Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Johnnies' Jugs of Joe

Fanny noted that back in the 1970's more and more people in Britain were becoming converted to coffee and those that weren't simply hadn't had the fortune to taste the real thing. If all you'd had was the 'boiled soot or beige dill water' which average catering establishments substitute for 'real coffee' then how could you possibly be expected to savour the flavour? And isn't it very complicated to make?  Are you scared off from tackling coffee in the first place by 'so called experts' waffling on about it? Perhaps you don't have a coffee making pot? What if that expert was no other than Johnnie himself showing how to make perfect coffee everytime, without much fancy equipment, in a pic-strip? Perfect!

Fanny and Johnnie don't want to recommend any particular type of coffee, but do stipulate a few basic rules to ensure that we can all enjoy a perfect cup. Never economise on the amount of coffee you use, the flavour will only suffer. If you buy ground coffee instead of freshly ground beans you will end up with an inferior flavour. Coffee, back in the 70's, was a luxury item, ideal for this time of year, and basically you need to splash out to justify your expenditure. Johnnie says it's common sense.

I feel like I'm recreating a scene from Trainspotting as Johnnie insists I lay out a small jug, some tin foil and a spoon in readiness for my 'real' coffee experience. According to Johnnie, this is the method used to make coffee in France, so it must be the best. The instructions are simple - place the coffee in the jug and pour over just boiled water, stir thoroughly and cover with the foil as a lid. Leave it alone for 3 or 4 minutes, before pouring it through a sieve into a coffee pot. Drink, with extreme pleasure.

It's quite a ceremony really. The finished coffee tasted weak to me, perhaps I've scrimped on the quantity of beans I've ground? It tastes good, I'm surprised, but no punch. But wait, this is everyday coffee, Johnnie has a few more tricks up his sleeve to help me enjoy a stronger brew.

The first is a perfect after dinner coffee. First pour just boiled water over ground coffee in a small pan. Johnnie specifies a copper pan, but sadly no such thing of beauty appeared under my tree this Christmas. Turn up the heat until the mixture seethes to the rim. Remove from the heat until it subsides, them repeat this three times. Once entirely seethed (presumably the coffee and not me) turn off the heat and (if you are being economical) add 1 or 2 drops of ice cold water to drive the grounds to the base of the pan. If however you are striving for perfection, add 3 or 4 drops of rose water. Well, Johnnie promised the perfect coffee, so it had to be rose water for me. We are not finished there though. While the coffee cools completely, a vanilla pod is popped in. Once cool, that is removed and the coffee sieved and heated up again, to just about boiling. Never boiling, just below. And voila, the perfect after dinner coffee. It's a little stronger, and the rose and vanilla give a good taste. Presumably your guests will have given up waiting by this time of course and may have gone home.

If you fancy hanging on your guests you could always serve them the most extravagant and luxurious coffee in the world. Quite a claim! It's a Café Brûlot, and Johnnie says is highly impressive after-dinner, quickly and easily made. Phew! In a flame proof vessel, place sugar, orange rind and a vanilla pod. Muddle them together. Gently heat some brandy (always the least expensive available to you), pour it over and set it alight. Oooh, pretty blue flames. It's tempting to just look at the flames for a while, and I assume dinner guests would be ooh-ing and aah-ing too, but really they should be put out by pouring piping hot coffee on them. Strain and serve the coffee as it is - NEVER with sugar or cream. It's lovely actually, really strongly flavoured and a kick of brandy. Perfect.

So there we go, three ways to make a perfect coffee at home. Simple, impressive and extravagant. The final recommendation from the Cradocks despite what they said is to invest in a coffee making pot, which they just happen to be selling to you as a special offer in this issue. It's proper Italian and includes full instructions on how to use it, so you could just ignore all Johnnies advice really. Fanny obviously does. My heads buzzing from all the coffee and jiggery-pokery. Happy New Year everyone, hope that 2015 is a good one. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Fannys' Bûche (de Noël)

You know that sinking feeling when you've spent months and months planning for every eventuality for Christmas, every present is wrapped, every scrap of Angelica has been trimmed to decorate cakes and every lucky assistant (should you be lucky enough to have any) has been fed a celebratory Mincemeat Omelette... Then, there's a knock at door. It's those neighbours that you never really liked very much. There's no alternative but to invite them in for a festive drink but what on earth to serve them to eat? The Christmas Cakes are all iced and waiting patiently to be sliced, but you don't want to cut them open for these uninvited and frankly unwelcome guests. You've made gigantic Mince Pies for the buffet table, which can't be wasted at this stage. Besides, you are really looking for something that will wow her next door, and get them chatting all along the picket fences in the street. Fanny has a quick solution, her Bûche de Noël, flung together quickly while Johnnie makes coffee for all. 

