Monday, 17 December 2012

Mulled Wine


Mrs Ribeye has one of her oldest Russian friends, Katariya, staying with us over the Christmas period, and we are having a lot of fun introducing her to some of our traditional English customs.

I think she thought she might get to spend the afternoon Underneath the Arches after having eaten a lunch of eel pie and mash, while Doin' the Lambeth Walk and dressing like a pearly queen. Er, actually no. Yesterday was spent wandering around Greenwich market (fab), eating a traditional London lunch of sushi (double fab), and then seeing the new Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain (triple fab). In keeping with me Lahndan roots though, we did eat mince pies at 9am and spent most of the day wandering into pubs to drink mulled wine at every single given opportunity.

Apart from calling it 'muled' wine (as in wine that comes from a mule), Katariya was enchanted by our favouritest winter beverage - or maybe enchanted is too strong a word; pissed maybe better. Pissed enough to organise herself a coach trip for today around Oxford, Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon and the Cotswolds. IN ONE DAY! Tourists are funny. I myself never succumb to touristy behaviour, of course. I'm looking forward to visiting my Russian in-laws for new year in a few weeks time, and have bought myself a new faux fur ear-flap hat, massive snow boots and padded ski gloves for the trip to -35c Syktyvkar. I am SOOOO going to fit in with the locals! Actually, not really - Mrs Ribeye tells me that her mum wears trainers and a light anorak in winter, which means that I'll be sticking out like a moronic frostbitten thumb. Fun!

Anyway, I'm not sure whether they 'mull' drinks over in Russia, but I'm going to be bringing with me a few essentials to turn the (admittedly delicious as it is) Russian Kabernet into a true winter warmer. Mulled wine is the easiest thing to make, with just a few ingredients. I serve mine in a coffee mug and place any leftovers in a jug in the fridge, ready to be hastily microwaved for emergency doses.

I buy the cheapest red plonk and this drink comes in at a super-reasonable £1 per 200ml dose. Get mulling!

Serves 3-4

INGREDIENTS:

1 bottle of red wine
1 whole clementine
1 clove (the spice - not garlic!)
1 cinammon stick
4-5 tablespoons of demerara or caster sugar (to taste)

Stud the clementine with the clove and place into a pan with the rest of the ingredients. Over a low heat, keep stirring the mixture until the sugar has dissolved and the kitchen is filled with lovely Christmassy aromas. Make sure you do  not boil, otherwise the alcohol will dissipate. Serve hot with mince pies, four times a day throughout December...


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Merguez with White Bean Puree


I'm definitely slipping. The 'no meat on weekdays' oath which Mrs Ribeye and I took months and months ago has been replaced by 'not much week on weekdays'. This week (if I'm honest) it has been replaced by 'no meat-free weekdays.

Why? Because it is -2C today and my primeval self is telling me to go out and kill and eat a dinosaur. Being a veggie or a fish-eater (I'm NOT using the word 'pescatarian' - it's too wanky) during the week is fine during those balmy summer months, but in December in a drafty flat in London? No bloody way.

Today's dish combines my two favourite sins: Gluttony and Sloth. Checking the miserable weather from window and not fancying braving the 200 yards from my house to the local Waitrose, I decided that dinner was going to be Things-I-Find-Around-The-House. Of course then, merguez from the fridge and beans from a jar it had to be.

I bought these essential store-cupboard (well, freezer, in the case of the sausages) ingredients while on our last trip to our frog-eating garlicky neighbours in September, knowing that at some stage in the coming months I would be sitting in my 'lounge wear' and not wanting to tear myself away from the TV (Iron Chef America is my latest addiction - 'Alllllez Cuisine!').

Merguez (or 'mergs' as my father Mr Ribeye Sr likes to call them), are north African lamb sausages spiced with earthy aromas like cumin, caraway, coriander and chilli and stained a deep dark red by paprika maybe. Anyway, they are sublime. You can find them all over France, but not much over here - maybe in an exotic food purveyor, but certainly not in average supermarkets. Shame really, because they are versatile and easy to cook and more interesting to serve for a special dinner than English bangers and mash.

But mash is exactly what I will be serving these sausages with. White bean puree to be exact. The puree recipe is straight from my mother's repertoire - she's been buying French beans in jars for years, and reckons they're better than our English counterparts. I agree. They are softer and more yielding and a bit easier to break down into a lovely rich nubbly mash. Perfect bland stodge to go with the spicy mergs.

So, dinner in 15 minutes, no shopping - because I did that three months ago - and a plate full of high calorie deliciousness to eat on a cold day. Now that's no sin.

All in, this dish comes in at £2 per serving. On a cursory online inspection I noticed merguez in a shop for £12 per kilo. Are you kidding? Better to spend a few hundred quid going to France and bringing them back yourself. Come on! I didn't say cheaper, I said better.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

6 merguez sausages (or other high quality bangers)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 x 500g jar of white beans, drained and rinsed to remove the gloop
Salt and pepper
Fresh parsley, for garnishing

In a 200c oven, bake the sausages on an unoiled baking sheet for 15 minutes. While the merguez are cooking, fry the garlic in the olive oil until soft, then add the drained beans. With a fork, break down the beans until you have a nubbly puree - not a smooth paste. Season to taste and pile onto a serving dish. Top with the cooked merguez and garnish with parsley.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Giant Cornish Pasty


There is no way that this dish is remotely authentic to any traditional Cornish recipe.

Firstly, I'm pretty sure that the filling is not supposed to be cooked before being placed inside the pastry.
Secondly, I'm fairly certain that you are not supposed to use puff pastry (ready-rolled or not).
Thirdly, I'm 99% convinced that the pasty is not supposed to contain parsnips.
Fourthly, I know for a fact that the pasty is not supposed to comfortably feed eight people.

Apart from that, this dish is 100% INCREDIBLE!!!

Last night, Mrs Ribeye and I decided that because it's winter, that we can eat baked goods every single day until May. Which means that last night's dinner of bread, Cornish pasty and mince pies was absolutely justified. Except that I went to bed feeling sick and woke up feeling sick. In fact, it is now 4.30pm and I am now fully recovered enough for me to raid the fridge for leftovers. Gotta love those winter nights (it is dark as hell out there already...at bloody 4.30pm).

So why make such a massive pasty? Well, it could be because the filling-to-pastry ratio is that much higher than with individual serving sizes, or it could be because I couldn't be bothered to make fiddly little pasties. But the real reason, is that I love making big food. I suspect there might be a deep-rooted Freudian problem that needs urgently addressing...

Shin of beef is the absolute best cut for any beef stew. Don't bother with any other cut. It's cheap (£5 per kg), sinewy (which means big flavour) and ugly (which means, err cheap and err flavourful). You just need to brown it properly and cook it until the collagen in the sinews breaks down into a delicious gelatinous mush of beefy goodness.

I cook my filling first, because I like having a nice gravy with pasty, but I suppose you could use a more tender cut and do it the traditional way, by cooking the filling raw with the pastry. I wouldn't in a million years - whatever the Cornish Culture and Heritage Office have to say - because I reckon my way is way better.

The one thing that my dish and the traditional pasty have in common is the cost. This was always meant to be a cheap dish, and it really really is. £1.25 per serving.

Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

1kg beef shin, cut into 3cm dice
2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
2 onions, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
2 tablespoons of plain flour
1 litre beef stock
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt and black pepper (lots)
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
2 packs of ready-rolled puff pastry
1 egg yolk, beaten

In a large casserole pan, seal the meat in the oil on a blisteringly high heat until well browned. Add the vegetables, and allow to soften, then add the flour, stock, herbs and seasoning. Turn the heat to low and simmer for three hours, and then add the potatoes for a further 30 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool and with a slotted spoon drain off the gravy to be served with the pasty later. On a greaseproof papered baking sheet, lay one of the pastry sheets. Spoon the pasty filling over the pastry, leaving a 2cm border around the edge. Top with the other pastry sheet, crimp the edges tightly and glaze it with the egg yolk. Decorate it with small knife slits to allow steam to escape. Bake in a 180c oven for 1 hour. Allow to slightly cool before serving, to allow the pastry to firm up. Heat the reserved gravy and serve with the pasty.


Friday, 7 December 2012

Caprese Salad


I am convinced that the live basil plant found in the 'living herbs' section, found in every supermarket in the land, is a complete racket.

