For a lot of people, summer started on June 21st. Even though (if I’m recalling correctly) it was one of those “whatever summer is totally here I don’t care if I have to wear a winter coat with my flip-flops” kind of day. Now that I’m thinking about it, June was pretty goddamn miserable. People had hushed conversations behind closed doors about the infamous Summer of 2011 and June-uary and sweet baby Jesus, would 2014 suffer the same fate? After the worst winter in St. John’s history (that’s not me being historically accurate, but holy shit come on), the city lived in dread of a summer with a similar theme. Me, I kind of roll with the seasonal punches. After spending ten summers in rural Newfoundland, I’ve come to expect the worst and the absolute best. This is my very first summer in the city, and I’m just happy to be here, happy to have sidewalks for a few months, and happy to be living a stone’s throw from Moo Moo’s Ice Cream.
But back to June. June was gross. Not as gross as May, and I still can’t even talk about the apocalyptic April we had, but let’s talk about July. The weather gods came out from behind the bushes, blew their giant weather-trumpets or whatever and yelled, “JOKES YOU GUYS!! July is gonna kick ass.” And it did. It was glorious, hot, sticky, like a little piece of Hanoi plopped right down on top of us for a few weeks. The lines grew longer at Moo Moo’s, tattooed men everywhere took off their shirts, and outdoor cats were all shag this please let me back in the house to seek shade under the coffee table. And my personal fav: Radio Noon was swamped with callers phoning in to complain about the humidity, which is like, so hard because you have to shovel it. Oh wait. You don’t. So go join the line at Moo Moo’s and then run through a sprinkler or something crooked arses.
The best weather the island has ever seen started just about the time I headed into full-time rehearsal. The first day the humidex hit thirty was the first day I had to spend eight hours in a rehearsal hall trying to bash Shakespeare into my brain. Normally, being inside on beautiful days makes me insane, but I was enjoying the work and never once wanted to run away and go swimming. The second part’s a lie of course – the best place to be when it’s thirty degrees is in a lake and not in a dress rehearsal wearing wool breeches and knee socks. But I never complained once (out loud) and enjoyed evenings on my back step eating barbecued hot dogs and drinking beer. We finally opened at the end of July and I made a conscious decision to start my honest-to-goodness summer in August. The month when everyone suffers from Summer Panic Disorder. You know, when you try to squeeze in everything you wanted to but never had time for in June and July. This month I’m trying to soothe my SPD with lots of barbecues, booze, and ice cream. There’s a loose plan in place to attempt a new recipe from each of the above categories and write about it every week, but I guess that will depend on how many mojitos I get in me before passing out in front of the computer.
(And hey if you’re out around Cupids this month and want to see me get disembowelled by King Henry and subsequently make out with him fifteen minutes later, check out Perchance Theatre’s schedule here.)
Week 1: Jerk Chicken with Coconut Rice and Green Harissa
Jerk Chicken (adapted from simplyrecipes.com)
1/2 cup malt vinegar
2 tsp molasses
2 tbsp dark rum
The juice from one large lime
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 fresno chillies, with seeds, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
4 green onions, chopped (or a handful of chives)
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 tsp ground allspice
4 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp ground nutmeg
Pack of 8 or 9 chicken thighs
(Bone-in thighs with skin is fine. Jerk is always better on the bone, but I took the skin off. Keep it on if you have a great barbecue and are confident in getting the chicken skin nice and crispy. If not, then eww, skin off please.)
Put everything except chicken thighs in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Place chicken thighs in a large bowl and pierce several times with a fork. Mix in jerk marinade and leave to marinate in fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight of you can swing it. Grill on your barbecue, low and slow, until chicken is slightly charred and completely cooked through. Save the leftover marinade, boil for a good ten minutes (it had raw chicken in it, remember?) and use as a sauce, or even to baste the chicken while barbecuing. I cooked mine on the stovetop with a cup of homemade chicken stock and it was great – really intense – but great.
God, I love this chicken. The perfect recipe to use up all those spices you normally only use at Christmas. Relatively inexpensive if you’re cooking for a crowd, easy to grill on a shitty barbecue like ours, and the leftovers are the best. It’ll make your neighbours jealous because your backyard will smell like a market stall somewhere in the Caribbean. A quick note about the chillies: I went with fresno peppers, which are pretty mild on the hotness scale, but I wouldn’t be opposed to jalapenos next time if I was feeling brave. Jerk chicken is normally made with Scotch bonnets which terrify me. I love spicy food, but I’m no hero. Go nuts on the bonnets if you like, and then report back to me about how work was the next day, or how your corneas were after you accidentally touched your eye.
Jesus, the dictionary says there are four different ways to spell chillies can we get our collective shit together please.
