Saturday, April 14, 2012

Toss Cheese

I have a new cookbook in my collection. It advocates that we sane and healthy people Make a Meal of Cheese.

According to the book, however, only hard British cheeses can be used to make a meal, and despite a chirpy guide to regional hard cheeses (Wensleydale, Cheshire etc), all the recipes use only four to 8 ounces of grated or cubed cheddar. That's all the recipes. ALL of them. Including the recipes for apple crumble, lemon tart and curry.

Yes, cheese curry exists: mattar paneer is delicious, rich and mild good stuff, one of the very few dishes that can convince me (momentarily) that vegetarianism is bearable. Saag paneer, paneer tikka... cheese curry works if the cheese is curry-appropriate and the sauce / preparation is decent. Cheese curry will NOT work if the cheese is cubed cheddar, lying like heavy rubber dice in curry powder soup. Putting sultanas in the mix is just insulting. The 1973 Cheese Information Service, Thames Ditton Surrey: how dare you? Really, really HOW DARE YOU? Cheddar, curry powder AND sultanas... it's a recipe that cynically assumes no one made it out of the 1960s with a braincell or tastebud intact. It's just... rude. As is this:

After scrutinising the recipe many, many incredulous times, I cannot see how or why this is 'toss'. There is no tossing involved. Cheddar, it seems, is a gateway to bad culinary behaviour, and the 1973 Cheese Information Service was perhaps an unwitting warning system of the level of craziness you could reach if you did indeed try to Make a Meal of Cheese. For example: with too much cheese in your diet, you could be led to believe that, honestly, using bananas instead of leeks is an excellent idea.

Too much cheese too close to bedtime can give you nightmares. Too much cheese too often can obviously turn your life into a living nightmare. 1973 Cheese Information Service: thank you for the valuable (and illustrated) lesson in having too much of a good thing and ruining it for everyone.

16.04.12 UPDATE This is why blogging is worth it: until I posted this, I didn't know the The Vintage Cookbook Trials existed. Here, the team at The Vintage Cookbook Trials has dared to MAKE DISHES FROM THIS BOOK and eat them. See the horrors brought to life. And pray for their souls.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Grief Cake for Bleak Kids

Parents of young Goths always struggle to find appropriate birthday cakes for their kids. It's an annual dilemma: you want to celebrate the passing of another year and the onset of maturity in your offspring. As responsible and loving parents, it would be nice to mark the passing of childhood, to look proudly into the eyes of the little tot you taught to walk, talk and maybe ride a bike and see an adult, ready to make their mark in the grown-up world.

This may be hard when the little tot has become a pre-teen bea
nstalk attempting to eat Cheez Stringz while wearing black lipstick. It is difficult to embrace adulthood with a 13 year old who insists on wearing a squeaky faux-leather floor length trench coat bought with a slightly more experienced Goth friend in Camden Market. How can parents realistically organise a birthday party for their child who now doesn't believe in birthdays because they have become a Vampire of the Endless Ones (on Fridays after school and most of Saturday and Sunday except when visiting Grandma)?

But the solution is here: the Grief Cake for Bleak Kids!

From the brilliant Good Housekeeping's Picture Cookery book which has featured many times before, this cake is the solution to placating the Goth child who still expects a birthday cake despite rejecting sunlight, colours and generally being upbeat .

The uneven layers and tar-like topping of the cake are depressing, and suitable for any amateur young Goth. So sad, so poorly executed, it's a stack of baked tears streaked with deathbed poetry.

The little figures on top signify the emptiness of being, the formlessness of human misery. We think we are all individuals with our own unique, bleak lives to struggle through, but really, we are just unidentifiable blobs trying to stay afloat in a sea of black hopelessness. These can be made out of marzipan or some mashed up, re-formed chicken hearts left over from a badly improvised Satanic ritual. Goths love thrift! Your Goth child will be impressed with your handy use of blood sacrifice leftovers.

