Turning Trix

I’ve been using my fabulous new electric cooker, Trixie, to the outmost of his/her potential. Most recently out of the depths came a really great cheesecake! Can you believe that?

Well, think about it… cheesecakes like to be baked at a low, even temperature, thus the sometimes used water bath, right? I followed a recipe from a slow-cooker book, sort of. It came out, not the best cheesecake I ever made (that would be the final fulfillment of my lifetime of cheesecake wet dreams thanks to Cooks’ Illustrated’s New York style) but a darn good one. It’s uber creamy, straight through. (I love a creamy cheesecake, but I do also love a gradient of texture, from silky creamy in the middle to firm cakey at the edge. And a slightly caramelized graham crust.)

Trixie’s cheesecake, not so much on the gradient, or the caramelized crust. But, like I said, perfectly delicious, and hardly heats up the kitchen at all!

Here’s some other Trix we’ve been turning:

Pasta. A top fave thing to cook in Trixie. Cuz don’t you love eating pasta when it’s hot? But don’t you hate cooking pasta when it’s hot? All that heat and buckets of steam pouring up into your personal atmosphere. Ick. Trixie keeps it pretty well contained, and I’ve permanently 86ed myself from the Gourmands of the world by discovering that simmered pasta can be just fine. I turn Trix on ‘brown’ and put the lid on until the water boils (it starts to hiss out through the pressure valve) then I add the pasta, let it come back to a boil, then turn it to ‘slow cook’ and put the lid back on, with the valve closed for ‘pressure’ (it doesn’t reach pressure of course, just keeps every scrap of steam inside). About 15 or 20 minutes later, even though it falls off of a boil and down to hardly even a simmer, the pasta is pretty much perfect! Good enough I say. And almost no steam except for the cloud when I drain the pasta in the sink.

Chocolate Pudding Cake. This is apparently a thing. An old fashioned cake that makes it’s own chocolate sauce as it bakes…? I found it in a slow cooker book. It was a spare, thick batter, and a lean, chewy cake. Pretty good, not the greatest. But I feel there’s room for improvement. Like of the butter and eggs variety. Though the cake does have to stand up to the boiling water you pour on top before baking.

Oatmeal. For some reason, even though winter is the obvious season for oatmeal, we’ve been on a bit of a kick lately. Maybe it’s the fact of having to buy granola (cuz I can’t bear to bake it). Or the frequent presence of fresh strawberries and blueberries in our fridge. Anyway, couldn’t be easier. Just bring water to a boil on the ‘brown’ setting, add oats and salt and ‘slow cook’ for 15-30 mins. No need to stir, go read your favorite blogs till it’s done.

quinoa cooked in Trix, black beans too, under pressure, then frozen in pint jars. vegies on grill. yum.

Dinner every night. Almost anything you cook stovetop Trix can do, with less waste heat, and way less steam. (*Sigh* I’m in love.) The ‘brown’ setting caramelizes an onion perfectly. I mean, better than I usually manage in my cast iron, because the heat is just right. One of the reviews said the ‘brown’ setting was “a joke” but I suspect that person was trying to brown like a 5 lb roast or something. There are limits set by physics for size of pan/quantity of food to brown. I find a medium onion gets just the space it needs in Trixie’s 6-quart pan, or up to 2 lbs of meat.

Sometimes I use the pressure setting, and sometimes the slow cook. I do wish there was something in between, but we can’t very well have it all, can we?

potato gratin took one minute of pressure!
this potato, chard and tomato casserole got topped with fried eggs and called "hash"

Roasted Garlic. Just did this tonight, and worked a treat. I peeled 3 heads of garlic (whew!) and put the cloves in Trix, with several tablespoons of olive oil. I started it out at ‘brown’ and once the cloves had toasty deep golden color, I turned it to slow cook for an hour. Soft, buttery garlic caramel nuggets. Yum!

Dessert. Because isn’t that what you really want? Many things traditionally baked can be steam baked. List of all your favorite desserts. Now just cross off the ones that have crispy edges. What’s left can mostly be Trixified. I have really enjoyed custard lately, which could hardly be easier. I mean, there are recipes that start on the stove, but you don’t need to. Just whisk together eggs, milk and sugar, pour into half pint jars, and set into an inch of water. Viola!

But, back to that cheesecake. Like I said, slow cooker ought to work fine too. The recipe just called for a sprinkling of graham crackers on the bottom, but I felt it needed a real crust, even if it wouldn’t be nicely golden brown.

Trixie’s Keep It Cool to Make It Hot Cheesecake

(Prepare to the soundtrack of Prince’s Cream)

  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • some graham cracker crumbs, 3/4 cup?
  • 1 1/2 lbs cream cheese at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 Tablespoons buttermilk (this is my twist)
  • 4 eggs

First figure out how you’re going to cook it.

silicone "spring form"

I cut a silicone cake pan to make a (teflon safe) springform pan of sorts. Works fab. The cheesecake recipe said to put it in a souffle dish, set in a couple inches of water, and then you have to carefully parchment, then foil wrap the dish so that the top doesn’t get wet from all the steam. My way was far superior, to be frank, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t work in a regular slow cooker, even with a souffle dish or any kind of oven safe dish for that matter, setting right on the bottom, sans water. What’s the big deal?