The concept is simple: Buy a vaccuum pack of basil leaves for 80p, OR BUY A WHOLE PLANT FOR £1!!! No contest really. (a) The pack, once opened, is ruined - which means that you must eat the basil within an hour before the leaves get all soggy and shocked that they're now inhaling central London fumes and cooking smells after they were all used to being cosy in their hermetically-sealed plastic environment; (b) Who wants to eat a whole pack of basil in one sitting? The live plant will allow me to keep going back to the well for days (certainly)/weeks (hopefully)/months (can it be possible?)/years (dare I dream?) on end; (c) Live plants look good in my tiny kitchen - slightly like I'm living in Tuscany. All I need now is a lemon bush and an olive tree.

However, after TWO days, and a few snippets of leaves later, this is what my plumptuous basil plant looks like:


A ragbag of wilting blackening pulpy leaves and bent stalks.

Having tried every single tip on the internet to breathe life back into my herbal disaster zone (you can forget the care tips on the pack: 'Water when needed'. Bahh!), and failing miserably, I realised that I have been completely conned. The supermarket are injectingt the plants with fungus to get you to keep buying them! It doesn't matter where I live, how hot/cold my flat is, how sunny/dark my kitchen is, how much/little water I give the plant, how many times I crop/leave the plant alone, if I give/don't give the plant Baby Bio; the fact remains, I buy a new plant every week with the same steadfast optimism that 'this time, I KNOW where I am going to put it/when to water it/when to crop it' etc, but the plant curls up and dies within a day or two.

And I do buy a new plant every week. Why? Because basil rocks. I put it into as many dishes as I can justify: Italian, Thai, salads, stews and soups. Today's dish is a stalwart weekday light supper which I serve with some fresh bread and butter, and is so pretty and wholesome that Mrs Ribeye hardly notices that I've made very little effort.

Caprese salad is the simpler brother of the insalata tricolore. I barely buy avocados these days because I reckon only one in three is ever any good - and that is a risk-to-benefit ratio that I'm not happy with. Better to keep spending my money on those bloody basil plants...

Mozzarella cheeses seems to be getting cheaper and cheaper these days. A 125g ball of the cheap stuff is now 43p! Which means that this dish comes in at a crazily cheap £1.25 per serving.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

2 x 125g balls of mozzarella cheese
4 plum tomatoes
Quarter of an iceberg lettuce
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
Handful of fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Slice the cheese and tomatoes into 1cm thick rounds and arrange in rows on a plate. Finely chop the iceberg lettuce and place in a neat row down the centre of the plate. Sprinkle oregano over the cheese and tomato and dot the basil leaves around the edge. Dress the salad with the oil and vinegar (not on the basil) and season to taste. Serve immediately.


Saturday, 10 November 2012

Spicy Barbecued Lamb Breast with Garlic and Mint Yoghurt Sauce and Rice


Me old mum, Mrs Ribeye Sr, loves to tell me about the good old days when she was young and had no money. For some reason, she gets all nostalgic about being poor and hungry. Fairly weird.

One of her stories is how she used to make a dinner of lamb breast for her and me old dad that cost 'one-and-six' (whatever that means), and that she used to roll it with sage and onion stuffing for dinner before listening to Perry Como on the wireless and watching Hughie Green on the light box receiver. She then allowed herself a ha'p'orth of cough candy before sleeping in the family's Anderson shelter (probably).

Anyway, the reason for this trip down 'Inaccurate Memory Lane' is that I have suddenly found a penchant for lamb breast. It's still cheap - not one-and-six, but £5 per kilo - and absolutely delicious. In all honesty, it is a gristly and fatty old bit of meat, but as any foodie will know, this means MASSIVE flavour. I love the scrag ends of things. If there is a bit of connective tissue going, I'm your man. No fancy fillets for me - I'd rather eat the skin of any animal than the prime cuts.

My wife, Mrs Ribeye, is not quite as enthusiastic as me for the less fancy cuts of flesh. She thinks they're pretty offal (I thaaank you). When I presented her with this dish, she asked me why she couldn't actually have a lamb chop, rather than shank or breast, for once. Pish! I said. Chops are for wimps and rich people who know no better. Now cut up your gristle a bit smaller.

I am joking, of course. If you treat the lamb breast correctly, it will repay you in kind. The key is to marinate it well, cook it long and hard and then allow it to relax for a significant time. Result: The best lamb in the world. You can stick your prime rack up your rump end as far as I'm concerned.

The first thing you must do when buying your lamb breast, is to unroll it and discard the disgusting elastic net that it comes tightly shrouded in. If you don't, then the inner coils of the meat will not get any direct heat, and you'll end up with flaccid fatty nonsense, instead of crispy schwarma-like (schwarma. Mmmmmm) shards of deliciousness. Try it - you'll never go back to the rack.

Because this cut of meat is so cheap to buy, this whole dish comes in at a fantastic £2.50 per serving. A third of the cost of a dish made with the dearer stuff, and a sixth of the cost of a decent Middle Eastern takeaway.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

750g lamb breast
1 tablespoon of dried mint, dried oregano, ground cumin, ground coriander, dried chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
1 onion, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons of olive oil

Unroll the lamb breast. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and then rub it well into the lamb. Leave in the fridge for minimum 2 hours, preferably overnight. Preheat oven or barbecue to 250c. Roast the lamb breast for an hour, turning once, until it is crispy and slightly charred. Then remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

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Garlic and Mint Yoghurt Sauce

INGREDIENTS:

300ml natural unsweetened Greek yoghurt
1 teaspoon of dried mint
1 clove of garlic, minced
Pinches of salt and pepper

Mix ingredients together and refrigerate until needed.

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To Serve

INGREDIENTS:

Mixed salad vegetables, chopped into 2cm dice
Salt and pepper
200g cooked rice (I use basmati)
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Place a mound of salad vegetables onto a plate and season to taste. Stir the olive oil into the rice and place onto the plate next to the salad. Cut the lamb breast into 2cm dice and place in a pile over the rice. Top the lamb with the yoghurt sauce. Serve immediately.


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Mother-in-Law's Spice-Rubbed Roasted Mackerel with Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables


Having a Russian mother-in-law is fun. She smiles whenever I talk to her. She doesn't understand my sarcastic jibes. She (not so) secretly thinks I beat her daughter. She cooks interesting food. What's not to love?

Last summer, Mrs Syktyvkar Sr gave me a small paper cornet of Ukranian dry spice rub, bought on a trip she and Mr Syktyvkar Sr took to Kiev, and (via Mrs Ribeye's translation) explained to me that it should be sprinkled on anything to 'make it taste better'. With a barely concealed sceptical look in my eye, I graciously accepted the package and placed it into my spice rack (actually more of a shelf) in my kitchen when I got home and then totally forgot about it. It's not that I don't believe my mother-in-law, it's just that the Russians are not particularly known for their spicy cuisine.

Last year, on a trip to Mrs Ribeye's homeland, Mrs Syktyvkar Sr fed us about eight times a day. So for the week we were there, Mrs Ribeye and I ate 56 meals and not one of them contained a single spice. Yes, there were fresh herbs - chopped dill (or 'oo-crop', as it is known) seems to find its way into every dish - but spices? No. I tried to buy some dried spices to add to some food that I was cooking for the family, but couldn't find anything beyond black pepper in any supermarket. As Mrs Ribeye says, 'we like to let the flavour of the ingredients speak for themselves.'

Oh, come on! What about a delicious cuzza once in a while?  Or a chilli con carne? Or anything Spanish or, Chinese? I like basic flavours as much as the next guy, but until I went to Russia, I had taken for granted how many tons of dry spices I get through every year. It's not to say my mother-in-law's cooking isn't fab (in fact, we're going back there in a few weeks and I can't wait), but how often can you eat meat, fish and veg flavoured with garlic and dill? A week is fine, but a lifetime?

Anyway, the fact that Mrs Syktyvkar Sr brought me a paper cornet of dry spices touched my heart. Is it maybe a tiny fractional shift towards my Russian family acquiring a taste for spicy food after having come over here and eating some of my more 'exotic' creations? I can only hope and pray.

The rub I was given contains a mysterious blend which might be ground coriander, cumin, fennel, celery seeds and a host of other delights. Make your own, by combining earthy dark spices and roasting them in a dry pan before grinding them up. Any combination will do - experiment.

I used the rub on a mackerel fillet that was left over from my New York Sushi night, and it was a REVELATION. I am not making mackerel again without liberally coating the flesh side with dry spices and then roasting it for a couple of minutes in a searingly hot oven. The oiliness of the fish works brilliantly with the warm muskiness of the spices. Oh, and it's cheap too. I served it with some roasted Mediterranean vegetables, and the whole dish came to a bargain £2.50 per serving.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

1 large mackerel, filleted but with the skin left on.
1 tablespoon of dry spice rub - any will do.
Salt and black pepper
500g mixed Mediterranean vegetables - I used courgette, onion, peppers, aubergine and garlic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of dried basil

Preheat oven to a very hot 250c. Rub the flesh side of the two mackerel fillets with the spice rub and some seasoning and place skin side up on a baking tray, and then set aside. In a roasting tin, toss the vegetables and garlic in the olive oil and dried basil and seasoning. Roast in the hot oven for 45 minutes, or until slightly charred on the edges. About 4-5 minutes before the vegetables are completely cooked, place the mackerel on the top shelf in the oven and cook until the skin is crispy. Do not turn the fish over - the flesh will dry out. remove from the oven and serve with the roasted vegetables.


