Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Smashing Plates of Food - a Greek Feast

Fanny encourages us to 'Go Greek' for the final Bill of Fare in this part, but it's not really clear if she's a fan of the cuisine herself, or of the people. She tells us that 'we all know' that the Greeks have a word for many things (although I don't know what that word is, and Fanny doesn't tell us) but when it comes to cookery, a vast number of 'their' dishes are 'far too oily for the people of this island'. Maybe tastes have changed, or maybe Fanny just had some bad food when she visited, but the Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil is certainly celebrated now. Strangely, Fanny celebrates it too more often than not, but clearly either Greece or the Greeks have upset her. I am sure she was utterly charming to them...

Fanny Cradock

Fanny starts her Greek menu with a 'simple and amusing' salad known as Pallas Athene's Salad. Fanny doesn't seem amused recounting the time this was served to her by a famous cook in private service on the Island of Corfu. Fanny claims the 'cook' was bad tempered and needed to be flattered to 'bursting point' otherwise she would not bring her confections to them and her employer for 'picnics on the sands'. Fanny exclaims that this cook ONLY had to walk across the road to do so. Fanny is obviously not used to people who will not jump when she clicked her fingers, and was presumably missing Poor Sarah, Peter or any of her faithful unquestioning assistants while on holiday. At any rate, the salad is indeed simple - chopped tomatoes, green peppers, herbs and olives. Oh did I mention I can't BEAR olives? I replace them with little roasted capsicum antipasti. Drizzle with cottage cheese and sour cream and serve. Simple, although the amusement is a little lost on me.

The main course is a moulded Moussaka which Fanny makes with minced mutton. Try saying that quickly. I happen to have a lovely vegetarian Haggis from Macsweens left over from Burns night which seems to be a perfectly spicy substitute here. The aubergines are sliced in half and fried gently on the cut side until their skins wrinkle. The flesh is then scooped out and mixed with the haggis, a chopped tomato and an onion, some herbs and an egg. The aubergine skins are used to line a soufflé mould, and the mixture packed in and steamed for an hour. The finished Moussaka, but not as we know it, is served turned out with a tomato coulis. It cuts really well, and tastes smashing.

The coulis is made from chopped, skinned tomatoes, herbs, garlic, salt and pepper which is gently heated with a little water and simmered until 'collapse' (the tomatoes not me). The strained juices are mixed with a little of that nasty olive oil Fanny was complaining about. Just not too much, ok?

For this Greek feast, Fanny gives a dessert recipe which doesn't sound Greek at all, but she calls it Solines. They are basically chocolate Mini-Rolls, who knew they were Greek? I make a thin Swiss roll, cut it into squares and cut squares of greaseproof paper to match. Melted chocolate chips are spread onto each sheet of greaseproof, and just as they start to 'lose their gloss' without becoming set, Fanny instructs that the little sponge squares be spread with whipped cream and rolled up in the chocolate papers. Once completely set, the paper is easily peeled off to reveal the, well, chocolate mini-rolls. They do peel well.

Whether Fanny was a fan herself or not, this menu is a lovely taste of Greece, and I managed to prepare it all by myself with no bad tempered cooks helping. Well, apart from Fanny Cradock herself of course.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Back in the USSR - a Revolutionary Russian Repast

Fanny travels behind the Iron Curtain for her first Bill of Fare in this part, and conjurs up a traditional Russian meal using simple and colourful ingredients. It's maybe just me, but I always think of Boney M when I think of Russia, so I pop on a bit of Rasputin as I head into the kitchen and set of work on the starter of Borstch - or Bortch as Fanny refers to it. In between some nifty cossack moves I get the ingredients prepared.

Fanny requires the Beetroot and onion to be finely grated. Can I say that I've always found Beetroot to be really scary, I am properly terrified of touching it, but I love the taste. I've found some gorgeous candy stripe beets to use here, which don't worry me so much, but I still use my food processor to do the grating. No touching required. After heating some oil and butter, Fanny encourages me to fling in the grated vegetables with chopped celery, leek, cabbage and a splash of red wine vinegar and fry them for 8 minutes over a low heat, before adding the other ingredients. 

This just now need to come to the boil and simmer gently for two whole hours, which gives me plenty of time to perfect my dance moves. Fanny suggests straining it before serving and adding a dollop of soured cream, but it seems a pity to lose all those lovely vegetables, so I defiantly don't strain! The colour is more subdued perhaps than if I'd used 'proper' Beetroot, but I like it and it tastes really deep and earthy. The revolution has started! 

Fanny recommends a Beef Stroganoff for a delightful main, but of course I skip over this in favour of pudding. Fanny refers to this as an 'unusual' Russian Cheese Pudding, and the main ingredient, cottage cheese, doesn't immediately scream 'dessert' to me either. Am I ready for this type of unusual? However the oranges seem reassuringly pud to me, and I've found some lovely blood oranges which seem very fitting for the revolution theme. 

