Monday, 16 January 2017

A Vine Romance

Fanny Cradock loves a mould. They are so useful to transport the simplest of dishes to a whole new level, into a whole new shape and often in a whole new way. Fanny has lots of moulds in her amply furnished kitchen, many which she has collected over the years from the many fantastic places she has visited. She likes to show them off. At. Every. Opportunity. She never misses a chance to demonstrate her one-up-(wo)man-ship, thinly disguised as educational, inspirational and aspirational.

Fanny Cradock Tomato Ice Cream

She's clearly rubbed off on me, as I can barely resist eyeing-up and then buying-up a mould myself. I have them hidden in every available nook and cranny of my rather limited kitchen. I even have some on display. I know that I will never compete with Fanny. However, she continues to rub it in. She's making moulded ice creams, and shamelessly displays her multi-flavoured Bombes in all their glory, moulded in eighteenth century pewter moulds that she 'happened' to pick up for a measly £1.50 ten years earlier. In Halifax. I'm clearly searching the wrong fantastic places.

Fanny Cradock Tomato Ice Cream

Fanny recognises that I am unlikely to have the same kind of moulds as she has. She's not wrong. She knows she has all the good stuff stashed away. Fanny doesn't think this is important. She obviously is overlooking my burgeoning obsessive collection tendencies that she herself has encouraged. The reason however that she thinks I shouldn't be too bothered is that I am likely to have the perfect mould already in my kitchen. Has she seen my paltry collection of everyday animals, traditional shapes and almost fancy-pants contours? No, dear old Fanny has another altogether more organic idea.

Fanny Cradock Tomato Ice Cream

A melon. I don't need to travel to the heady heights of Halifax to obtain one of those. It hardly adds much glamour to my mould collection. A melon? Fanny suggests scooping it out so that it is hollow, which seems reasonable to me. Fanny, always concerned with food waste, has a delightful idea of what to do with the flesh. I'm imagining something fantastic that my neighbours will never even have thought about. No. Fanny's idea? Eat it. How terribly inventive.

Fanny Cradock Tomato Ice Cream

More innovative, imaginative and perhaps ingenious is her idea for the ice cream. She calls it a Bombe Anglaise. It's actually Tomato Ice Cream. Savoury. It sounds avant-garde to me. Fanny makes it from what-she-calls Tomato Purée, but what I-would-call Passata. Fanny makes a savoury custard, which is like a sweet one but without any sugar. Fanny whips up some double cream. Fanny adds a range of Bloody Mary seasonings. Fanny beats them all together. Fanny fills the scooped out melons. Fanny freezes them. Fanny then un-moulds them and 'claps' them together to look like a giant tomato. With a mint leaf garnish. Fanny is incredible. Fanny is inspired. Fanny is impressive. The ice cream is 'Da Bombe'. I've almost forgotten about those antique moulds that I've yet to obtain. Almost.

Fanny Cradock Tomato Ice Cream

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Aspicable Me

Everyone loves a party. Fanny certainly did. Well, that's the impression she liked to leave us with. Endless parties, soirees, balls, luncheons, functions and banquets. She was ready for them all. At the drop of a hat, or a simple knock at the door, she'd jump into her ballgown and have that celebratory buffet table adorned and ready to be adored. She was aspirational. If she could do it, so could you. You just need to follow her simple instructions to the letter, and voilà, you shall be a social success.

Fanny Cradock Mushroom Aspic Souffle

Fanny aimed to raise the bar, boosting the boasting possibilities of her bashes to blow-out levels. Her books, and the partwork, are rammed full of party ideas as well as ideas to lift a very 'ordinary' recipe to 'party' level. Often the solutions were in the planning, preparation and presentation. Visually stunning at the time, some of these ideas can stun the eyes for very different reasons these days, although I am of course very fond of them. I was so thrilled to buy a copy of the book 70s Dinner Party by Anna Pallai recently, collecting together fabulous images of fun and festivity, including a fair few from Fanny. Fanny would've been over the moon, even though she would probably wonder why any other people's pictures had been included.

