Tuesday, 14 August 2012

100% Authentic Chinese Pork and Vegetables in Broth with Egg Noodles

Chinese food in the U.K. is not like Chinese food in China.

Don't get me wrong, I love English-Chinese food like they serve in Wong Kei in Soho, but for the real McCoy, you've got to either go to China for a meal, or for the next best thing, go round to my mate Ying's place for dinner. There's no nuclear-orange chicken dishes or crispy duck. There's proper rich-tasting authentic grub from a recipe originating from his village somewhere in the People's Republic. I absolutely loved it, and couldn't wait to interrogate him for the exact formula.

To my surprise, the formula is dead simple: Apart from the usual onion/garlic/ginger flavour base as in most Chinese dishes, the only specialist ingredients were Xiaoxing rice wine and Szechuan peppercorns. There was a bit of soy sauce thrown in here and there, but soy is hardly a specialist ingredient these days, is it?

Xiaoxing rice wine is a bit like dry sherry in taste and body, but a world away from dry sherry in terms of Chinese authenticity. My mum, Mrs Ribeye Sr, bought me a Ken Hom Chinese cookbook for an anniversary present (3 years married - eek!) recently, and Xiaoxing rice wine features in about 75% of the recipes. Luckily I happened to have bought a bottle in London's Chinatown recently.

As for Szechuan peppercorns, they are not really pepper - they are a berry of a citrus plant, and ludicrously sour they are too. Nothing else will do. I accidentally crunched down onto one at Ying's place and my mouth went numb for about half an hour - no joke. Trying to be cool, I sat there quietly, hoping the effect would wear off quickly, but to no avail. It's not an unpleasant feeling actually, just a bit weird.

One of the dishes Ying made, was a simple stir-fry of bacon and cucumber. With the addition of the rice wine and peppercorns, it turned a couple of work-a-day ingredients into an exotic feast. If you want to try making it, just add bacon strips and thinly sliced cucumber to a wok with some oil, Xiaoxing rice wine and Szechuan peppercorns, and stir-fry very briefly without colouring the bacon at all. It's utterly delicious.

Anyway, back to today's recipe. You have got to try this authentic soup, it makes any other Chinese soup seem a bit... English.

I added pork belly and a few spare ribs to my broth, but you could add chicken, beef, or just vegetables. Noodle-wise, I added egg noodles because I happened to have some to hand, but you could use rice noodles or even vermicelli. Once you have the stock recipe sorted, it doesn't really matter what you put in, as long as it doesn't mess with the flavours too much.

Cost-wise, it's so reasonable. £2 per serving is all.

Serves 4


For the soup stock:

2 litres vegetable or chicken stock
1 thumb of ginger, whole
3 garlic cloves, whole
1 onion, halved
1 star anise
3 Szechuan peppercorns
75ml Xiaoxing rice wine
25ml soy sauce

The rest of the ingredients:

6-7 short pork spare ribs (300g approx)
3 small pieces of pork belly (300g approx)
400g egg noodles
400g mixed vegetables (I used baby corn, mange tout, tenderstem broccoli, fine beans)
Handful of spring (salad) onions, finely chopped, to serve

Boil the stock ingredients together, with the spare ribs and pork belly, on a simmer for 2 hours. In a separate saucepan, cook the vegetables and noodles until just tender. Remove the pork belly pieces from the stock and cut into bite-sized pieces. Strain the stock to remove the flavouring ingredients. Place some of the spare ribs, pork belly pieces, cooked vegetables and noodles into serving bowls and pour over the stock. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions and serve immediately.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Tray-Baked Thai Spare Ribs

After having spent a fabulous, unplanned, weekend at my mum's house, normal service is resumed.

By 'normal service', I mean back to work, back to eating a normal amount of food, and back to doing some exercise. In my bid to achieve my target weight of 85kgs (I am now 88), I have decided that I need to try to weigh 80kgs. It's not exactly logical, but I always try to add a margin of error into anything I do. If I know that I need to write 3000 words in a day, I will go for 5000, then when I hit my secret target, I'm happy. If I aim for 3000 words, then I'll probably be OK with 2000. God, I'm weak-minded.

Anyway, first thing this morning, the alarm went off and I made my way to Regent's Park to do my new twice-weekly routine of a 6k run. What a lovely day it was. I aimed for 6k and I DID 6k. Why was my resolve so unusually strong? Well, I'll tell you: When I got onto my mum's very high quality bathroom scales, it actually turns out that I'm 91kgs, not the bloody 88 that my crappy cheapo scales has reassured me that I am. What is even more terrifying, is that I have lost about 7kgs in the last month. WHICH MEANS THAT I USED TO BE 98KGS! No way!

So, 6k twice a week it is going to be for me - obviously for the rest of my natural born life.

The weekend at Mrs Ribeye Sr's was so fun. It's an unspoken rule, that when the wife and I stay over, I will do the cooking. Mum makes a killer breakfast, but I'm in charge if lunch and dinner. Today's recipe was my Friday night offering.

