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How To Cook Steak Perfectly

A lot of people are quite intimidated when it comes to cooking steak. Cooking a steak to perfection is not really all that hard . . . as long as you follow a few rules. I'm really lucky to live in the UK, where the beef is considered to be some of the best in the world. Top quality meat, marbled with plenty of fat for beef and lamb is essential for successful broiling, grilling and pan frying.

It goes without saying that, if you want the perfect steak, you have to first start out with the perfect cut of meat. For panfrying, broiling or grilling, I wouldn't recommend anything less than a good quality sirloin, rib eye or filet steak. Steak that has been properly aged on the bone will give you the best flavour. I also like to start with meat that is at room temperature, so take your steaks out of the fridge at least half an hour before cooking or longer if possible.

Some cooks eschew seasoning the meat prior to cooking, but I am a firm believer in salting the meat prior to cooking, as the heat helps to seal in the salt, allowing it to penetrate and really flavour the surface of the meat. That old idea about the salt drawing out the moisture and meat juices, is just hoaky to me.

If pan frying, which is my preferred method, you want to use a really heavy skillet, heated to a hot temperature. Brush your seasoned meat with some butter, and then place it in the hot pan. Cook for several minutes to sear the first side, and then flip over and finish searing it on the second side. Don't turn your steak any more than once. Turning it over and over, is what causes the meat juices to release and your steak ends up stewing instead of frying.

I prefer my steaks medium rare.

This is a slide show of the thumb test for firmness . . . a simpleway to judge the doneness of a piece of meat. The further your thumb has to move across your hand, the more resilient the ball of the muscle becomes . . . The amount of resistance felt by your opposing finger when compared against the same finger pressed onto your meat is an excellent gauge in guessing as to how done your meat is.

First finger stage: for blue meat and lightly cooked fish. Touch your thumb to it's opposing first finger and press the ball of your thumb with the tip of a finger of the other hand, the ball will offer no resistance. The surface should be seared in steak, and firm, and the beads of meat juice not yet risen to the surface. The meat is rare to almost blue when cut with a mild flavour.

Second finger stage: for rare meat. Touch your second finger to your thumb and press the ball of your thumb. The ball will feel spongy. The meat should be well browned and spongy when pressed in the centre. It should be firm at the sides and any beads of juice on the surface should be deep pink. The meat when cut is read, juicy and aromatic.

Third finger stage: For medium cooked meat, game or duck, or well done fish. Touch your third finger to your thumb and press the ball of your thumb. The ball will feel resilient. The surface should be crusty brown and the meat should resist when the centre is pressed. Firm at the side, the juices on the surface should be pink, and when cut the meat is juicy, deep pink and well flavoured.

Fourth finger stage: For well done meat, or poultry. Touch your fourth finger to your thumb and press the ball of your thumb. The ball will feel firm. The surface of the meat will be crusty brown and dry and the meat will feel quite firm when touched in the centre. Beads of juice on the surface of the meat will be clear and when cut no pink juices will be visible.

I like to serve my steaks with some tasty fried mushrooms. Very easy to do. Just slice the mushrooms, melt a knob of butter in the pan and then add the mushrooms. Don't agitate the pan at all. Allow the mushrooms to sear and brown. Stirring releases to much of their juices and once again they stew. If you leave them alone and only stir them once they have begun to really brown, you will be rewarded with nicely browned,juicy and flavourful mushrooms. I wait to season them at the end.

Following these few simple rules and techniques should help you to cook the perfect steak every time, and if you still manage to mess it up, well . . . here's the perfect sauce to serve with your steak, whether you have cooked it to perfection . . . or not. It is delicious can enhance a really well cooked steak or cover a multitude of sins!

*Classic Steak Au Poivre Sauce*
Serves 2 generously
Printable Recipe

This classic sauce is not only delicious when you have a perfectly cooked steak to serve, but is also an excellent cover-up for beef that is overcooked, tough, or lacking in flavour.

2 TBS whole black peppercorns
175ml good red wine
174ml double cream
1 TBS cognac
salt to taste

Place the peppercorns in a heavy ziplock bag and crush with a rolling pin. Place in the saucepan and add the wine. Cook and boil until reduced to 2 TBS. Whisk in the cream and cognac and heat until quite warm. Season to taste with salt.

