Meet the Author: October 2015

A gas cooker with a fan oven? Sounds too good to be true? <i>Hmmm</i>…

A gas cooker with a fan oven? Sounds too good to be true? Hmmm

My landlord, Southwark Council, recently replaced my kitchen and my bathroom and toilet. Thank you, Southwark Council! To celebrate this momentous event, I decided to invest in a new washing machine, a new fridge, a new freezer…and a new cooker. This is not as extravagant as it sounds—they needed replacing; they were were on their last legs. And I love all my choices…even the cooker, as disappointing as it turned out to be.

A gas cooker with a fan oven? Sounds too good to be true? Of course it was! Whereas electric fan ovens burn hotter than their non-fan counterparts, this gas one actually burns colder! It spreads what little heat there is around, dissipating the temperature dramatically in the process. Nothing browns in it, so the food looks as bland as if it’s been nuked in a microwave. When the engineer came to fix the faulty ignition on one of the gas jets (don’t ask!), and I complained how slow and sluggish the main oven was, his first question was, ‘Were you using the fan?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I already learned not to do that!’

According to him, under UK guidelines, a cooker may be out by up to 15 degrees Celsius either way, and still be considered fit for purpose. That’s a range of 30 degrees Celsius! Celsius!

Long story short, he tested the oven, and apparently the temperature’s spot on. Hmmm. When I pointed out that frozen crumbed fish from the supermarket was barely cooked at the end of the recommended half hour, he reminded me that the cooking times listed were only a guide. I might have come back with, ‘Supermarket timings are usually quite cautious—overly so, on occasion.’ The problem was, I could think of a number of instances where they were not. I’ve seen terrifying timings for chicken—and known people who actually used them. ‘Why are these chicken wings not rubbery?’ a friend once asked, at a lunch where I served him chicken wings. ‘Mine always are,’ he added glumly. ‘Rubbery and kind of white.’

There is a point to all this wittering on. Since taking receipt of my new cooker I have been struggling—STRUGGLING—to adjust temperatures and cooking times for THAT bread recipe, the extraordinary no-knead wholemeal loaf that you’ll find here on my website, which will feature in my forthcoming novel Octopus. It’s certainly not very extraordinary when it turns out damp (it should be moist, not damp), or when the crust burns to a blackened crisp (as happened to me on a recent attempt). In my old oven, it cooked perfectly at gas mark 5; 190 degrees Celsius in 1 hour 10 minutes. In this new one, the best results I’ve achieved so far are at gas mark 6; 200 degrees Celsius for 1 hour 20 minutes, followed by popping the loaf out of the tin, turning it upside down, and returning it to the oven for a further 10 minutes.

You can see my problem. When writing a recipe (which I sincerely hope readers will try—not only is it simple, it’s delicious), what temperatures and timings do I give, knowing that there could be up to 30 degrees difference between my oven and theirs? If anyone has the answer, please, please get in touch. You can message me using the Contact Me form or send me an email.

Why the Victorians Saw Ghosts

Finally, as a small token of my thanks for your taking the trouble to find this page, I’d like to offer you a copy of my book Why the Victorians Saw Ghosts – An Illustrated Guide to 19th Century Spiritualism. Download it for free from When it comes time to pay, just use coupon code: TD22X. A word of warning: opt for the ePub version if that happens to be a format you can use; for technical reasons beyond my control it is vastly superior to the MOBI on offer.

Happy reading!
Michael Find me on Facebook.