Monday, 28 October 2013

Not rockin' the casseroling

I swithered whether to plough through Part Three of the Cookery Programme using all meat replacements - there's plenty of Quorn, soya and tofu products I could choose from. Almost every meat and fish is available in 'fake' varieties it seems. However, as it's all about the techniques involved for casseroles and treating meat with respect, it seemed a little unnecessary, so I decide to skip over it. Will Fanny forgive me?

This part is rammed full of hints, tips and tricks to successful casseroles as you'd expect. However I am filled with regret at not tackling them, not for the skills or the tastes but as Fanny herself has supplied some of the very best innuendos and puns to go with this collection. I am missing making Fanny's Cod Casserole ('a peak of culinary lunacy'), learning how to make and store faggots (of herbs) and best of all I will never know how to stiffen my prepared meat. 

Fanny clearly loves meat and clearly loves casseroles. She goes to great lengths to encourage readers to love it too. For me, however, this 'before and after' platter of Oxtail with 'amusing presentation' - including a cauliflower to replace the brain - which Fanny claims is copied from the many stalls she has seen in the open markets in Tours, is simply a step too far... I can't see how I could recreate that with soya-based items. What would Linda McCartney think?

In what seems like a minor irritation to Fanny, Johnnie introduces us to the wonders of Beaujolais, both red and white varieties. Johnnie urges us to try some, especially if you are 'passing through the district on your way to the South' where you can try it in its true home. He even supplies a wonderful photo to inspire us to make the trip. I wonder if he was day-dreaming of escaping for a while as he wrote it?

In truthfulness, there are a few recipes I could adapt happily, but they seem a little strange. Sausage and Rice casserole cooked in milk? French Yorkshire Puddings? And the weirdest Irish Stew I have ever seen, in presentation terms at least.

So I am missing out on the world of casseroles and missing out on some world class innuendos, but Fanny also leaves us with some visual puns too. I am not too sure they'd be terrifically pleased in Sweden with her presentation of this Birds Nest of chives, capers, onions, anchovies, potatoes and eggs, delicious with dark rye bread and butter apparently, but it made me smile.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

We are the Champignons, my friend

To contrast Fanny's first 'Bill of Fare' in this partwork, Menu 2 is hot and seems more homely and comforting for it. Today's starter is a simple soup - Creme Forestière - or plain old Mushroom Soup to you and I. Except, as ever with Fanny, nothing is plain even if it is simple. The main ingredients are mushrooms, shallots and garlic, three of my favourites. 

Fanny suggests using olive oil as always, but I substitute with some Scottish rapeseed oil, which I am sure Fanny would approve of, wouldn't she? Too late. After heating it in a pan with some butter, I add the very finely chopped shallots and cook them gently for 3 minutes. Fanny is very precise here. I then add the chopped mushrooms and grated garlic clove (Fanny recommends a very small one) and cook until they are all tender. No precision time here. 

Once tender, I add some flour and work it up to a rough paste. Fanny insists I use the back of a wooden spoon, but as you can see the rebellious part of me feels inclined to use a spatula, and it works just fine. So, rough paste achieved, time to add in some white wine, gradually. Ah, lovely, wine in soup, Fanny is a genius. Once it's incorporated, Fanny tells me to add in white bone stock - no surprise that I substitute this for a vegetarian alternative. 

The final additions after the stock are some seasoning including nutmeg and single cream. Even before adding the cream, the soup has a creamy and velvety texture, so this feels like a double luxury. The soup has a really vibrant colour thanks to the rapeseed oil - Fanny would be pleased. And that's it. It's very tasty and feels more substantial than it originally seems. The splash of nutmeg lifts it and works well with the shallots particularly. Fanny serves her Creme Forestière in soup cups and saucers designed by Picasso (nothing else would do) with nut sprinkled puff pastry triangles on the side, I chose a more basic bowl.

Fanny opts for another hot main - Le Sandwich Chaud - which she translates as a Family Buffin. It's essentially a homemade burger served in an English Muffin. So, I jump straight to hot pudding. For once it's nothing fancy at all. Baked Bananas. Which of course translates into French as Les Bananes Cuites en Manteaux. Everything sounds better in French. The ingredients again are simple. Erm, bananas.

The bananas are laid on a baking tray and given 20 minutes in a moderate oven. Fanny insists that the blackened skins form part of the presentation - telling me to cut a strip away of the pitch black skin once baked to reveal the flesh. Fanny suggests that dinner guests will really enjoy sprinkling their individual banana with brown sugar, lemon and orange juice. Dinner parties must've been a hoot Chez Cradock.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Bill of Fare - Sunshine at Suppertime

I think Fanny has chosen some light dishes for her end of partwork menus to try and counterbalance the flurry of flans. As before, they really bear no connection at all to what I've been learning or creating, but instead are just some ideas to have ready for guests round for dinner. I have to resist my temptation to roll out some savoury paste and make the starter for 'Bill of Fare One' into a tart though - it's Cold Ratatouille which only sounds slightly more tempting in French - Ratatouille Glacé.