Coconut Rice (from the side of the box of Mr. Goudas Coconut Milk Powder)
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1/2 cup coconut milk powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp of you favourite Caribbean hot sauce
Heat up water in a medium sized pot. Add coconut powder, stir until dissolved. Bring to a boil. Add rice, stir to blend in and reduce heat to medium low. Add hot sauce, salt and pepper. Gently stir with a fork to blend in all the flavours. Cover the pot and allow to cook for 16 to 20 minutes, or until rice is tender to your taste.
Yum. And not too spicy, even though I used this lethal hot sauce that we bought in St. Lucia last year. But with only half a teaspoon for the whole pot, it was pretty smooth sailing. Slightly creamy from the coconut milk powder, but in a good way, and not a bad rice pudding kind of way.
Green Harissa (adapted from Rachael Ray, foodnetwork.com)
1/2 of a large bunch of fresh cilantro (stems too!)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 fresno chilli, seeds in, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 large handfuls of baby spinach
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste.
Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Taste and season as necessary.
There are so many great things about this recipe I can barely contain myself. It can be used as a salad dressing (thinned with a little more olive oil), an accompaniment to any Middle Eastern dish (uh, works with Caribbean too), as a healthy dip for veggies, flatbread, grilling chicken or fish, or even spreading on sandwiches. I made this a few weeks ago and I’m obsessed with it. You know when you buy a big container of baby spinach at the beginning of the week with the intention of eating a salad every day? And then you get to the end of the week and you realize all the McCain Superfries in your freezer are gone but the spinach has started to wilt? This recipe is for you. Same goes for the big bunch of cilantro you bought and then forgot about in the produce drawer. Everything pulses into one little compact bowl of excellent.
All the above served with Anna Olson’s flatbread recipe. Takes no time to make and almost tastes like naan from you favourite Indian restaurant. Make a huge batch and freeze, or freeze the dough in individual portions, ready to thaw and roll at a moment’s notice. Great with or without the coriander seeds.
Mango Sorbet (I totally made this up and it’s pretty deadly)
1 600g bag of frozen mango
Juice from half a lime
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp vanilla-infused rum
Thaw frozen mango on a cookie sheet, then puree in a blender. Mix sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer until sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and let cool. Combine mango puree, sugar syrup, lime juice and rum, and let mixture cool in fridge for two hours or overnight. Freeze in ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
This is the BEST. And not bad for you because you don’t need a whole lot of sugar to sweeten the mango. You could probably get away with 1/4 cup sugar if you like. Rum is optional, but it keeps the sorbet from getting too hard and adds a lovely flavour that isn’t boozy or overpowering. Not that I don’t enjoy overpowering booze, but best to leave out if kids will be tasting, or pals who aren’t too fussy about alcohol (???). Lots of vanilla rums out there, but I make mine by saving scraped out vanilla pods and putting a few of them in random bottles of liquor. Rum, vodka, haven’t tried whisky yet, but you get the idea. Best to tell guests about that trick if your liquor is out in the open, because vanilla pods sometimes resemble stick insects, or preying mantises.
My friend Susan gave me the sweetest little case of dessert salts for Christmas, and because I was a few Negronis in and feeling adventurous, I thought one might be nice for the sorbet. Decided on the vanilla-cardamom, even though it strayed more into a spicy Indian flavour instead of spicy Caribbean. But hey, we were already all over the map with North African harissa and Italian Negronis so woo-hooooo summer. Himself wasn’t too fussy over the salt on the mango sorbet but I looooved it. That’s how I said it after my fourth Negroni. Hi Mom.
Feel free to take a chance on the red mangoes at Sobeys, but I’ve never had any luck with them. No matter how perfect they look or smell, I always end up with a soft and stringy mess. Chunks of frozen mangoes are fresher and more reliable in the mango off season (obviously all year round in Newfoundland). Different story if you can get your hands on the little yellow ataulfos; they’re usually available here in the spring, sometimes into summer, and they are insanely good and perfect for sorbets, salads, curries, and eating over the sink with your hands like a monkey.
Cilantro Negroni (from a random Martha Stewart magazine Didi gave me)
Muddle 3 cilantro sprigs with 1/2 tsp of superfine sugar and 1 orange wedge in a glass. Add 2 oz Campari and ice. Add 4 oz club soda (or sparkling water, something fizzy). Stir. Makes one.
Almost as fast as cracking a beer. Bitter, but nice. If it’s too bitter for you, add a bit more sugar and one more wedge of orange. But jeez calm down it’s Campari it’s supposed to be bitter. A lime wedge thrown in is nice too. Best with a floppy hat and oversized sunglasses.
If you’ve managed to make it through this post, you deserve a good stiff drink and an ice creamy treat. Put on your floppy hat and sunglasses and go barbecue some meat before the sidewalks disappear. Me? I’m off to get disembowelled in my woolen breeches.