Sunday 30 June 2013

Will I rise the occasion?

"The difficult can be done at once, the impossible merely takes a little longer"

Pushing me towards achieving my goal of mastering the basics, Fanny urges me that both the extremely difficult and the impossible CAN be transformed into easy success. She thrills in telling me that failure only happens when recipes are written by people who do NOT cook or read by people who do NOT follow every word faithfully throughout. I think she's trying to reassure my that her Simple Soufflé, the next recipe in my basic training, will work out well - but of course she is also trying to terrify me into following every word... Keep calm Fanny, I am with you...

This simple sweet soufflé uses four eggs and a little caster sugar, that's it. Fanny tells me it's not the most elaborate soufflé in the world, I get it, but it is good enough to eat. Well, that's good. Fanny also allows me to vary the basic recipe a little, and here suggests using some "dull old properly cooked fruit" as a base. I have some gorgeous gooseberries, perfect, but not dull. she wont know. The cooking to proper standard is all down to me, but I am sure I can manage.

I add the properly cooked fruit to my properly buttered soufflé dish (6 inch for a 4 egg soufflé). All good so far...

Following Fanny's word to the letter, of course, I separate my four not-too-fresh eggs and whip up the whites until they are stiff enough to hold them over my head without falling out. Ordinarily I'd just guess they would not fall out, but fearing failure if I don't follow Fanny, upside down they go!

Sneaky Fanny is checking that I am really working my way through these basic Golden Threads without cheating - she asks me to now whip my egg yolks with four tablespoons of caster sugar until they are a thick creamy batter that resemble mayonnaise... It's ok Fanny I made the mayonnaise, I am learning and I know just what to look for. How chuffed am I at myself?

Adding the mayonnaise-like yolks to the whipped whites, gently and with a rubber spatula (details, details...) I fold them in and cover the (hopefully) properly cooked gooseberries.

I can feel my nerves starting to jangle as I pop it in the hot oven... I am warned that it must cook for 13 or 13 and a half minutes (is it an option?) - any longer and it will be a PUDDEN and not a soufflé. I must remember this for future, Fanny adds. Noted. I am sure there will be a test soon.

Thirteen minutes is up, will it be the first-class show-off that Fanny promises, or a terrible flop? I am doubting myself and not Fanny here... Did I really follow every single written word by the cook who really does cook? Should I have taken a little longer to study the impossible? I think Fanny would be pleased...

Friday 28 June 2013

The Miracle of Mayonnaise

I have to be honest, I've not really spent a lot of time worrying about Mayonnaise in my life. I make it sometimes, I buy it sometimes, sometimes I buy it and pimp it up - it's really just whatever suits that day. A few weeks ago I made some which split and went wrong, no idea why and no idea what I should've done. I binned it and used shop bought. However Fanny's next Golden Thread for me to master is mayonnaise that will NOT curdle, and some handy hints to restore any mayonnaise that has not been made the Fanny way (as if I'd dare).

The ingredients seem familiar, except the addition of white pepper, but the amounts seem 'scant' (I am picking up various new bits of cooking vocabulary thanks to Fanny!). She tells me to use a scant egg spoon of white pepper. I'm guessing that's smaller than a teaspoon, so mix it in with my egg yolks and salt.

Feeling that Fanny is watching over my shoulder I whip it up for much longer than I would normally, until it looks as Fanny describes - no picture story this time - thick, pale and fluffy. Still whipping away, I drizzle in the olive oil slowly. It looks really thick and very yellow, much more so than ever before. Fanny loves her garish colours so this must be right!

Fanny suggests various variations for different flavours and types of mayonnaise so I pause here to consider these. Always keen to teach me French, Fanny warns me that vinegar (vins and aigre - wine and sour) may be too sour if I am 'going grand' and serving my mayonnaise with fine wine at a special dinner. I have certainly never considered 'going grand' in this way, and never I don't think considered serving mayonnaise at any dinner party, or with fine wine. Fanny tells me to replace the vinegar with grape juice if I do... So just to try I divide this basic mixture in two, add vinegar to one and grape juice to the other. Mix as instructed and add a smattering of flavours as suggested which raise the 'basic' mayonnaise to something more 'high flown' according to Fanny.

This is feeling like an experiment back in my science class now.

