It’s spring! Proper spring – with balmy temperatures, early rising birds and new buds appearing in the garden. Well, it was like that a few days ago. Now we’re back to tempestuous winds, lashing rain and that horrible greyness, but I’ve got high hopes.

Spring Daffodil Photo: Lucy Corry

It’s too soon for asparagus and the little lambs arriving in paddocks near you are too small for the cooking pot, but there are lots of other spring-y things to eat. Here are five easy spring dinners to add to your repertoire…

1. Superfood Salad: It’s got quinoa, broccoli and other spring-y, crunchy things to make you feel like frolicking in the sun. What more do you need?

Leon-Style Superfood Salad

2. Tray-baked Lamb and Potatoes: This is really good for those ‘I can’t think what to have for dinner’ evenings, which occur in our house at least once a week. Everything goes in the oven in one dish and there’s minimal cleaning up (even the non-cooks can make this one).

Easy Greek Lamb And Potatoes

3. Spring Cauliflower Soup: Cauliflower has had a bit of a renaissance of late, thanks to the craze for turning it into a pizza crust, but I think it’s unbeatable in this simple and healthy cauliflower soup.

Detox Cauliflower Soup

4. Simple Smoked Fish And Rice: This is another one-pot wonder, handy when you’ve been out in the garden tackling six months’ worth of weeding.

Easy Smoky Fish And Rice

5. Little lamb burgers: If you’re blessed with a beautiful spring day, cook these outside on your (long-neglected) barbecue. If it’s ‘sit inside by the heater weather’, they can be baked or pan-fried indoors.

Little Lamb Mince Burgers

What are your plans for this spring? 

Disclaimer: I am not Japanese. I have never even been to Japan. In fact, the closest I’ve got is frequenting a number of Japanese restaurants and sushi bars and in New Zealand, most of them are run by Koreans so I’m not sure they even count.

So while this easy way to cook pork fillet might not be 100 per cent authentic, it does make use of some properly Japanese ingredients, it’s very quick to make and it goes well with a pile of sushi rice and pickled ginger. I reckon that’s Japanese enough for now, don’t you?

Easy Pork Fillet Or Pork Tenderloin Recipe

Easy Japanese pork fillet
This is a really good after-work dinner. Make it even easier on yourself by marinating the pork before you leave the house in the morning (or give it at least an hour in the marinade, at room temperature) if you forget.

1 x free range pork fillet – about 450g
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp good soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp honey

Put the garlic, oil, soy, mirin and honey in a shallow bowl and mix well. Add the pork fillet and make sure it’s well coated with the marinade, then cover and leave overnight in the fridge or leave in a cool place for an hour or two. If it’s been in the fridge, let it sit out of the fridge for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
Heat the oven to 200C and line a small roasting dish with foil.
Heat a heavy frying pan over high heat and pour in a tablespoon of oil. When it’s hot, take the pork fillet out of the marinade and sear it on all sides. Remove it to the roasting dish and put in the hot oven for 20 minutes.
Remove it from the oven, cover loosely with foil and let stand for 10 minutes, then carve and serve with sushi rice, pickled ginger and some steamed beans or broccoli.

Click here to print this recipe.

I pulled a packet of frozen peas out of the freezer yesterday and something heavy shot out from underneath them and landed on my foot. I uttered a string of epithets not suitable for a family-friendly food blog and bent down to pick it up. Was it a brick? Was it a small frozen animal? Was it that packet of wonton wrappers that I’ve been planning to use for ages? In fact, it turned out to be three small pieces of fillet steak. Hurrah! I nearly lost a toe, but I gained an excellent dinner. It seemed like a fair trade to me.

Green peppercorn sauce – the cheat’s version
When I told my beloved we were having steak for dinner he looked like I’d dropped the frozen meat on his foot. He perked up a bit when I told him it was fillet, then he perked up even more when I told him I’d make his favourite green peppercorn sauce. But somewhere between making the offer and dinnertime I got sideswiped by such fatigue that I couldn’t face all that faffing about with reductions and whatnot. Instead, I made this in all of five minutes and it was so good I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the other one. If you’re not a carnivore, rest assured this is equally good on baked potatoes or bread.

