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Do you struggle with guessing how well done your steak is? Do you make a calculated guess based on thickness of the steak, heat of the fire, and a length of time to the desired doneness? Sometimes that works, but often it fails dismally. So, is there a better way? How do steak houses seemly get it right every time? Have you noticed that they don’t poke them with meat thermometers? Any time you poke a hot steak you let all those delicious juices run out into the plate where they are wasted. Professional chefs can tell when a steak is done just by feeling it, and you can learn how to do the touch test too.

Chefs have developed four primary “touch” methods, including the “Face Test,” where the firmness of the steak is compared to various areas of the face. But, we don’t like the idea of our cooks touching their face while they’re cooking food, so we are going to discuss three other methods that use hands, which are more likely to be clean every time. Each of these methods takes a bit of practice, which is a great reason to cook (and eat) more steak.

Spring Back Touch Method

  1. Lightly press the center of the steak with your thumb. If it feels really soft, or jelly-like, it is still rare.
  2. When the center of a steak has a little more resistance and just springs right back, its perfectly medium rare. (It’s important that it springs back!).
  3. If it’s just firm and hard, and has no springiness, it’s well done (overcooked, in our humble opinion).

Fist Touch Method

  1. First, make a relaxed fist. The fleshy area of your hand between your thumb and forefinger is soft, which is how a rare steak feels.
  2. Now, slightly clench your fist. It will feel a little firmer, like medium doneness.
  3. The last step: Clench your fist tightly, and that area will feel like well-done meat.

Palm of the Hand Method
Palm tests for steak doneness
We like this one best: Here’s how to do the Palm method:

  1. Hold your hand out, palm up, and relaxed. Poke your hand by the base of the thumb with your other index finger. This is what raw meat feels like.
  2. Now, make an OK sign with your hand by touching your forefinger and thumb together. Feel the same part of your hand. It’s a little firmer. This is how meat feels when it’s rare.
  3. Move your other fingers to your thumb in the following order. As you do, you’ll notice the pad of your hand will get progressively firmer:
  4. Touch your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. That’s how a medium rare steak feels.
  5. Next, touch the tip of your ring finger to your thumb. This is what a medium-well will feel like.
  6. Lastly, touch your pinkie to your thumb. That’s the equivalent of a well-done steak.

Both these methods are fairly easy, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll cook perfect steaks every time.

Sound sound too complicated? It really isn’t, but we realize that the touch method can appear to be, until you get some practice in. In the meantime, if you would rather continue using an instant read thermometer, here are the temperatures for doneness:

  • Extra Rare – 115-120 degrees
  • Rare – 125-130 degrees
  • Medium Rare – 135-140 degrees
  • Medium 145-150 degrees
  • Medium-Well – 155-160 degrees
  • Well Done – 165 degrees

What happens if the steak has a gorgeous crust, but the temperature clocks in too low? It’s time for pan roasting! Fire up the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees F. Meanwhile, put your steak on a roasting rack on a baking sheet with sides. Stick it in the oven. It’ll finish cooking without getting too dark.

For other insights into proper techniques for cooking that delicious piece of steak, see our notes on 7 Tips to Cooking Great Steaks.

Christmas morning is a time that you shouldn’t have to spend any more time in the kitchen than you want too. Here is a small collection of some of the dishes we would have at our house when our children, and then the grandchildren, would come to spend Christmas eve with us.

Walton House B&B Christmas Table SettingAfter the children were tucked into bed, adults set the breakfast table and prepared some casserole dishes that could be slipped into the refrigerator over night, and then into the oven in the morning. Buttered toast and hot chocolate were served first thing Christmas morning while we admired with anticipation all the presents under the tree. After opening our presents, the aromas coming from the kitchen foretold a delicious brunch featuring some of our favorite dishes.

Homemade Hot Chocolate with Buttered Toast
Hot Chocolate with Buttered Toast Sliced for DippingHomemade hot chocolate mix makes it really easy to make a warm, comforting, drink for everyone with very little fuss. Hot chocolate with buttered toast sliced for dipping was always a family favorite for early Christmas morning. We also kept a quart jar of the mix in the guest coffee area at our bed and breakfast so guests could enjoy a cup by one of the fireplaces any time they wanted. Get the recipe here.

Egg and Breakfast Sausage Casserole
Egg and Breakfast Sausage CasseroleWe made this a number of times on Christmas eve for our Christmas morning brunch. It’s always fun to get everyone in the kitchen mixing and preparing casseroles late Christmas eve after the children were in bed. Come morning, it is so nice to be able to pop everything in the oven, and then take a break from opening gifts and sit down to a great meal. We always had this with the Good Potato Casserole. Get the recipe here.

