Saturday, March 22, 2008

German Invasion

The funny thing about this blog is - to my continuous utter shock - most of the meals come out pretty well. The majority of them have come out less than perfect (it's my kitchen, not Le Cirque, after all), but - until yesterday - nothing had turned out to be a complete kitchen disaster.

Enter CAKE.

All my friends know that in the kitchen, I have not one, but TWO Achilles' Heels: 1) Salads (cold raw veggies on top of cold raw veggies? Ugh.), and 2) Baking.

I subscribe to the Baking/Cooking Theory of Dichotomous Opposites, which is, simply: there are two types of people in the world - people who cook, and people who bake.

I know some of you are thinking to yourself, "She probably thinks the Cooking people are superior." Which is true. Kidding. I have the utmost respect for people who have the skill and the patience to measure tiny, yet precise, quanities of white powders, and put their upper arm strength to the test as they move a wooden spoon in a circle for an extended period of time.

Despite what I know about myself, I decided to attempt a made-from-scratch German Chocolate Cake for my beloved Ross' 28th birthday. Understand that my choice in cake was not without reason: every year on his birthday he has enjoyed a lovingly crafted German chocolate cake, made from a recipe that has been in his family for generations. Setting myself up for failure, you say? Not me, the Fearless Cook, she of the brave heart and foodie soul!

Failure, indeed.

I did not, unfortunately, capture each step of the process on film. But just picture...Butter - smeared on skin. Flour - in eyes and hair. 2nd degree burns. Egg yolk-and-evaporated-milk boiling over.

It wasn't pretty.

$45 and four hours later, I had what - in looks alone - amounted to a German chocolate cake. I have to give myself props for making what, by all accounts, was a very visually appealing cake. But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Since on the second day of Spring here in balmy Chicago, we found ourselves in the throes of a late-season bllizzard, imagine my chagrin as I realized I would have to schlep the cake (wrapped with the utmost care in aluminum foil) through the slush to the bar where all our friends were gathering for the birthday celebration (have I ever done a post that DID NOT include me schlepping through the snow for something?).

Ah, Springtime in the city:

At any rate, our friends were justifiably impressed (and shocked, as I've stated many times I don't bake) that I spent all day completing a from-scratch cake. But then they began to eat it.

Oh, there were polite utterances that it was tasty, but behold the evidence to the contrary:

People didn't finish it.

And then there was Ross' reaction.

First, [gasp of delight at seeing the cake's deceptively beguiling exterior] "Did you know that German chocolate cake is my favorite?!?"

Then, [a few bites in], "You should really try my mom's cake." [Me: horrified and humiliated.] "It's a miracle of life."

A MIRACLE OF LIFE, people. And my cake came in a distant, DISTANT second.

The main problem was its texture. It was dense, and on the dry side. It just lacked that crucial fluffiness. More like a German Chocolate muffin than a cake. (Could this be from overmixing? I don't know.) The taste was fine. Not too sweet, still chocolately. But honestly, I have been eating the Duncan Hines box mix German Chocolate cake my entire life, and I can assure you it is MUCH tastier than my version.

To say I was crestfallen is putting it mildly. Ross assured me that he enjoyed it, and that the effort wasn't wasted, but only three vodka & sodas (and 2 pitchers of Goose Island, half a pizza, and some late-night pierogis) could take the edge off my pain.

OK, I might be taking some creative license here, but I WAS disappointed, and I decided that in the future, I'd stick to what I do best: throwing in a pinch of this, a splash of that, and creating savory meals that usually come out just as I'd hoped. In fact, I'm going to cook Ross a Fearless birthday meal tonight - with, hopefully, better results.

Somewhere out there, I'm sure there's a Fearless Baker, blogging about how she ruined what was meant to be an epic chicken marsala. Don't beat yourself up, Fearless Baker!

And as a bonus, just 'cause I love my blans, here's a healthy, easy lunch (or simple dinner) recipe:

About a cup of cooked brown rice, or rice medley
1 cup of raw baby spinach leaves
1/2 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can chunk light tuna, drained (or whatever tuna you like - you could also use leftover chicken, salmon, or anything else)
Pat of butter
salt and pepper

Just cook the rice, and when it's absorbed all the liquid, stir in the spinach leaves, chickpeas, tuna, salt/pepper, and butter, and let the heat from the rice warm up the other ingredients. It's a protein-rich, yummy, light lunch.

Thanks for reading! Look for the fearless birthday post, part 2, coming soon.

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