Sunday, 2 January 2011

F is for...

... Nibbles of falafels and Feta and fenugreek filos, followed by a starter of Fiasco al Fagioli with fresh fennel seed and rosemary focaccia. Next was a pasta course of fennel fettuccine, followed by a main of faggots and frites with french beans. Pudding was fig and frangipane flan, followed by frappucinos served with florentines, French fancies and fudge.

I thought it would be a lovely idea to have F night with my family, as family begins with F. To begin with, this meant having 6 members of the Glass clan over for dinner with Richard and I - but no more than 6, as we only have 8 chairs. As is usually the way of things, more than 6 wanted in on the action and so, it was decided, that F night would be take place in my parents' house - where there are chairs-a-plenty. This was going to take place on Saturday night, but having taken on a lot of extra last minute work the week before, Sunday lunch seemed like a less frantic proposal. How very wrong I was.

I had the misguided notion that working in a kitchen that has an enormous range cooker and actual surface space - our tiny South London kitchen has three forearm length work tops and only three working hob burners - would make life simpler. On top of this, my parents have more crockery and cutlery than anyone could ever need, an enormous fridge that doesn't need constant reshuffling to fit everything in and, best of all, they own the holy grail of all kitchen appliances: a dishwasher. I've cooked 8 courses for 8 people in my micro-kitchen and still went back for more. So, this time I was going to have a few extra to cater for. So what? This was set to be a doddle!

Wasn't it?

Being limited by foods beginning with a particular letter of the alphabet is one thing, Richard's fish allergy one more, but with 50% of the dinner guests having their own unique allergies, intolerances and ethical objections - fois gras and frogs' legs were out -  it became the Everest of all Alphabet Soup challenges.

First off, the set up of my parents' 1920's house means that the kitchen is literally central to everything and you have to go through it to get to most other rooms. This means it has constant through traffic and is used as a route for children and animals to chase each other around in circuits of the ground floor.

I have become accustomed to my dinner guests accepting, without question, that the menu of Alphabet Soup is secret until it is brought to the dining table. I do this because it gives a greater sense of fun and excitement about what is to come, as well as enabling the guests room to compare guesses or even take bets. My family, as wonderful as they all are, couldn't quite get to grips with the idea that this wasn't a normal Sunday lunch with the family. Because of this, they acted as they usually would - hanging out in the kitchen, being oblivious to getting under anyone's feet or wandering in and out with wine-flushed cheeks, declaiming "don't worry, it's only us!"es or "why don't you come and sit down and have a drink, you must be exhausted"s. All this was done to a soundtrack of opening and closing doors, shouts of "Have we got any more lemons?" and "Who else wants another gin?" with the feeble sounds of Franz Ferdinand, Florence and the Machine, The Futureheads and Ella Fitzgerald all failing to compete.  In the end I felt like I was trying to cook inside a pinball machine - pinging off my dad's rotund tummy into an urbane uncle and then over a senile dog.

My family can be split into two categories - the ones who are always very early and the ones who are invariably late. The early group get annoyed by the lateness of the others and the late gang feel rushed and flustered when the early birds turn up an hour before they're expected. I am in the late camp and aim for everything to come together at the exact moment that company is due to arrive, which, invariably, never quite goes to plan and, as such, I'm always grateful and relieved when they're running a bit late. But, as should have been expected, there was a slow dribble of arrivals starting with the first guest an hour before schedule and the last an hour after.

I had got up bright and early to make my focaccia and puddings, but it clearly wasn't early enough, as I realised I was behind schedule before the first course had even been dished up. It looked certain that the feast of "F" wasn't going to be much fun. When Richard arrived at midday he saw my sad and panic-strickened face and took charge of the situation by rolling up his sleeves, putting the kettle on and ordering me to write a list of jobs needing to be done. My dad was given the role of ushering lingerers out of the kitchen, but this role was soon forgotten after his second gin. I had planned a cocktail of French martinis - a mixture of gin, framboise and pinaeapple juice - but the consensus was that it sounded revolting and would undoubtedly be a horrible waste of gin. Fair enough. I made a u-turn on the cocktail and left them to their alphabetically inaccurate choices, while I cracked on with the falafels. A simple beginning I thought, until I had one of the first of my accidents with the magimix blade. Not too deep this time, but still a nuisance. Sporting one blue plaster, I persevered.


I decided to bake my falafels rather than fry them, largely because I needed the hob space, but also because F's menu was already fairly full on in its fat content. If you would rather fry your falafels than bake them, simply heat a few inches of oil in a wide saucepan until really hot and fry in small batches for 6-8 minutes until evenly browned on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper before serving.

1 tin of chick peas, drained and rinsed
6 spring onions
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 tsp ground coriander
2 green chillies, deseeded and chopped
A small bunch of mint, with the stalks removed
A small bunch of fresh coriander, stalks removed
A pinch of salt
Black pepper
2 - 3 tbsp oil (groundnut/ sunflower or olive)

Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan)

Simply blitz all the ingredients together in a food processor and shape the mixture into walnut-sized balls. Place your balls on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned. They're very nice served with a  tahini and yoghurt dip or houmous. 

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