Slow Cooker Lava Cake

If you want to ruin the diet of everyone in the whole party, this should be your go-to recipe.

Chocolate lava cake is like a chocoholic’s dream. Chocolate cake, with melted chocolate chips, so moist that it needs a bowl. And it’s dangerously easy to make.

The one problem is that lava cake is only really good when it is first served. Leftovers, if there ever are any, aren’t nearly as good as the fresh dish.

Slow Cooker Chocolate Lava Cake

  • One box of chocolate cake mix
    • 1/3 cup oil
    • 1 egg
    • water (per instructions)
  • one box of instant pudding, chocolate flavour
    • 2 cups milk
  • one bag of chocolate chips
  1. In the crock pot, milk up the cake mix per the instructions (they usually take one egg, 1/3 cup of oil, and some amount of water).
  2. Mix the pudding mix and milk, and pour onto the cake batter.
  3. pour the chocolate chips on top of the batter and pudding.
  4. stir briefly, four or five strokes.
  5. Turn the crock pot on high, cover, and ignore the scent of chocolate for two hours, then start checking it every twenty minutes or so. When the cake is just starting to pull away from the edges of the crock but the center still looks wet, serve with a soup ladle and vanilla ice cream.

Surprisingly Good Greek Food in El Paso

El Paso is justly famous for Mexican food. That’s no surprise, considering that it straddles the border with Ciudad Juárez.

A random (but very photogenic) salad, borrowed from Zino’s website.

I was surprised, however, to find a pretty good Greek restaurant in the center of El Paso.

We visited Zino’s with some traveling friends.

Zino’s is a small place, in a strip mall in the middle of town. The decor is classic 20th century American pizzeria. Nothing about the outside says, good food ahead.

Once inside, though, service is pleasantly quick and you can see into the clean, bright, well-equipped kitchen. We ordered a basic meal of gyros on pita bread, with fries and tzatziki.

The service was quick (the restaurant was not crowded that night). We found the portions to be generous, the food fresh and savory, the fries surprisingly delicious with their garlic and Parmesan and their tangy dipping sauce.

Most restaurants will have us a ‘star’ food, such as a steak, surrounded by a supporting cast of indifferent quality. Zino’s food had the star, the gyro, the pita, vegetables, fries and tzatziki were all equally attractive and tasty. The spiced beef and lamb were a treat that I hadn’t had in years, since I enjoyed street food in Amsterdam — Shawarma.

We finished the meal with baklava. Zino’s has three varieties of baklava: chocolate baklava, pistachio baklava, and classic honey and walnut baklava.

I like to be adventurous with food, but the idea of chocolate and baklava meeting filled me with dread. Two great things that should never, ever exist together. I didn’t have the courage to try it. I guess that I’m more of a traditionalist than I’d thought.

Pistachio baklava, on the other hand, sounded like an improvement on the traditional. Unfortunately, other people who thought this already, and bought Zino’s out of their day stock. Lo, I was bummed.

So we tried the traditional baklava. It was flaky, sweet, and dense, just the way baklava should be. I will certainly be back some time to try the pistachio baklava, but I was not disappointed in the traditional baklava that we bought.

We’ve been back to Zino’s a few times now. I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for Mediterranean food in the El Paso area. The portions are generous, the prices are good, and the food is well worth a visit!

February 20th update We went back and tried the pistachio baklava. It is interestingly spiced, with more than a hint of pumpkin pie spice. Marvelous texture, though I do prefer the fillo be layered more (this was more sandwich than lasagne- dough, filling, dough; I prefer many layers of dough with a bit

pistachio baklava

of filling between each) but it was certainly enjoyable and we’ll be back for more in the future.

My lovely wife photographed the food for me. If you enjoy her work, check out her travel blog.

An Adventure at the Oriental Market

I’m not Asian. I’m an American, of pan-European ancestry. I’ve never traveled farther east than Switzerland. My culinary DNA is mostly Italian, but there’s true appeal in good Chinese cuisine (as served in American restaurants).

have worked in several Chinese restaurants, and I’ve always enjoyed the balanced teamwork that Chinese food shows. A good dish will always have some sour, some sweet, some salty and some bitter. Crunchy water chestnuts snuggle up against soft noodles and crisp bamboo shoots, all unified by savory sauce.

I revisited a local Oriental market yesterday. It’s a small shop, for a place that sells the foods that 4.5 billion humans enjoy. The shelves crowded with exotic (to Western eyes) preserved vegetables, a hundred varieties of rice, and aisles of sauces.

