Sunday Roast Chicken

May 19, 2010

What do you do when you’ve got a contestant in the Eyam Marathon, a rehearsal for the Mechanic’s 150th Anniversary Review following fairly shortly after, an early departure for otherthings and – as it’s Sunday – a need for a decent Sunday lunch…?

The answer this week was to produce a Sunday Roast using the Aga baking oven. Generally I tend to pop a chicken into the roasting oven for the standard twenty minutes per pond and twenty minutes over and very nice it is too; crispy skin, typical aga-roast moist meat and so on. This week however timing was slightly unknown as we were waiting for a marathon finish – and Eyam Half Marathon is one of the hardest in the country – which made it impossible to be around for the ideal moment for putting the bird into the Aga. A later start was disrupted by the fact that the cook had to be at a rehearsal soon after so I cast my mind back to watching Heston Blumenthal roast chicken. Whilst I don’t keep liquid nitrogen in the kitchen (how many people do..?) I do find some of his ideas inspirational and try to take a lead – in a more moderate way – from them.

Very simply the Big Idea that Heston Blumenthal had for roast chicken – in my mind anyway – was to cook it slooowly… he contends that the fibres of the meat relax when dealt with gently and tense up when fast roasted. With this in mind and the business of trying to do two things at once I popped the chicken in the baking oven (gridshelf four) with a foil cover and left it for around the hour-and-a-half that we waited for our contestant to return from the torture of the run over Eyam Edge to Abney and beyond before coming back via the Plough at Leadmill Bridge.

Once we got back to the house the chicken was happily coming up to tempature in the Aga so I removed it’s foil jacket and popped it back into the warming oven and left it for another two-and-a-half-hours. After a quick snack I popped the bread sauce on – well put the two halves of an onion (clove stuck into each one) into a half-pint of milk and brought it slowly up to boiling on the simmering plate before leaving it on the back of the Aga where it sat for an hour.

At this point I went and rehearsed for the Mechanic’s 150th Anniversary Review – 3rd-5th June in Eyam Mechanic’s Institute – singing hits like Keep the Home Fires Burning and There’ll Always be an England as well as portraying Lord Cavendish before returning home around four-thirty to polish the bread sauce (Add a little more milk to make up for the evaporation, 4oz of bread crumbs and a knob of butter, little salt and pepper) and be thankful for the prep of vegetables whilst I was away.

After a ten minute rest the result was quite wonderful – the meat simply fell off the bones and even cold it has been particularly good and with a plentiful supply Oliver has done very nicely having an alternative to cat food until Tuesday night.

So all in all a successful alternative to fast roasting chicken and definitely an option for a relaxed Sunday lunch if you’ve got timings that suit it – or even want to be out for a while whilst the Aga does the work for you!


Grasmere Gingerbread

May 11, 2010
The Bridge by the Church in Grasmere Village

Bridge over the river in Grasmere Village

I recently had a wonderful day in Grasmere with the daffodils in bloom in the memorial garden by the churchyard where William Wordsworth – whom John Mortimer described through the mouthpiece of my hero Horace Rumpole as the Old Sheep of the Lake District lived.
Beside the links with English poetry Grasmere is known in the culinary world for Grasmere Gingerbread. As you may know Grasmere Gingerbread is a secret recipe handed down the owners of the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop for around 150 years and the original recipe is a closely guarded secret which is locked away in a bank vault somewhere. I couldn’t see anything very much like the original recipe from a quick google search – however there is nothing like saying secret recipe to get an enthusiastic cook experimenting in the kitchen is there? At this point perhaps I should thank the people at the firm of Sheffield Printers I own for helping me to eat the various trials as I brought this recipe along!
Here is my take on the wonderful confection which I hope you enjoy and which might inspire you to visit the shop and try the original too…

8 oz Wholemeal Plain Flour
4 oz Light Soft Brown Sugar
3 teaspoons – heaped – Ground Ginger
1/3 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
1/6 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
3 1/2 oz Butter
1 1/2 oz Molasses


Grasmere Gingerbread mixture at first mixing

Mix the gingerbread until you have a fine crumb

Mix all the dry ingredients together
Then add the butter – chop this roughly and mix until you have a fine crumb – there’s a picture to show what I mean…

Now add the molasses and mix again – the crumb shouldn’t change too much and you should end up with something like the mixture in the 11″ x 7″ baking tin here.

Place this in the baking oven gridshelf position 5 for 22 minutes.
Grasmere gingerbread mixture ready to go into the oven

Just before the Grasmere Gingerbread mixture goes into the oven to cook

As soon as the Grasmere Gingerbread comes out of the baking oven cut it into 24 pieces – a 6 x 4 pattern whilst still hot and still in the tin.

I found that the aga can give a result which isn’t quite as crisp as might be desirable – see my notes on Highland Shortbread – so I once again used the simmering oven to crisp the final product.

Once cooled put the cut Grasmere Gingerbread onto a baking sheet and place it in the simmering oven for about half an hour. This will crisp the gingerbread beautifully but will reduce the visible darker band at the bottom of the  final product.

