My plan for today was to tell you about the most delicious veal ragù I’d made but I’m afraid it was disappointing and I can’t quite work out what went wrong. I guess you win some and you lose some. I won’t give up though and when I get it right, I will let you know. Meanwhile, there’s my trusty old favourite ragù which I wrote about here.
So instead I want to tell you about an apple cake recipe I’ve recently fallen in love with. Forgive me for giving you another apple cake recipe but this one is too good to ignore. You probably aren’t surprised though, because I believe I’ve mentioned in previous posts how much I love apple cake.
There’s something about the slightly caramel flavour of this one that reminds me of the plum torte I wrote about here; the soft brown sugar is probably responsible. I came across the recipe on the Spectator website.
Spiced Apple Cake
1 large cooking apple
1 eating apple
200g unsalted butter, melted (by placing it in a bowl on top of the Aga at the back)
225g light brown sugar
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp caster sugar
Lightly grease and line a 9″/23cm cake tin with bake-o-glide
Place the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl and rub between your fingers to get rid of any lumps in the sugar
Briefly whisk the eggs in a small bowl using a fork and then add them and the melted butter to the dry ingredients, quickly mixing the whole lot together with a spatula
Peel and core the apples and cut each into 12 wedges
Pour three quarters of the mixture into your prepared tin and arrange the apple slices in a circle, alternating cooking and eating apples and starting from the outside. Place any spare segments in the centre of the circle
Spoon the rest of the mixture into the middle of the cake and don’t try to spread it to the sides. Sprinkle over the caster sugar
Bake for about 50 minutes until the top is golden brown and taught. Leave in the tin to cool for 10 minutes
Can be served warm or cold. I love serving any apple cake with whipped cream, but it’s up to you.
I’ve been enjoying January so far. After the pressures of December, taking life at a slower pace is fine by me. I don’t mind the weather either, as long as my house is warm, and when I’m outdoors, being half-Norwegian I know that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. I relish the changes of seasons that we have in this country. Last weekend we went to stay with friends in the Scottish Borders. We were only away three days but it felt longer and was a lovely break. It was grey and cold but we had packed waterproofs and lots of layers and strode out across the beautiful countryside.
Without having to sacrifice my desire for comfort food during this long, cold month I have more or less stuck to my plan not to cook meat during the week. There was a blip last Monday when I made a chicken pie because I wanted to use up the remains of the roast chicken we’d had the day before. First I made stock with the carcass, and then made the pie filling using some mushrooms, bacon and thyme and of course the chicken and stock. I took Nigella’s advice and added a tablespoon of Marsala too: delicious. I topped the pie with some good quality shop-bought puff pastry. The rest of the time we’ve been eating dals and rice, pasta with tomato-based sauces and vegetable curries.
This week I made a stew with some squash, sweet potato and chickpeas and that’s the recipe I’m going to give you in this post. It’s ridiculously easy to make* and can be adapted to whatever you have in your kitchen. It’s basically an Angela Hartnett recipe which was in her Sunday Telegraph column last weekend, the theme being one-pot meals. She used pumpkin but said it would work with any root vegetables and/or gourds. She accompanied it with toasted pitta bread; I served ours with rice.
*Angela instructs us to throw everything into the pot at the same time, even the onion, but the onion didn’t soften to my satisfaction (I had a feeling it wouldn’t) even though I cooked my stew for longer than the prescribed 30-35 minutes, so I’m suggesting softening the onion in a little olive oil before adding all the other ingredients.
Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato and Chickpea Stew
About 350g diced butternut squash and sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 x 400g tin chickpeas in water
1 x 400g tin cherry tomatoes, including the juice
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
¼ tsp each of ground coriander, cumin and chilli flakes
Plain yoghurt, seasoned
Gentle heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof saucepan or sauté pan on the simmering plate and add the onion slices
Stir and cook until softened (as you know, the best way to do this is to cover the pan and place it in the simmering oven for 15 minutes or so)
Add all the remaining ingredients except for the yoghurt and coriander. Season and mix well
Put the lid back on and place the pan in the roasting oven (with the rack on the third rung from the top) and cook for 30-35 minutes or maybe longer if your squash is still hard, as mine was. If you’ve started it in good time, you could just remove it to the simmering oven now and leave it there until it’s time to eat
Scatter over the coriander and serve with rice or toasted pitta bread. Put the yoghurt in a bowl on the table for people to help themselves.
