If I look back on the food I used to make when I started cooking, it was all quite complicated. I think I had this idea that piling up flavours and globetrotting my guests' palates all around the world in a single meal made me look clever and sophisticated as a cook. This often happens when you're learning a new skill — the notion that more is more, and that you need to keep adding to make things better.

In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." His premise applies to so many things, not the least of which is cooking.

These days, when I'm putting a new dish together, I know that less is usually more. Choosing the freshest, best-quality ingredients is key for a start. Stick to one flavour family, and don't move your meal or your dish all over the different flavour profiles of the world. You only have to look to the kitchens of Italy and Greece to discover the most amazing dishes flavoured with nothing more than good olive oil, salt, pepper and a flick of acid such as lemon juice or vinegar. Basta! It's simple and so perfect.

When it comes to simple cooking methods, roasting ranks as my number one. Season whatever cut you have chosen, add a little oil, a crust or stuffing, then throw it into a hot oven to do its thing. You can literally walk away. Exposed to the dry heat of a hot oven, the skin crisps, the flavours caramelise and mouth-watering smells are set loose. For very little effort you can create a delicious meal with a real sense of celebration.


Resting large cuts of meat before you carve them is super-important. I generally cover my cooked roast loosely with a piece of tinfoil, then lay a clean tea towel on top and leave it for 10-15 minutes. While it rests, gravy or sauces can be made and green vegetables cooked. The difference in texture, evenness and moisture after resting is like chalk and cheese, as the fibres relax and the meat juices disperse evenly so the meat retains its moisture when it is sliced.

There's something baronial about bringing a big joint of golden-crusted meat or a whole roasted bird to the table. It calls us to gather, share and enjoy. With the shortest day of the year approaching, here's my suggestion for a midwinter roast menu.

Standing Rib Roast

Ready in 1 hour + resting
Serves 8-10

Standing rib roast. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Standing rib roast. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

.5-2.7kg standing beef rib roast
2 Tbsp each Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Shallot and red wine sauce
2 Tbsp butter
5 shallots, very finely diced
3 cups red wine
2 cups beef stock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 200C fanbake. Place beef in a shallow roasting dish lined with baking paper. Mix mustard and vinegar and rub all over both sides of meat. Season well with salt and pepper. Place in oven and roast until done to your liking (about 60 minutes for medium-rare, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 60C, noting that this will increase as it rests). While beef is roasting, make the shallot and red wine sauce. Heat butter in a heavy frying pan and cook shallots over medium heat until softened but not browned (about 8 minutes). Add 1 cup of the red wine and simmer until reduced to almost nothing (about 15 minutes). Add remaining wine, the beef stock and the bay leaves and simmer until sauce is reduced to about 2 cups (30-40 minutes). Add vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove cooked beef from oven, transfer to a carving board, cover with tinfoil and a double layer of folded tea towels and stand for at least 20 and up to 40 minutes before carving. If cooking mini yorkies, increase oven temperature to 220C fanbake and cook yorkies while you finish the sauce. To finish the sauce, pour off any visible fat from the beef roasting pan, then tip the sauce into the unwashed pan. Stir over the heat to lift the pan brownings and incorporate them into the sauce. Remove and discard bay leaves. Thinly slice beef across the grain and serve with the sauce.

Annabel says: The combination of Dijon and balsamic delivers depth to the flavour of the beef and helps form the crust. A chemical reaction known as the Maillard reaction is what gives all browned foods from toast to roasts their distinctive and appealing flavour.

Mini Yorkies

Ready in 45 mins
Makes 12

Mini yorkies. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Mini yorkies. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

½ cup milk
2 eggs
¾ cup flour
1 tsp salt
½ cup ice-cold water
Neutral oil, to cook

Whisk together milk, eggs, flour and salt until smooth. Allow to stand for at least 20 minutes, then just before cooking whisk in cold water. Remove roast from oven and increase oven temperature to 220C fanbake. Drop ½ tsp oil into each cup of a 12-cup medium muffin tray. Place tray in hot oven for 5 minutes to heat. Pour 2 Tbsp batter into each hot, oiled cup and bake until puffed and golden (15-20 minutes). Serve immediately.

Annabel says: The trick to making Yorkshire pudding is to get the oil super-hot in the cooking dish first, so the batter starts to puff as soon as it goes in. If you prefer, you can cook this mixture whole in a preheated shallow roasting dish, rather than as individuals.

Roasted Baby Carrots

Ready in 45 mins
Serves 8

Roast carrots. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Roast carrots. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

1.2kg baby carrots
4-5 Tbsp butter
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Thyme sprigs

Scrub carrots and trim off most of the green tops. Place in a roasting dish lined with baking paper for easy clean-up. Dot with butter, season with salt and pepper and top with a few thyme sprigs. Roast in the oven with the beef until tender (30-40 minutes), then remove from oven and set aside while you cook the mini yorkies (the carrots can be served at room temperature).

Annabel says: You can use this method to roast beets, kumara, pumpkin and parsnips. I sprinkle these sweet vegetables with about 1 Tbsp brown sugar to enhance their sweetness and increase caramelisation.