Saturday, April 21, 2012

All Cooks Are Bastard ...

... which is true enough, let it be admitted. But I still can't see why someone googling that should wind up here.

Headed off on Wednesday to some benighted hole somewhere around Annecy to take Jeremy for his half-day introduction to "Les Compagnons du Devoir". Of course I couldn't be arsed grabbing the GPS and in any case it scares and annoys me because it will often refuse categorically to admit that my intended destination actually exists, which would be rather worrying should it turn out to be correct. I did, on the other hand, have the foresight to get onto ViaMichelin and print out the driving instructions, which seemed clear enough for once ...

Of course that was hopelessly optimistic because one of the things about their directions is their subtle use of ambiguity to throw you off-track, quite literally. I mean, it gets you onto the VRU and then goes something like "at Argonnay, take the second exit on the roundabout (D1203). Leave Argonnay, and turn right onto the D175 after 3.8 km. Arrive at Villaz after 2.7km of twisty-turny road."

Bergen Rose: The Boat
This may seem like a model of precision, and so it would be if you actually knew how to get where you wanted to go. For in real life, travelling along the VRU and coming across an exit marked "Argonnay", I put it to you that it's rather natural to turn off there and start looking for the roundabout. Which you will come across and take the second exit, which is unfortunately, after some fair distance, marked as being the D173.

At which point you belatedly start to realise that you've been suckered again, and start to keep your eyes peeled for helpful locals, hoping not to fall upon the village idiot. Eventually we came across one such, asked for and got directions, and found ourselves back on the VRU and then taking the exit marked "Villaz" followed a windy road which was emphatically not the D175 without much hope until we eventually found ourselves at our destination.

Bergen Rose, again
A good thing too as we were starting to run out of both time and petrol, although as it turned out we'd been convoked for 13:30 and the thing didn't actually start until 14:00, so at least that was alright then.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I realised on the return trip that what the instructions actually meant were to go past Argonnay on the VRU (which, incidentally, is in fact the D1203, although you'd not think it to look at it), go straight ahead at the roundabout about 500m further on, and then you will indeed come across the D175, clearly marked as such, off to your right. Still, it lets one do a bit of tourism I suppose.

The compagnons, for those that don't know them, are based loosely on the mediaeval guild idea of apprenticeship. In Jeremy's case, as he will have his bac, that means that he'll go off to some place like Nîmes and be lodged in what I suppose we might as well refer to as the guild house, which is usually pretty spartiate and probably not for those who detest communal living or have bad memories of student hostels.

They find him a job in a boulangerie, that being what he wants to do, and he works there for six weeks at a stretch (with 2 hours of tuition in the evenings, 8 hours on Saturdays but you do get Sunday off) and then two weeks in the classroom, all that for a year. And at the end of that he should come out with good practical experience and a CAP (or, if you prefer, a Certificat d'Aptitude Professionelle, if that interests you), which makes him employable.

After that, should he so desire, he can go off on the tour de France as a compagnon itinérant, which basically means that he spends six years going to a different town in a different region every year (and at least one year has to be spent overseas: oddly enough, quite a few seem to go to New Zealand). After which he should know a fair bit about his subject, and would definitely be in demand.

We'll see what happens: should get a letter in a week or so to let us know if he's been accepted: if so, it will definitely be party time around here. (We must be Bad Parents, for we do not think of it so much as "losing a son" as "getting some space and our lives back". Jeremy, I suspect, is more or less in agreement with that.)

Anyway, it's been a grotty week of low snow, lower temperatures, rain and wind: pretty much typical for April in these parts. Sort of weather that makes you light the old wood-burner in the kitchen again and dream of satisfying hot meals with lashings of carbohydrates and creamy sauce. (Also, means I have no wish at all to go down to the paddock and mow it, even if it is getting knee-high down there.)

Alas, Margo has decided that it's time to go on a diet: high-protein, no carbs and not too much fat. I'm sure that there are things we can all eat with pleasure (although I don't know that anyone has yet managed to make quinoa interesting, maybe I'm just unimaginative) but I am going to have to make a determined effort to find them.

