Saturday, 27 July 2013

Swedish Dinner Party - Cocktails and Cake Cradock style

Fanny included two complete menus (or 'Bill of Fare' as she referred to them) in each weekly part of her cookery programme, for those wishing to invite guests to a dinner party with an array of splendid offerings. One menu was always hearty, and one lighter, but both were of course 'balanced'. I was expecting Fanny to encourage me further by building on the basic skills I have been learning at her side so far, but as ever the menus really bear no relation to what has gone before. Patience. But still who could resist impressing dinner guests in such a way? And what could be more impressive than a starter of a selection of Vegetable Health Cocktails (or in French as Fanny is want to do, Jus de Legumes Frais)? Oh. 

Vegetable juices probably don't seem too odd to us today, but I was keen to have a taste of 1970 'health' and see how they compared. The ingredients seem healthy - carrots with fresh orange juice, celery with lemon and orange juice, tomatoes with lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce and a bunch of watercress with orange juice. Following Fanny's instructions I made all four (presumably to provide a choice to my imaginary dinner guests) and served them up 'over ice' with the suggested appropriate accompaniments - salt, freshly milled pepper and celery salt. The orange and lemon juice certainly made them pleasant, but for me the addition of both salt and celery salt was way too much, and not a way I'd like to start a dinner party - gasping for a drink. Now, maybe if Fanny had suggested chucking in a vodka or two I'd have been okay with that...

I skipped the main course - Skewered Mussels with Savoury Rice (Moules en Brochettes) and went straight to dessert. This too strikes me as modern and 'on trend' although I suppose it just goes to show that all good things come around eventually. Or is it more evidence that Fanny was ahead of the crowd? Anyway for pudding, Fanny is keen for me to make a Swedish Apple Cake (Applekak) served with a luxurious Swedish Vanilla Sauce (med Vaniljaas - Fanny continues to educate in a multilingual way, if I had any dinner guests I would of course impress them with the native names).

Fanny teaches me a new technique here to ensure that I get my apples puréed to a VERY thick and stiff paste - seemingly if I don't follow her guide my finished cake will collapse and I will be very cross with her. This of course is a veiled threat which really means that I will be very cross with myself for not following Fanny's expert guidance. So, I peel, core and slice 2lb of cooking apples and pop them in my heavy lidded pot with just enough water to stop them floating. I guess. Fanny suggests I use a stone jar, but frankly I don't have one of those. I cover them and cook in a moderate oven 'until they collapse'. Oh dear I am being trusted with some judgement here again. It takes about 40 minutes for them to collapse, then I sieve them, add some brown sugar and heat them again until they 'bubble and blow' getting rid of any surplus moisture. Meanwhile I whizz up an old stale madeira cake (I handily have some of my cherry cake left over, so take out the cherries) and add melted butter to the crumbs. Fanny tells me to push half the mixture into a shallow cake tin (prepared in the 'normal way' - I am being tested again, but fear not I have my grease proof paper in hand!), spread the thick apple mixture on top, and follow with the other half of the buttery crumbs. It's a bit like a cheesecake base, but on top too.

Once pressed down safely and smoothed off, I bake for 20 minutes. It looks like it might be quite heavy, and I've no idea if it will come out like a brick or not... And of course there is the added worry that perhaps I haven't stiffened my pile purée enough and the whole thing will collapse anyway. Eek. Stress. Swedish Stress. However, it comes out looking pretty much as it did going in. Once cool I have to transfer it to a serving plate, dust it with 'stripes of icing sugar' and serve it 'handed' (I hope this means in a jug on the side) with the Swedish Vanilla Sauce (can I say it's just custard?). Will the crumbs crumple catastrophically? Actually it looks not bad! And it is very light and tasty...

