Something to Think About…

From a July 9, 2008 article, Quest for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie, in the New York Times:

Why, then, does almost everybody say they prefer homemade to bakery bought?

Mr. Rubin smiled, having already figured out the answer. “It’s the Warm Rule,” he said. “Even a bad cookie straight from the oven has its appeal.”

made you a cookie

Slow Cooker Week – Day 5, Pear-Nut Upside-Down Cake

I was not raised with a need for fancy desserts – Pillsbury funfetti cake, ice cream cakes for birthdays and Eggo waffles layered with Neapolitan ice cream at my grandmother’s house were among my favorites. So the idea of making a cake in a slower cooker sounds just fine to me!

line with foil and butterlinebottomwithbutterandsugar

However a quick search of slow cooker or Crock pot cake yields results called something like “dump cake” or “chocolate mess cake.” Though I imagine these cakes to be much like my idea of heaven – a pot full of warm, gooey, fudge-like cake to completely make a mess of myself with – that’s probably not what you guys come here for.


A pulled a recipe out of my November Food Network Magazine for Pear-Pecan Upside-Down Cake. I had my reservations about it, but it mostly turned out well!


This would be an excellent cake for a weekend brunch, served with coffee. It’s unfortunately not the most attractive cake, so I’m not sure I’d bring it out on a serving platter to show my friends… just bringing the plated slices out of the kitchen will work! Some quirks about the cake:

  • I couldn’t fit the 3 Bosc pears it calls for in the bottom, I could only fit 2 and a sliver. I thought I had a 5 quart slow cooker, so maybe the pears used in this recipe were abnormally small?
  • One of the sides got a little darker than the other. I wonder if this might have anything to do with me opening the lid a crack to peek in and somehow throwing off the cook temperature. It’s possible! So do not peek! Ever!
  • You’ve got to like pears. This cake is like sweetened pears with a side of cake.
  • Make sure you cool the cake for an extra 10 minutes after removing it from the slower cooker, before turning it on to a platter.
  • linetopwithpapertowelscake

    I did not make many changes to the original recipe. I didn’t use whole milk at room temperature, I used skim milk that was still cold. I didn’t toast the pecans first, and I combined pecans with some cashews. When picking out your Bosc pears, try to get pears on the small side; large pears tend to take over the cake. Again, though it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing cake ever created, it’s really a very tasty and light breakfast cake.


    Pear Upside-Down Cake
    from Food Network Magazine

    8 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon for greasing; 3 tablespoons cut into small pieces, 4 tablespoons softened
    1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
    3 small Bosc pears, peeled, halved lengthwise and cored
    3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1/3 cup nuts, finely chopped (I combined pecans and cashews)
    1/4 cup cornmeal
    3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2/3 cup granulated sugar
    2 large eggs, at room temperature
    2 tablespoons milk

    Butter the inside of a 5-quart round slow cooker and line it completely with a large sheet of foil, butter the foil as well. Turn the cooker on low and sprinkle the cut-up butter and the brown sugar over the foil. Add pears, arranging them in a circle, cut-side down.

    Mix flour, nuts, cornmeal, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl. In the large bowl of a mixer, beat the softened butter and granulated sugar on low until just blended. Increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, scraping the sides as needed (3-5 minutes). Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

    With the mixer on low, alternate beating the dry ingredients and milk into the butter mixture in two batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix on medium just until smooth. Spread over pears. Drape paper towels over the top of the slow cooker (just under the lid, not touching the cake) to prevent condensation from dripping onto it (do NOT peek once cooking starts!). Cover and cook on low about 3 hours, when cake sets and the sides brown. Turn off the cooker and let the cake rest about 20 minutes.

    Lift the cake by the foil and place on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Carefully invert onto a platter and peel off the foil.

    Is it sophisticated or just pretentious to call something by its natural, but foreign name? I’m not sure but I do know a dolma by any other name is still delicious. I was introduced to these delectable morsels at a friends going-away dinner in northwest DC and I was hooked from the start. My face lights up in joy when I see these at a new restaurant, preparing my mouth for as many as I can cram in there. So good…..

    Grape Leaves Stuffing

    Making these suckers, I must admit, is a bit involved. First you have to get the grape leaves out of the jar (which, in itself, was a task), separate them, rinse and dry them…. then, after preparing the stuffing you have to hand wrap each one! In the future, this shall be a two day task for me; one day preparing, another cooking. Or maybe, one day doing everything but rolling and cooking….. I don’t know, I’ll figure it out. I must say this is a nice thing to just drop and not worry about. Given the cook time, though, this is more a weekend and workday meal.

