Slow-Cooked Chicken

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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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  • 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

Aga Christmas Cake

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It’s that time of year again.  I always resist the commercial pressure to start Christmas shopping in September.  It infuriates me that Christmas cards and decorations start appearing in the shops in August, throwing everyone into panic, and the more I’m urged to prepare, the less inclined I am to do so.  Oh, and no mince pies are allowed in my house until December.  But there are some things which it has always been necessary to do a few weeks or months ahead of the event and one of those is baking the Christmas cake.  The same goes for the pudding but I must be honest and say I do not always make my own pudding.  I’ve found there are excellent ones you can buy.  For the last two years I’ve bought a pudding from Bertinet’s in Bath and they’ve gone down well with my family.  I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do about pudding this year; I might try Richard Bertinet’s recipe which is to be found online here.  But the Christmas cake has to be homemade and I am always happy to set aside the time to make it.

Since owning my Aga I’ve used the Mary Berry Christmas cake recipe in The Aga Book.  It’s delicious and I see no reason to change.  She gives quantities for many different cake sizes, square and round.  My usual size is the 10″/25cm round cake and that is what I have made this year.  As with all fruit cakes, it is best when baked slowly in the simmering oven.  I made mine in the afternoon and it was happy to wait in the tin and be placed in the oven at bedtime.  This year it took nine hours and last year ten.  Am not sure why the timings were different but it’s nothing to worry about.

Here’s the recipe for those of you who haven’t got The Aga Book.

Mary Berry’s Aga Christmas Cake (with a few modifications by me)

You will need a 10″/25cm loose bottomed or springform sturdy cake tin, greased and the base and sides lined (I used bake-o-glide)

Ingredients

  • 675g currants
  • 450g sultanas
  • 225g raisins
  • 450g glacé cherries
  • Grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 300ml sherry (I used Harvey’s Bristol Cream)
  • 350g butter, softened
  • 350g dark brown sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 225 plain flour
  • 100g blanched, chopped almonds
  • 2 tbsp black treacle
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice

Method

  • Rinse, dry and quarter the cherries
  • Put all the fruit and orange zest in a container, pour over the sherry and give it a stir
  • Cover with a lid or a couple of layers of tightly sealed clingfilm and leave to soak for 3 days, stirring daily
  • Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and chopped almonds into a mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid) and beat well
  • Add the flours and spice and mix thoroughly until blended
  • Stir in the soaked fruit and sherry
  • Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level out evenly
  • Bake in the simmering oven for about 9 hours, but keep an eye on it at the 8 hour point.  It is done when a warm skewer comes out clean
  • Leave to cool in the tin then turn it out, feed it (see below) and wrap it.  I like using parchment lined foil for this (from Lakeland)

Feeding

On a weekly basis from now on you are going to need to feed your cake: take a darning needle and pierce the cake all over, top and bottom; drizzle over a couple of teaspoons of sherry, let it sink in and then turn the cake over and do the same on the other side.  Then wrap the cake and place it inside a (large!) airtight container.

Icing

About a week before Christmas I ice my cake with marzipan.  I usually buy it but have been known to make my own: homemade is definitely better but sometimes I go for the quicker option.  Once the almond icing has dried out, after a few days, I place the final layer of icing on my cake; invariably on Christmas Eve.  For this I use ready-to-roll fondant icing.  I do not make my own.

My husband took photos and I’ve made a little slideshow of the different stages.

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And finally the finished cake, which we first sliced into on 28 December:

 

 

Tarts and Scones

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Making tarts or quiches in an Aga could not be easier because you do not have to bake the pastry blind.  Take the tart above, which I made on Friday.  I used this recipe by Diana Henry but was able to omit several stages and go straight from chilling the lined tart tin to adding the filling and baking it.

On this occasion I didn’t even make the pastry myself.  I bought some good quality all butter shortcrust in sheets, which meant minimal rolling out was required.  Once I’d lined my tin with it, I put it in the freezer to firm up, as Diana advises, but I did not prick the pastry with a fork; this is not necessary if you are not baking it blind.