So Fanny has guided me through a maze of mayonnaise hints, tips and recipe ideas... And the results look good. They are more sturdy and more vibrant than those I have made before, but really was I expecting anything else? Fanny says if I find it indigestible I could transform it into Spanish Mayonnaise by whipping in a beaten egg white or thin it down a little with cream... But I think I'll just dive in a see what it's like... Completely forgetting that I'd need to eat it with something though, I quickly knock up some baked Avocado Chips (that I'd seen in a blog this week, yum) and Breaded Mushrooms. Success! It tastes great, and is so different to usual in texture - really light and smooth despite being thick. Really digestible. And not a curdle in sight. Sadly, no fine wine though...

Sunday 23 June 2013

Can I roll it like Fanny?

"Basics are the Golden Threads which link almost everything of any importance which we shall cook together. Without them we are all lost."

Strangely the Cradock Cookery Programme begins with a guide to making a perfect Featherweight Swiss Roll... Even stranger still, there is no recipe as such, instead Fanny treats us to a step-by-step photo guide showing us how to make a Swiss Roll which does NOT crack... Perhaps if she was still around it would be a blog-post or You Tube tutorial. The strangest thing is that although I have been cooking and baking for years, I have never, ever made a Swiss Roll. However, not wishing to be 'lost' I dive in and get myself prepared!

It all seems suddenly alien to me, I am reading about techniques I would never have thought would work and measurements to convert and get my head around - how much is 2 1/2 ounces of self raising flour? Fanny asks me, or rather tells me very sternly, to remember that without self raising flour I will not have enough raising agent to 'lift a single hair on poor old pussy's tail'... I'm not sure who pussy is, but I am not arguing.

Fanny tells me to scald my caster sugar in a very hot oven for 6 minutes and then beat it into my eggs. I fear scrambling instead of a featherweight Swiss Roll, but resisting every bit of knowledge, experience and gut feeling I have gained over the years, I do as I am told. Wow, it looks lovely and voluminous after a few minutes. Maybe Fanny knows a thing or two after all? Finally I add the flour, combine, and spread my mixture in my well prepared tin (of course), making sure to push it into the corners - Fanny warns me that I will have trouble rolling it if I don't. She's been right so far.

After a nerve wracking 8 whole minutes in the oven, I remove my PERFECT, pliable sponge just as Fanny said. Fanny recommends it should look like a golden feather bed and nearly as wrinkly as her husband Johnny. It seems to! The rolling was where I was sure to mess things up, right? So, I spread my jam, take a very, very deep breath and very carefully follow my picture instructions... And Voila! 

With Fanny's help I seem to have mastered a basic skill, and one which I have been without for many, many years. With this Golden Thread under my belt, Fanny assures me that I will have confidence to tackle anything that is to come in the subsequent part-works. This all began strangely, felt strange to do, but strangely I believe her!

Saturday 22 June 2013

Above all, garnish and presentation!

So where do I start? It really all started a couple of years back when I was spending a selfish day roaming around the second hand bookshops of Stockbridge, Edinburgh. I could spend hours looking for old and interesting cookbooks, I love reading recipes from years gone by and wondering if I could recreate them today. But I didn't expect that day to find my personal holy grail, a complete set of lovingly bound Fanny and Johnnie Cradock Cookery Programme part-works, released weekly in 1970/1971 in 80 parts. There should have been 91 parts, but the remaining ones were never published. Someone had taken great care to bind these 80 glorious technicolour (at time garish) cookery magazines into 5 volumes of fun, knowledge, and for me, opportunity! I didn't think twice, and bought the set... I'd seen Fanny on TV, read books about her and had always hoped to have her recipes in my hand - now I did!

I spent the next few months pouring over each and every word and picture, reading my way through the entire set and absorbing the wonderful hints, tips and techniques... My partner didn't really know what to say when I headed off to bed for some 'Fanny Fun', well, its quite hard to explain I suppose! Of course I was amazed at the sight of green mashed potatoes and pigeon pies garnished with real pigeon wings, but I learnt so much and was inspired to cook differently, I just never cooked anything from the set, why not?

I've spent the past few years wondering what I can do with all this wonderfulness, and could Fanny really teach me all she ever knew in weekly instalments? Well, here goes, I'm going to give it a try! I am a vegetarian, and reluctantly Fanny did recognise that we exist, but of course many of the recipes are very meaty, so I'm not going to slavishly work through all of them, but I will write about them even if I don't make them... 

So, according to Fanny there are 7 things I am about the learn - what to buy, methods, timings, perfect implements, working with maximum economy and, above all, garnish and presentation. Don't expect to see those pigeon wings here any time soon, but who knows what will appear!