Sunday 23 February 2014

One Potato, Choux Potato, Three Potato, more...

Fanny has a potato top tip for me, which seems appropriate as I've been away travelling with work far too much lately. If only I'd read this first. Fanny suggests on 'high days and holidays' you should peel enough potatoes for three days and sling them in a bucket, sprinkle them with sea salt and cover in cold water. The water needs to be changed every day, which would've been tricky for me while away I suppose, but Fanny insists that the potatoes will not go slippery and slimy as they would simply peeled in a bowl of water on the day. She's full of the tips really - don't slice all your potatoes at once for home-made crisps or chips, they'll only discolour. And if you want to save your new potatoes for a Christmas Feast, pop them in a large biscuit tin with sawdust in it, add a layer of potatoes and cover with more sawdust. Continue layering, being very careful that the potatoes don't touch each other. Seal the tin with tape and bury it in the garden, of course. Fannys only request is that you mark where it's buried, as there is nothing worse than digging up the whole garden in search of them come December, when the ground is likely to be frozen. There, she warned you.

Fanny Cradock

No such trouble for me, just a quick trip to the local supermarket. Just as well, I couldn't be bothered with all that digging this weekend. Fanny is keen for me to learn the wonders of Potato Puffs, or Beignets or even Armandines - she can't quite make up her mind what the heck to call them. They sound perfect for this weekend though - a mixture of potato and her beloved choux paste, and then deep fried in balls. 

Fanny gives the recipe for Choux paste twice on the same page, right next to one another - presumably because it SO important to her. So I take it very seriously, melting my butter gently in water then 'shooting' in the flour, mixing and allowing it to 'foam' in the pan a little. Off the heat, I beat and beat it before adding the eggs and beating again. Fanny absolutely insists that the mixture is left to get cold at room temperature with a plate over it before I go any further. Of course, I obey. Fanny says that on no account should I be tempted to refrigerate the mixture as it will ruin. It's fine Fanny, I'll take a seat and have a cup of tea.

Fanny gives three variations for these beignets, but they all start with steamed potatoes which are sieved and dried as before. Once the choux paste is cold, Fanny asks me to combine double the weight of sieved, stiff potato to make a paste. From the paste, walnut sized balls should be rolled. I leave a third of them as they are, roll a third in breadcrumbs (Fanny suggests very fine ones, but as always I feel the need to rebel a little so I use Panko) and the final third are rolled in finely chopped almonds. All that's left to do is fry them gently in some oil until they are golden brown. They all change to slightly different shades of golden, and the end result is fantastic. They are light and puffy, tasty and crisp. The almonds in particular add something really special. I made some French Onion Soup to have  these perfectly puffed potatoes with - not slippery, not slimy, not discoloured and not rescued from deep within the garden...

Sunday 16 February 2014

Nicky Gnocchi Noo

Fanny loves a bit of history, but she also loves nothing more than re-writing the past or setting the record straight. Her truth is always THE truth, I am learning. She has been thoroughly researching the origin of the potato in England, and proclaims that Sir Walter Raleigh has told a whopper. The reference Fanny gives for her revelation is the Encyclopedia Americana. Potatoes, it seems, were first cultivated on high ground in South America over 1800 years ago and not introduced from there until the second half of the 16th Century. No Indians in North America were growing potatoes in 1587 when Raleigh made his trip home for Queen Elzabeth. Tut tut. Fanny decides that we should all forgive the 'Naughtie Knight' and instead celebrate the humble spud. Consider it done. Fanny herself chooses this point in the partwork to introduce her favourite Italian potato dish to us - Gnocchi Di Patate.

Fanny Cradock

I'm becoming so used to steaming my potatoes now I set to work before even reading Fanny's instruction. It really does make such a difference to the finished mash. I've got some lovely red skinned potatoes which I am sure are neither from Peru, America nor Italy, but I'm hopeful they will do the trick. Fanny despairs of potatoes sold in polythene bags, oops, these were. She tells me to immediately rip open the bag as soon as I am home to avoid them being sweaty, flabby and starting to rot. Worry not Fanny, they seem fine. Fanny tells me if they are not I can take them back to the store for my money back. Can you imagine if I did and said 'Fanny told me my rights'? Once they are steamed, it's back out with the sieve to get them lovely and fluffy before adding egg yolks, butter, seasoning and some flour. Fanny also suggest adding a grating of fresh nutmeg, which I love. Maybe it's partly due to the fact that I love using my teeny weeny tiny nutmeg grater too. Just maybe.

Fanny instructs me to beat the mixture together and work it almost to a dough. It comes together really well actually, must be the lovely yolks. I do start off following Fanny to the letter when she tells me to weigh out 1/2 oz pieces of the mixture and to roll them into balls, but I eventually just do it by eye. Just as easy really, and who wants perfectly sized Gnocchi anyway? 'Naughtie' me...