I don't know if this is a real traditional Swedish delicacy, but it seems like a great way to use up leftover cake and transform it into something to dazzle the dinner guests. I probably wouldn't tell the guests it was a stale old cake I'd made earlier in the week - of course, it's all clear now I would dazzle them with my perfect Swedish to cover this up. I see a small footnote (too late) by Fanny suggesting as an OPTION I could've added 'very sparingly' some Rum to the Vanilla Sauce... I'd say no cake and cocktail combo would be complete without a little alcohol - cheers Fanny!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Here comes that sinking feeling...

"If light fruit cakes, like cherry, sultana, mixed fruit, have any fear for you prepare to she'd them now..."

Fanny's next recipe accompanies a retrospective on her and Johnnie's careers - on stage (the only couple in the world who have filled the Royal Albert Hall with 6750 people for a cookery demonstration), on television (where, it says, a reluctant Fanny auditioned for the BBC, beat off 50 others and then doubled the highest ever figure for sales of any Further Education booklet) and in writing (together Fanny and Johnnie have written over 80 books). The retrospective is quick to point out that although they started off in privileged backgrounds they have both been very hard up, and of course this considerable experience, 'the best of both worlds', has led them to appreciate gardening, French cuisine and supporting struggling students to progress. Erm, of course, I see the link... So naturally, they simply must share their technique for a Cherry Cake that will NEVER sink. The cherries that is, not the cake.

Ingredients are again simple - butter (I decide to use French, Fanny would be pleased), caster sugar, lemon zest, flour, eggs and glacé cherries. Fanny seems to smirk as she's writing this one, knowing that she is right and everyone else is wrong. Someone has clearly challenged her on this topic recently.  I wouldn't question Fanny, I mean if you can fill huge, historic venues, write numerous books and become a TV sensation, you surely know how to bake a cake with cherries that don't sink. That must be the point of the career retrospective. 

I cream the butter with the lemon zest, add the sugar and whip it until it is 'creamy and very loose'. All seems familiar so far. I add in a tablespoon of my sieved flour and one egg and whip again. Picking up a pace, I am guided to add two tablespoons before the second egg and whipping, then 'repeat' with the remaining eggs and flour. My mixture should now look smooth and thick. It does, very thick. Fanny tells me that no matter what I do to the fruit it will sink to the bottom of the cake if it is made of a mixture whose texture is not strong enough to support it. Is that the key, a really heavy cake? Is that why the cherries won't sink?

I've made Cherry Cake before and my cherries have never sunk, so I think I know the next step and possibly the top tip - wash the cherries? However without a hint of a smile, Fanny smugly warns me 'Of course you do not wash the fruit' - she really has gotten into my mind lately, but now she is answering my thoughts I really am feeling fearful. Just when I am thinking 'Well what on earth do I do then?' Fanny answers with 'of course you DO turn the fruit in flour and shake off the surplus through an ordinary sieve'. Ah, thankfully my sieve is VERY ordinary.

Now I need to fold the fruit in and pop the mixture into my carefully prepared tin, levelling it off before baking. Fanny provides a 'note' here to allow me to make a choice next. A choice? Do I really want to be making my own choices at this stage? My permitted choice is crack-or-no-crack. If only Noel Edmonds had hit on this winning formula... If I am happy with a cracked top (and what home cook wouldn't be) I just need to pop the cake in the oven. However if I want to do as Professional chefs in France (and presumably nowhere else) do when they are entering cakes into competitions (do they really enter a non-sink Cherry Cake?) I should sit the cake on four folds of brown paper and cover it with a large old biscuit tin. I haven't got any brown paper, so decision is made - crack it is!

So did it work? I think so! When sliced, the cherries appeared all over the cake, although in the first slice in the picture they do look like they are at the bottom. It's not worth starting again just for the photo, so take my word for it. You see, I now even sound like Fanny. The cake itself is very light, and has a wonderful crack on top. Very homely, but don't tell the professional French chefs entering competitions. 