Marie Rayner
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Ball Park Pizza For Two

When I was growing up, you could tell what night of the week it was just by what we were having for supper.

Saturday night we had comfort food. It would be either stew or baked beans or something like that. On Sunday we had a big dinner . . . probably a roast of one kind or another. Mondays was leftovers from Sunday dinner . . . Tuesdays, spaghetti . . . Wednesdays, porkchops . . . Thursdays, chicken . . . and then the piece de resistance was Friday night . . .

HOT DOG night!

My mom made the best hotdogs in the world!! All the kids in the neighborhood would vie to be invited over for hotdog night. She used to buy the hotdog buns that had soft bread sides. They were buttered and toasted in the sandwich grill, until they were buttery brown all over, just like a grilled cheese sandwich. The weiners were toasted on the grill as well. Sometimes she would even split the weiners down the middle, so that they opened out flat like a book, and the insides got all tasty and crispy too. Grilled onions and all the hot dog accompaniments were on offer of course . . . relish, mustard, ketchup.

She'd wrap each one up in paper kitchen towelling to keep them warm, and we'd each be allowed to have two of them. Let me tell you . . . they were a real treat!

Can you tell that I just love hotdogs????

That was one thing I missed a lot when I first moved over here. I couldn't find them anywhere.

Well, that's not entirely true. I lie . . .

I was able to find these. Tinned hotdogs. UGH . . . there's no other word for them, and yet they sell loads. They also sell them soaked in brine . . . in jars. DOUBLE UGH.

To a hotdog connoiseur, they just didn't cut the mustard!!! (every pun intended, tee hee) They are the 'WURST' (double tee hee)

Anyways, I have since been able to find fresh ones . . . and whilst they are still not as good as the ones back home . . . they are still loads better than the tinned or brined ones.

The best hotdogs of all, of course, are the ones back home that you get at country fairs or at ball games . . . oh and from street vendors of course . . . or the 400 Flea Market just outside of Barrie, Ontario.

Ahh . . . the smell of frying onions . . . it gets you everytime . . .

This is my take on a delicious memory, my own personal tribute to my mother's hotdog nights.

It is Friday after all . . .

*Ball Park Pizza for Two*
Serves 2
Printable Recipe

If you are a fan of hotdogs, you will love this cosy little pizza. It's just the perfect size for two to share.

110g self raising flour
25g of butter
4 TBS milk
2 ounces of grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 smoked frankfurters, cut into 1/2 inch sliced
2 heaping dessert spoons of barbeque sauce
1/2 of a small onion, peeled and chopped
1 heaping dessertspoon of hotdog relish
1 TBS of American style yellow mustard
4 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F. Sift the flour into a bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the cheese. Mix well, then stir in the milk with a fork, until you have a soft dough.

Butter a large baking tray and press the dough out onto the tray to a 9 inch round, about 1/4 inch thick. (The thinner the dough the crisper your crust will be)

Mix together the sliced frankfurters, onion, barbeque sauce, hotdog relish and mustard. Sprinkle this over top of the dough, leaving a 1 inch border all the way around. Top with the shredded cheese.

Bake in the heated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until crispy and brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling.

Note - instead of a scone type of dough, you can use regular pizza type dough, and make a larger pizza for the family. Just increase the amounts of the toppings.
Marie Rayner
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Salmon Cobbler

Quite often you can find some tasty recipes on the backs and sides of boxes of food . . . you know, like cereal boxes and such. It's not quite as common over here in the UK as it is back in North America, but it does happen from time to time.

I recently bought a box of oats and there was this tasty recipe on the back for a Ham and Sweetcorn cobbler. It sounded quite good.

I mean . . . how can a recipe with the word cobbler in the title not be good, really???

I didn't have any ham though, or sweetcorn, and I didn't want to faff around with running to the shops to get any.

I decided to use salmon and peas instead.

A most tasty combination. I also adapted the flavours in the sauce to reflect this change. Dill and lemon go wonderfully with salmon.

