Monday, 31 March 2014

Supreme Steamed Cream

Fanny just loves to get steaming. Not in the 'whoops I've drunk a bottle of Buckfast' kind of way, but in having lots of fun as well as saving soooo much time with a versatile and invaluable kitchen tool - the steamer. Without this item Fanny tells us we won't be able to cook vegetables properly (ie the Fanny way) or even an entire three course meal in one container. This is provided of course you have a superior steamer which is sectioned and three tiered. Just like the one Fanny is selling as this weeks 'special offer'. What a coincidence. Without a steamer you won't be able to make Fannys Star Dish either - the sensational Cream Caramel, or Crème Moulée à la Vanille. Please don't mix the two and call it a Crème Caramel. 

Fanny Cradock

Fanny says this is one of the leading 'bogies' for the British home cook, which Fanny herself is pleased to share solutions for in the same way she already has for meringues, Swiss Rolls and non-sinking Cherry Cakes. The stakes are high here, so before we can proceed Fanny dismisses the 'things which it is not' just so we are clear. It is NOT a mixture of eggs and milk RUINED with even a single grain of flour. Clear. It is NOT a mixture which has been baked in the oven or a Bain Marie which will end up pitted with little holes. Clear. Finally it is NOT anything which, in any circumstance whatever, is something which could taste like the real thing if it was made from a packet. Super clear - no flour, no oven and no packet mix. Just eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and that beloved steamer. 

Now that I am ready to go forth into the world of steaming, I boil the milk and remove from the heat and add some sugar and a split vanilla pod and leave to infuse for 20 minutes or so. Meanwhile I add some sugar to a little pan and heat it over the lowest possible flame until the centre liquifies and becomes brown. At this point, and not before, I can stir very gently to dissolve all the sugar before swirling it into a soufflé mould.

To whipped eggs and extra yolks I gently add the infused milk and beat it all together, gradually. It froths up a fair bit, but Fanny suggests straining it to get rid of that 'inevitable foam' so I guess I am doing it right so far. I don't want those air bubble pitting my finished dessert with little holes. Fanny would be horrified. So would I. I am learning.

As instructed, I pour the mixture over the caramel base, cover with some 'oiled papers' and a layer of tight foil. Now for the dangerous part, Fanny says. The steaming. I don't have a stove top steamer like Fannys, I have a plug in plastic version. Surely it'll do the trick though? Fanny says if the water underneath boils it will cause those nasty holes she has mentioned several times, which will result in the pudding tasting all right, but will look unappetising and worse still, unprofessional. I steam for an hour and leave it to cool before turning it out. As Fanny says, it cuts like butter as opposed to margarine and the caramel top is glossy and cascades down the sides. It tastes fantastic, and nothing like those nasty packet mixes I remember. But please don't tell Fanny about the little pock marks and holes that have appeared round the edges. The shame of it all, how very unprofessional. Perhaps if I had the proper stove top steamer? Perhaps Fanny would be pleased if I bought one? Quick, pass the spoon before Fanny notices...

Monday, 24 March 2014

If your purse won't stretch to Les Diamants Noirs

Fanny is constantly treading a fine line between presenting ideas and recipes that are economical for the 'housewife' and those that really create a bit of one-upmanship with the neighbours. The line is sometimes drawn very heavily and is as pronounced as her very own eyebrows however. She just can't help herself. In recommending cheaper or more sensible ideas, she has to let us know that she herself makes good use of the ingredients that are out of ordinary reach. It's no different with omelettes, and Fanny turns her attention here to Truffles, trying (and failing) of course not to rub our snouts in the fact that we will simply not be able to afford such a thing. Fanny includes a whole section to tell us exactly why these 'out-of-reach' truffles are unsuitable to even be mentioned in her partwork, but of course recognises that we might be fortunate enough to perhaps be given one one day. Fanny herself picks them up while in France, and seems happy to pay the £3 or £4 (each) price tag, which would've been an absolute fortune in 1970. Fanny recommends if you do have the good fortune to be given such a black diamond, to pop it in a box with some porous eggs which will take on the flavour without having to 'impair' the actual truffle. Good forbid that ordinary people would shave, slice and consume such a luxury.

