when it’s done right, it’s just unbeatable.

To start you need a big pan, ideally a cast iron one which you can use to brown your meat and reduce your stock then pop it in the oven for a few hours. I got a lovely red oval-shaped one from Pro Cook. The Pro Cook Cast Iron Casserole Dish is big enough to fit in a whole loaf of bread or a joint of meat such as a leg of lamb, gammon joint or beef brisket.

It works perfectly on all hobs, including induction and is oven-safe to 260°C making it perfect for my beef stew. I made a loaf of bread in it before making my stew and produced a light, flavoursome loaf that was soft on the inside with a perfect crust on the outside.

Procook Casserole dish

For my beef stew you need any cut of diced beef, you can use the finest, leanest stewing steak or a cheap pack of shin, either way, it will be cooked long and slow to produce a tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture. Toss your meat in seasoned flour then fry on high heat until browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.

To the same pan add chopped onion, carrots and celery and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. To this add your seasoning of choice, I like thyme and rosemary with my beef but you may want a more Mediterranean taste and go for oregano and paprika or more Caribbean flavours and opt for star anise, cinnamon and Cayenne pepper.

Cook your spices for a minute or so and add your beef back in along with vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips, squash or turnip and a good glug of red wine. I say glug, I mean a quarter of the bottle. Add at least a litre of beef stock then bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes. Finally, put on the lid and transfer to the oven on medium heat for at least 2 hours. Serve with bread and butter or mashed potatoes and a nice glass of red. You see it’s so easy it fits into one paragraph!

If you haven’t got hours to spare for a home cooked meal then fear not, for I have another recipe that takes me less than half an hour to prepare that’s full of flavour and warms the soul. For my Smoked Haddock and Sweetcorn Chowder, you need a non-stick casserole pot with a lid, I got mine from Blackmoor whose durable and long-lasting non-stick cookware is absolutely perfect for winter recipes, not to mention their frying pans (especially the 26cm one I have) are perfect for making a full English breakfast.

Start by popping a good knob of butter in the pan and fry 2 chopped rashers of streaky bacon, then add a finely chopped white onion until it starts to soften. Meanwhile peel and chop 350g of potatoes and add them to the pan along with half a litre of milk.

You can use 2 frozen haddock fillets for this dish but if you’re like me and prefer your fish market fresh then add it just before the end, otherwise let the potatoes cook for 5 minutes then add your haddock and cook for a further 10 minutes. If using fresh fish, add it now along with 140g of frozen sweetcorn (I also like to add peas and will do 70g of each). I like to add a pinch of smoked paprika, dill and plenty of black pepper.

Break up the fish as your stir then chuck in a small handful of fresh, finely chopped parsley just before serving. You can thicken the sauce with cornflour if you like a thicker sauce or you can serve with bread to soak up all those lovely flavours.

These are just a couple of the things I love to cook in the winter months. The stew is a great one for portioning up and freezing in batches so that you can lift one out the night before to take to work or to enjoy a night off from cooking by having it already prepared. You can do all your batch cooking at the weekend and have a few days in the week of not having to worry about what’s for tea which is great for busy families or those who work long shifts. So get your cookware and some fresh, local ingredients and get cooking this Winter.

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