The end result was a delicious casserole dish that I would and will make again. (Next time I will either use a larger casserole dish or place a pan under the dish though, as it did run over.)

We both really loved this.

*Salmon Cobbler*
Serves 4
Printable Recipe

This is wonderful. I have used salmon and peas here, but the original recipe called for ham and sweetcorn. You could also use tuna and sweetcorn.

40g butter ( 3 TBS)
1 medium onion, peeled and small diced
40g plain flour (6 1/2 TBS)
600ml millk (2 1/2 cups)
1 418g tin of wild salmon, or the equivalent amount of leftover cooked salmon
(drain, remove and discard any bone and skin, and flake the fish) (2 cups)
1 teacup of frozen petit pois, thawed
1 tsp dried dill tops
the juice of half a lemon
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
dash of tabasco sauce
275g self raising flour (2 3/4 cup)
1 tsp baking powder
75g butter (1/3 cup)
75g porage oats (15 TBS)
2 ounces strong cheddar cheese grated
75ml natural yoghurt (1/3 cup)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 large egg, beaten
a bit of milk, if necessary
Pre-heat the oven to 220*C/425*F. Butter a 2 wide casserole dish. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened. Whisk in the flour. Cook for one minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk. Cook and stir until the mixture thickens. Season to taste with some salt and black pepper, the lemon juice, and the dill tops and tabasco sauce.

Place the salmon and peas into the casserole dish. Pour the sauce over top evenly, covering it all. Keep warm whilst you make the topping.

To make the topping sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Stir in the cheese and the oats. Beat the egg, Dijon mustard and yoghurt together. Add all at once to the flour mixture and mix to a soft dough, adding a bit of milk if necessary. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat out to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a 2 inch cutter. You should get between 12 and 14. Place on top of the hot salmon mixture.

Place in the heated oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the topping has risen well and is golden brown.
Marie Rayner
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Olive Oil Focaccia

I make no secret of it, and I'll be the first to admit it. I'm a lousy bread baker. . . I'm not sure why, but when it comes to baking bread I make better door stops than I do bread . . . in fact, the bread I bake comes pretty close to resembling doorstops . . .

I've tried so many times through the years to perfect it, but to no avail. One thing my ex husband was really good at was baking bread. With five hungry and growing children bread was something that we really used a lot of and he used to bake 12 loaves a week . . .

Twelve huge and fluffy loaves of beautifully textured, delicious bread . . .

I think it was the oomph he was able to put into the kneading . . . or maybe not . . . but, he fair used to make our kitchen table dance across the floor when he was kneading his bread dough . . . the air and floor would be full of flour dust, but my goodness his bread turned out lovely every single time . . .

His loaves were embarassingly huge, gargantuan even . . . well, if you were a kid taking sandwiches in your school lunch at any rate, it did make a bit of a show . . . but, it was beautifully tender and moist on the inside, with a wonderfully crunchy crust on the outside . . .

I don't miss the man of course . . . but there are times when I miss his bread.

I have a bread machine, and it makes great bread, but probably not as good as the memory of his . . . mind you that memory comes along with the sight of the five smiling and hungry faces of my children lining the kitchen table and digging into thick hot fresh slices of it, with lots of cold butter and jam. The first loaf always disappeared in the twinkling of an eye . . .

I do make good pizza dough and focaccia . . . so all is not lost . . .

They just don't taste that good with jam . . .

*Olive Oil Focaccia*

Makes one 11 by 15 inch pan
(cuts into 10 to 12 pieces)
Printable Recipe

Although I am not a very good bread baker, or at least I don't think I am, this is one bread I can do that always turns out fabulously for me. It's quite like making a pizza dough in a way, which I can handle quite well. I like to strew fresh herbs across the top of mine before baking. I normally use a mixture of garlic, rosemary and parsley. Just be sure to chop them up really fine.

