I made a few mince pies this week. They’re now in the freezer but I might get them out this weekend as my youngest son is returning home from university and I think he’ll appreciate them. Apart from that and the Christmas cake, I haven’t done a huge amount of Christmas preparation but now that it’s December I will be getting my act together. I have had to postpone my plan to write up some of my Christmas recipes because I don’t have any decent photos to accompany them. I will aim to take lots of photos during this Christmas period so that I can write up the recipes in good time for Christmas 2018.
Meanwhile the Sunday roast continues to happen in our house and last Sunday it was gigot boulangère. If ever there was a dish that lends itself perfectly to Aga cooking, this is the one. If you love lamb and love boulangère potatoes, then this is one for you. On Sunday morning, after a cup of tea in bed with the papers on my iPad, I got up at 8 to prepare this dish. My neighbours may have caught a glimpse of me fetching some rosemary and nearly catching my death in my garden in my dressing gown. In less than an hour though lunch was in the oven, to be more or less ignored until we were ready to eat it at 2pm.
- 1 leg of lamb weighing about 2.4kg
- 1.8kg potatoes
- 2 onions, peeled and sliced
- 2 garlic cloves
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 100ml white wine
- Pound the peeled garlic with 1 tsp salt flakes (I use Maldon sea salt) in a pestle and mortar until you have a rough paste
- Add 1 tbsp olive oil and about 1 tbsp chopped rosemary to this
- Give it a stir and season
- Set aside
- Drizzle some olive oil into the bottom of your large Aga roasting tin, which you have lined with bake-o-glide
- Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. At this point many cooks would tell you to use a mandolin, but I don’t possess one so I use a nice sharp knife
- Cover the base of the tin with a layer of potatoes followed by the onion slices, chopped rosemary and some seasoning and then the remaining potato slices
- Pour over the white wine
- Stab the leg of lamb all over with the point of a sharp knife and then rub in the garlic and rosemary paste you made at the start, massaging it into the slits you’ve made
- Lay the lamb on top of the potatoes and hang the roasting tin on the third set of runners in the roasting oven and cook for 45 minutes
- Transfer to the simmering oven for at least 4 hours but, as always, longer is fine, if not better
- To serve, place the lamb on a large dish or board for carving, and the potatoes in a dish with all the juices. I put a bowl of redcurrant jelly on the table. Some mint sauce would have been nice too
Pound garlic with salt and add chopped rosemary, olive oil and pepper to make a rough paste
Layer slide potatoes with sliced onions, chopped rosemary and seasoning
Rub the paste into the lamb and place it on top of the potatoes
The cooked boulangère potatoes
- Conventional cooking: pre-heat the oven to 200ºC and cook the potatoes for about an hour before placing the lamb on top and roasting it for about 15 minutes per 500g depending on how you like it done.
- There were only three of us for lunch on Sunday so I asked my butcher, Ruby and White, to give me just half a leg of lamb, as you will see in the above photos. I halved the quantities of the other ingredients and used the small Aga roasting tin.
For the first time in the eleven years I’ve owned an Aga, the engineer who came to service mine last week was not able to carry out the work. It was my fault: Aga advises owners to turn it off 24 hours before the service but I in my infinite wisdom thought the evening before would be soon enough, forgetting that this year’s appointment was at the early hour of 8am. I did not realise that it would not have cooled down enough by then for the engineer to work on. I am telling you this so that you can learn from my mistake. Another tip is to lift up the lids and open all the doors to help it cool down more quickly.
If like me you have no other oven, you have to plan cold meals for when your Aga is switched off. (Mine takes about 5 hours to come back to full temperature; newer ones might be quicker; older ones possibly much slower.) I have the perfect recipe for such times, especially if it’s summer: ceviche. Ceviche is a South American dish of marinated raw fish or seafood. This one is ceviche de sierra by Diana Henry and is packed full of all the Mexican flavours I love, including chillies, lime and coriander.
Ceviche de Sierra
- 4 fillets extremely fresh mackerel, bream or sea bass, skin removed
- 3 limes
- 1 shallot, very finely sliced
- 1 large, ripe avocado
- 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 red and 1 green chilli, halved, deseeded and finely chopped
- 10g bunch coriander, leaves only, roughly chopped
- 3-4 tbsp pomegranate seeds
- Slice the fish into broad strips
- Put them into a dish with the juice of two limes and the shallot
- Halve the avocado, remove the stone and slice the flesh
- Peel the skin from each slice, then put them into a shallow serving bowl or on a plate
- Season and toss in the juice of the third lime
- Add the fish and shallot, oil, chilli and coriander and toss gently together
- Sprinkle on the pomegranate seeds and serve
The title for this recipe is very long, isn’t it? It’s another Diana Henry one but I’m making no apologies. I wanted to try freekeh (a cereal food made from unripened wheat which has been roasted and crushed into small pieces) because I’d never used it before so I pored over my various cookbooks and this was the recipe which appealed the most on the day. It’s perfect for the summer weather we’re having now. Instead of cooking the chicken in a griddle pan, you could barbecue it outside.
