1001 kitchen tips #8 - Grilling with your aga

Sunday, December 30, 2007
Title deeds, keys, code for the security system.... there are many things you need when you are moving in to your house. An aga or rayburn is another. When most people navigate towards the kitchen, it makes sense for that to be the warmest room of the house. And there's the different temperature zones which make catering so easy. You can dry your clothes on it after walking all day in the Cotswolds, keep the croissants from breakfast warm in the warming oven for your mid-morning coffee, and you can even make toast with the special toast maker.

But what about grilling? There is a new grill adaptation for electric agas, but for the old traditonal types without one I take along a blow torch. The trick about grilling is that it takes along time for the food you are grilling to get up to the correct teperature. When it is up to that temperaure it will brown/ gratinate almost instantly. So let the aga do the heating, and your blow torch the browning/ gratinating.

For example the cod topped with welsh rarebit dish I did really needed to be grilled to brown the rarebit. So I put it in the roasting oven which gives you the extreme heat you get with a grill. Then when hot and almost melted, I finished the top with the blow torch. Also for grilled asparagus gratinated with parmesan - the parmesan can be melted in the roasting oven of the aga, then gratinated with the blow torch. Of course, you can use this method with your conventional oven too - it saves heating up the grill just for a few seconds use.

1001 kitchen tips # 7 - Easy clean roasting trays

Yes - they may have given the plates and pans to the dogs to lick clean, then put them back on the sideboard to be used again in medival times, but you just can't do that these days. They hadn't invented microbes back then.

Dishwashers are good but they have limits, and the limits (are your patience) are most often tested with those roasting tins which you've put off cleaning since the Sunday roast.

So what's the short cut to save the scrubbing brush? Line the bottom of the roasting tin with foil. Anything that normally burns solid to the bottom of the tin will burn on to the foil. Then when it's cooled down after use, you lift this off, throw it away, and you're left with an easy clean.

OK - from the environmental point of view you might use more foil, but you use less washing up liquid, and less scouring pads, so I think one cancels out the other.


Friday, December 28, 2007
There's an old Lygon Arms back of house story from way back when of a waiter going back to the kitchen saying he guests had asked for canned peas. "Canned peas?! We don't do anything like that here!" was the response from the horrified kitchen staff. The waiter went back in to report back to the customers. A couple of minutes later he was back. "They're quite insistant" he said "they want cans of peas". Cans of peas...... Canapés....... well he was close. He didn't get a tip that day.
To key to canapes, as with anything else is freshness. Sadly when you buy sushi at a supermarket it has been hanging around either in the distribution centre or on the shelves for a day or two before you buy it. The sushi rice loses it's flavour and light texture very quickly, so I cook it as near to the time of the party as possible. It is chilled, then mixed with mirin, rice wine vinegar and salt.
For the ones I was making today, I wanted to roll them in toasted sesame seeds, so the cucumber and avocado was rolled in the nori, and placed in the middle of the flattened seasoned rice.

Then rolled off the edge of the mat into toasted sesame seeds (I roast these in a pan now on top of the stove where I can see them - hidden away in the oven they always get forgotten and burnt).
Once rolled in the sesame I roll them in clingfilm to get the round shape, chill breifly and slice:

From raw ingredients to a canapé in under two hours. Served with wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce.
It's a long way from cans of peas.

Christmas Day - Chilled delivery or cooked and served in your home in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, Cheltenham & Cirencester

Wednesday, December 26, 2007
* 2008 - Also available catered only in London area
We may deliver outside the Cotswolds contact us for details *

Most Highly Flavoured Gravy

3:05pm on Christmas Eve, and all the deliveries are finally cooked, packed and ready to go, and then a single voice sounds out. The first verse of Once in Royal from Kings broadcast on radio 4. There’s only one month that matters in a young choristers life - and that’s December.