435ml warm water
1/4 ounce of active dry yeast
1 tsp honey
2 TBS olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
600g all purpose flour
mixture of chopped fresh herbs for topping (optional)

Put the water, yeast, honey, half of the olive oil and three handfuls of the flour into a large bowl. Mix with an electric mixer until smooth. Cover and leave for 20 to 30 minutes until it is all frothy and foamy on the top. Mix in the rest of the flour and 1 1/2 tsp salt If you have a dough hook, mix it with the dough hook for 4 to 5 minutes. If you don't have a dough hook, then you will have to use your hands. The dough will be quite sticky so just kind of slap it from one side to the other in the bowl, until it is smooth. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours or so.

Lightly grease an 11 by 15 inch baking tray with some vegetable shortening. Punch down the dough to flatten it and then spread it out into the tray, spreading it right out to the edges as evenly as you can. Try not to tear the dough. It may take a bit of perseverence to keep it spread, but eventually it will stay in place. Cover again and let rise for another 45 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 220*C/450*F. Mix the remaining olive oil with 1/2 cup hot water and 1 tsp salt. Stir until the salt dissolves. Make dimples in the top of the bread all over it's surface with your fingertips. Brush well with the saltwater mixture. Sprinkle with the herbs, if using.

Bake in the heated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and a bit crusty here and there. It should sound hollow on the bottom when tapped. Remove from the oven and cool a bit before cutting or tearing into pieces. We like this best warm, but it is also good served at room temperature or split and filled with meat and cheese.
Marie Rayner
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Tomato and Chick Pea Soup

Some days I am sincerely lacking in time. Days when I have extra work on up at the big house that I cook in, and then have the shopping to do for work as well . . . and yet . . . we still have to eat here at home.

I still have to feed my husband and myself.

Those are the days when I rely on a well stocked larder.

A well stocked larder that I can go to at a moments notice and rustle up a meal in quick time.

A meal that is not only filling, but delicious.

A meal that is easy, quick, delicious and pleasing to the eye . . .

When you have a husband that hates pasta . . . it can be a real challenge.

This tasty soup fits the bill perfectly.

It's quick. It's delicious. It's filling. Not only does it use some of my favourite ingredients, but it uses things I always have in my larder.

Necessity is the beautiful mother of invention . . . don't you think? With some crusty bread on the side, this was very . . . very satisfying.

*Tomato and Chick Pea Soup*
Serves 2
Printable Recipe

A store cupboard recipe that goes together in a flash and uses things that most of us have on hand in our larders. Tasty and filling. Don't overdo the smoked paprika . . . you only want a hint of the flavour . . .you don't want it to take over.

a spash of olive oil
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 small garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 stalk of celery, minced
1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
1 14-oz tin of chick peas, drained
1 14-tin of cherry tomatoes, undrained
1/8 tsp of smoked paprika
1 bay leaf broken in half
2 cups vegetable stock
salt and black pepper to taste
1 TBS chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, celery and rosemary. Cook and stir for several minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, and stock. Stir in the bay leaf and smoked paprika. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so. Discard the bay leaf. Using a stick blender, blitz it a few times to crush some of the peas, but you want a lot of texture and some whole peas, so don't overdo it. Taste and adjust the seasoning as required. Stir in the parsley and serve in heated bowls.
Marie Rayner
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Brown Sugar and Butter Glazed Parsnips

Parsnips wasn't something that we really ate much of when I was growing up. My mom hated them. I remember her cooking them once, lightly boiled and then sliced and fried in butter. She wanted to see if her dislike for them had diminished.

It hadn't.

I loved them though, and I still do. (I know . . . what don't I love??? Well snails for one . . . and squid, but I digress.)

They give soups and stews incredible flavour.

Mixed with cooked potatoes and carrots, they make lovely root vegetable mash.

Roasted in goosefat, and then glazed with honey, they are my favourite part of our Christmas dinner.

Boiled, and then glazed in brown sugar and butter, with a bit of nutmeg . . .

They make any dinner feel like Christmas.

I could eat a whole plate of these . . . and nothing else at all.

*Brown Sugar and Butter Glazed Parsnips*
Serves 4
Printable Recipe

Crispy tender parsnips glazed with butter, brown sugar and nutmeg. Delicious!!

