Basically Perfect: Chocolate Fudge Cake

For some people, or perhaps most (according to my high school science teacher), smell is the sense most strongly tied to memory. Well, I only have half a sense of smell (it’s a long story, don’t worry about it), so I’ve always had to grasp onto other, more dependable things. As you may guess given the topic of this blog, I have many memories tied to food. For example, my grandma’s simple chocolate cake brings me back to when my brother, sister and I all lived at home with my parents, and my grandma would come over for steak dinner, potatoes (side note: I ate cheese bread at these meals. Literally white bread and cheddar, broiled), and dessert…my grandma never forgot the dessert. The cake showed up frequently, and as a sheet cake, could be decorated for various occasions: New Years Eve? Sure, write on the cake and bring some noise makers…Easter? Well we have the pastel frosting, might as well…an average Tuesday? Why not make that random day all the better?

As time went on and my grandma passed away, there came a distance between my family and our chocolate cake. That is, until a few weeks ago when my mom requested “Grandma’s Chocolate Cake” for her birthday dessert. My family does birthdays in a big bad way, so when mom requests a specific cake, you give it to her, and you don’t ask questions…or you shouldn’t anyway. As soon as my mom emailed me the recipe I started scheming about what I could do to make it more special. I knew I had a great idea when I realized my sister and I were thinking the same thing: transform the sheet cake into a round layer cake.

The day I was planning on making the cake I told mom I had to stop by to get my round cake pans. My comment was met with silence, and then, “Why? What are you doing to my cake?” I insisted that I wasn’t doing anything big, just making it better. “I asked for my chocolate cake. I like my chocolate cake as it is. Don’t screw with my cake.” She was overreacting, I was sure. What’s better than a chocolate cake? A layered chocolate cake, that’s what. “No, that will mess up the frosting. The frosting is the best part, don’t screw with my…no, wait, you know what? Don’t screw with your GRANDMA’S cake.” My mother, the sweetest woman in the world, was speaking sternly, and about food, no less. So I had no choice. I was going to make grandma’s cake, and not screw with it…well not much.

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Faking Authenticity (And Loving It)

The boy and I cook differently. One is no better than the other (yada yada yada), but different strokes for different folks, right? For instance, when I try something new in the kitchen, I tend to research and pay attention to the process. When the boy helps, and he’s a GREAT helper, btw, he tends to get a bit…how should I say this…courageous. Yes, a big courageous man, that’s it.

Anyway, I decided last week that I should try to make a Mexican dish that I’ve ordered for years but never dared try at home. I love peppers, I love explosions of cheese, so it naturally follows that I love chili rellenos. I had no idea how to make the mysteriously delicious item, and I honestly didn’t even know what “rellenos” meant, but I was going to figure it out, and I was going to make an authentic, Mexican dish. Well, at least sorta.

To be fair, my recipe plan was never truly authentic. Since I knew I was going to be frying cheese-stuffed peppers in shortening, I wanted a side that was a bit healthier than the plate’s main attraction. The boy and I both like spanish rice, so I decided to make spanish quinoa, which we perfected last winter in another bout of Mexican experimentation (fajitas). For those who think “quinoa” doesn’t even look like a real word, pay attention, because it’s so very, very real. It tastes like rice, but it’s actually a gluten-free whole grain, and a protein powerhouse, which cooks in a mere 15 minutes. I personally think it may have super powers, but believe what you will.

In addition to the quinoa move that may bring shudders and head shakes from Mexican cooks worldwide, we ended up taking some creative (read: time-saving and frustration-lowering) allowances with this recipe. Why? Because as much as a refined cook as I like to pretend to be, sometimes a girl’s gotta find a shortcut, and that’s okay. It’s especially okay if the result is as crunchy, gooey, and delicious as this was, but perhaps I’m just making excuses. Let’s cut to the chase…

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Pot Sticker Sacrifice

Pot Stickers

Certain meals end up in a pile labeled “for restaurant consumption only.” There isn’t one specific characteristic that makes foods end up in this category; Sometimes a restaurant makes something so perfect I can’t bring myself to even try to recreate it, other times the ingredients seem too foreign or expensive, and often I’m simply confused by the process and intimidated by the thought of figuring it out. Fortunately, this blog yanks me forward, twists my arm, and directs me to the grocery store aisles I tend to avoid.

A couple weeks ago, I needed a quick lunch and ended up having a frozen box meal of vegetable pot stickers that had been long forgotten in the back of my freezer. Since I usually have the attitude of “too refined for thee” when it comes to frozen food, I was not excited when I realized I had no choice but to heat and eat. While chowing down, I realized I was enjoying the boxed food, and not just any food, but a meal that I had vehemently insisted was “restaurant only” for many years. If frozen food in a box could make non-offensive pot stickers, I certainly could, right? Sure, pot stickers intimidate me for not one, not two, but all three aforementioned reasons (restaurant perfection, foreign ingredients, mysterious process), but what could possibly go wrong? Armed with a strong attitude and misguided confidence, I made a detailed list and marched to the grocery store.

This recipe comes with a disclaimer: Neither I nor the boy ate the finished product unscathed. Perhaps a lesser woman would take this as a sign that some recipes should indeed be left with the tab at the table, but not I, dear readers. One must remember two simple things while reading the following: 1) It is essential to think before doing, in all matters of life and heated cookware, and 2) Some of us are more prone to accidents (read: stupidity), so take my pain with a grain of salt.

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A Rolled-Up Confession

Rolled up Lasagna

Those close to me may claim that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. A more negative person may even use the term “Type A,” but I prefer to refer to myself as thorough. Whatever you want to call it, there’s one thing that’s certain: I’m not a fan of shortcuts. This is especially true in the kitchen. I feel incomplete if I use a store-bought-item that I could easily make myself. If the semi-homemade dish tastes good, sure I will enjoy it, but in the back of my mind there’s a nagging voice asking how much better it could have been. How much better it should have been.

Before you throw the even less-flattering label of “crazy” at me, know that there are times when I go against my better judgement and…cheat. Yes, people, okay? I let myself cheat. It feels so good to say it out loud. Regardless of kitchen values, there are certain situations where a girl needs to catch a break. For instance, this past Christmas I was elbow-deep in galette dough in preparation for Christmas day, and knew I didn’t have time for another from-scratch recipe for Christmas Eve. What’s a girl to do in such a predicament? Find an impressive-looking dish that uses simple (read: not time-consuming) ingredients of course, then make the magic happen…quickly.

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