Saturday, 3 November 2012

New York-Style XL Sushi Nigiri


Having eaten sushi a number of times at Sushi-Waka in Camden Town - assured by the owner as 'pure Japanese sushi' - and in New York at various sushi bars - I can tell you that the Big-Appley (even their fruit is big) ones like to do it bigger. Not necessarily better, but definitely bigger. Well actually, maybe better.

While my nigiri and maki purveyors in Camden prefer the more no-frills austerity 'minimalist' style of presenting the subtle delights of the raw fish, the guys over in Giant Granny Smith feel that unless they present you with a monster selection straight off the pallets at Fulton Fish Market, and then doll it up with numerous multi-coloured garnishes and accoutrements, that they are somehow short-changing you. 

I cannot say objectively whether authentic Japanese or Massive Cox's Orange Pippin-style sushi is better. The most I can say, is that if I'm in the mood for purist traditional food sold in draughty London premises by the stern looking wife of the jovial chef, I'll take a bus to Camden, and when I'm in the mood for over-the-top metropolitan pescatarian ostentatiousness served by Abercrombie & Fitch models, I'll catch a plane over the Atlantic to the Large Orchard Fruit of the Deciduous Tree. It's nice to have options.

My good friend Ophelia came over for dinner this week, and so I decided to offer her some sushi; as (a) I don't eat meat on a school night; (b) I like sushi; and (c) I like pretty food - and sushi is the veritable supermodel of the culinary universe. But which style should I go for? Proper Japanese sushi (small portions/beautifully presented), or Gargantuan Pink Lady style (enormous slabs of fish/tiny rice/presented like a fishy Carman Miranda's hat)? Well, no contest really. I went BIG.

As for the types of fish I chose. I went to Waitrose on the Edgware Road and interrogated the fish counter guy as to when his fish were caught. Not placed on ice on his counter, but actually caught. He assured me that his stock arrives daily from a boat arriving from the fishing grounds in the middle of the night. Good enough for me. I chose a plump sea bass, a shiny mackerel and a glistening salmon fillet and asked him to make sure they were entirly bone-free (I can be very assertive at times). Great fish choices, and a nice set of contrasting textures, colours and flavours.

I have advocated buying fresh fish for sushi before, but all I can say is: If you're queasy about eating raw supermarket fish, then don't. But then don't eat your tuna rare, or go to one of those sushi conveyor belt restaurants either - the right supermarket (ie a good quality one) trumps a dodgy faux-Japanese disco blaring High Street fish cafe any time. As they say; you pays your price, you takes your risk.

The nice thing about this dish, is you don't need to be an artist to make dinner look amazing. Just cut the fillets up into large chunks and place over torpedoes of rice. Then garnish the plate like its New Year's Eve. Easy. As you can see from the picture, this dish looks a bit of a crazy mess- which is the WHOLE POINT.

Cost-wise, the fish came to £4.50 for three fillets, with the rice and garnishes bringing the whole dish to £3 per serving. Really good value, and a true mid-week treat. As they used to say in New York (I'm out of Big Apple gags): Have a nice day.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

150g sushi or risotto rice
50ml rice vinegar
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 fresh salmon fillet, skinned and pin-boned
1 mackerel fillet, pin-boned, but with the skin left on
1 sea bass fillet, pin-boned, but with the skin left on
Large handful of salad leaves
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into fine strips with a potato peeler
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
25g sesame seeds
25g nigella (black onion) seeds
1 teaspoon of prepared wasabi paste, to serve
75ml dark soy sauce, to serve
Pickled ginger, to serve

To make the sushi rice: Add the rice to a pan with twice the volume of water. Cook the rice on a moderate heat until the water has fully absorbed (15 minutes approx). While the rice is still warm, add the vinegar, salt and sugar and fold in gently to ensure you don't break up the rice grains. Set aside until needed. In the meantime. slice all fish fillets across the grain, until you have 3-4cm strips of 1cm thickness. Form the cooled rice into 3cm torpedoes with your hands, and place attractively around a large serving platter with a fish fillet on each. Dress the salad leaves and carrot strips with the oil and vinegar and place in the centre of the dish with a ramekin filled with soy sauce and wasabi nestled in the middle. Sprinkle sesame seeds on the salmon and nigella seeds on the mackerel. Serve the sushi immediately with pickled ginger on the side.


Monday, 22 October 2012

Salad of Seared Scallops with Butternut Squash Puree


Mrs Ribeye loves scallops. She didn't used to love scallops, but now she does.

Last year, I made the wife some delicious seared scallops, to which she replied: 'Why are you serving me eye-balls?' Not a good day. However, at a dinner party given by our friend Axel at Beach Blanket Babylon in Notting Hill last weekend, she ordered scallops again and found that she actually loved eye-balls after all. So so fickle.

Ok Ok, maybe last time I hadn't cooked them to her Holy Magisterial Regalness' highest standards, but all of a sudden she started to obsess about them. 'When are you making scallops again?' 'Why aren't we having scallops tonight?' 'It's my birthday next week. Can we have scallops?' 'It's Thursday - scallop day!' etc.

So, because today is my wife's twenty-seventh birthday (27? Eek! What an oldie), her wish is my desire and I managed to convince my local eye-ball merchant to set me aside a few plumptious specimens.

Ok Ok, maybe I learnt from my mistakes and Ok Ok, maybe I have now learnt to get the pan hot enough to allow the scallops to slightly caramelise, but this time there was no eye-ball comment; there was just a look of delight on my crusty old (mmm, still a decade-and-a-half younger than me) bird's face. Happy birthday indeed.

To pair up the scallywags, I decided to make a butternut squash mash - because it's easy; pairs up well with the sweet seafood; and is cheap to make - in line with my Potless budget.

Dare I say it? Yes I dare: My dish is better than Beach Blanket Babylon's. Not to say that BBB's isn't nice, but their scallops are a bit... eye-bally (joke). No, actually, their dish came with truffle oil, which I reckon is a bit musky for such sweet shellfish as scallops, and mine came with a balsamic-dressed salad which has more contrasting rich sourness than their (fairly nice, in all honesty) fried carrot garnish.

Oh, and mine's better because BBB's dish is £25, whereas mine comes in at £3 per serving - because I got my scallops for £15 per kilo. Not that I particularly cared last week, because Axel picked up the bill. But still.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

1 small butternut squash, halved and de-seeded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon of Chinese five spice powder
Salt and pepper
250g shelled scallops (just the white meats, not corals)
2 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil
2 handfuls of mixed leaves
2 tablespoons of walnut or olive oil
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
Walnut pieces, to garnish (optional)

Rub the exposed flesh of the squash with the olive oil, five spice and seasoning and roast at 200c for an hour. In the meantime, rub the scallops with sunflower oil and black pepper. In a pan blisteringly hot pan, sear the scallops for 1-2 minutes on each side and then remove from pan to relax. Dress the salad leaves with the walnut oil and vinegar and place a mound on each serving plate. Remove the squash from the oven and mash the flesh, discarding the skin. Dot a small pile of squash in equal spaces around the salad leaves and top each with a scallop. Season to taste and garnish with walnuts, if using.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Fish 'n' Champ


Fish 'n' champ? What am I going on about?

OK, this dinner is a compromise, and I'm not big on compromising. Occasionally, my wife questions my wisdom and asks why we eat healthy. So I tell her: 'It's because I'm old and you're not, and although I worry about such things, you don't, but I know better, and I want to live a long time more, and you don't care because the 'future' is a long time away for you, and a lot further than it is for me.'

So fish 'n' champ - rather than fish 'n' chips - was for dinner tonight. I'm pretty sure that she didn't notice the difference, because 'chips' and 'champ' sound nearly the same, and fish is fish, right (oh, and don't forget my cunning use of the abbreviation 'n'). Err not exactly. But because my wife is a good(ish) person and likes to humour her old fart of a husband, she didn't complain when I served her grilled pouting fillets, instead of fried cod in batter, and didn't pull (much of) a face when I served mashed new potatoes with leeks instead of deep fried crispy chips (which I had promised her earlier).