Fanny always has a Swiss Roll panel lurking about for such emergencies, but even if you don't they are super easy to do in a hurry. For this very special Chocolate Log a very special Chocolate Swiss Roll is recommended, but not essential. Any Swiss Roll will do, but if you do fancy Chocolate, Fanny simply replaces a tablespoon of flour in her recipe with a tablespoon of sweetened drinking chocolate. Not cocoa powder. She does have a much more involved, flourless recipe that she will share later in the course, but for now ordinary drinking chocolate it is! Then, as every Swiss Roll before, sugar is heated in the oven, added to whizzed up eggs and whipped until voluminous and strong. 

The nasty neighbours would barely notice you were away for long as the Swiss Roll panels only takes 9 minutes to bake. Johnnie will have just gotten part way through a very interesting story and they will barely hear you clatter around in the kitchen to get things sorted as they will be faking laughter and fascination, so clatter away.

For this Yuletide treat, Fanny fancies it up even more with a chocca-mocha buttercream filling and topping. No nosey neighbour will be expecting that! They'll smell the coffee brewing and as Johnnie pours it expertly for them they will simply have no idea what is to come...

Fannys buttercream is made quickly by beating the butter, adding icing sugar and an egg yolk, beating again before adding the chosen flavour - softened chocolate chips and reduced, syrup like fresh coffee. You could add anything you like. The buttercream is simply spread on the inside of the panel, with the sides cut off to ensure it rolls properly, and then slathered all over roughly. Little stumps are fashioned from the off-cuts and stuck on. The illusion of bark is created with little stick, Fanny recommends an orange stick but all I have to hand is a cocktail one. A final flourish of thickly dusted icing sugar and voila, the Chocca Mocha Bûche de Noël is ready to present to guests, who will ooo and aah and wonder how on earth you've managed to produce such a thing as if from nowhere. As you wave them goodbye with a cheerful 'Merry Christmas' you'll hear them whisper in wonderment to each other 'Did you see Fannys Bûche? Amazing, so much flavour and sensational to look at'... Merry Christmas everyone, from Fanny and from me! 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Get an Eyeful of Fannys Festive Trifle!

Fanny says that no festive buffet table is complete without a stonking great trifle. She doesn't use the word 'stonking' you understand, but her eyebrows are raised slightly to express her intent. Do not forget the trifle. She presents a few variations in the Christmas partwork, but these are really just for beginners. She teases us with promises of yet more delightful Trifle to come in future parts, but for now it's her Family Trifle (also known as her Mum's Trifle), a Russian Charlotte (where the sponge in on the outside and filled with fruit jelly and cream) and an Italian Trifle (strangely called Zuppa Inglese, and is topped with baked Italian Meringue instead of cream) that get the Cradock treatment. All that Fanny asks is that your buffet table is covered in red and presented with garlands of variegated holly and silver Christmas ribbons. Perhaps the assistants didn't get the memo, her own buffet table is white with red ribbons.

On the glorious Cradock Cooks for Christmas TV shows (let's not mention the Nadia G 'celebration'), Fanny makes this Family Trifle with her very favourite Swiss Roll slathered with Apricot Jam and sprinkled with a sweet white wine such as Sauternes. As we are just starting out here though, Fanny suggests using sponge fingers, homemade peach jam and Madeira. Homemade peach jam? Fanny, this wasn't on your plan ahead Christmas schedule! I'm substituting it with mashed up Peach Slices. I will make jam for next year. Maybe. I'm also swapping the Madeira for Marsala as that's all I have in, and my purse won't stretch to anything else at this time of year.

It's more or less a matter of assembly, or so Fanny says, so I get stuck in. Fanny says to soak the fingers in the wine, mix in the jam and press into a wide bowl. That seems a bit mushy for me. Sorry Fanny. I instead carefully snap them in two, artfully arrange them, splash the wine over (like I saw Fanny do on TV for the more advanced Trifle, I'm clearly thinking I'm more advanced than Fanny gives me credit for) and plonk in the peaches. The Marsala smells like Trifle should, all retro-tastic. I'm only sorrowful I don't have a (slightly sad and stained) pink Tupperware bowl to make the Trifle in...

