Cinco de Mayo Takes the Cake

If you’re wondering what the above photo is all about, it’s the leftovers from a Kahlúa Bundt cake I made yesterday for a company potluck in honor of Cinco de Mayo. (I suppose it was technically Quatro de Mayo, but oh well.) As you can see, I clearly forgot to take a picture of the cake in all its glory before everyone tore into it, but I managed to salvage a small slice and some additional crumbs for Dr. J, who didn’t get to sample it before I brought it into the office. I hate to brag, but it was the bomb, and I’m pretty sure everyone wasn’t just saying it was delicious just so my feelings wouldn’t get hurt. So, as you can see, the picture above may not be the prettiest, but it’s proof that this cake can be easily decimated in no time flat. It’s moist, richly flavored with one of Mexico’s finest spirits, and had the perfect glaze that tied everything together.

It’s really nothing fancy–just boxed yellow cake mix, pudding and booze–but it’s definitely one of my favorite cakes to make, since it’s an easy-breezy party showstopper. Plus, people seem to get excited about the idea of alcohol in cakes. (Ooh, it’s so naughty, yet so socially acceptable!)

Here’s the recipe, which may also be called a Black Russian cake if you’re celebrating a Russian holiday. (Defender of the Fatherland Day, anyone?) Feel free to make it as boozy as you wish.

Boozy Cinco de Mayo Kahlúa Cake

1 18-oz. box yellow cake mix with pudding inside (I like Betty Crocker Super Moist)
1 small box instant chocolate pudding powder
4 eggs
1 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. water
1/4 c. vodka
1/4 c.  Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur

1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
1/4 c. water
2 tbsp. vodka
2 tbsp.  Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur


1) Heat oven to 350 °F.

2) Use the paper wrapper from the stick of butter for the glaze to grease a 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle the pan with a little flour to make it easier to pop the cake out of the pan once it’s done.

3) In a mixing bowl, combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, oil, water, vodka and  Kahlúa, and beat everything for 10 minutes by hand or five minutes with an electric mixer.

4) Pour the mix into the Bundt pan, and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

5) While the cake is baking, make the glaze, Combine the sugar, butter and water in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove the glaze from heat and cool it slightly before mixing in the vodka and Kahlúa.

5) Once the cake is finished baking, cool it in the pan for 5 minutes, invert on wire rack to cool, then poke holes in it using a chopstick. Pour the glaze slowly over the cake, making sure every bit of it is saturated.

6) Just before serving, sift a bit of confectioner’s sugar over the cake to make it pretty.

This cake would also be perfect for a Big Lebowski party. Just give the glaze a White Russian-inspired twist, substituting the 1/4 c. water with 1/4 c. whole milk.

¡Buen apetito!

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To Tell You the Tooth…

Feeling like one of these little guys right about now.

Apologies, first off, to my readers for my prolonged absence. I could give you a laundry list of reasons why it’s been more than a month since my last blog post: things got busy, work’s been crazy, I’ve had writer’s block, I’ve been too busy watching Mad Men, etc. etc. But truthfully, I just haven’t been that inspired to write about food lately. Maybe I’m taking food for granted, or maybe I’m struggling with balancing my love of food with my ever-expanding waistline. So yeah. There it is.

It’s taken something a bit drastic, however, to get me excited about food again. On Thursday, I had a wisdom tooth pulled.

Having a wisdom tooth is no fun, for obvious reasons (hello, chipmunk cheeks!) but even more so when you’re going to be put under general anesthesia. You can’t eat anything for eight hours before the procedure, and afterward, you’re only supposed to have liquids, then soft foods. Which means you’re most likely doomed to eat nothing but mushy potatoes, smoothies, yogurt, pudding, apple sauce and tomato soups for three or four days straight.

Planning ahead, I made a batch of vichyssoise, a potato-and-leek soup that’s supposed to be served cold, but after a couple of days, I got a little tired of it. My taste buds later turned to thoughts of Chinese food–especially congee, which is the ultimate comfort food–rice porridge with chicken, ginger, scallions. It’s easy to make, but it takes some planning ahead. Also, good luck trying to cook anything while doped up on painkillers. Hot stoves and Vicodin do not mix.

I checked to see whether my favorite Chinese restaurant, Mark’s Duck House, had congee on the menu, but no dice. There was, however, crab meat and fish maw soup, as well as egg drop soup. Bingo.

Crab meat and fish maw soup

Egg drop soup is a pretty common staple on Chinese menus, but crab meat and fish maw soup is something special. It’s made with fresh crab (obviously) and fish “maw,” which is just a nice word for a fish’s swim bladder, the organ that gives fish the ability to control their buoyancy. It’s dried and reconstituted in soups, and has a texture similar to wet pork rinds. YUM! Did I have you at fish bladder and wet pork rinds? Why aren’t you salivating yet?

Ok, so it’s not for everyone, especially those who are picky about textures, but to me, it’s delicious. Fish maw and crab meat soup is a rich, thick, hearty dish, perfect with a dash of white pepper and Chinese vinegar. It reminds me of shark fin soup, only without the unnecessary bloodshed and animal cruelty. Poor sharkies.