Fanny guides me to cream some butter until it is 'white and very loose' then add some caster sugar, creaming again, before adding half the amount of cottage cheese and a whole egg. Beating thoroughly, I add some mixed peel, juice from the blood orange - which turns everything a lovely pink - some orange flower water and then the remaining cottage cheese. Next in Fannys list is to to pop it into a muslin lined cheese mould and drain it over night. I don't have one (does anyone?) so improvise with a small sieve and just keep my fingers crossed.

The mixture is quite wet at first, but sure enough by the next day most of the moisture has drained off leaving a firm, rich 'cake' which smells so orange-y. Fanny says herself that a little goes a long way of this 'quick-to-assemble-pudding-without-cooking' and is perfect served with those 'irrestible biscuits known as vanilla sticks'. I'm not sure as ever what they are, but this very unusual cheese pudding is tasty indeed with a plain digestive biscuit. Hard to believe it's made from cottage cheese. Now, what's next on my Boney M playlist?

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Flippin' 'Eck it's Crêpes Fanny-ettes

Fanny shares this idea for Crêpes Soufflés au Citron, or Lemon Souffléd Pancakes, in this citrus-packed part-work, but she really just wants to tease for now, and suggests saving the idea for Shrove Tuesday. So much so that she doesn't share a recipe for one of the vital ingredients - the pancakes themselves. In a future part she will however delight us with them and also show us how to make and store batches of melting pancakes so that we can all draw on them when required, allowing us to enjoy the pudding when we like. Luckily for me I have had a glimpse of the future already, having made the pancakes at Christmas for a baked mincemeat wonder, so I can proudly share this puffed up pudding now.

Fanny always uses self-raising flour, for everything, and of course pancakes are no exception. The other ingredients are eggs, a little oil and milk. I use Borderfields rapeseed oil to give the pancakes an oomph to their taste and colour. Fanny says that this recipe will only be delectable and a joy to behold if the pancakes are made very thin with very thin batter. Her reminder is that you cannot make a thin pancake from a thick one, so there you go. I make a batch of very thin pancakes according to the Christmas booklet instructions, following Fannys technique of adding the batter to the pan at an angle and then swirling it around the pan. If you add the batter to the centre, you will have thick pancakes, be warned.

The soufflé filling for the pancakes is also used to 'mask' the outside of the pancake before it's baked, something I've never seen or heard of before. In Fannys picture they look a bit like Baked Alaskas, and Peter demonstrates how to apply the soufflé successfully in a pic-strip. I need to make it first. I melt some butter gently, add some flour, beating to a paste before adding lemon juice and zest. This really changes the colour of the paste. Fanny tells me to chuck in some caster sugar and a mix of white wine with water gradually, beating all the time, before removing from the heat and adding two egg yolks. 

I also need to whisk up five egg whites to very stiff peaks, and carefully combine the two mixtures. It's quite a lot to coordinate, no wonder she suggests making the pancakes in advance. This is my soufflé mix, and I am ready to assemble. A big blob of the mixture goes on one half each pancake, before they are folded over and then completely covered in the remaining soufflé mix. Fanny puts a stern warning that this tasty pudding will ONLY be successful if the filled pancake is completely masked. She says that someone she knew left the top uncovered - it was probably poor Peter - and ended up with something like packet crisps made by Mr You-Know-Who. I don't, but I don't fancy lemon crisps either, so I make sure they are well masked!

They bake in a hot oven now for only eight minutes. I wasn't too sure what to expect really, would they puff up greatly like a soufflé in a dish, or indeed harden up like a Baked Alaska? Fanny has smothered hers in sifted icing sugar in the part-work picture, so it's hard to tell. However after the allotted time, they come out looking fantastic, only lightly puffed and golden brown. I give them a light dusting of icing sugar and tuck in. Fanny was right, they ARE melting and yummy, a strong punch of lemon and lots of texture - the soufflé inside the pancakes has gone creamy and jammy. The outside is well, like a soufflé. Definitely one to try again for Shrove Tuesday, just need to make another batch of pancakes now to make sure I am ready!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Les Soufflés Le Plus Faciles du Monde!

It really is quite a claim from Fanny Cradock here, but she insists that these soufflés are the easiest in the world. I like to think that she's been very thorough and inspected everyone else's soufflé recipes on her global travels, but my guess is that in typical Fanny style she just states that hers are the best, the easiest, the most professional and so on, and we are to believe her. They do seem easy it has to be said, and continuing the citrus theme, making good use of some of last years homemade marmalade. The only other ingredients are egg whites and some expertly chosen grapefruit.

