Thursday, 27 November 2014

Pussyfooting Around the Cocktail Cabinet

I think Fanny Cradock and I are on the same page when it comes to Christmas. Food is important, and lots of it, but best to get it all prepared in advance so that you can settle down and relax with a drink. Nothing better than a wee glass of fizz, something fruity, and frankly something potent to while away the festive season. Fanny certainly thinks so, and she dedicates the final half of the dreaded Part Thirteen to Christmas 'Drynke'. Like the 'mete', it's as in 'Ye Olde'. I do love a bit of a booze up, I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm pretty sure Fanny was no stranger to the cocktail cabinet either, but hang on a cherry picking minute, what on earth is Fanny playing at?

Teetotal? As in 'sans booze'? Fanny what are you thinking of? I guess not everyone enjoys a drink. I guess some people will be driving during Christmas. I guess some people will have given up alcohol. I guess not everyone has Johnnie at their beck and call, to drive them here and there in the Bentley. I guess you could always add some gin?

Fanny gives ten stand-in cocktails for those not partaking this Christmas. All are fruity, all are fizzy and all are fairly festive. I hate to admit it. The first is called a Pussyfoot, and is a lovely sounding combo of lemon, orange and lime juice. The juices are strained into an old-fashioned cocktail shaker, lucky that I have a few of those, with some crushed ice (just a teaspoon though! I manage to bash a cube or two in a plastic bag with a rolling pin), icing sugar and an egg yolk. Egg yolk? Time for a vigorous shake, presumably thinking of someone that you really didn't like very much. The same person you thought of whilst bashing the ice cubes. 

Once strained into a glass the Pussyfoot should be topped up with soda water and served with a cocktail cherry on a wooden cocktail stick. On no account should the cocktail stick be made from plastic, NEVER, as Fanny advises, 'Plastic always tastes of detergent!' Also on no account substitute the soda water for sparkling wine of any description, or at least if you do, do not tell Fanny. The Pussyfoot is very frothy and really refreshing. I wasn't sure about the egg yolk, but it makes if almost like an egg-nog... It would be lovely with a Brandy plopped in. Is Fannys insistence on teetotal-ness turning me too far the other way?

Fear not, the egg white isn't wasted - as if Fanny would allow that, especially in these times of austerity. It can be whipped up and added to more orange and lemon juice and some syrup to make an Orange Lemon Flip. Just shake again and top up with soda water, as before. Definitely not champagne. Fanny also makes an Orangeade by peeling the oranges thinly, placing them in a jug with some sugar and their juice, pouring boiling water over them and waiting. Once cooled, guess what? Add some soda water. Not vodka, no. 

Fanny gives variations on all the 'mocktails', using Strawberry Syrup in place of the citrus juice, or making lemonade with raspberries or pineapple chunks instead. The imaginatively titled Ginger Ale Punch is citrus juice, cold tea and sugar all shaken together, topped up with soda water and ginger ale. I've never seen so much soda water, but you know it's pretty versatile and makes the cocktails not-too-sweet, a bit sharp and dare I say a bit edgy. It's almost as if you don't miss the booze at all. Almost. However it's the egg tricks that impress me most, it's really like drinking something 'proper' and not 'soft'. The final one for now is a simple Egg Lemonade. I'd probably change the name if I was serving it to guests though. Back to the trusty cocktail shaker and in with some lemon juice, strained of course, with a generous tablespoon this time of crushed ice, some sugar and the egg yolk. Whip the egg white separately and at the 'precise moment of service' whip the two together, pour into a tall glass and this time squirt in the soda water from the side. It's another frothy one. I still say I might squirt in a Bacardi but if you are teetotal, even just for one night, go for it - these cocktails might just make you feel giddy.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Fanny's Flash of Festive Flesh

Unlucky for vegetarians everywhere, part thirteen of the Cradock Cookery Programme focuses very much on meat. Fanny is anxious that we all save time running up to Christmas and look at some new techniques, new ideas and as always new presentations. However to reassure the readers of the club that she hasn't gone all modern really, she calls the part Christmas Mete, as in Ye Olde, and also includes a secret from her own grandmothers recipe book. Fannys Granny. Well, none of the recipes are suitable for me, but that doesn't mean that I can't marvel at the displays. Poor vegetarians, our Christmas tables must seem so very plain.

