Tuesday, July 14, 2009

JTAC Episode 7: Introducing Mrs Doubtfire

OK blame it on the frustrated novelist in me, I just had to leave you in suspense at the end of the last blog. As it turns out when my daughter rang me in the gym to say the Aga had turned itself off she was only half-right: the burner had turned off because the Aga had reached its operating temperature , the pilot light was still going and it has been running smoothly ever since. I have had a pretty big learning curve (when the pasta water boils over my first instinct is to reach for a knob to turn the heat down under it, umm wrong, you have to take the pot away from the heat) and have christened the Aga Mrs Doubtfire - because beneath the lovely warm English accented exterior is an implacable, solidly built, occasionally fiery creature who bites you when you're not paying attention (first on my to-buy list from the Aga shop a really good set of oven mitts!).

An English writer says about cooking on the Aga that you don't set the oven temperature you find it - that you learn where your ovens are hottest and coolest and adjust your cooking habits accordingly. Thus a roast pork with fennel roasted in the very hottest part of the roasting oven ( the top rack) is moved down a couple of rungs after an inital browning to sit at a heat of around 220. Cakes cannot be cooked in the oven on their own, they either have to have a Cold Plain Shelf (a sheet of metal which is kept out of the oven until needed) which shields it from the intense heat of the top and lowers the temperature around the cake to 180, or you cook them at the same time as something is cooking above it.

I've had some great sucesses and failures in the short week Mrs Doubtfire has been operating:
  • Baking is for the most part a delight. Biscuits and muffins are fantastic, but everything cooks in a much shorter time, even using the cold plain shelf, so you really need to set a timer and keep an eye out. I burnt a banana cake which was at the same time uncooked in the very middle by putting a loaf tin too close to one side of the oven and leaving it in too long. The oven top is a fantastic place to prove dough for the bagels I made last Sunday and also for melting chocolate and butter for brownies or crumbles, or anything at all really.
  • I'm struggling so far to work out the best way to do slow braises and casseroles. What is know as the simmering oven (at the bottom) is actually really only a warming oven. The temperature sits at around 90 - 100 degrees, really too cool to keep anything simmering. I discovered this the night before last when I put a traditional bolognese sauce in it to simmer overnight, only to open it the next morning and find it had not simmered at all but just stayed very warm.
  • Cooked Sunday breakfast is fantastic - bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes in a roasting pan near the top of the oven. Eggs are broken directly onto the simmering hot plate (well not directly, but onto a magical material called Bake-o-Glide, a silicon sheet) with the lid closed over the top of them - kind of a cross between fried and baked eggs.
  • The only major disappointment is that the Aga does not pump out as much heat into the kitchen as I had expected. Make no mistake the kitchen is always warm, but the warmth doesn;t spread out much beyond it. This is actually a direct consequence of the Aga's magnificent engineering, it is so well-insulated and thermally efficient that all the heat is retained within the oven itself.

My cat by the way just loves the Aga - he sits directly in front of it, looking slightly bemused - he knows its warm, but he doesn;t know where the warmth is coming from. Usually he positions himself in front of the ducted heating vent and gets a good blow-wave at the same time, but now he gets the same result without having his fur ruffled - magical!

1 comment:

Hayley said...

oh it's so strange reading about the going ons in your own kitchen from so far away! We are both DROOLING at the descriptions of the food your cooking- can't wait to try some. Looks amazing in the kitchen too :)