Fanny Cradock

Fanny is keen to rescue me from social suicide as I have no sign of any truffles in my life - she has adapted a classic French Truffle Omelette Gargamelle to allow me to show off at any upcoming dinner party. So instead of worrying while bathing upstairs, I can flounce down confidently after popping my face and frock on when my guests arrive to amaze them gastronically. It's a fairly simple omelette creation substituting truffles with chestnut mushrooms, shallots, white wine and cream. I'm sure my guests will hardly notice that I have failed to forage...

For the omelette filling Fanny asks that I finely chop the mushrooms and grate the shallot. I tried. Perhaps my grater just wasn't up to it, but after a few minutes of just rubbing it against the blooming thing without success I chopped it finely too. I was expecting to fry the mixture gently before adding the wine and cream, but instead Fanny recommends poaching and simmering in the liquor. It worked perfectly, and after about 5 minutes of gentle bubbling it was soft and reduced a little. Now to the omelette.

Fanny let's it be known that she's already instructed us in the art of a French Omelette, and just to get on with it, up to a point. So I gently beat the eggs with a fork and add small dots of butter rubbed through my very clean fingers, before forking again gently and seasoning. My omelette pan is heating up dry, and I'm ready to go...

Adding a little butter to the hot pan, I pour in the forked up mix and continue with my fork action (being very careful to use the round part and not the prongs, which will of course damage the pan) until the base of the omelette is set, but the upper side still wet. I pile in half the mushroom mixture and flip over the omelette to seal and add the remainder. Fanny then tells me to 'swill' in some more cream and add some cheese on top. Ah, Fanny hadn't listed cheese in the ingredients so I wasn't prepared for this final flourish. Luckily though I had some goats cheese lurking about in the fridge which needed to be used. All ready, the only thing left was to flash it under a fierce grill to melt the cheese and brown the top. So, no expensive, out-of-reach ingredients, but indeed a very luxurious omelette to end this run. I'm still tempted to get my hands on the real McCoy of course, and one day I may be lucky enough to uncover a real Diamant Noir while out in the woods with pig by my side. Or one of the neighbours I am constantly showing off to will pop one through my letterbox perhaps. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Baked Bunny

Fanny is sure that we are ready to move up a gear with our omelette making, having mastered the basic technique, sorted out our pans and explored a few fillings. Fanny calls this section 'Into the higher eschelons of the omelette tree' so you can see just how fancy she thinks this is. I had no idea that omelettes had trees, Fanny clearly skipped over that vital piece of information. At first read, I'm wondering if something has gone astray in the partwork, this doesn't look like an omelette to me. I'm sure this is a Baked Alaska, but Fanny is very quick to point out that this 'party pudding' is called this 'wickedly' by the misinformed. It is of course the Omelette Norvègienne, everyone knows that.

Fanny Cradock

For this retro party pleaser, retro ingredients are required - a ready made sponge flan case, tinned fruit cocktail, eggs and ice cream. I tried to go really retro with the ice cream, but I failed to find an old fashioned block in cardboard, so I went 'indulgent' with some lovely Mackies vanilla instead. Fanny says you can either make your own ice cream (but 'surprisingly' she doesn't give a recipe) or you can soften and reshape some bought stuff. This seems perfect for me, and a perfect opportunity for me to reach for my retro rabbit mould which reminds me of puddings and jellies when I was young. Fanny just uses a circular mould, am I going too far?

I spray the mould lightly with oil before filling with the softened ice cream and returning it to the freezer to firm up again. It should be really hard. Fanny says I should trim the sponge to the correct size and moisten it with some juice from the fruit. Then add some of the fruit and place the brick hard ice cream on top.

The final flourish is a topping of piped meringue. Fanny has talked me through this before, and gives a nod in the partwork to say that she hopes I have been paying attention. I have. So, eggs are separated and whites whisked before you know it. Fanny likes to add some sugar and whisk again and then add more sugar folded in at the end. I'm not sure if Fanny would think I'm showing off, but I add some orange food colouring to a wee bit to make some meringue carrots too. Why not?