Fanny lets us know that many fancy London stores and supermarkets have installed machines which cage meat in fine elasticated string. No one can be sure about the rest of the country. Fanny says this is all happening just in time to save even more precious moments for Christmas. And what a time saver it was! Traditionally, these meat joints had to be tied up by 'professionals' in the old-fashioned way, taking at least five minutes. But, hurrah, thanks to the machine this job is cut to a mere 3 seconds. Fantastic. I assume that Fanny hopes you'll use the 'spare' four minutes and fifty-seven seconds to arrange your joints on platters with seasonal vegetables or of course pop them straight onto your spit-roast at home. Naturally. I am missing so much fun being a vegetarian. And it is so time consuming.

I bet you'll never have seen anything vegetarian arranged in such a splendid way as this Guard of Honour? No nut roast could ever resemble this. Fanny gets Johnnie to do the 'home butcher adventuring' to transform these ordinary but best neck ends of lamb into a show-off dish. This presumably saves Fanny even more time. Just get Johnnie to do it. 

Vegetables do help create a stunning centrepiece for an otherwise lacklustre saddle of lamb, so vegetarians shouldn't despair. I'd be happy with an oven-baked tomato spruced up with a sprig of Rosemary, some Brussels and a bed of peas, wouldn't you? Fanny says that baby sprouts are the only ones worth eating, steamed, bien sur.

If you are really strapped for time over Christmas, perhaps a French Sausage Roll would appeal? It's a huge baked garlic sausage covered in puff pastry which has been brushed in mustard. French Mustard. Oh and English too. Just like Fanny (ahem) an Anglo-French alliance. With all the spare time you have, best to tiddle things up with plaits of pastry. For those fancying a different bird this Christmas, Fanny reaches into her Grandmothers notebook and produces a Pigeon Pie. Fanny loves a pigeon. Not only do they taste great but the price is low too. The biggest advantage they have though, according to Fanny, is that very few pigeons are frozen, so the chances are you'll be eating fresh flesh. I'll stick to the freshly prepared baby sprouts if you don't mind. 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Baby, it's cold outside

Fanny Cradock has had us all thinking about Christmas for months now, getting a selection of teatime treats prepared and practiced for the Big Day. Finally the weather is starting to catch up. It's chilly. Before we move on to the next partwork, Christmas Drinks (yahoo!), Fanny provides a Bill of Fare to wrap things up, and hopefully keep us feeling wrapped up warm. What could be more comforting and cosy than a big bowl of freshly steaming soup followed and a belly-pleasing, fresh straight-from-the-oven Apple Flan. Maybe I'm not learning as much as I thought here though, or I have been incredibly bad at it. Or is Fanny paying me back for not following all the instructions as intended? Fanny certainly has something different in mind, and it's not going to keep me warm. Cold soup and cold flan.

Leek and Potato soup has always been a favourite of mine, but I never really knew if served cold it's called Vichyssoise. I'd always thought it was some kind of fishy soup (you'll gather that my grasp of languages isn't brilliant, surely if they sort of rhyme then that's a good translation, right?) so I've never gone near it. Have I been missing out on a favourite?

Fannys soups are normally much simpler and just as tasty as the ones I usually make. This Vichyssoise is no exception. It's packed full of leeks and potatoes, cooked in stock and that's about it. The finished soup is hearty and full of flavour. Once the leeks and potatoes are simmered until soft, Fanny suggests rubbing them through a sieve to break down. Perhaps this is Fannys way of keeping me warm after all, but instead of using a bit of vigorous elbow grease to pummel the cooked vegetables, I just whizz them up in the blender. I was tempted to leave a sieve sitting around the kitchen and pretend, you know just in case Fanny is watching me. It's possibly the lack of warmth addling my brain. Once 'sieved' some milk and cream is added to the soup. Then serve it icy cold with a few chopped chives. Simple. Or heat it up if Fanny isn't looking.

For pudding it's Fannys version of Tarte Tatin, or Upside Down Apple Flan, again something I've never tried to make. All the recipes I've seen require a heavy frying pan flung in the oven and I just don't have one. Luckily for me, Fanny doesn't seem to either as she uses a perfectly ordinary Victoria Sponge tin instead. Genius.