Your Goth child will also appreciate the diseased and dying little people you can make to cling precariously to the side of the cake. Use lots of dessicated coconut in the pastry (Goths love coconut!) and be sure to burn the edges just enough to give your decorative figures that "singed in eternal damnation" look. Use a Hieronymous Bosch painting full of pain and suffering as inspiration. Find and apply the most unappetisting raisins you have, to make the aghast look of unending pain on the biscuit faces especially tortured.
The face of your Goth child when you reveal the Grief Cake for Bleak Kids. Revel in the misery and horror you have given to your little one; be sure to capture the grinding unhappiness drowning their soul on camera. When they cry and demand a Marks and Spencers chocolate caterpillar and promise not to wear their removable blood splatter tattoos at the dinner table any more, get them to sign that prepared contract you've had in a drawer since puberty broke into your house... and relax.
These moments are what parenthood are all about.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Gateaux Mayo Marveilleux

I am a woman and therefore I am always craving chocolate, cake, biscuits and sweets. I am in a permanent state of resistance, nobly denying myself such things; I preface every nibble of confectionary with an insincere 'Oh, I shouldn't...'

That's all bullshit, of course. I don't have a very dominant sweet tooth; I don't get excited about cupcakes or chocolate boxes or find myself laden with multipacks of KitKats at the supermarket. Every now and then, I will have a stupidly strong desire for the flat white icing on a factory made Bakewell tart. Sometimes I'll make toast just to have spoonfuls of jam with it. But that's rare and I'll nearly always prefer a bowl of chips, a cheese board or heap of cream crackers dipped in Marmite over a wedge of chocolate fudge brownie cheesecake. I wonder if I'm missing out on the sexual, emotional and spiritual fulfilment the TV adverts promise. If only I could be so transported, so moved, so enriched by a single bite of a Flake or a small corner of a Galaxy bar...

Then, as I flipped idly through my collection of horrible cookery books, I found not one but two recipes for women just like me: fake cakes! Cakes that aren't actually cakes and are in fact savoury treats! That cake at the top of this post is NOT a cake. Behold: the mayo gateau!

It looks delicious, doesn't it? That whippy white frosting, the sprinkles, the moist layers within... well, wipe your chin, it's not a cake, none of that is sugar or cream, it's a MAYONNAISE COATING all over a white sandwich loaf, filled with CREAMED SARDINES.

Here's the second mayo gateau I found, photographed in glorious black and white:

Every baby shower, every 'girlie night in', every gathering of women with synchronised PMT should have one of these. So much better than a pyramid of cupcakes or a three tier cake stand loaded with petit fours. The mayo gateau is the rarest of feminine fantasies realised: a woman can eat cake without actually eating cake, and when she says 'Oh, I shouldn't...' she can, for the first time, really, really mean it.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Googly Eye Pie

I bought an enormous blue cookbook a few months ago. It looked alluringly serious and modern, promising astounding concoctions and constructions that would fit the Albert Adria / Heston Blumenthal molecular gastronomy trend. Marzipan telephones fitted with LEDs that light up when the doorbell goes, pigeon stew served inside clay pigeons that have to be shot out of the sky before eating, whole poached salmon fitted with magnets that can be manipulated to swim upstream in a fake tabletop river of the finest seafood bouillon, that kind of thing.

The book is not quite like that. It was published in 1960 and is full of illustrations as well as photos; the low quality photographs and high technical accuracy of the drawings make it difficult to tell them apart. I have spent quite a lot of time inspecting the images, trying to guess what I'm looking at - a studio snap of a real dish or a coloured-in sketch of something someone described? I don't always guess correctly: the fact the food looks like clown make-up spread on a plate in almost all the images doesn't help distinguish between photography and pencil drawing.

Then I saw this capon in pastry.

I thought it was a drawing. The bright red comb on the capon's head and the fussy detail of the doily suggested it was a drawing: a bit unrealistic, a bit too much effort to pass as a photograph. But the pastry looked, at second glance, very realistic - the texture looks appetising, flaky and golden and with enough variation in the colouring to suggest this is a photograph of something baked in an actual oven and not whipped up with a few strokes of a brown crayon.

Then it became clear that the puzzling thing about this image was not its unclear medium, but the actual dish itself.

