Friday, May 27, 2011

Taste the Rainbow: How I Pulled Off The Rainbow Cake!

I won the cake category at this year's department bake off with this beauty and it is really simple to make if you are looking for a huge WOW factor from your guests. It's the perfect cake for your rainbow loving friends of all ages.

So, there are several ways to make it, but I am going to go with the most straight forward, boxed variety way. If you have a good homemade recipe for a white or vanilla cake, by all means go with that, freakin' Polly Perfect. This recipe is for the rest of us who have to work 50 hours a week, commute 2 hours, raise kids, and go to church on Sundays with the in-laws. Let's get started.

  • 2 - Boxes of cake mix in vanilla, white, or french vanilla flavors.
    • (The cake base has to be white so if you see another boxed variety that would normally produce a white cake on completion, by all means go for it and tell me how it works out for you.)
  • Whatever ingredients your cake mix says it needs to be made (usually eggs, oil, and water.)
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • Gel food coloring in blue, red, yellow minimum. Splurge for more colors as your budget allows. Gel works better than the cheap kind that you dye Easter eggs with. You will use less dye, and the colors will be more vibrant. 
  • 1- 4.5 lb tub of icing. I chose white butter cream, but you can really pick your flavor here. If you can't find a big tub like the one at the link, aim for about 9 cups of icing in smaller containers. You will seriously use it all. White gives the biggest contrast between the colors, so consider using almond, root beer, or lemon extracts as flavorings if you want a flavor. Look in your grocer's baking spice area for different flavors you can mix into a plain icing. If you must have chocolate or strawberry, who the hell am I to tell you otherwise? Go for it.
  • 1- 8" cake pan (though having four pans would really speed things up. I had 2 pans going at once and had to make the the cake in 3 batches.)
  • 6 bowls and spoons to mixing the colors in. Big cereal bowls work just fine.
Okay, first things first. Freakin' mise en place. Having all your stuff in one spot and ready to go will save you so much time. This cake took like 5 hours to make because of my ghetto stove and limited amount of cake pans. Do yourself a favor by having everything ready to go when you get started. I am going to assume that you only 2, 8" cake pans like myself. If you were smart enough to borrow some pans from friends, you are wicked smart and certainly have more forethought than me.

Have yo shit together!

Start by preheating the oven and making the batter of one of the cake mixes per the box's instructions. Once your batter is amalgamated you can use a measuring cup, or your good eye, to separate the batter into 3 of your bowls in equal amounts.

Next, decide whether you want purple or red as the bottom layer. Why you ask? Because if we cook the cake in the order we want to stack it, we can ice it as we go instead of waiting for the layers to cook and cool out of order. We are starting with purple on the bottom.

Grab your gel coloring and get ready to mix it in your separated cake mix. Now, how many of your remember the color wheel from art class? If you only bought the standard 4 color box of food coloring, you're going to need it to make purple and orange. If you bought the bare minimum of blue, yellow, and red, you will need to make purple, green, and orange. Here is a wheel to remind you how.

To make purple, you will mix red and blue together. Start with a small amount of dye, only a few drops of each, and stir stir stir. Keep playing with adding a little red or a little blue until your desired purple comes out, or you get close enough to be satisfied. For the love of God don't mix in any other color besides blue or red, or else you will get brown. Thoroughly mix in the dye so you don't have streaks when you pour the batter into the pan.

Next you will need to make blue. Simple, just use the blue dye and stir like a boss.

Then, you need to make green. Start with a just a few drops of blue and a lot of yellow, or else you will have a really dark green. Add one drop of blue at a time after that to get your desired green.

I paid attention in art class!

Now, pour your purple batter into one greased cake pan, and the blue batter into the other greased cake pan. Put in the oven. Now keep in mind that you are going to have a reduced baking time due to the fact that you have split your batter. My layers took between 18 and 20 minutes to cook. The box said it would take 45 minutes. I would have had a brown and black cake if I weren't paying attention. So check on your cake layers after about 15 minutes. You will know you are close to done when the edges of the cake start to pull away from the pan, and a toothpick poked in the middle comes out clean. Don't worry if the cake gets a few brown spots on top, we'll take care or that later.

While those cakes are cooking, mix up your second cake mix per the box instructions. Separate into three more bowls. You will now need to make a yellow, orange, and red layer.