Fanny gets her poor assistant Peter to pipe the 'masking meringue mixture' over the whole thing, making sure it's all thickly buried in meringue. Fanny warns that we should not 'deny the evidence of our own eyes' and do exactly what Peter does in the pic-strip, which is expert piping and the putting it in a very hot oven. Pesky Peter however does not say how long to leave it in there, but I check it after about 8 minutes and it seems done. I've never made Baked Alaska, ahem I mean Omelette Norvègienne, before so this so exciting. It tastes like a luxurious trifle really, I'm surprised and relieved that the ice cream remained cold. I must've masked it well. More importantly, it looks sensational, especially when I tiddle it up Fanny-style with some extra fruit and the meringue carrots. Wherever the higher eschelons of the omelette tree are, I think I've gone there. But, have I out Fanny'd Fanny?

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Plump up the Jam - Belgian Soufflé Omelette

Fanny wants us to consider the 'reverse side of the omelette coin' for our next adventure together. My first thought is that if you flipped a coin and lost, Fanny might make you one of her sweet omelettes, just like this one. Although 'tiddled up', Fanny warns that this version of the Belgian Soufflé Omelette is presented in it's most lowly form. Doesn't bode well does it? We should bear in mind though that Fanny considers omelettes to be high up there in culinary chic. She tells us that the Normans brought them over to the UK (as they did everything that was worthwhile to eat) when 'they' invaded 'us' in 1066. The Amulet as it was known, was made by beating (with goose quills) 'egges, herbes and crumb of brede'. I'm not sure if the invaders also brought a jar of jam and insisted on another 'amulet' for pudding, but that's what Fanny is treating us to.

Fanny Cradock

Fanny says we can use any jam, jelly, curd or cheese preserve - I chose a Three Berry Scottish Jam from Mackays, for no reason other than I fancy it. I have to admit at this point that I am not convinced even the finest jam could make this a delicious dish, but Fanny seems so keen and I would hate to start picking and choosing which recipes I make and share. Just think of this one as me trying it perhaps so you don't have to, unless you really want to of course! I'm jumping ahead...

So, I've not made a soufflé omelette before, but have made soufflés with Fanny of course. It's pretty much the same technique. Eggs should be separated, the yolks beaten with a spoon of cold water, the whites beaten to a stiff peak. Then, the two folded together lightly and quickly to make a light, pale yellow foam.

Fanny concedes that we can also choose our own pan, as before it can be 'proper' or 'cheap and nasty' but either way this omelette can be a success. I heat the pan with a 'nut of butter' as Fanny tells me to, and then add the foamy mixture when the butter has dissolved. Turning the heat to a fraction above a low flame, I am told to leave it now until 'big bubbles blow and burst' on the surface. It takes about 20 minutes, but they say eggs should be cooked slowly to be best, don't they? When this occurs, it's time to add my jam and start to fold the omelette in to seal the edges. We wouldn't want any jam spilling out now would we?

Fanny again encourages choice - prompting me to then turn the omelette out onto my plate of choice, before dusting it liberally with icing sugar. For Fanny, liberally means THICKLY as you will know if you have ever watched her dusting anything. Fanny provides her own photo of the finished Souffléd Omelette with grids scorched into the icing sugar in a criss cross with an ordinary skewer held over a gas flame. Fanny recognises that this is totally not the proper implement for the job, but it seems to do the trick. So here it is, the Belgian Souffléd Omelette filled with jam. Flip a coin and if you lose, give it a go... If you win you might want to try a savoury version with salt, pepper and cheese instead. Fanny says it's ok. As expected, the omelette is weird to eat, for me omelettes should never be sweet, although this one is at least light and airy. I like the soufflé technique to 'tiddle up' a simple omelette. What do you reckon?

Monday, 10 March 2014

How to make any omelette successfully in cheap and nasty pans!