Finally, and most confusing I would say, Fanny tells us that she cannot imagine why anyone does not actually like the gooey pad of cherries that collect at the bottom of the cake if you do not follow her advice and the cherries sink. So quite what this recipe is all about, I do not know. Johnnie prefers it, in fact - when he was a small boy and Cook was baking, he used to sneak into the kitchen, open the oven door and give the cake a smart bang so the fruit WOULD sink to the bottom. Maybe that's the point of all this, Fanny and Johnnie - 'the best of both worlds'. 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

All trussed up, but nowhere to go

"Hang your plucked, drawn prime goose in a slight draught to crisp up the skin. Twenty four hours later, truss it"

Fanny is trying to ensure that I get a repertoire of 'basics' under my belt, and I think she's done a solid job so far with some seemingly, at least initially, strange choices. I'm trying to resist temptation to flip forward to some of the more recognisable Fanny dishes with flashy presentations, but I am here to learn and I am sure my patience will pay off. However the majority of the remainder of Part One of this glorious technicolour 80 part-work is a guide to Simple Cooking with Poultry - not essential for a vegetarian like me, but fascinating to see what Fanny thought of as 'basic', 'simple' and an 'introduction' to cooking all sorts of birds...

I'm realising that Fanny was ahead of the game in many ways, and her views on birds are no different - urging readers to only buy 'fresh, free run', even if you are thinking about 'capons' which Fanny tells us, via Noel Coward, are hens that have 'been arranged'. If you wondered what to look for in a fresh pigeon - and who doesn't? - the advice is clear - supple feet and firm vents. Is that freshly 'dead' or still wandering around? She also urges folk to buy in bulk for reasons of economy, and freeze... Only AFTER following her cooking tips of course, and NEVER freezing first, for reasons of family wellbeing. Fanny thankfully does not give more details, but you can imagine.

The 'pic-strip' comes into it's own in this guide - first and foremost we must learn to truss. Fanny has apparently simplified the process for the 'home cook' which I am sure everyone was eternally grateful. Fanny gets Peter to demonstrate, which indicates that it is so easy that 'anyone can do it, even Peter'. However, cooking whole birds in a 'mountain' of salt is something which must be shown by her own experienced hands. Peter is allowed to help out. Peter does not benefit from matching green jacket and eye shadow, sadly.

Fanny discusses the merits of roasting in aluminium foil versus in 'see through' foil - is this what we now call a roasting bag? I am thankful suddenly to be a vegetarian as Fanny instructs us to take our ordinary (sterilised) garden secateurs in hand and set about cutting chicken into neat pieces. I fear for readers fingers, but Peter is again allowed to show us how to do it, so I suppose it must be fairly straightforward and trips to Accident and Emergency free.

The recipes and techniques seem never ending, and I am confident that if I did eat poultry, I would be set for life. Fanny even has recipes for those family members who are 'regretfully placed' and need to avoid salt and fat in their diet. The answer? Roman Pots of course. If you are more fortunate you could do worse than cook a non-greasy goose or duck, surely? 

I've learnt more than I ever needed to know about buying, storing, cooking, and serving all sorts of birds in all sorts of manners. I am also learning about typography - almost ever font, style and colour has been used. Has Fanny made it simple and basic? I find it hard to say. She can't resist a flourish towards the end, of course, and showcases her Duckling a l'Orange in glorious presentation. I wonder how many readers in 1970 recreated this one, perfectly hung, trussed and prepared? 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Menu du Jour: Le diable écossais

It's Bastille Day, and as Fanny was such a devotee of French cookery, it feels appropriate to adapt one of her recipes to suit. That's to suit me, as a vegetarian, of course. Fanny herself has adapted this particular recipe from a famous Breton Cook, Madame la Mere Poularde, who, without knowing whom she was talking to, praised the late King of the Belgians by telling him 'you have eaten and drunk well - you may consider yourself free to come again'! So what did La Mere cook for the King? Devilled Chicken with Saffron Rice seems to have been the delight he savoured... For me Poulet Diable is transformed using some Vegetarian Haggis kindly sent by Jo Macsween from Macsweens Haggis for me to try, into Le Diable écossais...

