Saturday, January 22, 2011

Help out the Cake Fraggles!

Dear Tricia, I was making a 3 level cake for my boyfriend's birthday, and decided to try and save some time by baking the whole thing in one bundt pan. I tried compensating for baking time, but after the cake mostly baked and cooled, the whole thing collapsed in the pan because there was some uncooked batter in the center. I ended up throwing out the whole thing and not making life any easier. Was there something I did wrong other than not baking it long enough? And in the future, what could I have done to salvage a dessert from a mostly (but not entirely) baked and collapsed cake? And also what are ways to convert 3-layer recipes into something less work intensive?

Wow, I'm impressed! I've never made a 3 level cake for anyone without it involving a paycheck. Not even my husband. (I got him beef jerky for Christmas though. Pretty sure that counts for something in the Awesome Department.)
Basically what you did wrong was put way too much batter in the pan- there was just no where for it to go. Let's imagine you're back to square one and you're making the recipe in 3 pans. Each pan has... let me think of something cute and memorable... Cake Fraggles. Right, each pan has 3 Cake Fraggles that do the heavy lifting and push the cake batter up to rise and become a fluffy delicious birthday treat. As the cake rises it uses the sides of the pan for some extra support while those Fraggles do the heavy lifting. Got that image in your head? Ok, now imagine taking all of the cake batter, putting it in 1 pan, and expecting just 3 Cake Fraggles to lift up 3 times as much weight. It's too heavy the cake isn't going anywhere- definitely not up. So now you've got 3 exhausted Cake Fraggles who have given up and are moving on to cocktails by now, and cake batter that is just going to sit and sit and sit. Even if you left the pan in the oven for an entire day, the outside would over bake and be a crispy hot mess before the inside came anywhere close to baking. It's too much mass in too small of a space to give you the same results.
I hope I didn't get too far out there with the Cake Fraggle references. In my mind they're adorable and magical and house trained.

So what to do with the mass of uncooked batter? If you're cool with eating potentially raw eggs**, I recommend mixing it in with ice cream or adding heavy cream and putting it in an ice cream maker for some cake batter ice cream. For the stuff that is baked, you cut it into pieces and put it in a bowl or a parfait glass (let's be serious, who owns parfait glasses?) or a martini glass and layer it with fruit and whipped cream for a ghetto version of a trifle. You can also blend it up into cake crumbs, and use that to garnish your next baked goodie (free of What the Bleep moments I hope) like on the top of cupcake frosting or on the side of a cake.

In the future, if you're wanting to make a smaller version of a tiered cake, you've got to make less batter, first and foremost. Take your recipe, cut the measurement of each ingredient in half and go from there. If you fill a pan with batter and the pan is more than 2/3 full, you're in trouble. I don't event like to fill the pan more than half full, but you know your recipe better than I do. You've got to have some room on the side of the pan for the cake to rise. Give the Cake Fraggles a break already.

**For anyone who says "You can't eat raw eggs! I'd never do that! It's gross!" I just want to remind you that, next time you're digging into the raw cookie dough/eating your feelings, guess what's included? Raw eggs. I doubt that knowing that will stop you next time either you flip-flopper.

Friday, January 7, 2011

What's New for What the Bleep Happened?

Happy New Year, my little pets! 2010 was AWESOME- thank you for sending in your culinary quandaries, for sharing my blog with your friends, and for your support. 2011 is going to be even better- the publishing industry is finally starting to warm back up after an economically challenging year (read: no one wants to spend money on producing new books) and my book is back on the table at a couple of different publishers. What they really want to see is my blog getting more and more visits.

I need your help!

If you like reading the crazy stuff that I write, please tell your friends about it, post a link on your facebook, become a fan of my facebook fan page, subscribe to the blog, etc. Just think, you can say you knew about me before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. Won't that feel good?

Again, thanks for reading and get ready for a lot of What the Bleep Happened surprises in 2011....