Egg and Sausage Casserole with Biscuit Mix
Egg & Cheese CasseroleThis is Larry’s recipe, which he developed during their Bed & Breakfast days. Using biscuit mix, rather than bread crumbs, it is loftier, and presents great eye appeal. It was always a hit with their B&B guests, and has the old familiar warmth of the Italian fragrance and flavors that really stimulated our appetites on Christmas morning. Get the recipe here.

Good Potatoes (Hash Brown Casserole)
Hashbrown Casserole with Chicken Soup and Corn FlakesTalk about wonderfully flavorful comfort food for those cold winter mornings! Using frozen hash brown potatoes, chicken soup, sour cream and cheese, topped with corn flake cereal, this dish is too simple for the wonderful aromas it creates. It can be prepared the night before, covered and refrigerated until morning! This is one of our favorites, and the entire family has delighted at this dish for many Christmas mornings. Get the recipe here.

Walton House Orange French Toast
pix-2008-walton-house-orange-french-toastLarry delighted a great many B&B guests with this delightful breakfast! It was the favorite of a lot of returning guests. We were amazed at how many people would remember exactly what they had eaten on a prior visit, and asked him to fix it again! The French toast in poached over medium low heat, and served upside down on a garnish of raspberry sauce, sprinkled with powered cinnamon-sugar, and topped with whipped cream. Get the recipe here.

Carrots, Potatoes and Onions
Fried Carrots, Potatoes & OnionsThis is a very simple, but comforting, dish that can be assembled very quickly, and with very little fuss, left on the stove top to cook over medium heat. The dish only needs to be turned over once when the bottom layer is cooked through and begins filling your home with delicious aromas. Originally this was fried in bacon grease for extra flavor, and has long been a long time family favorite. Get the recipe here.

Christmas Morning Coffee Cake (Monkey Bread)
Christmas Morning Coffee CakeOur family has enjoyed this Monkey Bread recipe several different times at Christmas; so much so that our granddaughters dubbed it Christmas Morning Coffee Cake. But, it would be a nice breakfast surprise any time! Simple to assemble and bake, it will become a favorite in your family, too. We’ve seen a lot of variations of this, but find that we keep coming back to this version. Caution….do not try to put more than the number of rolls called for in this recipe, as they may spillover while rising. Here’s our recipe.

It seems like we keep really busy late in the year attending events and activities that involve food. Whether it’s a company party or a family get together, a welcome addition to any gathering is an appetizer. The term “appetizer” usually refers to a small plate or single bite of food served before the meal to stimulate the appetite. The same food item might be served as an hors d’oeuvres at cocktail parties and receptions, where no dinner is served afterward. There are many recipes freely available, and here are a few of our own.

Texican Street Corn Scoops
Texican Street Corn ScoopsThis is a delicious treat that accents the freshness of corn on the cob with butter, cheese and homemade Emeril’s Essence! Texican Street Corn Scoops are a terrific way to deliver wonderful flavors in a bite size finger food. We cook the ears of corn in the microwave for our Texican Street Corn to retain all the flavor and sweetness which other methods often cook out, and we show you how to create this flavorful bite size version that will bring them back for more. Get the recipe here.

Twice Baked Potato Skins
Twice Baked Potato Skins Treat the family to an oven baked potato recipe dish that has the ideal texture and taste. Load these twice backed potatoes with butter, sour cream, cheese, chives, and top with crumbled bacon. They boast the ultimate level of silky creaminess, cheesiness, and buttery goodness . . . then top it with bacon! The perfect recipe for your memorable Christmas meal! Many folks also enjoy smaller versions as finger food, whether served hot or cold. Get the recipe here.

Shrimp Boats
Shrimp In A BoatThe original recipe for this appetizer was a shrimp salad that dates back to the early 1970s when our next door neighbor, Karen Flessner, introduced this. She served the salad in a large bowl with a dipping spoon and snack crackers on the side so we could fix our own. This deliciousness can also be elevated to bite-size morsels served in tortilla cups, as we show here, or on crackers, croutons, or any other vessel that is available. Get the recipe here.

