Brrr! The weather temperature has noticeably dropped drastically for the last few days here in Sydney. Everything around me also seem to slow down a pace during winter months. I find myself taking extra time to get out of bed in the mornings and our fur baby also seems to be in no rush to go for her walk. As the nights get colder, our hunger cravings turn to hearty, comfort food. I do a lot of slow food in the kitchen these days, loving all my favourite winter warmers like stews, soups, braises and oven baked are suddenly back on the menu.
When comes to comfort food, many of us think of pizzas, pasta or getting takeaway food. But realistically these carb-heavy meals are unlikely to be giving our body and mind the nutrition we need to make it through the colder months. You probably would have heard of “macro diet”, macronutrients are what make up the caloric content of a food and the three categories of macronutrients are carbohydrates, fat, and protein. As a rule of thumb, our diet should be a balance of these three categories. In another words, you will never get enough protein in your diet from meals like pizzas or pasta, and the extra carb will just make you overweight.
For me, winter is all about beef. There is simply no other time of year to put some red meat in your diet. I mean who doesn’t like a nice piece of steak and a glass of red in front of the fireplace on a chilly winter night? Here I would like to share two beef recipes that are easy to prepare yet full of flavours.
Grilled flat iron steak with Chimichurri, smashed potatoes and green beans
Just like many households, our dinners are typically consist of meat and two veg. I know some of you probably shuddering by the idea of meat and two veg, thinking, “Not another boring piece of meat with some steamed frozen veggies on the side, then doused everything in packet gravy!” Oh no, we are definitely not going there. It definitely doesn’t have to be boring, all you need is a little bit of imagination. Here I have a few tips on how to turn a boring meat and two veg into a masterpiece.
Firstly, try choosing a different cut of meat than those that you normally would buy. Here I’ve chosen flat iron steak, also known as oyster blade steak or top blade steak. It is a steak cut with the grain from the shoulder of the animal. It usually has a significant of marbling, which means it is very forgiving when comes to cook it. Having said that, flat iron steak is best served medium-rare. Here is a tip for you, to get the most flavours out of the steak, best to marinate it before cooking. For this recipe, I simply marinated the beef with salt, pepper, garlic, dried chilli flakes and some olive oil and it made such a huge difference!
Secondly, instead of using packet gravy, make your own gravy or condiment. Let me ask you, why would you ruin that expensive piece of steak by dousing it in pre-made processed gravy out of a packet? Trust me, freshly made gravy or sauce to pair with the piece of steak will elevate the flavours to a whole new level. One of my favourite sauces to go with steak has to be the Chimicurri. Chimichurri is an uncooked sauce used for grilled meat, originates from Argentina. It is super easy to make and packed with lots of wonderful flavours. The freshness of the sauce cuts through the red meat and the chilli leaves a tingling heat on the tongue, it is simply divine on steak.
Last but not least, no more steamed veggies. I prefer to blanch my veggies then a simple quick toss in melted butter or bake them in oven. For this recipe, I have used the two most basic vegetables – potatoes and green beans. For the potatoes, I like them roasted. I usually boil them then squash them with a fork, a quick drizzle of olive oil then bake them in the oven until crispy and golden. As for the green beans, I just blanch them in hot water for a minute, drain then just add a knob of butter and stir until well coated. Sometimes I will even put them in oven together with the potatoes for that extra roasted caramelised flavour.
Flat Iron Steak with Chimichurri, smashed potatoes, green beans
Cooking time – 1 hour
400g flat iron steak
salt and pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
300g chat potatoes, skins on
a handful (150g) green beans
a knob of butter
olive oil, for cooking
1 cup (about 15g) flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
1/4 cup (about 5g) coriander leaves
2 garlic cloves
1 large red chilli
1/2 cup (125ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste
Put steak in a zip lock bag, then add salt, pepper, garlic, chilli flakes and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Seal the bag then rub the steak until well coated with marinade. Let it marinate until ready to cook, preferably overnight.
Boil potatoes in a large pot of water over medium-high heat, until a knife can pierce through the potato easily, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and set aside until is cool enough to handle.
Preheat oven to 240C. Place potatoes on a baking tray, use the back of a fork, smash the potatoes but still keeping them whole. Drizzle olive oil generously over the potatoes, season with salt and pepper, bake potatoes in oven until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.
To make the chimichurri sauce, put parsley, coriander, garlic, chilli and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a food processor or blender and process into a paste. Scrape the mixture into a bowl, add vinegar and remaining olive oil and stir to mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Heat up a BBQ or grill pan on high heat. Grill the steak for 4-5 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Transfer the steak to cutting board, cover with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before carving.
Meanwhile, blanch green beans in hot water for a minute, drain then add a knob of butter to the beans, toss until well coated. Serve steak with chimchurri sauce, roasted smashed potatoes and green beans
Beef bolognese stuffed pasta shells bake with snow pea shoots and lentil salad
As mentioned earlier, I tend to spend less time in kitchen during winter. I prefer to make simple, tasty food in large quantity like a pasta bake. So that I don’t have to worry about cooking and just reheat the food and eat them for the next few days as we all know that the leftover tends to get better and more flavoursome over time.
Pasta bake is definitely one of my favourite winter comfort food, a great dish to share especially for a big family. You can use any type of pasta for pasta bake, but I love using Conchigliani Rigati which is in the shape of a large seashell, so you can stuff each shell with the filling of your choice. If you love Spag Bo then you will love this pasta shells bake stuffed with meaty beef mince in bolognese sauce. Since this dish is already quite rich and heavy, you really don’t need to cover it in cheese and those extra calories. For a healthier version, I opted out the cheese and just sprinkled with a light layer of breadcrumbs over the pasta with a drizzle of olive oil which will form a nice toasty crust on top.
You can have the pasta bake on its own, but sometimes I like to serve it with a salad to cut through the richness of the dish. Apart from the beef mince, lentil is also a great alternative to introduce more protein into your diet. This snow pea shoots with lentils is a refreshing salad that takes no time to toss together and it is super tasty. I like the snow pea shoots which gives a nice crunch to the salad, alternatively you can also use rocket leaves or spinach, whichever is available at your supermarket.
Beef mince stuffed pasta shells bake with snow pea shoots and lentil salad
500g beef mince
18-20 jumbo pasta shells
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
1 jar (500g) bolognese sauce
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 punnet (about 100g) snow pea shoots
1 can (400g) cooked lentils, rinsed and drained
Olive oil, for cooking
salt and pepper, to taste
balsamic vinegar, to taste (optional)
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook onion until soft and transluecent, about a minute. Add carrot, celery and chilli flakes, stir fry for another 2 minutes.
Add beef mince to the cooked vegetables, stir to mix well. Break any big clumps of mince with the back of a spatula into small pieces. Let it cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until the meat juice has evaporated and the mince is browned.
Pour bolognese sauce over the mince, season with salt and pepper, stir to mix well. Reduce the heat to medium-low, let it simmer until the sauce thickens, about 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, boil the pasta shell in a large bowl of salted water over medium-high heat. Once cooked, drain pasta and place them in a casserole dish in a single layer.
Heat oven to 200C. Fill each shell with beef mince to the brim. If there is any extra beef mince just pour it over the pasta. Sprinkle breadcrumbs all over the pasta then drizzle with olive oil. Bake pasta for 15-20 minutes until the breadcrumbs form a nice crusty top. Remove from oven and let rest while making the salad.
Add snow pea shoots in a large bowl and sprinkle lentils over the top. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the salad and season well with salt and pepper. Serve pasta bake with the salad on the side.