Fanny Cradock Mushroom Aspic Souffle

So, if like Fanny, and Anna, you're keen to host your very own glamorously presented 70s Dinner Party, this recipe may just be the one for you. As usual in English it sounds far from appealing. Cold Mushroom Soufflé. However magically when presented in French it takes on a suitable celebratory tinge. Soufflé Forestière. Who wouldn't want to introduce that to the neighbour that you never really liked very much? Especially with an Aspic top.

Fanny Cradock Mushroom Aspic Souffle

I was intrigued how on earth Fanny managed to get a topping of Mushrooms in Aspic on a soufflé without it flopping. I should've known better. Fanny had a presentation plan, all of which was aspic-tastic. She begins by making up some real aspic, as before (I switch to an Agar base, as before) and setting some slices of mushroom in a fancy pattern in the base of a soufflé dish. The base, yes. Then, she blitzed up mushrooms and poaches them gently in white wine and stock. She makes a roux of butter and flour, and slowly adds the mushroom mix. She adds cream, and cheese, mixing all the time. When it's cool-ish she beats in egg yolks. All very standard soufflé sounding so far.

Fanny Cradock Mushroom Aspic Souffle

However, before she adds the beaten egg whites, she adds more of the still-hot and still-liquid aspic to the mixture. It's then poured into the mould on top of the set mushrooms, levelled off and whisked off to the refrigerator. Not the oven. Once chilled it all sets into a wobbly vision of wonderfulness, simply turned out onto a serving dish to reveal the seductively decorated top, ready for any shindig. Party guests, whether in the 70s or today, will be mesmerised, amazed, delighted and frankly flabbergasted by your funghi feast.

Fanny Cradock Mushroom Aspic Souffle

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Don't Put All Your Eggs In One Aspic

Fanny feels that folks are frightened of Aspic. She's not wrong. However she finds that people are fearful of forming the jelly stuff, not forcing to down their fragile throats. I'd say it's definitely the other way round. Fanny would scold me though. I clearly do not know how to make it properly to a high quality. We've already made a simple aspic together, but now it's time to step up a gear and make real aspic. I'm scared. She tells me that once I am familiar with it I will discover in fact it is much easier to make than any Yorkshire Pudding or Soufflé. I think I'd rather eat those.

Fanny Cradock Eggs in Aspic

Fanny's idea is to make a classic hors d'oeuvre that would delight any buffet party - Oeufs en Cocotte en Gelée. You may remember that they were a favourite, or not, of the lovely Beryl Reid at her very own 70s Dinner party. Surely then this is the one to learn with, and hopefully to change my mind? Fanny reminds us that when working with aspic, moulds must be prepared carefully. She insists that if the intended jelly is creamy, moulds should be oiled. If the jelly is sweet or savoury, they should be simply wetted with water. Be careful not to let the oil or water collect in puddles at the base of the mould by using a small brush to sweep it upwards. This dish is a savoury jelly. Look searchingly at my photos to spot a shocking slip-up that we shall sweep under the carpet.

Fanny Cradock Eggs in Aspic

If I'd spotted that I'd have gone into the panic that Fanny details that most eager home cooks find themselves in when dealing with aspic. She reassures me that provided that the aspic is played 'like a fish on a hook at the end of a line' that all will be well. I'm not entirely sure I understand, not being a fishing kind of person, but I set to with the set too. Fanny prefers soft boiled eggs, or Oeufs Mollets. Normal everyday eggs should be lowered into steadily bubbling water for 4 minutes precisely, then plunged into cold water. To peel them, tap them all over until the shell resembles the fine veins of a neglected oil painting, and get in under it with your finger nails. Carefully of course, as one would presumably handle an old master. If you were peeling it.

Fanny Cradock Eggs in Aspic

For the aspic, the very best stock is required. Add to a pan with some vinegar, sherry, a bay leaf, peppercorns and of course some gelatine. Or Agar Agar powder for me. I get mine from the Chinese supermarket. It does feel a little odd weighing out a few grams of the white powder in my kitchen. The mixture should be heated to just above blood temperature (test by sticking your clean finger in it) and then whisking it while it comes to boil. Fanny says that a normal whisk is fine, but exhausting. A rotary whisk is tiresome. An electric whisk however is ideal. I go 'normal' and 'exhausting'. The end result should not be set into the form of an India Rubber substance but should be a light, holding, savoury jelly. Let's hope so.