As I mentioned in my last post, during January we are going to avoid meat during the week while continuing to enjoy it on Sundays. I had bought duck legs in the run-up to Christmas, thinking I would make duck confit. However, all the other Christmas preparation got in the way and I didn’t get round to it so I put them in my freezer.
Confit is usually the leg of a bird that is naturally fatty such as goose, duck, or even pork (pigs do fly in this house), that has been salted, seasoned, cooked and finally preserved in its own fat.
I read recently that you don’t have to make duck confit weeks in advance: it will taste delicious if made the day before you plan to eat it. With this in mind I defrosted six duck legs on Friday, salted them overnight, prepared them on Saturday and we ate four of them for Sunday lunch yesterday. The remaining two will reside in my fridge for a few weeks.
This wasn’t the first time I’d made confit but it had been a while so I read two or three recipes before starting. This is what I did:
About 1kg (I used 3 x 320g jars) of duck fat; you could also use goose fat
6 garlic cloves, bruised but not peeled
12 peppercorns, crushed
6 juniper berries, crushed
A few sprigs of thyme
3 bay leaves, each cut in half
red wine vinegar
Once the duck lugs had thawed on Friday I laid them in a dish in one layer and rubbed the salt into them. I covered the dish with clingfilm and placed it in the fridge overnight
On Saturday I spooned the duck fat into my large Aga roasting tin and placed it on the floor of the roasting oven for 5 minutes to heat the fat
Meanwhile I washed the duck legs thoroughly (this is important: you don’t want them to taste too salty) under cold running water
I then placed them in the duck fat with the garlic, juniper, peppercorns, thyme and bay leaves, covered the tin with foil and placed it on the floor of the simmering oven for 3 ½ hours (I’m sure I could have left them for longer); you’re aiming for tender meat so that when a skewer is inserted into the flesh it finds little resistance
I removed the tin from the oven and let it cool down for half an hour before lifting out four of the legs and placing them in a dish while placing the remaining two in a plastic container which had a lid
I strained the cooled duck fat over the legs in both containers. When everything was cold I fitted the lid to the plastic container and covered the dish and placed both in the fridge
On Sunday morning, about an hour before I wanted to cook the duck legs, I took the dish with the four legs out of the fridge and then an hour later I scraped the fat off each leg and placed them on the large Aga baking tray, lined with bake-o-glide of course
I roasted the legs near the top of the roasting oven for 25 minutes. While they were cooking I made a sauce which involved simply bringing to the boil on the simmering plate some red wine, plum jam, granulated sugar and red wine vinegar and letting it simmer in the simmering oven for 20 minutes or so
I served our duck confit with the plum sauce, boulangère potatoes, red cabbage and broccoli. It was complemented by a superb glass from a bottle of the Italian wine Settebraccia. It comes from the Salento region of Italy and had been given as a gift to my husband. In future I will be more organised and prepare my confit a few weeks before Christmas so that I know I have at least one meal sorted for this busy season.
Having consumed during the Christmas period one massive turkey, a Norwegian spiced pork belly, a baked ham and a venison casserole, we are craving vegetables in this house. Sprouts, red cabbage, salads and lots of fruit also featured heavily on the menu but meat predominated. I’m not saying we’re going in for Veganuaray or any other New Year trend; it’s about needing to reset our dietary priorities. This month I’m going to cook without meat during the week but we’ll continue to have a roast or other meat dish on Sundays.
With this in mind I was delighted to pore over one of my Christmas presents from my sons: Joe Trivelli’s book, The Modern Italian Cook. I confess I was not familiar with Trivelli, who is head chef of the River Café, but I am glad to have been introduced. And Diana Henry, whose recipes you know I love, gave it a mention in her Telegraph column. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.
