Monday, 18 June 2012

No Fuss, Quick and Easy Spaghetti Bolognese

My wife, Mrs Ribeye, loves a good old spag bol, and this week she really deserves it.

Bless her, she's had to put up with my sudden fanatical interest in the Euro football tournament, including watching two matches a day (that's three hours!), followed by my endless worrying about whether England will make it through the group stages of the competition, into the knockout rounds.

I'm not always like this. In fact, apart from my youth, when I thought it would be fun for a couple of years to support my local team, Arsenal (it wasn't), I have found watching football a pointless task. Watching other people having fun for money? And people pay to see this?

But like religion, sometimes it's nice that other people make the effort to follow it, so that I don't have to. Take football. If there were no supporters, then I wouldn't have the Euros to enjoy; and religion: without it, I wouldn't have anything to blame for all the woe we humans pile onto each other in its various names and guises.

Anyway, I have all faith that England will beat (or at least draw) with Ukraine tomorrow night, to get through to the quarter-finals. If so, then Mrs Ribeye will have to put up with a bit more of my hand-wringing and obsessive newspaper-reading for signs of rival teams injuries, sending-offs and in-fighting; and to see whether Roy Hodgson will dare to play Wayne Rooney in a very positive 4-3-3 formation with Carroll and Welbeck (go on Roy, you know you want to).

By the end of this tournament, I couldn't care less about any of this of course - until the World Cup in 2014, which will mean a making Mrs Ribeye a lot of her favourite grub to compensate.

Which brings me onto this recipe.

Spaghetti bolognese is such an evocative dish. It's really just a hamburger stew with pasta, but for some reason, it is revered by my wife as the ultimate in 'comfort haute cuisine' fare (oh who am I kidding? I love it too). It's great in this incarnation, and even better when made into my Lasgana Pasta Bake.

To save a huge amount of time, I bought a bag of ready-made soffrito (chopped raw celery, carrot and onion) from Waitrose on the Edgware Road and simply combined all of the ingredients in the pan, without performing all of the regular stage preparation - browning the beef/softening the vegetables etc. The result is great, and because you've cut down on the work, you can spend more time swearing at the TV screen.

The ready-made soffrito cost 99p for a 400g, which is cheaper than buying the individual vegetables - which means that this recipe comes in at a very reasonable £2 per serving.

Serves 2-3


400g ready-made soffrito
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
400g ground beef
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
2 bay leaves
400g can of chopped plum tomatoes, plus half a can of water
Pinches of salt and black pepper
Fresh basil leaves, to serve
300-400g cooked spaghetti or linguine, to serve

Mix everything (not the pasta or the fresh basil) together in a saucepan and cook uncovered, on a moderate heat, until the sauce is thick and unctuous (approx 1 hour, maybe a little more), making sure you stir every now and then to prevent sticking. Sprinkle with the fresh basil leaves and serve with the pasta.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Pan-Fried Salmon with Mushroom Cream Sauce

Here's a tip, which I have just learnt, which has taken my cooking to a whole new level.

The picture above was the main course, following the Thai Coconut and Coriander Soup starter, of the birthday lunch I made for my mum and sister.

The key to this dish is the sauce. I don't know why, but good sauces always elevate a mundane set of ingredients into 'dinner party fare'.

The tip:

With any sauce, simply infuse your chosen flavour ingredient, then discard it, then add some of the fresh ingredient again just before serving.

I'll explain:

If, like I have in this recipe, you fancy a mushroom sauce; infuse some finely chopped mushrooms into a cream/white wine/stock vegetable sauce base for an hour or so, and then sieve the sauce to remove all of the vegetables, including the mushrooms. Then, gently fry some new mushrooms to remove their acidity and water, and then add them to the sieved sauce just before serving. Easy. You can do the same thing with pretty much anything. Soups are the same - carrot and coriander soup is made exactly the same way.

Making sauces and soups this way gives the finished dish a background depth of flavour from the slow cooking, followed by a fresh burst of flavour from the newly introduced ingredient. Its seems like a lot of bother, but it isn't. You just need a sieve (no muslin - you don't need to be a fanatic about it) and a spare clean pot to transfer the newly strained soup/sauce into. Now that I have discovered this easy trick, my cooking has improved tenfold. Try it - you'll see.

