The ‘Lazy’ Chef’s Guide

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By Chef Mel Alafaci

I always brag that I’m lazy in the kitchen. Lazy, but clever.  I love to take every shortcut to make my time in the kitchen as efficient as possible.  I’m not saying I compromise on the taste or quality of the final meal, it’s just that I have a life to live, and why not take a sneaky shortcut or use a clever hack to get more time with the family, or just more time to yourself?
If you smash new knife skills, upgrade your cooking smarts, learn a few new kitchen hacks, or shortcut your food prep, you will literally be an unstoppable force in your kitchen.  
With winter upon us, it’s time for cosy comfort meals, but that doesn’t mean you have to be boring.  Stews, casseroles, roasts, soups and bakes are often seen on the world’s most fabulous restaurant menus, which means they belong on your next weeknight meal plan, or that important entertainment event that is coming up. Don’t underestimate the power of a well-cooked winter dish.  You’ll not only win them over and warm their hearts, but you’ll also save so much time and effort in the kitchen.
Braising, stewing, pressure cooking, and crock-potting are all fundamental cooking methods that break down the cheaper cuts of meat, resulting in delightfully creative dishes that can be blinged up with gorgeous hearty accompaniments.  
Slow-cooked meals are just the biggest blessing.  You just have to use your talents and a bit of cheffy confidence to throw everything together, and then the equipment in your kitchen literally does all the work. And you can take the credit. 
Braising is one of my favourite cooking methods. It’s simply roasting but with a liquid partially surrounding your meat.  Braising allows your tougher cuts to cook and break down over long periods of time, but unlike roasting which can dry out and shrink your meat, braising imparts flavour, moisture and personality to the dish.  And, best of all, in the end, you have a gorgeous sauce to serve as gravy…what more could you ask for?  Braising is lazy but oh-so-clever too.  
I also love using my pressure cooker if I don’t have the luxury of time.  My pressure cooker can sear, slow cook and pressure cook, so it’s just the easiest solution to have all that happening with only one pot to clean. Here are my top three winter warmers.

Mysterious Moroccan Lamb shoulder with date, mint and pistachio gravel


  • 2-4 kg-lamb shoulder bone in or out, but removed from trussing or netting and then opened up 
  • Salt and pepper to season 
  • 1-2 litres weak chicken stock (this will depend on the depth of the baking dish you use • 1 teaspoon freshly grated turmeric (or powder) 
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin/ras el hanout spice
  •  1 cinnamon quill and three-star anise 


  • 2 tablespoons chopped dried figs or pitted dates 
  • Zest one lemon 
  • 1/2 cup almonds/pistachios/ other nuts roasted and chopped
  •  1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint OR coriander


  1. Season the shoulder with salt and pepper, some turmeric, and spices, and rub it into the skin with a little water or oil to give the shoulder a nice suntan! 
  2. Add any remaining spices to the stock. 
  3. Now place skin side up in a roasting tray, and add the stock making sure the stock comes at least halfway up the shoulder so it is nicely surrounded by half liquid. If you have too much cooking liquid reserve it for later as you may need to top up the lamb during the cooking process.
  4. Braise (roast with liquid) in a hot oven of 220oC for at least an hour, remove from the oven and turn the shoulder over, return to the oven for half an hour and turn over again. 
  5. Cook for another 15-30 minutes to get the skin nicely brown and crisp and then remove from the oven. 
  6. Make the bling by mixing the chopped dates, nuts, mint, and zest together. 
  7. Garnish the lamb with the bling and then serve! 

NOTE: If you have a little more time this actually benefits from a long slow cook, so reduce the heat to 160oC and cook for 4 hours altogether! It will be falling apart with tenderness! 

Braised Pork Belly with perfect crackling


  •  2-4 cups weak chicken or vegetable stock (depending on the depth of the roasting dish) 
  • 200-250g pork belly per person 
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric 
  • 1 tablespoon cumin  powder or ras el hanout  OR curry powder 
  • 2 onions thickly sliced for ‘culinary high heels! 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 2-star anise 
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown/raw sugar/ coconut/palm sugar 
  • 2 pears thickly sliced  (no need to peel!)


