23 May, 2009

yet another thing to make for yourself











We're headed off tomorrow to the Hampton Court Palace Food Festival which promises to be HUGE fun: we get to see the winner of last year's Masterchef telly competition cook live! Since all three of us followed Masterchef really obsessively, we'll have a great adventure seeing him there. The tastings, the special produce, maybe a celebrity glimpse or two, the possibility of an inspirational dish to set me on a new course... and good weather, we think!

Of course, inspiration can be a beautiful thing and it can be a burden. Why on earth would I try to make something that I can buy in hundreds of places around the city, beautifully cooked by people to whom the recipe comes native? Because I could, that's why, and now I'm stuck knowing how to make them. Falafel, I mean. Are you a fan of these crunchy, savoury little balls of spiced chickpeas? Well, I'm a massive fan, and now I've produced them in my very own kitchen. Not deep-fried, as they are in falafel huts around the world, but baked in just a little oil. So you can even have a clear conscience.

This recipe comes almost whole-cloth from Hello! magazine, except that the whole focus of the article was watercress and I didn't have any! So I substituted rocket, which was lovely and a total success. Needs must.

Falafel
(serves 4)


1 soup-size can chickpeas, drained
2 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
1 tsp salt
2 tsps baking powder
2 tsps cumin seeds
2 tsps ground coriander
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups loosely packed rocket leaves
juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsps vegetable oil for cooking

This could not be any easier. Put all ingredients except oil in a food processor and whizz until fully processed, but not pureed. Preheat oven to 200C, 400F and place a large roasting pan in the oven to heat.

Roll the chickpea mixture into balls, about 16, then flatten them into patties. Add the oil to the roasting tin, then roll the patties about a bit to coat them. Bake for 20 minutes, turning once, till crisp and golden.

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These are LOVELY. They have that mysterious, smoky, exotic, celebratory sort of flavor that you associate with foreign markets. It's hard to believe they can really come out of a homely little oven in my kitchen.

Nice accompaniments might be hot sauce, yoghurt, chopped coriander, and:

Cucumber, Onion and Tomato Salad
(serves 4)


1 long hydroponic cucumber, sliced thin
1 sweet white onion, cut in half and sliced thin
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
sprinkle fresh dill or dried dill

dressing:
2 tbsps fromage frais
2 tbsps sour cream
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced tiny
fresh ground pepper
pinch sea salt

Toss all vegetables and dill in a bowl, then place all dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well. Toss with vegetables.

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This salad is perfect with the falafel, and for the best lunch you ever had, add a couple of well-griddled Giggly Pig sausages. Perfect.

So now you know how to make one more thing it used to be heavenly simple just to BUY out at a market. But I had an inspiration: the couple of leftover falafels were a completely different texture the next day, very crumbly, almost powdery. I thought how nice they would be crumbled up and... what? John suggested substituting them for breadcrumbs in some dish. How about macaroni and cheese flavored with Moroccan spices instead of nutmeg, and sprinkled with falafel crumbs? If I ever make it, I'll let you know.

I'm feeling very full of myself this week because I've submitted a chapter, an introductory letter, a letter to an agent and a list of ALL my proposed chapters, to a literary consultancy here in London! Late in June I'm scheduled for an all-day seminar on preparing my manuscript for submission to an agent, and then to a publisher, so the requirement was getting all these bits and pieces together. It was surprisingly difficult, tiring, and even painful to whittle down my so-far 25,000 word manuscript into a 250-word introduction! And to try to explain ME, as in the requirements was "explain WHY YOU," was very difficult indeed. "Maybe you've had an extraordinary life," the consultant said over the phone, and I had to admit to myself, "No, that isn't why I want to write down all these memories and recipes." So I tried to describe, and thereby sell, I suppose, the passion I feel about the very ordinary cooking life I have had, and how strongly I feel about writing it down. Very tiring.

We've been mad tennis-obsessed lately and I'm not making it up, I can feel the difference after three weeks, in my arms and legs. I'm not taking approaching 45 lying down! I refuse to give up and turn into mush. And now John's ankle is feeling fairly well, he's more than anxious to get us in shape as well. Our moderate diet has been really successful: no bread, no potatoes, fromage frais instead of mayonnaise, tuna in water instead of olive oil, no cheese except for buffalo mozzarella which I feel is one of the basic food groups, with tomatoes and basil... I mean, the diet's successful except for when we don't do these things, like tonight's truffle brie with lovely little wheat biscuits. Hey, it's no fun to have things on a not-this list unless you sometimes bust it wide open. And with truffles!

So Avery's on the last half-term of her first year of her new school, and we're doing the food festival tomorrow, then the Cotswolds on Monday evening with one of her school friends, just for an evening of fun in the country. The poor things are facing their first exams when they return to school, so the watchword for the holiday week is "revision," which is some awful British word for rehashing everything they've been told all year, in preparation for spitting it back out. I suppose the exact same thing would have faced Avery in America if we've stayed there. But the pressure's on. So a little fun will be welcome this week.

I'll report back from Hampton Court and if I've found a way to make my own water, I'll definitely post the recipe...

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