    Step One Step Two Step Three Step Four

    Taking the grape leaves out of the jar can be a bit tricky. It takes a bit of force, more than you might expect, to pull them out. Be “carefully forceful” and you should be fine. Have a little faith that a won’t rip. If you have a salad spinner I recommend using it to rinse and dry your leaves. Be sure to unroll, unfold and separate them all or you’ll have a few pockets of vinegar lurking. If you don’t plan to expect to use them all (say, for example, you are a single male who writes a food blog) then save the brine the store remaining leaves for another time.

    Dolmades Ready To Go Dolmades

    Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves, Slow Cooker Style
    2 tablespoons oil
    1 yellow onion; chopped
    1/2 teaspoon allspice
    1/2 teaspoon cumin
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    3 table spoons fresh parsley; roughly chopped
    3/4 cup green lentils; rinsed and drained
    3/4 basmati rice
    1 jar of grape leaves
    Several cups of stock (or water)

    Rinse your grape leaves and pat dry. Set aside. In a large pan, cook the onion under medium heat with the oil until softened; approximately 5 minutes. Add the spices, lemon juice and cook for another minute then add the parsley, lentils rice and 2 cups of stock (or water). Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes then set aside to cool.

    Place grape leaves vein-side up and start placing heaping tablespoons (1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons depending on the size of the leaf) at the bottom in a slight horizontal line. Fold the sides up together, then roll up while tucking in the sides. You want it to be a little tight so it doesn’t explode while cooking. Place snugly together in your slow cooker, layering if necessary. Cover with stock (or water) until just covered and cook for 4-6 hours. Serve and enjoy.

    Here’s some interesting information on how our society is changing because of our eating habits. Apparently the US military has to 150,000 potential recruits a year due to their weight making them unfit for battle.

    Curt Gilroy, the Pentagon’s director of accessions, told the Army Times that “[k]ids are just not able to do push-ups, [a]nd they can’t do pull-ups. And they can’t run.”


    So let’s talk a little about slow cookers first. If you’re new to slow cookers and this theme week is baffling you so far – slow cookers are electrical appliances built to cook food at a relatively low temperature over a longer period of time. A good machine will have a ceramic cooking pot that fits into the metal, electric part and can be removed for easy cleaning and at least a low and high temperature setting. Slow cookers are NOT pressure cookers, which cooks food in a sealed device.


    Why use slow cookers?

  • It’s easy! You can throw some vegetables, uncooked meat and spices in the pot before work, and come home after work with a well-seasoned, fully-cooked meal.
  • No pots and pans to clean! When you’re cooking everything together in the slower cooker, there’s not as much clean up.
  • Such long simmering times can increase the flavor.*
  • blackbeansaddseasoning

    So why don’t we use slow cookers all the time?!

  • *Such long cooking times, while it generally won’t overcook your meats, can cause your vegetables to have their good nutrients cooked out of them.
  • The slow cooker is not great with all types of meats. Fish, for example, doesn’t do well in the slow cooker.
  • Mush – if left too long, some vegetables or meats can turn to mush
  • combinesalsamixsalsa

    But at the end of the day, slow cookers can really be a blessing. The recipe I’m sharing today, in fact, turned out pretty awesome, and I’m not really sure how I ever made chicken tacos before without the slow cooker.


    I love chicken. You may have noticed from the plethora of chicken recipes here on DC! Cooking it in the slow cooker creates the perfect consistency for tacos – the meat shreds effortlessly and it really picks up the flavor of the seasonings. Dry, rubbery chicken is a common problem with cooking chicken; the slow cooker is an easy fix!


    Shredded Chicken Tacos with Homemade Salsa
    adapted from The Pioneer Woman

    2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    15 oz can of black beans
    grated cheddar for sprinkling on finished tacos
    optional – shredded lettuce, sour cream

    for the salsa:
    2 fresh jalapenos, diced (remove seeds for less heat!)
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 yellow bell pepper, diced
    2 15 oz cans Ro*tel tomatoes (I used Mild – Diced Tomatoes and Green Chiles)
    salt, black pepper, garlic powder to taste

    for the seasoning:
    chili powder, paprika, onion powder, salt, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne, black pepper

    Added canned black beans, undrained, to the bottom of the slow cooker. Combine seasoning ingredients in a small bowl (I was heavy on the chili powder, paprika, and black pepper; then gave about 5 shakes of cumin; and 3 shakes of onion powder, garlic powder, salt, oregano and cayenne). Sprinkle seasoning over the black beans, then set the chicken breasts on top.

