Chicken Scrunchers with Gochujang Dipping Sauce
A family favourite, deservedly so. Easy to do either in a frying pan or in the air fryer if you have one. I have recently acquired one and I love it for the substitution of deep frying with healthier lighter air frying. You can whip this up for an easy kids’ lunch in 20 minutes.
I have written previously about my son’s fondness for Korean spicy flavours and his Mother’s Day gift of a tub of gochujang paste. We’ve used the spicy salty paste a lot and it’s still in the fridge and going strong. A little goes a long way. You can tone down the spices as suits your own family’s taste but this combination of sweet, salt and spice is a winner. I think we based the sauce recipe on Joshua Weissman’s (joshuaweissman.com) sauce for wings, but you can use it on any crunchy finger-type food.
Serve with a platter of vegetable batons alongside the chicken for extra dipping and you have a great healthy meal.
Serves 4 for a light meal Timings: 30 minutes
Vegetables for dipping: red or yellow pepper, carrots, celery etc. Whatever’s fresh and to your taste.
Dip the chicken strips into the beaten egg and then into the breadcrumbs to coat and leave them on a baking tray in the fridge to set the coating.
In a small saucepan, warm the oils together and briefly fry half the garlic and all the ginger until sizzling, but don’t brown them. Add in the soy, vinegar, rice wine, sugar and gochujang paste. Stir and simmer to blend. In a cup, mix the cornflour with 2 tablespoons water, then dip up a spoonful of the simmering sauce, mix into the cup, then tip the whole cupful back into the saucepan. Stir and bring to a simmer as it thickens. Let it cool a bit but keep warm.
Fry the chicken pieces either in a frying pan with a small amount of oil or in the air fryer until cooked through and the coating is browned and crisp.
Prepare the vegetable batons.
Serve the chicken, vegetables, and the sauce together and allow everyone to dip to their heart’s content.
Puff Pastry Cheesy Bites
So extremely more-ish you probably have to make two batches. And if you’re serving them as a starter then don’t blame your guests for not having much appetite for the main course.
You can use puff pastry to wrap up all sorts of things: anchovies with parmesan, parma ham, plain ham with mustard, whatever. I find that this combination of salty tangy cheese and the spice hit of cayenne pepper is the best but do try whatever suits your own tastes. The cheese melts out in a delicious crispy way and the cayenne just perks your appetite for another bite.
They’d also be good for a quick school holiday lunch, served with a green salad and a chopped tomato salsa.
Makes 26 rounds Timings: 40 minutes
Pre heat your oven to 190°C fan or 200°C circulation.
Have ready three flat oven trays lined with greaseproof paper.
Unroll the pastry on its own paper wrapping. Sprinkle the cheese evenly all over the surface and sprinkle the cayenne pepper on top. Roll the pastry up again and cut it into rounds about ½ cm thick. Place the slices on the trays, leaving enough space to expand – you can get about 8 on a tray.
Place in the oven for about 20 minutes until the cheese has melted and the pastry is puffed and golden. Slide them onto a wire rack to cool a bit and sprinkle with sea salt crystals.
Eat them while still warm.
Chipotle Griddled Corn on the Cob
A juicy spicy accompaniment to a main meal or a lunch time snack in themselves. Kids tend to love this, as with all meals they can eat with their fingers while running round the garden but who can resist getting stuck into a corn cob, getting the bits between your teeth and the butter down your chin? At this time of year you can buy them fresh from the greengrocer, or ready peeled in the supermarket. As with all vegetables, the fresher the better, so if you can get some at your local farmers market or from a farm shop where they grow and pick them, you’ll taste the difference.
Amp it up a bit by using a chipotle spicy butter and griddling the cobs to complete the cooking with a delicious charred overtone. You can do these on the barbeque or use a griddle pan with ridges. I’ve not tried them under a normal oven grill and I’m not sure that would work very well as I think you need the contact with the hot grid to get the charred effect. You can use any spice you like in your butter but chipotles have an affinity with the corn – maybe because they’re from the same part of the world originally or just because the smoky spice of the chipotles sets off the sweet corn so well.