I’ve found that most of these shops’ proprietors are knowledgeable and quite willing to explain what their mystery ingredients (many of which are not labeled in English!) are, or how to recreate a restaurant favorite. Yesterday, though, I was just killing time and shopping for whims.

Starting in the produce section, I found bags of peeled garlic cloves. Convenient! It costs a bit more to buy the pre-peeled cloves than it does to buy heads of garlic, of course, but the convenience is worth it.

Next, I grabbed Enoki mushrooms. They’re tiny mushrooms, looking like a tiny ball on the end of a stalk of grass, all the color of ripe wheat. They’re great in stir fry.

Bok choy was tempting but for whatever reason, didn’t really keep my attention, so I put it back and wandered to the next aisle:  noodles.

Italians are famous for pasta; history tells me that Marco Polo brought it back from China in the thirteenth century. We owe him a debt of gratitude! I grabbed a package of flat rice noodles, looking like a paler version of fettuccine. My random dinner was taking shape.

The last aisle that I shopped was full of sauces, more than half of which had English labels. Korean barbeque sauce, oyster sauce, eight feet of varieties of soy sauce all jostle for attention.  I grabbed a bottle of teriyaki (which is childishly simple to make, but I couldn’t find mirin and was feeling lazy).

On the way to the register, I found a bag of dried black fungus. When it is dry, it looks like random scraps of leather cut from an old shoe. Rehydrated, it is supple, interesting and deeply flavored. It went into my basket and I left before I could impulse buy anything else.

Once I was home, I took the last of a bag of shrimp out of the freezer to thaw, and my dinner ingredients were complete.

This meal could have come from any part of the market. I might’ve grabbed rice instead of noodles, or water chestnuts instead of (or in addition to) the black fungus. The improv nature of stir fry is one of the reasons why I prefer it to the much more measured field of baking.

Since raw (or lightly cooked) garlic is a very strong flavor, I decided to caramelize it. Long slow cooking turns garlic from a bright blast of flavor to a sweet, rich but soft one. I dropped about two tablespoons of coconut oil into a wok, added the garlic, and put it over the lowest heat my stove would do, then went away to check my email. I tossed the garlic three times in the next half hour, until it had changed from firm white cloves to soft, golden cloves with a hint of browning.

The noodles’ instructions said to soak them in hot water for ten minutes. I’ve tried that before and they come out quite underdone, so this time I soaked them for ten minutes, as directed, but then added them to the wok. Since the black fungus needs rehydration, I added it to the same zip-loc bag as the noodles.

I turned the heat up to high under the wok and added the enokis. You’ll have to trim them off of their base but that it just one or two cuts.

Enokis are small, so you’ll want to keep either stirring or tossing the veggies or they’ll burn. I sauteed them for about a minute, until the stalks were starting to relax towards limpness, and then added the (drained) noodles and black fungus.

I added the teriyaki sauce and covered the wok. This lets the whole mixture steam. Then I peeled the shrimp, stopping every few minutes to toss the veggies around to mix them.

Once the shrimp were peeled, I removed the wok cover and dropped the shrimp on top of the noodles, then tossed the wok so that the shrimp were on the bottom.

These shrimp were super mongo huge 13-15 count shrimp, so I cooked it for about three more minutes, until the shrimp were uniformly light pink, then served the mix in bowls. If they’d been the smaller shrimp that I usually use, it would have taken less time, but a local supermarket had a really good sale a few weeks ago so huge shrimp is what I had. It’s a cross to bear.

Pretty Good Impromptu Oriental Noodles
Serves two hungry people, or four as a side dish
4 oz peeled garlic cloves
2 tb coconut oil
4 oz dry  banh pho noodles
2 oz dried black fungus
4 oz enoki mushrooms
2 oz teriyaki sauce
6 oz shrimp

  1. Caramelize the garlic: add the oil to the wok, over very low heat, then add the garlic. Cook for about half an hour, until soft and slightly darkened.
  2. Rehydrate: soak the black fungus and the noodles for about ten minutes in hot water. A large zip-loc bag is convenient for this but a cake pan or large bowl works fine too.
  3. Peel the shrimp. Slice the enoki mushroom so that the long stems are separated from the base, and discard the base.
  4. Drain the noodles and dried mushrooms.
  5. Bring heat under the wok to high and saute the noodles, teriyaki sauce and fungus (stirring every minute or so) for about five minutes at high heat. Noodles should be quite pliable when done.
  6. Add the shrimp, mix them to the bottom of the wok, and cook for about 2-3 more minutes. They should be light pink all the way through when done.

Eat well, have fun, enjoy life.