KNOWING your oven like a personal friend is very important to success in the kitchen. Every oven is different – size matters – and every oven is a little bit temperamental. Modern ovens are mostly electric and fan-assisted, which means the temperature is supposed to be even throughout. In the good old days, ovens were accepted as being hotter on the top shelf, moderate in the middle and cooler on the bottom. Dishes could be moved around accordingly, allowing for slow or fast cooking, all at the same time. This was also seen as a fuel-saving economy measure and was recommended by the home economists employed by the old gas and electricity boards as part of their after-sales service.

Mary Berry, now of television fame, began her career as one of those home economists. I have read about her tales of visiting customers’ homes to ensure that they were happy with their new cooker, spending time with them to explain how it all worked and how to make the most economical use of it. This kind of advice would be welcomed by many people today, but it is highly unlikely to ever happen again. Sadly, teaching cookery skills has slipped far down the list of importance in everyone’s education.

There seems to be no end to our thirst for recipes, however. We are buying cookery books at an enormous rate, watching more TV cookery programmes and Googling recipe ideas and practical demonstrations. Meanwhile, a wonderful range of fresh local food is being produced. Having just celebrated Scottish Food Fortnight, our support for famers and producers now continues with British Food Fortnight.

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I can think of nothing more British than a traditional roast beef dinner with all the trimmings. I bought a rolled rib of local beef, weighing just over 1.5kg (approximately 3½ pounds). The usual advice is to calculate the total cooking time at 20 minutes per pound, plus 20 minutes over. (1kg is a little over two pounds).

Choose a deep roasting tin, which fits your oven shelf. You will also need a smaller, shallow roasting tin for the potatoes and a Yorkshire pudding tin for four, or a bun tin for six. You may need to place both of these on the same oven shelf for a period of cooking time, so select tins which fit the shelf together.

Roast potatoes, a root vegetable, something green, plus traditional Yorkshire puddings seem to be everyone’s favourite accompaniments. I cooked carrot sticks and used the cooking water to add to the gravy. I roasted a few parsnips with the potatoes and just before serving, lightly cooked some finely shredded sweetheart cabbage in a little boiling water for just a few minutes before straining. The Yorkshires went into the oven while the roast was resting and everything was ready to serve at once.

Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with red wine gravy

(Serves 4-6)

1 joint of beef suitable for roasting (approx 1.5kg)

2 medium onions

6 large whole cloves garlic

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves stripped from stalks

4 tbsp rapeseed oil

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

150ml robust red wine

Method

1. Peel and cut each onion into 8 pieces and peel garlic cloves.

2. Heat two tablespoons of rapeseed oil in a frying pan. Add onions and garlic. Cook until soft, but not coloured. Add thyme, salt and pepper. Stir well. Pour over red wine and heat until bubbling.

3. Pour the liquid into a roasting tin. Place beef on top, and pour remaining rapeseed oil, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper, over the beef.

4. Place in the centre of a pre-heated oven, Gas Mark 7, 220°C for 20 minutes. Turn down oven to Gas Mark 5, 190°C. Cover the surface loosely with kitchen foil and roast for a further hour (or up to 20 minutes longer if you prefer it well done). Baste the beef with the cooking juices at least 2 or 3 times during the roasting period.

5. Remove cooked beef from oven and collect cooking juices in a jug or bowl, having strained these through a sieve. Discard onion and set beef aside to "rest" in a warm place, covered with a clean tea towel.

6. Spoon fat or oil from the surface of the cooking juices and place in a small jug. Keep warm. Pour the remaining meaty juices into the gravy which is cooking alongside.

Red wine gravy

2 large shallots, peeled and very finely chopped

6 brown mushrooms, washed, dried and very finely chopped

50g unsalted butter

25g plain flour

150ml robust red wine

275ml beef or vegetable stock made with a stock cube, or water used for boiling carrots and/or potatoes, strained

Method

1. Place 25g butter in a small bowl and set aside in a warm place. Once warm, add the sieved flour and mix to a smooth paste. Leave aside. This is known as a buerre manié, used to thicken the gravy before serving.

2. Place remaining 25g butter in a small, heavy-based saucepan and melt. Add the chopped shallots and mushrooms. Once all butter is absorbed and vegetables are soft, add wine. Continue to cook over a medium heat until the wine has almost evaporated, leaving a sticky mixture. Pour over hot stock or vegetable water and return to boiling point. Leave simmering on a low heat while completing the meal preparation.

3. Just before serving, strain the gravy through a fine sieve and return to pan. Whisk the buerre manié into the hot gravy with a small whisk to thicken it. Add any meat juices which collect when carving the joint of beef. Finally check for seasoning.

Roast potatoes and parsnips

1 medium size floury potato per person, cut into 4 even-sized pieces

½ large parsnip per person

4 tbsp rapeseed oil

Pinch of sea salt

Method

1. Peel and quarter potatoes. Peel parsnips and cut into fingers.

2. Place potatoes in a saucepan, cover with salted water and bring to boiling point. Add chopped parsnips, return to boiling point then strain the vegetables through a colander. Set aside to dry a little.

3. Meanwhile, place oil in a shallow roasting tin and place on top shelf of oven, at least 45 minutes before the meat has completed cooking. Once oil is beginning to smoke with heat, remove from oven and carefully pour par-boiled potatoes and parsnips into hot oil. Quickly turn vegetables in oil to ensure they are coated, using a spoon and fork or tongs. Return to oven and roast on top shelf until crispy and golden brown. Keep warm before serving.

Yorkshire puddings

100g plain white flour

¼ tsp salt

3 medium eggs

100ml fresh milk

Oil for cooking (use rapeseed oil, or better still, the oil collected from roasting the meat)

Method

1. Sieve flour and salt into mixing bowl or large jug. Make a well in the centre and crack eggs into the hollow. Whisk well with a hand whisk until mixture is turning into a smooth batter. Pour in milk and whisk thoroughly until smooth and pourable. Set aside in the refrigerator for around 30 minutes, until ready to cook.

2. To cook: Place a teaspoonful of warm oil into each compartment of the pudding or bun tin. Place on top shelf of oven to heat oil for 2/3 minutes before removing and carefully pouring the pudding batter into each tin almost to the top.

3. Return tin to oven for 15-20 minutes maximum at Gas Mark 7, 220°C. This is usually done while the roasted meat is resting before carving and potatoes are completing roasting time. The Yorkshire puddings are ready when risen, golden and puffed-up to almost double in size.

Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chimneys and The House Over-By on the Isle of Skye www.threechimneys.co.uk