Just when I'm not looking, Fanny does get fancy with the trifle, making a voluminous chocolate sauce and a sabayon instead of custard. I mis-read the instructions while I was making it, and just melted the chocolate for the sauce. That's what she does on TV. Fanny would beat me with her spatula I know. Whack. Her sauce was more like a mousse with egg yolks and whipped up whites, and would've been lovely I think. If only I'd paid more attention. Still, I was too busy making the sabayon with egg yolks, a little white wine and sugar over a double boiler. Fanny also wanted me to make free-form 'beginners' chocolate leaves from melted chocolate (the proper ones made with wiped leaves from the garden will be revealed much later by Fanny) drizzled onto greaseproof paper. It was suddenly a hectic time in the kitchen, and with not an assistant in sight, I panicked. Quiver. 

The sabayon goes over the fruit (first sprinkled with almond shreds - I only had ground almonds, more panic!) then the chocolate sauce. For the garnish, Fanny gives clear instructions, 'cream piped on in rosettes of different colours, so that the finished trifle looks like a multi-coloured cartwheel' and decorated with glacé cherries. The picture given in the partwork is somewhat different - plain white cream piped in quadrants with glacé cherries in a cross. Fanny explains that this is an 'alternative' presentation, but I suspect that naughty assistants Dianne and Frank didn't read the instructions properly either. At least it's not just me. I think Fanny would be pleased with my presentation skills, Dianne and Frank will be relegated next year to more menial tasks. Only if Fanny doesn't notice my 'mousse-take' though...

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Cradock Christmas Staff Party

It's that time of year when we are all 'enjoying' our Christmas nights out with our colleagues, getting dressed up and letting our hair down. I'm sure the Cradocks, erm, being good employers, would have been no exception. It might've been the one time of the year that the poor assistants were able to stop quivering for long enough to enjoy a small sherry, a vol-au-vent and perhaps a mince pie, if they were lucky. And they were lucky just to be with the Cradocks. It seems Fanny and Johnnie had a favourite 'parlour game' that might've been played, it sounds perfect for the poor assistants. Perhaps they named it after Fanny? Snapdragon. It involves a large silver punch bowl (although in times of stress any heat resistant bowl wrapped in a scarlet or emerald napkin will do) and some raisins steeped in a mixture of brandy and vodka for a couple of hours. Fanny would add more spirits to the bowl, set it alight, switch the lights of and make the assistants snatch the raisins with their fingers from the flames. She certainly knew how to relax her assistants at a party. Ouch! 

And this was their prize for months and months of hard labour, I mean hard work. Fanny had a plan to make Christmas easy. A blueprint which ensured that we could all 'take it easy' during the festive season, simply tying up 'all the loose ends' after months of planning. Well, it would've been the lucky assistants that were tied up for months and months in preparation, but Fanny shares her tips to get the party in full swing anyway. Including a schedule to make the most of your ordinary four burner cooker, with a queuing system for pots, pans, steamers and birds. All complete with a handy illustration just incase it wasn't clear.

Fanny urges the housewives of 'this Island' to sit down just for a moment to remind themselves just what 'the day' really means, lest we all forget with the pace and stress of life today. Fanny recommends while you are sitting to grab a pencil and piece of paper to make lists. Lots of lists. You'll end up with lists everywhere. Jot things down at a pace. It's all very stressful. Ah, so what Fanny really meant to remind you was to get yourself in a fankle over all the things that she herself gets other people to do for her. There are menus to plan, orders to place, spare fuse wires and candles to buy (there could be a power cut), an extra flannel to purchase (in case a car breaks down outside your house or someone misses a train), the lists go on. I'm stressed just thinking about all the possibilities Fanny outlines. Things I'd never considered.

Fanny insists that the most important appointment to make is of course to have your hair done. The shame of turning up to your 'staff do' with an inferior 'hair-do' would simply be too much. While you are thinking of yourself, only for 10 minutes mind you, remember to lie flat on the floor with pieces of cotton wool wrung out in iced water over your eyes. Jolt your feet up higher than your head. Presumably not in the hairdressers, but it's not clear. Apparently, it works miracles to give you a lift, and is cheaper than champagne. It also means you don't see the assistants running around demented, frantically arranging, presenting and preparing. As if there isn't enough to do, Fanny demands that Palm Trees are fashioned from cardboard, silver paper, plasticine, doilies, nails and hairpins to show-off festive crystalised fruits. That really says 'Christmas' doesn't it?