Composers always saved up all their tricks for their Christmas music, and the there’s the vast array of descants with which you can test your voice, reaching the highest notes possible while the congregation look on admiringly. Everyone in the choir would have their favourite carols too - for Sheila it was ‘ark the ‘erald - which always signified the beginning of Christmas for her, for Vic, it was always The Angel Gabriel - in practice he’d always change the words of the end of the chorus from ‘most highly favoured lady’ to ‘most highly flavoured gravy’ and it had us in pieces each time, and, getting to that bit when we were performing it, we‘d be knotted up inside waiting for that moment - would he say the right words? For me it was O Come All Ye Faithful. It wasn’t just that it had the highest descant, but a couple of minutes before, you’d hear the whirr of the organ being switched on and then all the stops being pulled out, and you knew - before everyone else - there was going to to be this big triumphant sound.

Years later, Christmas is still about pulling out all the stops. It begins with sourcing the best local ingredients. There’s smoked trout from Donnington trout farm for the starter topped at Christmas with caviar, and an old traditional family receipe for the Christmas pudding, and with coffee, handmade marshmallow with a hint of coconut from Miette in Stow on the wold. But what about the main course?


Our Norfolk Black Turkey is free range and organically reared sourced from the Smallholding in Chadbury. The Buckinghams have been rearing poultry for over 30 years and take care of the whole proccess themselves from the egg laying, hatching, rearing to the slaughter and preparation. They also hang their birds which gives you a much softer texture meat. Most poultry these days comes from factory production lines where the emphasis is on speed of production rather than the quality of the end result. The Buckinghams are one of only two small scale poultry farmers left in the county and have a loyal following due to the quality.

Hazelnut stuffing

Made with sausagemeat from Home Farm, hazelnuts, breadcrumbs, blackcurrants, and a little mixed spice.

Caumpedene Berksire breed pork chipolatas and bacon

Carol Webbs' award winning Berkshire pigs produce the Cotswolds finest bacon and sausages. While Berkshire pigs are known to produce the best pork, these are left to roam the orchards eating natural food, and consequently have an almost gamey flavour the same way wild boar has. The bacon goes crispy like no other. Bacon you buy in supermarkets is pumped with water to increase the weight, but means that when you cook it all that water covers the baking tray, and the bacon steams rather than roasting/ grilling.

Rosemary roast potatoes

As described last week

Roast sprouts with chestnuts

Roasting is definitely the way forward with sprouts. Gone is that watery mush texture of the over-boiled sprouts that we used to have at school. Roasting keeps the flavour in, you get the caramelisation, and you can keep them quite crisp. Mixed with chestnuts and a glaze.

Creamed leeks and baby onions

My antidote to bread sauce. By paternal grandmother would always make creamed onions with roast lamb - a yorkshire tradition - and I think they go very well with turkey too.

Honey and thyme roast parsnip

Most highly flavored gravy

Once the turkeys have been cooked for delivery and chilled, I remove the breast and leg meat, chop the carcass and make a stock which is allowed to reduce.

The roasting juices from the roasting tin are poured off and chilled till the fat sets:

Now the fat can be removed leaving the highly flavoured tukey jus.

After that the sauce is made by caramelising mirepoix, deglazing with red wine, adding the turkey stock and the pan roasting jus, cooking down, infusing with thyme and thickening.

The absence of cranberries

The only look-in that cranberries get is in the homemade pumpkin and cranberry bread rolls. Cranberries, being an American intervention, are not top of my list of ingredients for the traditional english feast, though due to requests I had to feature them somewhere. They make a wonderful fesive addition to the bread rolls. I prefer to use rowan and hosehip jelly to accompany turkey, made by Dove Cottage in Broadway from berries picked from the surrounding fields.

All you need now is the mulled wine to precede it all......

For full menu and details click here

Related posts:

Gloucestershire Echo article, Christmas 2007

Pork tenderloin curry pronto - curry in a hurry

Sunday, December 23, 2007
Baked beans. The various nationalities looked on in amusement as we ate baked beans for breakfast, but that's what we do in England, and as ex-pats in other countries too.

"So do you cook at home?" is an often asked question. After a long day cooking the finest food for our finest clinentele, feeding oneself is another matter. It's well known, thanks in part to AW T, that baked beans can be a chef's best friend when cooking at home in the hours after midnight that we are used to. There's also many a fried chicken or kebab house that would suffer without the patronage of after hours chefs on their way home after a long day. Happily though, leaving London, I can leave that crazy way of life behind.

As we know, good food can be fast food. So what can you do with pork tenderloin (raw), the remenants of a mango and a decimated coriander plant in under ten minutes?