I have produced a printer friendly recipe for my gingerbread.

Just one word of warning though – this is a very crumby recipe so I defy you to eat it elegantly!

Grasmere Gingerbread just ready to be eaten

Bite-size pieces of Grasmere Gingerbread

Highland Shortbread

October 10, 2009

I’ve been working on biscotti over the past week or two with reasonably pleasing results and no doubt something will be appearing here once I’ve come up with a recipe I really like. In the meantime I thought I’d pop my recipe for highland shortbread on the blog as it was reading about biscotti a couple of years ago that helped me to crack cooking shortbread in the aga.

Shortbread is something I make a lot of – it is really, really easy and always very popular. If you go to see Rod Stewart you’d want him to sing Maggie May wouldn’t you..? Well most people want my shortbread as it’s probably my biggest hit!

As you will no doubt be aware, the aga is great for not drying things out when cooking but this can be a bit of a problem if you want crisp biscuits. I found when I first started to cook shortbread – and most other biscuits in the aga that whilst it browned them beautifully the crispness I was used to from the electric oven in my previous house eluded me. Then I read that the Italian word biscotti translates literally as “twice baked” and this inspired me to try something a little different.

By baking the biscuits firstly in the baking oven but for a slightly shorter time then transferring them to the simmering oven for a long slow drying period I achieved a wonderfully light crisp shortbread which has fans wherever it goes. I suspect it would keep well too but it never lasts long enough for me to find out!


8 oz Butter
3.5 oz Caster Sugar
8 oz Plain Flour
4 oz Ground Rice
Demerara Sugar
Cream butter and caster sugar until fluffy
Add flour and ground rice – mix well
Split biscuit dough into two halves
Roll into sausage shape then roll in the demerara sugar
Divide each sauage of biscuit dough into 16 slices
Place shortbread rounds onto two baking trays

Aga: Baking oven shelf 1 for 12 minutes (9 minutes and turn through 180 for a further three) then simmering oven for 45 minutes to crisp

I have found it best to bake the trays one at time in the baking oven but the crisping I do by putting the first tray on the floor of the simmering oven then the second on a gridshelf half way up, the overall time for the tray on the floor being 1 hour, the tray half way up being 45 minutes.

Gas 5 / 375 F / 190 C for approx 15 minutes

Here is a link to a printer friendly recipe card for my shortbread

Sunday Roast

October 5, 2009

For some time now I’ve been experimenting with the Sunday roast (- I’m wary of saying anything about enjoying a Sunday joint since an American thought it meant something rather different from meat)

The inspiration came from something I read of Heston Blumenthal’s in the Radio Times a couple of years ago. He gave a joint of beef a quick whizz with a plumbers blowtorch then cooked it for around 22 hours at 58 Centigrade. His thinking was along the lines that very slow cooking relaxes the fibres in the meat rather than the fast roasting causing them to contract.

I reckoned I could go some way toward following this idea in the aga without too much fuss – I don’t tend to have vats of liquid nitrogen kicking around the kitchen!

Yesterday was typical of recent weeks; I found a small piece of topside – about 1lb – and gave it a quick blast – 15 minutes or so – in the roasting oven (small roasting tin) then popped it in the warming oven – mid level shelf – and left it there. For around eight hours.

A meat thermometer is your friend here as it lets you know about done-ness. The warming oven holds temperature at about 60 centigrade which I understand is a little above food hygiene level and is just about the meat thermometer level for rare beef.

It was Harvest Sunday so Mum wanted to go across to the Church for the evening service. I gave the potatoes and carrots a five minute go on the boiling plate then drained them of all but a tablespoon of water before putting them in the simmering oven whilst we went out. The result was a melt in the mouth joint with lots of beef flavour. The veggies were also more flavoursome for the slow cook and it all went rather nicely with a languedoc merlot. not a stunning wine but good enough for the price.

Up the chimney…

October 3, 2009

Mum – as I have said before has an appetite like a sparrow with a terminal disease and there are occasions when she doesn’t finish her meal. This is something which is heartily approved of by The Puss though after eating real meat we tend to have the mad half hour… Liver produces the most effective results though chicken had the most interesting to date.

The Puss – having eaten a substantial part of a chicken breast – was bouncing off the walls – literally and I had donned my suit, a clean white shirt and a bow tie to go to an evening wedding reception. This was the ideal moment for him to stop – briefly – in the fireplace, look up and

there is a moment when you can see what is going to happen but there is no time to stop it. Oliver leaped into the chimney. Mine house is some three hundred years old and the chimney is – apparently – fine for climbing and all I could do was listen to the sounds of rummaging as he gained height. My imagination conjoured images of dismantling the house to rescue him but thankfully his skills of exploration were sufficient to allow him to return to the dining room.