So, was our dinner a compromise? Well, actually... NO WAY. Look, I love a take-away from The Seashell in Lisson Grove like the next guy, but tonight's dinner was absolutely delightful, so I couldn't say that it was a compromise. As for Mrs Ribeye? well, you'll have to ask her - which will be hard, because she is too busy cramming fish 'n' champ down her throat to be able to give you much of a coherent answer.

Try this recipe. It's easy to make, delicious, healthy and cheap. The leeks were a quid for two of us, and the potatoes were 50p. The pouting fillets were a bargain at £9.99 per kilo, which meant that the whole dish came in at a bargain £2.50 per serving. A quarter of the price of a decent take-away, and chances are, far more conducive to me living a few years longer than I might have done. Not that Mrs Ribeye cares...

OK, if you can't get pouting, try any white flaky fish. River cobbler is great if you're skint, cod if you're flush, or monkfish if you're a millionaire.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

500g new potatoes
500g leeks, finely chopped
4 tablespoons of olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
300g pouting fillets, skin-on
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Fresh parsley, finely chopped, to garnish

Boil the potatoes in a pan until par-cooked and set aside. In the potato pan, add the leeks and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sweat the leeks until tender but not coloured. Add the potatoes back to the pan and break everything up with a fork until you have a coarse-textured mixture and continue cooking until potatoes are fully cooked. In the meantime, get a frying pan blisteringly hot. Fry the fish on the skin side until crispy. Turn the fillets over and remove the pan from the heat. Place a mound of champ on each serving plate and season to taste. Sprinkle lemon juice on each fish fillet and place the fish over the champ on the plate. Season the fish to taste and sprinkle with the parsley immediately before serving. Last thing: Drizzle the plate with the reserved olive oil for a nice cheffy touch.


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Crudites with Anchoiade


I'm sitting in my central London flat huddled over my laptop, wistfully looking out at the sunny morning (although in full knowledge that while the day looks deceptively warm and summery, the fact that I am necessarily sitting in copious layers of poly-viscose tells me that it is bloody freezing out there) and wishing I was back on my summer holiday in Nice on the French Riviera.

So, there's only one thing for it: No. Not giving up my life in England to become a street artist in Provence. I'll make some summery grub.

For some reason, anchoiade and crudites seems like something that you should only eat when you're on a patio overlooking the Med, while drinking a long-stemmed glass of local rose and surreptitiously ogling French strumpet. But no! I made I made some this weekend while sitting in my draughty London apartment, drinking a long-stemmed glass of non-local rose and overtly ogling my own strumpet. And it was (almost) as good.

Anchoiade is a fairly punchy dip, made with tinned anchovies, a fair amount of garlic (not too much - I'm not actually French), a dash of vinaigrette ingredients and a handful of fresh parsley from the old window box. Terrific. Just pair it with some vibrantly colourful raw vegetables or even crusty bread, and in no time, you'll be back on your summer hols with nothing to worry about, except for a bit of garlic breath and a slight mid-afternoon hangover. Truly lovely.

No kidding, though; try this dip, it is absolutely my newest favourite thing in the whole wide world. I made it for the first time this week, and I have resolved to make it again at the earliest opportunity.

A 70g tin of excellent quality anchovy fillets are 79p at Waitrose, which means that including the lovely vegetables, this dish comes in at a very reasonable £1.50 per serving, for a super duper starter, snack with drinks, or weekend treat. Ooh-la-la, as some would say (not me).

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

Anchoiade

6 tinned anchovy fillets, oil drained
1 fat clove of garlic, centre stem removed
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
Fresh black pepper

Fresh, raw salad vegetables, cut into two-bite-sized chunks, for dipping

In a pestle and mortar, crush together the anchovy fillets and garlic until you have a smooth paste. Add the red vinegar and olive oil until you have a smooth emulsion. Set aside until needed, to allow the flavours to intermingle and develop. Serve with the crudites.


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Cheese Fondue


Mrs Ribeye and I have gone so 70's! It's amazing how fashions change and evolve, but mainly repeat, albeit with a slightly modern twist. A couple of years ago, there was no way that I could visualise buying a fondue set without thinking that I had gone a bit 'Austin Powers', but for some reason, these days, I reckon there is nothing groovier. Baby.

The thing is, I'd never made a fondue before and was a bit concerned about eating quite so much cheese in a meal. I shouldn't have worried. The fondue was quite simply the best thing I have ever eaten IN MY WHOLE LIFE. Where have you been all this time, my cheesy friend?

I word of advice on buying a fondue set: The Le Creuset one (ahhh, Le Creuset...) is about a hundred quid and, of course, is totally fab. But the Ikea one is thirty five quid and ... exactly the same as the Le Creuset one. I mean, exactly. So, the Ikea one it had to be (which gave me a chance to buy a sack of frozen meatballs too. Everyone's a winner).

Since I had never made a fondue before, I had to do a bit of research. The general consensus is that the 'correct' fondue, is a Swiss fondue. So I chose Gruyere and Emmenthal. Apparently I could have chose Vacherin too, if I knew what Vacherin was or where to buy it.

Also, I used brandy and lemon juice instead of the traditional kirsch, because I didn't fancy buying a bottle of kirsch just to make a fondue. My addition of a foil-wrapped triangle of Dairylea was a recommendation from a Swiss food blog, which assured me that this extra touch would help amalgamate all of the other ingredients. I'm not 100% sure how a tiny piece of processed goo is going to make any difference, but who am I to argue?

Fondue is a rich dish and an interesting and totally delicious main course. I served mine with a plate of salami and crudites, alongside the traditional crusty dipping bread. It would also make a cool drinks party snack with cold wine or beer. A quick note on the bread: Make sure that each piece has a piece of crust attached to it for secure spearing - otherwise, after a few goes, the fondue will end up more like a bread sauce.

Cost-wise, this one is great value. £2 per generous serving for a luxurious and trendy dish is a 1970's priced bargain.

My friend Ophelia, who is Swiss, has promised me a 'fondue cook-off'. But to be honest, she's gonna lose.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

350ml white wine
50ml brandy
25ml lemon juice
1 clove of garlic, whole
500g mixed cheeses, grated (I used Gruyere and Emmenthal)
2 tablepoons of flour
1 piece of spreadable cheese, like Dairylea or Laughing Cow
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and black pepper
Crusty bread for dipping

In a fondue pot or casserole on the hob turned up to a high heat, cook the wine, brandy lemon juice and the garlic until the liquid has reduced by half. Turn the hob to medium and discard the garlic, then add the cheese and flour gradually, until everything is smoothly incorporated. Mix in the cheese spread, paprika, nutmeg and seasoning. Remove the fondue from the hob and transfer to a low burner. Eat the fondue by dipping the bread into the sauce and periodically stirring it to keep it lump-free and avoid burning.


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Spaghetti with King Prawns and Chilli


Mrs Ribeye and I are quite the fans of Gordon Ramsey's US series Hell's Kitchen ('IT'S RAAAW!!! SHUT IT DAHHHNNN YOU DONKEYS!!!').

It's good entertainment, but not exactly a master class in fine dining. Most of the food that the brow-beaten contestants have to produce is pan-fried this and sauteed that - basically anything that you can cook or reheat in five minutes - while the crusty-faced chef bollocks them for not having enough sear on their scallops (ouch).

At some point I will attempt to make Ramsey's lamb wellington as it looks quite delish, but I will have to save that treat for the weekend as the wife and I only consume bird and cat food during the week. Yup, we're still on the weekday veg and fish diet. I'm not sure it's doing us a whole lot of good - especially as on Friday to Sunday we turn into the great white shark from Jaws - but the school night food bill certainly is a whole lot cheaper.

Today's dish looks at first glance like a dear one, but Tesco has raw jumbo king prawns on offer at half price, so I thought I'd try a Hell's Kitchen special - the seafood spaghetti. Of course, I probably haven't got the recipe exactly right, but then I am not constrained to one pan, three ingredients and five minutes like the dopey bozo 'chefs' on TV. Where do Ramsey's scouts get these guys from? Starbucks?

Oh, one thing about this dish: I loved it, but the wife prefers Linguine Mrs Ribeye - a similar pasta dish but with no prawns, and made with mozzarella and basil instead. There's no bloody pleasing some people. She'd get on well with Ramsey (oh, and I would have saved a few quid too).

Oh and one last thing (absolutely the last thing): I use dried chillies in the sauce and fresh chillies to garnish. To set off the dried chillies, I cook the sauce with fresh finely chopped red sweet pepper and so I have three different pepper textures in the dish: Dried chilli, cooked pepper and raw chilli. How very cheffy of me.