I have to confess that Ratatouille isn't one of my favourites, perhaps it's the disappointment as a vegetarian of often finding it as the only option on a menu, and even then without much flavour or texture. The ingredients however are fresh and are some of my favourites - Aubergines (Fanny calls them Eggplants), courgettes (Fanny calls them baby marrows), peppers (Fanny calls them pimentoes), onion and tomatoes (Fanny doesn't have any alternative names for these). The technique is fairly simple, heat some oil, fry the chopped onion and peppers for a while, add the courgettes and Aubergines, cook for a while longer then add the chopped tomatoes.

Fanny urges me to cook them gently together until all the vegetables are soft and have made their own sauce from the juices and the oil, before seasoning. Lastly Fanny asks me to add 'une persillade' which is a garlic clove crushed together with some milled (which I hope just means chopped) parsley. My French gartronomy terms are coming along nicely!

Fanny suggests this is served cold as a hors d'oeuvre or hot as an accompaniment to a main meal. It looks different to any usual ratatouille - much more vibrant and less 'tomatoey' - adding the parsley  and garlic at the end of the cooking gives it a real flavour punch too. I am impressed, even cold! 

Skipping over Fanny's suggested main of Normandy Rabbit with Cider, it's straight to work on pudding - an Orange Meringue Pie. Oh, a pie. I thought the flans were finished...this version however has no pastry base thankfully and Fanny suggests is a very old and simple recipe which is a firm favourite in the nursery. Not quite sure which nursery she means though.

The technique is simply heating together some orange juice with fresh lemon juice and rind, mixing in some cornflour and water in a paste, adding butter and egg yolks - a kind of orange curd I suppose. Once thick and gloopy it goes into the serving dish to cool.

Fanny explains that the beauty of this simple old-fashioned pudding lies in the base being sharp and the meringue topping being sweet. The meringues are made in Fannys usual way and piped (of course) in a decorative manner on top of the orange curd. I copy Fanny's picture for inspiration, she would be so pleased with me! 

Then, into a low oven to dry out the meringues until they look like the colour of cooked biscuits apparently. Fanny is of course right, the base is lovely and sharp and the top crunchy and sweet - a lovely end to this particular menu, and a welcome light end to the flans!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Showstopper - A Pharaohs Flanale

I'm not sure what Fanny would make of the Great British Bake Off phenomenon, but I imagine she'd be a fan of the showstopper challenge. After all, it's all about garnish and presentation, her two favourite things. I don't think we are going to be seeing a Fanny Cradock week any time soon, but as ever, ahead of her time, Fanny herself finishes the flans in this partwork with her very own showstopper - the Pyramid Flan. 

Fanny instructs me to start by making a galette from puff pastry. I am using shop bought again. Fanny notes that if I use a lot of pastry she knows a good supplier who can send me a bulk order. All I need to do is send her a SAE with the words 'Bulk puff paste address please' written on it and she'll send me the address. She does point out she has no commercial interest here, her only interest is her dear readers. Aw. I'll be fine with the supermarket I reckon. So, I cut a round and score it in a criss-cross fashion to prevent it rising too much, egg wash it and bake.

Fanny warns me that if I simply 'slap' a disc of paste on a tray and bake it I will end up with a distorted circle risen up like an ancient tumulus! I am not too sure what one of those is, but it doesn't sound great, and I'd rather have the risen but flat surface Fanny demonstrates. When it's cool, Fanny tells me to split it in half across the centre and bake some rings of puff paste cut from the leftovers.

The rest is really assembly - filling the cut galette with a trio of confectioners custard, jam and whipped double cream. I am getting quite used to making the lovely thick custard Fanny is so fond of and has used in so many of these flans. I am hoping Fanny would be proud of me, as I'd previously never been able to master this one.

And then of course, pop the cut top back on. Please note is is risen and flat.

To construct the pyramid simply pop the baked puff paste rings on top in ever decreasing circles. Fanny sticks them on with apricot glaze, but fearing I'll end up in a sticky mess - as so often happens on the Bake Off - I adopt the stacking method. Fanny's final piece of advice is to dust the Pyramid with a flurry of icing sugar at the moment of service, and not before. So, voilà, Mary and Paul, the Pyramid  Flan Showstopper is now on the judging table.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Eek, it's Fanny's Cheese Flower

I'm a little nervous about unleashing this one onto the blog. I've been carefully thinking how to introduce it, how to name it, what puns to use, which ones not to - but sometimes Fanny has written her own innuendos, and this penultimate flan is such a time. There's not much more I can say.

Essentially this seems like a giant vol-au-vent made to look extra fancy with a scalloped, or 'petalled' as Fanny prefers to call it, edge. Fanny says I can use shop bought or home made puff pastry for this one, and as I haven't used shop bought so far that's what I go for. The rest of the ingredients are store cupboard staples, so perhaps this 'Fleur au Parmesan' is one which could be rustled up in a hurry.