It's so unnecessarily creepy.

Why? Why keep the feet sticking out of the crust? Why keep the head with its garish red comb and sharp beak in a half-squawk at the other end? Why? Why coat both in a glaze that makes the capon look like it's sweating out some sort of avian pox?


That eye can move. That eye will roll around, either in pain or disdain when attempts are made to carve its pastry body. That eye will remain on the plate when the rest of the capon has been eaten, looking up at you from a cluster of crumbs and bones. That eye will remain intact and unblinking even as it is dropped into the bin after the meal. That eye looking at you for the rest of your life. That eye is the price you have to pay if you ever want to put a capon in pastry. Whether it's a photo or a drawing, it's a warning: googly eye pie is watching you. Bake with caution.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Plenty Swank

I find buffets quite stressful. When confronted with an enormous spread of food which I can approach in any way I fancy, in quantities and combinations completely of my choosing, I panic slightly. I'll expend an extraordinary amount of mental energy planning what to have, running through all the possible ways I could assemble my first plate and what I would have on my second plate if I can manage it. For a short, frenzied period, my brain whirs like a computer, calculating how much of that I could manage and whether or not it would complement that or would that have to be assigned to plate #2 because it's going to overpower the taste of that and how much do I like that in the first place, should I even put any on my plate...

I have improved my buffet technique over the years and can now sidle up to a spread quite nonchalantly, without the swivel-eyed, tense and awakward frenzy of before. I put small amounts of whatever looks good on to my plate and then go back for either more of what I particularly liked or whatever I didn't try on my first go.

That's what I do now. Most of the time. At probably every other buffet I've been to. Except wedding buffets - my restraint, as in so many things at weddings, does not apply. And kids' birthday parties; I'm supposed to be setting an example to children by finishing everything on my plate and not rejecting anything on offer so there is rather a lot of cramming and third, fourth, fifth trips to the table. And hotel breakfasts - those don't count because I'm on holiday and I've got to try a bit of everything even if it means I'm going to feel faint the rest of the day because I'M ON HOLIDAY AND I PAID FOR THAT MASSIVE COLD MEAT PLATTER. And... buffet lunches provided at work are also exempt from my Good Buffet technique because it's a work thing and you've got take 100% of perks when offered to you in your job or you're losing out (and Tesco Value sausage rolls are remarkably resilient and will last at least two more lunches if you take whatever is left on the floppy foil tray...)

On reflection, perhaps my Good Buffet technique needs refreshing. Here is a book I bought from a charity shop in Farringdon which I am hoping will give me guidance.

This book opens with diagrams of how guests should navigate the buffet table and how hosts should lay their tables for the convenience of their plate-toting guests without losing any glamour or decorative allure. Later pages have recipes and theme suggestions, such as 'All Time Favourites!', those favourites being two types of exquisitely shaped and decorated loose human stool and a tray of squeaky novelty dog toys. Those are not my favoured buffet items.

The instructions for 'Duchess Franks' is to slit frankfurters lengthways, nearly all the way through. Line the slit with slices of ham, place sliced dill pickles and processed American cheese inside then pipe mashed potato on top to create a processed meat cream doughnut. For a laugh. Obviously. Not for the taste sensation. Because all the flavour in the photo is in the 'steak' at the front, those neat piles of diarrhoea garnished with chopped bogies. They are simply dripping with something foul. If it was Pestilence's turn to make dinner for the other Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Come Dine With Me, this is the buffet dinner he/she would serve.

I can't bring myself to comment on the glistening round turds on the chafing dish. They are all sporting showgirl headpieces made of mushrooms and feathered toothpicks. They are filled with blue cheese and horseradish sauce. There's not much more that can be said, apart from a low, incredulous 'Nooooo...'

There's another dish to be served from a chafing dish which is just a third iteration of shaped minced beef in a sickly sauce: it is, apparently, plenty swank.

Each meatball has a stuffed green olive in its centre. The rice or pilaf looks diseased. The French Cream looks like it's been tipped out of a French letter. It's swank, yes it is, and plenty.