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.
At last I’ve found a successful recipe for tarte tatin. For some reason until last weekend my attempts at this dessert were disappointing: either they collapsed on being turned out or the sugar didn’t dissolve to make a sufficiently yummy caramel syrup. The recipe which worked for me on Sunday is by Raymond Blanc and is surprisingly easy and straightforward, which is a joy because I find recipes by great chefs are often, well, chef-y, involving lots of complicated steps and therefore not for a simple home cook like me. How could I resist a recipe allowing me to use bought pastry (the trick of freezing the rolled out disc was a revelation) and to keep the peel on the apples?
There is more than one story about how this upside down apple tart recipe came about. The one I choose to believe tells how Stéphanie Tatin (who, with her sister, ran the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron in France) was making an apple pie one busy day and left the apples and sugar for too long until there was a smell of burning. She tried to rescue the pudding by putting the pastry on top of the apples and placing the whole pan in the oven to finish off. She turned out the tart and served it to her guests who, to her surprise, loved it!
Pre-heat conventional oven to 180ºC
You will need an 8″ tarte tatin tin like this:
- 8-12 dessert apples (I used Braeburn)
- 3 tbsp water
- 100g caster sugar
- 60g cold, unsalted butter, diced
- 30g unsalted butter, melted (by placing it in a small bowl towards the back of the Aga)
- 250g-300g all butter puff pastry (shop-bought!) rolled to about 3mm thick and cut into a disc slightly larger than the diameter of the base of the tin, pricked with a fork and frozen
- Place the water in the tin and sprinkle over the sugar; leave for 2 minutes to allow the water to absorb the sugar
- On a medium heat/the Aga simmering plate cook the syrup until it’s a pale golden caramel. The heat of the simmering plate might be a bit fierce and you don’t want the caramel to get too dark so you could slow this stage down by placing the tin in the simmering oven while you prepare the apples
- Cut the apples in half horizontally and core them. Slice off the rounded tops and bottoms so that the apples can sit flat in the tin
- Stir the diced butter into the caramel syrup until it’s melted
- Sit the apples, with the middles uppermost, in the tin in a single layer, packing them in as tightly as possible. Press them down with your hands as you go
- Brush the apples with the melted butter and place the tin on a baking tray and in the baking oven for 30 minutes
- Remove the tin and place the disc of pastry on top. Tuck the sides in if you can and prick a few holes in it with a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape. Return to the oven for about 40 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden brown
- Leave in the tin for about an hour to cool (although I can confirm 15 minutes is enough: I was short of time) before turning it out and serving warm with cream or ice cream. Monsieur Blanc says it can also be made the day before, refrigerated and then reheated.
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
For the first time in years I am alone on a Sunday. Well, not completely alone since my mother-in-law is here, in her flat on the bottom floor of our house. She’s worried that I’ve stayed behind because of her but while it’s true that she’s frail and we don’t like to leave her on her own, that’s not the case. It was my choice and I’m enjoying the chance to catch my breath; I’ve never minded my own company. My husband is on his annual Scottish fishing trip and youngest son’s in Cornwall with his brother and fiancée, staying with her family, and I’m just happy if everyone’s doing what they want to do. I’ve mentioned before that we usually have Sunday lunch or supper with Granny, but she and I agreed there didn’t seem much point in doing a roast today. I’m finding it quite liberating to be able to eat what and when I like.
So, although I’m not roasting anything myself today, I thought I’d tell you about this delicious homemade horseradish sauce I made last Sunday when there were six of us round the table for roast beef. The same friends who gave us their homegrown courgettes had given us a piece of horseradish from their garden. I’d never used it before and was delighted with this creamy, fresh-tasting sauce.
All you do is grate about 15g (more if you like extra heat) of horseradish and soak it in two tablespoons of hot water; drain, then mix it with one tablespoon of white wine vinegar, a pinch of mustard powder, salt and pepper and 150ml of lightly whipped double cream.
This morning I tweeted a line I’d read in the Sunday Times about the Sunday roast being on its way out but that this wasn’t the case in my house. Wonderfully, the replies I received confirmed that my family is not the exception. It doesn’t have to be eaten at lunchtime (everyone’s Sundays are busy) but I believe it’s a ritual and tradition worth preserving.
When I was a student and sharing a flat with three friends, where cooking was concerned we had the typical student repertoire of the era, comprising 1001 things to do with mince. But believe it or not, one of our staples was also chicken fricassée. I’m afraid I can’t remember the recipe in detail but it wasn’t like the dish I made for Sunday lunch today. Our student recipe involved sautéeing pieces of chicken and mushrooms and then adding a little flour, stock and milk (and possibly some cream) to make a white sauce. We used to serve it with rice.
The origin of the term “fricassée” is French, possibly from “frire” (to fry) and “casser” (to break in pieces), which might explain why all the fricassée recipes I found in a quick Google search this afternoon used chicken pieces rather than a whole bird. The one I made for lunch today, based on this recipe by Michel Roux which I read in the Times during the week, is the only one I’ve seen which involves roasting a whole chicken. (Apologies if you’re not a Times subscriber and the article is behind the paywall.)
Anyway, we really enjoyed it; the tarragon sauce is delicious. Sometimes it’s good to return to a simple classic. We don’t need always to be finding the next fashionable thing to cook.
I made changes to the Roux recipe; very brave of me, I thought, considering his chef’s credentials and renown, but I honestly didn’t think we needed quite that much cream and also, when you have a roasting oven as hot as the Aga’s, why would you need to brown the chicken before putting it in the oven?
- 1 whole chicken (mine weighed 2kg)
- 3 shallots
- Tarragon vinegar (I didn’t have any so used good quality white wine vinegar)
- About 100ml white wine
- About 100ml chicken stock
- About 150ml double cream
- Handful of tarragon leaves (adjust amount according to your preference)
- Place the chicken in a roasting tin, spread butter all over it and season.
- Roast in the roasting oven for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, basting a couple of times during cooking. I placed mine on the rack on the third set of rungs for the first 20 minutes, then moved the rack to the bottom of the oven with the tin on the fourth set of rungs. The cooking time will obviously depend on the weight of your chicken.
- Remove the chicken, place on a dish and leave to rest (perhaps on the warming plate of your Aga)
- Pour off most of the fat, add a knob of butter and sweat the shallots gently for about 5 minutes. Add 1tbsp vinegar and the white wine and let it bubble up for a few minutes. At this stage I poured everything into a small saucepan: easier than continuing in the roasting tin.
- Add the chicken stock and boil until reduced a little. Add the cream and repeat. Check for seasoning. Add the tarragon leaves at the last minute. Pour into a jug for serving. We ate our fricassée with new potatoes, broccoli and carrots.