Friday, 14 November 2008

Aaaargh - an Aga!

Since my last post we've moved to a new flat and have taken over an Aga in the process. Combined with the zillion packing cases that are cluttering up every square inch of the place the thought of cooking - or anything else remotely domestic - is a daunting prospect.

Our landlord reassured us it was easy so I'm sure we'll get used to it. My husband insisted we made Aga Toast for breakfast this morning, a legendary delicacy apparently among Aga owners. You clamp your bread between a double-sided wire toasting rack, put it for literally seconds on the hot plate and, bingo, you have the most gorgeous rough-hewn, slightly charred toast (below) It reminds me of making toast in front of an open fire.

It may take a few days for normal service to be resumed so bear with me . . .

PS Do any of you have an Aga or have you ever cooked on one? If so, some tips please about the best way to use them - what they're good at and any potential pitfalls to watch out for.


Catherine said...

I've been cooking on one for over 5 years, and it's my only method, having no other oven or hob. It does take some getting used to and there are a million and one useful tips and I don't know where to start so here's just a few:

Keep the lids down as much as possible and do most of the cooking in the ovens - the trick is to conserve as much heat as possible. This works very well for most things. All vegetables can be steamed in the bottom oven, for example, by being brought to the boil on the boiling plate, then drained, leaving just a little water in the base of the saucepan, and left to steam.

You make a lot of casserole type things - the main thing here is that you very rarely need to add more than the bare minimum of liquid to your initial meat/vegetable combination, because the Aga keeps things incredibly moist and it basically creates the sauce for you. To start with I was taking things out of the simmering oven and having to boil off to reduce, until I realised this.

You can fry pancakes and flatbreads directly on the simmering plate, and eggs with the aid of bake-o-glide, which is a very low fat way to fry eggs. In fact, bake-o-glide is the most amazing thing because you can reuse it again and again - I line pretty much everything with it. Expensive outlay, but not when you consider how green it is, and how much you will save long term on baking parchment etc.

I have found with mine that most recipes require much less cooking time - for example, bread only takes 15-20 minutes, maximum in my roasting oven, so check more regularly - opening the door will not cause anything to sink, so don't worry about that. The left side of the oven, next to the burner will always be hotter, so you will need to turn things round.
Also, make sure you have a plain shelf with which you can diffuse heat, because it's very difficult to bake without one, unless you have a baking oven, of course.
You never have to lift the lids to melt things like chocolate and butter - they'll always melt when left at the back or between the hotplates at the front.

Finally - have a reminder, so you never forget what you've left in the oven. The reason being, all the cooking smells go outside - something can be burning to a crisp in the oven and you won't smell it. I've left things in the simmering oven over night before because I've forgotten, and it is not unheard of for the neighbours to call because they can smell burning, and they know that I can't unless I go outside!

I could go on....

Fiona Beckett said...

Wow, that's brilliant, Catherine - thank you so much. I shall definitely come to you when I have problems although I see there are also huge sites for Aga lovers. Amazing! It's like a secret society . . .

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be without my aga, but its not a cheap option.

I run my aga slightly colder than recommended and I do check the oven temp using a thermometer.

Fry onion for curry etc in the top oven.

Mary Berry is the guru as far as I am concerned.

Baking can be tricky

Good luck

Jane knight

Fiona Beckett said...

What we've noticed so far is that it keeps the flat remarkably warm so we've been able to turn the heat right down. (Or could be just the sweat we're working up humping around furniture and packing cases ;-)

Useful tip about oven thermometer - thanks!

And fortunately landlord has left a Mary Berry which I'll consult along with the half dozen or so Aga cookbooks my publisher has sent me (thank you Matt!)

Emski said...

I'm very jealous of your aga - it brings back memories of growing up when my parents had a Rayburn in the house.

I was already interested in cooking as a child, and loved the fact that as it was hot all the time, I could make small batches of experimental cakes and biscuits and not feel like I was wasting electricity by turning the oven on.

Scones and biscuits seemed to come out really well, and pies.

My dad also used to use it to make an Italian flat bread called piada, which he cooked on a griddle.

I think the reason my parents got rid of it was the hassle of getting coal every morning and starting it up, but it did make a beautifully warm kitchen! - You really can't beat an Aga or Rayburn for creating that kind of toasty atmosphere!

Look forward to reading about what you'll make with it...

Fiona Beckett said...

Love the sound of piada, Emski. Shall have to try that. Made some crostini tonight with leftover bread which the Aga baked in minutes . . .

Margaret said...

Fiona - you have written some brilliant books and I own quite a few of them! I am not an Aga owner - but perhaps you should consider writing a book on the subject. Love the colour of the Aga BTW.

Fiona Beckett said...

Yes, the colour is very classy, Margaret. Racing green I think they call it! Not sure about a book though, despite your very kind remarks. I have a lot to learn before I could attempt that!

Lauren said...

I second all of Catherine's very sensible tips, particularly the one about using a plain shelf to diffuse heat. This is known as a "baffle" in our house, although I'm not sure where we got that term from originally, but it is invaluable for stopping baked goods from browning too quickly, amongst other things. You can also use it as a normal baking sheet. Also agree that it's very easy to burn things, as you won't smell them.

The best cleaner is, I find, Astonish (in the blue tub) - it's a kind of clay-like creamy cleaner that works very well on the enamel, although not to be used on the stainless steel lids.

One of your hotplates will be hotter than the other (which one, however, varies from model to model).

If you have a warming oven then popping leftovers in there around 10.30am will have them just the right temperature for lunchtime (works very well with soup).

Just found this blog, Fiona - loving your work!!

Fiona Beckett said...

Thanks for those extra tips, Lauren. I think there is some Astonish in the cupboard so will be able to keep it shiny and bright!! Welcome to the blog!

ulrika said...

To many I guess you are very lucky star, Fiona, coming across an AGA for your cooking :-) Good luck now. To me, being Swedish, the AGA phenomena is very UK to me. From a foodie's perspective that makes it no less interesting. There is also a connection in that sense the inventor is Swedish (Gustav Dalén) so I'll be following your endeavors as the AGA is a topic for my food blog!

Hen said...

My best advice would be to buy a timer that can either hang round your neck or clip on to you...
Aga smells do not make it to the kitchen... so it's really easy to forget something is in the oven.... until you discover charred remains!

If you have a two oven Aga and like baking you might consider buying the baker - as cakes can otherwise be tricky in the two oven version.

But it sounds like your Aga has found a good new owner!