Monday, 27 August 2012

as it comes

Now, to say that I am a steak connoisseur would be a lie, but I can say that I appreciate a good steak. For years, I had my steak cooked medium to medium rare... this all changed in Spain last month. Due to the language barrier and a very confused waitress, Rich and I were served some pretty rare veal steaks - we were a little hesitant at a) how rare they were and b) that they were veal; something I don't agree with.  But, I have to admit, they were bloody delicious. 

Since then, I have been craving a good steak back in the UK. When Rich went away for the weekend I had no plans for Saturday night, apart from a night in with the X Factor and Casualty (guilty pleasure) - a perfect evening to indulge myself with some overpriced meat!

I popped to the butchers and picked up a rather lovely looking sirloin steak for £6.95, then somehow managed to sweet talk the butcher down to a 5er, perfect! When I got home, I googled some tips on how to cook the 'perfect' steak - in the past I have tended to over cook  steak, but this time I was taking no chances. 

So, from my internet research, here are some top tips for cooking the perfect steak:

1. Buy the best you can afford - the best is sirloin, which should have been hung for 21 days+ by the butchers/supermarket
2. Look out for a steak which appears to be marbled - the 'marbling' is little veins of fat which add to the flavour
3. Take your steak out of the fridge and into room temperature about 30 minutes before cooking
4. Fry your steak in a thick-bottomed frying pan, non-stick if possible, so the outside can get nice and brown
5. Before cooking, rub olive oil, salt and pepper into the steak. You shouldn't need to add any other oil to the pan!
6. Make sure the pan is at the right temperature - you should be able to hold your hand over the pan without it feeling too hot, but if it just feels warm then turn up the heat. Your steak should sizzle when it hits the pan!
7. Don't cook more than two steaks in a pan at once. Any more than this, and the steaks will just stew rather than fry
8. Once cooked, leave the steak to rest on a hot plate for 5 minutes. This allows it to continue cooking and lets the juices flowww, improving the flavour and texture

what's going on with my wrist (or lack of) here?!

How long do you cook it for?
This is very open to interpretation and depends on the individual and how you like your steak cooked. Even the rare/medium rare/medium/well done distinction can depend on restaurant and chef, so it can be a bit of a minefield! As I say I like my steak pretty rare, so the above steak I cooked for 2.5 minutes on each side. If you like it more 'medium' then cook for between 3 and 4 minutes on each side, and if you prefer your steak more well done then about 5-6 minutes on each side. 

What about extras?
Personally, I am pretty traditional and like my steak with chips (I prefer to make my own chips or wedges but today I was feeling lazy!) and steamed veg; brocolli, asparagus and green beans. Alternatively, you could have it with sautéed potatoes, sweet potato wedges, roasted new potatoes, mash... the list is endless!  

In terms of sauces, again I like to keep it simple - either as it comes, or with some garlic butter. You can always cook it in the garlic butter to add to the flavour! I find sauces, especially béarnaise, just mask the flavour of the steak and can be a bit sickly. But again, in terms of options you've got loads - peppercorn, Diane, fried onions, gravy, stilton or blue cheese sauce...

For afters?! Well, I finished my meal off with rather delicious slice of treacle tart!

How do you like your steak? 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

comfort eating

Cheesy chicken

This recipe was one of my Nan's signature dishes, along with steak and kidney pie and a bloody good roast. Since she taught me how to make it when I went to Uni, it has become my ultimate comfort food; it is by no means healthy, but tastes delicious and is easy to throw together. Now, whenever we make this we think of my Nan and lots of happy memories. Cheesy chicken is part of her legacy!

You will need:
2 chicken breasts
2 packets of cheese and onion crisps
a generous knob of butter
grated cheese
mixed herbs 

Shis will serve two people! You basically need one chicken breast and one packet of crisps per person. 

To start, melt a large knob of butter in a pan. Crush the crisps into small pieces and pour into a bowl. Add the butter. Mix together until all the crisps are coated, and add some mixed herbs. Place the (uncooked) chicken in a oven-proof dish and cover with the crisp topping. 

Cover the dish loosely with foil, and put into the oven (approx 180C) for about 20 minutes. 

After 20 minutes, remove from the oven and top the crisp mixture with grated cheese. Add as much or as little as you want! Put back in the oven (without foil) for about 10-15 minutes.

 Remove from the oven, and check the chicken is cooked all the way through. Serve with roasted new potatoes and steamed veg. 

Variations: you could add anything to the crisp topping; finely chopped (cooked) bacon or chorizo are pretty tasty additions!

This is how I do my roasted new potatoes:

Steam small new potatoes (skin on) for about 15 minutes until pretty much cooked. Remove, and put into a baking tray with some oil, balsamic vinegar and rock salt. Shake it all together and put in the oven for 15 minutes (I put these in when the chicken goes back in with cheese on) until crispy! 


Sunday, 5 August 2012

bookworm #9

Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

So as you can tell, this was one of my holiday reads! I read 50 Shades of Grey, followed by Sushi for Beginners (Marian Keyes) in record time and was left with 2 days left and nothing to read. Nightmare! Luckily, the apartment we were staying in had a well stocked bookshelf for me to take my pick from. And this is what I chose! I recognised the title and think I actually read this when I was younger, as the front cover and the blurb on the back looked and sounded familiar. After reading the book I realised that the book was also adapted into a child-friendly version called Chinese Cinderella. I remember absolutely loving the book at the time, so it was great to read the 'grown up' version to fill the gaps. 

Falling Leaves is a true story based on the childhood and life of Adeline Yen Mah, growing up with her Father and Step-Mother in China. A review by Jung Chang (the author of Wild Swans) describes this book as "a vivid portrait of the human capacity for meanness, malice... and love", and I think this really sums up Falling Leaves. We are told by Adeline how she was mistreated by her parents and siblings not only as a child but throughout her whole life - there really are some awful moments which make you wonder how anyone (let alone a parent) can be so cruel. But, as Chang says, Falling Leaves also shows moments of love and tenderness, especially through Adeline's description of her relationship with Grandfather YeYe and Aunt Baba. 

Falling Leaves not only tells the story of Adeline's neglectful parents, but also gives an insight into life in China at the time of the civil war. If you have read Wild Swans, you will be able to make connections between the two and have a good idea of some of the hideous conditions people had to live in, and regimes they were forced to live under. I must admit I didn't finish Wild Swans; I read about three quarters and then gave up! Falling Leaves is sort of an abridged version of Wild Swans, starting through the eyes of a young girl who grows up and moves to London, America and Hong Kong. 

I really enjoyed this book... I read it in less than 48 hours! As I say, there are some really harrowing tales, but at the same time stories of hope and perseverance. You can't help but empathise with Adeline - as it is told in the first person you really take on some of the hurt and pain she suffered, which is testament to how well this book is written. As a child I loved Chinese Cinderella, and as a 'grown up' Falling Leaves just develops this story by putting it in a wider setting with an equally strong storyline. A must read, especially if you are interested in the social and political history of China. 

Have you read Falling Leaves? Or Chinese Cinderella?

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