Before you all shout “it’s much too early to think about Christmas”, I agree with you. Except when it comes to cooking. There are things you can prepare to get ahead and things you simply must make weeks, or even months, beforehand.
For me the Christmas/New Year period is not really a time for trying out new recipes. It gets so busy with the house full and lots of comings and goings that I prefer to stick to tried and tested recipes. We all have our traditions and my family is no exception; our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals do not vary much from year to year. Then for a few days after that most meals comprise leftovers in some form or other. During the whole Christmas period last year there were never fewer than 5 of us in the house and most days we were 7 or 8 with a maximum of 12 of us sitting round the table for the Christmas turkey. In recent years we’ve also stayed at home on New Year’s Eve instead of going to a party and I’ve cooked a special dinner. One year I splashed out on a whole beef fillet which was so popular it has now become our traditional New Year’s Eve meal.
Last year I told you about my Christmas cake and Christmas pudding and I wrote a post about the Norwegian apple cake we always have on Christmas Eve. In the coming weeks I plan to write up a few more of my Christmas recipes and tell you how I’ve adapted them for Aga cooking. I’m starting with braised red cabbage because it’s a delicious accompaniment to many winter dishes and there’s no reason you shouldn’t cook and enjoy it right now. It also freezes brilliantly: I nearly always do this and then defrost it and zap it in the microwave on the day I plan to serve it. This recipe is based on one by Delia Smith.
Braised Red Cabbage
(Pre-heat conventional oven to 150ºC)
- 1 red cabbage
- 1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- About ¼ of a whole nutmeg, grated
- About ¼ tsp ground cinnammon (optional)
- About ¼ tsp ground cloves (optional)
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 10 g butter
- Salt and pepper
- Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage, quarter it and remove the hard stalk
- Shred each quarter but not too finely
- Place the cabbage in a casserole and mix in the apple, onion, garlic, sugar, salt, pepper, nutmeg and other spices if using.
- Pour over the wine vinegar and dot with the butter
- Cover with a lid and place it in the simmering oven for at least four hours; as ever though, it will come to no harm in your Aga if left for longer than that. (Conventional oven: 1½ to 2 hours.)
- Take it out and give it a stir every now and then. It is done when it is tender
Take one red cabbage
And a cooking apple, garlic, onion, nutmeg…
Cut in half then quarter
Add spices, seasoning, apple, onion, garlic, sugar, red wine vinegar
Dot with butter
Four hours later…
This summer our second son is getting married. The excitement is building in the family – it’s the first wedding – and we are all busy in our different ways with preparations. Busiest of all are our daughter-in-law to be and her parents but now that his Part III architecture exams and coursework are out of the way, our son has also got stuck in. He’s been painting signs and designing and printing menus and orders of service. His super-efficient future wife has drawn up lists and rotas so that we all know what we’re doing in the build up to the day. The wedding will be in a church near her family home in Cornwall and the reception in a marquee in the garden. We have rented a cottage nearby so that we can be on hand to help and also have a holiday afterwards. Our son has chosen his brothers as the best men and all being well, they have sorted out a speech and who will deliver it (maybe it will be all three of them, I don’t yet know) and who will be responsible for the ring. Our youngest son is going to read a poem at the service and one of the bride’s sisters will be giving a reading.
My husband has chosen the wines (a tough job but someone’s got to do it, he says) with the help of willing tasters like me: a light and fruity Pinot Noir (Villa Maria Cellar Selection) from Majestic Wine Merchants; a Sauvignon Blanc (Cloudy Bay) from Avery’s, Bristol; and champagne from Waitrose. The caterers are booked, so we’re nearly set.
Every single one of us will be in the marquee on the day before the wedding, laying tables and decorating it with flowers. The logistics of getting everyone to Cornwall have been complicated but we seem to have cracked that now: youngest son will be arriving there on the eve of the wedding from a week’s walking and camping on the Isle of Arran and my sisters-in-law are going to ensure that my somewhat frail 92 year old mother-in-law gets there too.
We haven’t had a “whole family” holiday for three years so I’m looking forward to this one, even though it will not involve much lazing around. It’s a very happy occasion and a great excuse for us all to be together. I’m sure we will eat out (seafood please!) but I will also cook some meals in our rented kitchen. I want to keep these as simple as possible (nothing new there!). I will miss my Aga of course and hope I haven’t forgotten how to cook on a conventional cooker.
I’ve made this delicious chicken dish by Annie Bell a couple of times recently. It is one I can imagine making in Cornwall, provided the kitchen is equipped with big enough roasting tins.
