Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Spirit of July

At this time of year, we're all constantly thinking about the summer ahead, filling our minds full of eternal sunshine, endless days of fun, food and frolics in the park and packing our bags ready to jet off for our uninterrupted, precious, dearly-held holidays. Fanny is no different. She is forever telling us about the glorious 'foreign' recipes she has collected on her travels, and that we should be presenting to our guests, encouraging us to always refer to our creations with their French names. Except today. It's all about the wonderful world of the all-natural, all-British ingredients. Almost.

Fanny Cradock Spirit of July

Fanny says they are indisputably (and, be honest, would you argue with her?) the very best in the world. She always maintains that 'this island' grows the finest fruit and vegetables of all. However, when she's in a particularly 'wry' mood she is compelled, for honesty's sake, to add "they just suffer a little when they reach some English doors!" Presumably she isn't talking about us, her dearly devoted followers? After all she is showing us the correct way to ensure that no produce suffers in our hands. Unless aspic is involved.

Fanny Cradock Spirit of July

With summer in mind, and feeling a little nostalgic for the sunny days of youth, Fanny wants to revive an adult-only version of a childhood staple - a whipped fruit cream dessert. I was obsessed with Angel Delight when I was young, loving almost every flavour (even banana). So easy to buy, so easy to make, so easy to enjoy. Fanny has grander ideas of course, making good use of British strawberries, especially those which may not be perfect enough (yet) to simply enjoy with cream. She brings us the throughly British Spirit of July. or L'Espirit de Juillet, for those that simply cannot resist.

Fanny Cradock Spirit of July

It's not only the desserts that are making Fanny reminisce. She's caught sight of herself in the mirror, in-between frantic cooking sessions. It must be hot in the kitchen and she's tired. Her face is burning up (only a little) and is looking a little, erm, shall we say, saggy. Before getting stuck into her Spirit of July, she reaches for an un-skinned and completely un-continental cucumber. She quickly tops and tails it, and rubs the pieces you'd normally throw away over her face for an 'instant' face-lift. Her clammy flesh muscles tighten and her face cools instantly, she tells us. She doesn't forget her sticky, sweaty neck or back either, for maximum cooling down possibilities. I am so glad she felt the need to share.

Fanny Cradock Spirit of July

If we haven't lost our appetites, and to distract ourselves from Fanny's flushed face, we should throw ourselves into whipping up egg whites, whipping in whipped cream, whipping together Maraschino, Kirsch and icing sugar, and whipping through blitzed strawberries. The resulting whip is light and fluffy, and must, Fanny insists, be served in old-fashioned champagne glasses topped with a single, fresh, presumably acceptable looking, strawberry. This must be the all-British way. I was lucky if my Angel Delight made it beyond the mixing bowl in reality. Guaranteed to whip you back in time, or straight ahead into summer, whichever you desire. That's the spirit...

Fanny Cradock Spirit of July

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Cat Got Your Tongue?

Some days we all just want to keep things low key. We might be feeling a little bit quiet. We might be feeling a little bit flat. We might be feeling just a little bit ordinary. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing much to shout about. Maybe we just want to have something comforting and familiar in our lives. Fanny always has the answer, and it's usually cake. As it happens her solution here is her 'signature' with a twist. The cake is normally flat, normally ordinary, always comforting, always familiar. So, imagine it with oooopmh, and you have her Swiss Roll, presented as a Gâteau...

Fanny Cradock Blueberry Gateau

Fanny has her own ideas on how a Swiss Roll should be made, and we've made them a few times together before. For my money, they always work, always produce a light, spongey cake panel and always go down well. She shoots hot sugar into eggs as they whisk, until a light, yellow, fluffy double-in-size mixture is created begging for you to fold in some flour and bake. She calls it the 'Swiss Roll Which Will Never Crack', and like her smile, it doesn't.