I’m enjoying the weather. We’ve barbecued twice this weekend, which has been lovely. My husband was supposed to be taking it easy after a small operation on Friday, but was up to standing at the grill while I got on with preparing vegetables and salads.
For the Chicken
- 4 skinless boneless chicken thighs or breasts
- 4 garlic cloves, grated or crushed
- salt and pepper
- juice of 1 lemon
- 6 tbsp olive oil
For the Salad
- 100g dried sour cherries
- 2 preserved lemons
- 200g freekeh
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp honey (or maple syrup)
- 3 tsp white balsamic vinegar
- juice of ½ lemon
- good pinch of ground cinnamon
- laves from 10 sprigs of mint, torn
- 10g chopped flat-leaf parsley
- If you are using breasts and they’re particularly thick, cut them in half horizontally. Marinate the chicken if you have time, even if it’s only for an hour or two. Mix the garlic, seasoning, lemon juice and olive oil in a dish and lay the chicken it it, turning it to coat. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before cooking
- Place your griddle pan on the floor of the Aga roasting oven to get it really hot
- Put the cherries in a small saucepan and add enough water to just cover. Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, then remove from the heat and leave to plump up for 30 minutes
- Remove the flesh from the preserved lemons and discard. Cut the rind into slivers
- Put the freekeh into a saucepan and cover with water, adding the regular olive oil and seasoning well. Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, then cover and transfer to the simmering oven for about half an hour, or until just tender. Drain
- In a serving bowl mix the virgin oil, honey or maple syrup, white balsamic, lemon juice, cinnamon and plenty of salt and pepper. Add the drained freekeh and stir
- Drain the cherries and fork them into the grains with the preserved lemon and most of the herbs
- Place the heated griddle pan on the boiling plate and put the chicken on it (leaving the marinade behind)
- Let it sizzle and splatter for two minutes, then turn it over. At this point you can place the griddle pan back on the floor of the roasting oven and leave the chicken to cook there for about 8 minutes until it’s cooked through. You can keep the griddle plan on the boiling plate and then move it to the simmering plate if you prefer but placing it in the oven minimises the amount of fat splattering everywhere
- Taste the freekeh. You might want to add more lemon juice. The mixture should be moist and well-seasoned
- Divide between four plates and serve the chicken on top or alongside, scattering the remaining herbs over. I served ours with some tzatziki
Our weekend in the garden:
Another of my Easter weekend dishes was this simple chicken traybake, which is also a Diana Henry recipe. It appeared in the Telegraph’s Stella magazine a few weeks ago. I tried it then and knew my family would like it. It’s perfectly suited to Aga cooking.
For 4-6 people, depending on hunger levels and the size of the chicken thighs
- 8 chicken thighs
- 700g sweet potatoes, washed and cut into wedges
- 2½ tbsp white miso
- 1 ½ tbsp honey or maple syrup
- 2 tbsp rice wine
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2.5cm chunk ginger root, peeled and grated or finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 red chilli, halved and finely chopped (use the seeds for extra heat)
- 12-18 spring onions
- 3 tsp black or toasted white sesame seeds (or a mixture of the two)
For the final basting
- 1 tbsp white miso
- 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
- ½ tbsp dark soy sauce
- ½ tbsp rice wine
Pre-heat conventional oven to 190ºC/gas mark 5
- Place the thighs in a large roasting tin with the sweet potato wedges (they should be able to lie in a single layer)
- Mix together everything else except the spring onions and sesame seeds. Pour this over the chicken and sweet potatoes, turning everything over so the ingredients are well coated, finishing with the chicken skin-side up
- Roast for 45 minutes at the top of the roasting oven, basting every so often, and turning the wedges over
- Mix the final basting ingredients together and about 15 minutes before the end of cooking time, take the tin out of the oven and pour them over, adding the spring onions at the same time. They should become soft and slightly charred
- When cooked, sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve
- I served ours with pak choi stir-fried in a little groundnut oil with black pepper and soy sauce
We had a lovely weekend at home this Easter, with our sons and two of their girlfriends joining us for most of it. I tried to keep the cooking as simple (but delicious) as possible and had a cooking-free Saturday night when we went to our local Italian to celebrate my birthday the previous week.
For Easter Sunday lunch I ordered a large leg of lamb from the butcher and asked him to remove the bone and butterfly it. My thinking was that it would cook more quickly and carve more easily (although carving is my (surgeon) husband’s job!).
On Saturday afternoon I prepared the marinade, covered the lamb and put it in the fridge to be forgotten about until Sunday morning.
I adapted the following recipe from Diana Henry’s book, Cook Simple.