1 pound parsnips, peeled and sliced in half
(If they are very large cut out the woody core and discard, cut into quarters)
2 TBS butter
2 TBS soft light brown sugar
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg

Place the parsnips into a pot of lightly salted water and bring to the boil. Cook, just until crispy tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain well. Melt the butter and brown sugar together in a large skillet. Add the parsnips and season to taste with some salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. Cook, stirring gently until the parsnips are lightly browned and glazed.
Marie Rayner
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Upside Down Apricot and Pistachio Cake

Having only discovered apricots late in life, I confess . . . I am carrying on a love affair with them. Happily it's a love affair that I share with my husband . . . for he loves them too.

Call it a Culinary Menage a Trois . . .

I discovered this tasty little cake the other day in one of my newer cookbooks, Feed Me Now, by Bill Granger. I just love Bill's books and recipes. They're really down to earth and delicious. Not an ounce of pretention in the lot.

Imagine brown sugar and vanilla glazed apricots, sprinkled with some chopped pistachio nuts and topped with a cinnamony sour cream cake batter . . . and then baked until golden . . .

Turn it out onto a plate and let the syrupy sweet juices flow . . . top it with some creme fraiche and gobble it up while it's still warm.

No . . . it is not pretty. It will not be winning any beauty contests for sure . . .
But whilst it is lacking in attractiveness . . . it more than makes up for that lack in taste.

He called it a tart . . . it looks and tastes like cake to me. I added the pistachios . . . well . . . coz I happen to like nuts as much as I like apricots and, I had some that needed using up.

if you like apricots, you're going to really love this one.

We did . . . in the Rayner household, it got two sets of two thumbs up!!

*Upside Down Apricot and Pistachio Cake*

Serves 4 to 6
Printable Recipe

Deliciously glazed apricots mixed with the crunch of pistachios and topped with a wonderfully spicey and rich sour cream cake. Make sure you turn this out of the pan as soon as you remove it from the oven so that it doesn't stick. You'll want to serve this with lashings of creme fraiche or whipped cream.

100g of butter, divided
12 apricots, halved and pitted
25g raw pistachio nuts, coarsley chopped
90g soft light brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
125g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
115g caster sugar
130ml of sour cream

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F. Place a 24cm diameter round baking tin on top of a low flame and add 25g of the butter. Melt and then stir in the sugar and vanilla. Cook and stir until the sugar melts. Turn off the burner. Place the apricots, cut side down on top of this mixture. Sprinkle with the chopped pistachios.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sugar into a bowl. Rub in the remaining 75g of butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sour cream. Dollop this mixture over the apricots and spread it out with dampened fingers to cover.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and immediately invert onto a large plate. Cut into slices and serve warm with some creme fraiche spooned on top or whipped cream.
Marie Rayner
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Potato Scallop

Alright . . . I confess. The potato IS my favourite vegetable. That's why "low carbing it" has never worked for me.

I love them in any way, shape or form.

I love em mashed.

I love em fried.

I love em boiled and baked.

Heck, when I was a kid I even used to beg raw pieces off my mom when she was getting them ready for our supper.

She said they'd give me worms.

But they didn't.

So there.

This is one of my favourite ways of cooking potatoes. It goes with just about anything. In fact, back home where I come from, local firehalls and churches make lots of money with Saturday night Baked Bean Suppers, and Potato Scallop figures highly on the menu.

You just can't have ham or a baked bean supper without serving this.

It's unconstitutional.

*Potato Scallop*
Serves 4
Printable Recipe

You'll see lots of versions of this recipe which call for the making of a bechamel sauce to cook the sliced potatoes in. My mom never did this, and to be honest we never minded. We always just loved them the way she did them. I still think they are the best of all.

4 large baking potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 TBS flour
2 TBS softened butter
2 TBS finely chopped onion
1 TBS finely chopped parsley
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups whole milk

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Generously butter a large baking dish. Place half of the potatoes into the dish. Sprinkle with half of the salt, pepper, flour, onion, cheese and parsley. Dot with half the butter. Repeat the layer, ending with the remaining butter. Pour the milk over top to cover the potatoes. Cover with foil or a lid and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until tender. Take off the lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes to brown the top. Serve warm.
Marie Rayner
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