The balls need to be flattened slightly, indented with a fork and flung into plenty of salted simmering water. Fanny emphasises of course that they should be removed from the water AS SOON as they rise to the surface, so I am glad I have my heat resistant dish ready buttered and waiting. This was Fanny's next instruction - you see I am not that 'naughtie' really. 

The little Gnocchis are layered up in the dish with small spots of butter and grated cheese. Fanny suggests her favourites Gruyère or Emmenthal - but I have neither so instead use Parmesan. I realise I am going to sound JUST like Fanny here, but please do not write in to tell me that Parmesan is NOT vegetarian, I know... I prefer to use it but, as Fanny might've said direct to camera with a slightly ruffled nose, if you are a vege-terrorist then please just substitute for your approved cheese of choice. Simple. Once all the layers are done, it's into the oven for half an hour to bake. The finished dish looks lovely, and tastes smashing too. The Gnocchis themselves are very light and puffy, some are crispy, some still soft. And all very cheesy. Whoever brought the potato to this country and in whatever year, and also to Italy of course, I for one am grateful. 

Thursday 13 February 2014

Kerching! The Fanny Cradock Dream Kitchen

Fanny Cradock is generally seen as the first ever Celebrity TV Cook, but my guess is that most people associate product endorsement, commercialism and sponsorship with 'modern day' celebrity chefs - it's hard to avoid the flurry branded products and cookbooks. But as ever, Fanny was ahead of the game, leading the way and constantly attempting to get the 'ordinary housewife' to buy more and more. Whether it was being paid by the Gas Board to endorse gas cookers or dropping in that dishes featured in photos could be bought at Peter Jones, Fanny was very aware of her commercial appeal. In the partwork she could help you keep up with the Joneses by building up a Dream Kitchen. Not only could you cook like Fanny, but you could live like her too. Sadly ballgowns were never part of the deal.

Fanny Cradock

The weekly partwork was just a vehicle for selling 'more' really - and Fanny tried every trick in the book to hook you in. She branded the weekly magazine series a 'club' and announced that simply by purchasing the partwork you became a club member 'without any fee whatsoever' - in an attempt to make you forget you'd paid 4'6 for the magazine.

That was just the beginning though - Fanny was ever aspirational, and her aim was to convince the housewives of 1970 that the real benefits of being a club 'member' were multiple - by sharing her knowledge and skill week by week Fanny encouraged readers to work towards The Golden Diploma, or Le Diplome d'Or. In order to obtain the diploma you had to write to Fanny and tell her that you'd made at least one dish from every weekly part, and at regular intervals. The first diploma could be yours after the first 16 editions. Each cluster of 16 parts could be housed in a special wipe clean binder that, you've guessed it, could also be purchased from Fanny, at a special rate of course! The fact that couldn't buy it anywhere else was irrelevant I guess. I'm currently on part 6 so have a long way to go, but do I get an enhanced qualification for cooking several things from each part? I've never seen one of Le Diplome d'Or so if you do have one, let me know!

Every week the partwork included special offers that you could send off for - all small kitchen items that could enhance your chances of obtaining the Diploma no doubt. The instructions were to send your money to Fanny WITHOUT any correspondence - she just wanted to take your money and send you the items, not interact with you. I don't know for sure, but I imagine the poor assistants labelling up items, cashing the cheques and popping to the post office regularly. Do you remember having any of these special items in your kitchen at home in the 1970's? How many housewives sent off a cheque or postal order for £2.19.6 (around £28 in today's money, and a saving of £1 at the time!) for the Roman Pot so they could cook a chicken just like Fanny? I saw one in the local charity shop before Christmas...

Fanny refered to special items throughout the parts, and even dedicated entire editions to showcasing 'tools of the trade' that funnily enough you were then enticed to purchase. All sold as a bargain, you were saving money just because you were 'in the Cradock Cookery Club'. Each week she sent you a Bonus Voucher that you were to collect up to help you fulfil the ultimate dream - to have larger aspirational kitchen items endorsed by Fanny that would transform your kitchen into the Fanny Cradock Dream Kitchen. The idea was that you had to collect all 96 bonus vouchers before you could redeem them. Who could resist the lure of the shiny products at reduced prices, only with the bonus vouchers of course. The partwork sadly ceased publication after 80 editions, so I wonder if any Club Members ever got their hands on the Fanny Cradock cooker or Mixer? Did you?

Friday 7 February 2014

The Green Duchess - Perfectly Piped Puréed Potatoes

Fanny is remembered for a few key dishes, not always favourably, but most of all it's her 'green mashed potato' that is mentioned often. And she takes it very seriously indeed. Fanny sees it as a basic skill, one that she comes back to time and time again. And it's no ordinary mash either, but the quite superior Duchess Potato that she favours, which can be used to top any dish of leftovers, including as she says 'that dreadful English traditional cottage pie'. Fanny is, of course, scornful of the way that potatoes are treated in this country - which she notes is normally 'boiling the wretched things to death'. According to the rulings of classic cookery there are 450 ways to treat a potato, but of course Fanny says the only way is to steam them.