Fanny tells me to start by whisking the egg whites very stiffly, without using even a 'vestige' of salt. I wasn't going to, honest Fanny. I don't know what a vestige of salt is, but it's not included in the recipe, so why would I add it - by now I am following every word Fanny tells me and only adding techniques and ideas of my own where I can get away with it. Adding salt isn't one of those times - but I guess some people must've suggested that Fanny should. She dismisses this as a "naughty old wives' tale" and urges us all to simply forget it. Consider it done Fanny, completely wiped from my mind.

While the egg whites are stiffening, I sieve my homemade marmalade and am reminded how gorgeous it looks and smells. It's nearly marmalade season again! Fanny recommends any marmalade - orange, lemon or grapefruit - and additionally suggests this could be replaced with any sieved jam. Once sieved it should be folded gently into the stiff egg whites. Fanny insists that everyone buys a rubber spatula for this job, as they are invaluable and inexpensive. I'd imagine in 1970 they'd be a little more unusual than they are today, but just as handy!

In typical Fanny style, the soufflé mix should be placed in hollowed out grapefruit halves before baking. Fanny suggests saving the shells when having her hot grapefruit for breakfast, but I haven't. I'm sure I'd be forgiven, and will remember next time, I promise. Fanny says I can also use lemons or oranges with their tops sliced off and scooped out, but I've found some lovely looking white grapefruit, so I halve them and scoop out the flesh. 

Once filled to the brim, they are simply popped on a baking sheet and baked for 8 minutes in a hot oven, dusted with icing sugar and served immediately. Or if preferred, left to cool and served. Fanny says it doesn't matter, after all these are the easiest soufflés in the world and will always stay 'up' according to Fanny. For me, they do look great, but do start to fall a little as soon as they are out the oven. I'm not going to argue with Fanny though, it's probably something I've done. At first I thought the hollowed grapefruit were just a quirky presentation a la Cradock, but they actually give the finished soufflé a real kick of grapefruit taste and aroma on top of the zesty fresh marmalade filling. Zingy. Oh and they do look good, and they were easy. The easiest soufflé in the world remember.

Friday, 10 January 2014

It's All Greek To Me - Lemon Soup

Fanny says there are two ways to make this unusual (for me) soup, which vary drastically in quality. If you want your soup to taste practically like pond water, use a stock cube. If you want your soup to be delicate and delicious then it needs to be made with well seasoned and good quality stock. It doesn't seem like much of a choice does it, although for me Fannys choice of chicken stock just isn't an option. For Fanny, making this soup for an everyday occasion involves simmering the carcass of a chicken in ordinary white meat stock until it's tender. For the 'peak of perfection' Fanny suggests smashing down an 'old fowl' to a 'sad pulp', covering it with water, adding herbs, lemon and orange peel and simmering until the 'poor old hen is purged' of all flavour. For me, I decide to use some vegetable stock powder in which I steep the peel and herbs for an hour or so - will it be purged or pond water?

Fanny wouldn't be pleased with my lack of bird violence but hey ho I am fairly confident that this stock will taste great, it is well seasoned and good quality after all - nothing like a standard cube. I'm keen to taste this lemon soup - or Soúpa Avgholémono as Fanny describes it in Greek - at any rate, and I can't miss out just because I won't bash a chicken to bits. Once steeped, I strain the stock into a small pan, add some rice, and gently simmer it for around 10 minutes. 

The soup is smelling sensational at this point, really fresh, vibrant and well lemon-y. Fanny has one last trick to add a bit of flourish to this otherwise simple soup - adding an egg yolk to thicken it, along with the juice and rind of some zingy lemons. I'm a bit nervous about adding the yolk, Fanny warns me it might curdle if it's too hot. However, taking the soup off the heat, I confidently add the zest and juice before flinging in the yolk and beating it in quickly. Not in a violent way.

The colour and texture of the soup changed instantly, from a somewhat (I will admit) pond water-like liquid to something much more rich and lush, if a little reminiscent of thin lemon curd. Fanny guides me to gently heat it again in a double pan. Oh, I don't have one of those, so just have to stir it carefully over a very very low heat until it thickens a little. The soup tastes fantastic despite expecting it to be sweet by look alone - it's deep, zesty and perfect for a new year zing. The rice gives it a good bit of substance. Nothing like pond water and not a smashed up, bashed in old fowl in sight. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Future is Bright - Tarte aux Oranges

Fanny makes this her 'Star Dish of the Week' as she is so pleased with it with it's sparkling bright colours, splendid vitamin content and simple set-up. It is yet another flan, which really must be Fanny's favourites, but this one has a fresh and vibrant feel, using boiled oranges. Yes, boiled. It doesn't sound appetising but it's intriguing. It seems particularly cheery today, and a real antidote to the 'depressing guff' Fanny alludes to as the reason for celebrating all kinds of citrus, as I am packing away the Christmas tree and decorations and reflecting on the year past and what's in store for the year ahead. Fanny suggests this as a large flan, but I decide to scale it back a little and make individual ones, after all it's been a few weeks of over indulgence! 