Red: Squirt red dye, mix. Yellow: Squirt yellow dye, mix. Look at that, already done.

Orange: Add one or two drops of red and like 5 or 6 yellows. Keep adding yellow or red until you reach your desired color. Remember, a little red goes a long way.

The next step is to check on your cakes! Did you forget about them in the oven? Pull them out if they are ready. Let them cool for 10 minutes before you flip them out of the pans.

After you have depanned the cakes, you will need to wash the crumbs out, dry, and regrease the pans for the next round of cakes. You will want to make the green and yellow layers next. Follow in same fashion until you have all the layers baked and cooled. In between layers, clean your kitchen or eat out of the tub of icing so you have the energy to carry this thing through to the end.

The next step is really, really important. If you don't remember, earlier this month I had a cake fall and slather chocolate icing down the kitchen wall right before a party. Why did that happen, you ask? Because I didn't take the time to level the layers before stacking them. All you have to do is take a serrated knife and carefully carve the domed top off each cake layer. This will carve off any brown spots that might have formed on the top as well. Jonathan took care of this because, as we all know, I can't be trusted with knives. All was well in cake land.

Carved and Chillin'!
After all your layers are good and cool, you can grab your tub-o-icing and get to work. I iced mine on a pedestal, so I laid down four strips of parchment paper in order to keep the icing off the edges. Put a medium sized glob of icing down in the middle of your plate to hold the bottom later still. Carefully pick up the purple later and place the bottom side down, and the carved layer up. This is important, pay attention Myrtle. Ice the purple layer, being sure not to mound icing towards the middle. We don't want a dome. Add the blue layer next, bottom of the cake down, cut layer up. Eat some icing to fend off exhaustion.


You will follow suit with the green, to yellow, and finally orange layers. Make sure to take your time and make sure that you are placing the layers center each time. You don't want a leaning tower of Pisa cake. That is for another lesson.

Now, you're probably wondering about the red layer. Why does it get special treatment?! Here's why. You want to put the red layer carved side DOWN so that you don't get little crumbies all over the icing. The bottom side will be better about holding its business together, especially if you let it completely cool like I told you to just minutes ago. Spread a thin later of icing on top of this layer as well. Here is the mash-up:

It was after 10 p.m. by this point
You will want to spread a thin layer of icing around the outer edge of the cake as well. It doesn't have to be completely covered at this point. In fact, you don't want it to be. You want it iced just enough to barely cover the layers. Now, you are going to put the whole damn lot in the fridge for 30 minutes and go take a shower or something. Why? Because your back will hurt from fussing over it, icing will be everywhere, and you will be cursing yourself for making this on a work night. Oh, and letting the icing chill will harden it up with the crumbs so that the final coat will cover everything nicely.

After the big chill, put your final coat of icing on and Voila! You have a secret rainbow cake. Now, don't be judgemental, because here is what mine turned out like:

Big and kind of deformed.
My cake had to make a 20+ mile trip to the office 90 degree heat, and I did not have a cover to put on this pedestal. What I did is put two dowel rods through the center of the cake to give it support. You can use drink straws if you don't have rods or skewers. (Thanks for the tip Nikki!) You'll notice the rods sticking out the top there. Then I used plastic wrap to make a sort of tent to cover it. The cake was then returned to the fridge for storage over night.

Jon and I woke up panicked every few hours wondering if it had fallen over. We each got up throughout the night to check on it.

The next morning we left the house at 6:30 a.m. to get me to the office on time. Jon had to drive me because the cake had taken on the weight of a toddler and could not make the trip without being held the entire time.

Once I made it to the display table, I SLOWLY pulled out the dowel rods and used a knife to cover the holes with icing. I was then chased off because judging was about to start. The contest officiators said there was a collective gasp when the cake was cut into. Who could blame them? This cake was truly awesome.

Taste the rainbow!

If you like what you see, please Follow Me for more recipes and cooking related antics.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Haute Wheels Went Flat

Last week, I was so excited to go to the first ever Houston food truck festival you guys. It was called Haute Wheels, and there was a big hoo-ra-ra about it in the Houston Press. The MFE crew had already bought tickets, so Jon and I decided what better way to break my food-truck cherry AND see our friends?