Salmon fillet portions at my local supermarket were on offer at half price £6.49 per kilo, so that this recipe came in well under my Potless budget at £2.50 per serving. On a full price salmon day, I would choose bream, rainbow trout or even river cobbler fillets instead. It really doesn't matter - my simple sauce will transform any fish into a top notch dish.

Serves 4


4 large salmon fillets
4 tablespoons of olive or sunflower oil.
1 large onion finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
300g mushrooms (button, or closed cup are fine), finely chopped
Large pinch of salt
300ml medium white wine
300ml double cream
1 tablespoon of honey or sugar, to taste
300g shitake, or chestnut, or any wild mushrooms, finely chopped
Boiled new potatoes ( I used new season's Jersey Royals), to serve
Steamed green beans/sugarsnap peas, mange touts, to serve

In a hot pan, sear the salmon steaks in two tablespoons of the oil until golden and crunchy (5 minutes approx), and then transfer them to a baking dish. Preheat oven to 200c. In the meantime, in a saucepan, fry the onion, garlic, celery and button mushrooms in a tablespoon of the oil, until soft and translucent. Add the wine and reduce by two-thirds. Add the cream and reduce by a further third. Strain the sauce to remove the vegetables. Season to taste, and add the honey or sugar if the sauce is too acidic. Place the salmon steaks into the preheated oven and cook for 10 minutes, then remove to serving plates. In a separate frying pan, fry the shitake mushrooms in the remaining oil until golden and crunchy, and then add them to the sauce. Nap the sauce over the salmon and serve with the boiled new potatoes and green beans/peas.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Thai Coconut and Coriander Soup with Courgettes and Mussels

Over the weekend, I made a joint birthday lunch at my sister Roxanne's house for her and our mum, Mrs Ribeye Sr; and the rest of our family were in attendance to shower them with gifts and love. It was a fantastic day.

Because it was a lunch do, and my stepfather Stefano was taking my mum out for a birthday dinner in the evening, I decided to cook a fairly light fish-centric meal, consisting of this soup as a starter, followed by my Pan-Fried Salmon in a Mushroom Cream Sauce (recipe to follow soon click on the link!) as a main course. 

The 'eating light' plan got buggered-up though when Roxanne presented a chocolate birthday cake, jam doughnuts and assorted sweets to the table as dessert. As a token gesture, she also brought to the table a large platter of assorted fresh berries and grapes - it was barely given the time of day.

Neither my stepfather, nor my eight year old nephew Rocky can stand too much spice, so I decided to adapt a Thai green curry recipe, but take out the curry part, or at least the chilli, to make this soup. The result was amazing. A fragrant coconut broth which can be used as a soup base for almost any garnish ingredient. I chose cooked and shelled mussel meats, which are delicious and cheap to buy, together with courgettes, which add a welcome vegetable-y accompaniment to the shellfish.

Of course, Roxanne and I piled on the chillies ourselves after the soup was served. The Ribeye family are total chilli-heads - and I'm sure Rocky will follow suit once he is a year or two older.

You could make this soup with chunks of chicken, king prawns, or even butternut squash, instead of the mussels/courgettes if you fancy; but you must try this combination. It really went down a treat. 

Cooked mussel meats to buy from the local supermarket are about £1 per three generous servings, for a starter. Using these ingredients, I managed to keep the cost down to a very reasonable £1.25 per serving. Even if you used lobster meat instead of mussels, I reckon you'd still be under your Potless budget.

Serves 4


1 portion of Thai Green Curry Paste - but omit the chillies, if you like
2 tablespoons of olive or sunflower oil
1.5 litres of chicken stock
1 x 400g tin of coconut milk
2 large courgettes, cut into 1cm dice
300g cooked and shelled mussel meats
Pinches of salt and pepper
Fresh basil, to serve
Fresh chillies, finely cut into rings, to serve

Fry the Thai paste with half of the oil until fragrant, and add the chicken stock. Simmer for 20 minutes and add the coconut milk, and simmer again for a further 20 minutes. Sieve the soup to remove the paste ingredients and return to the hob. In the meantime, fry the courgettes in the remaining half of the oil, until soft and translucent, and add them to the soup with the mussels. Season to taste. Heat the soup through for a further 5 minutes to warm up the mussels without overcooking them, and serve with the basil leaves and fresh chilli rings as a garnish.