Curried Carrot and Pear Bites
Curried Carrot and Pear Bites with RaisinsAdapted from our Carrot and Pear Salad, this tasty morsel on a stick is a party of flavors in an attractive burst of colors. Combining a zesty marinade with the pallet-pleasing tastes of fresh pears and raisins is counterbalanced by the earthy tones of the carrot ribbons. This eye catcher is a favorite, and they are easy to assemble, so be sure to make plenty. Get the recipe here.

Fingerling Hasselback Potato Bites
Roasted cheddar potato fanThe Hasselback potato is clearly the most eye-catching spud to ever call itself a side dish. Elevate the baked potato into an eye-catching side dish or appetizer with these potatoes roasted in a hot oven to produce a crispy skin and creamy interior. Adding seasoning and cheese, these appetizers will leap off the serving tray. These are called “Hasselback” potatoes, which refers to the luxurious Hasselbacken hotel and restaurant in Stockholm, which originated this technique. Get the recipe here.

Rye Bread with Dill Dip
Dill Dip in Rye Bread LoafLarry’s mother got this dill dip recipe from a St. Louis grocery store that made it fresh daily. We have served it many times over the years, and it eventually found its way into a hollowed out loaf of rye bread. Break the center of the loaf into pieces and place around the loaf. When the broken pieces are gone you break bread from the loaf itself. Enjoy! Get the recipe here.

Roasted Cheddar and Bacon Jalapeno Poppers
Cheddar and Bacon Jalapeno PopperStems sliced down the middle give these jalapeno poppers additional eye appeal. Poppers are fun to experiment with and we like making these a variety of ways. This recipe uses flavored thick cut bacon, and a little bread or cracker crumbs to add a tiny bit of texture to the filling, to complement the crunchiness of the exterior. Get the recipe here.

Easy to assemble appetizers and hors d’oeuvres are fun to make, and even more fun when they become the hit of the party. Try putting together one or more of these for your next get together, and let us know how it went. Have a favorite you’d like to tell us about? We always enjoy hearing from you!

Pitch-in (or, Carry-in) dinners are fun! We always enjoy getting together with friends and family, and when we can do it over food, that’s an even better good time! One of the reasons we enjoy those dinners so much is because of the variety of dishes that we find on the table(s). We might get a chance to try two or three versions of the same dish, and wonder at the variety of flavors that were mixed up. Here are a few of our recipes that offer up a little, sometimes whimsical, fun in being just a bit different than the regular dishes.

Rye Bread with Dill Dip
Dill Dip in Rye Bread LoafOur extended family started serving this treat several years ago. Marjorie, Larry’s mother, got the dill dip recipe from a grocery store that made this fresh daily, and was one of their best selling products. We have served it many times over the last thirty years, and it is one of our family’s favorites. Hollow out the middle, fill it with dip, and break up the center you removed and place around the loaf. Find the recipe here.

Roasted Cheddar Potato Fans
Roasted cheddar potato fanOne dish we don’t often see at a carry-in dinner is baked potatoes due to the difficulty of transporting them safely. Here’s an innovative way to bring a stand-out dish that isn’t likely to be duplicated. These can be made from quite small potatoes, right down to fingerlings or bite-size Russets. Have fun with this one, and soak in the oohhs and aahhs when you put them out. Find the recipe here.

Spinach Artichoke Dip
Spinach Artichoke DeipThis is a silky textured dip that pairs perfectly with tortilla chips. I like to finish mine with a slice of mozzarella cheese and a little dried parsley before baking. I like to finish it with a little bit of browned cheese on top, just to add an additional dimension of flavor and color. Your fellow diners will appreciate the eye appeal of the cheese, and the additional hint of flavor from the parsley. This is going to be a hit! Here is the recipe.

Seasoned Olive Oil for Bread Dipping
Seasoned Olive Oil with Balsamic ReductionThis is a fun dish that folks return to time and again. Fill up a large dinner plate or platter with this dipping oil, season it up with any combination of flavors you prefer along with cubes of three or four types of bread, and you’ll have them coming back for thirds and fourths. Our favorite breads to dip include; ciabatta, baguettes, French loaf, focaccia bread, Italian bread, and bread sticks. Have fun with this one! Find our recipe here.

Green and Gold (Pea) Salad
Green and Gold Pea SaladThis is a recipe that Lea has used since her Junior High School days. She made this in her Home Economics class when she was in the seventh grade. It’s a fun dish, easy to put together, and always brings “yums” when it is uncovered at carry-ins. Silky smooth and earthy in flavor, this is sure to become a favorite with your family. The recipe is here.