Fanny Cradock dedicates the whole of the next partwork to one of her very, very favourites - the humble omelette. But before she gets whisking and folding with a variety of sweet (you have been warned) and savoury ingredients, she turns her attention to a particular bug bear of hers - namely that housewives are reluctant to spend a mere 30 shillings on a decent, solid, proper, iron omelette pan. Fanny says if you do make the CORRECT decision to invest in one, it must be kept exclusively for omelettes - never washed and treated initially by heating coarse salt in it over a thread of heat for two whole days. Then, omelettes will NEVER stick. But what about those poor souls who refuse to follow Fannys advice and persist with their old, cheap, wobbly handled frying pans? Worry not, Fanny graciously (some would say reluctantly) has a solution - rub it with raw unsalted pork fat and heat it, fat side to flame, for at least 7 minutes. Oh. Thanks heavens for non-stick technology I say.

Fanny Cradock

Fanny herself demonstrates (through an elaborate pic strip) how to make a classic French omelette with both types of pan - a proper one, and a cheap and nasty one - both with perfect results. I have to say Fanny looks most pleased with the cheap and nasty one... No need to bite your teeth with rage dear, it's only an omelette. Can you imagine her wrestling her competitor to the ground on Saturday Kitchen with that appealing Omelette Challenge item? Fanny would ALWAYS win.

So, in keeping with the way this part work is going so far, once Fanny has shown these techniques, the very first omelette we set to make together uses neither a proper pan or a cheap and nasty one. How disappointing. Instead the first omelette incorporates another of Fannys favourites - it's green, oh and cold.

So I set to with some spinach again, and this time blitz it up in my food processor (Fanny says I can) once it's wilted. Fanny asks me to butter a straight sided soufflé dish very thickly indeed before whisking up the eggs, adding the spinach, some hard cheese and seasoning. I pour the mixture into the dish, cover with foil and bake it in a low oven for around an hour.

Fanny recommends checking it every now and again and removing it as soon as it is set. When it comes out the oven it's well risen, like a soufflé, but I need to leave it to get cold in the dish before serving. It soon deflates and shrinks away from the sides as Fanny explains. Fanny says this particular omelette is splendid when cold and sliced like a cake, especially for picnics or on a cold family buffet. It is very tasty, and a great way to have an omelette made in advance really. I'd say it was like a quiche without any pastry, but Fanny would never agree. So, all that is left to do is to put my mid-priced omelette pan (unused) away ready for the next recipe. Perhaps...

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Soup of the Day, which is Tuesday

After all those potato dishes, what's needed is a wholesome and fresh Bill of Fare to bring this part to a close, and thankfully Fanny doesn't disappoint (as if). As ever the dinner party menu suggestions bear no relation whatsoever to what we've been learning, but it's no bad thing here as Fanny suggests a simple Spinach soup - or Velouté d'Epinards for the followers of French - and some stuffed baked Apples - Pommes Farcies. The soup looks very quick to make and as usual I am (pleasantly) surprised by the method. 

Fanny Cradock

Fanny suggests cooking the spinach and passing it through a sieve. This seems a little strange to me, or dows it just sound like hard work? Either way, I revert to the 'wilt and chop' method I am comfortable with, I've had enough of that ordinary kitchen sieve for all those potatoes lately. I always find my wok the best spinach wilter. Mmm, it's so green, and naturally so too! 

The base for the soup reminds me more of a white sauce really, and there's no stock involved. Fanny recommends a 'roomy pan' to dissolve the butter in before shooting in the flour and mixing. I am getting very used to 'shooting' in the flour, and I even like saying it. Once cooked out for a minute or two, a pint of milk - I am using Soya for extra taste and because really I am not keen on milk to be honest - is gradually mixed in with some spinach, beating well between each addition. I am getting very used to beating things in too, and also like saying it. I am just shooting and beating all day.

The roux starts off quite thick and pasty, but soon thins down after a few shoots and beats. The final thing is to add some seasoning - salt, pepper and nutmeg, yum - and some grated hard cheese. I've got some Double Gloucester which seems perfect. A quick mix, I mean beat, and that's it. Fanny says if I am feeling WILDLY extravagant I can add a dollop of cream, but does warn that this is an unnecessary addition for everyday occasions. I'm feeling extravagant. The soup is really fresh and tasty, still quite hearty though. The nutmeg kick is the real extravagance here, perfect.

More freshness for pudding, and again simple and quick. Perfect to whip up for a midweek after work supper. Baked Apples. 