Easy Japanese Fish Katsu Curry with Rice

WARNING: This recipe will offend food snobs everywhere.

Today's recipe is inspired by Wagamama (a chain of Japanese-themed cafes), who serve a breaded chicken breast with a katsu curry sauce over rice. I have since discovered that the sauce in question (or one that tastes suspiciously similar to it) can be bought in any Asian cash and carry grocers and it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, called 'Chinese curry sauce', rather than the Japanese sauce it is supposed to be - see the picture below.

Hardly Japanese and hardly home-made. Sorry Wagamama, you're busted.

Instead of chicken, I use a frozen breaded haddock fillet instead, not just because of my new 'meat in moderation' mishigas, but because breaded fish is DELICIOUS! I would eat it every day (in a plastic basket with chips and tartare sauce with a parsley and lemon wedge garnish. And a pint of Stella, naturally.) if I could, but then after a week I would probably hate the sight of it. If you haven't got haddock, you could even use frozen fish fingers - don't laugh, you snob, they are almost equally as delish as a whole fish fillet.

I know this recipe ain't actually haute cuisine, but it's not supposed to be. It's a stop-gap to discourage you from resorting to fast food places, and encourage you to eat cheaply, healthily and easily at home instead - as I did yesterday in front of the TV. Last night I prepared this whole dinner in the 15 minute half-time break in England's opening game against France, at Euro 2012.

By the way, did you see England play? They were brilliant. Even though the score ended 1-1, the French team, former world champions and considered by many to be this tournament's favourite team, were pegged right back. Our defence looked (almost) impregnable. It would be ironic if our new coach, Roy Hodgson, the cheapest England manager in years, might end up as one of the greats (but what a savage indictment of our domestic team, when a draw excites us to this degree).

Back to the recipe: I serve this dish with some steamed pak choi sprinkled with sesame seeds to give the meal a bit of green stuff; but Wagamama serve Japanese pickled vegetables with their katsu instead. I think steamed veg is better.

Morrison's supermarkets sell four large breaded haddock (or cod, if you fancy) fillets for a fiver. Unbeatable value, which means that this entire dish, including the pak choi, comes in at a fantastically cheap £2.50 per serving. About a quarter of the price of the Wagamama chicken katsu - and in my opinion healthier and more delicious (and in front of the TV while England manages to not lose to France). What's not to like?

Serves 2


2 frozen large breaded haddock fillets (or fresh - no-one's stopping you)
2 tablespoons of Chinese curry sauce concentrate
200ml water
2 large pak choi, split into two pieces each
300g cooked basmati rice
1 teaspoon of sesame seeds, for sprinkling

Bake the haddock fillets, as per the instructions on the box (if fresh, then it's 200c for 20 minutes). In a saucepan, make the sauce by combining the concentrate with the water and boiling until reduced to the consistency of thick cream. In a colander over the saucepan, steam the pak choi for 5 minutes, until tender. Place a mound of rice on each plate and top with a cooked fish fillet, Smother in the sauce and serve with the pak choi on the side. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the veg.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

English Asparagus, Soft Boiled Eggs, Salami and Olives

Springtime in London means unpredictable weather, longer evenings and asparagus. The English asparagus season is now well upon us, and the fattest stems are being sold all over town at bargain basement prices.

Asparagus wasn't always so cheap:

Many years ago, my family and I went to Signor Baffi, an Italian restaurant (I don't think it's still in business - if it is, it shouldn't be) in a north London suburb for dinner. The daily special included a starter of English asparagus with drawn butter for a whopping £6, and we were horrified at the price. How could asparagus merit that kind of money? At that time, asparagus WAS pretty dear, but even so.