    Combine salsa ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Spoon salsa over chicken breasts.

    Cover and set to low for about 6-8 hours (my cooker runs a little hot, so my cook time was 6 hours). Makes enough for about 3 people.

    Biscuit Enjoys the Smells of Slow Cooker Week

    Biscuit realized he hadn’t said “hello” in a while, and this bothered him cause he’s a friendly guy!

    Biscuit - 5 months old

    5 months and 38 pounds of adorable, mischievous puppy.

    Slow Cooker Week – Day 2, Vegetable Stock

    Carrots, Leeks and Parsnips

    Stock: culinary ambrosia. A perfect candidate for the slow cooker. I have to admit, the non-vegetarian stocks are much easier to work with, in terms of creating high quality. Sure there are plenty of ways to go in terms of herbs or spices, but it’s really the bones that make the stock. Everything else after that is just gravy (no pun intended).

    Stock Ingredients Ready For A Slow Cook The Aftermath

    It’s the fat, really. Fat makes just about everything taste better and, well, veggies aren’t exactly on the plump end of that spectrum. Every time I make vegetable stock I change it up a little, in constant search of something that will put it on its own pillar. Taking a page from Heather’s book, I decided to employ the use mushrooms; something I’ve never been fond of. I have to admit they added a great dimension and this is by far my best tasting stock yet. I guess I’ll have to give the ol’ fungus another shot.

    Removing The Veggies Straining Vegetables
    Vegetable Stock

    Slow Cooker Vegetable Stock
    I got a bit too much burning on my sliced mushrooms, so I’ve modified the recipe to just halve them. Be sure to cut and discard anything that’s simply burnt instead of browned.

    1 parsnip; peeled and cut in half lengthwise
    2 carrots; peeled and cut in half lengthwise
    2 medium yellow onions; quartered
    1 potato (I used russet); chopped into 1 1/2 inch pieces, roughly
    1 turnip; peeled and chopped into 1 1/2 inch pieces, roughly
    5oz mushrooms; halved
    2 stalks celery; cut into 1 inch pieces
    4 garlic cloves; unpeeled and smashed
    2 bay leaves
    1/2 cup chopped parsley

    Put all your vegetables and mushrooms in baking sheets, evenly spaced, and drizzle with oil. Roast in a 450° oven for 30 minutes; rotating halfway through. Throw into a 4 to 6 quart slow cooker with 12 cups of water and cook, covered, for 8 hours.

    Let the stock cool for a bit strain through a a fine mesh sieve. Let drain a bit and press/mash the veggies a bit to release some of the liquid. If you only have a small one (like me), simply scoop out your veggies a bit of a time, dumping the leftover vegetables as you go.

    Let cool to room temperature and portion into several tightly sealed containers. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for several months. Enjoy!

    Slow Cooker Week – Day 1, Sweet Potato & Beef Stew

    It’s time for another theme week at DinnerCakes! From time to time we like to devote a week to a particular style or genre of cooking, a holiday or anything really that strikes our fancy. Past theme weeks include Rainbow Week, Halloween Week and Smoothie Week. Welcome to Slow Cooker (ie Crockpot) week!


    When I say slow cooker, do visions of fatty, salty stews pop into your head? Slow cooker meals can be unhealthy when all you’re doing is opening a bunch of canned food into the pot and letting it simmer. Canned food contains a great deal of sodium, which is great to keep it fresher in the can… but not so great for your heart, blood pressure, etc.


    So the trick is to use fresh ingredients when possible (watch the canned food), add spices and seasonings liberally (but create your own flavors instead of relying on flavor packets and premade seasonings) and get creative!


    I’m starting out the week with the cliched beef stew, but I jazzed it up a little bit. Instead of adding russet potatoes, I used two sweet potatoes that I had in the kitchen, emphasizing the savory and sweet flavors of a stew. I also relied more on veggies than beef, using only a handful of leftover cubed beef that I had from my fondue experiment. Lastly, I didn’t measure any seasonings that I added to the pot. I’m sorry, Julia Childs, but slow cooker meals simmer for hours in the added spices, and I think trying to be too precise about measuring it would lead to a bland stew. Trust your own hand!


    Though I was grumbling while preparing the ingredients in the morning, it’s so nice to be able to just walk over to the slow cooker and spoon out dinner in the evening!