Serves 6 (I made it first for 4 and then for 3, using two pieces of chicken per person and scaling down the other ingredients)
For the chicken
- 2 lemons
- 150ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 2 heaped tsps za’atar
- 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
- 1.8-2kg free-range chicken thighs and drumsticks
- 50g pine nuts
For the aubergine yoghurt
- 2 aubergines
- 1 small or ½ garlic clove, crushed
- 150g natural Greek yoghurt
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus an extra couple of tbsp to serve
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander, plus extra to serve
- Slice one of the lemons, discarding the ends, and juice the other. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, onion, za’atar, cinnamon and sliced lemon in a large dish. Add the chicken pieces and coat thoroughly with the marinade. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight.
- For the aubergine yoghurt, preheat a conventional oven to 220ºC. Prick the aubergines all over with a skewer to stop them bursting, and roast for 45-60 minutes (in the Aga roasting oven) until wrinkled, blackened and soft, then leave to cool.
- Cut off the ends, peel off the skin, halve lengthways and coarsely chop
- Place the flesh in a sieve and press out the excess liquid using the back of a large spoon
- Briefly whizz to a coarse purée with the garlic and some salt in a food processor
- Transfer to a bowl and stir in the yoghurt, olive oil, lemon juice and parsley or coriander. Drizzle over the extra oil and scatter over some more herbs. Set aside
- If you’ve turned it off, switch your oven back on to 220ºC
- Season the chicken pieces and arrange, skin side up in a single layer in two roasting tins (the large Aga ones)
- Option: if you have space you could add halved new potatoes to the tins. I did this
- Drizzle the marinade over everything and tuck the lemon slices in between
- Roast (in the Aga roasting oven) for about 45 minutes, swapping the tins round halfway through and sprinkling over the pine nuts after 15 minutes (I forgot to do this the second time I made this dish; it was still delicious but I recommend you try to remember them)
- Serve with the yoghurt sauce and a green salad
The chicken in its marinade
Yoghurt and aubergine sauce
A simple green salad in vinaigrette
A Bank Holiday Weekend and an opportunity to try a new recipe requiring hours of slow cooking: my sort of recipe. I bought the beef with no particular recipe in mind so I was pleased to find I’d bookmarked this one for Glazed Sticky Longhorn Short Ribs over a year ago. I have no idea if my ribs were from Longhorn cows but I bought them from my excellent local butcher, Ruby and White, which has never let me down.
- About 3kg beef short ribs
- Rapeseed oil
For the sticky BBQ glaze
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 300ml passata
- 100ml tomato ketchup
- 2 level tsp five spice
- 1 level tsp all spice
- 1 level tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 level tsp Sichuan pepper
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 6 tbsp dark brown sugar
- 1 level tsp rapeseed oil
(Preheat conventional oven to 100ºC)
- Place the ribs in a large roasting tin, season and drizzle with rapeseed oil
- Cover with a double layer of foil and place in the simmering oven to slow-roast for about 8 hours but can be longer. The meat will be tender and falling off the bone
- Alternatively, if you want to eat at lunchtime, place the ribs in the oven before going to bed. Could probably leave them there until you’re ready to add the glaze (see below), but if you’re worried they will be falling apart too much (is this possible?), remove them at breakfast time and replace them, with the glaze, a couple of hours before you want to serve them
- A couple of hours before the end of the cooking time make the glaze
- Place everything in a saucepan, add 100ml water and stir on a medium heat/the simmering plate until the sugar has dissolved.
- Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Or bring to the boil and leave uncovered in the simmering oven for at least half an hour
- Then pour about ⅔ of the sauce over your ribs, replace the foil and return them to the simmering oven for a minimum of 30 minutes but can be longer
- I didn’t have all the ingredients for the seasonal slaw so I served our ribs with Nigella’s Hot and Sour Shredded Salad (recipe in her book “Kitchen”) and steamed Basmati rice, with the remaining glaze drizzled over the ribs
Nigella’s Hot and Sour Shredded Salad
- 3 carrots
- 4 spring onions
- 1 long red chilli
- 1 long green chilli
- 20g/small bunch coriander
for the dressing:
- juice of 1 lime (if you don’t have one, a lemon will do)
- 4 x tbsp Thai fish sauce
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- Cut the carrots into long slices and then julienne them (i.e. cut into matchstick-like strips)
- Trim and halve the spring onions and julienne as well
- De-seed the chillies and cut into juliennes
- Finely chop the coriander
- Mix all of the above in a bowl. In another bowl mix the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar and dress the vegetables with this
The finished beef
Hot and Sour Shredded Salad
Hot and Sour Shredded Salad
Making the glaze
The ribs about to go in the oven
I make meatballs fairly regularly: Italian ones with garlic and herbs in tomato sauce, Thai ones with ginger, chilli and lime in a broth and Scandinavian ones with nutmeg and white pepper in a sour cream sauce. These are just the basics; there are so many variations, I feel I could spend my life making delicious meatballs without serving the same ones twice. And I haven’t even mentioned the accompaniments: pasta, noodles, potatoes or bread? I feel a whole series of blog posts coming on.
