Week Thirty Eight

With the arrival of May, despite the rather cold and miserable weather, I have been cooking up a few summery dishes. I know… ‘Don’t cast a clout until May is out!’, but I figured that I was safe at home in my kitchen. I learnt the truth of this saying when I was a teenager, when, on waking up to a beautiful sunny day in March, I decided to wear my new white jeans and a flimsy jacket. I had to take two buses to college and by the time I’d boarded the second bus the sun had gone in and it was becoming decidedly cold, unfortunately, it was too late to return home so I had to shiver my way through the day feeling increasingly stupid in my summery attire! Having learnt my lesson, the aforementioned saying is one that I have repeated to myself on numerous occasions over the years! However, I don’t think the saying applies to food, and my taste buds are in need of some light flavours which would suit alfresco eating in the unlikely event that the weather permits. So this week I am sharing a few recipes with summer in mind…

Menu One is ‘Chilli-Rubbed Pork Chops with Charred-Corn Salsa’, the beautiful chargrilled flavours of this recipe really do epitomise the summer and alfresco eating. You will need a griddle pan to cook this (or a BBQ if the sun is out!), but it is extremely easy to cook! Menu Two is Easy Baked Tarragon Chicken, I love tarragon any time of the year, but find that its flavour is particularly suited to the warmer summery days. The chicken is simply browned on the stove with some shallots then cooked with a little stock in the oven for 30 minutes – easy – and by cooking the chicken with the stock you create a beautiful ‘tarragon’ gravy! I have served this with ‘Braised Baby Gem Lettuces’, if you have never cooked these little lettuces, I urge you to try them like this, they become slightly sweet and very delicious. Menu Three is a wonderful Vegetable Laksa, this beautifully spiced Southeast Asian soup uses lemongrass to create a lovely fresh flavour whilst the addition of noodles makes it a substantial meal – it’s a perfect early summer soup.

Finally, to help that summery vibe I thought I’d share a new favourite cocktail of mine…a Lemon Sidecar!…what can I say…these are seriously good, so be careful!…

Also…to complement the summery vibe in my kitchen I have been listening to a very upbeat playlist; as you may have recognised, I have a rather eclectic taste in music – in comparison to my last playlist this is decidedly modern and will definitely get you strutting around your kitchen!…(listen to Music to Cook to…MenuMusic Eleven…here!)

Menu One

Chilli-Rubbed Pork Chops with Charred-Corn Salsa (Serves 4)

This is another incredibly tasty recipe from the cookbook ‘Five Marys Ranch Raised’. To create the wonderful chargrill flavour you do need to use a griddle pan (or a BBQ). The pork chops are seasoned with a chilli rub, I use a mild chilli powder but if you prefer a hotter kick you can of course use hot chilli powder. The sweet-smoky corn salsa makes this recipe extra special – chargrilling the corn cobs creates a delicious, sweet BBQ flavour. The pork chops are cut relatively thinly, so are ready in minutes; it really is a perfect quick dinner dish, just serve with a big salad, and with either ‘Roasted Cauliflower with Chilli & Lime’ or ‘Homemade Oven Chips’ (recipes below).

For the Pork:

4 pork chops (bone in), ¼ inch thick

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon chilli powder (see note above)

1½ teaspoons salt flakes

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon dried oregano

For the Salsa:

2 corn on the cob

2 slices red onion, each ½inch thick

Olive oil

Large bunch of fresh coriander, leaves finely chopped plus a few sprigs to garnish

1 small green jalapeno, seeded and chopped finely

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. In a small bowl mix together the olive oil, garlic, chilli powder, salt, paprika and oregano to form a paste. Spread the paste evenly over the chops and set aside at room temperature for up to 30 minutes.
  2. To make the salsa, brush the corn cobs and the onion slices with olive oil. Heat a griddle pan until very hot, then place the corn in the hot pan and cook, turning, until tender and slightly charred – about 7-10 minutes. Cook the onion slices in the same way, they will need less time – about 5 minutes.
  3. Cut the corn from the cobs and finely chop the onion. Combine the corn and onion in a bowl with the chopped coriander, jalapeno, lime juice and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Put to one side.
  4. Reheat the griddle pan until smoking hot and place the pork chops on the pan, griddle for 2-3 minutes, so they get lovely chargrilled marks, then turn and cook for a further 1-2 minutes, until the chops are cooked through.
  5. Transfer to a serving plate to rest for a few minutes before serving with the corn salsa, garnished with the coriander sprigs. It is delicious served with ‘Roasted Cauliflower with Chilli & Lime’ or ‘Homemade Oven Chips’ – recipes below.

Roasted Cauliflower with Chilli and Lime (Serves 4)

large head of cauliflower

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, as needed

Sea salt and black pepper

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon chilli powder

3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

1 tablespoon fresh coriander, finely chopped

Grated zest of a lime

  1. Cut the cauliflower into florets, then cut these into bite sized pieces – it is best to cut them in half so that they have a flat edge which will caramelise during cooking and therefore taste better!
  2. Place the cauliflower on a large baking sheet lined with baking paper, drizzle with olive oil and season with the cumin, chilli powder and the salt and pepper, toss to evenly coat.
  3. Place in a preheated oven, 220’c fan, cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, toss, then sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over the cauliflower in the centre area of the pan (not too near the edges as they tend to burn). Return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes.
  4. To serve, sprinkle over the chopped coriander and grated lime zest.

Homemade Oven Chips (Serves 4)

These chips are easy to prepare, proving that there is no need for a stinking chip pan in order to have good chips! It is important to use baking potatoes for this recipe as they crisp up better.

