Your steak has already been killed.

This post isn’t going to have some silly story to start it off with. The purpose of this post is to prevent something that happens all of the time from happening again…killing dead meat. I’m sure I will catch some flak from some vegans out there, but if you like a good steak, you will read on.

It looks even better on the inside.

The first and foremost problem is heat control. The whole process of bringing something from the temperature of your refrigerator to an edible and safe temperature can be a daunting task I know, but we’ll get through this together. These steps apply to just about any cut of meat that doesn’t take 4 hours of roasting to tenderize. Filet mignon, ribeye, New York strip, flank, etc… It should also be noted that these rules cover thick cut pork chops too, just cook them to at least 145 degrees (the FDA just lowered the safe temp on pork).

Step 1: Buy good steaks. Ask the butcher to cut what you want, since what he cut yesterday and  is already in the case isn’t quite thick/thin enough. Sure, they will cost some good coin, but it will still be half the cost of an fancy place that sounds like Roofs Christ, which is essentially overpriced meat with a stick of butter.

Step 2: Bring the meat to room temperature. Let it sit out of the fridge for at least 30 minutes (turn a bowl over on it if you’re worried about bugs or whatever getting to it). This will prevent having a raw center and a well done outer layer of the steak. You should be able to get medium-rare the whole way through.

Step 3: Dry off the meat with paper towels and season just before cooking. This helps make a good sear. When seasoning, take the thickness of the cut into account. The thicker the cut, the more salt/seasoning it needs. Seasoning is a personal preference, however I do stay away from the pre-mixed spice concoctions as a steak should taste like meat.

Step 4: Use a fat or oil with a high smoke point (no olive oil). I use bacon grease or canola oil.

Step 5: For thick cuts (over an inch thick) I sear over high heat and then oven roast in a cold pan at 300 degrees until I achieve the correct doneness. Putting the steak in a cold pan before the oven prevents overcooking one side of the steak. For thinner cuts, I use medium pan heat and only turn it over once, no oven.

Step 6: After you have made this long journey to greatness, let the steak take a break before you eat it (5-10 minutes). This will prevent the juiciness from running all over you plate. Besides, it was killed, cut, burned and is about to be eaten… Let it have a rested farewell.

DO NOT poke the steak with anything other than a thermometer while cooking, only use a thermometer if you don’t know how to test doneness by touching the steak. There is a way to compare the firmness of your palm to the steak to tell doneness. I recommend using a thermometer first, and practicing the “firmness test” to get it right.

DO NOT smash the steak down with a spatula, brick or anything for that matter. Just let the thing cook would ya?

DO NOT cook a filet well-done, I will personally tell your butcher to stop wasting good meat on you.

DO NOT do this in a non-stick pan. The high heat you need is too high for Teflon and it will turn into a gas that will make you sick. Use either stainless, anodized, or cast iron cookware. These types of pans also encourage the development of “fond”. Fond is the French term for the browned bits you get in the pan by searing a steak, which help add a lot of flavor to sauces.

The recipe for this post is one of my favorites and is my usual go-to for having people over. It is spicy, but the port sauce adds a sweetness to it that keeps everybody eating. Have plenty of red wine to wash it all down. The only downside to the recipe is that it creates a hell of a lot of smoke while you are essentially burning peppercorns, so if you don’t have a good exhaust fan, open some windows- stat.

Drum roll please…. Recipe for: Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon with a Port Cream reduction (for 4 lucky people).

Ingredients:

4 Filet Mignon steaks around 8-10 ounces each or about 2 inches thick

1 Tbls bacon fat

1 Tbls whole black peppercorns lightly crushed in a bag with a rolling pin or buzzed in a coffee mill

Salt/Onion Powder/Garlic Powder

1 Cup Port Wine (I use Fonseca Bin 27)

1/4 Cup heavy cream

Pre-heat oven to 300. You should have taken the steaks out of the fridge already, like half an hour ago, did you!? If the steaks are wrapped in bacon, remove the bacon and cook it over medium heat to render out the fat in a stainless skillet large enough to fit all of your meat. Leave the fat in the pan and eat the bacon when nobody is looking.

Season the steaks liberally with salt, onion powder and garlic. Put the crushed peppercorns on a small plate and shake the plate to make an even layer. Press the steaks gently into the peppercorns so they stick to the meat. Heat the skillet with the bacon fat to high heat until it is just barely smoking.