Fanny Cradock Blueberry Gateau

This time, Fanny bakes it in a perfectly ordinary 8-inch round cake tin, all lined and ready with greaseproof paper. It bakes for longer than an ordinary, flat Swiss Roll, but comes out just as springy and light. Fanny splits it carefully with a large knife and spreads it either with homemade jam, or when it is available scum from the jam. Yes, scum. Perhaps she really means something very different, she often does, but to me scum is the frothy stuff that rises to the top when you make jam. You skim it off and throw it away. Does Fanny really spread it in her cakes?

Fanny Cradock Blueberry Gateau

I don't have any to hand regardless, so use my homemade Bramble Jelly. We know how Fanny loves a Bramble. In addition to spreading it in the middle and 'clapping' the two halves together again, Fanny brushes it all over the sponge. It feels a little wrong, am I reading the instructions correctly? I should really have more faith in dear old Fanny, soon all becomes clear. She has plans. It's all methodical. Panic over. It's not only for taste, but also for glue.

Fanny Cradock Blueberry Gateau

Fanny takes some Langues de Chat (Cats' Tongues) biscuits that are either homemade or shop bought (I bought some this time), brushes them with more jam and dips them in freshly milled pistachios. She knows this is rather extravagant, so it remains optional. Then, they are stuck round the outside of the gâteau. The glue-jam helps them to stand proudly. A cheerful border of freshly whipped cream, a little icing sugar and a whipped egg white is piped around the inside, before the centre is piled high with the chosen berries. Fanny choses blackcurrants. I chose blueberries. Suddenly the day feels less flat, less ordinary and more familiar as I tuck quietly into a hearty slice of this satisfyingly spongey surprise. And *maybe* another one too. Just don't shout about it.

Fanny Cradock Blueberry Gateau

Monday, 10 April 2017

Fanny's Hot Flush

Fanny is feeling the heat. She's loosening off her ruffled collars, slipping into something more appropriate for the sudden and unexpected heatwave that has just descended upon us, and pondering ways to 'stay cool'. Fanny wants to make 'life cooler' for everyone. She has a few tricks up her not-so-cool polyester sleeves that she has picked up on the Continent, where temperatures soar in the summer (just in case you didn't know that), over the years...

Fanny Cradock Chilled Tomato Soup

The first has nothing to do with food at all. It is something which is hardly ever copied on this Island either. No, here we tend to open the windows wide open and draw back the curtains or blinds in the hope of making our kitchens cooler. Silly us. The French have the right idea - they draw their shades over open windows so as to exclude the heat of the sun. This does result in a whole new set of kitchen skills to be gained however, but Fanny thinks it is worth it. Who needs to see? French families, she notes, seem to be able to work by braille they draw so many curtains and blinds down until the sun goes away. Maybe try cooking in a blindfold to get used to it.

Fanny Cradock Chilled Tomato Soup

If that doesn't appeal, Fanny recommends big jugs. Yes, her homemade lemonade is an excellent thirst quencher, and great big jugs of it are essential. Or perhaps something to suck on? Homemade ice lollies cost practically nothing and they reduce those hot weather grizzles and whimperings miraculously. If your issue is keeping things moist in the heat, Fanny recommends greaseproof paper. To cover your sandwiches that is in the refrigerator, to keep them fresh for hours, with a damp muslin on the top.

Fanny Cradock Chilled Tomato Soup

Fanny hopes the we will all stock up our freezer compartments with ice, just to be ready for any heatwave that comes our way. She recommends moving frozen cubes from moulds to bags to allow more cubes to be frozen in the moulds. Keep going until all your available freezer space is used up, you can never have enough ice cubes. Especially for an emergency chilled soup. Fanny's favourite is Iced Tomato and Courgette, or Potage de Paradis Glacé to those cool dudes on the continent.

Fanny Cradock Chilled Tomato Soup

Fanny blitzes (or passes through a sieve) skinned tomatoes with gently steamed, peeled courgettes. She adds a pinch of caster sugar, lemon juice and rind, onion juice (I grate it) and soured cream. Serve with ice cubes. That's it, unless you want to make more elaborate version. Fanny always teases. This involves making small cucumber balls and adding a few sprigs of mint or parsley. How elaborate. The soup is really tasty, with or without added balls. I think the onion juice makes it very savoury, but still fresh and 'cool'. Fanny is on hand to rescue one last problem which commonly comes with the heat. If yours gets limp and flabby, just pop it into a jar of cold water with a lump of charcoal in it. It should firm up nicely. Cool down, she's on about Cucumbers.