Serves 4 Timings: 40 minutes
Bring a large pan of water (not salted as that hardens the corn) to the boil and add a teaspoon of sugar. Drop the corn cobs into the pan and simmer for 5-10 minutes depending on how fresh they are.
Pre heat your oven to 180°C, and get some kitchen foil ready.
While the corn is boiling, blend the butter with the chipotle, sauce and lime juice. A stick blender does this very well. Taste and add pepper and salt if needed.
Drain the cobs, run cold water on them and leave them to cool down a bit.
Heat up your griddle pan or fire up the barbeque.
Rub just a little butter on the cobs and grill them for a few minutes, turning so that the hot grill comes in contact with all sides of the cobs and chars them in attractive stripes. If the barbeque is really hot, this won’t take more than a couple of minutes per side so you have to keep your attention on the grill and keep turning the cobs. When you’ve got the charred stripes, place each piece of corn in a wrap of kitchen foil with a teaspoon of butter on the top of the corn. Wrap up the foil and put the plate of wrapped cobs into the oven for 20 minutes. The corn finishes cooking in the spicy butter and ends up tender, smoky and sweet.
Let them cool a little before serving. You’ll need napkins to mop the butter off your chin!
An indispensable part of any tapas selection, and a joyous addition to any party spread, sharing table or al fresco meal. We all love finger food, especially outside with our friends and family, and anything that makes life easier for the cook is a winner with me.
The fun thing about these peppers is that although they are mainly mild tasting, one in 10 has a spicy kick to it, and you can’t tell which ones by looking. So you’re adding a little risky gamble to your snacking, which gives you a very pleasant frisson of anticipation. The variety of peppers is so special that it has been awarded a PDO protected status by the EU. I like the feeling of almost eating a national monument – similar to the UK’s Stilton cheese or Italy’s Prosciutto Toscano ham.
Serve as part of a sharing table, or as a starter with a glass of Spanish red wine. You could pack them into a sealed container and take them along as a different vegetable for a picnic or put them in a lunchbox for your child to show off at school.
Serves 4 as part of a mixed starter Timings: 15 minutes
Make sure the peppers are dry or they’ll spit as they hit the hot oil.
Heat the oil in a heavy based frying pan – you are not deep frying but you need more than a slick of oil. Place the peppers in the hot oil and turn them as the skins puff and char. Fry for a few minutes, making sure all sides are cooked.
Turn them onto a plate and sprinkle generously with the flaky sea salt.
Serve warm or room temperature, and you will need a napkin to wipe your oily hands.
Grilled Feta Baguettes (vegetarian)
In Cologne Christmas market the spicy, salty smell of the Sheep’s Cheese Baguettes demands your attention.
The cheese is marinated in barrels of olive oil with whole cloves of garlic, chillies, herbs and other spices. The vendor hauls dripping chunks out of the barrel, scrapes off the crust of herbs and flaked chillies, smacks it expertly into white shards and throws them on to halved baguettes, which are then flashed under a hot grill until seared and starting to brown. You eagerly, biting through the crust to find the melting garlicky cheese, oozing gently into bread.
These slices of goodness are just as at home at a summer garden party and are easy to prepare and serve. They're from my Summer of Six set of recipes, designed for small group outdoor parties, appropriate for this summer and autumn gatherings. Have a look at the pages (link above) for lots of ideas to make your entertaining easy and tasty. They'd be good for a school holiday lunch too.
Serves 6 Timings: marinate the feta for at least 2 days; can be much longer. Final preparation, 20 minutes.
Several days before eating, marinate your cheese. Mix the oils with the chilli, garlic, bay, and dried herbs and spices in a leak proof fridge container. Take the cheese out of its packet and cut in half across and then cut each piece across its equator, to make thinner pieces. Put these into the container and turn to cover with oil. Put all the cheese into the container, fix the lid, turn it back and forth a couple of times to distribute the oil and then leave in the fridge for a few days. Turn it again a few times a day, whenever you’ve got the fridge open.
