Sunday, 27 January 2013

Yorkshire Puddings

For someone who spends so much time enjoying writing and testing recipes, I sometimes - like today - advocate the art of cooking by sight and feel, instead of by rigidly sticking to weights, measures and timings.

Yorkshire pudding is the perfect example of a dish which benefits from an experienced, rather than a scientific, approach. Mrs Ribeye Sr (mum) used to have terrible trouble coming up with a consistently excellent batch of puds, until she stopped reading conflicting advice and used good old fashioned common sense instead to bang out tray after tray of perfect, golden, crispy, evenly-risen Yorkies.

The correct basic chemistry is to use the same volume of eggs to flour to make a smooth paste, and then let it down with enough milk to create a batter the thickness of double cream or emulsion paint. Then season (fairly heavily) to taste and voila! The perfect Yorkshire pudding recipe. When I mean 'volume', I'm not referring to weight. I mean that I try to make a heaped dessert spoonful of flour look like the same size as the eggs I've bought. No way should there be a set of scales near me today.

The key to guaranteeing even more structure in your puds, is to use strong bread flour. I have no idea what the difference between strong and plain flour is, but I bet it has something to do with increased amounts of gluten. I probably only make this connection because 'gluten' sounds a bit like 'glue'. I happened to have some over from my recent bread-making fad (pretty much over that now) and I'll be buying more of it when I run out - just to make my puds.

Milk-wise, I use semi-skimmed for everything in my house, and so I use it in my Yorkshire puddings; but if I was buying some especially for this recipe, I may opt for red top (full fat) to give them a bit more richness. This is not scientifically proven, but full fat milk has GOT to taste better in recipes than semi-skimmed, right?

My poor old mum. Conflicting recipes would have her adding water to the mix, or baking powder, or bicarb, or cream, or telling her to 'allow the batter to rest to allow the gluten to develop'. What crap. My recipe is the simplest, the easiest, the deliciousest and more importantly the right-est.

Yorkshire puddings were invented to fill you up when the Sunday roast joint was a bit on the small side, and so it's a thrifty but delicious necessity (which means that this dish is an oft-eaten trusty Potless stalwart). £1 per dozen is all it will set you back. Get some instant gravy to serve with them as a starter, and you'll  be transported back to the late 1940's before you know it. Now all you'll need is Vera Lynn, Brylcream, and some ration books...

Serves 4-6 (makes 12 puddings)


4 eggs
4 heaped tablespoons of plain or strong bread flour (same volume as the eggs - probably 120g-150g)
Enough milk to let the batter down to the thickness of double cream (about 120-150 ml)
Large pinches of salt and black pepper
Sunflower or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to maximum setting (230-240c) and fill the 12 holes in a muffin tin a fifth/quarter full of oil each. Place the tin in the oven to heat to a blistering temperature. In the meantime, in a jug, beat the eggs with the flour until you have a thick paste. Pour in the milk bit by bit until you have a nice batter. Season and then quickly open the oven door to pour the batter into the holes in the muffin tin. The batter should fizz and pop in the oil. Close the door of the oven and cook (without opening it until the puds are cooked) until the puds are risen and golden - about 25-30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Perfect Rump Steak

I'm not saying this as a general rule about all food on restaurant menus, but as far as steak is concerned, I find the portions in steak houses to be totally unacceptable.

The menu may proudly scream '8 OZ' or '250 GRAMS', and if the dish was sea bass or cabbage I may well be commensurately impressed, but where a slab of beef is concerned, a half pound is pathetic - barely a tooth filler. When I eat steak, I want it to be a slice of brontasaurus, just like Fred Flintstone used to eat in his local branch of The Steakosaurus Grill.

The only thing is, I'm a bit of a skinflint, so I'm not prepared to eat steak out and order a porterhouse cut for one person (£40 per portion minimum), so I buy my steak in supermarkets and cook it home, and order the sea bass and cabbage in restaurants instead.

Ho hum, steaks in supermarkets are pretty dear too. So what is the gourmand-miser to do? Easy, buy the cheaper cuts on special offer and prepare and cook them properly. Bingo! Massive steaks, perfectly cooked and at bargain basement prices.