Fanny Cradock Chilled Tomato Soup

Monday, 3 April 2017

Going, Going, Gondola

You know those days when you come in after a hard day at work, feeling more than a little lacklustre, hankering after something decent to nourish your mind, body and soul, but all you find when you open your neglected fridge is a desolate cucumber, a lonely potato, a few reclusive radish and a solitary red pepper. What on earth are you going to prepare to lift to you from your day of gloom with that motley crew of sadness?

Fanny Cradock Cucumber Salad

On days like these, you need to TMLF. Think More Like Fanny. Would Fanny open the fridge and cry? Would Fanny reach for the phone to call a takeaway? Would Fanny give up and watch back to back episodes of the latest boxset instead? No. You need to TMLF. Where you see despair, she sees delight. Where you see misery, she sees merriment. Where you see a cucumber, she sees a Gondola.

Fanny Cradock Cucumber Salad

You may not have booked a weekend away to Venice in a while, but if you TMLF you can be instantly transported there while you eat. You may never have been, may never have had the pleasure of a ride along the canals, and may never have clapped eyes on an actual Gondola in your life. If you TMLF this matters not one iota. Suspend your sorrow, open your lonesome fridge again, switch your mind to Fanny-mode and sail the waterways in style. That's what Fanny would do. TMLF.

Fanny Cradock Cucumber Salad

Peel your potato with glee. Steam it with joy. Mash it with purpose. Grasp your cucumber with vigour. Slice it lengthways with vivacity. Scoop out the flesh with gladness. Mix with wth the mash while rejoicing. Add some mayonnaise with exuberance. Fill your hollowed-out-cucumber-cum-gondola with the mixture as if your life depended upon it. That's what Fanny would do. Think more like Fanny. Be more like Fanny. You know you want to.

Fanny Cradock Cucumber Salad

Fanny of course, would not end there, delightful as the simple cucumber boat may appear. If we are to truly TMLF then we must prioritise garnish and presentation. It is the key to our own gastronomic gaiety, the answer to our dinners in the doldrums. Concentrate hard, TMLF. Take your red pepper and slice it into hooks to hang off your vessel, perhaps as oars. TMLF. Grasp your cucumber cut-offs and fashion them back onto the top of your creation, perhaps as seats. TMLF. Embrace your radish. Canelle them into flowers. Arrange them 'on board', perhaps as groups of shiny, happy tourists. Transport yourself to Venice. Think more like Fanny. Live like Fanny. Be Fanny!

Fanny Cradock Cucumber Salad

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Split Decision Salad

Fanny Cradock has views on salads, and she's not afraid to share them. First of all, in the words of the late Samuel Goldwyn (for reasons unknown) she wishes to make to clear that she is 'including out' things which are simply 'beneath her contempt'. A good salad is not a bowl of chopped lettuce, not cucumber with the skin cut off (so that everyone gets the burps), not un-skinned tomatoes and a most definitely not bottle of bought 'salad cream'. I'm with Fanny on that last one - she feels it is a misnomer as it contains no cream, and it does contain malt vinegar. Said vinegar is excellent for cleaning refrigerators and for taking stains of polished surfaces, but, Fanny maintains, is lethal to the taste buds and should be banned from home cooking. I just can't bear salad cream.

Fanny Cradock Banana Salad

Fanny feels that by the very nature of it's ingredients, the humble salad is potentially a perfect example of a gourmet's requirements no matter how modest the expenditure is. Tomatoes must be skinned. Cucumbers must be un-skinned and sliced very thinly. Lettuce must be washed, torn, shaken and served cold. Real mayonnaise must be used. This makes the absolute minimal salad assembly and avoids the abomination of limpness. Pimentoes must be hard, crisp and tight skinned. Eggs must never be boiled for longer than eight minutes, and must be slung immediately afterwards into cold water to avoid nasty black lines around the yolk, which is off-putting at the best of times.