Because of today's super bargain shellfish, this dish came in at a wallet-friendly £2 per serving. An absolute bargain, whatever Mrs Ribeye might say.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 x 400g tin of Italian tomatoes with a half tin of water
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
250g raw king prawns
300g cooked spaghetti
Fresh chilli rings, to garnish

In a hot pan, fry the garlic and pepper in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes, water, oregano and dried chilli and cook until reduced to a thick sauce. Season to taste. Add the prawns to the sauce and clamp down the lid to allow the prawns to poach gently in the residual heat. When cooked (the prawns will have turned coral pink), add the spaghetti to the pan and mix well. Serve. Garnish with the fresh chilli rings.


Thursday, 4 October 2012

Pasta with Gruyere, Pine Nuts, Basil and Garlic-infused Olive Oil


My wife is quite a complicated creature. At times she is a complete pushover (a description she hates - but who cares? She's a bit of a pushover), and at other times a complete P in the A. It can be a bit of a minefield working out which Mrs Ribeye will be coming through the door, and so the best policy is to tread fairly carefully, then try a bit of a joke at her expense before either apologising profusely or hammering my (frankly hilarious) point home. Gotta love marriage.

One way to convert an on-edge tiger to an affectionate pushover kitten, is to keep them happy with their favourite grub. Mrs Ribeye's catnip of choice is anything pasta-centric, hence Linguine 'Mrs Ribeye'. Today's dish is my newest invention, and quite frankly, it's a bit of a hit - which means I'm off the hook after winding her up just a little too much when she got home, after she spent the day telling her slightly (as in, majorly) diva-ish colleague, Dali, off all day.

Think of this pasta dressing as a kind of un-blitzed pesto, but made with gruyere instead of parmesan. If my friend Kumar had not resisted me making fondue last weekend, I wouldn't have had so much bloody gruyere in the fridge, so probably would have made this dish with whatever other cheese I had lying around - but gruyere is such a deliciously fab melting cheese, that in a way I'm delighted I have a large block (or two) in the fridge ready to use in other things.

I have chosen mushroom tortellini (not home made, of course, who could be bothered?) as my pasta, because Mrs Ribeye is quite the fan of stuffed pasta shapes (I think it's a Russian thing - she loves pelmeni), but this dish would be great with linguine or spaghetti, or even penne. It's dead easy to make and quick too - which means more time listening to the wife's 'interesting' work tales and less time hiding in the kitchen. Oh well, you can't have everything.

Oh, and apart from being easy and delicious, this dish is cheap too: £2.75 per serving.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
1 x 300g pack of tortellini, cooked as per the instructions
Handful of fresh basil leaves
100g gruyere cheese, shaved, using a potato peeler
Salt and pepper

Mix the oil and garlic together and set aside to infuse. Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan until golden and set aside. Cook the tortellini and transfer to a serving dish. Dress with the garlic-infused oil (taking care not to add the raw garlic to the dish) and garnish with the pine nuts, basil and gruyere shavings. Season to taste and serve immediately.


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Cassoulet


So, I had already bought a variety of cheeses for my fondue from Waitrose - Gruyere, Emmenthal and Comte - to be told in a late afternoon phone call by friend Kumar, that 'sorry dude, I'm on a diet - can we please not have a meal based entirely on cheese?'

Grrr, when will I ever get to use my brand new cast iron fondue set? Dejected, I put the set back in its pristine box and looked around the kitchen for inspiration. I certainly could not be bothered to trek out on another shopping trip, so it looked like fish finger sandwiches (no hardship, I must admit) all round, until I started checking my selection of tinned goods at the back of the larder. I happened upon a large tin of duck confit brought back from Carrefour in Calais on our last weekend jaunt to France and a few tins of cannellini beans. The freezer proffered a pack of Toulouse sausages (from same jaunt) and a small pork belly joint, to be saved for a rainy day. It was a rainy day.

I defrosted the sausages and pork, liberated the duck confit from its fatty coffin and set out to the roof terrace to pick a bunch of parsley from my tiny herb garden. An hour later and the fondue-alternative was almost ready.

Er, one thing: How on earth is cassoulet a healthy alternative to fondue? I gingerly offered it to Kumar, who didn't seem to consider that in a calorie fight, the fondue was probably likely to come out on top. Never mind, the dinner was absolutely amazing and made with close to zero effort. A win.

Budget-wise, the dish came in at a surprisingly reasonable £3 per serving. The mixture of meats in this rustic stew tastes positively luxurious, but for four of us, the shopping bill came to twelve quid. Win win.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large Toulouse (or other high quality pork) sausages
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
3 x 400g tins of cannellini beans/haricots blanc, drained
1 tablespoon of herbes de Provence, or dried mixed herbs
Pinches of salt and pepper
300g pork belly
1 litre water
4 legs of duck confit (I used tinned, but you could make yours fresh - here is the recipe: Duck Confit)
Fresh parsley, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 180c. In an oven-proof casserole, fry the sausages in the oil until lightly browned, and remove from the pan. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and soften. Add the beans, herbs, seasoning, pork belly and water and cover the pan. Cook in the preheated oven for an hour. Remove the pan from the oven, cut the pork belly up into large chunks and return it to the pan with the sausages (cut into two pieces each) and the duck confit, making sure that you bury the meat deeply under the beans. Turn the oven up to 220c and cook the cassoulet, uncovered, for a further hour, until the top forms a golden crust. Sprinkle with parsley just before serving.


Sunday, 30 September 2012

Padron Peppers Tapas


One of the best things about having a cooking obsession, is trawling around food shops and markets on a search for the weird and wonderful.

My fascination for tapas started in a Spanish restaurant in the village of Caleta in a small forgotten windswept cove in Tenerife. The cafe sits atop a rocky precipice overlooking a particularly rugged part of the Atlantic coast, and is fairly well known for its fabulously fresh wide selection of authentic tapas and its main course cousin the ration. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the place.

It was there that I first had a plate of Padron peppers - the cousin of the chilli (but not too distant, since about 1 in 20 of them is a spicy timebomb) - to enjoy with a glass of the local wine. What a find! How on earth could a fried pepper sprinkled with sea salt be such a gastronomic treat? I thought that maybe my love of such a simple dish had more to do with the stunning surroundings, the strong wine or the holiday vibe. Until now.

Mrs Ribeye and I found a rare pack of 'Padrons' (as I affectionately call them) at: La Plaza Delicatessen, Portobello Road, London, W10, while we wandered through Portobello Market last Saturday. Of course, we had to pop in to Makan for lunch, but on the way home we happened past La Plaza and I wasted no time in picking up a pack from the vegetable counter. Having offered a timid 'gracias' to the shopkeeper and then moronically repeating 'de nada' when he replied to my thanks, I decided never to attempt to speak in a foreign tongue on home soil again.

So, were the peppers as good as I remember? Er, maybe even better actually. Our good friends Ophelia and Kumar came over for dinner last night and I made Cassoulet (I'll post the recipe soon Click the link!) as a main course and these Padrons as a snack with pre-dinner drinks. Maybe because I used less oil than our Spanish friends, or maybe because I used a ridged grill pan to give them a slightly charred taste or something, but they were a delight. Kumar and I are chilli-heads so anything that looks like a chilli is going to please us no-end. Mrs Ribeye is a chilli-hater, and so these were not her favourite (although I'm not sure why), and Ophelia seemed non-committal. So maybe they're a boy's thing.

Dessert was my Apple Strudel Samosas. The whole dinner was well-balanced and I was happy with the result. Oh, one thing about the peppers: They're a bit pricey. £3.75 for a 400g punnet, means that the cost per serving is £1. I suppose even a return Easyjet flight for the pepper-carrier from Tenerife doesn't come so cheap these days. Gracias indeed.

Serves 4 (tapas-sized servings)

INGREDIENTS:

400g Padron peppers
Sunflower/vegetable oil for frying
Coarse sea salt

In a blisteringly hot grill pan, fry the peppers in the oil until slightly charred. Sprinkle with seas salt and serve immediately with cold beer or wine.


Thursday, 27 September 2012

Honey Cake


There may not be a single drop of honey in this cake, but this is a recipe which needs to be handed down to my great-great-grandchildren.

My mother, Mrs Ribeye Sr, rarely writes down a recipe. A while back - before Potless came about- I resolved to start documenting my mum's signature dishes for posterity. One of the reasons, is that very few of my mum's dishes (a) contain the key ingredient in the title - as in this cake for example; (b) taste or look remotely the same from one year to the next; and (c) almost always are made with a 'secret' ingredient which she either forgets to put in, or deliberately doesn't, due to not having it in the cupboard on the day she chooses to cook it.

