Chatelaine Kitchen

Ask Claire: Cooking tips and entertaining advice from Chatelaine's food editor

Chatelaine's food editor, Claire Tansey, has tips on how to test the doneness of your meat, suggests the one meal you should master this summer and advises on the importance of dessert

Dear Claire, What is one meal that I can perfect this summer that is an easy, make-ahead dish that I can proudly serve to friends and perhaps even wow them?

A: No question: Cedar-planked salmon. I get chills (and my mouth waters) just mentioning it. Not only is it the absolute most delicious way to prepare salmon, it’s also dead-easy, pretty foolproof and fantastic hot off the grill, chilled or at room temperature. Even kids like it!

You’ll need to find untreated cedar planks. Most grocery stores carry them, so do fish shops. Soak it for at least an hour, or preferably overnight, in cold water (I use my big cooler as the soaking tub). Then use with the recipe.

And if you’ve got visitors from far away, it’s a truly Canadian dish that they’ll dream about after they leave. Make it even more Canadian by substituting the brown sugar for maple syrup. Serve it with a big green salad and some boiled new potatoes. Then call me – I’ll be right over!

Dear Claire, Do I always have to serve dessert when guest come over for dinner? Do I!?

A: You’re not going to like this answer but yes. When you invite friends or family over for dinner, you need to offer something sweet after the meal. But no need to book yourself into a year-long pastry course, yet. You’re well within your rights if you serve best quality, store-bought vanilla ice cream in pretty dishes. Easy. Add fresh fruit and you’re a star. Add our easy chocolate sauce and your guests will rave. Add our killer caramel and they’ll never leave.

But in the summer and fall when farmers’ markets are bursting, I usually serve a fruit crisp. My favourite is the peach crisp recipe. I’ve cranked out so many of these that I know the recipe by heart. This crisp topping works over peaches, plums, thinly sliced apples, rhubarb and berries. Serve it warm with a bit of coffee cream or ice cream and then smile while your guests lose their minds with delight.

Dear Claire, How can I tell when meat or fish is cooked? My technique usually makes a mess of it.

A: Not to worry! Take a trick or two from restaurant chefs. To test if your steaks are done, try this: touch the steak firmly with your finger. Now touch your cheek – if the steak feels as soft and yielding as your cheek, then it’s rare. If it feels almost firm, like the tip of your chin, it’s medium. And if it feels like the tip of your nose, it’s well done.

If you don’t want to get so touchy-feely with your dinner, invest in a high-quality instant-read thermometer (I like the digital ones best). Rare meat reads 140F, medium is 160F and well done is 170F.

For fish, use either a small, thin paring knife or (even better) a thin metal skewer. Poke it into the fish and count five “steamboats.” Now immediately touch the skewer to your lower lip. If it’s hot, the fish is cooked through. If you like your fish a little more on the medium side, the skewer should feel warm (not hot). Hungry? Try my favourite steak recipe, or my favourite grilled fish.


If you have a question for Claire, please leave it in the comment space below or you can email her at: