Monday, August 12, 2013

Cheesecake in jars in a crock pot? Oh yeah!

I never intended for this blog to be about cooking. That's not who I am. I enjoy baking, but I'm not a good cook, and I had never made cheesecake before because it looked way too complicated. Water baths? Springform pans? Timing and testing? No thanks.

Then I saw a crock pot cheesecake recipe on Facebook, and it clicked: I can do this! I borrowed half-pint jars (only five would fit in my smallish crock pot), gathered the simple ingredients (I had most on hand), pulsed the crackers (I also pulsed some chocolate wafer cookies for an alternative to graham crust), and made... yummy cheesecakes! Yes, it works. It's delicious. I'll make it again.

Crock Pot Cheesecake in Jars

Crust (half recipe for 5-6 half-pint jars)
·         1 cup graham cracker crumbs (10-12 squares)
·         1 Tbs sugar
·         2 Tbs melted butter
·         1 pound (two packages) cream cheese at room temperature
·         1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar (in other words, half of 1 2/3 cups!)
·         1/8 cup (2 Tbs) cornstarch
·         1 tsp vanilla
·         1 large egg at room temperature
·         6 Tbs cream, half & half, or whole milk

1) To make the crust: Blend together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Place 3-4 tablespoons in the bottom of each of five-six 1/2-pint wide-mouth canning jars (you'll have some left over for topping if you wish). Press down firmly. Set the jars aside.
2) To make the batter: Place the softened cream cheese in the bowl of your mixer. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes, to aerate and remove any lumps. Be sure to scrape the bowl at least twice.
3) Stop the mixer, scrape the bowl, and add the sugar and cornstarch. Beat on medium speed for 2 more minutes. Stop again, scrape, and add the vanilla, eggs, and cream. Beat for 2 more minutes on low speed.
4) Place the crust-filled jars in your crock pot. Mine fit only five jars, although I had more cheesecake batter. Fill each jar 3/4 full of cheesecake batter, taking care not to drip any down the outsides of the jars. An ice cream scoop works well for filling. What to do if your crock pot only fits five jars and you have leftover batter? Live dangerously. Eat it raw. Yum.
5) Place the canning lid of each jar on lightly (I skipped this step and used a funnel to fill the crock pot). This is to prevent water from dripping into the cheesecake while you fill the crock pot. Carefully pour warm water into the crock pot around the jars. The water level should come 3/4 of the way up the sides of the jars. When you're done pouring, remove the jar lids and set aside for later.
6) Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 1 to 2 hours (1 hour wasn’t even close for five ½ pint jars - it took a full two hours). BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU LIFT THE LID THAT CONDENSATION DOESN'T DRIP INTO JARS! The cheesecakes are done when the centers are no longer jiggly or wobbly, and a knife inserted into the cake about 1/2" from the edge comes out clean.
7) Turn off the slow cooker (I also removed the lid - be careful so it doesn't drip!) and allow the cheesecakes to rest for about 20 minutes to cool slightly before handling. Remove the jars and place on the counter to cool for another hour before sealing and placing in the fridge to chill for several hours, or overnight. I didn't have lids, so I covered mine with plastic wrap.
9) To serve, simply open the jar, top with fresh berries, chocolate chips, hot fudge, or whipped cream, and dive in with a long-handled spoon. Any leftovers can be refrigerated for serving later and should keep for up to a week.
Yield: five-six 1/2-pint individual cheesecakes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Perky Produce People

If I were alone in the world and needed a friend, the first place I'd go is the produce department of my local grocery store. I mean, have you ever noticed how the people who work in the produce department always—and I mean always—say hi and ask if they can help you?

Of all the places in the grocery store where I need help, it usually isn't produce. I can tell a Fuji from a Granny Smith. I can divine whether a watermelon is ripe (mostly). I can even choose a darn fine head of iceberg lettuce.

And yet the one place in the entire store where you can't avoid human contact is produce. Not dairy, where I would like to know why the price of butter has skyrocketed to roughly the value of gold. Not canned goods, where I can never locate those light red beans I need for chili. And certainly not the jam and jelly aisle, where I can't find a three-berry jam to save my life.