And, just for fun: Purple Pickled Eggs
pix-2008-purple-pickled-eggsOur family really loves these pickled eggs, and we used to make up a batch of them each year at Christmas time when our far-flung family got to be together at our bed and breakfast, the Asher Walton House! We printed up funny labels for the eggs, and that always adds to the fun. Boiled eggs and beets get evenly mixed, in a glass container, with sweet-sour mixture, horseradish and cloves to deliver great flavor and a bright purple color. This dish always strikes up a lot of conversation. Enjoy! Here’s the recipe.

All those wonderfully eye-pleasing entrees we prepare, whether roasted, braised, or sauteed, are made better by the sauces that bring that extra measure of flavor and moistness to the plate. From savory to sweet, the sauce often is the jewel in the crown of your starring dish.

French “Mother” Sauces
Lea ladles sauce There are five basic sauces from which hundreds of other derivative sauces can be developed. Sauces are liquids that are usually thickened in some way, and are used to 1) add moistness, 2) provide a finishing flavor, 3) add richness, or, 4) enhance the attractiveness of the dish. At the foundation of every sauce is usually a flavored or seasoned liquid with a thickening agent added in. You can find the recipes for these essential basic sauces here.

Red Wine Reduction (Pan Sauce)
Pan Sauce on Pork Loin Medallions When you turn the steak or chop you’re searing, or roast you’re browning, you’ll see some cooked seasoning and brown bits left in the bottom of the pan and floating in the liquid. This is called fond, and it delivers great goodness in a pan sauce to go over your steak or chop, or to finish your roast. You can find the technique for creating a delicious pan sauce from the fond right here.

Shrimp Cocktail Sauce
Classic Shrimp CocktailHardly anything excites the pallet upon first sight more than the classic shrimp cocktail, which is elegant by its very nature. Our simple recipe will help you serve an outstanding, flavorful, sauce that is robust without being overly hot. Buy your prepared horseradish the way you want to serve it: Very hot, hot, medium, or mild. By letting the manufacturer prepare it, you eliminate the guess work. Get the recipe https://morecooking.net/misc/shrimp-cocktail-sauce/

Raisin Sauces
Apple Pie with Rum Raisin SauceClassic raisin sauces have been around for as long as anyone can remember. Leaving grapes out to dry in the sun and air is one of the oldest methods of preserving them by turning them into raisins. Raisins and dried fruits are simple, wholesome foods, grown by nature and used basically the same way for thousands of years. We have some raisin sauces to spice up that fruit pie, baked ham, or to turn ice cream into something extraordinary. Here is the Rum Raisin Sauce, Raisin Sauce (No Rum), and the classic Raisin Sauce for Ham.

Sauces really elevate many dishes to a whole new level of eye appeal and flavor. Stir some up, and enjoy the comments of your diners.

Pat's Spicey Saltine CrackersIn the sweltering summer of 2016, Lea and I drove from our home in Central Texas to our childhood hometown to attend her family’s annual reunion at the “Homeplace” in rural northeast Missouri. The Homeplace is a 3-acre plot of land deep in the woods, miles from town, purchased by her great-grandfather, George Austin Tate, in 1891. Her grandfather was born in the cabin there, as was her own father. The property now belongs to her and her siblings.

Each summer we gather from all parts of the country for the weekend gathering, which is centered around catching up with each other’s activities, our children and their families, and of course, food. In fact, food is one of the primary topics of discussion, as many members in the family are cooks, and some grow big gardens and can the produce they grow. Everyone brings a dish or two for the main pitch-in lunch, and it is always a challenge to get everything crowded onto your plate.

This year we had quite a discussion around one of the snack treats Pat had made, spicy (some heat) saltine crackers. Spicy Oyster CrackersKathy, however, said she preferred to make them with Oyster crackers. And, the debate was on! Pat likes the saltines because you can hold them between your finger and thumb without getting messy spice all over your palm. Kat, on the other hand, (pun intended), likes the oyster crackers because you get more of the flavoring with each bite, which tends to hide the pasty flavor of the cracker.

Dill Oyster CrackersIf you’re interested in a version of the oyster crackers without any heat, check out Deb’s Dill Oyster Crackers. We served these when we ran a Bed and Breakfast, and they made an excellent snack for our guests. We served them both ways, baked and unbaked, and guests loved them both.
 
So, which do you like? Have you tried these, or a variation that you like? Send us your favorite recipes with comments, and we’ll post it here on the site.

Do you often wonder which spice goes with what, or how to choose those that combine well? Check out our spice page, which is helping cooks of all ages learn some of the basics.

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