Pre-heat your grill to a high setting. Cut the baguette into 3 slices and then halve each piece, so you have 6 long half-pieces. Grill these lightly – 2-3 minutes max - just to toast the top surface.
Drizzle some of the oil from the container over the toasts, especially at the edges, and then cover the slices with the cheese pieces. Drizzle a bit more oil over, adding any pieces of marinated chilli you find. Grill for a few minutes until the cheese just starts to brown - it won’t melt like cheddar.
To Serve: eat hot, with maybe a few rocket leaves scattered artistically on the cheese, or some chopped chillies and coriander.
Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce (vegetarian) – Gnocchi Napolitana
Simple, elegant, frugal and comforting. What more do you want? Learn how to make the perfect gnocchi and pair the little nuggets of potatoey goodness with a lovely sauce. So much better than the ones in packets, or god-forbid, frozen.
There seems to be some magical thinking going around about the way you have to cook the potatoes for gnocchi. Ignore it. Mashed potato is about the easiest substance in the world to generate. Peel a nice potato (not a new potato or a salad potato, use a King Edward or anything that says “ideal for mashing” and you’ll be fine), boil it, drain it, and mash it. That’s it. Add salt, pepper, a dash of milk and a nobble of butter as you mash. Make mashed potato one day for supper (with sausages? For the top of the fish pie?) and double your usual quantity, so you have some left over. Then you can rustle up the gnocchi in no time next day, cook them, and combine them with a sauce you also made earlier. Apparently it’s also good made with left over baked potato, so if you have the oven on for something the day before, bung a few extra spuds in, and then let them cool and scrape out the fluffy inside to use for the gnocchi.
Perfect for after the kids’ swimming lesson when you need something double quick and warming. Make the little darlings dry their hair and lay the table and you’ll be ready when they are.
Also a great meal for school holiday lunches or when they’re studying from home.
Serves 4. Timings: 1 hour for the sauce, can be made ahead. 30 minutes to boil and mash potatoes, can be done ahead. 20 minutes to make the gnocchi and combine with the sauce.
For the gnocchi:
For the tomato sauce:
Make the tomato sauce: fry the onion gently for a few minutes to soften it, add the garlic and the oregano. Fry a few minutes, add the fresh tomatoes chopped up, add the tin of tomatoes. Add a little water if you need it, and the marmite, Henderson’s Relish, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Cool, blend and sieve. You will get quite a thick tasty tomato sauce with no seeds in it that can be used not only for gnocchi, but as a soup, as a sauce for pasta, etc. It freezes well and keeps in the fridge for a few days, so I often make a big batch when I see tomatoes reduced in price, and freeze portions.
Make the gnocchi: combine the mashed potato with the egg yolk, sieve in the flour, leaving the last few tablespoons out until you see what texture you have. You want a smooth, light mixture. Don’t knead the dough but mix it thoroughly, wrap it and put it in the fridge for 10 minutes.
While you’re waiting, now get the sauce out of the fridge and warm it in a large pan. Put another large pan of salted water on to heat, you want it boiling to cook the gnocchi.
When you bring it out of the fridge, cut the dough into 4 equal parts. Flour your worksurface. Roll each section of dough as if you were making a play-doh snake, into a long thin cylinder. Cut the snake into 2cm sections along the length and then take each piece in your hand and press a fork against one side. This makes those nice parallel lines on one side and a small indentation on the other, which allegedly makes the shape better at holding the sauce. I’m not sure, but it maybe also firms up the dough shape and makes it more likely to hold itself.
Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water – do not overcrowd the pan as the water needs to rise to boiling again quite quickly. I was doing about 10 at a time which seemed to work. The gnocchi will drop to the bottom of the pan and as they cook, they will rise up – taking about 3 minutes for a batch.
When done, scoop them out and drop the cooked gnocchi into the warm sauce. Keep doing that until you’ve done all your dough. Warm the sauced-up gnocchi’s and serve with some shredded basil on top and some grated cheese. Maybe a side salad would complete the picture?