It’s a beautiful book and I want to make everything in it but so far I’ve only got as far as making one of the dishes twice, first as a starter on New Year’s Eve and then last night we had it as our main meal with some fresh bread to mop up the juices. The recipe works well in the Aga.
Jerusalem artichokes with fennel and peas
Serves 4 (or 6 as a starter)
500g Jerusalem artichokes
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed
½ large or 1 small red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
500g frozen peas
10 mint leaves
2 parsley sprigs or a handful of chopped parsley
Sea salt, black pepper and extra virgin olive oil
Peel the artichokes and cut into wedges. Keep under water to stop them discolouring.
Remove any stringy-looking outer parts of the fennel and cut into thin wedges. Toss in some lemon juice to prevent them discolouring
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy-based, wide pan with a lid and sweat the onion with a pinch of salt. You could place the pan in the simmering oven at this point
Once the onion is soft add the garlic and a minute or two later the fennel. Stew with the lid on for five minutes (or longer if you put it in the simmering oven)
Add the Jerusalem artichokes, peas and some black pepper and continue to stew. Trivelli says to do this for 10 minutes over a low heat but my artichokes needed a lot longer than this (in the simmering oven) before they were soft. In fact, to try to speed things up I put the pan in the baking oven for a while. And Trivelli is right to say that Jerusalem artichokes cook unevenly: I found that when some wedges were soft and tender, others were still hard. But your patience will be rewarded, I promise you
Once your artichokes are cooked, check the seasoning, add your herbs and stir them through with some extra virgin olive oil
For me Christmas is not the time for trying out new recipes so our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals don’t change much from year to year. When I was growing up (in England) with my Norwegian mother and English father we celebrated Christmas the Norwegian way on Christmas Eve and the English way on Christmas Day. This meant my brother and I could open our presents on Christmas Eve and our friends were rather jealous. The evening would begin with dinner and then we’d sit round the Christmas tree for the present opening. I’ve never opened presents on Christmas Day so I don’t know what it’s like but I can tell you there is something magical about doing it by candlelight when it’s dark outside.
When I married my husband I was fully expecting to leave the Norwegian Christmas Eve behind but he loved this way of doing it with all the cosiness and candles and insisted we kept the tradition going. I’m so glad we did because our children have always loved it, partly because it makes their Christmas a little bit different from their friends’.
Christmas Eve: Herrings
Our Christmas Eve meal always starts with Norwegian pickled herrings. We buy them from the Christmas Bazaar held every November in the The Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Rotherhithe, London. When she was younger, my mother used to spend a couple of days with friends in London helping to prepare these for sale at the bazaar. She doesn’t do that anymore so my sons have accepted the mission of going along on the Saturday of the bazaar and purchasing a few jars of this most delicious food. I haven’t managed to join them yet but intend to go along one year, if only for the waffles, cake and coffee on offer inside the church! We eat the herrings on rye bread accompanied by ice cold Linie Aquavit straight from the freezer and cold lager. So delicious.
Our Norwegian Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve: Spiced Pork Belly
There is more than one traditional Christmas Eve meal in Norway. On the West coast they have cod cooked in a special way. It is bought very fresh, cut into steaks, put in salted water overnight to tighten the flesh and then poached. It is served with melted butter and lots of chopped parsley and plain boiled carrots and potatoes. Perhaps surprisingly, Norwegians always drink red wine and not white with this dish. My mother’s family always had reindeer for their Christmas Eve meal but spiced pork belly, popular as a Christmas dish on the south coast of Norway where my grandfather was from, would also form part of their festive fare. We have made pork belly our traditional Hardy family Christmas Eve dish. I make it according to my grandmother’s recipe, passed to me by my mother, who has given me permission to share it with you here.
