Archive for December, 2007

Pork? Sauerkraut? Black-eyed peas and greens? Cornbread? Pickled herring? What is your New Year’s Day guarantee of good luck?

For me growing up, it was a nice pork roast, cooked over and under a bed of sauerkraut. Lots of buttery mashed potatoes, and probably carrots, but the pork and sauerkraut were the biggies.

Lately, we have been having the pork and mashed potatoes, but as often as not, the sauerkraut is replaced with braised red cabbage, and the carrots with collard greens. Maybe some cornbread to sop up the nummy juices.

That’s what we’ll be having tomorrow, only no greens. Probably a tossed salad with lettuce and spinach will supply the green quotient for the meal.

I’d like to fix a dessert of some kind but am without inspiration as of 7:00 New Year’s Eve. So whatever it may be it will have to be made of something I have on hand, which gives it a lot of latitude, actually. I have a well stocked pantry. I should be able to come up with a dandy dessert.

Maybe we’ll have those trendy chocolate lava cakes. You know what I  mean, little cakes made of deep, dark chocolate and, when upended on a plate and you dig your spoon into them, the molten center of rich chocolate rolls out. Heaven.

I assume the cakes were initially a failure. Someone made these small individual servings of chocolate cake and the centers didn’t get quite done. The decision was made to serve them anyway. The name “Cakes with the not-quite-all-cooked-middles” didn’t sound right and the name “Lava Cakes” came to mind and it stuck.

Anyway, they are good, quite easy to prepare, and they can be started ahead of time, left in the frig and baked just before you want to serve them. Perfect.


[You can prepare these ahead unbaked if necessary. Keep them covered 2-4 hours in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before baking.]

Serves 4.

4 T. butter, room temperature, plus 1 T. to butter the muffin tins

3 eggs

1/3 c. flour

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely, and melted in bowl over pan of simmering water

1/4 t. salt, if using unsalted butter

1/2c. sugar, plus some for dusting pan

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter 4 cups in a muffin tin. (I use a non-stick tin.) Dust with a little sugar.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

3. On low speed, beat in flour and salt just until combined. Don’t overmix.

4. Beat in chocolate.

5. Divide among cups. 

6. Bake on a baking sheet 8-10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes.

7. To serve, turn out cakes and place on serving plates. Dust with confectioner’s sugar if desired or serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

To save leftovers, store covered in refrigerator. Reheat in microwave oven, 2 cakes for 1 minute at 60% power.

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Wow! My postings on “No-Knead Bread” are among the most popular sites here at Best Room in the House. There is tremendous interest in making the bread and a host of former non-bread bakers have taken up bread making because of the simplicity and near foolproof methods used for the bread. As a bonus, it costs about 85 cents, not counting the cost to heat your oven.

Did I mention the delicious taste and the wonderful crust? Once you try this bread, you won’t want to buy any more bread at the grocery store.I decided to provide a step-by-step photo guide to further tempt those of  you who have yet to give it a try. So, with the added proviso, “I am not a photographer”, let’s get started.

1. Here’s what you need:3 c. flour, 1-2 tsp. salt, 1/2 t. instant yeast, 1-1/2 cup water.ingredients

2. Mix the dry ingredients and stir just enough to make sure you get all the dry flour on the bottom of the bowl into the dough.

3. Add water.add water

4. Stir it up.stir in water

5. Now we’ll let the dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 12  hours. 6-cover.jpg 

6. Presto! Risen dough.                                             8-11hrslater.jpg 

 7. Prepare a floured surface.                                               9-floursurface3.jpg 

8. Dump it out.                                            10-pourout.jpg 

9. See?  Wet and sticky.   11.jpg

10. Sprinkle with a little flour.12-shakeflour.jpg

11. Fold over all 4 sides like an envelop.13-fold1.jpg 14-foldover.jpg 15refold.jpg 16fold.jpg

12. Re-cover with plastic wrap and let rest for fifteen minutes.

13. Now we’ll let it rise the second time, but first, refold the dough into a rough loaf shape (it’s very fluid dough and won’t stay in a perfect loaf shape; it will be a roundish blob) and place on a 12 x 18 inch piece of parchment paper. Sprinkle top of loaf with wheat bran if desired. Cover with a non-terry cloth dish towel. 16cparchment1.jpg    16dcovertowel.jpg

14. Now it’s time for the second rising. After the dough has risen for 1 and 1/2 hours, preheat the oven to 450 degrees with the baking pan and lid inside. Let the dough rise for another half hour while the oven heats for the full 3o minutes. You want the oven and the pot “blazing hot.” 


15. Carefully remove the very hot pot from oven. Take the towel off the bread. Pick up the parchment paper with the dough on it and carefully lower both into the hot pot. Sprinkle with Kosher salt if desired.  


 16. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes. (The parchment paper won’t burn.)