Turn on your fans, place the steaks in the hot pan and sear for two minutes per side (do this in two batches if your skillet isn’t big enough). Remove steaks and put them in another cold, oven safe pan. Pour off any excess grease from the skillet, but leave any burnt bits or peppercorns in there, then return the skillet to medium heat. If you have a splatter screen, now is the time to use it… Pour in the Port, it will steam, hiss and scare the pets, this is ok. If you have gas burners you may want to turn off the flame to avoid it igniting and melting the door of your microwave off. Once it calms down, using a whisk, break up all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and bring it to a light boil to reduce.

Place the steaks in the oven and bake until an internal temperature of 125 degrees is reached; it should be about 10 minutes, but use your thermometer. While the steaks are in the oven keep an eye on your sauce, making sure you maintain a high simmer whisking occasionally, as the liquid reduces, you will need less heat and it will burn easily. Once the wine has reduced by half, you will see the bubbles start stacking up on each other; when you whisk it, you will start seeing the bottom of your pan. Turn the heat down to low and whisk in the cream. Taste it. Does it need salt? Is it too runny and it needs to reduce more? Is it too thick and you need to add more wine? Figure it out. Keep it on low heat until the steaks are done (which this takes about 10 minutes, oddly about the same time it takes to bake the steaks).

Once you have reached 125 degrees, remove steaks from oven and wrap in foil and DO NOT touch them for 10 minutes. The temperature will coast up to a perfect medium rare and I will not tell you how to cook filet to any other temperature, sorry.

Pour your sauce onto four plates, unwrap steaks and set them in your little puddle of sauce. Any juices accumulated in the foil can be poured over the top of the steaks or sopped up with a dinner roll. Cut into your steak, show your friends and bask in glory. If you have any unfortunate souls with you that want their steak cooked more, show them how to use the microwave ruin the steak and don’t have them over ever again.


Dos Pollo Enchiladas, Por Favor

Dos Amigos!

If you have read this blog so far you may have noticed a combination of staple dishes from different cuisines. Truth be told, Italian is my favorite to cook, but “Tex-Mex” is in close second. As Jim Gaffigan says: “Mexican food is all the same- tortilla, cheese, meat or vegetables. You just cook it in different ways.” The only flaw with this bit is that he should refer to it as Tex-Mex. Now I don’t know about you, but the above mentioned ingredients are pretty much my favorite things, regardless of how simple the combinations of them can be.

One good thing about Tex-Mex is that you can make it at home on a weekenight, contrary to true Mexican food. REAL Mexican food (not what you get at “The Bell”)  involves things like mole’ that has 20 ingredients in it, takes hours to make and years to perfect. And when was the last time you roasted a quail? Hmmm? When have you made a tres leches cake?  We Americans have actually created so many shortcuts for Mexican food that it, well, is easy. Not to say that this is a bad thing- just different.

I have been making this enchilada recipe for quite some time. I make my own enchilada sauce, and you should too; just remember to get good spices as mentioned in a previous post. Other than that, it pretty much involves throwing the whole thing together and baking it, or you can split up the batch and freeze them (for 2 people, this recipe is perfect for 2 dinners). Another bonus is that I use one of those rotisserie chickens from my local stupermarket.  You can use the breast meat for the enchiladas and the dark meat for say, chicken salad, or just snack while you cook…

Chicken enchiladas: Enough to feed 4

  • 1 rotisserie chicken, breast meat removed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 15 oz can black beans drained and rinsed
  • 1 4 oz can of chopped green chiles
  • 1 small yellow onion diced
  • 8 taco size flour tortillas (8 inchers)
  • 8 oz block of cheddar shredded
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • fresh cillantro for garnish
  • sour cream for garnish 

For the enchilada sauce:

  • 3 Tbls vegetable oil
  • 4 Tbls chili powder
  • 2 Tbls flour
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp Mexican oregano
  • 1/4 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1 can low sodium chicken broth

Method:

Preheat oven to 425. In a skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium low heat. Cook diced onion and green chiles with a pinch of salt and pepper until the onion is slightly softened. Turn the heat off and add the chopped chicken. Stir to combine and set aside to cool.

For the sauce: In a small saucepot, heat oil over medium heat, add in all of the spices and flour at once (pre-measure into a seperate bowl). Stir constantly for 1 minute, the spice/flour mixture will resemble a dark paste. Dump in the chicken broth and whisk until everything combines and there isn’t any lumps of spices. Bring to a boil over high heat and then lower the heat to maintain a rapid simmer. Reduce the sauce until it slightly thickens (about 10-15 minutes), then remove from heat.