You will need:
Pork belly (you decide how much, depending on how many people you are feeding, but remember, it tastes just as good cold so any leftovers will not go to waste) with the skin removed (I get my butcher to do this) but the fat – very important this – left on
Ground ginger, salt, mustard powder and white pepper. I’m not giving you quantities except to say: be generous
The day before you want to serve the belly score the layer of fat with a sharp knife and rub lots of white pepper, ground ginger, mustard powder and salt into it on both sides and wrap it in clingfilm
Place it in the fridge fat side down for at least 24 hours
On Christmas Eve in the morning take the belly out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature
Sprinkle on some more salt
Choose a roasting tin (I always use the large Aga roasting tin because I tend to cook a whole belly), remove the clingfilm and place the meat in the tin, fat side down
Add about a cupful of water and cover with foil
Hang the tin on the second or third set of runners of the roasting oven, taking care that the foil doesn’t tear as you slide it in
After twenty minutes take it out, remove the foil, turn the pork over and add a little more water if it looks dry
Slide the tin onto the floor of the simmering oven and leave it there for the rest of the day, checking the water level every now and then. It will be cooked and delicious after five hours but even better and falling off the bone after eight or nine
I serve it with spiced red cabbage and roast potatoes, having made a divinely spicy and gingery gravy by adding some wine and sour cream to the meat juices.
Before she became a TV celebrity Mary Berry was known as an Aga cook who ran courses on how to get the most out of your Aga as well as for writing The Aga Book which I believe is still given to every new Aga owner when their new oven is installed. My mother-in-law, who has owned a few Agas in her time, learned how to make this stew on one of Mary Berry’s courses and wrote it out for me many years ago because she thought it was so simple yet so delicious. I never got round to making it then but when I found a jar of sun-dried tomatoes which needed using up in my fridge recently, the recipe sprang to mind and I dug it out.
You can make this the day before, refrigerate it overnight and reheat it gently in the simmering oven the next day. I have never worked out why but casseroles are often better when made a day ahead.
The quantities of wine and stock given here are approximate because, as we Aga cooks know, you tend to need less liquid in an Aga. I start with the wine and stop pouring when the meat is almost but not completely covered. You can always add stock later on if you think it needs it.
Beef and Sun-Dried Tomato Stew
(Serves 4 generously)
800g braising beef, cubed
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp flour
Approx. 250ml red wine
(Approx. 250ml beef stock: see above)
10-12 sun-dried tomatoes, halved
10g dried mushrooms (I used porcini)
1 red or yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp tomato purée
First you need to brown the meat. To avoid splashing oil everywhere you can do this in the roasting oven, as I did when I made boeuf bourgignon
Spread the beef out on your large baking tray, lined with bake-o-glide if you like, drizzle it with olive oil and season
Slide the tray onto the first runner and leave it there for 5 minutes before moving it to the floor of the oven for a further 5 minutes, by which time your beef should be browned
(You can of course brown your meat the conventional way, in batches in olive oil on the boiling plate)
Meanwhile in a large casserole gently fry your onion and pepper slices in a tablespoon or two of olive oil (if your sun-dried tomatoes come from a jar you can use some of the oil from that), starting it off on the simmering plate before covering it and putting it in the simmering oven
Pour 100ml of hot water onto the mushrooms and put them to one side for 15 minutes
When the onions and peppers are soft place the casserole on the boiling plate, add the beef and stir the flour into it
Add the red wine and, if required, the stock and bring to the boil
Stir in the tomato purée, mushrooms with their soaking water and apricot jam
Cover and place in the simmering oven for a minimum of three hours until the beef is tender. Add seasoning to taste
This is delicious with mashed potato but I think I prefer it with rice. Serve with a green vegetable too.
I could be wrong but I get the impression fewer people are doing a roast on Sundays these days. Some of my emptynester friends say they only bother when their offspring return home or if they have guests. Even after my youngest went off to university last year I continued to cook a Sunday roast, partly because it’s the one occasion each week when we haul my frail and elderly mother-in-law upstairs from her flat below to join us and partly because, well, it’s delicious. My children tell me they’ve always enjoyed the weekly ritual and this pleases me because it means it’s worth the (not necessarily huge) effort. When I was pottering about in my kitchen, one recent Sunday morning, it struck me that one doesn’t have to spend very long preparing the roast and that simple does not have to mean dull. And of course if you are too busy during the day pursuing the leisure activity of your choice, you and your family can have this meal in the evening rather than try to fit it in at lunchtime.
