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? 

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. 

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Doughnuts like Fanny's

Fanny Cradock. Doughnuts. It's a simple game of word association. It's hard to think of one without the other, even after all these years. It's not just me, is it? Various people claim to have muttered the famous line, various people claim to have spluttered their tea when they heard it, but no official record exists. Google it, you'll find lots of claims. Maybe it's better that way, it's maybe more fun to be able to change it round to suit, wonder if it was Johnnie or not, and wonder what Fanny herself thought about it all. It's a perfect gag really, almost anything can be included. People say it to me a lot 'Does your *whatever* look like a Fanny?' OK, they get it wrong, but they remember Fanny with a smile. It's maybe not the way she'd like to be remembered, but it could be worse, couldn't it?

I've made (kind of) Doughnuts with Fanny before, but they were really just fried flavoured bread circles. They were good though. Imagine my excitement to see that the next recipe in the Christmas Tea Time Treats edition was proper, real, actual, Fried Doughnuts. How very appropriate for my 100th post! Almost. It turns out that these are Fannys take on doughnuts, adapted for busy housewives and beginners to boot. Beginners? Gulp, 100 posts does not a professional make. I feel like poor old Gwen Troake being reminded that I am 'among professionals now.' Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. I'm trying not to be disappointed. Smile, they are sure to turn out like Fannys at least.

So, sniff, whimper, flour is sifted with spices and baking powder, butter is rubbed in, sugar 'dredged in' and egg with a little milk cut in. Fanny says that it should be brought together like a pastry dough, with a trusty knife. Fanny uses lard ONLY to fry her doughnuts. I've never used veggie friendly Trex like this before, but in for a penny in for a pound - or rather into the deep fat fryer. Fanny fills her doughnuts before they are fried. I feel cheated, I was hoping I'd get to inject them all afterwards with gooey jam, maybe custard. Instead, Fanny uses a very clean finger to poke a whole in little balls of dough, blobs in some jam and re-rolls the dough round them. She probably has an old pink or green Tupperware bowl nearby to wash her hands in. I don't, but then I've already decided to use chocolate chunks for mine, less mess.

Fanny doesn't say how long to fry them, or at what temperature, but does say that the temperature is 'all important'. Hmmm, not important enough to say though. You don't want them raw, and you don't want them soggy. Nope, agreed. Fanny goes on to say that you don't want the lard to 'bubble sluggishly' and you don't want them to 'seethe fiercely', just somewhere in between. Lots of 'don'ts' but still no real clues what 'to do'. I guess. Once fried, they are simply rolled in caster sugar which can be flavoured with cinnamon, or not. The choice is mine. Thanks Fanny. I choose to use coloured sugar instead, I'm sure that it will give me 'one up' on those niggly neighbours of mine. Always the right choice if there is ever any doubt.

I don't often munch on a doughnut myself, but when I do I like them to be, well, doughy. It's the magic of yeast, sugar and fat that makes them so special. I tried one of Justin Gellatly's on a recent visit to Borough Market. Bliss. For Fanny, at least for now, they just seem like little balls of cake that are fried up. I am slightly disappointed really, I tried not to be but I am. I know she only has my best interests at heart, and I'm sure to find a proper recipe as the Cookery Programme progresses - it would be madness to introduce yeast at this very early stage wouldn't it. On the bright side I can use the joke again, just like Fanny recycling all her recipes I can insert the line from time to time. These doughnuts are good enough, taste alright and look the part, but they aren't going to worry Justin. Maybe I'm disappointed in myself. I'm forgetting that Fanny is teaching me, and this takes time. I can't just congratulate myself after 100 posts (thanks for reading by the way!) when there is so much still to come, Fanny has a lifetime of experience to share with me. For now though, despite having such a strong association in words and history, it turns out that Fannys don't turn out like doughnuts.