Swiss steak

1 ½ lb. boneless beef round steak

3 tbsp. flour

2 stalks celery, sliced

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into rings

1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained

1/2 c. tomato sauce (for Texas style, use barbecue sauce)

1 tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

½ tsp. dried thyme leaves

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Cut meat into four serving-size pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then dust well with flour on both sides. Pound with tenderizing hammer on both sides.

In a heavy skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Brown meat on both sides and transfer to a 2-quart oven-safe casserole.

In the same skillet, combine celery, carrot, onion, tomatoes, tomato or barbecue sauce and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Pour tomato mixture over round steak, making sure to get all the yummy brown bits off the bottom of the skillet.

Bake for 1 hour. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serve over rice.

YIELD: 4 servings

You’ll notice that “Serve over rice.” at the end there. Rice cooking is one of those bits of kitchen voodoo that seems to elude a lot of folks, but it’s really not all that hard to do if you stick to the proper procedure.

First, the basics: for what I call “Average American Rice,” you’ll want a 2-1 ratio of water to long-grain white rice. You’ll need a good, heavy 2-quart saucepan (smaller for little batches). You’ll also need a timer of some sort. For rice cooking, I prefer my dollar-store “chicken” timer. For some reason, an operation as primitive as cooking rice seems to clash with the use of digital timers. It’s the voodoo.

For the above recipe, you’ll want four servings of rice. Depending on how big and hungry your diners are, that can vary between a half-cup and a full cup of rice per person. Your yield will be roughly equivalent to the amount of water plus the amount of rice. Thus if you use two cups of water and one cup of rice, you’ll end up with roughly three cups of cooked product.

I also add ½ tsp. of kosher salt per cup of water. Adding salt while the rice is cooking will result in a much tastier end product.

In your heavy saucepan, bring the salted water to a full, rolling boil. Dump the rice in all at once, stir it just to loosen the grains (no more than two rounds of the pan), cover the pan and reduce heat to medium-low.

Then LEAVE THE PAN ALONE for 25 minutes. Don’t open it. Don’t jiggle it. Avoid looking at it, if possible. After 25 minutes, remove the pan from the heat. Keep covered until ready to serve (up to 20 minutes). Fluff with fork before serving.

You will now have fluffy, perfectly cooked white rice. This is a creation that, for one reason or another, has mystified thousands of cooks for years. The procedure is not at all complicated, but it’s important that the steps be undertaken faithfully.

VARIATION : One VERY easy way to add flavor in advance is to prepare the rice with something other than straight water, such as beef or chicken stock. If using stock, omit the salt, as it’s already in there.

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