So this post is about proving that it needn’t be hugely time-consuming or arduous and outlining how I made roast chicken and apple crumble in two hours flat. It is also to show you that not all Aga cooking is long and slow, which is not to say that slow roasting isn’t an excellent way of making the most of an Aga: you can put your joint of meat in the simmering oven before bed on Saturday night or bright and early on Sunday morning and have meltingly tender meat for lunch or supper on Sunday. I did this recently with a pork belly and it was one of the best roasts we’ve ever had.
On this particular Sunday I took the bird out of the fridge about an hour before I wanted to cook it, to let it come up to room temperature, and then, having popped out to buy the Sunday papers, I started on the lunch preparation. I roasted the potatoes around the chicken. They absorbed the buttery garlicky juices and the flavour and texture were superb. I love them done this way (and it saves time and washing-up) but they were not crisp. If you want crisp, you’ll have to par-boil them for 5 minutes and then roast them in very hot duck or goose fat in a tin on the floor of the roasting oven for about thirty minutes.
1 whole free-range chicken weighing about 1.5kg
Several (quantity up to you but a minimum of 8) garlic cloves, unpeeled
Potatoes: one or two per person, peeled and chopped into large chunks. I used these red potatoes on this occasion but any variety will do. In the summer I use new potatoes: just halve the larger ones and there’s no need to peel them
Place your chicken in a roasting tin with enough room around it for the potatoes
Spread butter generously all over the bird and sprinkle with the herb sea salt or if you don’t have any, just salt and pepper
Place one garlic clove and one bay leaf in the cavity
Slide the tin onto the second rung of the roasting oven and leave it there for 20 minutes before removing it, basting it with the buttery juices and placing the potatoes and remaining garlic cloves and bay leaves around it, turning them to coat them in the butter too
Return the tin to the roasting oven, this time on the fourth rung, for about an hour. Half way through, turn the potatoes and give the chicken another baste
The chicken is done when a thigh is pierced with a sharp knife and the juices run clear
Remove the bird to a large plate or board, keeping it near the Aga and maybe covering it with a clean tea-towel. Discard the garlic and bay leaves and place the potatoes in a serving dish in the simmering oven to keep warm while you make some gravy
All I do for this is deglaze the roasting tin with some white wine on the simmering plate and then pour all of this through a sieve into a small pan to bubble away for a few minutes, adding more wine or some stock and whatever else you fancy: for example, you could whisk in a little crème fraîche. Decant this into a small jug and keep it warm on the back of the Aga while you get everyone to the table and find someone to carve your bird
I will leave the choice of accompanying vegetables to you but the other day I served ours with steamed Savoy cabbage tossed with a little butter and lots of black pepper added
You can be making this while the chicken is roasting. This is the basic recipe; feel free to add cinnamon and/or some raisins to the apples; or reduce the amount of apple by 25 per cent and replace with blackberries when in season.
4-5 cooking apples
110g/4oz unsalted butter
110g/4oz plain flour
110g/4oz ground almonds
110g/4oz golden caster sugar plus an extra heaped tablespoon
A heaped dessert spoon of demerara
First make the crumble by placing the butter, flour, almonds and sugar in a large bowl and using your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. You can of course do this in a food processor
Peel and slice the apples, putting the slices straight into the dish you want to bake the crumble in. Add some lemon juice to stop the apples from turning brown
Sprinkle the crumble mixture on top, smooth it over and then press it down with the back of a spoon
To finish, run a fork lightly over the surface and sprinkle over the demerara
Bake in the baking oven, with the rack on the fourth rung, for about half an hour until golden brown on top and the apples feel soft when a knife is inserted into them