If you try to avoid eye contact because you just want some alone time with your radishes and corn, they'll persist. You can't escape them. "Are you finding everything?" "Oh yes, although I did have a bit of trouble with the snap peas. They seemed to be hiding behind the butter beans, but I scoped them out! Thanks, though."

One of these days I'm going to ask the produce guy (or, rarely, the produce gal) exactly what they teach you in produce school. It has to be something like, "Every person who enters the produce department is either a complete idiot who has never seen anything green, red, or purple, or they're desperately lonely and in need of a friendly smile. Now get out there and make the world a happier, more produce-filled place!"

When I do, I'll let you know what he/she says.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Coach’s Oats No-bake Cookies

This isn't a cooking blog. Really, it's not. I just seem to keep cooking things and baking things that beg to be blogged. Hence a post about a no-bake cookie using Coach's Oats.

Never heard of Coach's? Me neither, till I found them at Costco a few months ago. I like old-fashioned oatmeal (I used to eat it uncooked when I was little because back then, I could pretend I was a horse). I like steel cut oats. But I never knew how good oatmeal could be till I tried Coach's Oats. A special process makes it better, somehow.

Anyway, back to the story. I friended Coach's Oats on Facebook because I wanted to know more, and I was charmed by the down-home, warm approach they took to their Facebook presence. And their blog had some pretty interesting stuff too—information about their products, sure, but also great recipes.

Then I noticed a comment that surprised me: they were still searching for a great no-bake cookie recipe using Coach's Oats. Well, they came to the right place (me). I have a great no-bake cookie recipe, so I took up the challenge of remaking it with Coach's Oats.

I had already asked the blogger/Facebook person about substituting Coach's Oats for regular old-fashioned oats in recipes. She recommended a ratio of 1/1, so that's what I used in the no-bake cookies: half old-fashioned, half Coach's.

I also cut the recipe in half, because who wants to use up all those ingredients when it may turn out yucky? Not me.

The result, shown above, was chewier than regular no-bake cookies, with a nutty texture. But that's what Coach's Oats is famous for, and I like these cookies that way. A lot. They remind me of granola bars. I also cut back on the sugar a bit and switched from shortening to a more healthful extra-virgin organic coconut oil. I definitely will use Coach's Oats in this recipe every time I make it. Yum!

Coach's Oats No-bake Cookies
Adapted from a recipe by Debbi DeSisto
Can be doubled.
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil (or shortening)
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup Coach's Oats
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Put milk, sugar, and coconut oil in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil, whisking vigorously to blend. Remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients (I blend the dry ingredients by hand while waiting for the boiling to begin) and mix well. Don't forget the vanilla! Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. I use a cookie scoop. Let cool until they can be picked up without falling apart. Makes about 14.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Modern Woman vs. the 179-year-old Cup Cake Recipe

Modern conveniences and I are fast friends. I could not have lived in 1832; I would have figured out a way to have myself preserved until the twenty-first century, perhaps in a pickle jar—like the ones touted in The American Frugal Housewife.

I discovered this 1830s-era version of Hints from Heloise via Amazon. It was free for Kindle, and what modern woman doesn't love free? Besides, I adore Heloise and her hints & tips (or anyone else's).

About the time I started devouring Frugal Housewife, I noticed the America's Test Kitchen “Dish It Your Way” Blogger Challenge, which in its final week featured cupcakes. What had I just read in that 1832 book for housewives? Author Lydia Maria Francis Child's quaint and simple, but impossibly outdated, recipe for "Cup Cake"!

"Cup," I discovered, didn't mean those cute little paper wrappers in 1832. It meant "a cup of this, two cups of that, three cups of something else." The result promised to be "about as good as pound cake, and...cheaper."

The entire recipe read like this:
"One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs, well beat together, and baked in pans or cups. Bake twenty minutes, and no more."
Missing: pan size & (gasp!) oven temp. Back then those frugal gals baked in wood stoves with no temperature controls or gauges. So I was stuck with giving it my best guess. Also missing: any type of leavening agent, like baking soda or baking powder, and any liquid, like milk. Staying true to the time period, I could experiment a bit and toss in a couple teaspoons of baking powder (invented in the early 1800s) and half a cup of milk (around much longer than 179 years).

