Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Dancing with the Aga at Duncan's

One weekend a month my sister and her family head off to Wiltshire where they stay in a cottage owned by their friend Duncan. Over the last couple of years the weekend at Duncan’s has become an indispensable ritual in my sister’s life – pack up and head off from London on Friday night after work, arrive late and collapse into bed, wake up Saturday morning to a view of rolling hills and fields with sheep and beautiful dopey cows. The village itself is a small windy street of thatched cottages with a church and a bus stop. No shops, not even a pub (whoever heard of an English town without a pub?). But best of all no broadband or mobile phone coverage. Ah the serenity.

There is very little to do at Duncan’s other than read and, of course, cook. Before I’d been to the cottage my sister had told me about the amazing oven – a Swedish designed cast iron Aga. I’d never heard much about Agas but after a few months living in England have discovered that they are quite the thing to have. Definitely a cold climate accoutrement as the Aga is always on which means it does make it toasty in the kitchen.

The beauty of the Aga is supposedly in the flavour of the food as it uses a less drying, gentler form of heat to cook. The tricky part is you can’t really set the oven temperature. You ‘find the heat’ according to the smug instruction book and learn where to position the food in the different parts of the Aga to get the desired result. For example, you start a roast chicken on the top shelf of the top oven to get a crispy skin then transfer to the bottom oven for a slower cooking heat; boil water in the centre of the left hand hotplate; gently simmer on the edge of the right hand hotplate etc etc.

It feels a bit like learning to dance with a partner. You can’t just close your eyes and boogie like you’re the only person on the disco floor. You have to dance in step and sometimes even let your partner take the lead.

The Aga and I danced the weekend away and together we found the heat.

Saturday lunch - a little two step

Carrot, thyme and orange soup with rosemary and onion bread


2 tbls olive oil
1kg carrots peeled and chopped into pieces
1 onion
clove garlic
about 1 litre stock
juice of ½ orange

Heat olive oil in large saucepan and sweat onions and garlic gently for about 15 minutes. Add carrots, thyme, then the stock and turn up heat to bring to the boil.

Simmer until carrots are tender. Remove from heat. Blend soup and then add orange juice and reheat. Season with salt and pepper and serve with bread.

Rosemary and onion bread

(makes 1kg loaf)

1 onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic crushed
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
Heat oil in fry pan and slowly fry onions until translucent and sweet- about 10-15 minutes. Add garlic and fry another 2-3 minutes.
Mix in the rosemary and leave to cool.

500g wholemeal plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sachets fast action dried yeast
310 ml warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix flour, salt and yeast together in large bowl. Stir in the warm water and olive oil. Work to a dough and knead well (about 10 minutes until it becomes springy and bounces back when you poke it with your finger). Roll out the dough into a short, thick oblong shape. Make holes along the top with your finger and spoon over the onion mixture. Roll dough around the filling and knead briefly.

Shape into a loaf and place into well greased loaf tin. Cover and leave to prove in a warm place for approximately 40 minutes until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 220 degrees. Glaze loaf with a beaten egg. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until well risen and golden. It should sound hollow when you tap it with your finger. Allow to stand in the tin for 10 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool.

Saturday dinner - the tango

Boef en daube followed by apple and blackberry crumble

Recipe from the Divertimenti cookbook by Camilla Schneideman (serves 6)

1.5 kg chuck steak or shin of beef cut into large cubes
350g streaky bacon
5 cloves garlic bashed with flat of knife
1 can plum tomatoes, with juice and seeds from tomatoes discarded
6 strips of orange zest
1 ½ glass of red wine
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence or if using fresh herbs, 6 sprigs of thyme, 2 sprigs rosemary, 6 sprigs parsley and 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Cut bacon into thin strips and fry gently in a heavy pan until fat is translucent and begins to brown. While bacon is cooking, mix together the meat, garlic, tomatoes and orange zest in an oven proof casserole. Add the bacon and salt and pepper. In the pan used to cook the bacon, heat the red wine, deglazing the pan with a wooden spoon to release any sediment. When bubbling, pour over meat in pot.

Put on the lid and transfer to the oven. Once simmering (about 15 minutes) turn the oven down to 140 degress and cook gently for further 2+1/2-hours until meat is tender.

The stew has a thin sauce like French casseroles rather than the thick Italian type ragouts. I served it with mash and string beans dressed with lemon, oil and salt and pepper.

Apple and blackberry crumble (serves 6)

2 cups black berries
6 apples peeled, cored and sliced
2 tbls castor sugar
pinch ground cinnamon
2 cups plain flour
110g cold unsalted butter
½ cup light brown sugar
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 190 degrees
Put apples in pan with sugar and sprinkling of water. Gently cook until apples start to soften. Stir in black berries and cinnamon. Place in 25 x 20cm baking dish.
Mix dry ingredients together. Cut butter into small pieces and rub it through the dry ingredients with fingertips until it resembles dry bread crumbs. Sprinkle mixture over the fruit and bake for 40 minutes till top is golden.

Sunday brunch - lets rumba

Egg and baked bean tart

A little while ago I made egg and baked bean pie's for one. Here is the group version for 6. This time I thought I'd try a different baked bean recipe and I reckon this one's the winner. I had to cheat a little and use tinned haricot beans as I couldn't find any dry beans as I sprinted around the Tesco store in Salisbury on Friday night before jumping on the last bus to Duncan's.

Baked beans

3 tins haricot beans
4 slices maple smoked bacon
1 onion finely chopped
400g canned tomatoes mashed
1 tbls brown sugar
2 tbls wostershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
1 teasp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 extra tbls brown sugar
2 tbls chopped fresh mint

Cut rind from bacon and cut into cubes. Cook bacon and chopped onion in base of lidded ovenproof casserole until bacon is slightly crisp and onion soft. Add tomatoes, brown sugar, maple syrup, wostershire, bay leaf, star anise, salt and pepper and mix well.

Add the beans which have been drained and rinsed, together with 2 cups cold water. Stir and cover tightly. Bake for 2 hours adding a little water if dry. Sprinkle with extra brown sugar and bake uncovered for another 20 minutes until glazed on top. Remove from oven an stir through the fresh mint.

I cooked the beans on Saturday afternoon and then assembled the tart Sunday morning. You need a 28cm pastry case. Follow the same recipe as for the individual pies or use frozen pastry. Heat the beans and spoon into the pastry case which has been blind baked. Make six holes in the beans with a spoon and then gently crack the egg into the hole. Cook in a hot oven for 20 minutes or until the eggs are just set.


milkmaiden said...

Great reminder of a lovely weekend - and the delicious meals you cook for us. Blog looks great!

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