100g unsalted butter, softened
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a good pinch of salt
4 tsp green peppercorns in brine

If you have a mortar and pestle, now’s the time to use it. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle (or you do and you just don’t have the energy), this is easy enough to do by hand. Put the garlic and salt in the mortar and pound away until it forms a smooth paste. Add the peppercorns and smash them a bit, then add the butter and mush it around a bit. Scrape it on to a piece of waxed paper and roll into a cylinder. Stick it in the fridge to firm up – for at least 15 minutes. When your steak or potatoes or toast is ready, slice the butter into discs and put on top. Buttery, peppercorny heaven awaits. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle (or you do and you just don’t have the energy), this is easy enough to do by hand.

What’s your favourite sort of butter?

While I’ve been swamped by a tidal wave of work in the past few weeks, two good things have happened. One, my sister-in-law arrived with a suitcase of farm meat (vastly superior to anything in all but the poshest butchers) and two, dearest husband has devised a very tasty thing to do with it. I’m thinking of pretending I have a lot of work on more often.

Stir-Fried Pepper Steak

Stir-fried pepper steak

This is how my lovely husband cooks this dish, which he has devised to fit in with his after work schedule. His other commitments after work three nights a week include being glued to his work phone, playing princesses, cajoling the Small Girl into the bath and generally having the household in order by the time I get home from work. If you don’t eat meat, you could try this treatment with tofu or those Quorn things that I always feel a bit suspicious of.

500g steak – we used porterhouse, but you could use Scotch fillet or even rump – sliced into 1.5cm x 2.5cm strips

3 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp fish sauce

a 3cm knob of fresh ginger, finely grated

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

a bunch of spring onions, finely chopped

3 Tbsp black peppercorns

2 Tbsp oil

enough vegetables of your choice – mushrooms, beans, peppers, broccoli – for four

Put the steak, soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger, garlic and spring onions in a bowl and toss well until the meat is well cover. Cover and set aside to marinate for 45 minutes (if leaving it for longer, put it in the fridge and let the meat return to room temperature before cooking).

Crush the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle (or put them in a heavy plastic bag and pulverise with a hammer). Add them to the steak and stir to coat.

Heat a large, heavy pan until a drop of water sizzles on the surface. Add the oil, then cook the steak for about three minutes. Remove to a clean bowl and set aside to rest. Stir-fry the vegetables (pour any leftover marinade into the frying pan) until just cooked. Remove the pan from the heat, toss in the steak strips and stir to combine. Serve with rice. Serves four.

Who does the weeknight cooking in your house?

I invented this quick, delicious spaghetti when we were living in our first London flat. It was a neat place (if you ignored the crack house two doors down, the overland train out the back windows and the bus route out the front) and we had lots of visitors. Now we live in a house in Wellington that’s probably three times as big, with neighbours who play classical guitar and invite us over for dinner, with trees and sky out the windows. We still get lots of visitors, though they don’t look as frightened when they appear at the door.

Spaghetti with roasted vegetables and proscuitto
This is a very vague recipe that can be altered to fit whatever vegetables you have lying around. In Finsbury Park I relied on whatever looked best at the 24-hour ‘Local English Mediterranean Superstore’ on Seven Sisters Rd, though I was careful not to buy any of the vegetables that had been sitting out in the traffic fumes all day.

For four people:
A slosh of olive oil
2 red onions, chopped
3 zucchini, sliced into coins
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 peppers, cut into large dice
2 handfuls of green beans or broccoli, in bite-size pieces
1 cup black olives, stoned
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
1 packet proscuitto
Parmesan and fresh parsley, to serve
500g good quality spaghetti

Heat the oven to 220C. Put the onions, zucchini, garlic, peppers and beans/broccoli in a roasting dish and toss through the oil. Roast for 20 minutes, until they start to turn golden. Stir, then tip in the olives and tomatoes. Lay the proscuitto over the top. Return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes, until the tomatoes are at bursting point and the proscuitto is crisp.
While this is happening, cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, then toss through the roasted vegetables. Divide between four bowls and top each one with the shards of proscuitto, grated Parmesan and finely chopped parsley.