What makes this soup, and egg flower soup, for that matter, great for a post-wisdom tooth extraction diet is that it’s chock full of protein and won’t leave your stomach grumbling in an hour, like mashed potatoes or tomato soup would. Also, I can’t seem to get enough of either soup. Can’t say the same for mashed potatoes or vichyssoise, for that matter.

If you ever find yourself in a Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant and happen to see crab and fish maw soup on the menu, give it a try, what the heck. And if you’re already a fan and would like to try DIY-ing this fabulous soup at home, try this recipe over at The Unoriginal Chef and let me know how it turns out.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to fix myself a bowl of fish maw and crab soup, wash up, put a heating pad on my puffed out cheek, and think about what I want to eat–and blog about–tomorrow.


Filed under Food, Random musings

Some Like It Hot: The Pepper that Makes Grown Men Cry

The scary pepper with the equally scary name: The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion

One thing I really enjoy about my office environment is the random conversations I have with my co-workers. Today, for example, my colleague Brandt and I were discussing the apparent lack of raccoons in northern Virginia because he was concerned about rodents getting into his bird feeder. Then the conversation steered toward Hot Meats, which, besides having an awesomely awkward name, are touted as the bird lover’s ultimate rodent repellent. They’re sunflower seeds that pack a punch with hot chile oil, which squirrels do not like.

I told him that if he REALLY wants to teach a squirrel a lesson, he should lace the Hot Meats with ghost peppers, or bhut jolokias, which are a northeastern Indian hybrid pepper that has been rated the hottest in the world. A single ghost pepper can have a rating of over a million heat units on the Scoville scale.

Let’s put that number into context, shall we? Tabasco, which is pretty hot if you’re a wimp, comes in at 2,500 to 5,000 on the Scoville scale, while pure capsaicin, which gives pepper plants its spice factor, has a rating of 16,000,000 heat units. Holy hell, that’s hot.

The Ghost pepper will send your taste buds to their graves.

After  a quick search, however, I was surprised to find out two things: that the feared bhut jolokia pepper has been surpassed by a pepper with an even more menacing name, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper, and that the bhut jolokia’s Westernized name, the ghost pepper, is actually an erroneous translation. Whoops.

At any rate, there’s no misinterpreting the Scorpion pepper’s moniker, which pretty much lives up to its namesake with a sting that rates 2,009,231 Scoville heat units. That’s TWICE as hot as the ghost pepper!

I love spicy food, don’t get me wrong, but you couldn’t pay me enough to eat one of these suckers. I mean, look at what it can do to a grown man! (Warning: Do not try this at home.) However, if you’re interested in growing your own Scorpion peppers and goading a frenemy into eating one (while secretly filming his or her reaction) check out this site.

Have you ever had a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion or bhut jolokia? What’s the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten?

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Kitchen Adventures: Guava-rama

As much as I’d like to think of myself as something of a food savant, I’ll often come across random things in the grocery aisles and wonder, “What the eff do I do with this?”

Such was the case recently with a round can of guava paste. I picked it up at a local supermarket with an excellent Latin American food section, intending to use a bit of it in a baking experiment, but wasn’t quite clear on what to do with the rest. I mean, there’s a crapload of it stuffed in there. It sort of looks like that gelatinous cranberry jelly that pops out of a can, only darker, thicker and tastier.

Well, it turns out you can use guava paste in a crapload of ways, too–in Cuban empanadas with some cream cheese, in turnovers, in muffins, even in meat sauces. Pretty much anything goes when using the stuff, including these:

Ta-da! Guava macarons, straight up.

I’ll post a recipe shortly for these guava macarons. In the meantime, here’s a fresh and simple way to munch your way through a whole can of guayaba paste: Stick cubes of paste and a white cheese (the stronger-tasting, the better) with a toothpick, add some bread, and have yourself a little feast. Muy bueno!



Filed under Food, kitchen adventures

Hip to Be Square

Snap, crackle, pop

On the rare occasion that I do go to a coffee shop for some joe, I’m often tempted to pick up a crispy rice square to go along with it, but two things usually deter me. 1) The fact that shops usually charge as much as $2 per square, which seems way overpriced for something you could make at home for a fraction of that, and 2) the fact that they usually don’t taste very good after sitting in a pastry case for, hell, I don’t know, a half day?

This morning, I was jonesing for some crispy rice squares to go with my morning coffee. I thought about attempting fellow blogger Foodie on the 49th’s insanely delicious-looking bacon, peanut butter and chocolate Rice Krispy treats, but I didn’t have any bacon or chocolate on hand. So, I turned to my trusty copy of Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery, for inspiration, and found a recipe for Brown-Butter Crispy Rice treats. Brown butter? Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Yes, please!

Brown butter, or beurre noisette, is that extraordinary ingredient that lends a certain je ne sais quoi to pastries and sauces. Rich and aromatic, this butter is definitely one to add to your cooking repertoire. I first discovered the wonder that is brown butter in this Epicurious recipe for Spoon Cookies, which are basically shortbread cookies, and was immediately smitten. It’s like magic–one moment, you have an ordinary stick of unsalted butter, and the next, you’ve struck culinary gold.