Not staying true, but saving myself some time and trouble, I mixed it all up in my modern miracle (AKA the stand mixer). I used unbleached regular flour, not cake flour. The batter was thick and delicious, even without the addition of vanilla, an ingredient I couldn't find referenced anywhere in Frugal Housewife. Oh, so yum. (Yes, I eat batter and dough containing raw eggs once in a while.)

Using an ice-cream scoop, I divvied up about half the batter into cupcake wrappers. The other half I reserved for another experiment: chocolate. I added 1/4 cup of cocoa powder, turning the batter a rich, milk-chocolate color. That would have been the norm, 179 years ago, before our current fascination with dark chocolate.

Guessing at a moderate oven temperature, I put the regular, non-chocolate cupcakes in at 350°. As directed, I checked them at 20 minutes. They hadn't risen much, just cresting at the tops of the muffin cups, but they were a light golden brown. Time to come out. I couldn't resist tasting: Wow! Light, delicate, not airy or spongy, but delicious.

And crumbly: only six of the 12 came out of the pan clean. I reserved the prettiest six for frosting.

Next up: the chocolate cupcakes. I like chocolate as much as the next woman (in other words, heaps and loads), so these would be a rich treat. I'd been limiting myself for weight-loss purposes, but "challenge" recipes don't count. They must be tested, tasted, consumed, and devoured.

Oh, the loveliness of chocolate cupcakes coming out of the oven. The aroma, the anticipation... Oh, the bitter disappointment of what happened shortly thereafter.

I set the pan aside, cleaned up the kitchen, and returned to them after about ten minutes. Cooling time. And sinking time, too—not a single chocolate cupcake had risen to the occasion.

The little 8"x8" chocolate cake I had baked at the same time, with the extra batter, came out just fine. The six chocolate cupcakes were a sunken, dreary mess. Nothing to salvage there. Believe me, I tried, but the batter just wasn't cooked through. Bummer. I guess I didn't leave them in long enough. If I tried this recipe again, I'd bake the chocolate cupcakes for 25 minutes.

Here is the final result, the crowning achievement of the "Cup Cake" experiment: one perfect cupcake, crowned with vanilla whipped-cream frosting. I like the boxed kind sold by Wilton (so easy—you only add ice water). OK, I cheated on the frosting. I was in a hurry.

At the end of my evening of experimentation, I came away with a couple of thoughts: first, I'm more inclined now to bake a cake from scratch. Before, every cake in my kitchen came from a box. But with a few simple, wholesome (please don't argue with me) ingredients, I discovered I could have a delicious treat.

Second, the proportions of ingredients may make a difference, and a little more baking powder or a touch of salt may have helped the cupcakes to rise more, but the fun of this recipe was in the imagining: seeing myself in 1832, slaving away in a hot kitchen in Arizona's summertime without air conditioning, and then realizing that I live in 2011 with the benefits of a cool kitchen, a lovely stand mixer, and an oven with an accurate temperature gauge. I am more privileged than the wealthiest woman of Frugal Housewife's time. And I'm very, very glad.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Coconut Overload

This isn’t a cooking blog, which you already know if you’ve read a few of my posts. I don’t fancy myself much of a cook, although I love to bake. Occasionally I'll make something fun that I feel like sharing, and today is one of those times.

Fair warning: If you don't like coconut, close this tab and come back next week, or read one of my older posts (please), because you aren’t going to like this recipe.

I like coconut a lot. Fresh & natural, flaked, sweetened, dried: you put it in front of me, I'll eat it. I also like candy, but a coconut lover like me doesn’t have many choices when it comes to candy bars. There’s Almond Joy and there’s Mounds. And that about does it, unless you like those old-fashioned neopolitan coconut squares—you know, the ones that have a stripe of pink, white, and brown. I used to when I was a kid, before I discovered chocolate. You can include on that coconut-candy list the Idaho Spud, if you live anywhere near Idaho—it’s a chocolate and marshmallow bar rolled in coconut. Those are an acquired taste, though.