I've never made any classic French sauces, so I'm keen to see how this Devil Sauce turns out. I add my finely chopped shallots, garlic and freshly cracked pepper to some stock, and add a faggot of herbs. Fanny really does write her own jokes - but also cuts the laughter short as she translates it for me into French - bouquet garni. Phew. They simmer together for 20 minutes as the house is filled with the wonderful smells of gently cooking shallots. Mmmm. 

Once reduced I need to replenish it to it's original volume with some more stock, without explanation. Without hesitation, I do. Fanny tells me to melt some butter, add some flour and stir. I know I am making a roux, even if Fanny doesn't tell me. Am I getting ahead of myself? Adding in a little of the shallot-y stock I 'beat' it as instructed, and add in some Curry Paste (Fanny seems the one ahead of her time here) some Tomato Purée and a drop or two of Worcestershire Sauce. 

Once all the stock has been added and beaten in gradual steps, I am instructed to sieve it and retain the sauce. It looks great! Very glossy... Just feels a shame to discard those lovely shallots, but I guess they've done their work.

Next up is to cook some rice for exactly 11 and a half minutes to a 'strong simmer' with a pinch of Saffron and to fry up some slices of Vegetarian Haggis. Fanny tells me to push the hot, cooked vibrant yellow rice into Dariole moulds (it's French all the way today) and cover with a 'tent of foil' while I get everything else ready. Fanny has a glorious technicolour picture of a whole chicken sitting in a pool of sauce with neat rows of rice with olives on top. This is a step too far for me, I have a phobia against olives, but I present my dish Fanny-esque.

This sauce was devilishly easy to make, has a nice wee kick and goes so well with the Vegetarian Haggis. I am confident that the King of the Belgians, Madame la Mere Poularde, Jo Macsween and Fanny herself would be delighted to sit round my table and help me enjoy it. What a fantasy dinner party, devils and all! Bon Appetit! 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Do Meringues Sting?

Fanny cautions me that Meringues are vulnerable to humidity, so is today, the hottest day Edinburgh has seen for a while, the best time to strive for my next Golden Thread lesson? Actually, this seems to be my final 'basic' - so if I follow Fanny's steer (and dare I not?) I should have Swiss Roll, Mayonnaise, Soufflé and Meringues under my belt. How handy. Even more handy, Fanny tells us that a 'very fine chef' who happens to be a friend of hers, naturally, is sharing this fool-proof recipe to dispel any silly old wives tales about meringues being 'hit and miss'... This must be the sting she mentions...

The ingredients are basic - egg whites and caster sugar - but Fanny suggests some simple tricks to fancy it up, flavouring the meringues with cocoa powder and chocolate chips. I wonder what she'd reckon to me using a couple of thoroughly modern takes on these basics? Feeling brave, I reach for my Two Chicks Egg Whites and Little Pod Pure Chocolate Extract. Am I headed for trouble?

Fanny doesn't suggest any 'usual' additions like cornflour or vinegar, and as before it doesn't feel quite right to me to 'miss them out' but I am learning to trust Fanny completely... So I whisk up my egg whites to stiff peaks, add 2oz caster sugar and whisk for EXACTLY three minutes and then gently fold in another 6oz of caster sugar. 

My oven is ready at 130 centigrade. Fanny says I should just 'blob' the mixture onto my baking trays, but her picture features wonderfully piped creations and shapes... Perhaps this is for those already fluent in Fanny's meringues, but I give it a go anyway. Rebel, eh? Blobbing just doesn't seem 'me'.

I add a few teaspoons of chocolate essence to the final third of the mixture, just to see, with a few chocolate chips and even decide to 'blob' some of them after all... Ok, not quite so rebellious I know... Fanny is watching and I mustn't misbehave...

Fanny tells me, as usual, that if I follow her instructions I simply cannot go wrong. So, after the allotted 55 minutes of drying ('meringues do NOT need actual cooking') I am again relieved to see some very light, very crisp perfect looking meringues. Just like Fanny's. Ahem.