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…
My husband was in London recently and on a whim, bought a black truffle that had just arrived in a new Italian Deli on the King’s Road and brought it home; he adores truffle. It was expensive (about £7) but you don’t need very much and can make it last for several meals. I wasn’t sure I could do it justice at first but the beauty of this small black nugget of earthy flavour is that you don’t actually have to do anything to it for it to enhance a meal. What made it really expensive was the Affetta Tartufi I bought (see photo below)! I’m always interested in quality when buying for my kitchen.
I made mushroom risotto one night: my husband acted the Italian waiter and with “pennacchio” shaved some of the truffle onto our bowls: delicious.
Then last night I cooked chicken forestière and again, we shaved truffle onto the finished dish. We don’t cook as seasonally as we used to, do we? But I do like to try. For example, I wouldn’t dream of using strawberries in December, even if they were available to buy in the supermarket. I also only cook asparagus when the British version is in season in May/June.
Chicken forestière, with its wild and chestnut mushrooms, feels like the perfect autumnal supper so I’m going to tell you how to make it here (adapted from a Diana Henry – who else? – recipe from her book A Bird in the Hand for my AGA):
- 8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken legs, skin on, bone in
- 20g dried wild mushrooms
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, halved and sliced
- 75ml Madeira (or if you don’t have any, sherry would work)
- A couple of carrots, cut into batons
- 175ml of chicken stock
- 150ml double cream
- 150g whole button or quartered chestnut mushrooms
- 1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour over 50ml boiling water. Leave to soak for about 20 minutes
- Meanwhile, season the chicken and heat a sauté pan on the simmering plate and place the chicken in it in a single layer. No need to add oil at this stage.
- Brown the chicken on both sides, taking care not turn the pieces over until they can easily be moved, or the skin will tear
- Remove the chicken from the pan and put it in a dish
- Pour the chicken fat into a frying pan and put this to one side
- Add the tablespoon of oil to the sauté pan and cook the onions (slowly in the simmering oven if you like) until soft
- Deglaze the pan with the madeira and add the carrots, stock, wild mushrooms and their soaking liquor
- Bring to the boil, cover and cook for 10 minutes on the simmering plate or if you have time for 30 minutes in the simmering oven
- Return the chicken to the pan with any juices that have run out of it. Cover and cook, choosing the simmering oven if you have plenty of time (an hour or more) or a hotter oven if you are in a hurry. I wouldn’t leave it in the roasting oven for more than 15 minutes. You could start if off there and then finish it off in the simmering oven
- Stir in the cream and return to the simmering oven for at least 10 minutes with the lid off
- Now place your frying pan on the boiling plate to heat the chicken fat and cook the mushrooms briskly until they are golden brown. Season and add to the chicken, stirring gently to combine everything
- Taste for seasoning and scatter over the chopped parsley
- The addition of the shaved truffle to individual servings is recommended but not essential
We had ours with steamed new potatoes, broccoli and green beans.
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
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
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
A friend came to supper the other day who said he had exactly the same Aga as mine. He confessed he didn’t think he and his wife made the best use of theirs and proceeded to ask me some questions. I was surprised to find they didn’t even know what the ovens were for: they only used the roasting and baking ovens (although they didn’t know this is what they’re called) and the simmering oven for warming plates. They didn’t use the warming oven at all! I told him they needed to buy an Aga book and that I’d read my Mary Berry one, which came free with my Aga, from cover to cover. He said they had the book but hadn’t bothered to read it. In their defence, they “inherited” their Aga when moving into their house whereas I made a deliberate choice to become an Aga owner and cook and saw it as a kind of project. It made me realise there are people out there who didn’t choose to have an Aga but have got one by default and that they might find blogs like mine useful.
I was sorry therefore that the supper I cooked for our friend and his parents, old friends of my husband’s family, was not one of my best. I wanted to use up the pheasant breasts I still had in my freezer and found this recipe. It looked and smelled delicious and tasted good, but the meat was a little rubbery and dry. I find this happens with chicken breasts too and I don’t know what the answer is. What is more, I chose the recipe because it was a slow braise, which in my opinion ought to have ensured tender, succulent meat. On reflection, I think breasts, whether of the pheasant or chicken variety, should not be cooked for very long, so my suggestion for adapting this recipe for the Aga would be only to cook it (in the simmering oven of course) for the initial 45 minutes.
Legs and thighs, on the other hand, lend themselves to slower cooking. The dish in the photo above is braised chicken pappardelle. I got the recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Guardian column, and you will see he provides two further slow-cooked chicken recipes. I pounced on the article when I saw it, as I always do when I see the words “slow-cooked”; I immediately think “Aga simmering oven”. I have now made all three recipes and they’re all superb, but today I’m going to tell you how I made the one above in the Aga.
Braised Chicken Pappardelle
- 4 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks)
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 carrots, cut into 1.5cm chunks
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 5g thyme sprigs
- 500g vegetable stock
- 50g anchovies in oil, drained and finely chopped
- 400g pappardelle (I used a good quality dried one)
- 40g rocket leaves
- Put the chicken in a bowl and toss with the oil, a quarter teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of black pepper
- Put a large, heavy-based casserole for which you have a lid on the simmering plate. Sear the legs for ten minutes, turning them once, until the skin is dark golden brown, then remove from the pan.
- Add the carrots, onion, bay leaves and thyme to the pan and cook until softened. You could do this in the simmering oven of course. Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute
- Return the chicken to the pan and add the stock, anchovies and a good grind of black pepper. Cover and cook in the simmering oven for at least an hour but two would be better
- Lift out the chicken from the pot and bring everything to the boil on either the simmering or boiling plate and cook until the liquid is reduced to about 300ml
- Meanwhile pull all the meat off the chicken bones in chunks or, as I prefer, shreds, and discard the bones and the thyme
- Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions until al dente and drain
- Add the chicken and pasta to the reduced sauce and vegetables and mix well
- Divide between four plates or pasta bowls, layering with rocket leaves as you go
- Drizzle with olive oil and serve