I had a patient to see Saturday afternoon, so we didn't make it to the festival until around 2pm. Our friends were on the inside waiting in line as we walk up to get out tickets. (We had tried to buy tickets online, but the online venue had sold out. However, it said tickets were still available at the gate.) We maneuvered up and down packed side streets and were about to snag a spot not too far from the action. We walked up to buy our tickets...guess what...sold out.

You have to be fucking kidding me. We drove 20+ something miles for nothing. I couldn't tell you how pissed off I was, especially since our friends were just on the other side. Jon made a muted stink about how they should have posted on the website when they are completely sold out of tickets, being that troves of people were being turned away. I simply gave Lily's "You're Dead to Me Now" look.

 That's right bitch.

Now, I'm pretty rule governed (color in the lines, don't walk on the grass, contribute to the coffee collection at the office) but I was pretty pissed off at this point. On a normal day, I would have sulked my white girl butt back to the car, drove home, and pouted for the rest of the day. Not this Saturday. As Jon and I walked back to the car, I told him we should ask someone leaving the festival for their wristbands. He totally looked at me like the Inception Animals.

  Yes, we are THAT goodie-two-shoes

At first, I was hoping he would do be brave enough to ask someone, but after some observed distress, I grew my own balls and did it myself. Not only did we score 2 wrist bands, but free drink tickets, too. We snuck back to our car to reattach them with tape, hunched over secretly as if we were snorting crack behind some bushes near an elementary school playground.

We try to act cool as we walk to the front gate, but we both break out into a sweat. What if they catch us!?! Oh the public shaming that will commence! However, after much sweating, we make it through the gate entrance unmolested. Eureka!

What did we do for the next 2 hours you ask? Try lots of great grub and hang out with friends? Nope. Each set of friends stood in a different line for about 1 1/2 hours waiting to order and receive awful food. We were all going to wait in one line until we notice that the lines were not moving at all. So, we split up and gave out orders to each friend to pick up. Jon hit up drinks, I got a Korean food truck, Kail and Jules hit BBQ, and Roy hit a wrap-mobile. Sam rotated around trucks, hunted for a shady spot and short lines, and tried to keep the baby happy.

Jon made it out first and distributed overpriced booze. The $16 entry fee basically got you 2 sodas or 1 beer. He opted for the one beer. He got back to me as I waited at the "The Rolling Hunger" Truck. Apparently, it's rated as one of the Top 100 Food Trucks in Houston. After the waiting for an hour, I understand how the truck got its name. I was sooooo f-ing hungry, my stomach was rolling.

Too afraid to lose my spot and suffering from starvation-induced delirium, I managed to get this unfortunate photo only.
I chatted up the dude behind me whose wife was kind enough to bring him a snack from the truck "Zilla" while he waited in my line. Now, I was not expecting gourmet food by any stretch of the imagination. I was expecting some quirkiness and "fun" in the foods. Maybe I am just a food snob, but I wouldn't have paid $8 for this:

First Course: Penne Alfredo with pulled pork, shallots and Cheetos. Gross.
I was next to get through a line. I ordered egg roles and Korean tacos. We found out the delay was because the truck's fryer had broken down. (Apparently, this problem plagued almost all the trucks.) However, the fryer was now up and running as we placed our order. Well, after waiting another twenty minutes, we got our tacos and a refund for the egg rolls, because the fryer broke again. I was so happy to finally have some food, I squashed my pre-diabetic rage.

Tiny portions aside, it was pretty decent. However, it was definitely NOT worth waiting 1 1/2 hours. Moving on.

Slowest line ever!
If you're a Where's Waldo fan, see if you can spot Kail in this picture somewhere. The rest of us were hiding under the only bit of shade available. This truck specialized in bacon wrapped BBQ balls. We saw some people walking around with them, and they looked fantastic. Of course, the truck was sold out by the time we got to order. I think the thing that I struggled the most with on this line was the fact that there seemed something fundamentally wrong with waiting for BBQ this long. The excuse they kept giving was they needed more time "to cook" and catch up with demand. Ummm...BBQ takes hours to cook (many people smoke over night the food they plan to serve the next day.) So, shouldn't the BBQ be cooked already? Seems like they shouldn't be smoking anything for today's consumption right now. FAIL. Two hours later we get two "brisket" sandwiches and a few ribs. To be fair, the ribs were pretty good. Not "2 hours wait" good, but definitely good for a food truck. The brisket, potato salad, and coleslaw on the other hand were down right GAWD AWFUL.