Fast food demands fast heat. Boil chicken stock and a little cream (you could use coconut milk of course if you had it - and this would have more flavour). Add a spoonful of curry paste which is always sitting at the back of your fridge. While this is coming to the boil, cut the pork tenderloin (which I get from the local farm) in thin slices (the thinner it is, the faster it cooks). Add to the 'sauce' and let the pork cook in the sauce just below boiling point. When the pork is cooked, thicken the sauce with a little cornflour. Add some diced fresh mango, some ripped coriander, and you're ready to serve with rice, bombay potatoes, naan bread, or anything left from the day's cooking.

Yes - it may not be the finest recipe, but it's very tasty fast food. You could also use cooked turkey which you're about to have an abundance of......

Related posts


1001 kitchen tips # 6 - crispy roast potatoes pronto

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Raw to cooked in 21 minutes. Who said fast food can't be good food. I had fun a few years ago with my friend's oven to see how fast I could make roast potatoes with the desiree potatoes dug up from the garden. After a few attempts I got it down to 21 minutes from raw potatoes to being crispy roast. You need a combi oven/ grill setting, but most new ovens have these.

Rosemary roast potatoes

Boil potatoes for 10 minutes. While these are boiling set your oven to combination oven and grill on the top setting. Place a baking tray under the grill to heat up. When the potatoes have been boiling for 9 minutes, pour vegetable oil on to the tray, or goose fat if you prefer this, and place this under the grill to heat. Drain the potatoes and let them sit back in the pan for 1 minute to steam (they need to be dry on the outside to go crispy). Then (a Delia trick) put the lid back on the pan and shake so they go fluffy on the outside.

Slide the potatoes on to the tray carefully as the hot fat splashes scar you for a few weeks - chefs wear long sleeved jackets for a reason, and this is the time when you roll the sleeves down. You could wear oven gloves or roll a tea towel around your wrists. Roll the potatoes in the hot oil/ fat using a palette knife, and leave lots of space between them, otherwise they steam rather than roast.

I push the potatoes to the outside of the tray where all the heat goes - this means they cook more evenly and faster. Keep turning to prevent burning. This should take 8 - 9 minutes. If you smell burning turn the heat down.

When they are almost finished roll in chopped rosemary and place back in oven for a minute so the rosemary sticks to the potatoes.


What if I don't have a combination oven/ grill?

If you don't have a combination oven - a normal oven is fine they just take longer.

Can I grill roast potatoes?

Yes - this works too. Instead of putting them in the oven once parboiled, dried (letting them steam for 10 mins) and rolling in [olive] oil, put them under the grill. You need to keep an eye on them though and keep turning them once they brown on each side.

Can I cook roast potatoes the day before?

Yes! This will make your Christmas cooking easy. Cook them completely as above. Let them cool and leave them in the fridge overnight. Then re-heat in the oven at 200 oC for around 15 - 20 minutes. See notes on dry heat below.

Can I freeze roast potatoes?

You can of course freeze these - and heat them in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes when you cook your Sunday roast.

How do I make roast potatoes go crispy?

– Like yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes really like dry heat. When you open your oven door with the roast beef & roast vegetables cooking you’re likely to get a good head of steam escaping. If you try and put the potatoes in with the roast they always have trouble crisping up because there is too much moisture.
There are two solutions -
1 - Pre-cook the potatoes on the day or the day before and leave them chilled in the fridge, then re-heat them in the oven after the roast meat has come out to rest. Or you could freeze them (see above).
2 - Use a seperate oven - most cookers have two ovens.

HIGH HEAT - Roast potatoes like high heat to get them crispy, about 240 oC+. The high heat seems to work well - I cooked them at 240 oC the other day and they brown so well, as long as you remember to turn them.

FLOUR THE POTATOES - Another tip I picked up recently is to sprinkle a little flour over the par-boiled potatoes after being left to steam. Then toss them gently in the flour so it just coats the potatoes - you don't want a thick lump of flour - then add to the hot trays with hot oil, and roast as above.

What type of potato make the best roast potatoes?

Each type of potato has different properties - everyone says maris pipers, but I find these too floury. Personally in order of preference its:
i Desiree
ii King Edwards
iii Estima

Why don't my potatoes go crispy?