Since I worked all day, I wanted to make something easy that I could prep at home and then transport over to mum's and cook in her oven in very short time. We arrived at 7pm and we were eating our starter of Chinese Smoked Mackerel Pancakes out in the garden with a lovely glass of rose, while the main course took about 45 minutes to bake. And what a main course it was! I've never made a baked Thai green curry in the oven before, but it's amazing. Dead easy and very tasty. Try it - you'll never go back to the hob/saucepan version again.

I used ribs for this recipe, but it works just as well with any meat of your choice. Next time I might use chicken portions, or pork belly slices. For a feast, you might want to bake some crabs or lobsters - go crazy!

Pork spare ribs are so cheap to buy - £5 for two large packs in my local Tesco's. Which means that this dish comes in at a super-cheap £2 per serving. I served mine with rice and frozen peas - it was excellent.

Serves 4


1 portion of my Thai Green Curry Paste recipe
1kg pork spare ribs
1 x 400g can coconut milk
Green chilli rings, to serve
Fresh coriander leaves, to serve

Thai or basmati rice, with frozen peas mixed in, to serve

Marinade the ribs in the curry paste for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight). Transfer to a baking tray and mix in the coconut milk. Bake in a preheated 220c oven for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with the chilli rings and coriander leaves immediately before serving. Serve with the rice/pea mixture.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Linguine 'Mrs Ribeye'

Moderation moderation moderation.

I don't know why, but for many years I had an obsession with cooking everything either very very slowly - stews/sauces; or very very quickly - fish, roast chicken/beef/lamb. I somehow thought that all behaviour had to be polarised or it was considered dull.

This attitude towards extreme behaviour carried on into my life as a DJ (my mixing was of the 'slap it in and out' school), my social life ('live hard, work hard, party hard'), my professional life ('I haven't become a millionaire today? Boring') and my relationships ('You don't like my taste in music? Get out!').

However, as the years advanced, the yearning to become moderate has taken any of my hyperbolic emotions away from me. I now enjoy partying 'most of the night long'. I am happy in my work - whatever my financial status. My DJ'ing is smoother to listen to (and, er,  better), and my cooking is simpler, with more emphasis on  treating each recipe with individual care rather than trying to impose my blanket techniques on all my dishes. Oh and I have now learnt to bicker. I used to be fiery but as I have now hit my forties I find it far more agreeable to resolve conflicts with whinges and whines, rather than full scale war. There are less casualties.

Today's dish is a great example of how far I've come as a cook. I used to take two hours to slow cook the hell out of the ingredients to make a spaghetti sauce, until I realised that slow cooking leaves flavours dead and dull. So now, I take minutes to prepare my sauce and the results are superb. Fresh, vibrant tomatoe-y goodness, topped with a whole cubed mozzarella and enough freshly picked basil leaves to make them more of a central feature than a herby afterthought. Mrs Ribeye absolutely adores this dish and so I have named it after her.

This dish is simple, cheap and delicious. This is not, however, the reason I named it after my wife. Cost-wise, you're only looking at £2 per serving.

A quick note on the ingredients:

1. Use a LOT of garlic - this sauce is a celebration of the mighty bulb (but remember to remove the central bitter stem from each individual clove before chopping).

2. Use tinned WHOLE plum tomatoes, and then break them up later once the sauce has nearly finished cooking - the ready chopped ones emit their seeds into the sauce too early, creating bitterness.

3. Use a LOT of olive oil - the dish won't be greasy, I promise.

4. DON'T stir the mozzarella into the sauce - it's nice to have the slowly softening creamy chunks against the richness of the sauce.

5. Use LOTS of fresh basil - think of it as a salad garnish rather than a herb.

6. Use LINGUINE if you can, not spaghetti - it's somehow meatier and holds the sauce better.

Serves 2


3 cloves of garlic
3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 x 400g tin of whole Italian tomatoes in their own juice
1 teaspoon of dried oregano, plus extra for dusting
Pinches of salt and pepper
Cooked linguine (250g uncooked weight), to serve
2 balls of mozzarella cheese, cubed
Large handful of fresh basil leaves, for sprinkling

In a pan on high heat, add the garlic and oil and gently fry until it has the merest tinge of golden colour. Add the tomatoes, oregano, seasoning and about a quarter of the tomato tin filled up with water, and cook rapidly until the sauce is thick and unctuous (20 minutes approx). Add the linguine to the sauce (not the other way around) and mix to coat thoroughly. Transfer to serving dishes and top with the mozzarella cubes and basil leaves. Lightly dust the dish with the extra oregano. Serve immediately

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Individual Peach and Caramel Pavlovas

Dinner at our friends Ophelia and Kumar was a blast last night.

