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


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


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 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


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


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.