Fanny lines the tin with greaseproof paper, greases it with butter and sprinkles it with sugar. She then arranges a thin layer of very finely sliced Apple around the tin, and covers with a disc of perfectly ordinary shortcrust paste. Fanny suggests a complicated manoeuvre involving two metal fish slices (does anyone have TWO of them in their kitchen?) to lift and place the pastry. Sorry Fanny, I just lift mine up using my hands.

For how long to bake this is anyone's guess, all Fanny says is until it looks a 'strong biscuit colour'. Then, it should be covered in four layers of clean cloth (which seems very precise) and refrigerated until very cold. The Tarte Tatin should be inverted before serving, the greaseproof paper carefully peeled back and a very thick layer of icing sugar sifted generously over. As with all Fannys desserts. Under no circumstances should you eat it hot, oh no, it just won't be as good and Fanny will come after you. If you do, please be careful as the sugar-y sweet and sour, slight,y caramelised apples may burn the roof of your mouth. Not that I'd know you'd understand. Oh no.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Jumpin' Jack Flap, it's a gas, gas, gas!

Fanny Cradock wrote an astonishing 40-plus cookbooks in addition to the 80 partworks of the Cookery Programme. It seemed a new book was never far from the shelves while she was alive, and no doubt were lucrative for her. Sadly you will never see a single 'new' Fanny Cradock Cookbook in shops today. Fanny promised that each and every recipe was tested and tested prior to publication to ensure that her recipes never failed at home. Surely she must've been bashing away in her kitchen night and day to test them all? Well, they were tested, but not always by Fanny herself. Why do all that tedious work if you had an army of poor assistants to hand? They didn't need to sleep after all... In addition, each cookbook often recycled recipes from one edition to the next. This final recipe in the Christmas Tea Time Treats 'part' is a prime example. It featured in her very first cookbook, The Practical Cook, from 1949 when she was just plain old Frances Dale. It's a beautiful book, lovingly illustrated in a style similar to Tom Hovey does for the Great British Bake Off. They popped up throughout the years time and again until her final cookbook, A Lifetime in the Kitchen - For Beginner Cooks, in 1985. Subtle alterations were made (reconstituted dried eggs were dropped) but more or less her version of 'Flapjacks' remained unchanged.

If you are expecting oats, butter, golden syrup, dried fruit and so on think again. Fannys Flapjacks are really pancakes. I've heard them called pan scones, or drop scones, but never Flapjacks. Flapjacks are just Flapjacks really. Fanny does like to confuse things. I love pancakes, they really remind me of my own childhood when we made them in all sorts of shapes - usually animals and people. They were one of the first things I ever remember making, eating and enjoying. I'm sure I'd bite the heads off first.  

All the ingredients - flour, sugar, eggs and milk - are whisked up in a bowl until they are a thick batter. Then Cream of Tartar is sprinkled on, quickly but gently folded in and then the batter left for three minutes to rest. I rarely use Cream of Tartar on its own, but this must be the science bit. Meanwhile I get practical with the griddle pan, ensuring it's nice and hot over a moderate heat.

Fanny makes her Flapjacks round, which doesn't seem overly seasonal, or overly creative. Perhaps she'd run out of festive cheer. It happens, especially when you start the planning as Fanny does in January. November seems early enough. In tribute to my own childhood though, I make these ones in Christmas Tree shapes - humour me, that's what Christmas Trees look like round here, OK? I'm sure my poor Mum became an expert at making shapes by just dropping the mixture from a spoon onto the griddle, we didn't have disposable piping bags which make it a lot easier.

Fanny rubs raw, vegetarian unfriendly unsalted pork fat vigorously over the surface of her hot griddle 'until it is shiny' but mine is non-stick already and needs nothing at all. Phew! Tree shapes are piped and once bubbles start to break the surface - am sure this is another science bit - they are flipped with a palette knife for a minute or two on the other side. And that's it. They are dead quick, really puffy and hearty pancakes, I mean Flapjacks. I'll never get used to calling them that. Whether you are a Practical or a Beginner Cook Fanny has taught me you can always tiddle things up a little in terms of presentation, even when she herself doesn't bother. I cut interlocking slits cut into my trees, give them a thick dusting of icing sugar and voila they are a 3D Christmas Tea Time Treat which can be recycled every year. Maybe next year I'll progress to a whole nativity scene. Maybe.