I don't look so bad until you bite into me.
Watching someone eat this sandwich was akin to watching a movie in which Neanderthals tear at freshly killed antelope with their teeth. It was so tough and chewy that we ended up throwing most of it away. I literally had a slice of meat in my mouth and had to use both hands pulling at the other end to try to get a bite-sized portion off. I was worried Jon was going to lose the crown on his front tooth. The potato salad was vinegar based, and by vinegar based I mean a bowl of vinegar with a bit of potato floating in it. I didn't bother tasting the slaw after the others advised against it.

By the end of the ordeal we were all sunburned, dehydrated, and really hungry. We drove over to Little Bigs Burgers on Montrose, got some real food, and discussed how this event could have been more successful. This is what we came up with:

1.) More food trucks. We only counted maybe 15 there at most. Some of them had stickers on them that said "Top 100 Food Trucks in Houston".  Where the hell were the other 85 trucks? Hell, even 50 would have been better.

2.) Tell the trucks that they can only sell 1-3 items from their regular menu. This would stopped people from hemmin-and-hawin' about what they should get, speed up ordering, and prevent shortages. (We had waited an hour to order the BBQ balls just to find out they were out when we went to order, then we had to spend time thinking of something else. Out of that, too? Geez, what DO you have?)

3.) Only sell tickets online and when you sell out, tell the trucks how many people to expect so they can bring the appropriate amount of food and staff. ALL the trucks had at least 2 items sold out after 2 hours of being open. They weren't expecting that that many people would come out, I can guaran-damn-tee it.

4.) Stagger entry. As with any festival, everyone is breaking down the doors to get there when the gates open. Therefore, all the trucks were overwhelmed from the get go, causing fryers to break down, generators to overheat, and lines to be excessively long. Tickets should be sold in staggered bunches such as noon entry, 2pm entry, 4pm entry, and 6pm entry. This would have alleviated the noon slam and given the trucks more time to replenish supplies and give their generators a rest.

5.) Finally, provide more shaded seating. This event was held in a vast concrete parking lot with very few shade trees. There were a few picnic tables with umbrellas, but most people sat on the ground in any shade they could find. Coupled with the long lines and expensive drinks, everyone was hot and grouchy.

So there you have it folks, another food misadventure Kersten Kolache style.

My First Food Truck Meal & Other Wordlessness

Only 1 hour wait!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Birthday Cake and Other Plots

Last night, I whipped up a truly hideous cake for my co-worker's birthday. I had this huge scheme to make it a Friday the 13th cake, but I was so exhausted when I got home, I simply couldn't do much more than what you see here:

A cake only a kindergartner could love.
 One problem I have with fancy cake decorating is that I am so impatient. And too cheap to buy fancy tips that (supposedly) you don't really need. And shaky. I have zero motor control, I swear it is almost Parkinsonian. That's why I dropped out neurosurgery school...and don't hold other people's babies.

Anyways, I saw a tip on how to get nice(r) letters when writing on a cake that I gave a whirl, and it worked out pretty well for me. All you have to do is ice the cake in your background icing, then use a toothpick to write out what you want to say. Letter didn't turn our right? Smooth it over and start again until your happy, freakin' Polly Perfect.

Then, get the icing you wish to pipe on the words in and simply follow your toothpicked lines. Don't screw up now or you'll be screwed. The lines certainly helped, but because I have the fine motor skills of a baby monkey, the results weren't fantastic. Without the lines, I probably would have had something like this:

Or this

So now that this wreck is done, I have to start thinking of something to win the annual office cook off. Last year I got first place in cookies. I'm just kind of stumped this year. I have several factors against me: Less time, less patience, and most importantly, I have to drive 25 miles only to carry the damn thing 1/2 a mile from the parking garage and hope that it stays intact in 90 degree weather.