I set to coring a couple of cooking apples, and then very carefully as I am sure Fanny would've approved of, I run a small sharp knife around each apple in a very thin meridian line. This causes the skin to contract while baking, Fanny tells me, and thus enables me to 'jack off' the top easily. Erm, ok. 

The missing core is filled with a lucious mixture of chopped glacé cherries, walnuts and golden syrup before baking. Fanny says to bake them 'until tender' so I check and check every now and again, until around 45 minutes later the top skins have jacked off all by themselves. Some the escaped syrupy juice is reunited over the apple. The finished Baked Apples are soft but still have some bite, Fanny describes them as feathery, and just enough sweetness from the syrup and cherries, with a bit of crunch with the walnuts. I'm enjoying this mid week dinner party very much!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Petite Pommes Anna and a Poem about Potato Salad

Just for our amusement, Fanny 'tucks in' a poem about an antique recipe for potato salad, from a cleric who 'undoubtedly had a great addiction to his tum'. The poem is intended to introduce some serious final points as we leave potatoes behind for a while - but fear not - Fanny reassures us that we shall pick up the potato story soon by introducing a mandoline, a Parisienne cutter and various other gadgets (perhaps we can buy them from Fanny too?) which will open up a wide range of potato recipes for us. It all sounds very dangerous and chef-y. I can't wait. But, meantime...

Two large potatoes passed through a kitchen sieve,
Smoothness and softness to a salad give.
Of Modern mustard add a single spoon, 
Distrust the condiment that bites too soon,
And deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault
To add a double quantity of salt.
Four times the spoon with the oil of Lucca crown,
And twice with vinegar procured from town,
True flavour needs it, and your poet begs,
The pounded yellow of two well boiled eggs.
Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, scarce suspected, animate the whole.
And lastly in the flavoured compound toss
A magic spoonful of anchovy sauce.
Oh! Great and Glorious, Oh! Herbaceous heat,
'Twould tempt the dying Anchorite to eat;
Back to the world he'd turn his weary soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl.

No, I'm not sure either, but Fanny thought it funny.

Fanny Cradock

After the light hearted interlude, Fanny returns to her greatest love - the great, wise and wonderful French Chef Escoffier. He apparently invented a simple, quick and individual version of the classic Pommes Anna. Fanny shares both versions with us, but it's the individual ones I am making today. Fanny gives a very severe warning however for me to pay attention, recommending that I read through things very carefully before I begin. Of course, I always do. Well, mostly. Fanny assures me that I will find it very exciting for serving when entertaining, so I am paying particular attention. I wouldn't want to let any potential dinner guests down, although I am sure any ballgown I'd be wearing would be exciting enough.

As Fanny has yet to introduce the mandoline, she suggests using an ordinary cucumber slicer to cut very thin slices of peeled potatoes to transparent thinness. I'm hoping this is the part on the side of my box cheese grater than I certainly have always used to slice cucumbers, never really sure if that's what it was intended for. It slices the potato as described though, so that's good enough for me. They need to be patted very dry and seasoned with salt and pepper before being pushed firmly into buttered moulds.

This next step is the part Fanny wants me to pay particular attention to - health and safety alert. The individual moulds should be placed in cheap bun tins and then surrounded by extremely hot oil. Fanny says not to worry too much about the science here - and stresses that PLEASE do not write and ask her why this works, it just does. The potatoes are baked in a bath of oil. She wants us to focus on safety however as 'carting hot oil' around the kitchen is not recommended. It can cause tragedies. Fanny knows this all too well herself as she burnt herself extremely badly several years previously through being an idiot. Presumably this was before forcing her poor assistants to do all the work.

So, with the moulds sitting safely in their bath of scalding oil, they need to be baked uncovered in a very hot oven for just 35 minutes. Fanny recommends just forgetting about them. When they come out they are richly dark and crisp looking, with soft centres. Fanny says they should look like the sandcastles which she used to make with tin buckets on the beach. They are gorgeous though, the pepper shines through and they are soft and creamy tasting, not a hint of oil or moisture in them. Not sure anyone would ever write a poem about them, but they would be perfect of course at any respectable dinner party. Please do be careful with them though, no dinner party tragedies please.