Anyway, in the unlikely event that Mr Baffi is still in business, he couldn't possibly justify charging sick squid for a few bits of 'grass, whatever he may think of its qualities. Tesco and the rest of the High Street supermarkets are all charging around £1.50 for a good sized bunch of asparagus, and very good value it certainly is. Even with a restaurant's mark-up, but allowing for a trade discount on the raw materials, the Baffi, or his successor, should be charging you no more than about £4.50 per portion. Tell him.

My favourite way of eating asparagus is to dip them 'soldier-style' into soft boiled eggs. If I'm feeling fancy, I may wrap the spears in smoked salmon or parma ham, but for today it's going to be naked - with salami on the side of course. I don't know why, but some kind of smoked food is necessary to offset the richness of the egg and the smoothness of the asparagus. The olives are for... er, actually I just like olives.

As you can see, we chose to eat this little lunchtime feast on the good old roof terrace - for a week or two we had blistering 30c heat, but now it's raining and overcast - and very jolly and Mediterranean-y feeling it was too (but only for for a week or two). Now I just stare out of the patio door with a wistful expression, praying for a bit more global warming to break up this effing drizzle.

This little feast set me back £3 per serving. Wine extra, but necessary, of course.

Serves 2


200g fat asparagus stems
1 teaspoon of sea salt
4 eggs
150 peppered salami, thinly sliced
Handful of pimento stuffed olives

Remove the woody ends of the asparagus spears and place the asparagus into boiling salted water with the eggs. After 3 minutes remove the eggs and place them into egg cups. After a further 2 minutes, remove the asparagus and place on a plate, sprinkling them with the sea salt. Serve the asparagus by wrapping them in a piece of salami and dipping them into the eggs, or just eat the salami separately. Olives are on the side as palate cleansers.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Righteous, Healthy Vegetarian Lunch

It's easy to spot a health food - it invariably looks and tastes like crap.

That's why hummus has had such an easy time of it. It is the only health food that I, and a billion like me, eat with any pleasure at all. I'm not saying that I'm morbidly obese or anything, but along with 98% of the developed world, I could probably do with losing some pounds.

I've tried eating less bread, meat, dairy and sweets and traded them for rice cakes, fish, light creme fraiche and dates, but to no avail - I'm still a wobbler. I'm sure that these foods are all amazingly good for you, but (as I have said earlier) they taste like crap. Alright, not crap exactly, but crappier versions of the other stuff, which means that I supplement these healthier foods with Cadbury's Flakes at any given opportunity.

So, with mere weeks to go until bikini season, I need to make a stab at shifting the spare tyre, and so this lunch is my attempt at redressing the balance after a long winter of storing nuts, so to speak.

But why should I lose weight? I'm cuddly, and cuddly is attractive, yeah? Or funny. Funny and fat is cool, right? Apparently not. Mrs Ribeye, who is herself 6' tall and naturally lithe, and one of those people who actually seems to lose weight after drinking a McDonald's milkshake, has given me the odd reproving glance. She says it's indigestion, but I don't believe her - it's definitely revulsion at my moobs. Plus, she seems to be laughing less with me than at me recently. So today is the first day of my diet. Well, not a diet exactly, more of a try at cutting down on the treats.

As you may remember, Mrs Ribeye and I have cut meat out of our weekday meals, so I can't exactly go on the Atkins diet - not that I would anyway; can you imagine all the vicious anger and bitchiness I would generate on a no-carb eating plan? I'm bad enough ON carbs.

So, a vegetarian (or fish, if the mood had taken me) healthy lunch today is the thing. BRING ON THE HUMMUS!!! What would I do without it? Salad with olive oil dressing is great as a side dish, but as the main feature? I think not. Slather some of the hummus onto salad veg and top with a few falafels and some jalapeno relish and I'm a step closer to my target weight of a metric half tonne.

Oh, just one thing, hummus is fattening - so don't eat too much. God, I hate my life...

Saving calories means also saving pounds - British pounds I mean. £1.50 per (not too) generous serving is all this lunch will set you back.