Fanny Cradock Banana Salad

Most people in England, Fanny says not meaning to wade in on national divides, labour under the monumental misconception that a 'green salad' should be a kind of vegetarian dog's dinner compromising rabbit food and oddments, all higgled together on a kidney-shaped dish under the wrong name of 'Tossed Green Salad'. The main offence however remains that it is clearly not green, but multi-coloured. So what is the real deal? Fanny is keen to evoke feelings of nostalgia to explain...

Fanny Cradock Banana Salad

Not sure who's nostalgia it is, perhaps her own? The answer lies in France, of course, where all things civilised reside. Between the hours of noon and two, every French working man, whether he quits his office desk, road excavation, factory yard, field, counter or luxurious limousine, returns home to discover the homemaker shaking out crisp, well picked green stuff, Salade Verte, from their saladiers, to be served after the main course. Fanny suggests a slight change of colour with her idea for British homes, the Iris Salad. Just please do not serve it with any wine. Fanny begs you. Not at lunchtime at any rate, surely.

Fanny Cradock Banana Salad

Perhaps it is not the colour which gives the Iris Salad it's name. It's far from a violet hue. Perhaps it is because you will not believe your eyes. Especially after all Fanny's demands. She makes a simple dressing with wine vinegar, oil, crushed garlic, chopped pimentos, paprika and pickles. No salad cream. All good so far. She washes and spin dries crisp, cos salad leaves. She slices tomatoes neatly, more pimentos, perfectly boiled eggs and just before she drizzles the dressing over, she adds slices of banana. Yes, banana. In a salad. At least it wasn't salad cream, that would just be disgusting...

Fanny Cradock Banana Salad

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Stick a Feather in His Cap

Fanny Cradock is planning her summer holiday, and is hoping you are too. She knows that you will not be anywhere nearly as well travelled as she. She knows that you will not be as well informed on the best places to go. She knows that if going 'abroad' is comparatively unfamiliar to you, and your experience is limited Jersey, Knokke or Dieppe, she has somewhere in mind which will get you using all five of your senses in a manner to which you will very probably have been unaccustomed. So that's us put firmly in our place. I need a holiday.

Fanny Cradock Greek Macaroni Pie

Where is this paradise for the senses that she has in mind? It's a country of strong, clear, brilliant light which gives an almost theatrical performance at sunrise and sunset. It has white, cubic houses where people wear brilliant costumes among the breathtaking architecture. They have hills. They have beaches. They have unfamiliar smells. Where else but the fair isles of Greece. It would seem that they also have Macaroni Pies.

Fanny Cradock Greek Macaroni Pie

It's no standard Macaroni Pie of course, this is a Pallas Athene's Macaroni Pie. Fanny seems to have picked this one up on one of her jaunts. She reckons in Greece if you happen across a little Taverna, you are welcome to just trot into the kitchen as a matter of course, lift the lids on the pots, sniff the contents and either say 'thank-you' and go away, or order and go and sit down in the restaurant. I suppose it reduces the need for the gay, colourful Taverna hosts she recalls, who have roles more akin to a performance rather than to serve and receive, to have waiting staff.

Fanny Cradock Greek Macaroni Pie

This pie is less performance and more pleasure. Simply cook the macaroni, add some dried herbs, grated cheese, blobs of cottage cheese and a good splash of single cream before baking in a moderate oven. I'm not spotting any of the glorious Greek produce that Fanny practically insists you bring back from your Greek holiday. As well as textiles and pottery, Fanny's list of priorities are Halva, Turkish Delight, Olives and Oktapodaki. That's tinned Baby Octopus. Perhaps it's best that she saves that for a more suitably tentacle-icious pie.