20-cover.jpg   21-bake2.jpg 

17. Remove the lid and bake another 15 minutes.


18. Remove the pot from the oven and carefully lift up the edges of paper and place it and the bread on a cooling rack. Pull the paper out from under the bread and let the bread cool before slicing… if you can resist the aroma of warm, fresh baked bread. (Sometimes, I brush butter over the top and sides.)


19. Enjoy.             25-ummmgood.jpg

If you would like more information on No-Knead Bread, you can check my previous postings here, here, herehere and here

 There is also a veritable wealth of information on the internet on bread making in general and different methods of making the No-Knead Bread. I use a couple of different recipes, sometimes adding seeds to the topping, sometimes adding flavoring elements to the dough itself.

Be brave and go for it. Your waistline may suffer, but the rest of you won’t.

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We always have a big breakfast on Christmas morning for lots of the family. Sometimes we have just our immediate family and sometimes we are happy to have my sister and her husband visiting from New York. That was our treat this year with both of them here. They are world travellers and sometimes are  unable to get to Ohio for Christmas.  

My mother started the tradition of cooking a great grits souffle back in the 1970’s and some years we fix that because it is so darn good and seems like a real treat because we hardly ever fix it any other time of the year.  We had it last year but this year we tried something different.

My knitting pal Vicki gave me the recipe for a delicious egg casserole a few years ago and I decided to serve it Christmas morning. It easy to prepare the night before and requires an hour in the oven before serving. You will find the recipe at the bottom of this posting.
To go with the egg casserole, I bought a spiral-sliced honey crusted ham. I took several slices from the bone, laid them in an 11 x 7 baking dish and covered it with foil to heat up for 20 minutes or so. We also had broiled grapefruit with a crunchy topping, tomato juice, and coffee cakes. It was a great way to start the day.
Mix and set aside
6 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 c. corn flakes, crumbled
2 T. bacon fat
5 eggs till foamy
8 ounces of cheese (Monterey Jack or cheddar or combo)
1/2 c. cottage cheese
1/3 c. milk
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 bag refrigerated shredded potatoes
Grease a pie pan. Pour in egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 325. 
Sprinkle pie pan with reserved bacon, cereal crumbs.
Bake 50 minutes.
I had eleven people for breakfast so I doubled the recipe and used a 9 X 13 pan. It was plenty and we even reheated it for breakfast the next day. Naturally, it was a little dry the second day, but we put some salsa on it and it was great.
 Thanks, Vicki.

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And God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have life everlasting.Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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Have you ever eaten something in a restaurant and wished that you had the expertise to divine the ingredients, proportions and exact cooking methods used to prepare that dish?  I have, many times, but I lack that expertise. Oh, I’m getting better at the main and obvious ingredients, but sometimes the more subtle flavors escape my naming them. Garlic, I know. Chervil, maybe not.


I remember many years ago being flummoxed by the difference in my homemade salsa and that of our local Mexican restaurant. I knew there was something in the “authentic” salsa that wasn’t in mine. I had the tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, lime juice, salt and pepper, but there was something definitely missing. With a little library cookbook searching (this was ten years before the internet made recipe searches so easy, and the Food Network was a decade away), I found that my missing ingredient was cilantro. I had heard of it, but didn’t realize that it was the taste I was looking for. In Ohio, it was a little hard to find at the time, and I had to wait to make “proper” guacamole and salsa until I had a source for cilantro. I have grown it, but it bolts quickly and requires successive plantings to keep one in cilantro for the whole season and it doesn’t dry well. Now, it is available nearly any time I need it, summer or winter.


Anyway, back to translating what’s on a restaurant plate to a user-friendly recipe to prepare at home. Sometimes, you can use the internet to search for a recipe with the same name as was on the restaurant menu. Other times, you can just use the main ingredients as the search terms. I had good luck a few months ago with that approach when I enjoyed a soup at a local establishment. Once home, and seated at my Mac, I entered the words, “sweet potato, chorizo, spinach” and immediately found the exact recipe used by the restaurant. I wrote about it earlier in this post.



A few years ago, after dining in a Cincinnati restaurant, my daughters and I were eager to devise a method of duplicating what we had eaten. It was a pasta dish with vegetables in a cream sauce. This was an easy one. We named it Café Pasta and have prepared it and elaborated on it several times. I present it to you here and hope that you make attempts at deciphering your own “dining out” experiences so that you too can replicate the experience at home.

 CAFÉ PASTA  –  Serves 2 2 T. olive oil½ c. chopped onion2 garlic cloves, minced1 zucchini, washed and quartered lengthwise, then sliced 1/8 inch thick¼ c. white wine1 c. chicken broth½ c. heavy cream1 c. diced canned tomatoesSalt and pepperGrated or shaved Parmesan cheese for garnishFettucine, linguine, penne, any pasta 

  1. Prepare large pot of water to boil for pasta. Cook pasta according to directions on package.
  2. Heat oil in large skillet. Sauté onion for 5 minutes, then add zucchini and sauté for 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and sauté, stirring for 1 minute more.
  3. Stir in white wine and cook till nearly evaporated. Then add broth, cook for a minute or two, then stir in tomatoes and heavy cream.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve cooked pasta with sauce and garnish with grated or shaved Parmesan cheese.