  1. To prepare the belly first ensure that you have dried the skin as much as possible. Paper towels work well. 
  2. Once the skin is dry you can even pop it under a fan to help dry the skin further.
  3. Season the skin with salt only at the very last minute. 
  4. Place the belly into a shallow baking tray. Pour the liquid, onions, pears and spices around the pork belly, taking special care not to wet the skin. If the belly is too low in places, prop it up with the onions and pears as high heels.
  5. Season the skin with salt and then place in an oven at 200o C for about an hour.
  6. After an hour, hike up the heat to about 230oC for a further 20 minutes or even turn the grill on and have the tray with the pork at the bottom of the oven so it has a long-distance relationship with the grill to crackle out the skin! Watch closely! 
  7. Once the skin is brown and crisp you can serve with a stack of gorgeous vegetables or sides of your choice! 

Chef’s Note: 

Pork belly needs time to be perfect! There are ways to rush it, especially under the grill, but try to allow some time. If you can, once you have to crackle after the cooking time recommended above, hold for a further 30 minutes at 120oC making sure there is still braising liquid, and this will help tenderize thicker cuts of the belly. Enjoy!

Chef Mel’s versatile Bolognese recipe:


  • Cooking spray or little vegetable oil to grease the pan
  • 1kg premium beef mince
  • 1 large onion finely sliced
  • 3-6 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons fresh oregano/thyme/marjoram or use 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb mix
  • 1 carrot finely diced or grated
  • 1 celery stalk finely grated
  • 1 pinch of nutmeg (very important!)
  • 80ml milk (optional)
  • 2-3 teaspoons beef stock powder or 2 stock cubes
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 jar passata (500-700ml)


Heat and grease a large pan until it is just about smoking hot. Now add the mince…we want the mince to sizzle when it hits the pan and IT SHOULD SIZZLE nice and loud and sexy.
DO NOT STIR, I know you are worried about this burning and you are also worried about lumps, but let the mince brown and seal on the first side you put down FIRST.
Let the pan heat up again and THEN you can stir ever so slightly just to get some more mince onto the base of the pan. My favourite mince ‘fluffer’ is one of those cheap plastic-coated whisks you get at the supermarket that only have about 4 loops. If you don’t have one of those, use a strong plastic spoon or egg flip to break down the mince.

  1. Once the mince is brown and fragrant and sexy ALL BY ITSELF, then and only then do you add the finely chopped onion and garlic. There should be enough oil out of the mince that you have rendered off during your amazing sizzle-cooking of the mince at a nice high heat. If not, add some olive oil.  You can stir as much as you like now by the way, that mince is SEALED off!
  2. Now add the herbs, milk, nutmeg, stock powder, grated/diced carrot, and seasoning and stir through. Amazing colour isn’t it?
  3. Finally, add the chopped tomatoes, vegetables and passata and you’re practically done. Turn down the heat and let that all cook through and then check the seasoning and it’s ready to serve.

This way of cooking will not only save you time, BUT it will add valuable flavour and vibrant personality to your otherwise boring mince. Serve with fresh al dente spaghetti, shaved parmesan and lots of freshly chopped parsley. I also love to get creative with my mince and change the spices thus changing the flavour.

Quickie Cheese Sauce in case you decide to make lasagna one day!

  • 125g butter
  • 100 g plain flour
  • 1 litre milk
  • 200g grated cheese
  • 3 ml salt
  • ground pepper to taste


  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and then take off the heat.
  2. Grab a whisk and whisk in all of the flour until it forms a smooth paste. This sexy little paste is called a ‘roux’.
  3. Once smooth, add the milk a little bit at a time WHISKING so you incorporate the milk slowly. Don’t go all in with the milk as this will be difficult to get rid of the lumps!  Slow and steady wins the race here.
  4. Once nice and smooth, return to the head all stir until this gorgeous silky sauce starts to boil and the flour has cooked through.  You MUST stir pretty much the whole time, or else the bottom tends to burn. It only needs to boil once.
  5. Once this has cooked through, remove from the heat and add the salt, pepper, and cheese.  Always taste your food, it shows you care.
  6. The sauce should stir and be hot enough to melt that grated cheese.

These are my other go-to’s!

  • Oxtail
  • Coq au Vin
  • Beef Bourguignon
  • Involtini
  • Spaghetti and meatballs
  • Ragout
  • Goulash
  • Porchetta
  • Sexy Soups
  • BBQ Brisket
  • Mexican Pulled pork
  • Roast Mediterranean Vegetables
  • Bolognaise or a Mexican Mince
  • Butter Chicken or a fragrant curry
  • Caponata

    With a bit of know-how, these can be served to even the most discerning of guests. It’s all about presentation and accompaniments.

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