3-4 baking potatoes, depending on the size and how hungry you are

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven 200’c fan.
  2. Cut the potatoes into thick chips, there is no need to peel them.
  3. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, add the chips, boil for 4 minutes then drain well.
  4. Coat the chips with the olive oil and lay them out in single layer on a baking tray.
  5. Place in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, turning a few times during cooking.
  6. Serve immediately.

Menu Two

Easy Baked Tarragon Chicken served with Braised Baby Gem Lettuces (Serves 4)

Tarragon is my all-time favourite herb, and the marriage between this herb and chicken is, in my opinion, heaven! This recipe is ideal midweek; once the chicken is browned on the stove you just have to cook it in the oven for 30 minutes and then finish off the gravy – how easy it that?!…You can easily leave out the cream if you prefer a lighter sauce. I like to serve this with Braised Baby Gem Lettuce – recipe below.

For the Chicken:

50g butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

Small chicken jointed or 8 chicken thighs

2 shallots or 1 small onion, finely sliced

120ml white wine

Several sprigs of tarragon

For the gravy:

20g butter

Handful of tarragon leaves and parsley, chopped

Sprig of thyme (optional)

150ml double cream (optional)

  1. Melt the butter with the oil in a casserole dish, then brown the chicken on all sides.
  2. Add the onions, wine and tarragon to the dish, stir and bring to a gentle simmer, cover and place in a preheated oven, 210’c fan. Cook for 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked.
  3. Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish and set aside to rest.
  4. Meanwhile make the gravy. Put the pan with the chicken juices and onion on the hob, remove the tarragon sprigs, then stir in the butter and the chopped herbs and sprig of thyme, mixing well. Remove from the heat and, if using, stir in the double cream.
  5. To serve, pour the gravy over the chicken pieces.

Braised Baby Gem Lettuce (Serves 4)

When cooked in this way these lettuces become rather sweet and very special…I urge you to try them!

2 Baby Gem lettuce hearts

½ orange, juiced

30g butter

200ml chicken stock

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Cut the lettuces in half, through the stalk, keeping each half in tact.
  2. Melt the butter in a frying pan, place each lettuce half flat side down in the pan and gently fry over a medium heat until the cut sides are caramelised.
  3. Add the stock and the orange juice to the pan so that the liquid comes about halfway up the lettuce, season with salt and pepper. Turn down the heat, cover and cook gently until the lettuce has wilted and is tender, but holding its shape.
  4. Remove the lettuce from the braising liquid. Keep the lettuce warm whilst you reduce the liquid by boiling gently to concentrate the flavour.
  5. Serve the lettuce with a little of the reduced liquor .

Menu Three

Vegetable Laksa (Serves 4)

This is a delicious Southeast Asian aromatic soup with clean, fresh flavours whilst the addition of the rice noodles makes it a filling midweek meal.

For the spice paste:

4cm piece of fresh root ginger

3 shallots

3 garlic cloves

3 lemongrass stalks

4-6 red chillies

4 tablespoons peanut or sunflower oil

Handful of coriander leaves

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon caster sugar

3 tablespoons tamarind paste

For the Laksa:

170g rice noodles

1 small aubergine, cut into 2cm dice

85g mangetout

85g green beans, topped and tailed

Groundnut or sunflower oil

600ml vegetable stock

300ml coconut milk

1 lime, juiced

Handful of coriander, roughly chopped

Handful of Thai basil leaves (or normal basil leaves), roughly chopped

For garnishes:

½ cucumber cut into thin batons/strips (seeds removed)

1 lime, cut into wedges

Bean sprouts

Thai basil leaves (or normal basil leaves)

Chilli oil

  1. To make the spice paste, peel and chop the ginger, shallots and garlic and finely chop the lemongrass and chillies. Put into a blender with the oil and blend until smooth. Roughly chop the coriander leaves and add to the mixture with the turmeric, sugar and tamarind paste. Put to one side.
  2. Cook the rice noodles according to the packet instructions, drain and refresh in cold water, then add a little oil to prevent them from sticking together. Put to one side.
  3. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sauté the diced aubergine until soft. Put to one side.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the spice paste and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring until it is just beginning to brown.
  5. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook for a further 5 minutes, to slightly reduce.
  6. Add the coconut milk, bring to a gentle simmer, then add the mangetout and beans, continue to cook for 3 minutes before adding the diced aubergine, and cooking for a further minute – the vegetables should be just tender.
  7. Finally stir in the lime juice to taste, and the chopped coriander and basil.
  8. Divide the noodles between four bowls and pour over the hot broth. Top with the beansprouts, basil leaves and cucumber. Serve with a wedge of lime and chilli oil for more heat if desired.

A Little Treat…

Bourbon Sidecar (Serves 2)

This cocktail was designed for summer evenings – seriously, they can be dangerous, so watch out…and enjoy!!…

2 tablespoons caster sugar

1 lemon wedge

100ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

120ml bourbon (I like Makers Mark)

60ml Cointreau

Large handful of ice cubes

Slice of lemon, cut in half to decorate

  1. Pour the sugar into a shallow dish. Rub the rim of two cocktail glasses with the lemon wedge and dip the rims in the sugar to create a sugared rim.
  2. Fill a cocktail shaker (or a large jam jar with a lid) half full with ice cubes. Add the lemon juice, bourbon and Cointreau. Cover and shake. Strain into the prepared cocktail glasses and use the halved lemon slice to decorate the side of the glass.

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