Part of me is feeling like I should blow it off. The other part of me knows that you guys just lust after my cooking debacles. Can y'all offer up any ideas? Oh, and please don't suggest that I should, "make whatever I am best at." Obviously, you are a new reader if you suggest that.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cake Wreck Round Two

I made a cake for the get together of the MFE gang last weekend. It was the first time we were hosting at our place, so I wanted everything to be perfect. I painstakingly stacked and iced a devil's food, double layer cake, but neglected to saw the layers flat because it had never really made a difference in the past. Also, the last time I attempted leveling a cake, I got cut. It's all just aesthetics anyway, right? So, I let it be.

The presentations were coming together nicely. My individual sized quiches were out of the oven and plated. All that was left was to hop in the shower and rinse the chocolate out of my hair and the onion juice off my skin. As Jon and I left the kitchen, I did a quick double take at the cake.

Me: "Does it look like the top layer is sliding off to you, babe?"
Jon: "Maybe, but it is probably just cooked a little lopsided. That's all."
Me: "Hmmm."

*We dash off to shower for the party*

This is what we found when we returned:

Not only had the top layer half slid off the bottom layer, it had come to rest against our white walls. Jon's advice: "Just leave it, we don't have time to do anything about it."

I very delicately slid the top layer back to center, but it almost immediately started sliding off again. It was turning into a true Sisyphus moment. I then have a stroke of genius.

Me to Brain: "How to wedding cake decorators get all those layers to stay put?"
Brain: "Umm...they actually take the time to level the layers."
Me: "Shut up brain, who asked you anyway?"
Brain: "Ummm, you just did genius"
Me: "Don't smart mouth me like that! What you were supposed to say was wooden stakes.
Brain: "Right..."

ME: "JON! Bring me some toothpicks, STAT!"

Jon proceeds to dash over with a box of toothpicks and we stab the top layer of the cake into submission. It actually worked. Then I had to wash the wall to get the brown icing off. We had just finished cleaning the wall and cake stand when we heard the first knock at the door. Everyone enjoyed the cake, oblivious to our shame.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

DC Dining, Finally

Sorry I have been away awhile, kids. I've been caught up with party planning for our first game night here at the new place. Plus, yesterday was my birthday, so I had to go partake in some excellent local cuisine to celebrate. However, it's time to get back to business. So, let's move on.

Enter Jaleo.

Jaleo was a restaurant that I first heard about on Iron Chef. If you remember from my previous post, Jaleo's Executive Chef, Jose Andres, smacked down my future baby's daddy, Bobby Flay, during battle goat. When I heard that Andres' restaurant was in D.C., I just had to go.

Well, here we are!
Chef Andres' style is Spanish influenced. His restaurant is a tapas bar. Neither Jon, nor I, knew what that was. What we understood it to be was appetizer-like dishes, but we had more of a little fried finger foods. Perhaps like Mexican empanadas. Boy, were we in for a surprise.

Tapas is simply Spanish for appetizer. So basically, you order 4 or 5 dishes to share about the table so that you can focus on the conversation and not dive into your meal, so to speak. Well, let me just say that our waitress was crap, and if she would have explained that to us in the beginning, we might have enjoyed our time a little bit more. The service we received was terrible! After trying to get reservations unsuccessfully for three nights, we were greeted by a teenager and waitstaff in blue jeans. I don't care how good the food is, if the waitstaff sucks, a restaurant will tank.

The first thing we were served was a chewy bread (good) with a cup of olive oil. In the olive oil was a rosemary branch and a clove of garlic (skin still on and unroasted). While it was a beautiful presentation, the oil absorbed almost none of the flavors of the aromatics. Disappointing.

Presentation: B+, Taste: C

Like most restaurants we go to, we always order a cheese plate. I must have been a mouse or a Frenchie in a former life, because I live for cheese. We had a variety of cheeses, mostly of Spanish goat origin. The collection was reasonably priced with a variety of excellent flavor pairings and texture ranges. Score: A+

Squeeek! I mean squee!
Then we had to decide between a large variety of tapas (or small courses). After we finally flagged down our waitress, we asked about how many we should order. She recommended about 5 selections for a table of 2. Because we had ordered the cheese plate appetizer, we decided that each of us should picking 2 plates for the table. It was a personal goal of mine to pick one safe dish (something I knew I would enjoy) and one unsafe dish (something I had not tried before). Jon went with two safe dishes. We placed our order and leisurely ate on our cheese. We couldn't enjoy our cheese long though, because our tapas starting coming within 3 minutes, in a haphazard fashion.