Today's amazing find is rump steak at £6 per kilo, from Morrison's. I bought myself a thick cut 450g portion, with a nice cap of creamy fat. Mrs Ribeye got a teeny 400g one (she IS a girl, after all).

After rubbing it with some nice dried spices and olive oil and marinating it for a day or two, then searing it at nuclear-level heat before finishing it in a hot oven for a minute or two, the results were fantastic. Beautifully caramelised crust, with a buttery soft centre. Perfecto. All I needed was to de-glaze the pan with a little water to create a tasty jus and serve the steak with some simple White Bean Mash.

In your face, local steakhouse!

The thing is, the cheaper cuts may be a bit tougher, which means that rare is the only way to cook them. The outer crustiness gives you some much needed intense flavour to carry the dish off, while the rareness of the beef inside gives you a wonderfully cool smooth texture to counterbalance the savoury outside - which means that the hotter the temperatures you cook your steaks at (for the shortest time), the better the finished result. Preheat your oven and hob to the highest temperature you can. I leave mine on for twenty minutes before using them - which has the added benefit of warming the kitchen to a pleasant winter-snow-beating 30c.

Price-wise, this whole dish comes in at £3 per serving, including the mash. Garnish with parsley to further enhance your steakhouse home vibe, and then laugh at the fools who have just paid five times the amount in a restaurant for something that took you ten minutes to cook. And you can eat it in your pants on your bed while watching DVDs. Tell me which restaurant offers that?

Serves 2


2 large rump steaks, with 1cm fat still on
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1-2 tablespoons of dried spice mix - I use a blend of garlic salt, onion powder, black pepper, paprika, coriander seed, fennel and dried thyme and rosemary
Wine glass of water
White bean mash, to serve (click the link above for recipe)
Handful of parsley leaves, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper

A day before you want to eat them, rub the olive oil all over the steaks and then sprinkle liberally with the spice mix and refrigerate overnight. Twenty minutes before you want to cook them, remove the steaks from the fridge and preheat oven and hob to maximum heat. In a cast iron skillet (invest in one - they are AMAZING) or heatproof frying pan, fry the steaks on the each side, including the fat layer, until charred and then place the pan in the oven. Cook in the oven for 3 minutes and then set aside to allow the meat to rest. De-glaze the pan with a wine glass of water until reduced by two-thirds. Slice the steaks into 2cm batons, across the grain. Serve the steaks with the jus, the mash and maybe a green salad. Scatter with the parsley and generously season (don't forget that this is the first actual salt you have used, so don't be afraid to use a heavy hand).

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Potless Street Food #2: Russian Pelmeni

Street food is such a celebrated food genre and I am it's biggest fan. Normally created as a welcome cheap pitstop for lunch or an afternoon snack; it is not quite a meal but is almost always delicious. The stuff in this series aren't exactly restaurant reviews, haven't all been acquired on the 'street', and the food is definitely not home-cooked by me, but I feel the need to share my experiences on eating some of the weird and wonderful snacks I seem to encounter on a daily basis.

After a week and a half spent at Mrs Ribeye's parents place in Syktyvkar in the Russian Komi Republic (look it up - it's faaaaar away) for new year, I am proud to report on her very favouritist childhood snack...Pelmeni!!!

Where did I eat it?

In my parents-in-laws' Syktyvkar gaff. Here's what happened:

At the appropriate time every year, my wife informs me that it is time to start looking for flights to Russia to visit her parents. She spends three weeks surfing the net trying to come up with the best option for a flight between London and Moscow and a connection to Syktyvkar, a small but perfectly formed city in a former gulag in the Komi (not commie) Republic. I hum and hah and tell her that I can find something cheaper on a better time and day and then, after a long and fruitless search, concede that her option is probably OK. Then I notice that she's chosen a 'budget Russian airline' and I explain that paying an extra £25 per seat on a reputable carrier, for a 30% extra chance of arriving without dying in a drunk-pilot-blamed fireball, is probably better. We left London on December 26th for a 9 day trip. On the dearer airline, of course.

