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
- Unsalted butter
- Several (quantity up to you but a minimum of 8) garlic cloves, unpeeled
- About 8 bay leaves
- A sprinkling, ie to taste, of Lakeland Herb Sea Salt
- 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
Or is it pilaf? I believe the words are synonymous, but perhaps it depends if your dish is Middle Eastern (pilaf) or Indian (pilau). This one is a pilau because it’s based on one of Meera Sodha’s from her wonderful book Fresh India, which I mentioned here and a copy of which I now own.
A pilau is made with long grain rice and is a great way of using up leftover ingredients, which is what I was doing the other night when I made it. I added asparagus because at this time of year during the British asparagus season, hardly a day goes by when it isn’t on our menu at home.
A couple more points: first, I don’t always have fresh ginger in my fridge, but I do make sure I keep a bag of Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients chopped ginger in my freezer, also useful when I’m in a hurry; secondly, when a recipe requires vegetable stock I almost always make it with Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon powder, which I thoroughly recommend.
For two servings
- 110g/4oz white basmati rice
- 175ml/6 floz vegetable stock (see above)
- 1 onion, sliced
- 5cm piece of cinnamon stick
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 1 green chilli, sliced (deseeded if you want less heat)
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- Lump of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (or some of the frozen stuff: see above)
- 100g broad beans, cooked and then slipped out of their skins
- 200g courgettes, roughly chopped
- 100g asparagus
- 100g green beans
- Salt and pepper
- Chopped fresh herbs: dill, coriander, parsley, mint…whatever you have to hand
- First, cook the rice the Aga way in the simmering oven, except using the vegetable stock instead of water. It will wait happily in the simmering oven until you’re ready to add it to the vegetables
- Meanwhile heat the oil in a saucepan and add the cinnamon stick and cumin seeds
- After a minute add the onion and stir to coat the slices in the oil
- Put a lid on and transfer to the simmering oven until the onion is soft and translucent
- Add the chilli, garlic and ginger and return to the simmering oven
- Cook the green beans in boiling water and drain them, pouring over lots of cold water so they retain their greenness
- Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and discard. Slice the spears, reserving the tips
- After 5-10 minutes add the courgettes to the pan, stir to coat in the oil and add a little water
- Replace the lid and return to the simmering oven. 10 minutes or so later, do the same with the sliced asparagus and add the tips about 5 minutes after that
- Finally add the broad beans, green beans and some seasoning. When these are hot and the other vegetables are tender, fold in the rice
- Sprinkle over the herbs and serve with lemon wedges
My husband, a lover of all apple-related desserts, says this is his new favourite Sunday lunch pudding. New to us, he means, because fruit cobblers have been around for years. For some reason they did not feature in my repertoire. Until now. I’ve made a couple of cobblers in recent weeks and my husband’s at the “I could eat this every week” stage. He’s even sent a photo to our youngest, who’s returning home from university for the Easter holidays soon, telling him what a treat he has in store. Who would not want to cook for someone so enthusiastic and complimentary?
When researching cobblers I started off with Delia, then found a Mary Berry example and a couple of other online recipes, and came up with this. I plan to vary it according to available ingredients; apple and blackberry would definitely work, as would rhubarb and ginger.
- 150g self-raising flour
- 50g cold butter, cubed
- 50g caster sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- 4 tbsp milk
- 3 or 4 large Bramley apples
- A handful or two of sultanas
- 1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon (to get a strong and fresh cinnamon flavour we buy cinnamon sticks from Cinnamon Hill and grate them as and when required)
- 75g demerara sugar
- Make the cobbler first by placing the flour and butter in a large mixing bowl and rubbing the butter in until it resembles breadcrumbs. You can of course do this in a food processor, but it’s very quick by hand
- Stir in the caster sugar
- Add the egg and milk and combine until it’s like wet scone mixture
- Peel and slice the apples and place in a dish. You can grease it if you like but I don’t and it’s been fine
- Stir in the cinnamon, sultanas and Demerara sugar
- Place dollops of the cobbler mixture on top of the apples; there will be gaps
- Bake in the baking oven for 30 minutes or so until the top is golden brown and the apples are soft
- Serve warm with cream
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:
At a shoot lunch towards the end of the season, my husband was served what he termed “the best pudding I’ve ever eaten”. He loved it so much he asked his hostess, Clare Pelly, for the recipe so that he could make it at home. Only joking; I mean so that I could make it for us all. I don’t mind at all: I’m happy to be the cook in our relationship because I enjoy it and because I’m better at it than he is, just as there are many things I don’t like doing which he is happy to do and is better at than me. I imagine this is how most successful partnerships work.
As it turns out, I’m very grateful to him for getting me the recipe for this “best ever” pudding because it’s absolutely delicious. Clare is also an Aga cook and the pie is particularly suited to Aga cooking because it can be baked on the floor of the roasting oven, which gives wonderful, crisp pastry.
For 1 x 10″/26cm or 2 x 7″/18cm flan tins
- 8oz/200g plain flour
- 4oz/100g butter
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tbsp cold water
- 2lbs/900g cooking apples
- 2oz/50g raisins
- 4oz/100g plain flour
- 4oz/100g caster sugar
- 2oz/50g butter
- 10floz/285ml double cream
- 2oz/50g caster sugar
- 2tsp cinnamon
- Pre-heat conventional oven to gas mark 6/200ºC
- To make the pastry, sift flour, rub in butter, stir in icing sugar and bind together with yolk and water. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes
- Roll out thinly and line your prepared tin(s) with it. No need to bake it blind
- Peel, core and slice your apples and mix with the raisins
- Make a crumble by sifting the flour, stirring in the sugar and rubbing in the butter
- Spoon half of this into the tin
- Cover with the apple/raisin mixture and pour over the cream
- Spoon over the remaining crumble mixture and sprinkle on the topping
- Bake on the floor of the roasting oven for about 30 minutes until it’s bubbling and caramelised or brûléed on top. Your pastry should be lovely and crisp, although you won’t know this until you’ve cut into it
- Conventional oven: after 25 minutes turn it down to gas mark 5/190ºC for 10 minutes
- Can be served hot, warm or cold
I always worry about the Aga cooling down if you give it too much to do at once but yesterday I cooked a pheasant, some roast potatoes and this pie in the roasting oven in the space of one and a half hours and everything was perfectly cooked.