Fanny Cradock Eggs in Aspic

Fanny can not give enough emphasis to the whisking. Do not stop. She does acknowledge that this is particularly difficult for people who have little children running around at their feet, or those with tradespeople arriving at the back door. Even those who may have a telephone ringing off the hook. Fanny's advice is to ignore it, make the aspic when the children are securely tucked up in bed and hopefully all tradespeople are safely in their own homes. Whisk away, and set a little aspic in your mould (or tea cup as I am using) before adding the carefully de-shelled egg. Top up with aspic and leave it all to set before turning out the mould to delight your guests. Fanny says that aspic is ideal for making ordinary things look as attractive as possible, as you can see. But still, it's an egg in a slightly vinegar-y savoury jelly. I'm still petrified.

Fanny Cradock Eggs in Aspic

Thursday, 15 December 2016

If You Go Down To The Woods Today...

Fanny Cradock and her husband, Johnnie, were, in their own words, persistent globetrotters. They loved nothing better than relentlessly roaming round the world (well, at least the European part of it) in search of new and interesting gastronomic delights to bring back, and of course share with those of us who were less fortunate. Not everyone could easily afford be a continual globetrotter back in the 1970s. So, we are well and truly thankful that Fanny has done a special rundown of her principal perpetual picnics from 'abroad'.

Fanny Cradock Picnic Sausage Rolls

Yes, picnics. It's what you think of when you think of 'overseas cuisine' isn't it? Fanny and Johnnie have experienced a great deal of so called 'foreign' picnics as well as those, to their jaundiced eyes at least, which seem so prevalent in the British Isles. Fanny refers to these as the 'sadness of picnics'. They normally consist of a Thermos flask full-time of lukewarm, dishwater resembling tea, and some curled up fish paste sandwiches in a crumpled up brown paper bag, often eaten in lay-by with the added bonus of petrol fumes. These are not the kind of picnics that Fanny has in mind here, nor are they the kind her and Johnnie take. They are the kind of picnics I had back in the 1970s though.

Fanny Cradock Picnic Sausage Rolls

Fanny is thinking more of romantic occasions like her and Johnnie had when they were 'nesting' before they became engaged, or Family picnics on the sea shore with a host of accoutrements to save sandy mishaps. Perhaps picnics that could be munched as you wander, particularly great for children, who abhor being made to sit properly in the open air. Seemingly. How about Spring Picnics which can be eaten in the car when it pours down? Fanny has suggestions for them all, so never feel stuck for a picnic idea again.

Fanny Cradock Picnic Sausage Rolls

Fanny suggests that whichever picnic path you decide upon, you will need quite a car-load of 'stuff' to ensure that all goes smoothly. Don't forget a length of string to tie to your wine bottle while you keep it cool in a stream. Never leave home without a damp flannel in a small polythene bag for those grizzly, sticky and messy children's faces and hands. Pillows should be taken, but should be inflatable, so as not to take up room unnecessarily and forcing tall people in the back seat of the car to sit with their necks bent at cramp angles because they are wedged in right up to the roof. Everything that can possibly be made of plastic, should be, to bypass the bother of breakages.

Fanny Cradock Picnic Sausage Rolls

Fanny does recommend all things Thermos, almost as if she has been sponsored by them. Strange. There are ones for every event. There are small ones suitable for picnics with children too. You'll need them as well as a steady supply of balls for breaking windows, cricket bats to facilitate this, fold up chairs to put things on (never for sitting on) and a radio to blast very loudly. Fanny's picnics sound so, erm, continental and not-at-all British. Doesn't it? The other essential seems to be sausage rolls. Definitely not British. No busy Mum, and certainly not British ones, wants to spend two hours making individual sausage rolls though, so Fanny recommends saving time by making long ones and chopping them up. Much more time to frolic by the sea, like the oh-so continually cooking-out Continentals do.

