I have to hold my hands up and confess to being the world’s laziest cook. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, because I love cooking when I have time – it’s just that there always seem to be more mealtimes than time available!
Decent cookware always makes the cook’s job easier, so I was really pleased to be asked to look at the stainless steel roaster set, £29.99, and the 2.5 litre oval cast iron casserole dish in a lovely seasonal red, both from Von Shef. (Since writing this review the 2.5 litre oval dish has proved so popular it’s gone out of stock, but this round 3.8 litre dish at £34.99 is very similar and will hold even more!).
I have an AGA cooker, so I find these cast iron dishes incredibly useful. This one is a very good size, and would really come into its own over Christmas. It also saves on washing up, as you can saute and casserole in the same pan.
This pan from Von Shef is sturdy and well made, and although it’s a quarter of the price of some other famous brand cast iron pans I think it compares favourably. It’s smart-looking, and I liked the oval shape which makes it more useful. I don’t normally end up cooking turkey at Christmas as our big family meals are on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, by which time everyone is ‘turkeyed out’, but I do often cook chicken as people like the leftovers. I decided to put this pan through its paces by cooking a pot roast chicken, which is extremely easy, full of flavour and will stay moist much more reliably than a roast.
I started off by cutting my vegetables (I used carrots and onions, you could also add parsnips and sweet potatoes) into chunky pieces and sauteing them in the bottom of the pan until they were light gold in colour. Then, I took the vegetables out and put the chicken in, whole, turning it occasionally until it was light gold on the top and bottom. (It was a medium-sized chicken, and fitted in neatly.)
Then, I put the vegetables back in and adding hot chicken stock and white wine to come a third of the way up the sides of the dish. I also added some rosemary, then brought the whole thing to the boil on the hob. Once boiling, I took it off the heat and put it in the AGA warming oven (around 120 degrees). It needs to stay in there for at least four hours and up to eight. When cooked, I carefully lifted it out and put it on a chopping board (if it’s been in for eight hours it will be very soft and may disintegrate when you lift it out, so watch out for bones in the gravy!). Then, I put the pan of vegetables back on the heat and added a little flour and butter and seasoning, stirring until the gravy thickened.
While the chicken was cooking, I was also investigating the stainless steel roaster set. This consists of a deep-sided roasting dish, a wire rack, a pair of lifting forks, a baster, a meat thermometer, a carving knife and a carving fork. As I was using the casserole to cook the chicken rather than roasting it, I decided to use the roaster dish to prepare my roast potatoes and the vegetarian main course.
I lined the dish with aluminium foil to make it easier to clean, then put the wire rack on top. I washed a small butternut squash, split it down the middle vertically, leaving the seeds in, and put it seed-side-up on the rack. I drizzled it with a little olive oil and salt, and roasted it in the AGA top oven (200 to 220 degrees) for about 30 minutes. Alongside, I added my potatoes.
When the 30 minutes were up, I took the tray out and scooped out the seeds from the softened squashes. (You can keep the seeds to garnish soup, if you like.) Then, I scooped out the squash flesh and mixed it with Stilton cheese and ground walnuts before pressing it back into the squash shell and scattering it with pinenuts. Then, everything went back into the oven for another 20 minutes to finish cooking before I sliced and served the squash with the potatoes, cranberry sauce and green vegetables.
I thought both the Von Shef items represented great value for money. They’re both well priced, and I thought the quality was good – I particularly liked the high sides of the roasting dish and the range of accessories. The cast iron casserole is attractive looking and practical. Both items cleaned up well after use – the roasting dish went through a hot dishwasher cycle and came out sparkling, while I washed the casserole dish by hand as recommended and it came out completely clean.
This is the first time that I’ve used any Von Shef cookware, and I was impressed – I’ll certainly be looking at the rest of their range.
To find out more or to buy online, you can visit the website at www.vonshef.com.