After laying over for a night in Moscow and thinking that the weather was 'bloody cold but bearable' (-8c) and then taking a Nordavia flight to the missus' home town to really know what cold is (-23c), I surmised that Moscow was actually 'bloody warm' in comparison. Being in really cold weather was a first for me. Getting off the plane in Sykky (as I call it now, naturally) was the inverse of a Londoner getting off a plane in Tenerife in the summer - except, instead of the slightly shocking blast of hot stuffy air in your face as you disembark, you are faced with a blast of super-cold chilled air. The thing is, both experiences leave you a bit disorientated and breathless. Thankfully, the in-laws were waiting in a super-heated terminal with a taxi awaiting outside.

Russia in winter is weird (summer is nice, but also weird in a different way). The buildings are kept heated to a state-subsidised +40c, while outside hovers between -20 and -30c. Which means a heat fluctuation of around 60-70c on every outside jaunt. Enough to give you a tickle in your throat. Or pneumonia.

Foodwise, the diet in a Russian winter is meat-and-dairy-tastic. I can't remember a meal that wasn't pervaded by sour cream and kielbasa (a worst-like local chicken or pork cured sausage). To break the (admittedly delicious) monotony, Mrs Ribeye suggested it was time to sample pelmeni. I had previously resisted trying it during my last trip in the summer time, because I couldn't stomach any hot food during the +40c/23 hours per day sunlight summer days (I told you summers are weird there).

This time however, I happily agreed to a steaming bowl of pelmeni served in a bowlful of Knorr chicken broth (apparently authentic - who am I to argue?) Mrs Ribeye RAVES about pelmeni. I have heard her wax lyrical about this stuff on many an occasion and have (slightly curmudgeonly) resisted her pleas for me to buy them from our overpriced miserable local Russian purveyor to eat at home in London ('no dear - they won't be the same here as at home, I promise').

What is it?

Look, I don't want to diss my wife's obsession with these iconic Russian favourite snacks of her youth, but pelmeni are basically.... frozen Ikea meatballs in pasta skins. No, I refuse to concede that maybe we bought some substandard recipe, or that in Syktyvkar the pelmeni are somehow inferior to the artisan stuff you can buy in a gastrodome in Moscow; pelmeni are the same the world over. Trust me - you can buy the exact same brand in Russian stores five minutes from my London flat for god's sake. They are Ikea meatball tortellini. Live with it.

What did it cost?

Stuff in Russia has got crazy expensive in the last few years, due to their recent obsession with Plastic Satan: Yes, the credit card. Everyone is charging everything to their cards and spending with gay abandon like sailors on leave (or like most Russians I spoke to who actually seemed disappointed that the Mayans had it 'a bit wrong' as far as 21/12/12 doomsday predictions were concerned - suckers), which means that everything in Russia is twice as expensive as it was a couple of years ago; including pelmeni. It's only about £2 for a big sack of the stuff, but that's a pound more than it used to - or should - be.

Most importantly, did I like it and would I eat it again?

Hells yeah! Pelmeni ROCKS! I love pasta, I love meatballs, I sorta like Ikea meatballs(ish), Knorr soup stock is...Knorr soup stock (and nothing wrong with that).

The thing is, there is nothing in this world better to eat on a f-r-e-e-z-i-n-g winter's day - a few miles south of the Arctic circle - than a steaming bowl of pelmeni. I wouldn't buy it from the Russian store in London to eat here - but then, it never really gets cold enough here for me to appreciate its warm comforting greasy deliciousness. Obviously if the Mayan doomsday predictors were only a few weeks out, and the world is plunged into icy blackness in the near future, I'll be firing up the Knorr and defrosting a sack of these bad boys. May have to take a trip to that local Russian store just in case...

Monday, 14 January 2013

Potless Street Food #1: Japanese Takoyaki

Street food is such a celebrated food genre and I am it's biggest fan. Normally created as a welcome cheap pitstop for lunch or an afternoon snack; it is not quite a meal but is almost always delicious. The stuff in this series aren't exactly restaurant reviews, haven't all been acquired on the 'street', and the food is definitely not home-cooked by me, but I feel the need to share my experiences on eating some of the weird and wonderful snacks I seem to encounter on a daily basis.