Come to that, perhaps it's time I went through the flour cupboard (yes, I have about ten different varieties of flour: foufou, pois chiche, manioc, rice flour, special flour for steamed buns ...) and started working on filing the contents correctly. That would make a good project.

Whatever, I finally gave in to the anguished squeaks from certain quarters (truth to tell, the calm, persistent and above all repeated question every bloody night finally ground down my stony heart) and made Nepalese Fried Bread.

Now I cannot vouch for the actual authenticity of this, and to be quite honest I prefer to use wholegrain flour when I have some  (oddly enough, that's one thing that's missing in my collection of Flours of the World) rather than the traditional Nepalese flour with mouse droppings (I have never had the patience to train mice to perch on the edge of the mixing bowl and crap in it, and somehow sweeping them off the floor seems somewhat unhygienic), but it's still rather good.

Take out your trusty stand mixer from whatever dank cupboard you keep it in (if you're like us you swear you'll use it every day, but somehow that just doesn't happen) and stick two cups of flour in the bowl along with three or four heaped tablespoons of sugar and a decent wodge of butter. Add yeast, dissolved in warm milk, cinnamon and anis seeds, a pawful of raisins and some roughly chopped dates (I personally find it helps to stone the dates first, you may have your own opinions on that), then set the machine to work.

After ten minutes of moronically enthusiastic robotic kneading (god, the damn thing sounds so smug when it's doing that, and I swear it smirks when you turn it off, as though expecting congratulations for a job well done) the dough should be nice and glossy and elastic: stick it in a bowl in the microwave on low power (200W works for me) for two minutes to bring the whole mass up to something approaching 37°C, at which point you can let it sit there and rise for half an hour.

So when you've finished your drink or whatever just knead the dough lightly again and cut it into six bits: form each into a ball and then roll out into a disk about 15cm in diameter. Stack those up with waxed paper between them, cover loosely with clingfilm and stick them in the fridge overnight before going off to watch TV.

Which brings me to my question: how is it that I was not informed that "The Almighty Johnsons" had started again? I only found out yesterday, quite by accident. Not really good enough, people. Still, I managed to get the first eight episodes, which gave us something to watch in bed and meant we didn't have to talk to one another ...

Anyway, if you're organised you could get up a couple of hours before breakfast, stumble blearily downstairs and remove the dough from the fridge before grumbling your way back up again: then again, you could fling boots at your son until he does the job. Or you could fry them straight out of the fridge, doesn't really matter.

And if you put them on the table the cat's likely to get at them (looking for Mao-Tse Dung, no doubt) which is not a good thing.  (We had one cat who was a paragon of virtue in all respects, except that you could not leave a Sydney Flat unattended in the kitchen: unless of course you wanted to come back and find she'd carefully nibbled all the corners off. Come to think of it, there was that time with the rabbit defrosting overnight too, when I decided the next morning that perhaps it would be best, under the circumstances, to turn it into a stew rather than bone, stuff and roast it as originally planned ...)

Either way, make sure the coffee's ready and then heat about a quarter inch of oil in a small frying pan and fry the disks in it: about two minutes a side, until puffed and golden. Or if you have a deep-fryer, and don't mind cleaning it, you can do them in that.

They are definitely at their best eaten straight from the pan, liberally slathered with butter and honey. Enjoy.


  1. Gonna try that fried bread recipe some time. Not necessarily with all the purportedly Nepalese ingredients, as certain family members would look askance at the aniseed and the chopped dates. On occasions I have mixed up a batch of dough in the evenings and stuck it in the fridge in a pounded-down state before staggering to bed in a miasma of akvavit fumes, for Penny to bring out of the fridge and put in the warming drawer when she gets up early for a swim. This is something to do with the Kilbirnie Pool filling up with other swimmers after 7.30 a.m., leading to Lane Rage, but I digress.
    Normally the risen dough then gets baked in the usual way, but I suppose frying is just as good. Not sure about boiling it into bagels.

  2. Have you considered the possibility that the unwary Google searcher who came to your site was actually looking for "All Books are Custard", but was led astray by a spelling mistake?

  3. A small point, but you do not boil bagels. Poach them, yes, before they go into the oven, but boiling is blasphemy

  4. "All Books are Custard"

    The thought had crossed my mind, but I was, sad to say, sober.