Hence, the birth of Potless. So now I have my old dear's dishes, plus a few of my own of course, to show the future Ribeyes that us crusty types weren't so bad in the kitchen in the 'olden days'.

This cake is really a carrot cake without the carrot or frosting. However, it is a fail-safe crowd pleaser in the Ribeye household at Jewish festival gatherings. Last night's was a blast. I adore catching up with my cousins, aunt and uncle and married-ins. The newest generation of Ribeyes are so damn adorable!

This is a really rich cake and a little goes a long way (think loaves and fishes). I don't follow any religion whatsoever, but my mum's cakes truly are Divine. They're cheap to make too. This cake will feed an army - and all at about 20 pence per serving.

Makes one large tray cake to serve 16-20 people

INGREDIENTS:

450g self raising flour
120g caster sugar
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
2 teaspoons of ground ginger
2 teaspoons of mixed spice
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
450g tin of golden (corn) syrup, plus a tin of water and 3/4 tin of sunflower oil
2 eggs 
2 tablespoons of kiddush wine, port, dry sherry or other sweet wine

Preheat oven to 150c. Mix the flour sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices together. Heat the syrup, water and oil in a pan or microwave until dissolved. Beat the eggs and add to the dry ingredients with the syrup mix and the wine. Work quickly to make sure the baking powder and bicarb are still active before cooking. Line a large tray-type tin with cooking parchment and spoon the mix in. Cook in the preheated oven for one hour. Do not remove the parchment paper until the cake has fully cooled. Cut into cubes with a serrated knife and serve.


Sunday, 23 September 2012

Tzatziki


It's funny how our tastes change. When I was a kid, you couldn't get me to eat a yoghurt for love nor money, but these days I'm eating the stuff with gusto.

Acquiring a taste for things takes many methods. A childhood hatred for orange juice was reversed when I was given freshly squeezed juice for breakfast on holiday somewhere and after gingerly trying it, found that it was far more heavenly than the concentrated carton crap I had thought was the only way the stuff was available.

Like all children growing up in the 1970's can testify, a daily delivery of school milk was the only way that the  State could guarantee that the population grew up with healthy teeth and bones - until 'Margaret Thatcher Milk Snatcher' decided that the money was better spent elsewhere. I couldn't have been happier. Thanks to the school milk being served at a highly un-refreshing room temperature and seeming to contain revolting 'bits' in it, I haven't been able to drink milk at any time during the rest of my forty year life. It's something which upsets me to my very core. Watching Mrs Ribeye enjoy breakfast cereal always left me jealous, until I discovered muesli with yoghurt.

Loving yoghurt, but hating milk has got to be the most blatant way to illustrate how irrational food phobias are. I don't like milk, but I love sour milk? Madness. Secretly, I'm hoping that I'm locked in a room for a week with nothing but a create of milk slowly going off for company. I'd emerge a delighted breakfast cereal consumer and go about my life a more fulfilled person. But, as it's never going to happen, yoghurt will be my saviour instead.

Today's recipe is not only the last in my Greek meze series of dishes, it is also a celebration of the mighty yoghurt. I buy supermarket tubs of tzatziki on a daily basis to eat with pitta bread for snacks or as part of my vegetarian midweek lunch, but making it yourself is far better than buying it. I can't say the same for Houmous, which is far better shop bought, but tzatziki is way nicer when you assemble it yourself. I noticed that shop bought tzatziki frequently contains cornflour. How very inappropriate and disgusting (not that I can taste it, but still).

Just make sure you buy the very best Greek yoghurt to ensure that you have a lovely thick tzatziki. The other major tip is to use dried AND fresh mint. The dried herb adds a warm background note, while the chopped fresh leaves add a refreshingly zingy top note. I grow fresh mint on my roof terrace, and I have found that it is as easy to grow as weeds - the problem is more about keeping it from growing too big rather than worrying about it dying. Just buy a mint plant from the living herbs rack in you supermarket, and water it only when the very top surface of the soil is looking a bit dessicated.

Cost-wise, this easy delicious dish is super reasonable. 50p per serving is all.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

1 x 500ml tub of Greek yoghurt
Half a cucumber, de-seeded and finely chopped
Handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of dried mint, plus some for sprinkling
1 clove of garlic, mashed
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper

Mix the ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate until to need to allow the flavours to intermingle and develop. Remove from the fridge and sprinkle with the dried mint. Serve with hot pitta bread.


Friday, 21 September 2012

Rainbow Greek Salad



The weekend is upon us! Which means boozing, partying, eating meat and no bloody work. Nice.

Mrs Ribeye and I have been pretty pretty good at keeping away from the flesh during schooltime, but as soon as Friday night approaches, our carnivorous instincts re-awaken and I break out the beef. That's not to say that we exactly suffer for the other 5 days a week, but man oh man, those vegetarians do not know what they're missing.

Still, if was a veggie I wouldn't exactly starve. As long as you've got a nice bit of feta cheese and some crunchy salad veg, you're going to eat well - as today's recipe testifies.

I love a Greek salad. But as always, I reckon I can improve on it. Go to any Greek restaurant and the salad arrives after the main course and just before the baklava. I'm a big fan, but why have the Greeks decided that a salad has to be so damn boring? I've been to tavernas in Corfu, Crete and London, and they all seem to agree that a salad should consist only of tomato, cucumber, sweet peppers, onion, olives and cheese. All very good, but not colourful enough. With our supermarket shelves heaving with fresh colourful produce from all over the world, why stick to the basics?

Nowadays, a Greek salad for me is a challenge to buy the most eclectic mix of colourful vegetables I can find. Hence, my 'Rainbow Greek Salad'. Try making yours with beetroot, radishes, baby corn or roasted aubergines. It's a chance to put the 'Wow' back into your meze!

Feta cheese tastes the same to me whether I buy the dearest artisan block or the cheapest value range - so I always buy the cheapest. I'm not sure why feta cheese is ever expensive. After all, it's only separated milk (which can be bought for 45p a pint). Be a skinflint like me and this dish comes in at a very pocket-friendly £1.50 per serving. Or buy the dearer stuff if you like. After all, it is the weekend...

A great lunch dish, starter, or pre-baklava meze staple. Just don't tell the Greeks...

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

Tomatoes, cucumber, yellow and red peppers, spring (salad) or red onions, peeled carrot - all cut into 2 cm dice
Handful of pitted black olives
1 x 200g block feta cheese, cut into 2cm dice
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Pinches of salt and pepper

Arrange the vegetables on a serving plate with the olives and top with the feta chunks. Sprinkle oregano over the cheese and dress with the oil and vinegar about a half hour before serving. Season to taste (remember that the cheese is naturally quite salty).


Monday, 17 September 2012

Mediterranean Lamb Stew


So, after having played guitar for a few years and then given it up to pursue other worthy projects, I picked it up again on a suggestion from my mother, Mrs Ribeye Sr, who said to me: 'why don't you play the guitar any more? You used to be fantastic'. I love mums. They're always there to puff you up - even if what they say is an utter (but very nice and non-self serving) lie. Frankly, we could do with a few more mums and a few less Oxbridge morons in Parliament.

So how is my guitar playing, honestly? The funny thing, after a bit of a shaky start - where even the strumming of a few basic chords was a bit of a nightmare - I think I'm loving it even more now than ever. I think it's because I'm secretly treating my playing standard as 'absolute beginner', but also 'someone who can miraculously play some cool songs and funky riffs by ear'; which means that I have fooled myself into believing I am a GUITAR PRODIGY!!!

If I had played continuously for the last few years, I probably wouldn't be miles better than I am now, and my then wife would (rightly) ask me 'whether I really ought to see if I'm world class at something else'. But this way, she is being all encouraging and supportive - except when I ask her to sing along with my four chord rendition of  A Horse with No Name. On the hour, every hour.

Anyway, the reason for this news of picking up neglected old habits again, is to say that I resurrected a dish I used to make all the time, and which I did get bored with for a bit from over indulging, but which now is all new and delicious once more. This lamb stew takes the cheapest, fattiest cut of lamb and makes it into a proper dinner party dish with a most exotically rich flavour.

Having scouted my local supermarket for a bargain cut of meat for Saturday night's dinner, I spotted a likely contender: Lamb shoulder on offer at £5 per kilo? Yes please. I served my Home-made Houmous with pitta bread as a starter, and our friends Axel and Dali came over for a right middle eastern feast. In fact, Dali IS middle eastern and told me that my dinner tasted just like his mum's cooking. I hope that this is a compliment.(a son's relationship with his mother truly is a two-way 'puffing-up' street).

Oh, one last thing; this dish seems like a lot of work, but it isn't. Apart from a bit of chopping and a quick gathering of a number of dried herbs and spices, this dish is no harder to make than any regular casserole. The key is to always have a large store cupboard full of dried herbs and spices. Go on; go shopping now!