Roman Street Pizza (vegetarian optionally)
You’ll also find this recipe on my Summer of Six menu, from Rome to Rouen – have a look at the other recipes on the menu if you’re thinking about entertaining outside.
Girls’ trip to Rome – and to the best pizza place in the city. We ate standing up outside; quick fast food, coming out of the kitchen continuously on sizzling trays, cut into slabs, thrown onto paper plates and gobbled at speed. Roman street pizza is different from Napolitan – it’s thicker, fluffy and more bready. Highly satisfying to eat and to make.
Perfect food for kids, great for parties, easy for school holiday or working at home lunchtimes. Adaptable for all diets and one of the healthiest fast meals, who doesn’t love a home made pizza?
Pizza keeps and re-heats so well that it’s worth making a larger quantity than you need on the day, and somehow dough comes out better done in a bigger batch than tiny ones.
Makes 10-12 portions, 2 roasting trays full.
Timings: 30 minutes initial preparation, then 90 minutes prove, then 10 minutes work and another 90 minutes prove, then 20 minutes to cook - about 5-6 hours altogether.
For the dough:
At least 5 hours before you want to eat, start your dough.
Mix all the dough ingredients and turn out onto your worktop to knead. Knead well for about 5 minutes and then leave the dough under a bowl on your worktop for about 10 minutes. Knead again for 5 minutes. You will have a shiny, springy dough which you can already see starting to fluff.
Leave to prove covered in a warm place until roughly doubled in size – about 90 minutes to 2 hours depending on the temperature.
Prepare your tins – I use metal roasting trays or deep square cake tins to cook this. Grease each tin and line with greaseproof paper on the bottom.
Take it out of the bowl, knock it back but don’t knead it much, then put it into your prepared tins, stretching it so that it fills the tin about 2cm deep.
Leave covered in a warm place to rise again. I like to put the tins into a big plastic bag which you blow up at the neck and then seal with a clip. This keeps the dough protected from draughts and happy in its work. At this stage, you can play with the timings – if you want to leave it to rise more slowly, just leave it in a cooler place. You should leave it for about another 90 minutes in a warm place at least, and it will again double in size and become very puffed up.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to cook, start to heat your oven to 240°C. You need to give it good time to warm up so the whole oven is hot – like a real pizza oven. Of course, if you have a real pizza oven, fire it up!
Remove the garlic and the basil from the passata.
Get the tins of pizza dough and handle them carefully so as not to depress the dough.
Carefully spread the passata all over the top of each pizza dough, right to the edge.
Whack them straight into the oven for 10-15 minutes until the passata is starting to crust round the edges.
Bring them out, and scatter on your other toppings. I would recommend not too much fresh tomato, as it is quite liquid and you don’t want the dough getting soggy with the juice. These pizzas are not supposed to be too deeply topped, so try not to go overboard.
Back in the oven for 10-15 minutes to melt the cheese and crisp the toppings.
Bring them out and let them cool for just a few minutes before portioning and serving.
Buttermilk Ranch Salad with Wild Garlic Chicken, bacon and wild garlic croutons
Wild garlic a-go-go! Using the wild garlic butter you made from your foraged harvest, pan cook a chicken breast which you then slice up on top of a Ranch dressed crisp green salad. Add some wild garlic croutons and crispy bacon – Saturday family lunch time heaven.
Buttermilk is not so common in the UK and if you can’t get it, mix a small pot of plain yoghurt with the same volume of milk and whisk well, and you will have the right texture, although not quite the sour-dairy tang.
Serves 4 for lunch Timings: 30 minutes, if using already prepared wild garlic butter, and you can roast the chicken ahead and keep cool in the fridge.