When a recipe I spotted recently promised to give me Italian-style meatballs like they make in New York, I couldn’t wait to try them. The meatballs proposed by chef Stephen Harris in the Telegraph are, as he says, quick to make and to cook. While they are not the best I’ve made, they’re pretty good and do conjure up that New York/Italian vibe.
For 2 people
- 500g beef mince
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (optional)
- 1 ½ tbsp olive oil and some for drizzling
- 100g baby spinach
- 1 x 400g tin tomatoes
- About 30g parmesan and a squeeze of lemon
- In a bowl mix the mince with about 5 pinches of salt and the thyme leaves if using
- Roll the mince between your palms into 10 x 50g balls
- Heat half a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the meatballs, turning them until they’re brown all over. They will not yet be cooked through to the middle
- Remove the balls to a plate and heat another half tablespoon of oil in the pan and add the spinach leaves, cooking them until wilted
- Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil and stir in a little more salt
- Add the meatballs, turn down to a simmer and cook. If you’re using an Aga, you don’t need to cover them: just place the pan in the simmering oven for about half an hour or longer if you need to. If using a conventional hob, loosely cover the tin (with a lid or some scrunched up foil) and simmer for about 10 minutes
- Drizzle with a little olive oil, add a squeeze of lemon and serve with grilled ciabatta (see below) and a rocket salad
- Split half a ciabatta lengthways
- Take a ridged griddle pan if you have one (or a regular frying pan if you don’t) and pre-heat it in the roasting oven
- Place it on the boiling plate and add your ciabatta slices and toast on both sides
- Rub the pieces of ciabatta with the cut sides of two halved cloves of garlic and drizzle over some olive oil
If I was making these again, I’d add breadcrumbs soaked for half an hour in milk to the meat mixture. I find this makes the meatball texture softer and less rubbery. But that’s for another day. In the meantime, these will do fine.
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
My New Year wishes are, I trust, better late than never. So that’s it for another year and we can get back to normal, whatever “normal” is. The tree has been taken down and is currently awaiting collection in our front garden; all the decorations have been stored away in the spare room cupboard; and Sons 1 and 2 have returned to work, in Cambridge and London respectively. It was so lovely to have them at home, sometimes with and sometimes without the girlfriend of one and the fiancée of the other, and although I should be used to it, I always feel a little sad when they’ve gone; not too sad, mind, because, as my mother says, if your children are happy to leave home, then you have probably done a good job as a parent. Son 3 stayed on for an extra couple of days which softened the blow, as much for his younger brother as for their parents. We all love films but Son 3 is the proper film buff of the family and at his suggestion we sat down on Monday evening to watch Singin’ in the Rain. I hadn’t seen it for years and had forgotten just how marvellous it is and what a wonderful actress the late Debbie Reynolds was: RIP. He returned to London with his dad yesterday, leaving youngest son and me, and Granny in her flat downstairs, in a very quiet house until the weekend.
Before he left I borrowed one of his Christmas presents to make supper: the book Fresh India by Meera Sodha, which is on the bestseller lists. Having eaten so much meat over Christmas we were all craving meat-free dishes and the aubergine and pea curry fitted the bill. The last thing I need is another cookbook but if this recipe is anything to go by, I might be adding this book to my birthday wish list.
Aubergine and Pea Curry
- 5 tbps rapeseed oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 large onions finely chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsps tomato purée
- 1 1/2 level tsps salt
- 1 1/4 tsps chilli powder (unless like mine, yours is very hot, in which case use less)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 4 medium aubergines 1.2kg, chopped into 3cms cubes
- 100g (I used 200g) peas (fresh or defrosted)
- Put the oil in a wide-bottomed lidded pan on the simmering plate (conventional hob: medium heat). Once hot, add the cumin seeds and stir for 30 seconds. Add the onions and stir to coat in the oil. Cook (in the simmering oven) for 15-30 minutes until translucent but not brown. Add the garlic and stir-fry for a couple of minutes
- Add the tomatoes and purée and cover with a lid. Leave to cook for 5 minutes (or longer in the simmering oven), then add the salt, chilli powder, turmeric and sugar and cook for a further couple of minutes
- Now add the aubergines, coating the pieces with the masala, pop the lid back on the pan and cook for around 10 minutes (or longer in the simmering oven). You want the aubergines to be tender and soft with little or no water running from them. If they’re watery or not yet tender, they may need another few minutes’ cooking
- When they’re cooked, add the peas and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Serve with hot chapattis or plain boiled Basmati rice
- I used one of those large round aubergines from Natoora. It weighed 620g and I was worried it would not be enough but it was plenty. Am therefore a little baffled by the aubergine quantity recommended in the book. Would it not have led to a very dry curry?
- Also: I only used 5 cloves of garlic and 1 large onion.
Apologies that I don’t have a photo of this dish (but then nor does the book!). Instead here are a few photos of our Christmas.
Our Norwegian Christmas Eve
Delia’s cranberry and orange relish