I’m not sure how long mine was in the freezer for, but probably no longer than half an hour.  I did a bit of washing up (I’m one of those cooks who clears up as she goes along) and prepared the filling while this was happening.  So then all I had to do was put the crab/salmon/Thai ingredients in the pastry case and pour over the cream/egg mixture and cook my tart.  This I did by placing it straight onto the floor of the Aga roasting oven and leaving it there for about thirty-five minutes.  I checked on it after twenty though.  It was done when the filling was golden and no longer wobbly.  I removed it and let it rest while I roasted some new season English asparagus to go with it.  A nice green salad would have been a good accompaniment too.  We thought this tart was delicious.  I have resolved to make more such things during the summer.  A tart makes excellent picnic food and if you have any left over, it keeps well in the fridge and is available for any peckish moments.  I’ve just remembered a rather delicious smoked salmon one I used to make.  Must dig out the recipe.

On Saturday I did absolutely no cooking, which was a treat.  We were in London for the day and went out for a lovely family lunch at our favourite Italian restaurant, fittingly called La Famiglia.  The reason for the gathering was that one of my cousins had come over from Norway to visit his aunt, my mother.  All my boys were able to join us and together with one girlfriend and one fiancée there were ten of us round the table.  My husband, youngest son and I didn’t get back to Bristol until about 8.30 in the evening (in time to catch most of Eurovision).  We weren’t really hungry but managed to squeeze in a little slice of the tart all the same.

On Sunday afternoon I made scones for afternoon tea.  I cannot think of anything quicker to bake than scones and I just love them.  The recipe I chose was this one by Thane Prince which uses buttermilk.  The scones are light and not at all rich.  If you want a richer scone, there are plenty of recipes which use eggs, like this Mary Berry one.

Update: BBC Food Website

Following the devastating news today that the BBC is to remove all 11,000 recipes from its food website, I need to update this post.  The Mary Berry scone recipe link above will soon no longer function.  It was probably a bit lazy of me merely to give you a link anyway, so I’m giving you below one of her scone recipes in full.  It’s one I’ve used many times.  And don’t worry, I have no plans to remove any recipes from my blog so it will be here for you to use forever!

Mary Berry’s Very Best Scones

  • Makes about 20
  • Pre-heat conventional oven to 220ºC
  • You will need two large baking trays, lightly greased or lined with bake-o-glide

Ingredients

  • 450g SR flour
  • 2 rounded teaspoons baking powder
  • 75g butter, at room temperature
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • about 225 ml milk

Method

  • Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and rub the butter into it with your fingertips, until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  You can pulse this in a food processor if you prefer
  • Stir in the sugar (and pulse again if using food processor)
  • Beat the eggs together and make up to a generous 300ml with the milk, then reserve 2 tablespoons of this for glazing the scones later
  • Gradually add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring it in until you have a soft dough.  Again, this can be done in a processor
  • The mixture should be on the wet side, sticking to your fingers, as the scones will rise better
  • Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and flatten it out with your hand to a thickness of 1-2 cms.  Use a 5cm fluted cutter to stamp out the scones by pushing the cutter straight down into the dough (as opposed to twisting it), then lifting it straight out
  • Gently push the remaining dough together, knead very lightly, then re-flatten (you could use a rolling pin) and cut out more scones
  • Arrange the scones on the baking trays and brush the tops with the reserved beaten egg mixture to glaze
  • Bake, one tray at a time, with the tray on the third rung in the Aga roasting oven, or in the pre-heated conventional oven, for 10-15 minutes, until well risen and golden
  • Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool

 

 

 

Simnel Cake

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Why not make this delicious fruit cake for Easter?  As you probably know, simnel cake was originally baked for Mothering Sunday in the middle of Lent; girls in service would make one to take home to their mothers. I love it because it’s a fruit cake and lends itself to being baked slowly in the Aga, which makes for a very moist cake. Then there’s the marzipan which I adore almost as much as chocolate, and that’s saying something.

