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Not Fondue

This was inspired by a post on FaceBook, where someone asked about making fondue. I don’t make cheese fondue, but many years ago my sisters were given several fondue sets when they married, and passed one on to me.

I make an Italian dish called Bagna Cauda (hot bath). I first made it 20+ years ago, and there is one group of friends that always complain if I start a dinner without it.

It’s basically oil, butter, anchovies, lots of garlic, and a bit of cream if there’s no dairy-free people at dinner. I don’t use a big fondue  pot — just a smallish stainless steel bowl. That’s it on the right.

I bring it all to a gentle simmer in a saucepan on the stove and then transfer the mix into the steel bowl, which I pop onto the fondue frame and light the little flame thing  beneath it.  (That part is covered in the photo) 

 It all melds into a delicious umami mix — not fishy at all. It’s served hot, and you dip raw veggies and bread into it. I put the stand in the middle of the table (on a heatproof pad) along with plates of mixed raw veggies sliced or in sticks — green beans, carrots, celery, peppers, thin asparagus, cauliflower florets, mushrooms, snow peas — whatever is in season generally. And crusty bread, which is good to catch the drips from the veggies and is then even more delicious to eat. (And it saves the table cloth too.)

I have some long forks that my parents used when serving  Chinese HotPots, and they work perfectly for bagna cauda. 

As the veggies are consumed, the mix thickens and bubbles down into a thick, delicious goo, and people mop up the last of the mix with bread.

These days I don’t bother with a recipe, but this is the original one I used several decades ago. Back then it was an experiment: now it’s a favorite starter.

On Cookbooks

The other day, I was chatting with friends  and the topic of  the Womens’ Weekly cookbooks came up. Australians reading this post will know exactly what I’m talking about.

The Australian Womens’ Weekly was an institution in Australia from the 1930’s onwards. During the 1950s and ’60s it had the highest circulation (per capita) of any women’s magazine in the world. And cooking and recipes and diets and fashion and all sort were a feature.  

But the cookbooks I’m talking about began in the 1970’s. They were a new kind of cookbook, cheap, but with masses of colored photos on glossy paper. I’m sure those WW recipe books had a huge impact on cooking here — they certainly did on me.

Every single recipe had a photo of the final result, and often a series of photos of the steps to make them. And this was at a time when most cookbooks were mainly text, perhaps with an occasional drawing. Those photos made me try all kinds of things I might not have, and the recipes were really reliable. And the books were so cheap everyone could afford them.

The Dinner Party Cookbook, which was I think was one of the early ones, came out when I was in a student share house, and we had loads of fun cooking up fancy dinner parties for us and our friends. Each dish was illustrated with colored photos and the final spread covered a page and a half. Three courses every time — entree (which is what we call the starter), main course and dessert. And also what to have with coffee afterwards. It’s quite dated now—it’s funny how cooking styles change and evolve, but it was fun at the time. And the recipes are still good.

My favourite one was the Italian Cooking Class cookbook. I’ve had my copy for decades and I still refer to it occasionally, to remind myself of quantities, etc.

The recipe for spinach gnocchi (see above) is still one I’ll pull out for a quick, light lunch or an entree. I’ve also cooked the semolina gnocchi, but only if I have guests, as it’s a few steps. There are 17 different sauces for pasta, and so much more, not skimping on the vegetable dishes either. And I often make their osso buco recipe (see above), which is so yummy and warming on a cold winter’s night. It’s a treasure.

I also liked the Chinese Cooking Class cookbook. There was a more basic  Cooking Class cookbook for beginners that I gave to my nephew when he moved out of home—and I know a lot of others did the same when their kids moved out. It taught everything, from making porridge and boiling eggs to the kind of dinners they might miss from home — how to make a full roast dinner, for instance, and spaghetti dishes, and pizza from scratch, and what to do with vegies and fish, and lots of yummy easy home-style desserts.

One a lot of people remember was the Children’s Birthday Party cookbook, which showed people how to make fun cakes for children’s parties. They were brilliant. I had one, and made quite a few of the cakes, and then I passed it on to a friend with little kids.
But there were dozens of different cookbooks, each with a specialist subject, and many of them are still available.

I still have a stack of those cookbooks. I culled some of them when I moved but I’ve still got a pile, and many of them are still available to buy, which is a testament to their usefulness. And I’m betting any Australians (or NZers) reading this will have at least one of the WW cookbooks in their pantry. They were a huge influence on us as a cooking (and eating) nation.

Do you have a favorite cookbook? And if you’re an Aussie, do you have any of the WW ones? Which is your favorite?

Baking gifts

Last night I attended the first of this years “Christmas” gatherings. It was an “end of year” dinner for a small group of friends. There are quite a few coming up in the next weeks and some of them have Kris Kringle arrangements, where you have to bring a wrapped $10 present, and it’s a lucky dip as to who gets what.  

This year my plan is to bake for the KKs. There’s not a lot you can get for $10 —often it’s just “stuff” you don’t really need or want, and in the past I’ve wasted a lot of time wandering through shops unable to find anything I like.  

My godmother (who came to us every year for Christmas and Easter) always used to bring a tin containing her home-made biscuits. They were yummy and we always looked forward to eating them. So this year I’m following her example and buying pretty tins or boxes and filling them with home-baked cookies (or biscuits as we call them here.) 

Yesterday my KK was a tin of acetani biscuits, which I blogged about a few weeks ago. I’m also planning to make either Melting Moments  (pictured above) or Yo-Yo biscuits. They’re small, melt-in-the-mouth biscuits sandwiched together with some kind of icing mix — my favorites are lemon and passionfruit. Yo-Yos and Melting Moments are very similar — the main difference is that the Yo-Yo ingredients  include custard powder. The photo above is from this site, which has the recipe.

I also made my first batch of Christmas Crack, which I make every year, and I took several small bags along to last night’s dinner — one for each person. Basically it’s a buttery toffee, baked over a layer of salted crackers, then topped with a layer of chocolate, and finally sprinkled with toasted flaked or slivered almonds. 

It’s delicious and quite easy to make and these days a lot of my friends expect it. There is no reason why it needs to be a Christmas recipe, but it’s now become one  of my annual traditions. 

There are recipes all over the web, but you can find mine here, along with a few other recipes for food I give at Christmas.

I also have a yen to make Garibaldi biscuits, which I’ve never made before.  They’re popular in the UK, Australia and NZ. They’re flat, with a thin layer of sweet pastry, a layer of currants and another layer of pastry. When I was a kid, we used to call them “squashed fly biscuits” but despite the name, they’re yummy. The photo on the right is from this site, which also gives the recipe.

I’m very fond of currants and I also have a yen to make Eccles cakes, which I’ve eaten but never baked myself. I’ll probably try this recipe, which looks quite straightforward. There are more on the web, including this one that looked great, but it recommends that you render lard, and make your own candied peel. I might make the candied peel, but don’t think I’d bother rendering lard. But who knows? If I make that recipe (sans lard) I’ll let you know, because it does look excellent.

I really enjoy baking, but I hardly ever do it, because if I bake, I know I’ll end up eating more biscuits than I usually allow myself (which is generally none), so it’s lovely to have an opportunity to bake things, try one or two, and give the rest away.

What about you — do you bake things or make gifts for the festive season? And which of the above biscuits would you prefer to receive?