No Christmas Party buffet would be complete with a suitably stuffed bird, and Fanny has her own invention to make things even easier here. A piping bag. Fill it, insert it (both ends) and shove like mad. For the final presentation of all the assistants hard graft, so that they can 'relax' and enjoy it even more, Fanny suggests a jaw-dropping, eye-popping, neighbour-stopping table display. She has them binding holly to make lavish swags to accentuate the groaning buffet table. But wait, there's much more groaning ahead before any food can be consumed. Lights off. Set the bowl alight. Come on now lucky, lucky assistants, get your bare fingers stabbed in to the flames and see how many raisins you can snatch. Ouch again. That's their actual Christmas dinner, a Christmas bonus even, I'm sure this buffet is for the real Christmas guests... Fannys' Christmas isn't so pain-free after all. Merry Christmas you old Snapdragon. 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Glögg, Glögg, Glögg

I should've had more faith in Fanny, she does have some favourite alcoholic cocktails to share for Christmas after all. Poor old Johnnie isn't a fan however. Despite teaching Fanny 'all she knows' about wine, he defines a cocktail as 'a number of good ingredients ruined by being mixed together.' Fanny is keen to surprise him though, and reaches into the depths of history to uncover some long forgotten, erm, classics, as well as some new wonders borrowed from around the world. Fanny must've picked up that I'm feeling a little under the weather this week, as most of the festive favourite are hot, hot, hot! I've been supping on some Galloway Chilli Jam Hot Toddies to try and scare the bugs off, but I'm willing to try some of Fannys specialities too. It might help. It's kind of research.

Before I get to the hot cocktails though, Fanny suggests a cold one. Made with milk. Stored for a few weeks before drinking. I dare say if I wasn't feeling too hot already, this would surely finish me off, but it's worth a go isn't it? For the Cold Milk Punch (which Fanny also calls Old Milk Punch, I can't work out if it's a typo or not) I need to soak lemon peel in rum for 24 hours, before adding brandy, the lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar. After a quick stir to dissolve the sugar, Fanny gets me adding boiled milk. She does warn that the mixture will curdle, and it does. I'm glad I did this in advance whilst feeling brighter. Adding some boiling water doesn't help. Fanny recommends leaving it for 24 hours covered with a cloth before straining and bottling and leaving it somewhere safe for a few weeks. I wish I'd forgotten where I'd stored it in all honesty, not even the rum, brandy and spices couldn't save me from 'old milk'.

In need of something warm and soothing I'm pleased not see that Fanny recommends a Churchwarden. Much more like it. It's a mix of lemon, cloves, red wine and tea. Perfect for this time of year and a real tonic after weeks-old milk. Fanny stabs cloves into a lemon and pops it into a cool oven until the lemon turns light brown. The smell is amazing, certainly clearing my poor sinuses. While the lemon is baking, heat the wine and get ready some scalding hot tea. Fanny says ideally should be green and from Mr Laity's shop in St Ives, Cornwall. This seems very specific to me (does it even still exist?), and quite a trip, so I reach for a TeaPigs instead. The roasted lemon is immersed in the hot wine, and hot tea poured on top with a little sugar. Yahoo for the Churchwarden, it's lovely. I expect it'd be even lovelier if I had the  right tea. Sorry Fanny. Sorry St Ives.

My cold isn't quite lifting yet, so I'd better bash on with more 'remedies'... Fanny has a richly sweet one for me next, it's called a Negus. Unusually Fanny doesn't give any explanation why, it just is. It's a classic. It's made with Port, although Fanny does say you can substitute Red Wine if wishing to be more economical. This is no time for economy though, what could be more import at than my health? The port is heated, but not boiled, and added to a jug with sugar, lemon rind, lemon juice and grated nutmeg. Again, it's a treat for my nasal passages. Fanny says I should stand the jug near a fire, I don't think she had my radiators in mind, and pour on some boiling water. The mixture then needs to be stirred for 30 minutes while keeping it warm before serving up. It really is lovely, but without the benefit of a roaring hearth I had to reheat it before swigging it back.

Finally for today, Fanny wants to introduce a traditional recipe she has 'borrowed' from Sweden, which she says is traditionally made with Sherry but she finds a red wine works equally well. Its Glögg but Fanny says it's sort of pronounced Glurg. It's also got brandy, so can't be wrong can it? The brandy is warmed gently with sugar, cloves, cinnamon sticks, almonds and raisins until it's too hot to touch comfortably. The only way to test this is to keep sticking your finger in until it hurts. Ouch. Then I wonder if Fanny is losing it. She sets light to it. This is a fire hazard, and I already have Casualty on speed dial after the finger-scalding test. Once the flames die down, phew, it's added to the gently warming red wine, stirred and served. It's stunning, a real winner for me. The almonds and raisins add so much. I do wonder if essentially burning off the brandy alcohol was necessary though. I reckon several of these will shift my lungs no problem. Oh hang on, Fanny suggests bottling left-overs to be reheated for next time. Left-overs?