Since I like Mounds better than just about any other candy bar (Idaho Spud is a close second), I’ve often pondered the possibility of making my own. Why would I bother, when three stores with Mounds on their shelves are less than three minutes from my house? Good question. I suppose it’s because I feel slightly less “that’s bad for you, don’t eat it” guilt when I make something at home. I wouldn't dream of buying commercially made fudge, cookies, or brownies, but if I make them at home, I feel like the work of making them cancels out the calories. Right?

Actually I have fun experimenting when I’m pretty sure the result will be yummy. I started looking through the Internet for a Mounds-type candy recipe, and wow—there were dozens. I had the ingredients for the most basic recipe on hand, so I cut the amounts in half (no need to waste good ingredients on something that might fail), left out the pecans (pecans in a Mounds?), and went to work.

Roughly twenty minutes later, my small batch of Almost-like-Mounds-only-better-and-homemade bars were going into the freezer to set up. I had tasted one and found it good, very good. Today, fresh out of the freezer, they are even better! Now I want to share...not the candy, just the recipe. (Scotty, bless his heart, had one bite and said he would resist the temptation to eat any more.) I also want to give credit to the originator of this recipe; you'll find a link to her recipe at the bottom. If you make it, let me know how it turns out for you.

Almost-like-Mounds-only-better-and-homemade Bars


1/2 package (7 oz) sweetened, flaked coconut
1/2 pound (1/2 of a one-pound package) powdered sugar
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp coconut flavoring, if you have it (simply adds more coconut flavor)


One bag chocolate chips or 10-12 oz chopped chocolate, light or dark depending on your preference
One Tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil, or one ounce paraffin (optional—it will thin the chocolate a bit and make it more glossy and easier to dip)

How to:
Mix coconut, sugar, condensed milk, and coconut flavoring well. You may need to get your hands messy to mash it up.

Forming the filling: Roll it out into a log that you will freeze and cut into slices, or roll into small balls, or flatten to 1/2'” thick on waxed paper in a square pan. Freeze; unless you’ve formed it into individual balls, slice before dipping. Your slices can be whatever size you prefer.

Melt 12 oz chocolate chips (and the oil or paraffin, if preferred) in a bowl or glass measuring cup in the microwave for 2 minutes. Stir and nuke again for one minute if necessary. Don’t overcook, or it will burn! You’ll have to throw it out and start over.

Let the melted chocolate cool a bit before dipping the slices or balls of frozen mixture. They’ll hold up better. Dip and cool on waxed paper. These keep well in the freezer and taste great frozen; the chocolate will be hard, but the inside will be soft. Best refrigerated, because at room temp, the chocolate will be messy. Keep napkins handy!

Note: This recipe is half the normal amount you’ll find on the Internet. Double everything, and you’ll have enough for a large plate for your holiday party, or to snack on from your freezer.

Suggestion: Use the rest of the sweetened condensed milk to make half a batch of fudge. Who needs a whole batch? Just mix in 12 oz. of chocolate chips, a tsp. of vanilla, and a pinch of salt; microwave a minute or two; pour in a pan and let harden.

Adapted from

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Poise" vs "Posie"—or, why spelling matters

My husband has a favorite misspelling story from his business life that has to do with the word "public." Leave out the "l," and you're left with what is perhaps the most feared of all misspellings. I fell victim to that same horror once too, but fortunately for my career, I caught it before it went, um, public. This was before the days of spell check, but spell check wouldn't have caught the misspelling anyway.

One little letter in the wrong place (or a missing letter) can make a big difference. That's why people who do what I do (copyediting and proofreading) are still employed, despite the wonders of technology.

What does misspelling have to do with the image above? Oh, I can't wait to tell you. It concerns the most famous cake decorating company in the U.S., or perhaps the world: Wilton. Not too long ago, they advertised a cute new decoration on their Facebook page, with a link to their website. The lavender, flower-shaped decorations were supposed to be labeled "Purple Posies," but apparently Wilton's proofreader was on vacation that day, because somebody transposed a couple of letters. All the Purple Posies became Purple Poises.