Fanny Cradock

For these delightful Duchesses there is much to learn before the steaming commences however, and it's mostly about piping. Fanny demonstrates her piping technique, and shows pictures of her poor assistants, and even Johnnie, in action with the bag and nozzle. The assistants are forced to wear matching outfits and have strict instructions never to look at the camera.

The basic mix is made from steamed potatoes that are then sieved and heated gently in a completely clean dry pan until all the mixture is really dry. This is the key to successful Duchess, moisture is not a friend. Fanny says you may get 'bored bandy' sieving the potatoes, but reassures that it is essential for a good effect. The flabbier the potato if overloaded with moisture, the more frustrated you'll be with your failed piped shapes. Fanny says it's like icing a cake, you must start right from scratch. Far from being bored, I find it quite therapeutic.

To the steamed, sieved, dried potato, seasoning is added, a small amount of softened butter and an egg yolk. I coloured the egg yolk with green gel paste colouring from Wilton's first. Then it's on to shaping! Fanny gives separate and detailed instructions for Gallettes, Doights (fingers), Petits Pyramides, Petits Pains, Brioches, Rosettes Longues and Couronnes. I prefer the piped ones, especially the little pyramids, but try them all. I even add in my own shape (what on earth would Fanny say) in preparation for Valentines Day. Obviously, nothing says 'I Love You' quite like a green mashed potato heart.

Before baking, the piped potatoes need to be brushed with a glaze Anglais. This is strained egg which is beaten with olive oil (I used rapeseed though, I clearly just can't follow Fannys instructions), salt and white pepper. Fanny says this mixture imparts a fine, rich glaze to any savoury substance which needs one. Perfect. All that's left to do is bake until a nice rich brown colour. And still green of course.

They come out looking sensational - at least I think so! Has Fanny finally gotten to me? Will my potatoes forever be green? They look so cheery and colourful, and the piped ones especially just simply made me smile. Definitely no ordinary potato, the Duchess is surely a perfect way to remember Fanny and celebrate her style - go on, grab your food colouring and get piping!

Tuesday 4 February 2014

The Mysterious Mrs Marshall and the Case of the Curious Potato Pudding

Fanny wants to play a game with us again. She played it herself, supported by Johnnie of course, in 1963 on the corner of Piccadilly Circus. They stopped random passers-by and asked them 'Who was Agnes Bertha Marshall?' but sadly no-one guessed correctly. Did you, blog passers-by? She was of course the greatest woman cook ever known in Britain, a cook who knew everything the great Escoffier knew, a friend of Royalty, a cook taught others to achieve greatness, a cook who had her own food magazine and a cook who when she died her notoriety diminished. Remind you of anyone? Fanny became obsessed with her, and was busy researching her story for a book. Mrs Marshall, Fanny claimed, was everything that Mrs Beeton was not, and she was determined to restore her memory. The book was never completed, as far as I know, but Fanny did resurrect some of her recipes under the disguise of Mrs Hudson in the Sherlock Holmes Cookbook, as well as throughout the partwork. It really all gets rather strange.

Fanny Cradock

In the first of this new partwork dedicated to 'Surprising you with Potatoes' Fanny does exactly that. It's a traditional recipe that Mrs Marshall sent to her which was published in 1917 in the 1637th edition of her own magazine The Table. It's for a potato pudding. That's a sweet pudding made from potato. Various vegetable creations are all the rage these days with cakes made from carrots, courgettes and beetroot, but I'm not sure even my dear blogging friend Veggie Desserts would use a potato for a pudding. The other ingredients are flour, baking powder, lemon juice and rind, golden syrup, an egg and some butter. The cooked pudding is served with a chocolate sauce. Surprise! 

Fanny insists that potatoes are steamed, never boiled. Ever. More on that to come. They then need to be sieved finely to produce a very soft and fluffy mash, just with an ordinary household sieve of course. It does make the potato very fine and pillowy. Add some melted butter, beat in the egg, lemon juice and rind. Add the golden syrup, flour and baking powder. 

The mixture is then turned into a buttered soufflé dish and baked in a moderate oven for an hour, while the sauce is made. It's a fairly simple sauce made by heating  and dissolving golden syrup, cocoa powder and water together. 

As I am making this, I can't help but wonder if it really will be a treat. Fanny tries hard to convince me, saying if it was good enough for Mrs Marshall, and good enough for the shortages of the First World War, then it should please families today. Clearly. Once baked it has risen just like a soufflé but the texture of mashed potato remains. Adding the chocolate sauce only adds to the 'surprise' when tasting - I just can't get the notion that it's 'potato and gravy', as it looks, out my mind. It tastes sweet, lemony and very much still of mashed potato. It certainly was a surprise for me, and I am sure would be a surprise to Holmes and Watson. Perhaps I should take to the streets and surprise people with a taste? Is the real surprise that still no one remembers dear old Mrs Marshall?