Fanny Cradock Picnic Sausage Rolls

Thursday, 8 December 2016

He Used To Bring Me Roses...

Fanny has gone into full-blown Blue Peter mode for her latest 'how to...' pic-strip. Not only has she raided the tubs of plasticine from the play-box, she also has a box full of 'ones that she made earlier' ready to show any newcomers who may miss her impromptu demonstration. If anyone dares that is. Fanny has come suitably prepared with all sorts of templates and diagrams as well... There's no need to send the adults out the room at this stage though, this one is intended for them, not the small fry...

Fanny Cradock Icing Roses

All this preparation is for edible roses. According to Fanny they require an awful lot of practice to get right you see. That's where the plasticine comes in. She recommends making the roses from it first of all, just to make sure that you get the technique spot-on before letting you loose with anything remotely edible. Fanny additionally recommends using white plasticine ONLY for the practice runs, and then coloured Almond Paste ONLY for the real thing. This is a health and safety warning in essence to make sure that none of the plasticine flowers are eaten. Do not eat the plasticine, alright?

Fanny Cradock Icing Roses

Fanny says the sole reason (apart from the aforementioned safety) for practising with plasticine is that if you do not end up with satisfactory roses, you can simply 'bang them down' and start again. The plasticine will easily work back into blobs and you can try again. And again. As many times as you require to perfect the presentation. Indefinitely Fanny says, such is her confidence in us all to master the technique. This make-and-make-again learning process is not possible with coloured Almond Paste, as it dries and cracks. No-one likes to see that.

Fanny Cradock Icing Roses

I may be cuckoo, but not only do I decide to throw caution to the wind and NOT rehearse with plasticine first, but I also decide NOT to use Almond Paste to make my roses. I've got ready made icing instead.  It is white though, so perhaps my mind will be fooled into thinking it is plasticine, although I don't ever remember seeing it in white. Maybe it just never stayed white very long in my hands? For the roses, in your choice of edible or non-edible materials, Fanny first takes a blob the size of a walnut and fashions it into a 'bud' shape, with a flat bottom and a narrow waist. Then more, smaller blobs are rolled, pressed flat to the exact size of the given templates and then wrapped round the bud and made to look like petals.

Fanny Cradock Icing Roses

I think I did alright despite the lack of plasticine preparation. They might look more like cabbages than roses, but I can sharpen my skills. Instead of colouring my icing, I have sprayed them with edible glitter once finished. Fanny gives one final warning at the end, so if even if you've practised and practised, but failed, it may be that by some unhappy chance you suffer from hot, moist hands and, if so, you should forget all about making your own edible roses. The moisture from your sweaty palms will penetrate the petals, producing a plastered together pile-up. Please do revert to ones that someone else has made earlier. Or indeed fashion your own from sticky-back plastic.

Fanny Cradock Icing Roses

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Feeling Horny?

Fanny has an important question for us today. It's not something she quizzes us gently with at all. She is straight in there. Quite direct. Absolutely no messing around with this one, she just blurts out her query, and presumably stands back with her eyebrows arched awaiting the answer. It's important to establish before we proceed. So, Fanny wonders, are you a top or a bottom?

Fanny Cradock Cream Horns

Fanny insists that 'top' is best, after all its the professional way that's been done for decades and decades. She spends her time attempting to get her assistants to follow her lead and go for 'top', but some of them just don't like it, Fanny reports. Oh dear, this seems to be such a disappointment to dear old Fanny. Todays assistant, Sally, is singled out in particular. Fanny includes pictures of Sally trying to be a 'top' but failing miserably. She is just so much happier being a 'bottom'. There's no way round it.

Fanny Cradock Cream Horns

Despite her obvious disappointment and disdain, Fanny is prepared to accept that although Sally's chosen path is 'wrong' and certainly not 'best' it will nonetheless result in something rather pleasing. Fanny is focused on the prize. She decides for once not to enter into a debate. Fanny decides not to lock horns with Sally as, you see, Fanny and Sally have both got the horn today. Cream horns, naturally.