In case you haven't been listening to TV ads, "Poise" is a brand of adult incontinence product. As soon as I saw Wilton's unfortunate misspelling, I posted a slightly sarcastic response on Facebook pointing it out (something like, "That's the last thing I'd want on my cake"). Then I waited a couple of days, thinking surely such an awkward error would quickly be corrected.


I sent Wilton an email. And waited. Then I sent another. Then I posted again, this time directly on Wilton's website. Finally, whether simply because I was persistent or perhaps because others were laughing as hard as I was, Wilton cleaned up its act and disposed of the Poises. You can see for yourself at

By sheer coincidence, I saw an ad today for a new product, the one shown above—a purple Poise. Oh dear, it's too funny.

Please don't depend on spell check for important documents. Depend on a pair of trained human eyes with a brain behind them. Like me.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Five things I hate about my cell phone

A couple of years ago, my new Blackberry Storm was one of the best smartphones on the market. (Obviously this was pre-iPhone.) Its cool features and Verizon's buy-one-get-one-free deal hooked my husband and me into buying a pair. I've rued the day many times since then.

His BB Storm has served him well; mine has beaten me into the ground with its quirks. Try to take a photo: the flash goes off, but the shutter doesn't click (sometimes). Try to open a website in the browser: you could wait for hours, and if it does eventually come up, you can't read it on the tiny screen (most every time). Try to use the phone: the screen goes black, and all you can see is a tiny square with a revolving arrow (at the most annoying times). Try to play the highly addictive Word Mole game while your husband is sleeping beside you: the tap-tap-tap noise of the keyboard wakes him up, and he says, "Are you playing Word Mole again?" (sigh)

I'm actually on my fifth Blackberry Storm. No lie. I've had to send four phones back to Verizon for free replacements because one by one they have gone suddenly, irretrievably black. I've complained out loud so often that my husband has found himself saying the same thing over and over: "So, when are you going to [stop complaining and] get a different phone?"

My commitment to the Blackberry and to Verizon expired last April. I continued to complain; I had no excuse for not upgrading except that the pain of switching would be worse than the pain of keeping what I had. Kind of like living with a broken leg because you don't want the doc to set it.

This week I found my courage and set my broken leg with a new Droid Incredible 2. It was smart, it was free with a 2-year commitment, and it had great reviews. I knew it wouldn't have Word Mole but figured I could keep the Blackberry charged up for the game.

Now I'm wondering, What the heck was I thinking? This amazing new phone has become Jenny's Enemy No. 1. Here's why I hate it:
  1. Turning it on is a 2-step process, and that's one step too many. Why do I have to push a button AND swipe the screen?
  2. The Facebook interface stinks. I can't see at a glance whether I have new notifications in Facebook. That's a separate, five-step process. Swipe, swipe, touch, swipe, touch.
  3. I can't get email set up. After four days, I'm still trying to get the IMAP settings from our domain admin. Paul, call me!
  4. Making anything larger takes two fingers and a special pulling-apart motion instead of one finger pressing the screen.
  5. I lost my ring tone: the theme song from Firefly, one of my favorite movies.

    Bonus item:
  6. It doesn't have Word Mole. That means I'm stuck carrying around two phones until I can download an equally addictive, challenging, fun time waster on the Droid.
Yeah, I know—new technology can be hard to adopt when you're so in tune with the old (the enemy you know intimately can be a more comfortable companion than a new friend). Give me another week or two, and I'll eventually find a few things I like about my Droid.

The positives so far:
  • It's thin.
  • It doesn't constantly reboot itself.
  • It can automatically switch to speaker mode when you flip it over.
  • The clock display is so big I'm sure the astronauts can read it from the space station.
  • Its touch screen doesn't make any noise, so when I do eventually find another game, I can play it in stealth mode all night long.
Do you think I could bribe the Droid programmers to make an Incredible version of Word Mole?