Mrs Ribeye mentioned that she had read in the newspaper earlier in the day that 'Fifty Shades of Grey', the mummy-porn novel by British author E.L. James, was the first book to outsell Harry Potter. 'Why?' asked Kumar absolutely ingenuously, 'Does it have goblins in it?'


Kumar actually cooked for us for the first time ever, and he made us a traditional Pakistani spicy beef stew called Nihari. I have asked him for the recipe so that I can recreate it at home. It was incredible - once he emails me the recipe, I'll post my version on Potless.

After last night's dinner, with the inevitable five million drinks to accompany it, Mrs Ribeye and I had a restorative day in bed today with the Sunday Times, 'Come Dine With Me' on More 4, and some comfort food. After eating some chicken soup, I asked the wife what she fancied for dessert. 'Pavlova, please' was the reply.

I find this answer both ridiculous and utterly adorable. Firstly, how am I supposed to rustle up something that complicated in a few minutes? Secondly, it is adorable that my missus, without any hint of irony, expected me to deliver it without any hesitation. I love her for that.

She was absolutely correct, of course - I had a sumptuous pavlova on a plate ready for her to eat within four minutes. There was no way that I could have eaten one myself, so the challenge had the added dimension of me having to create this complex dish for one person. And not only did I manage it, but Mrs Ribeye told me that: 'This is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth'. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Of course, there is a knack to being able to deliver this miracle: Prepared store cupboard ingredients. I had a tin of condensed milk caramel in the larder, alongside a carton of meringue nests. The remnants of a tub of double cream happened to be in the fridge from a dinner we had had with our friend Natalia mid-week, and the peaches were in the fruit bowl. If I had had berries or pineapple or cherries instead, then the recipe would have a different name - but in this instance the peaches were an inspired lucky non-choice. Mrs Ribeye loved how their subtle sharpness cut the richness of the dessert, saving the dish from becoming too sickly-sweet. I would definitely make this dish again for a dinner party next time, but I would actually make the meringues from scratch instead. But for a night-in emergency pudding, this is very hard to beat.

This recipe has the added bonus of being very cheap to make. £1.50 per very generous serving.

Serves 1


2 meringue nests (home-made, if you can be bothered)
4 tablespoons of double cream, plus a little extra for garnish
2 tablespoons of tinned condensed milk caramel
1 peach, stoned and finely chopped

Spoon two tablespoons of cream onto each meringue and add one tablespoon of caramel to one. Place half of the peach bits onto each meringue and place the non-caramel meringue on top of the other one to create two layers. Dot the remaining tablespoon of caramel all over the pavlova and pour a little extra cream on and around, as a garnish, to bring everything together. Serve immediately.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Lyonnaise Pizza

This recipe has got to be the ultimate comfort food.

Mrs Ribeye and I were on our way home from our summer holiday in Nice on the French Cote d'Azur and we decided to stop off in Reims for lunch before making our way towards the north coast, and the ferry home.

We had eaten the most repulsive lunch in Lyon a day or two earlier and were just starting to get over the 'tripe incident' when a lunch item on the menu in a beautiful pavement cafe caught my eye: Lyonnaise pizza. Could that mean cows entrails on bread? Is it a calzone filled with bull's testicles?

I dared not ask the waiter, but I was intrigued, so I ordered it without asking for any of the grizzly details (masochist? Moi?). Mrs Ribeye had played it safe by ordering spaghetti bolognese (wimp) but I had to be the big boy, didn't I.

Mrs Ribeye was presented with a steaming bowl of delicious pasta, and I was presented with this - an innocuous looking salami and cheese pizza. Or so I thought...

One slice into the pie was all it took to realise that you can't judge a pizza by its cover. The salami and cheese topping hid a bed of Lyonnaise potatoes over a pizza base. No tomato sauce. No herbs. No olive oil.

So, the Lyonnaise pizza is this: A thin stone-baked pizza base, covered in a layer of creamy garlicky potatoes, covered in cheddar (NOT mozzarella) cheese, covered in thick salami. What an invention. And... I LOVED IT!!!

This is an absolute abomination of a pizza and should not even be called a pizza - it is was it is : A hangover cure. Can you imagine how many calories are in this thing? Anyway, PLEASE make it. Just don't eat it for lunch.

This dish comes in just on budget at £5 for a large pizza, which is enough for two - meaning that you are under your Potless budget at £2.50 per serving. Bon appetit. Pass the Alka Seltzer.

Serves 2


1 large potato, peeled and cut into 5mm thick slices
100ml double cream
Half an onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
Pinches of salt and pepper
Third of my bread dough recipe
Large handful of grated cheddar cheese
10 thick cut slices of salami

In a small pan, simmer the potatoes, onion and garlic in the double cream until cooked (20 minutes approx) and the sauce has thickened, then allow cool to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 220c. In the meantime, on an oiled baking tray, stretch the dough until it is of an even 1cm thickness. Spread the cooled potatoes over the base and top with the cheese. Arrange slices of salami over the top and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Allow to cool for a minute or two before serving.