    Savory Beef & Sweet Potato Stew

    Approx. one pound of beef stew meat, cubed
    Approx. 1/2 cup flour (for dusting the beef)
    2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and diced
    Approx. 5 whole carrots, peeled and diced
    Approx. 4 whole celery hearts, diced
    1 medium onion, roughly chopped
    1 cup frozen peas
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
    32 oz. low sodium beef broth
    salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder (for sprinkling on beef)
    salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, celery seed, paprika, thyme (to taste)

    In the morning, prepare ingredients – season beef, cut carrots, celery, onion, potatoes, etc. Add vegetables to the bottom of the slow cooker.

    Dredge beef cubes in flour. Heat a skillet on medium heat. Add cooking spray or a small amount of oil and lightly brown beef, then add to slow cooker. Add a small amount of beef broth to the pan and add onions. Saute until lightly browned, then add onions and deglazed beef broth to the slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients and beef broth to the slow cooker. Toss to combine ingredients and spices.

    Cook on low approximately 6-8 hours. If stew needs additional thickening, add more flour or cornstarch and stir. If this is the first time you’ve used your crock pot, try to monitor the cook time as cookers vary in temperature (mine tends to be on the hot side).

    One that really drives up the Edwin-Annoyance factor in the kitchen is when my cutting board won’t hold still. Not only is it annoying (return to me!), but it’s also unsafe. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to this. If you find your cutting board slipping, simply put a damp towel under it. This can be a paper towel or a regular cloth dish towel you most likely have in the kitchen. This will ensure you a more satisfying and safe cutting experience.

    Prevent Your Cutting Board From Slipping

    Assembling a Trifle

    My eyes aren’t fully undilated, so please forgive any typos or bizarre things contained within this post. I feel fairly cross-eyed!

    So the other day I was thinking about things I could make for dessert that aren’t so heavy. I came back to my old favorite, the red, white and blueberry trifle. However I realized after looking through this post that I was rather vague with the assembly. So why don’t we walk through that a little better?

    cool the pound cake

    First bake and cool a delicious vanilla pound cake. My favorite for trifles remains the Double Vanilla Pound Cake from The Art & Soul of Baking.

    setting up

    I let my pound cake cool, wrapped it in foil and let it sit overnight so that it wouldn’t crumble when putting together the trifle.

    trim hard edges

    Next, gently trim away any crusty edges.

    1/2 slices

    Cut the pound cake to one inch slices.

    1/2 slices2

    And I like to eat the end pieces…

    cut in half

    Cut each slice in half long ways.

    half inch cubes

    Then cube it.

    half inch cubes2

    We’re going for 1/2 inch to 1 inch cubes.

    1/2 inch cubes3

    You could also cut two slices at once to save time if you wanted.

    first pound cake layer

    Arrange your first layer at the bottom of the trifle bowl. Use about two slices of pound cake in each layer.

    first strawberry layer

    Add a layer of sliced strawberries over the pound cake. Because basically no fruit is in season right now, I used frozen strawberries and frozen blueberries.. which are frozen in their prime anyway. While cooling the pound cake the night before, I also sliced the strawberries and moved my fruit to the fridge overnight to thaw.

    first blueberry layer

    After strawberries comes blueberries. You should have sprinkled your fruit with a bit of sugar while it thawed overnight. After adding the fruit to the trifle bowl, feel free to sprinkle additional sugar.

    fat free sugar free pudding

    After fruit comes pudding. I used two small boxes of fat free/sugar free vanilla pudding. To make the pudding you mix each packet with two cups of cold milk, whisking for about 2 minutes. The pudding will set in about 5 minutes.

    fat free whip

    A layer of fat free Cool Whip will even out the cake and fruit.

    vanilla pound cake

    So pound cake, strawberries, blueberries, a sprinkle of sugar, pudding and Cool Whip is the routine. After the Cool Whip you begin your layer again.


    Lots of people like to get fancy here, arranging each strawberry slice individually. Ghost Baker refuses to indulge this level of detail!


    Rustic arrangements keep me sane.

    prying paws

    Do you notice anything that doesn’t belong in this photo? Prying noses and paws, perhaps?

    to the top

    Once you’re done with your layers, you can get decorative at the top… making lovely fruit arrangements, adding dollops of Cool Whip, coconut, nuts or other kinds of fruit.


    If you’d like your cake to get a little softer and let the pudding and Cool Whip seep in, prepare this early and chill it until it’s time to serve. If you’re firmly against softened cake, then prepare just before serving. I enjoy the pudding-laden cubes of cake, so I prepare mine several hours before serving. Enjoy!