Obviously, this recipe can be altered pretty much as desired. Chicken breasts, either whole or cut in strips, red pepper pieces, chopped fresh spinach – these would be great as additions or substitutions.  Sun-dried tomato bits instead of canned tomatoes would be good, also. For a special treat, try ¼ c. of blue cheese sprinkled into the sauce a minute or two before serving instead of Parmesan.


As another example of an easily adapted restaurant dish, here’s one that my daughter sampled at an Italian restaurant. It had been their “pasta du jour” and she wanted to try it at home. She described it to me and I fiddled with it a little. It could be an easy adaptation of the previous recipe. It had the onions, garlic and olive oil, but no other vegetables. Instead of Parmesan, it had Swiss cheese, something odd for an Italian restaurant, but it works, nonetheless. It was garnished with sliced plum tomatoes, snipped chives (green onions slices will do) and a few grindings of black pepper.


I can’t stress enough to the home cook the value reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows, and surfing through cooking websites and blogs. Just google a few food or cooking terms and have at it. You can pick up a lot of information that will come in handy sooner or later. I could have had great salsa a lot sooner with a little internet surfing. No worries, mate. I have more than made up for it.

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[UPDATE: I have provided photos of the steps for making No-Knead Bread here .]

Love that No-Knead bread. Still. After 120 loaves since April, I’m still baking 4 or 5 loaves each week. From what I can gather from reading all I can about this phenomenon, everybody who tries it loves it, its simplicity, its flexibility, and most of all, its taste. Who can resist warm crusty bread with creamy butter? Someone with more willpower than I.

Anyway, to continue the buzz, the January-February issue of “Cooks’ Illustrated” has an article about no-knead bread. They cottoned onto this baking revolution and decided to try to improve the original basic recipe. It was developed by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City and published in Mark Bittman’s column in an issue of the New York Times a little more than a year ago. (By the way, the NYT has free archives now. You can find the original article here. There are also videos of the process on youtube.)

The final result of CI’s testing of a variety of ingredients and methods is the recommendation to add white vinegar and beer to the original ingredients, reducing the amount of water slightly. They also added 10 to 15 kneadings thus changing no-knead bread to “almost” no-knead bread. This reduces the holding time to as little as 8 hours from the 12 to 18 or even 24 hours recommended in the NYT article.

I tried the changes last week. The bread came out of the oven perfectly, with a slightly more tangy taste, the object of CI’s changes. It took a total of 10 hours which in some cases could come in very handy. (The 12-14 hour rising time of the original recipe is very forgiving, however. I have had success with as much as 26 hours rising although the dough needed a little encouragement with some kneading to plump back up after 26 hours on the kitchen counter!) With only 10 hours needed to rise, it becomes convenient to mix the dough in the morning and bake it in the late afternoon or early evening to have ready for dinner, nice and warm.

One of the suggestions from CI solved the problem some people have with handling the wet dough when moving it from  the final rising into the cooking pot. After the initial rising time, CI recommends laying a sheet (12 x 18 inch) inside a 10″ skillet and spraying it with Pam. After kneading and shaping the loaf, place it on top of the parchment paper and spray the top of the dough with Pam. Then cover it loosely with plastic and letting it rise for a couple of hours, it’s a cinch to pick up the paper and plop the whole thing into a preheated Dutch oven to bake. No mess in the pot, no need to handle the dough one more time, so no messy hands. The skillet keeps the dough from spreading out too much, although the size of the Dutch oven or whatever cooking pot used somewhat determines how much it spreads out also. I get the tallest loaf when I use a round 3 Quart Corningware casserole with a glass lid.

Here is the recipe as printed in the magazine issue mentioned above.

“Almost No-Knead Bread”

3 c. (15 oz.) unbleached flour, plus additional for dusting work surface

1/4 t. instant yeast

1 1/2 t. salt

3/4 c. plus 2 T. water (7 ounces) at room temperature

1/4 c. plus 2 T. (3 ounces) mild-flavored lager*

1 T. white vinegar


1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy dough forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.

2. Lay 12 by 18 inch sheet of parchment paper inside a 10 inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer diugh, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let ruse at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

3. About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6 to 8 quart heavy-bottomed Dutch Oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. (Note: make sure your pot is oven- safe to that high heat.) Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or very sharp knife, make one 6-inch long, 1/2-inch-deep slip along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20-30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

* Use a mild-flavored lager, such as Budweiser (or mild non-alcoholic lager).

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