Anyway. Mix up crust and pack into your pan. Cheesecakes only need a bottom crust, don’t know why I tried so hard to make the damn crumbs stick to the sides for so long. Completely unnecessary.

Beat cream cheese till creamy, then add the other ingredients, in order, beating till smooth between each addition, and also making sure to scrape the bowl often. Add eggs one at a time, beating between. Hmmm. There’s an awfully lot of beating in this hot, creamy cake.

Scrape batter into pan, on top of crust. Cook however you’ve decided.

Now, here’s the secret to cheesecake. Okay, there’s two secrets. Knowing when it’s done (this took two hours on Trixie’s slow cook, after a five minute ‘brown’ start, but the recipe said 6-8 hours in a regular slow cooker, with the whole double boiler action), because it doesn’t look done when it’s done, etc, etc. consult some other foodie blogger for more info. But with the slow cooker’s low temperature I think it might be a lot harder to overbake.

But, no, what I was going to say was, you have to wait till it’s cool! And I don’t mean room temperature. Room temperature cheesecake is good. Hell, it’s even good hot out of the oven, believe me. But cool cheesecake is transcendent. That means some time in the fridge baby. I’m sure there’s an ideal temperature to eat cheesecake at. Consult said foodie. In the meantime, just make sure it feels cool on your tongue. And creamy.

Did I mention creamy?

Chocolate: Cures What Ails Ya

As you know, I have been mourning the loss of my oven. Or rather, the loss of my ability to turn it on, what with the 24/7 too fucking hot.

I’ve been dreaming up these chocolate-tooth cures for awhile, and finally got down to business. It’s not like it was hard. Little could be easier, once you’ve secured your fair-trade chocolate and organic nuts.

This “recipe” is much, much easier than pie which really, who are we kidding, is not that easy.  It involves 1. melting chocolate and 2. pouring it over nuts. Can ya dig it? Waiting until cool and cutting into candy sized chunks is optional. As you will see.

Of course this only works for people who love chocolate cut with large quantities of nuts. Like me. If you too search every chocolate box for the chocolate covered nut clusters, this “recipe” is for you.

Some more ascetic, less culinarily obsessed people might point out that you could just sit down with a bag of chocolate chips in one hand, and nuts in the other. And I would answer, who are you? Go away.

see how they're wet on top. that's cuz i cooled them in the fridge, then left them out at room temp. no-no. cool and keep at the same temp.

Chocolate Nut Snake Oil*

[Anyone not familiar with the American tradition of snake oil? It’s the infamous, bunk folk “remedy” pedaled for any and every complaint, by the predecessors to Merck. As far as placebos go, these chocolates taste good and cost a lot less.]

  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups walnuts, almonds, pecans or whatever’s in yer cupboard

My silicone bread pan worked perfect for this. Short of that, line a bread pan or small baking dish with aluminum foil or plastic wrap, depending whether you prefer cancer or Alzheimers.

Melt chocolate chips and butter in the microwave, or a double boiler. Whisk in cocoa till satiny. Stir nuts into chocolate, then pour into mold. Cool (and store) at room temperature if you live in a reasonable climate. Or the fridge if not.

That is, if you can hold yourself back from eating the whole lot of warm chocolate swimming with nuts first.

The Best F***ing Brownies Ever (Plus Kumquat Syrup)

Some people have occasionally thought I was one of those modest, self-defaming cooks because when I cook something ordinary, I do tend to pick apart and question what makes it less than extraordinary.

But actually, I’m just honest, curious and I have high standards.

Case in point– when I cook something mind-blowing, I have no qualms whatsoever about tooting my own horn.

And now I have to tell you about the brownies I made last night.

And no, there's nothing "special" about these brownies, excepting how fabulously delicious they are

If you’re like me, and most women and many men, you adore chocolate, and are forever seeking that Ultimate Chocolate Experience. Brownies are my personal preferred experience. In my ongoing recipe book, I have Orgasmically Good Brownies, then Brownies Revisited, then Brownies Perfected, then Perfected again and again. A few weeks ago, I borrowed a friend’s Cooks Illustrated (great type-A cooking rag, if you go for that sort of thing) with a Best Brownie recipe, determined to take my over-the-years-developed-into-a very-great brownie recipe to epic levels. Sadly, when I got it home and compared notes, I found that it was almost identical to my recipe. Validating, but disappointing.

Last night I was infected again, and somehow got the brilliant idea to use some of my kumquat puree in a batch of brownies. I do love chocolate with orange.

Oh my dear sweet jesus, why did it take me so long? It’s not hard to guess that it would taste great, but what I wouldn’t have guessed is how much more chocolatey it would taste. Somehow, unless some other form of alchemy was at play, I swear to god the kumquats literally doubled the chocolateyness of my same old, made dozens of times brownie recipe. Not only were they the best brownies I’ve ever had, I think they might just have been one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, period.