I read recently that if potatoes are kept too long the starch turns to sugar, so that obviously affects their browning/ staying together properties. I once ended up using some quite old estima potatoes from a veg shop and they fell apart before they even thought about browning - this is probably the reason. Supermarkets love to keep things as long as possble in warehouses, so again, if yours don't turn out so good this could be the reason.....

Also - see use of dry heat above, and remember it depends on what type of potato you use, again - see above. The cheapest bag of non-descript type of potato won't neccessarily give you the results you were after.

Also see high heat above - 240 oC for 20 - 30 minutes when there is nothing else in the oven making steam (e.g. your roast meat) gives you a crisp result, as long as you remember to turn them to avoid burning.

Related posts:

Dauphinoise potato
Boulangere potato
Rosti potato
Sunday roast
Yorkshire puddings


1001 kitchen tips #5 - Canapes. On a roll

“But they’re so perfect, they look like they’ve been made by machine” a customer said earlier this year when I delivered their canapés. “Yes they have been” I replied “me.”

Christmas. You’ve been round to all of your friends drinks parties, you’ve held yours, and then the family descend on you for the big day itself. Turn the heating up to nursing home level, move the entire contents of the supermarket shelves into your pantry, let the spirits flow like water, and snooze in front of the TV. But we love it.
Christmas is also the time when you can not just keep up with the Joneses but show that you’re better than them. So how do you make the perfect canapé roulade, the one that shows that you can be the domestic goddess at the same time as having the career.
You have to work with tight cling film so you have control on the roulade. Run a damp piece of kitchen paper so the surface is moist. Not too wet, or the cling film will slide instead. Roll the clingfilm accross your surface. Then run a bit of kitchen paper, or the cloth over to stick it to the table and remove any air bubbles. If you are using a cloth make sure it is freshly laundered - that tea towel which has been hanging around for a few days, drying out every time on the aga (at the perfect temperature for microbal growth) will be full of bacteria, and you want to impress the Joneses, not give them food poisoning.
Pipe on your filling, cut the cling film, then, using the cling film, close the near side over the back, so you get your roulade shape, and tuck the cling film over like you're tucking the sheets under a pillow. Now, with the clingfilm, pull the roulade back to you with one hand while rolling with the other and twist the ends to finish. I will add a picture of that technique at some time.
Another trick is to put a sticky label at the top of the clingfilm and fold it over the top, so that when you are unwrapping the roulades you can find the end of the clingfim easily.
Place your roulades flat on a tray and freeze till solid. Cutting them when frozen means they hold their shape. I arrange them on rye bread spread with cream cheese, cut between the edges, then place them apart slightly so you can cut them at a slight angle. Use the hot knife technique which has the dual role in this case of cleaning the crumbs off the knife each time you cut, and heating the blade so you can cut through the frozen roulade easily. A pastry knife is invaluable for this job - you almost feel like you're sawing through.

Smoked salmon roulades are fine to be cut as soon as they are out of the freezer, though ham, such as the ones below, need a little defrosting (till they're semi freddo) before they are cut otherwise they crack apart.

From the Gloucestershire Echo Weekend supplement

Monday, December 17, 2007
Thank you to the Gloucestersire Echo for the exposure. Click on the above to see it in bigger print.


Canape duck filo rolls

Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Filo dries out very quickly. While I'm making the first batch of rolls, I keep the remaining filo for the next batch under cling film or a damp cloth.

Here's something I made earlier. Duck leg confit. Cooked in goose fat, mirepoix and thyme in the oven for three hours. Keep the goose fat for next time, as it builds up the flavour, or use it to roast your potatoes on Sunday. The confit is broken down and mixed with hoi sin sauce and diced apple cooked in cider.
The rolls are sealed with beaten egg. Filo goes soft very quickly and sticks to the table, so I only brush a few at a time.
Egg washed on the top and sprinked with sesame seeds, then cooked for about 10 minutes, or till you can smell they're done.

Although these ones were frozen for a frozen canape delivery, they were served earlier on the year for a buffet:

Related posts:



Mince spies

Monday, December 10, 2007

Careful what you say. There's mince spies round every corner.