Fanny gives me a pic-strip to show how to create the flower - using a plate as a central template and then a fluted pastry cutter for the petals. Fanny says I can see 'quite clearly' how this is done and also notes that it is 'impossible to go wrong' as the plate stops the cutter going all the way. Ahem. 

The bit I was nervous about was ending up with an uneven number and arrangement of petals, perhaps I was taking this too seriously? I wondered if I should measure them or plot them out, but in the end decided just to go for it. After all, it was 'impossible to go wrong'. It worked! Fanny then tells me to grab two forks and 'bang away' (resist all innuendo thoughts at this point) at the surface staying inside the plate mark to 'fork' all the centre. Please note Fanny says this is a 'springy bounce up and down movement' rather than a 'prod'. Phew. 

Then, brush with beaten, strained egg and bake the flower, before making the cheese filling. For this, Fanny tells me to pop two egg yolks, some milk, flour, Parmesan butter and seasoning in a small pan and heat gently until it boils, thickens and becomes smooth miraculously! It does.

Once it's cool I need to beat in a little stiffly whipped double cream and get my piping bag at the ready! Simply pipe the cheese filling into the centre of the baked flower, and Fanny assures me I have an appetising treat. Apparently. Actually, it tastes not too bad, the cheese reminds me of Primula the way it's piped out. So 70's. So, there we have it, I have recreated Fanny's Cheese Flower and only sniggered several times...

Friday, 11 October 2013

Corkscrewed! Uh-oh, Johnnie's on the wine...

In each partwork, a double page spread is given to Fanny's husband Johnnie to pass on his expertise and suggestions for wine. In this edition though we start with the basics - what is a corkscrew and how do you use one? Johnnie gives a brief history of the corkscrew - a bigger mystery than the Marie Celeste seemingly - before insisting that we don't use a particular kind. The one we should never use is of course called an 'ordinary' corkscrew with a single thread. These monsters will mean you'll have to grip the bottle of wine between your knees, stick your 'behind' out and generally adopt a posture not becoming of fine wine. Johnnie demonstrates.

Johnnie does note that there are 'others' who have behinds of comparable dimensions to his own - do you think he dares to mean Fanny? Anyway, fear not as Johnnie has the corkscrew solution - a 'superior' type with a two threads. These turn in opposite directions simultaneously ensuring the cork is drawn with ease, and in a much more pleasant posture. Again, Johnnie demonstrates.

My own note would be that the facial expressions Johnnie adopts are optional. 

So, if you now know which corkscrew to buy - the most expensive you can afford apparently - and are looking for a detailed pic-strip to show you how to open your wine - which again will be the most expensive you can afford - worry not, as Johnnie is here to help.

The only corkscrews I have are those nasty little single threaders so I am unable to compare the results, or the posture, but I've always found them to be fine. Honestly though I've never considered if my behind sticks out too much while opening a cheeky bottle of red, clearly I have my priorities all wrong. I wonder what Johnnie would make of the rise of screw caps over corkscrews... Anyway as Johnnie says 'Cork Away!' - is it wine time yet?

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Tongue Twister - Fanny's Faux Funghi Feline Flan

Fanny recommends a sponge flan ring for this Tarte aux Champignons, but the only instruction she gives is 'bake the case'... I like to think that maybe it's a typo and what she really meant was 'buy the case', so before I convince myself otherwise I pop to the supermarket and purchase a pre-baked one, for the first time in my life, honestly. Am I getting 'flanned-out' with this partwork?

While at the supermarket I search high and low for the next ingredient - a box of Langues de Chat (French Cats' Tongues) biscuits. There are none to be found, and several supermarkets later and perhaps a bit of guilt at the bought flan case, I resolve to make my own. Fanny doesn't give a recipe, but there is one in my Leiths Baking Bible, and it seems quite simple - beat butter and sugar, add some vanilla (I use my trusty Little Pods), fold in some egg whites, add plain flour. Ooh, Fanny wouldn't like the plain flour, but this isn't her recipe. 

I pipe the Cats' Tongues mixture into small lines, tap out the bubbles and bake for only eight minutes until the are crisp at the edges and golden in colour.

Fanny instructs me to trim their bases, and stand them round the flan ring before filling the centre with a mixture of stiffly whipped double cream and trusty confectioners custard before chilling in the fridge to set while making the meringue mushrooms. 

Yes, meringue mushrooms. Luckily Fanny has already taught me how to make meringues in various shapes and sizes, but mushrooms are a new one to me. The ingredients are the same - egg whites, sugar and a little cocoa powder for decoration. After whipping up the meringue mixture I find myself piping again. I need to pipe little stalks for the mushrooms and also some domed tops. They dry out in the oven before dusting the tops with the cocoa powder.

They actually make very cute looking mushrooms when assembled, sticking together with a little cream. Fanny is right, as ever.

All that's left to do is complete the assembly. This basically involves piling the mushrooms as high as possible atop the flan. Fanny suggests if any of this confuses me I should simply turn to the picture which a poor junior student, Dianne, put together without any instructions. The picture shows a flan with meringue mushrooms piled on top. I wonder if poor Dianne popped out the shops too when Fanny wasn't looking?