First pan roast your chicken meat in the wild garlic butter. Put a good spoonful of butter in a small frying pan over a medium heat and gently fry your chicken, spooning the hot butter over it, and turning it over now and then. A breast will cook in about 8-10 minutes, and a boned thigh will take a little less. The generous butter keeps the meat lovely and moist. Leave the meat to cool and absorb more butter. You can also wrap a piece of chicken in kitchen foil and add some garlic butter to the parcel and just put the parcel in the oven for 20 minutes if you have the oven on for something else. Take it out, let it cool, keep in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
Make the croutons – fry the cubes of bread in the frying pan you used for the chicken, adding a bit more wild garlic butter as you go. The leaves of the wild garlic will fry and sizzle and go black but the taste of the croutons is spectacular. They take about 5 minutes, keep moving them around in the pan and then scoop out onto kitchen paper to cool and crisp.
Wipe out the frying pan and cook your bacon until crisp, drain on kitchen paper.
Make the ranch dressing in your largest salad bowl. Mix the dressing ingredients together well, even whisk with a small whisk if you have one. Taste and adjust the seasoning – you might want a little more salt or a squeeze of lemon juice or a teaspoon of sugar. The dressing should have a nice tang but it doesn’t taste strongly of buttermilk.
You can do all the above in advance and keep cool in the fridge for several hours.
Wash your lettuce thoroughly and dry or spin.
Tip the lettuce into the bowl with the dressing and mix well. (I believe it was Anna del Conte who taught me that a salad should be tossed at least 25 times to coat the leaves properly with the dressing, which is after all, the reason for a salad’s existence.)
Top with the sliced chicken, crumbled bacon and crispy croutons.
Wild Garlic and Potato Curry (vegan)
Another seasonal wild garlic recipe to make the most of the delicious harvest before it vanishes back underground for another year. You can substitute spinach for the wild garlic leaves at other times of the year and in that case you might want to add a crushed clove of garlic to the frying onions at the start of the recipe.
As always, please forage responsibly. Take your pick from an area where dogs and walkers don't go, and don't take all the leaves from one plant or denude an whole patch. A little goes quite a long way!
Combine with other curries in different sauces for a Curry Night Feast with friends and family; or make a simple meal with some warm naan and home-made chutneys and relishes.
Chutneys and relishes could include:
Serves 4 as a lunch or as part of a combined curry meal Timings: 30 minutes
In a wide flat pan, fry the mustard seeds and cumin seeds in vegetable oil for a few minutes while they sizzle. Tip in the chopped onion and chilli, and fry for a few minutes. Add the cubed potato and pour in water from the kettle to just cover the cubes.
Mix the powdered spices with some water in a glass to give you a light paste and pour into the pan of potatoes. This avoids you burning the ground spices in the hot oil and gives a more balanced flavour.
Add the lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper, then put the lid on and leave over a low heat to simmer for about 15 minutes. The potatoes will absorb the water and flavourings. Don’t let the pan boil dry, keep topping up with a little water if it’s all absorbed. After 15 minutes the potatoes should be tender and cooked and there should be a little flavoured gravy in the bottom of the pan. Add the torn up wild garlic leaves and put the lid back on again for a few minutes as they wilt down and cook.
Adjust the seasonings and serve with plain rice, fluffy naan and your relishes.
Celery and Squash Soup (vegan)
Sometimes an accidental combination just sings out loud. A few sticks of celery and half a butternut squash are denizens of the Monday fridge, leftovers from the weekend. But rejoice! The lightness and slight bitterness of celery balances the sweetness and creaminess of the squash and the two flavours meld like cheese in an omelette. It’s even good enough to make on purpose. It’s a great lunch time soup with a simple salad and some good bread.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Gently fry the onion and celery in a little vegetable oil until tender, 5 minutes. Add the cubes of squash and stir around. Add the vegetable stock, relish, and a little grind of pepper. You probably don’t need salt as the stock is salty enough but taste and adjust to your liking.
If you have had the oven on and you know you’re going to make this soup, you could also roast the squash cubes for 30 minutes in a medium oven with a little oil, but I wouldn’t put the oven on just for that.
Simmer for 20 minutes, then cool and liquidise. You can add the reserved celery leaves before you blend or hold them back for a garnish. Check the seasoning and serve.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.