Assembly: Lay out a tortilla and spread a small small spoonful of the sauce right down the middle. Add some of the chicken/onion/chile mixture next, then the beans and finally some of the cheese. Roll up the enchilada and place it seam side down in a lightly greased 9 X 13 baking dish (I use glass). Continue this until you get about 8 enchiladas. You should have sauce and cheese leftover. Lightly spray the tops of the enchiladas with cooking spray (this makes the tortillas crispy). Bake at 425 for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and lower the heat to 350. Drizzle the leftover sauce all over the top of the enchiladas and top with more cheese. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the edges are slightly browned. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh cillantro and sour cream.


Don’t be crabby…

Too many smashed fingers from little wooden mallets? Still hungry after an hour of prying miniscule pieces of meat from stubborn shells? Wondering why you are surrounded by a pile of dead carcasses? Well, sounds like you need to put the mallet down and learn how to make some crab cakes!

I’ve been to my share of Maryland crab feasts. Sure, they are great for sitting around socializing and eating other things to fill up on; but lets face it, I want to have a full belly of crab. Maryland blue crab cakes can be made anywhere now, thanks to hand-picked cans of crab meat bought at your local seafood counter. This saves you a ton of time, not to mention the people who pick the crabs are much better at it than you or I (this means less shells to pick out of your teeth).

After spending Labor Day weekend in Baltimore for the Indycar race, the smell of Old Bay spice everywhere I went reminded me it was time to write this post. I am pretty sure they melt the snow and ice on Baltimore roads with Old Bay in the wintertime…

Recipe for Maryland crab cakes with chipotle lime mayo sauce. Good for 4 tennis ball sized cakes.

  • 1/2 lb jumbo lump crab meat
  • 1/2 lb backfin crab meat
  • 8 Ritz crackers crushed
  • 1/4 C mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbls honey dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbls whole grain mustard
  • 1 tsp sri racha hot sauce
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 Tbls diced chives
  • 1 egg
  • Olive oil for basting.

Preheat oven to 450. Combine all ingredients except for the olive oil in a large bowl and gently toss to combine. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to let the flavors get to know each other. Scoop a handful of the mixture, gently form into a ball and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes. Remove crab cakes and drizzle with olive oil. Fire up your broiler and broil the cakes until browned and crusty on top. Sprinkle extra chives on top and serve with chipotle mayo sauce.

Chipotle Mayo Sauce:

  • 1/4 C mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • juice from half a lime

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth and incorporated.


Dreams really do come true!

Heaven

It was a quiet Tuesday, until I got a post on Facebook from the New Belgium Brewing company. Nevermind the earthquake we had or the hurricane that was on the way; they started selling Fat Tire beer in Maryland! My favorite beer, that I have traveled far and wide to get, is finally available in my home state.

I first discovered this tasty brew when I was in college. At that time, Fat Tire wasn’t distributed anywhere east of the Mississippi River. From Carbondale Illinois, we would drive to Missouri to get a keg of it for special occasions (birthdays, end of the semester, etc). Other than that, I had to rely on the rare occasion that someone would visit me from where it was sold, and hope they remembered to bring me some. There are several flavors of beer that New Belgium makes, all of which are good, but the toasty amber ale that Fat Tire is rings my beer bells. If you can get it, buy some today (no, I’m not getting paid to say this).

To celebrate the new arrival I decided to combine two of my favorite things: beer and cheese. Home made soft pretzel bites and beer cheese dip to be exact. Obviously, this snack is good for just about any situation, such as breakfast, lunch or dinner. Just be sure to have a cold frosty one to wash it all down with.

Home made soft pretzels (adapted from a recipe by Alton Brown)

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside. 

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

 In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Cut dough into 1 inch pieces and place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 10 at a time, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Fat Tire cheese dip, aka: Heaven

  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese
  • 1 8 oz block of sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 1/2 cup Fat Tire beer (or another amber ale)
  • 1 1/2 Tbls prepared horseradish
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp salt

In a bowl microwave cream cheese for 45 seconds or until extremely soft and smooth. Stir in beer, horseradish, garlic, chipotle and salt. Microwave again for 45 seconds and gradually stir in the shredded cheese a little bit at a time. Microwave again as necessary to just barely melt the cheese and make the sauce smooth.


Wanna See my Mussels?