Thanks to my bargain lamb find, this dish cost me a fantabulous £2 per serving. Serve with fragrant basmati rice. It may not be authentic middle eastern, but it's perfect with this stew.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

1 kg lamb shoulder, on the bone
3 tablespoons of olive oil
3 carrots, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of flour
125ml white wine
1 x 400g can of chickpeas in water
1 x 400g can of plum tomatoes in juice
500ml water
1 tablespoon each of ground coriander, cumin, dried oregano and dried mint
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
Handful of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped

Basmati rice to serve

Preheat oven to 150c. In a large casserole pot, fry the lamb shoulder in the olive oil until well browned and remove from the pot. Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic to the pot and stew until soft. Sprinkle in the flour to avoid lumps and add the wine, chickpeas, tomatoes and water and then return the lamb to the pot. Stir in the herbs and spices and place the pot in the oven to cook for 4-5 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone. With a spoon or ladle, skim the oil off the top of the sauce and serve the stew with rice or pasta, garnishing liberally with fresh parsley.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Home-made Houmous



I'm sorry but shop-bought houmous is better than home-made. I don't care who makes it or which shop you buy it in, the houmous sold in a tub always trumps your own. Why? I suggest that there is a special ingredient only known to manufacturers of middle eastern dips which they sprinkle into the machine with the rest of the ingredients. I'll bet it's fairy dust.

So why bother making your own, and why have I posted a recipe here at all? I'll tell you. It's because I have an obsession with telling the truth, and last night I made a middle eastern meze for friends and didn't want to tell them that I made my own houmous when I didn't. Tzatziki, on the other hand, IS better home-made than shop-bought (recipe to follow soon) and so I was delighted to offer them a delightful yoghurty alternative to embellish the start of the feast.

So why is shop-bought houmous actually better? The answer is that it's mellower and has a better texture. The ingredients have had a long time in their hermetically sealed polythene container to really get to know each other and balance each other out - a bit like leaving two heavyweight boxers in the ring for an hour and seeing them emerge all battered and calm. The other thing is, the manufacturers have managed to find a way to easily peel the skins off the chickpeas, ensuring that their finished dish is smoother than a baby's bum - not full of papery shards of floppy old skin. Yuck.

I am, of course, exaggerating. Home-made houmous is fine, and tastes approximately the same as the one from Waitrose etc. It's even quite pleasant when you garnish it with reserved chickpeas, olive oil and paprika. But let's face it, once you garnish some of the shop-bought stuff with reserved chickpeas, olive oil and paprika, who the hell would know if you made it yourself or not? Maybe half a lie is better than a lie or no lie?

Oh, a quick note on tahini: Buy a big tub of it from your local middle eastern grocer. I use Green Valley just off the Edgware Road near Marble Arch (who also sell baklava to die for). Once you've got over your obsession with making your own houmous, you'll find yourself unable to pop to the fridge hourly to steal a spoonful of the deliciously rich clay-like sesame paste. It's like a slightly bitter peanut buter, but for some reason, so much better - it's gotta be that bloody  fairy dust again.

Oh, the other thing about shop-bought houmous, is that it's really cheap. 80p-£1 for a 200g tub is about the going rate. Make it yourself and it's going to cost you 75p per serving. Why bother?

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

1 x 400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed with 1 tablespoon reserved for garnish
2 tablespoons of tahini (sesame seed) paste, or 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds, ground to a powder
1 clove of garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Pinches of salt and pepper
Ground paprika, for sprinkling

Toasted pitta bread to serve

In a blender, whizz up the chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and seasoning. Transfer the houmous to a bowl and make a shallow well in the centre. Garnish with the reserved chickpeas, sprinkle with paprika and drizzle with the reserved tablespoon of olive oil. Serve with the pitta bread.


Friday, 14 September 2012

Pan-fried Turkey Breast in a Mushroom Cream Wine Sauce


Don't judge a book by it's cover - this recipe may look a bit 'busy' but it is absolutely delicious.

I've never been much of a fan of turkey. It's a dry old bird and should only be eaten under sufferance on Christmas day when you've already eaten twenty sausage rolls and wouldn't really fancy eating anything, so if you're not really hungry anyway turkey might as well do.

How wrong I am. I have just bought some turkey steaks and found them to be moist, delicious, low fat, slightly veal-esque, without the ethical issues, slightly pork escalope-esque, without the dullness issues and slightly steak-esque without the cholesterol issues. Without wanting to come across faddy and fickle: It's my new favourite meat! (what a surprise).

Oh, and in keeping with the low fat mishigas, the cream sauce is actually made with half fat creme fraiche. So there.

I don't know why turkey gets such bad press. The reason why they have a reputation for being dryer than an old flip flop is that it is almost impossible to cook an entire bird without some parts of it cooking longer than the others. The breast will NEVER take as long to cook as the thighs and legs. I suppose if you cooked it on the lowest heat possible, constantly basting it and then just grilled the skin to brown it you might be able to retain some moisture, but who has the time and/or inclination to cook a turkey dinner for ten hours? Not me.

At this coming Christmas, I've decided that I'm going to stuff the breast and roll it all prettily up and roast it, then cook the legs and thighs separately in a sort of casserole. That way, I have gravy for the whole dinner, and two delicious dishes, rather than a lot of leftovers from one big dish to make a million sandwiches with on Boxing Day.

Anyway, Christmas is still a long way off, so today's recipe is perfect for an autumn weekend feast. I served my turkey on a pile of slow-fried cabbage and onion (just braise cabbage and onion in olive oil, seasoning and nutmeg for an hour until all of the liquid evaporates - delish), and no potatoes, rice, pasta or other starches. You could almost say that this is a healthy meal. Almost.

Turkey breast steaks are really good value in my local supermarket - £5 per kilo is all; which means that today's dish comes in at a very reasonable £2.50 per serving.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

500g turkey breast steak, cut into large pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
200g mushrooms, finely chopped
125ml wine - white or rose
100g half fat creme fraiche
Pinches of salt and pepper

Braised cabbage and onion, to serve (see note above)
Fresh parsley, finely chopped, to garnish

In a hot pan, sear the turkey breasts in the olive oil until slightly golden and set aside. Add the garlic and mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft and translucent (5 mins approx). Add the wine and reduce to burn off the alcohol (5 mins approx). Stir in the creme fraiche and return the turkey to the pan. Simmer until the turkey is cooked through the middle and the sauce is thick and unctuous. Pile some cabbage/onion onto the centre of the plate and top with the turkey and mushroom cream sauce. Sprinkle with chopped parsley immediately before serving.


Thursday, 13 September 2012

Malaysian Curry Laksa Soup


Can you see from today's recipe photo that it is slightly out of focus on the right side? That's because I was in such a hurry to eat this laksa that I was already pulling the bowl nearer to myself before the picture had a chance to fully expose. What a greedy guts.

You can't blame me though. Every now and again I cook something so unbelievably incredible, that I go a little bit crazy. Laksa is not really 'cooking' in the narrowest sense of the word. It's really an assembly job, and the key is to assemble as many ingredients as you possibly can. More is definitely more, so to speak.

Mrs Ribeye and I ate a delicious laksa at Makan Cafe on the Portobello Road, which was delicious and came with lovely king prawns, and so I resolved to make my own at the first opportunity. Mine however, comes with king prawns, chicken, tofu puffs, and fresh chillies.  I'm sure that mine is not as 'Malaysian street food authentic' as a laksa is supposed to be, but I certainly didn't see anyone complaining when I served it as part of my Asian-inspired dinner party last week.

I served my Asian Salad as a starter, which was vividly bright and refreshing, followed by this rich, creamy, spicy soup. A fabulous combination of flavours and textures.

Sorry to be banging on so much about this soup. Although I'm no stranger to a bit of shameless self promotion, I really feel like this recipe could become my signature dish, so I'm allowing myself a little bit of extra backslapping.

As far as Laksa paste is concerned: Yes you could make it yourself with your blender or pestle and mortar or authentic bamboo and rock plate equipment, but I wouldn't. Go to your local Asian grocer, who specialises in ready-made authentic pastes. It's not a bit lazy or shameful - even in the Far East, pastes are sold in every market and grocery store. Although making a Thai green curry paste is better from scratch, because the ingredients are that much fresher, laksa paste is better shop-bought for some reason. Maybe it's because the main ingredients are dried or woody, rooty things, rather than fragile herbs. Who knows? Anyway, a Malaysian company called Dollee make the best one by a long way - it comes in a foil pouch.