Indian Leg of Lamb
For about 8 people
- 1 x 2kg leg of lamb, boned and butterflied
- 55g blanched almonds
- 2 onions, roughly chopped
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- a big chunk of fresh root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 green chillies, halved and deseeded
- 550g plain yoghurt
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 4 tsps ground coriander
- 2 tsps ground cinnamon
- 2 tsps garam masala
- salt and pepper
- Make deep gashes all over the meat with a sharp knife and put it in a dish
- Blitz everything else in a food processor and spread this all over the lamb, massaging it in with your hands. It will look like this:
- Cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge
- On Sunday morning, preheat a conventional oven to 200ºC, take the lamb out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature. Place it in a large roasting tin and cover with foil
- Aga users: put it in the roasting oven for about 30 minutes, then remove the foil for 5 or ten minutes before placing the lamb in the simmering oven until you’re ready to serve lunch. This was 2pm in our case, so the total cooking time was about four and a half hours. If you’re using a conventional oven, the cooking time is about one and a half hours, with the foil removed for the last 20 minutes or so
- Leave the lamb to rest on a board while you reheat the cooking juices, stirring as you go, to make a delicious sauce to be served with the lamb
- I served our lamb with a pilaff, carrots roasted with coriander and garlic and two green vegetables
Just a quick post today to tell you about my scrumptious spinach soup. I have an autumnal cold and while I’m not feeling particularly unwell, it is nevertheless uncomfortable and annoying. At 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon I realised I was hungry but had not planned anything for lunch. Some hot, soothing soup was all I could think about but did not have any in the house. Anyway, I really don’t like shop-bought soups: I find they’re over-flavoured, mainly of onion, and that this flavour lingers at the back of the mouth for hours afterwards.
So I made spinach soup. First, I took a medium-sized potato, peeled and diced it and sweated it in butter for about 15 minutes (simmering oven). Then I added 450g frozen spinach (I didn’t happen to have any fresh spinach in the house; this soup was not planned) and lots of salt and pepper and let this cook for another 10 minutes or so before adding 500ml of chicken stock. It was fortuitous that I’d made lots of stock the previous day, but I expect a stock cube or some Marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon powder would have done the job too. I grated in some nutmeg, brought it all to simmering point and let it cook (in the simmering oven) for another 15 minutes. I took it out and let it cool for a few minutes before blending it in the pan using my handheld blender. I then checked the seasoning and temperature and ladled some into a mug, drizzled on a little cream and voilà.
One of the reasons I haven’t blogged much lately is that I’m unhappy with the photos I’ve taken of what I’ve cooked. I read so many beautiful blogs and food websites that I’m sometimes embarrassed to include my pathetic iPhone camera efforts. Since I’m not particularly interested in photography (unless someone else is taking the photos), I might just have to overcome the shame and carry on regardless.
My next post will probably be about Christmas cake. Too early, you might say, but you’d be wrong.
Look away now if you don’t approve of buying those packs of fine green beans imported from Kenya and Zambia because of the air miles involved in getting them here. We like them in this house so I do buy them. In the last few weeks Waitrose has been stocking homegrown ones which seem a little fatter but are full of flavour.
One of my favourite ways of serving them in the summer is as a salad in a classic vinaigrette. I cook the beans, drain them, plunge them in cold water so they retain their colour and drain them again. And then I toss them in the vinaigrette which I make as follows:
- Put a teaspoon of Dijon mustard in your salad bowl
- Add a little salt, freshly ground black pepper and 1/2 tsp of sugar
- Add 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar
- Using a small whisk mix this a little and then slowly pour on extra virgin olive oil, continuing to whisk all the time. I cannot tell you how much oil I use. It emulsifies gradually and somehow I just know when it’s enough. I taste it too of course: if it’s still very tart I might add a little more oil
You may prefer to make your dressing in a jug or small bowl, or in a jam jar by placing all the ingredients in it, putting on the lid and giving it a shake. I find it easier to make it in the salad bowl and have got used to knowing how much dressing I need for the amount of salad I’m making. Sometimes I vary it; for example, I might omit the mustard and add red wine vinegar instead of white, a little crushed garlic and some chopped flat leaf parsley; or, to avoid a too strong taste of raw garlic, I’ll peel and flatten a clove slightly and leave this in the dressing but remove it when it’s time to serve the salad. This provides a mere hint of garlic flavour.
Making the dressing in the salad bowl takes me back to one of my first stays in France as a teenager. I was 15 and went to stay with the family of Sophie, whom we had hosted the previous year. Sophie lived in the heart of Burgundy country in a stunningly beautiful house which seemed to me like half a chateau. She must have found our house in England very small. It was a very hot summer and all meals were taken outside with rarely fewer than about ten people at each sitting. Sophie’s father ran his own business and always came home for lunch, sometimes bringing a couple of colleagues with him. We girls occasionally helped their maid, Lily, in the kitchen and that is where I learnt to make vinaigrette. Another memory is Sophie’s father taking his lunchtime red wine (Burgundy, obviously) with ice cubes. My father was astonished when I told him this. I returned from that holiday with much improved French, new friends and feeling very worldly wise.