No, this isn’t a ticket to the “gun show”… This is one of those dishes that you usually see in upscale restaurants.  But you can make this at home, cheap and easy.

The first time I had mussels was at a little French restaurant in Bethesda, MD. The salty and meaty taste of the mussels themselves, along with sopping up an entire loaf of French bread in the broth almost made my appetite for the main course go away (almost). Per usual, I decided I could make these at home for a lot less money, and just as tasty! You can serve these as an appetizer, or main course, setting the big pot you cooked them in at the center of the table and fighting over space to sop your bread in.

The most challenging part of cooking mussels is, well, buying them. This is one item that I will go the extra mile to find as fresh as possible. You may see them in plastic net bags at your regular grocery store, which I usually find many of them broken or dead. If you have a seafood counter with a guy nice enough to pick them out by hand, that is your best bet. Always cook them the same day you buy them and if you aren’t cooking them right away, put them in a bowl with a damp towel over them in the fridge. Regardless, DO NOT leave them in a plastic bag or you will kill ‘em all (that is only good if you’re listening to Metallica). You can usually pick out the dead ones by their hollow sound when you tap them on the counter. Also, if they are slightly open, they should clam up when you tap on them. Before cooking, scrub them under running water and pull the little “beards” off. If any don’t open while cooking, discard those too. The good news is that these little buggers are only about 4 bucks a pound! I usually cook around 2 lbs for an entrée for two, or appetizer for four people. The most expensive part of this will be the wine you cook them in (if you buy “cooking wine” I will haunt you every time you do it). Just get wine that is good to drink too, please!

A steamy bowl of goodness

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Recipe for steamed mussels: For 2 as an entrée or 4 as an appetizer.
Shopping list:
2 lbs mussels, debearded and scrubbed clean
2 Tbs unsalted REAL butter
1/2 Cup minced shallots
2 Tbs minced garlic
1 Cup dry white wine (whatever you're drinkin')
1 Cup Italian parsley chopped, plus extra for garnish
1 Cup cream
Sea salt and pepper to taste 

No silly little forks needed!

In a large dutch oven, melt butter and saute shallots until soft over medium heat, add garlic and cook 1 more minute.  Throw in the mussels, wine, cream and parsley and once it starts to steam up, put a lid on it  (a clear lid is great to see as they open up). Check them after about four minutes and take the mussels out as they open and place in a bowl. If after 9 minutes any are still closed, throw them away. Maintain heat for a high simmer until your sauce reduces a little bit (about 5 minutes). Taste it as you go and don’t add salt until the very end (the mussels are salty and reducing the liquid will also make it saltier).
Take your cooked mussels and any juice they let go along with the broth and pour it all  into a serving bowl (or the pot you cooked in). Garnish with more parsley and fresh pepper. 


Why yes, you do need a meat slicer.

Roast beef, cheddar and horseradish mayo

There you are with a little ticket in your hand with the number 962. You look up at the “Now Serving” sign, 843. Yes, you are at the deli counter of pretty much any stupermarket around. You notice that all of those oval shaped meat products (shapes unlike any animal I’ve ever seen, besides my cat)  in the case are somewhere between 9 and 14 dollars a pound. Then you read about sodium, nitrates, nitrites, blah blah blah. What are you doing here!?! Why are you standing in line for something that costs so much and is bad for you? Convenience.  Now trust me, I can relate on many levels of wanting to do things easier, but deli meat isn’t one of them.  With the right tools, you can create your own sandwiches in no time. I’m not saying you need to go buy one of those 10 inch blade chrome model meat slicers. I got mine for 80 bucks, and it works great for cheese (cheaper in block form), slicing vegetables for pizzas or slaw, and raw beef-ribeye for cheese steaks. Other than the slicer, you need a probe thermometer (15 bucks) and a syringe of some sort. The syringe can come in the form of a “flavor injector” from an unmentioned kitchen store for 30 bucks, or a large gauge hypodermic from, say, medical personnel you may know (for free).

Now, I know what you are thinking….Where the HE** am I going to PUT a meat slicer? Well, the bread machine can go. The smoothie machine parked next to a perfectly good blender can go. The 5 boxes of Ho-Hos can go. The margarita machine can go…..no wait, keep that. You get the point. I have figured that my slicer paid for itself within the first couple of months of having it. Just watch out for when beef round roasts go on sale for like 1.99 a pound or when whole turkey breasts are 7 bucks for a 3 pounder. I’m not hanging up whole hog legs in the basement (yet) but if you want ham, it is still cheaper to get it whole than pre-sliced. You can cut it as thick or thin as you want and then freeze it in “however many sandwiches you make a day portions”.

