Now that my food baby has settled, I can post something that I have been thinking about for the past week since I started posting. I probably have the worlds smallest kitchen, and by smallest, I mean I literally could not swing a cat in there. Once I start cooking, it takes on the feel of a sauna, and since I don’t have the luxury of my parents range cooker (oh how I envy them!) I am stuck with four gas rings and a fan oven. I must point out though, this does not stop me at all from going over the top and attempting what some have said is impossible, a full roast dinner with all the trimmings, prepared and cooked in two hours! Now, I will admit from the start, I do cheat a little bit. I have used a couple of things to make my life easier, but we will get to that in a minute. So, secrets to an easy roast dinner. The first thing we need to look at is what we are using for the main part of our roast, the meat!
Personally, I tend to favor chicken for my roasts, but do enjoy pork and lamb as well. It has to be said though, the likes of beef also makes a great roast, but I can’t eat it, so my advice on that is limited. Today I did roast chicken, and I cheated by getting a frozen chicken breast which was a cook from frozen. I would suggest that if you are still very new to doing roasts, take a look in your local supermarket for ready prepared roasting joints. You can usually find them in the chilled and frozen section, and they will help you with getting your timings in order before attempting a roast with a full bird or a joint from the butcher. My first bit of advice is base your timings off the meat you are cooking. There is no point in getting your vegetables and such ready half an hour before your meat has even finished cooking! The other bit of advice I would give you is make sure that you a confident in knowing when your meat is ready, there is nothing worse than getting everything ready only to find your meat is not cooked through, or vise versa, that it is over cooked. As a rule of thumb, whatever the cook time is for your meat, remember to rest it for at least 10 minutes once it is out of the oven.
The meat is in the oven, and you’ve now got around two hours, give or take. There is no point standing around watching the oven, you might as well get on with the rest of the meal. Your next point of order is to sort your vegetables out. Now an important thing to consider when choosing what you want to accompany your lovely roast is how long will it take to cook, and also, how are you going to cook it. Using my roast today as an example, I chose potatoes, parsnips, carrots and cauliflower. Each of these cooks at a different rate, so get everything prepared so that it is on the cooker and will just need the heat turning on as time goes on. It has to be said though, for that traditional roast dinner, roast potatoes are a must, and this tends to make people run for the hills for some reason. I am already hearing cries of ‘My potatoes never crisp’ and there is a simple way to avoid this. The first thing is to make sure you heat your oil/fat before your potatoes get anywhere near it. I do this by putting oil in one of my oven dishes and putting it in the oven with the meat so that it is nice and hot when the potatoes are ready to go in. Now, the other secret I have is to par boil your potatoes and parsnips first, but make sure they don’t cook through, otherwise they are going to turn to mush in the oven. The easiest way to tell if they are ready for the oven is to use the tip of a knife and press it into the potato. You want it to go in a little, but struggle to go all the way in. Once you’re at this point, they are ready to go in the oil. Make sure you are very careful at this point, the last thing you want is to end up in hospital with oil burns! Carefully toss the potatoes in the oil and place them back in the oven. At this point the meat should have about an hour left to cook, and the potatoes will be in the oven for this length of time. My favorite way to do parsnips is to roast them as well. They will work the same way as the potatoes, but take about half the time, so once you have par boiled them, make sure your meat is just coming up on 30 minutes left to cook, otherwise your parsnips will be soggy.
Since your potatoes and parsnips take a fair while to cook, you might as well get that nice bottle of wine out and pour a glass for yourself, all that prep is thirsty work! Don’t enjoy that wine too much though, there is still work to do. Hopefully your cauliflower and carrots are all ready to be cooked. I tend to be boring if I am just cooking for just the wife and myself, and so the carrots are just sliced and the cauliflower split into bits to help them cook quicker. Now I know that in this health conscious age, adding salt is frowned on, but I have to say just a small pinch, and I do mean small, less than a quarter of a teaspoon, really helps just bring out the flavor of the vegetables. I tend to bring my water to the boil with the vegetables in, so my cauliflower goes on around 30 minutes before the meat is ready, and the carrots at around ten minutes. The reasoning behind the carrots going on so late is I really hate soggy carrots, so I tend to just bring them to the boil, leave for a minute, then turn the heat off. This way I get carrots that are cooked but still hold their shape and have that little bit of bite to them. I am also not one for leaving cauliflower plain, mostly because my wife is a huge fan of my cheese sauce, hence why it goes on before it really needs to.
I can see you now reaching for that wine bottle again as reality sinks in, with so much going on at once, this is when people tend to lose the plot a little. I think the immortal words of Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy comes to mind, Don’t Panic! You’re so close to the finish line now, and soon your family will be tucking into a wonderful home cooked roast. If you have chicken like me, you must have stuffing with it, and thankfully, this is where a wonderful cheat comes into play, Mrs Crimbles Sage and Onion Stuffing. You can follow the instructions on the pack, or if your like me and never follow the directions to the letter, you can make up the mix and put it into a small dish. This can then go into the oven at the 20 minutes left mark with the potatoes, parsnips and meat (whilst your their, give the potatoes and parsnips a gentle shake) and forget about it until the timer goes off. We are in the last 20 minutes now, and this is where stress levels will hit there peak! We now have to bring all of this together.
Half a bottle of wine gone, and when you actually think about it, everything is pretty much done. I cheat again at this point and put the kettle on so that I can make some instant gravy up. I use Bisto Best as it is gluten-free and also tastes so good! I also make up a quick basic cheese sauce (I will give the recipe for this at a later date) and put a teaspoon of whole grain mustard in, just to spice it up a bit. At this point, the timer on the cooker is letting me know that everything in the oven is ready, and my vegetables on the hob are also done, so turn off all the heat. We are now going to finish in style and serve a roast to remember.
The first thing we want is to get that meat out of the oven and rest it. Whilst your meat is resting, get your potatoes, parsnips and stuffing out. Drain your vegetables, and pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower. Start serving up, I tend to get the vegetables from the oven on the plates first, followed by the carrots, then the cauliflower. At this point, your meat should be fine to slice and serve. All that is left to do now is add the hot water from the kettle to your gravy, stir well, and then pour over the roast and you are done! Time to sit and enjoy a wonderful meal with the rest of that wine, and then point out that since you cooked, you are definitely not doing the washing up!
Roast dinners are a daunting prospect for most people, and now that you can buy a roast dinner from the deli counter and freezer isle, most people opt not to cook from scratch. Unfortunately this does pose an issue to Coeliacs, as a lot of processed food has gluten in some form listed on the ingredients. Cooking a roast from scratch is probably one of the most rewarding experiences, and leaves a lot of scope for experimenting. I tend to do garlic and rosemary roast potatoes, or cook off some courgette in a little butter. There is so much you can do, and I can honestly say that if like me, you have friends that think gluten-free is dull and boring, make them a roast like this and enjoy the reaction to this amazing and versatile meal.