The first time I made this pie we were a little disappointed that the cinnamon flavour wasn’t very strong. Cinnamon is one of my husband’s favourite things so he did a bit of research. First of all he saw that the cinnamon I’d used (by Bart’s) was a blend “sourced from several Fairtrade producers” and that the cinnamon considered to be the best is from Ceylon. So from the website cinnamonhill.com I bought some Ceylon cinnamon sticks and the next time I made the pie, we used the fine Microplane grater to grate some for the topping and reader, I can confirm it tasted noticeably better.
I don’t see myself as much of a maker of puddings or desserts; I’m nervous about pastry and anyway, during the week there simply isn’t time to make a dessert. In all honesty I’d rather bake a cake to have with a cup of tea in the afternoon and then just eat some chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth at the end of a meal. But, as I wrote here, I’m not eating chocolate anymore.
On Sundays, as I think I’ve mentioned before, my mother-in-law usually makes a pudding for us all. I’ll make one if we have friends round or to take to friends if we’re invited to lunch or supper. I’ll also make a dessert when it’s my turn to host book club or film club.
Raspberry and Cinnamon Torte
The raspberry and cinnamon torte I wrote about in my tumblr days is one of our favourites:
This bakewell cake by Fay Ripley, which my Twitter friend @lesleyj28 alerted me to recently, could serve as a dessert or a teatime cake. I pounced on the recipe because it contains everything that’s delicious and good about a bakewell tart (almonds, raspberry jam!) but no pastry. I love pastry but (see above) don’t love making it. Without the need to make pastry, this cake is mixed and baked in no time. I used to watch Fay Ripley in Cold Feet on the telly (LOVED it) and had heard about her recipes but had not tried them before. As I began to make this, I realised how similar it is to my torte. It is a little more “cake-y” (two eggs instead of one), has jam in it and doesn’t contain cinnamon but apart from that it’s the same. In fact, if I made it again, I’d probably replace the vanilla extract with cinnamon, but that’s just my personal preference. Also – a small point – I didn’t have any flaked almonds in the cupboard so scattered over chopped almonds instead: a poor compromise on Fay’s recipe, we later all agreed.
- 150g butter, softened
- 150g golden caster sugar
- 150g SR flour
- 150g ground almonds
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 6 tsp raspberry jam
- 150g raspberries (I used frozen because it was all I had)
- 50g flaked almonds
- Grease a 22cm springform tin and base-line with bake-o-glide or baking parchment
- In a mixer, food processor or with an electric hand whisk combine the butter, sugar, flour, almonds, eggs and vanilla extract (oh how I love the all-in-one method!)
- Place half the mixture in the cake tin, smoothing it out, and dot the raspberry jam over, half a teaspoon at a time. Scatter the raspberries over
- Drop spoonfuls of the remaining mixture over the fruit but don’t worry if there are gaps; it will spread in the oven
- Scatter over the flaked almonds
- Bake for about 40 minutes in the Aga baking oven (or a little longer in a conventional oven at 180ºc). Not easy to test this cake with a skewer because the raspberries make it a little wet in the middle. It should be golden brown and springy to touch when done
Couldn’t be simpler.
I love making raspberry muffins too, although I see them as more of a coffee or teatime thing than a dessert. I also wrote about these on my tumblr:
Just out of the oven and cooling before winging its way to the birthday boy in London.
I have made A LOT of apple cakes in my time. Personally, I’d rather eat apple cake than crumble or pie. It’s more versatile for a start, because it works well as a pudding and as a teatime cake. My sons tease me about how I make a distinction between cakes that work as puddings and those that don’t.
The apple cake I made this morning is for my son W, who turns 26 tomorrow. I remember lying on the maternity ward after he was born on 11 February 1990, watching Nelson Mandela walk to freedom on my neighbour’s tiny televison set. But I digress.
Sadly, I will not be seeing W on his birthday this time. I’m staying in Bristol to keep an eye on Granny. But it’s fine, because we’re all getting together very soon. His dad took the cake up to London with him this afternoon.
I discussed what cake W might like with his brother G, and we agreed apple cake was probably his favourite, and it didn’t matter that it’s perhaps not very birthday cake-y. I decided to make this one which my Twitter and blogging friend @MsAlliance introduced me to a while ago. One thing to note: at point 5, I combine the demerara with the cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture over the cake before putting it in the baking oven. Today I put the rack on the third set of rungs and baked it for 35 minutes.
We also love my Norwegian grandmother’s apple cake, which we eat all year round but ALWAYS on Christmas Eve; it’s tradition. Perhaps I’ll let you have that recipe another time.
W has just been in touch to say they had some cake tonight because they’ll be at work tomorrow and eating out in the evening. Any excuse! Anyway, I hadn’t realised W hadn’t tried this particular apple cake before. He says he loved it, especially the cardamom. I’m glad they ate some today when it was at its freshest. No-one wants to eat stale cake.