As the pan heats up over low heat, the butter separates and the milk solids sink to the bottom of the pan and turn a lovely hazelnut color. And the smell! Oh, the smell is to die for. It’s what I would imagine inhaling nutty toffee cocaine would be like, and I think it must put my pituitary gland’s endorphin production into overdrive because I am always in the BEST mood after making a batch of beurre noisette.

Anyway, I digress. On to the good stuff. I’ve adapted this recipe from the Flour recipe book, since I wanted to try a little something extra to go along with it. And yes, I could have just called them “Brown Butter Crispy Rice Squares,” but Frenchifying phrases seems to make everything sound/taste better.

Beurre Noisette Crispy Rice Squares

1 stick unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 tsp. vanilla powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 16-ounce bag of large marshmallows
9 cups crispy rice cereal

1) Butter a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan and set aside.

2) Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot over low heat.

3) Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod** and mix in with the butter.

4) Keep a close eye on the butter. At first, the butter will foam up, and then the foam will disappear. A thicker layer of foam will come up and blanket the surface just as the butter solids start turning brown. You’ll smell a nutty, toffee-ish fragrance, which should signal that the butter is changing. This process takes about 6-8 minutes, depending on your stovetop burner.

5) Once the butter has browned, turn off the heat and take the pot off the burner. Immediately add the vanilla powder, kosher salt and marshmallows, and stir constantly until the marshmallows melt and you’re left with a smooth mixture flecked evenly with vanilla seeds.

6) Add the crispy rice cereal to the mix, and stir until everything is well blended.

7) Dump the contents of the pot into the prepared baking pan, and press the mixture into the pan.

8) Let cool for about an hour, cut into squares and go to town with a cup of coffee, tea or milk.

**Don’t throw away the vanilla pod! Those things are expensive. Try sticking it in an airtight glass jar and cover it with granulated sugar to make vanilla sugar, which lends a lovely flavor to other baked goods. After all, want not, waste not, right?

Stay hungry, my friends.


Filed under Food, kitchen adventures, Recipes

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

Variety is the spice of life. Right?


When I first moved to the good ol’ US of A, I was shocked to see how many varieties of Girl Scout cookies there are. How many flavors? Let me count the ways:

1) Thin Mints, mint chocolate wafers coated in chocolate
2) Samoas/Caramel Delites, vanilla cookies dipped in caramel, chocolate and coconut
3) Tagalongs/Peanut Butter Patties, vanilla cookies layered with peanut butter and chocolate
4) Do-si-dos/Peanut Butter Sandwiches, oatmeal cookie sandwiches with peanut butter filling
5) Trefoils/Shortbreads, a traditional shortbread with the Girl Scout emblem
6) Dulce de Leche, caramel cookies with caramel chips
7) Thank U Berry Much, with cranberries and white fudge
8) Thanks-a-lot, a shortbread cookie dipped in chocolate
9) Shout Outs, a Belgian-style caramel cookie
10) Lemonades, shortbread covered in lemon icing
11) And the new  Savannah Smiles, lemon wedges with lemon chips and powdered sugar.

And the above list doesn’t include the discontinued flavors!

The reason why I was so surprised was that I was a Girl Guide (Canada’s version of Girl Scouts, except with cuter uniforms–seriously, what’s up with those green vests?), and we had the following cookie flavors to sell:

1) Vanilla.
2) Chocolate.

Both were sandwich-style cookies with cream filling. Sometimes, if we were really lucky, we would be given peanut  butter or Thin Mint-like biscuits to sell,  but that was  rare. (Apparently, the Girl Guides of today sell Chocolatey Mint cookies in the fall, so at least there’s that.)

“Boring!” you might say. Yeah, fine, it’s not very creative. But I have to admit, I will always prefer Girl Guide cookies to any of the Girl Scout cookies on offer, with the exception of Samoas. Those are damn tasty, I won’t lie.

And, I daresay our Chocolatey Mint cookies are superior to Thin Mints–there’s actual mint filling inside!


Eat yer heart out, Thin Mints.

The Girl Scouts, though, have Girl Guides beat in terms of marketing their cookies. Apparently, the Scouts have just launched an app that locates cookie sales near you. Well played, Girl Scouts. Well played.

What’s your favorite Girl Scout cookie?

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In the News: A Musical Feast

While I was browsing the interwebs for work today, I came across this video about two Chinese brothers who make musical instruments out of bok choy, sweet potatoes, leeks and more:



Apparently, they are partial to playing songs by the Bee Gees and Korn. Hah.

So that’s amazing, yeah? I would agree, except for the fact that the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra has been doing this since 1998:


In case you’re wondering, the orchestra cooks all its instruments in a big soup to serve to the audience following every performance. Nice in theory, but kind of gross if you think about all the spit that’s blown into the “woodwind” veggies.

Doesn’t matter. I still want a pan flute made out of leeks and carrots.

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