Having just arrived back from a winter sojourn to darkest Russia, I will soon be reporting my experiences of eating those delicious dumplings, Pilmeni, but for now my first street food report is on the totally amazing... Takoyaki!

Where did I eat it?

Mrs Ribeye is absolutely my weekend motivator. If it was up to me, my life would consist of a 90-10 ratio of staying at home and going to pubs. The wife, however, has her diary pre-packed with weekend 'fun' excursions for us to embark on, and today's takoyaki was bought at one of these days out, at Hyperjapan, the huge Earl's Court expo on all things Japanese.

Hyperjapan is my first ever expo. I'd seen Youtube clips of costumed punters waiting for autographs from sci fi 'celebrities' at Comicon in San Diego and had a vague idea of what to expect. And I was bang-on accurate. Expos are basically a huge school fete. Row after row of stands with curios to marvel at and stuff to buy, stuff to eat and drink, and more importantly, things with which to have your photograph taken standing next to. While you are in a costume.

The costume is the whole point of the expo.Because the theme at this one was Japan, the common look was to dress like something from a manga comic strip. Which apparently means wearing a judo suit and cape, carrying a slightly battered silver foil sword and teasing your hair into spiky clumps. Now, having seen a manga comic once or twice, I know the sort of look that these guys were attempting - and they fell a mile short. Never mind, if anyone at this expo looked stupid, it was me, the missus and the other 0.5% of the customers who were wearing our own normal clothes. The whole place was like a coolness alternate universe. You can only hope that some of these costumed lot got beaten up on the bus home.

At the far end of the convention centre was the food bit. Mrs Ribeye had booked us onto a sushi-making course for a half hour (it obviously wasn't enough to just go to this thing, we had to get bloody involved too), and then we were free to eat some lunch. Slight problem with Japanese food is that most of it is fried and Earl's Court's air ventilation system could barely cope. Never mind, let's not worry about having to take our clothes to the dry cleaners and just sit down to eat the sushi we just made (admittedly delicious) and select something a bit more unhealthy looking as an accompaniment. After quickly overlooking the katsu (breaded chicken? I can get that from Tesco thanks) station, tempura (boooring) and the omelette-looking stuff and quickly by-passing even more sushi, the Takoyaki stand it had to be - it had the biggest queue all made up of actual Japanese people, most in the 0.5% non-costume-wearing contingent. This can only be a good sign.

What is it?

Er, a good question. I did ask, but was told that it had something to do with squid. The cartoon of a squid next to the stand's sign had already told me that, but I was more concerned with more pressing matters - like what is all the different gungey things you are sprinkling over the dish?

Let's investigate this thing a bit deeper. A polystyrene tray is filled with six golf ball sized round deep fried dumplings. Then two sauces are artfully squirted on top - one brown, like a soy based sweet teryaki sauce and one creamy, like a spicy mayonnaise. Then after the sauces, a liberal sprinkling of a day-glo seaweed powder, followed finally (thank god) by a massive handful of fish flakes (benito, I think, like the stuff dashi stock is made from). Oh and then some pickled ginger for good measure.

Having checked the internet when I got home to find out what the contents of the dumplings was, I have deduced that it is a simple wheat flour batter with squiddy bits in. The traditional takoyaki is made with a filling of tempura scraps, but I can't believe that this was the case here. Where would the tempura scraps come from? From my place in the queue, I didn't see the tempura guys periodically popping over with a bucket. Obviously the left-over aspect of the dish was the original reason to create and make it, but not at Hyperjapan.

What did it cost?

£5. For a massive portion.

Most importantly, did I like it and would I eat it again?

The simple answer to this is... I would fly to Japan (and I hate flying with a passion) just to eat more takoyaki. It is unbelievably amazing. The uncostumed people in the queue looked totally out of place at Hyperjapan, and now I know why; they paid the entrance fee and then another fiver just to eat takoyaki! I cannot blame them. The dumplings are chewy and delicious, the sauces are moreish and cut the richness of the dish perfectly, the seaweed adds a salty savoury crunch, the benito flakes add some of that mythical addictive taste 'umami', and the pickled ginger is always welcome to my mouth party. Oh and sushi goes great with it too. Is there nothing that Japanese people aren't brilliant at?