Oh, and one last thing: Don't bother making your own tofu puffs either. When buying your laksa paste, you will find a big clear polythene bag of fried tofu puffs in the chiller section. They are utterly sublime (and if I'm honest, the best thing to scoff straight from the fridge after a heavy night out. The other night I ate ten. Oops.).

Depending on what you put in your laksa, the cost will obviously vary. Today's recipe comes in at £3 per serving, but you could be more austere and leave out the prawns, or more luxurious for special occasions and put in some crab or lobster. It's completely up to you.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

1 x 200g foil pouch of Dollee (or other brand) curry laksa paste
1 x 400g tin of coconut milk
1.5 litres water
4 chicken thighs, skinned and boned and cut into 2cm dice
200g rice noodles, soaked until tender
200g beansprouts
200g cooked king prawns
8 tofu puffs, halved
2 red chillies, cut into fine rings
Fresh coriander leaves
Fresh root ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks

In a large pot, heat the laksa paste, coconut milk and water until it is simmering. Add the chicken pieces and cook until tender (20 minutes approx). In large bowls, place portions of rice noodles and beansprouts. Pour the soup over and pile the chicken pieces on top of the noodles. Add the king prawns to the pile of chicken and place tofu puff pieces around the edge of the bowl. Garnish with the chillies, coriander leaves and fresh ginger.


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Insalata Tricolore


It's such nice weather for a September morning, that it was a pleasure to do my new early morning 6k trot around Regent's Park.

In the last month or so, I have managed to keep up my 'three trots around Regent's Park per week' routine fairly well, and I am pleased to say that I have managed to shed a whopping 7.5 kilos. I am now half way to my target weight of 80kgs.

Of course, it's not all about exercise - I need to stay away from my hamburger obsession. I haven't totally managed it (McD's on the weekend - oops), but I am definitely doing better than usual. One way to keep eating well is to eat a lot of raw foods. Today's dish is a perfect example.

I have no idea  how many calories are in a ball of mozzarella, or in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and I don't care. If this dish is all I'm eating for a meal, then BRING ON THE CHEESE! Obviously, my lackadaisical attitude towards dairy consumption can't be all bad, or I would not have lost a few inches of tread from my spare tyre so effortlessly. So there.

The key to a good insalata tricolore, is to use lots of fresh basil - like a salad garnish rather than a herb - lots of good quality dried oregano to season the cheese, and lots of top quality peppery extra virgin olive oil. I also use a splash of red wine vinegar to cut the richness of the cheese and avocado, but this is strictly a personal preference.

Oh, and one last thing: I only use cheap mozzarella (not the hard or grated stuff, but the 'value' one in the plastic bag full of water). For some reason, a good quality buffala seems a bit to gooey and jelly-like for this recipe. Buffala is great in cooking, but when eaten raw in a salad, the firmer cheaper stuff compliments the other ingredients a little better.

Because I'm using cheap mozzarella in this dish - 44p per 125g ball - this recipe comes in at a fab £1.50 per serving. Great as a starter or lunch, or as a dinner with garlic bread if you're not feeling as wobbly as me.

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

1 large avocado, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 balls of mozzarella cheese, cut into 1cm slices
4 tomatoes, cut into 5mm slices
Large handful of fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons of dried oregano
3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Splash of red wine vinegar (optional)
Salt and black pepper

Arrange the avocado, mozzarella and tomatoes in to three strips down the centre of the plate to make the stripes of the Italian flag. Garnish with the basil leaves and sprinkle the oregano over the cheese and tomato. Sprinkle with the oil and vinegar, if using. Season liberally - the ingredients are deliciously bland and need heavy seasoning.


Monday, 10 September 2012

Cherry Bakewell Cake


Making cakes is my new BIG THING!!!

1. They're so easy to make
2. They look great and can be decorated to satisfy all your creative urges - even when they don't look professional, they still look delicious
3. Most people don't make them - so you look like a hero for presenting your home-made effort
4. They're great as a pre-made dessert for a dinner party - so that you spend more time with your friends and less time in the kitchen
5. They make your wife (oh, or husband) happy

Since I discovered the '6663' method of making cakes - you know 6oz of butter/sugar/flour, plus 3 eggs - I have started to spread my cake-making wings and now experiment with the ingredients. Today's recipe substitutes half of the flour for ground almonds, then I add a smidge of almond extract. Voila - a cherry bakewell sponge!

Cherry bakewell tarts are traditionally a sweet pastry case filled with frangipane and a layer of raspberry jam, then thickly iced and topped with a glace cherry.My cake is even better, I promise.

Just bake half the mixture in two separate pans, spread a thick layer of jam between them and allow a ton of icing to drip and harden, before going crazy with those luminous red cherries. When I served this cake recently, the gasps of admiration were audible - mainly from me actually. I do love my own cooking.

Anyway, the sponge was moist and delicious and not at all heavy from the ground almonds. Next time I'm going to try other ingredients in my cake batter. Orange flower water, rose water, elderflower cordial, vanilla extract, chocolate, peanut butter...

Makes 1 large cake (serves 6-8)

INGREDIENTS:

175g butter
175g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
75g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of almond extract
4-5 tablespoons of raspberry jam
100g icing sugar
12-16 glace whole cherries

Preheat the oven to 170c. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix the almonds, flour and baking powder together and quickly fold into the butter mixture with the almond extract. Transfer to two shallow, greased baking tins (approx 15-18cm diameter) and then bake for 25 minutes, or until the tops are golden but not brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from the tins. Once quite cool, remove to a drying rack and spread the raspberry jam onto one sponge before topping with the other. Mix the icing sugar with enough water to form a thick paste and then dollop it onto the centre of the cake, allowing it to naturally spread and drip. Top with the cherries.


Monday, 3 September 2012

Asian Salad


Asian food is so delicious and appropriate at this time of year; when your dietary requirements are lighter and  your palate has taken a summer break from needing to be satisfied by large plates of lardy goodness.

Don't get me wrong, I love eating winter warmers, but at the beginning of September, I'm starting to get a bit anxious that the autumn chill is nearly upon us, and so, in denial, I carry on with my summery diet until the last leaf has fallen of the trees.

I actually love autumn. Mrs Ribeye and frequently I take a nice evening stroll through Regent's Park, just a few hundred yards away from Potless Towers, and we love to notice that the evenings are getting a little chillier and the trees are starting to lose their fresh lustre. You'll notice that the photography on the site will start to be a little less bright as I take photos indoors instead of on the roof terrace during the summer months (I was a bit worried that I would need to get a bright lamp to take pics, but why? I think it's nice to chart the seasons on the brightness of my photos).

On the weekend, we had an Asian-influenced dinner party with some very close friends, and this salad started us off nicely. The main course was a delicious Malaysian Laksa (recipe to follow), and the two courses complimented each other beautifully. The evening was a little bit spicy, a little bit rich, a little bit fresh and a little bit drunk (oops).

For your Asian salad; just choose the crunchiest, most colourful vegetables you can buy. Even raw cabbage is brilliant. The dressing is inspired by my many visits to the Benihana chain of restaurants - Benihana pretends to be Japanese, but it's really American. My dressing pretends to be Asian, but it's really from Marylebone in London. I bought a ton of specialist ingredients from my local Asian grocery and whacked them together with no idea if it would all work out.

I needn't have worried. The salad was incredible, and my laksa was equally terrific. If you serve these two dishes together as a dinner party menu, then make life easy on yourself and serve a flavoured yoghurt with fresh fruit as a dessert. It sounds a bit easy and a cop-out - except that I was served it at my friend Ying's house, and if it's good enough for a real Asian person, it's good enough for an aspiring one! Needless to say, our guests scoffed the lot (one of my most important criteria in selecting friends, is their capacity to greedily scoff).

Cost-wise, this recipe is as reasonable as it is tasty. £1.25 per serving is all it is.

Serves 4 (as a starter)

Salad ingredients:

1 small packet of wild rocket leaves
1 yellow pepper, cut into 5mm matchsticks
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 5mm matchsticks
Third of a cucumber, deseeded and cut into 5mm matchsticks
Handful of beansprouts

Thumb of ginger, peeled and cut into 2mm matchsticks, for sprinkling
Sesame seeds, for sprinkling
Fresh coriander leaves, for sprinkling

Arrange the vegetables in a haphazard manner - you are looking for a light, random colourful pile. Dress the salad first, then garnish with the ginger, sesame seeds and coriander leaves.

Dressing ingredients:

3 pieces of stem ginger in syrup, drained
2 tablespoons stem ginger syrup
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons of water

Whizz the ingredients up in a blender and refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavours mellow and develop. Serve the salad immediately after the dressing has been added.