Restore family vibes with a perfect roast



Having the right cooker can help you create the perfect roast

Crispy roast potatoes, juicy chicken and lashings of gravy - what's there not to like about a Sunday dinner? Provided you've managed to blag your way out of washing up duties, absolutely nothing.

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The weekly roast offers the opportunity to demolish a Jenga tower of meat, veg and Yorkshire puds without a single disapproving glance - it's a true party on a plate.

So why is it fewer and fewer of us are sitting down for the weekly pig-out? A poll by Welsh Lamb found just 2% of families were having a roast dinner every weekend. What's worse, most of us prefer a ready meal or a bowl of pasta - philistines.

We all know the ping of the microwave is no match for the sound of a chicken or joint of meat sizzling in the oven, but time pressures are changing what and when we eat. We live our lives with a finger on the fast-forward button: tweeting on the toilet; eating dinner at our desk; texting at the supermarket till. But life in the fast lane doesn't come cheap; more than eight in 10 of us spend less time with our families than 20 years ago, according to the poll.

Sit down, oh sit down
Lorraine Thomas, a parenting coach, has urged people to bring back the roast by arranging one day a week where we unplug ourselves from the rush of modern life and sit down together for a meal.
But as well as being time consuming, cooking a successful roast can be intimidating, with the expectations that your efforts will be as good as grandma's gloriously moist chicken bringing you out in a cold sweat. Roast dinners are tricky to get right; a precision operation which can descend into chaos by failing to respect the two Ts - timing and temperature.

For instance, Yorkshire puddings require an oven capable of reaching smoking hot temperatures - anything less and they'll be flatter than East Anglia - and let's face it, no-one wants an 'East Anglia pudding'. After hours of chopping, peeling and fretting you could be left feeling flatter than your Yorkshires - with guests suddenly singing the praises of the good old microwave curry.

Serving up vacuum-packed bags of rice when you were supposed to be carving free-range, corn-fed chicken is quite a fall from grace. But it doesn't have to be like this. Having the right cooker can help ensure your efforts are more Gordon Ramsay than Gordon Bennett. The best option for cooking the perfect family roast is a dual-fuel range cooker. This sounds technical but really, it's not. All it means is you get the even heat of an electric oven with the instant, controllable heat of gas hobs.

Cooking on gas
Cooking a roast can leave you looking like you've been training with Mo Farah - sweaty, exhausted and beaten harder than the eggs in your pudding batter. Your oven gets put through its paces too, with spuds on one shelf and Yorkshires on another. When cooking in a gas oven this can mean playing musical shelves to ensure both are ready at the same time, as the oven is hotter at the top.

But with the electric oven of your dual-fuel at optimum temperature , your roasties will be crisp on the outside and light and fluffy beneath - whether on the top shelf or relegated to the lower after the Yorkshires muscle their way in with a casual 'by eck, chuck - make room for a little 'un'. The double oven of a range allows you to cook foods at different temperatures, so you can enjoy slow-roasted meat more tender than a Beatles boy-girl love song and puddings and spuds cooked at temperatures hotter than Lara Stone.

Sunday dinner sees us compete over how much food can be piled onto one plate under the banner of a single meal. Consequently, not everything can be chucked in the oven. If the gas hobs are tired of the oven's posturing, here's the chance for them to throw a few shapes of their own.

Gas hobs are capable of getting really hot, really quickly. Such responsive heat gives you Lionel Messi-like control over cooking the carrots when your 'foolproof' timings for roasting meat leave you looking, well, the fool.
This instant heat is also great when you succumb to the cliché of forgetting the gravy. Your guests sit at the table watching their dinners - and your rep as a chef - go cold, but scupper their gossip by appearing in a cloud of Bisto in a matter of minutes, clutching a gravy boat like it's the FA Cup.

Range of options
And with range cookers coming with as many as eight hobs, there'll be room aplenty for your mix and match saucepans filled with myriad vegetables bubbling their way to blandness.

But cookers aside, the most important thing is getting the gang around the table for some family time. Welsh Lamb found two-thirds of us wanted to spend more time with our loved ones and a roast offers an opportunity too tasty for even the surliest teen to dodge. Provided you master the dark arts of timing and temperature you can pull off a decent roast in an everyday oven, albeit with a lot more elbow grease and Mister Miyagi-like concentration.

For our parents and grandparents the roast was the highlight of the week so do them proud and bring it out of retirement for a lucrative reunion tour. Find a date in the diary and issue a rallying cry: Tweet the teenagers and Facebook a few friends in the name of gravy and gossip, blur the boundaries between food and family.

Luke Thomas, Welsh Lamb Club chef, said: "It's such a shame to see fewer families getting around the dinner table these days. I think food should be at the heart of the home and is a great way of bringing people together."