Recipe for: Deli rare roast beef

Shopping List:
2 1/2 - 3 lb Eye of round roast
Vegetable oil
For the brine:
1 Cup low sodium beef broth
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp pepper

This will only hurt for a second

Take the roast out of the fridge 1 hour before cooking so it will come to room temp. In a small saucepan, combine the broth and spices over low heat until the salt dissolves and you can smell the other spices. Using a syringe, pump the brine into the roast in multiple locations. Some of the brine will squirt out in various directions, so you may want to do this in the sink. Dry off the roast with paper towels, rub it with vegetable oil and then season the outside liberally with additional salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic.

Roasting with a probe thermometer

Preheat oven to 500 (if you haven’t cleaned your oven lately, you are about to). Place roast in a rack and bake at 500 for 20 minutes to get a nice crust on the outside. Take the roast out and lower oven temp to 225 leaving the door open to let the high heat out. Wrap the roast tightly in 3 layers of foil, insert a probe thermometer and bake until an internal temp of 120 degrees is reached which will be somewhere around 1 1/2 hours depending on your oven and size of roast. Take the roast out of the oven and leave it wrapped up in the foil and the temp will coast up to around 130 (medium rare). Do not unwrap it until the temp goes below 100 degrees. Put it in the fridge overnight and slice the next day (I know, this is tough).

My favorite sandwich using this roast beef  is a beef and cheddar with horseradish mayo. Just stir in a teaspoon of prepared horseradish into a 1/4 cup of mayo. Spread mayo on 2 pieces of bread, pile roast beef high and throw a couple of slices of thin sliced cheddar on it. Butter the outsides of the sandwich and grill until browned and the cheese melts.

Take that deli counter!


Das Best Stuffed Mushrooms

An ode to the Rathskeller

Scope out a giant picnic table, order an insane amount of sausages and kraut, along with a giant beer. Watch out for the mustards that will clear your sinuses in a hot minute. And did I mention the stuffed mushrooms? Damn these things are good! Covered with such gooey, melty cheese and filled with bacon; you could probably stretch a string of cheese from them the length of the table. This is what any Friday night at the Rathskeller’s biergarten in Indianapolis was for me when I lived there for about four years. I would do just about anything for these shrooms now, but…  Being a common sense oriented person, I realized that when I moved to D.C. it would not be very economical to fly or drive 600 miles every time I wanted these mushrooms. So I decided to try my best at recreating them. After much trial and error, these are pretty darn close. Maybe I just need to get one of those giant picnic tables…

A perfect game day snack (as in futbol or football) at your house or on the go. I have pre-made these up to a day ahead and just borrowed the oven wherever the party is.

Shopping list:

30-40 baby portabella mushrooms, stems popped out and rinsed clean
2 8 ounce packages of cream cheese at room temperature
2 shallots diced finely
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 4 ounce package cubed pancetta or 3 slices of good, thick bacon
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried oregano plus extra for garnish
salt to taste
1/2 pound sliced provolone, fresh sliced from the deli is ideal
1 cup grated parmesan cheese (better not come out of a green can)

Das Biergarten!

In a large mixing bowl (or bowl of your stand mixer), throw in cream cheese, parmesan, garlic powder, onion powder, chipotle, oregano and pepper. Meanwhile, in a small non-stick skillet over medium low heat, cook pancetta until it browns and the fat renders out. Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon and toss in the mixing bowl with the rest of your ingredients. Now, with the leftover fat from the pancetta, cook the shallots until barely softened (3 minutes), add in garlic and cook for one more minute. Remove shallots and garlic to a paper towel to get the excess grease out and then add them to the mixing bowl. Stir together well to incorporate the ingredients and taste for saltiness (the pancetta is very salty, so be careful). You can leave this filling as is, in the fridge for a couple of days if you’d like. Pop out stems and clean your mushrooms. Spoon your filling in until it is slightly mounded over the tops of them and place in a baking dish. Once your shrooms are all filled, cover them with overlapping pieces of the provolone (we want the cheese to melt down the sides too!). This would be where I’d stop and take them to a friend’s place. Preheat oven and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, then broil until the cheese browns (watch this part VERY carefully, really, don’t leave the oven). Once nicely browned, sprinkle a little extra oregano on top and let cool for 10 minutes. Guten Appetit!


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