Visions of warm evenings and airy spring frocks have started dancing in your head, so you know Spring is edging closer and closer. But Spring wouldn’t be so eagerly anticipated if it didn’t follow Winter and provide such a welcome contrast to chilly days and cold nights, so why not celebrate the season’s end with hearty dishes and drinks that warm the heart and soul and make you smile?
Nothing is more comforting and welcome at the end of a Winter’s day than a big bowl of beef stew and a basket of crusty bread. You can make it in a slow cooker while you’re out and about or even cook it in the oven or on the stove top at very low temperatures so the tantalizing aromas fill your home as the flavours meld and marry. Beef stew cooked with a couple of cups of red wine is especially rich and satisfying, and the leftovers are even better than the first go-round. You can use the traditional onions, carrots, and potatoes for the stew or give it your personal signature by adding fresh herbs and root vegetables.
Lamb’s unique flavour and texture provide a soothing repast and lamb ragu is the perfect antidote to Winter blues. You can buy lamb stew meat for the ragu or have the butcher debone a lamb shoulder and cut the meat yourself. If you have a pressure cooker, the ragu will cook in about an hour or you can prepare it in a conventional pot or slow cooker and let it tenderize and develop flavour all day. Serve the ragu over homemade or store-bought thick pasta (try hand-tearing lasagne sheets if you can’t find any) and garnish it with a lovely basil chiffonade.
Few dishes are more satisfying than a perfectly roasted chicken, especially when it’s bursting with the flavour of fresh garlic. The best way to infuse a whole chicken with garlic is to make a rough paste of a whole head of garlic cloves, lemon zest, rosemary, and butter and gently spread the mixture under the skin of the chicken with your hand, making sure it gets into all parts of the chicken. The butter also helps the skin perfectly crisp while keeping the flesh succulent. Place halved lemons, rosemary, and whole cloves into the chicken cavity for extra flavour. Add a couple of sides of mashed potatoes and green vegetables and you’ll forget the chill in the air outside. Better yet, if the weather turns warm, cold roast chicken and salad must be an Australia signature dish.
Sometimes you just want to kick back with a drink while you ponder Winter’s end and look forward to the rites of Spring. Mix up a batch of mulled wine to share with friends and family while you make plans for the coming months. You don’t need an expensive wine, just one with a strong, fruity taste. Dress it up with whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, freshly grated nutmeg, fresh grated orange rind, a dab of sugar and a roughly chopped apple and drink it barely warm around a roaring fire. For a hot drink with a bit more kick, prepare your favourite hot chocolate recipe and stir in a shot or two of coconut rum, brandy, whiskey, or a liqueur flavoured with coffee, chocolate, caramel, mint or orange. After a couple cups of spiked hot chocolate, you might gain a new perspective on Winter and actually be sorry to see it succumb to Spring…