Last year my son’s lovely girlfriend made us a simnel cake, so we had two. No-one was complaining. The only problem for me was that she raised the bar and made her own marzipan, and now my youngest son says he doesn’t like shop-bought marzipan at all and suggested I make mine too. It really isn’t difficult and actually doesn’t take very long if you have a food processor.

Marzipan

This will make more than you need for the cake but I adore marzipan and was happy to have some left over. Disclosure: marzipan quantities given here are approximate. The balls on top can be as big or small as you like. The top circle can be as thick as you like. If you don’t want to make your own, I suggest you buy a 450g packet of marzipan.

  • 450g icing sugar
  • 450g ground almonds
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsps brandy
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • Simply  blitz all the ingredients in a food processor until it’s come together nicely
  • Tip this out onto a dusting of icing sugar on your worktop and knead it for a bit
  • Flatten it slightly, wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it

 

Simnel Cake

I used a Mary Berry recipe except that instead of placing a circle of marzipan in the middle of the cake, I folded small pieces of it into the mixture, à la Delia’s recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 100g natural glacé cherries
  • 225g softened butter
  • 225g light muscovado sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 225g sultanas
  • 100g currants
  • 50g chopped candied peel
  • Zest of a lemon (MB says 2 lemons, but I didn’t want it too lemony)
  • 2 level tsps mixed spice
  • 200g marzipan, cut into small squares or rolled into balls and tossed in a little flour

Topping:

  • 225g marzipan
  • 2 tablespoons of apricot jam
  • 1 large egg, beaten, to glaze

Method:

  • Pre-heat a conventional oven to150ºC/Fan 130ºC/Gas 2
  • Grease a 20cm deep round cake tin, then line the base and sides with baking parchment or bake-o-glide
  • Put the cherries in a sieve, rinse under running water, drain and dry on kitchen paper. Cut into quarters
  • Measure all the cake ingredients into a large mixing bowl, except for the fruit and marzipan, and beat well until thoroughly blended. (I used my KitchenAid.) Fold the fruit into this mixture and then finally the pieces of marzipan.
  • Spoon the mixture into your prepared tin and level the surface.
  • Bake in a conventional oven for about 2.5 hours or the Aga simmering oven for 4-5 hours. This really depends on your Aga. The important thing is the cake is coming away from the sides a little, is well risen, evenly brown and firm to the touch.
  • Leave to cool in the tin for 15-30 minutes. When the cake is completely cool, brush the top with a little warmed apricot jam and roll out marzipan to make a circle to fit the top. Press firmly on the top and crimp the edges to decorate. (You will see from my photos I made a bad job of this. You will do better.) Mark a criss-cross pattern on the marzipan with a sharp knife. Form the remaining marzipan into 11 balls (representing the apostles minus Judas).
  • Brush the almond paste with beaten egg and arrange the balls around the edge of the cake. Brush the tops of the balls with beaten egg and then place the cake in the roasting oven (or under the grill) for 3 or 4 minutes, near the top, to turn the marzipan golden.

 

 

 

 

 

The Complete Aga Cookbook

 

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I believe it’s still the case that when you take delivery of a brand new Aga, you also receive (for free!) a copy of “The Aga Book” written centuries ago (only joking) by the now, thanks to the Great British Bake-Off, incredibly famous Mary Berry.  My own copy of this book is still in regular use.  In addition to recipes, it explains how the Aga works and there are lots of helpful tips about cooking in an Aga.  I could not have done without this book in the early days.

I don’t think Mary would mind me saying that the recipes are a little old-fashioned now because this must be partly why she, her assistant, Lucy Young, and Aga have published a new, updated book.  There’s still a section on how to get the most out of your Aga but now it includes all the new models which have been introduced in recent years.  Some of the original recipes are there (all good basics) but also plenty of more modern ones, like Nasi Goreng and various pasta dishes.  Can you believe the original book has NO pasta in it?

My boys gave me this book for Christmas and on Saturday I made a scrumptious shepherd’s pie from it.  The lamb was cooked with a little port and redcurrant jelly and the mash topping was a mixture of potato and celeriac.  (Note to self: if you make it again, add some garlic to the mash.)