As the – formerly black – now grey cat emerged from the darkness of the chimney my initial heartfelt concerns for his safety moved into an all too real awareness of the possibilities created by a sooty cat loose in the house so relief was expressed in the single word:


Softening Onions

October 1, 2009

One of the great moments in aga cooking is the time you realise you’ve begun to live in harmony with your aga. Everything can be easier than it used to be thanks to the aga; for instance softening onions…

Heat a little oil in the pan, maybe add a know of butter (depending on if you’re being healthy or if you’re being indulgent) then add the onions – maybe finely chopped for risotto, maybe sliced for curry, maybe quartered for ratatouille. erhaps a little garlic – crushed or pureed, maybe thinly sliced. Just what ever you want today.

Anyway, back to the aga!

Start the onions on the simmering plate until there’s a little heat in the pan then pop the lid on and transfer to the floor of the simmering oven.

Leave to soften – anything from 15 minutes but around half an hour is much better.

The result is wonderfully soft onions and no excess browning – and perfect when you want the basis for risotto bianco where you don’t want them turning colour.

If this seems a long winded way of softening onions bear in mind that this can be happening whilst you’re preparing other ingredients, browning meat or enjoying a cup of tea before the main tasks of cooking begin. And this is the whole basis of easy cooking for me – think before hand and let the aga do the work instead of you!

Smoked Salmon Fettuccine with Courgette Ribbons and Asparagus

September 24, 2009

Nice quick light recipe…

Quantities for two people

125 g Fettuccine
50 g Smoked Salmon
1 Courgette
6 Asparagus Spears
70 ml Soured Cream or Creme Fraiche
25 g Parmigiano Reggiano

Trim any woody ends off the asparagus, slice the courgette lengthways – a Y type peeler is your friend here.

Boil the pasta according to instructions (fresh is nicest but in the real world packeted is always to hand), bit of olive oil in the pan stops it sticking together horribly. Use salt while you’re boiling the pasta – it tastes nicer so the salt police can go hang!

Boil the asparagus for six minutes, the courgetter ribbons for three minutes.

Stir the creme fraiche or soured cream through the pasta, add the parmigiano and stir through, stir through the smoked salmon.

Layer the pasta onto warm plates with the courgette ribbons.
Place the asparagus on top.

Sprinkle with a little more parmigiano.

Serve with something light and white – Les Fumes Blanches or Quinta de Azevedo, Vinho Verde

How to cook an egg…

September 19, 2009

Hmmm… about time I actually put something about Aga cooking on here… and how to cook an egg seems a good place to start. Or in this case a box of eggs.

Souffle Omelette

Preparing the Aga for cooking

Grid shelf to position 2 in the roasting oven

4 eggs
Splash of milk
Salt and pepper

grated cheese – cheddar
Smoked salmon


Seperate the eggs, place the yolks in one mixing bowl, the whites in another.

Beat the yolks, add salt and pepper, the grated cheese and ham or smoked salmon and stir. add a splash of milk.

Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks.

Fold half the egg whites into the yolk / cheese / ham mixture then fold in the second half of the whites – a little more gently than the first half.

Using a cast iron frying pan pre-heated on the foor of the roasting oven heat a little sunflower oil and a knob of butter on the boiling plate then add the egg mixture.

More or less immediately – and definately before the omelete has set properly place the cast iron frying pan onto the grid shelf in position 2 in the roasting oven – the heat from the pan will continue the cooking of the bottom of the omelette whilst the heat from the roof of the roasting oven will cook the top.

Check very shortly (under five minutes) as this one takes very little time to cook.

Serve immediately.

This is sufficient for two adults with a healthy appetite but a little much if one of the diners is my mother; a sparrow with a terminal disease eats more than she does!


September 18, 2009

One of the effects of the sub arachnoid Mum suffered this year has been dysphasia – a condition which manifests itself in a tendency to find the wrong word or struggle to communicate.

Mostly this is really frustrating – particularly for Mum but it does sometimes have its amusing side… this morning for instance she picked up a packet of cat food as The Puss was rubbing round her legs and asked if the pudding wanted some pudding.

Obviously The Pudding did want pudding and was quite happy to receive the same!

So now we have another name for Oliver…

Wine Society Tasting

September 17, 2009


Tonight is the first time I’ve been out since mum got home from hospital and it feels good to realise normal life still goes on.

I went along to a tasting organised by the Wine Society at Sheffield’s Royal Victoria Hotel. I was really taken by a pinot gris (Leon Beyer, 2005) from Alsace (not a region I usually go for) but this was bone dry (which I do usually go for) and quite delightful.

A great discovery was a claret (Ch. Reignac de Tizac – again 2005) which punched well above it’s weight at £6.75 a bottle. I think I’ve found a new house red!

There was also a Cairanne (Dom de l’Ameillaud) which was very good and reasonably priced though I wasn’t too sure about a pinot noir (- Dom Robert Chevillon) which was initially very entertaining and rolled around the mouth before apparently evaporating without going down the throat… I did however develop a reservation that this one might – like a naughty child who is initially amusing – become irritating as more time was spent in the company of the bottle…