My unsafe dish came out first, and coincidentally, was one of the restaurant's best sellers: Dátiles con tocino. Bacon wrapped dates, which are then battered and fried. The menu stated:‘Como hace todo el mundo’ (you will want to eat this every day). I have never eaten a date before, and with an endorsement like that, how could I not give it a whirl?

Well, six little fried dates arrived at our table within about 3 minutes of our order. They looked like little hushpuppies, plated on a white saucer with a white cocktail napkin. Presentation: F. They were, of course, molten initially. After giving them a chance to cool, I braved my first bite. The little date was chewy with a chewy bit of bacon on it. The batter was crispy, but a bit oily.  It was a sweeter dish than I would have expected given the bacon. They weren't fantastic but they were OK. Definitely not something I will be craving everyday. Taste: B.

Jedi Andres: "You will want to eat this every day."
Us: "Your mind tricks won't work on us Jedi."

Next up was one of Jon's safe dishes. He ordered Gambas al ajillo, "the very, very famous tapa of shrimp sautéed with garlic." Initially, this was going to be a straight Jon dish, because I don't like seafood. He received a small bowl of about 5 shrimp, which appeared to sauteed or boiled in a golden yellow sauce. One bite of the shrimp revealed an intense garlic flavor. There was no fishy flavor at all. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and were not chewy. Jon devoured them, giving me a couple bites while I forced down my dates. Presentation: B+. Flavor: A.

Perhaps this should have been labeled "eat every day"
  Next came out Jon's other order: Trigueros con romesco. (Grilled asparagus with romesco sauce). Romesco is a Spanish-style, tomato, bell pepper, and garlic sauce thickened with nuts or bread. Presentation: B. Flavor B. Basically, it tasted like grilled asparagus in a thick spaghetti sauce. Meh.

The final course was mine and I was very excited to see it come out. My safe order was Lomo Ibérico de bellota con manzanas. (Fresh loin from the legendary, acorn-fed, black-footed Ibérico pigs of Spain served with roasted apples.) It was also our most expensive tapa at $20. It looked fancy enough when came out, but the plate was white, the apples were blanched, and the pork was slightly browned. It would have looked much more impressive on a brightly colored plate. Presentation: B-

We are running out of room for all these little plates.

Now on to flavor. I am not going to to lie, it was the most tender piece of pork I have ever eaten. It was also the fattiest piece I've ever eaten. I imagine that comes from the acorns, which are very calorie rich. The meat had a good flavor, but as you can see in the photo, the portion size would have easily fit in the palm of my hand. A good half of it was fat, so there were only a few bites of actual meat. That was very disappoint ting considering the cost. Also, the "roasted apples" were really nothing more than a smear of apple sauce. Taste: B-.

By the time we had finished all our tapas, we were still hungry, but it had been more than 30 minutes since we had last seen our waitress. We saw some desserts go by, but our growing dissatisfaction with the service encouraged us to seek dessert elsewhere. After receiving our check of over $100 for basically 5 appetizers and 1 alcoholic beverage, we were pretty unhappy. It wasn't so much the price or quantity of the food that was so disappointing, really. I mean, we expected to pay more for less at an "upscale" restaurant. However, we expected better service and way better atmosphere. The waitstaff wore blue jeans for crying out loud! If I am going to go to a premium restaurant, I expect the staff to at least be wearing black slacks, not holey jeans. It was like we were eating at a Chili's for 4 times the price. Overall restaurant rating: C+. I was, naturally, quite devastated.

Jonathan and I ventured back into the chilly night air as we walked back to the train station. We took in the city a bit and discussed our expectations versus the results of our meal. Then, we happened to notice a little bakery that was bustling still at 9 p.m. We took a peek in the window:


We wandered in and ordered a chocolate, peanut butter cupcake for me, and a red velvet cupcake for Jon. Mine was pretty good, though a little dry. I imagine they would have tasted a little better earlier in the day (probably fresher). A nice local allowed me to photographer her holding the bakery's signature box.

"I'm going to be a hand model!?!?!"
The bakery had a nice discount for returning the box in an effort to go green. I can appreciate that. We consumed our cupcakes on the street as we made our way back to the hotel. It was a pleasant way to end the evening of our first Iron Chef quality meal.