Forget what you know. The mince pies I make have fresh crisp pastry and a light frangipane and almond topping. You get a burst of the finest mincemeat, rather than a mouthful of pastry which is probably what you're used to (who knows how old those shop brought mince pies are?).


1001 Kitchen Tips #4 - A hole in none

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Red onion and St. Agnes cheese tart

A mint with a hole, no problem, I’ll grant you that. There’s many a secret garden shed smoker that couldn’t do without them. A hole in your quiche or tart, now that’s a serious problem.

But we know there’s no problems only solutions. And the solution to this was supplied by Marguerite Patten last year on radio. Don’t you love those tips? She’s been there, done it, and not just got the t-shirt, she probably knitted it too. It’s one I’ve been using - the tip, not the t-shirt - ever since and has saved so much upset and naughty words.

First off, placing the pastry in the tart case, I tap the pastry down with my fingertips to close any obvious holes. This is anti-docking I guess. Docking is all very well if you want a crisp base, but if you've got a liquid filling, i.e. a tart or quiche, holes are the enemy. There's a lot more on pastry making here.

You’ve baked your tart case blind. You take it out, remove the baking beans, or in my case, flour wrapped in cling film, and brush the base and sides of the tart with beaten egg.

As the pastry is still hot, the egg sets pretty much straight away, filling all those little holes - the ones you can see, and the ones you can’t. And if there’s a gargantuan hole you can take a piece of raw pastry, stick it down to the inside of the tart with a brush of egg and smooth it/ stick it to the cooked pastry surface. You won’t be able to tell once the thing is filled and finished that it’s had a patchwork job done on it.

Now, when you put the tart case back in the oven to finish off, the sides will be stronger, so less likely to break when you trim off the excess pastry off later on (this is obviously another tip for the future). And the holes which let your filling run out of the bottom of the tin, or, if you’re using a solid tin, stick the pastry to the tin so the whole thing breaks when you try to take it out, will be a thing of the past.
She could have mentioned it earlier though.

Pronto cheese sauce - sauce & go

Monday, December 03, 2007
Take two pans to the stove when you only need one? [ref 1001 tip #3] Not you. Now you can just sauce & go.

True bechamel should take at least an hour to cook to allow the floury taste to be cooked out. What happens if you haven't got an hour? What happens if you've only got 5 minutes or less.

It is a total cheat, but when you're cooking at home cheating is not just allowed, it's the way forward.

Bring your milk to the boil. Whisk a little cornflour with water. Add cornflour to hot milk. Allow to thicken. Reduce heat (if the cheese boils now it will split). Add cheese and stir. Add a little dijon mustard (excenuates the cheese flavour), salt (if neccessary depending on how strong the cheese is, you could also use celery salt for more flavour) & pepper to taste.

There you have cheese sauce pronto.

Chanterelle Mushrooms

Sunday, December 02, 2007
Close the doors, close the windows, take the phone off the hook and switch the mobile off. The preparation of wild mushrooms is time you need just for yourself. These finest of ingredients need respect as mentioned earlier, and the moment you spend with them should not be wasted. Chantarelle mushrooms either raw or sauteed are undoubtedly the finest.

1001 Kitchen tips #3 - White sauce. One lump or two?

How to cook a whole salmon, how to chop vegetables without chopping your fingers, how to make a souffle, how to have loads of breaks and still go home at 4pm. Yes, college teaches you many things. Another good one was the secret to a lump free white sauce. Heat the milk.

That's all it is. There's no need for a sieve.

This is where the science of cooking comes in. You've made your roux - butter and flour, cooked it out and then you add cold milk. The temperature change from the cold milk makes the wheat - something in it's physiological makeup but I forget what exactly - contract almost instantly, hence you get the lumps. Add warm milk instead, and the two combine easily as they are the same temperature - the same way as gelatine has to be mixed with a liquid of the same temperature.

So the trick is simple - you have two pans, one with milk heating and one with your butter and flour roux. You ladle accross warm milk onto the roux whisking as you go. When it thickens you add a little more milk till you get the required concistency. If you realise you've made it too thin you add some beurre manie which you have stored in your freezer. Instead of adding salt to season it have you thought of adding vegetable stock powder? More flavour.