Sunday, January 2, 2011

NYC Tacos, Texas Style

Dear Tricia, As you know, I have moved up to New York and recently I have met a boy. I want to cook dinner for him tonight and I have been racking my brain (and reading all the archives in your blog), trying to find something that would impress but not bankrupt me or embarrass me (just in case I messed it up, you know.) He has never been to Texas and I talk about Texas all the time, being the wholesome Texas female that I am, and I decided that I want to make tacos!! We're talkin, Torchys/Gueros/cart-on-the- side-of-the-road-on-the-east-side-at-2-in-the-morning-with-fresh-lime-and-cilantro kind of tacos. I've never really made pork before and I'm not bad with chicken, I just want it to have that umph like they do at home! Can you give me a good recipe for some impressive, delicious tacos that will school my new beau and bring me a little piece of home to these yanks up here in NY?

Hell to the yes. Let me just pause for a second to reminisce the days of living in Austin where taco carts were abundant and delicious. The days when you could order a Democrat taco and a Republican taco and the two parties would unite peacefully in your belly. Those were glorious days. I think I can even hear Willie Nelson in the background.
Since you're most comfortable with chicken, and now is not the time to potentially mess up dinner for your new manfriend, lets stick with that.
The thing about cooking a really flavorful ANYTHING, whether its sauce, or soup or just some pulled chicken tacos, you have to have a really strong, flavorful base. The base is the first thing you put in the pan- its what will give you the umph, as you so eloquently put it, and its what you should spend the most time on. In this case, its seasonings and onions.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion roughly chopped
1 overflowing teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
a big pinch of salt and a couple of twists of the pepper grinder
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup salsa (try not to use Pace picante sauce. If you have to use something out of a jar, I recommend Joe T. Garcia's if you can find it, or something that has the words "fire roasted" on the label. Darker red salsas are better.)
1 cup chicken stock
about a half a lime

First and foremost- get your stuff ready first. Measure everything out, have it ready in little bowls or tupperware or whatever fits in your tiny NYC kitchen. (Do you even have a kitchen, or are you using a hot plate on top of your ironing board? Just curious.) Getting your shit ready before you start makes your life easier in general.

Put a sauce pot over medium heat and let it get hot, for at least a few minutes. This is something that I can't stress enough in cooking- you have to have heat. Don't be a pansy.
Then put in the olive oil and let that get hot.
When the olive oil is hot in your already hot pan, add the onion, cumin, chili powder and the salt and pepper. Stir this around and let the onions soften and get brown. They're going to start to look dark as the spices coat them, but don't be afraid because this is what makes your tacos taste awesome.
After the onions start to soften, about 3-5 minutes, add the chicken stock. Stir this around to get all dark stuff off the bottom of the pan. Then add the chicken and the salsa.
Turn down the heat to let it simmer and cover the pan and let it cook for about 20 minutes. What's a simmer, you ask? That means the liquid has a steady stream of a few small bubbles on the surface. It's like a Diet Boiling.
After your chicken is fully cooked, take it out and let it cool. Turn the sauce pot back up to about medium and let it reduce.
Reducing means you're going to let about half the liquid evaporate, so your cup of chicken stock will reduce down to about a half a cup, which makes the flavors more concentrated. See? You're already less of a gringo than when you began reading this blog.
When your chicken is cool enough, you can start to shred it. Just pull it apart with your fingers or with a couple of forks and then, once your sauce is reduced, add it back into the pot. Turn down the heat to low, add that squeeze of lime, and you're good to go.

You can serve these tacos on whatever tortillas you like, add some fresh slices of avocado, sour cream and some roughly chopped cilantro.

Here's the deal with tacos- don't let this recipe limit you. If you like more heat, or less spice or you think cumin tastes like feet, then add something else instead. You can't break this recipe. The point is to cook the seasonings with the onions and make sure you get that flavor developed first, and the rest is gravy. Or tacos, rather. And if the end product is too watery, that means you're not reducing your sauce enough. A half a cup of sauce spread out over the bottom of a pot isn't a lot- its only 4 ounces. That's like a third of a tall coffee at Starbucks. You just want enough to coat the shredded chicken. And this recipe works for beef and pork too. Go do it to it and good luck with your manfriend. Hope he doesn't end up being a douchebag or something though, because he's going to want to stick around after these tacos.

If things work out and you decided to seal the deal, don't forget to check out my blog on making him breakfast the morning after here. I wrote this when my husband and I started dating, and now we're legal. Was it the breakfast? Not sure, but my marriage license thinks so.