At this point I can’t really put off the kumquat story any longer. I’ve had it on my list of To-Write-Abouts for ages. And now, it’s become urgent.

Way back, months ago, my posts went on a citrus kick. Citrus just happens to be what there is here. The locally available, otherwise wasted fruit. Falling off of landscape trees all over the city. And sometimes straight into my foraging bag.

There were trash bags full of split lemons from the local monastery. A dozen grapefruits blown down into public space by the wind. Bag after bag of Satsuma mandarins brought by a neighbor, made into batch after batch of marmalade as I sought to unlock the orangey flavor I believed could be possible.

These don't have the more typical oval 'kumquat' shape, which leads me to believe they might actually be (from what I've read) 'mandarinquats'

Then I found the kumquat tree. In an abandoned lot, therefore truly available without even anything sneaky. I’d never eaten kumquats before. Their knock-ya-flat burst of flavor entranced me. Not so much for eating, although one bite’s kinda fun, but for cooking with. They are so very, very orangey. Much more orangey than an orange. I tried candied kumquats, and at first taste was in love with them. I don’t know if each individual ‘quat tastes different, or if it depends on the mood I’m in, but after that very first one, the rest tasted too bitter, and also, too sweet.

Next I tried pureeing the whole fruits (well, first I cut them in half and removed the seeds) for a potent blend of zest and juice. I froze the puree in 1-2 Tablespoon chunks and started using it for baking. Orange Pound Cake? Yum. Orange Cranberry Muffins? Yum. Orange Cream Scones. Yum!

When I used them like this, the bright, full orange flavor was so delicious. Not at all bitter. I had labored over the fact of long boiling with all my marmalade. With herbs, I know that long boiling (called decocting) sends all the delicate essential oils straight up into the atmosphere, and brews out the bitter (often most healing) properties of the plant. If you want medicine, decoct (not always, but usually); if you want delicious tea, infuse. Infusion is just the way we usually make tea– pour boiling water over, let steep. I wondered if I could somehow infuse the kumquats to preserve all those fabulous essential oils and acids that give it the zingy fresh orange flavor.

I tried making a simple sugar syrup, pureeing a big batch of quats and adding them in, then cooking it just the barest bit more, not bringing it back to a boil. Voila! An incredibly orangey syrup. Bright, zingy, sour, sweet, ROWRRR!

I’ve been meaning to try rebatching some of my (many, many jars) of marmalade. Although I don’t mind, and maybe even like the bitter flavor of the ‘decocted’ mandarins, I think it would be far better, more well rounded, with the fresh orangey kumquat flavor mixed in.

In the meantime, I’ve been throwing my frozen puree in lots of things, and loving it every time.

But then.

Came the brownies.

Dense, rich, almost truffle-like, but still most definitely a brownie. A Brownie Really and Truly Perfected.

Since I never make the same recipe exactly the same twice, and I did tweak my regular recipe in a few other ways beyond the kumquats, and who knows which thing resulted in this new divinity, here is the recipe as near to exactly the way I made it.

Oh, by the way. I know most of y’all won’t be making kumquat puree. What the hell is a kumquat some of you have been asking since the title? But I think orange zest, mixed with lemon juice would make a reasonable substitute. The acid from the juice might have been integral to the incredible texture, so don’t leave it out.

So here it is, after much ado, fanfare and wordy introduction

The Best Fucking Brownies Ever

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder (fair trade of course!)
  • 3-4 Tablespoons kumquat puree (or something like 2 T each orange zest and lemon juice)
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil (that’s just what I happened to use…I’m pretty sure regular “vegetable” oil would work fine)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons sucanat or other hippie ‘dried cane juice’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup white bread flour (I’m pretty sure you could use 2/3 c. all-purpose in place of these two with just as good results)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (I usually use 1/4 t. but thought that with the acid from the juice I’d better double it)

Melt butter in a good sized sauce pan. Whisk in cocoa till smooth, then the citrus. Let sit a moment to steep while you grease your pan. I used a smaller than usual pan, which might have been one of the alchemic elements– it was my little 5×7 pyrex that fits in the toaster oven. Oh, and preheat your oven to 350. Actually, I think my toaster oven runs hot, so I only put it to 325…

Now whisk in the oil, sugar and vanilla and allow to cool a bit while you measure out and whisk together your flours and the soda. Then back to that fragrant goo. Whisk in the egg completely, then fold in the flour and scrape the lot into your pan.

Bake until not quite done. Do not overbake. This is probably the single most important factor to good brownies, and one of the hardest to achieve. Supposedly if you stick a knife in, there should be wet crumbs but no batter. But I’ve found this not very reliable, or just hard to differentiate. If you press the top with your finger it should not feel remotely liquidy, but still… soft. It certainly shouldn’t spring back like a cake. It’s mostly instinctual, and honestly, I’m still cultivating the instinct.

This batch for some reason rose, then fell…? And when Divine Intervention shouted “the brownies!” into my head, making me run for the kitchen, they were perfect. It is possible that the only reason these were the best brownies I’ve ever made is simply because this is the first time I ever took them out at that perfect moment.

So, now. You know my secret. How will I when the recipe contest now?