Fanny Cradock Cream Horns

Now, as I was saying, Fanny tends to take the classic route and winds strips of puff paste from the top of her horn mould to the bottom. She starts at the back or shallowest part. Sassy Sally however starts at the tip and works upwards. Whichever way you choose, please ensure that each over-lapping wind is at least one-third over the previous one. If need be wet down the last bit to stick it in place. Any surplus paste should be trimmed from the top of the cone. Otherwise, Fanny warns, the cones will not release properly, regardless if you choose to be a 'top' or a 'bottom'.

Fanny Cradock Cream Horns

Fanny lays down her horns on a baking sheet, brushes them with egg white and sprinkles with a little sugar before baking. If all the trimming is done correctly they should release from the mould and be ready for filling. The classic rule is to fill your horn with layers of confectioners custard, jam and finally whipped cream. However, Fanny is the rule breaker this time as she simply thinks it tastes better to whip up the cream, add some custard and jam and then pipe the mixture into the horns. It's all a bit sideways, but whichever way up you decide to do things the end result will be naughty and nice. Enjoy your trip round the horn...

Fanny Cradock Cream Horns

Monday, 21 November 2016

Respect Your Aelder

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. At least in Fanny Cradock's world. Having said that, she does start planning for the fateful day in January, such is the importance she places on the occasion. So perhaps everyday is like Christmas? For now though it's not puddings, fruit cakes, mincemeat or even decorations that has got Fanny all stirred up - it's the chance to say, although you may say uncharacteristically, 'thank-you' to all those that have supplied her throughout the year.

Fanny Cradock Thankyou Christmas Cake

You see there were seemingly certain teams of people who worked for the Cradock's who they sent large gâteaux for them to eat in their offices on their last working day before Christmas. They obviously had a lot of these mystery office workers dotted around, and they all needed a suitable cake to be dispatched in time for the final hoorah of the year. Clearly the cakes had to be delicious, full-on festive and large enough for the whole team to dig in. Fanny set her own housebound team to work on the 'thank-you' cakes. Michael started by making endless swiss roll panels. The ones which never crack.

Fanny Cradock Thankyou Christmas Cake

We've made them before, but I always enjoy doing them. So easy, and light, with fluffy panels resulting. As well as the panels, Fanny of course needed an almost endless supply of buttercream. She does have an unusual method for making it, or rather getting her team to make it. She starts with egg yolks. And a double-boiler. The yolks are whisked to a frenzy with icing sugar over a gentle thread of heat until pale and 'like cream'. Meanwhile, butter is also beaten until pale and fluffy, and then added to the eggy-sugar-cream mix. The result is a lovely, natural looking buttercream. It tastes pretty good too.

Fanny Cradock Thankyou Christmas Cake

Fanny tends to top these 'thank-you' cakes in mocha glacé icing. It's what you think of for Christmas, isn't it?  No, me neither. So I switch up the coffee for a new Scottish, foraged liqueur, or elixir, that I tried this week called Aelder. It's made by Buck and Birch, and packs a punch of herbs, botanicals and christmassy flavours of sweetness and spice. Should be perfect. Fanny borrows her recipe from Gretel Beer (who I also love) which is essentially a syrup, with added chocolate chips and a little olive oil. The Aelder makes a tempting syrup, so all looks good so far.

Fanny Cradock Thankyou Christmas Cake

Fanny divides her swiss roll panel into three and build layers of with buttercream filling, before it's all topped off with the glacé icing. Fanny recommends popping the cake into the porch to cool down before the icing covering is added, although I dare say the fridge might do. I think mine might've seized up a little, but it still covers okay. All that's left is a jaunty design with the remaining buttercream and perhaps a walnut or two for decoration, before Fanny fires them off to the waiting office teams. Add in any Christmas decorations you should wish too, of course. For bigger teams, just make more (Fanny states the obvious) and add them together into long lines of cake. Then, be thankful. Do you think the office teams were?

Fanny Cradock Thankyou Christmas Cake