The oranges - or large globose many celled berries with sub-acid juicy pulp enclosed in a tough rind, externally of a bright reddish yellow/orange colour to give the definition provided by Fanny - should be popped in a pan, covered liberally in cold water which is then brought to the boil before simmering gently for around an hour. Fanny suggests that the way to tell if they are ready is to pinch them lightly between your first finger and thumb and they should be as flabby and soft as a worn out tennis ball. This isn't a point of reference I am familiar with, and I have no worn out tennis balls to hand, but after an hour with the kitchen smelling heavenly they are quite squishy, which seems right. They need to be plunged into iced water now to cool completely.

Meantime I prepare my flan case and ever trusty confectioners custard. I have some individual cases left over from a previous bake which seem ideal, so just need to whip up a batch of custard. Maybe as a result of the Christmas clear out and the need for some retro comfort, or because the colour seems so bright and appropriate, I go against Fanny's method and make my custard from Birds powder. How very daring of me! Total rebel, is this the way 2014 is going to be?!

Once the oranges are cool, Fanny tells me to wipe them thoroughly and slice them neatly into 1/8 inch slices, skin and all, pop them into a shallow pan, cover with stock sugar syrup and simmer gently for 20 minutes. The syrup reduces quite a bit in this time. Once again the whole house is filled with vibrant orange aromas, replacing the familiar pine smell of the tree.

When the custard is cooled and spooned into the cases, the only remaining thing to do is to add some orange juice and a splash of orange liqueur (thanks Fanny!) to the reduced syrup and brush it over the neatly placed orange slices. I can see why this is Fanny's Star Dish of the week now, it's such a lovely colour, the flat smells wonderful and it tastes smashing - just like the very best homemade marmalade. So, Christmas is over but I am sure there is lots to look forward to in the coming months, this sparkling orange flan is just the start!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Breakfast at Fanny's - Go Lightly with Grapefruit

Fanny continues her exploration of citrus fruits with a light, yet sophisticated of course, breakfast idea - perfect for those virtuous days of the early New Year. She unveils her Pamplemousses Chauds, or Hot Baked Grapefruit, to try and encourage our increased intake of Vitamin C in a wonderful way. Fanny recommends using Pink Grapefuits whenever possible - not only because they are 'superb' (and who would need any other reason?) but because she is hacked off that they have gone AWOL because the British public simply do not 'fancy' the idea of 'pink' ones. So, superb and snubbed by the British public is clearly ideal. I go pink.

Fanny wants to play a game - she bets that she can name more varieties of citrus fruit than we can. We are told to grab a pencil and write down as many as we know, and of course compare the list to her exhaustive one. Fanny wins. Every time. Fanny tells me the original Grapefruit was known as the Shaddock (and she strangely DOESN'T make any jokes about it...) which, within the 'trade' (I think she means restaurants perhaps, unless there is a black market for citrus?) as a Pomelo and is only obtainable in India. Handy. The 'pink' Red Blush Grapefruit she recommends has been developed in Texas and also South Africa, so it must be superb after all. Fanny has one plea, when choosing a grapefruit she wants us to be 'professional' buyers and not amateurs, and to do as the experts do and go for the ones with little brown blemishes on the skin, and never the all-over clear, yellow-skinned ones. The blemishes are the hall mark of top flavour and full fleshed juiciness! Phew, mine has brown blemishes...

So, confident that I have chosen well (as a professional might) I set to work, with Fanny's guidance, baking my grapefruit. It's a little more involved than I expected. Slice the grapefruit in half, and loosen all the sections from the skin with a grapefruit knife. Oh hang, I don't know what a grapefruit knife is, and clearly don't have one. Is this a good time to admit that I have never even liked grapefruit? Undeterred, I leave the halves upside down for 30 minutes to 'drain' before setting them right way up on a baking sheet and dotting them with pieces of brown sugar and flakes of butter. Then, simply bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Fanny notes that the grapefruit will have swollen during baking and will appear much larger than when raw. They do, and they actually look quite beautiful. Fanny suggests a simple garnish of glacé cherries and some orange leaves, which I just happen to have lurking in my fruit bowl. The Pamplemousses Chaud taste better than I expected, but I'm not sure I will continue to be quite this virtuous at breakfast. Fanny suggests adding a spoonful of dry Sherry or Madeira before baking if I fancy a more elegant evening starter course, which sounds much more like it...