Fanny Cradock Greek Macaroni Pie

Fanny does think that Greece is exciting. Fanny does think that you will need to take pains to 'tune in' to a different way of living. Fanny does think you will need to get accustomed to drinking endless amounts of Ouzo. Greek people, you see, use a lot of oil and resin in their food and wine, neither of which Fanny notes are suited to the rather conservative stomachs of British people. Or other British people, as I assume she means. This must be why she keeps this pie thoroughly suitable for British stomachs, with the absence of all whiffs of Greece. Fanny says you will return from Greece uncomprehending, a little dazed and feeling drunk. This seems to be the case with this pie. Fanny says it makes a filling and suitable adjunct to the overload of meats on offer. Vegetarians rejoice! Fanny cannot resist however mentioning that this particular dish would be greatly improved by the addition of a huge chunk of barbecued meat. So, stick that in your cap and call it Macaroni.

Fanny Cradock Greek Macaroni Pie

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

OMG BTW IT'S FC's DIY BBQ LOL

So, we *all* have a pile of old bricks, a few lengths of metal piping from the local junkyard and precisely four strong garden canes lying around at home, don't we? And, of course, simply no idea what to do with them. You know the kind of thing, a local famous ancient monument was being demolished to widen the road, and you nipped along and 'bought' a selection of Eighteenth century rose-coloured bricks just on the off-chance they'd be useful further down the line. It's always happening to me. Well, luck is in, Fanny has a solution. Build your own spit barbecue.

Fanny Cradock BBQ

Fanny is under no illusion that Britain may not be best placed for barbecue lovers, after all the climate can turn 'at the drop of a sun-hat' from 'set fair' to 'downpour'. Fanny recommends that we shouldn't cry about it. Her mantra is 'barbecue-without-tears' and indeed, without exhaustion. And while we are at it, without smoke in our eyes to spoil the enjoyment. Choosing the location for your barbecue is, therefore, key. You must have a windbreak. You do not want the fire to become so fierce a strength for cooking or so intense that it can do 'scorch damage' to a nearby fence or hedge. Let alone the cooks hands or face. How do you think Fanny got those signature eyebrows?

Fanny Cradock BBQ

Fanny assumes that everyone will want a barbecue. Naturally. For those who do not wish to invest in a professional one, used by professionals in the professional way, a homemade one can be made in just a few moments. She draws a diagram to make it even quicker. Pay particular attention to the holes. A draught is required. And please, Fanny begs, do not use any cement. If your bricks have not been reclaimed honestly from a beyond-help historic home, if they are old and faffy with knobbly leftovers of cement adhering to them, do chip these off first or the bricks will simply not stand level. Safety first, remember. Eyebrows. That's all I'm saying.

Fanny Cradock BBQ

The next most important thing for a successful barbecue is the position of a table near to it. Where on earth will you put the essential accoutrements for grilling without one? Fanny lists these as bread, butter, salt, pepper, a cheese selection and a massive basket of fruit. And before you ask, the butter must be protected in a suitable tub which is then set into another larger tub with ice cubes packed around it. The only other essential is paper towels, there must be a generous supply of those for guests to wipe their greasy hands on. Fanny insists that plastic plates are used for COLD items only. The beastly plastic, ammonia flavour which they impart to hot food is unfortunate for all. We *may* fall back upon cardboard plates if absolutely unavoidable, but we will need the addition of a basket under the table for *immediate* discarding. No-one must see a used cardboard plate. The shame!

Fanny Cradock BBQ

Now that we have the set-up clarified, we can consider the food. Sally is shown brushing oil onto her kebabs with obvious joy, at the 'spit bar' as Fanny calls it. She has Spit Roast Duck, Spare Ribs, Mackerel, Hamburgers and Jacket Potatoes too. Fanny knows that some people eat hot dogs. She does not claim to be an expert on them, as she has been unable to find anyone who will indeed eat them. She simply knows that they exist, and are sometimes sold in tins. She is an expert on Gammon Steaks however. Thankfully. They must be scissor-snipped at intervals around the rind so that the flesh does not 'hump up' during cooking. They inevitably will if you don't. Be warned. No humping at the barbecue.

Fanny Cradock BBQ

So, we are all set to do our first spit-roast just when Fanny throws an almighty spanner straight into the hot coals... She has a flaming alternative if, after all this, you really would rather do things the professional way. Not as much room for the cardboard plates under this one though.

Fanny Cradock Barbecue