Serves 2


Chopped salad vegetables (I used lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, fresh chillies, radishes and sweet peppers)
200g hummus
16 small falafel balls, baked
2 tablespoons of sweet jalapeno relish
1 tablespoon of paprika

Arrange the salad vegetables on a deep serving bowl and spread with the hummus. Add the falafel balls and top with the jalapeno relish. Sprinkle with paprika.

Monday, 4 June 2012

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Special: The Wimpy Quarterpounder

Hamburgers are, without the merest shadow of a doubt, my favourite food.

Wimpy hamburger restaurants have been around in the UK since the 1930's. By the time our Queen was crowned, the Wimpy chain was 12 strong. Nowadays, you can occasionally find a 'Wimpy Bar', but in the main, they have been superseded by the uber-dominant Maccy D's or The King.

What a shame! Wimpy bars are a proper British restaurant with knives, forks and waitresses. The food is real - prepared by a toque-wearing chef on a hot griddle. They have (or maybe had) big plastic tomatoes filled with ketchup on each table. The 'bender with cheese' signified a deep fried hot dog in a bun (which in the old days was ordered without any irony, sniggering, or knowing references to our 'flamboyant friends'). There were menus on every table.

Oh, and the food. The Wimpy quarterpounder is hands down the best fast-food chain burger known to man. It pisses on the McDonald's version. It pokes its tongue at the Burger King Whopper. It crucifies the Wendy's Big Classic.

I don't know what the big deal about this burger is, but it may have something to do with the wholemeal bun. Or it may be the coral pink special sauce, seemingly packed full of that mythical Japanese savoury taste 'umami' - which is a little like a a seafood cocktail sauce but impossible to create at home. It might even be that the burger was served on a china plate. Who knows? All I do know, is that I have finally cracked the recipe to be able to make this iconic British dish in the comfort of my own home, and my life is now complete.

The secret is Hammond's burger sauce (pictured): I don't know whether they had Wimpy's special sauce reverse engineered, or whether it is a stroke of lucky coincidence, but the sauce is perfect. Tangy, sweet, sharp and savoury. Delish. You can't buy this sauce in supermarkets - you have to buy it in 3x1 litre catering bottles. I gave a bottle to my brother-in-law Andre who shares my passion for this condiment and he agrees that it is a perfect copy of the original. You can only buy this stuff in largish quantities online or at catering outlets. Note to Hammond's: Start stocking it in smaller bottles on supermarket shelves NOW! (Also, did you notice how the label says 'American Style' on it, like it's a good thing? How very 1950's!)

Now, why have I chosen a Wimpy hamburger to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee? Well, I think that this dish represents everything fantastic about Britain: It is part of our British tradition. We invented it, before others got saw the potential, got involved and priced us out of the market with their own mass-produced inferior quality versions. It is far too high quality for the price charged. It is old-fashioned and inefficient. It has character and is a bit fuddy-duddy. It is not very sexy. It is simple and contains few ingredients. It is trying (a bit) to be good for you. It's anachronistic - and all the better for it.

Oh, and did I mention that generally I love burgers?

I'm no luddite, but eating this burger reminds me of a simpler time - before the E.U. Before credit default swaps. And before Simon Cowell. Go and get a bottle of this sauce and buy some wholemeal buns. Before you know it, you'll be whistling the national anthem and fantasising about Vera Lynn.

Buying this burger in a Wimpy Bar will probably set you back a very modern fiver, but make it yourself and you'll be out of pocket to the tune of a very antiquated £1.25 per serving. Rule Brittania!

Serves 1


113g ground beef, formed into a 7mm thick burger patty
Pinches of salt and pepper
1 large wholemeal bap
3 leaves of lettuce, chopped
The white part of a spring (salad) onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of Hammond's burger sauce
1 processed cheese slice (optional)

French fries, to serve (frozen, of course)

In a dry pan, season the burger and fry it on both sides until cooked through, but not too caramelised on the surface. Split and lightly toast the bap and cover the top half with the lettuce. Sprinkle the chopped onion on the lower bun and place the cheese, if using, onto the onion and cover with the burger. Spread the sauce onto the burger and place the two halves of the bun together to form the quarterpounder. Allow to rest for a minute or two before serving. Serve with the French fries on the side.