Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ugliest Gourmet?

I've made all sorts of ugly food: stews, soups, cakes, goulash and pasta dishes. We all know that delicious doesn't always mean pretty. At least not in my kitchen.

When I read about the Ugliest Gourmet contest (see the roundup and voting here) hosted by Not Eating Out in NY, so many dishes ran through my mind: hamburger stroganoff (you know the stuff--hamburger, cream of mushroom soup, a can of sliced shrooms and boiled egg noodles), split pea soup, and my beloved doro wat among them. But as I pondered these things, the one that took the cake (har) was this.

Now I realize that the idea behind this foodblogging event is to present delicious foods that just come out, well, regular-looking. The way food looked when mom slapped it on a plate for you when you were a kid. After all, most of us aren't restaurant chefs with varied garnishing accoutrements around, are we?

So yes, I am blurring the lines a bit by submitting this cake, but in support of my decision I DID have people gagging just looking at it. Seriously. One woman wouldn't even try it because it looked so... authentic. But it was delicious. Really!

Unappetizing at it's finest, it brought tremendous laughs and more than a few disgusted gags when we all dug in. Here's the recipe and procedure.

Kitty Box Cake

You can make any cake you like for this presentation, because you'll cut it up and cover it completely (more like a trifle, really). This is the cake recipe I love, specifically for it's flavor; the below recipe is pretty much identical to this original recipe except for my choice of liquid.

Cake ingredients:

2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup desired liquid (I puree thawed frozen unsweetened strawberries until I have the correct amount of liquid)

Topping ingredients:

sliced strawberries (optional)
3 or more boxes instant vanilla pudding, prepared according to package directions for pudding
1 box instant pistachio pudding NOT prepared
crushed vanilla wafer cookies
1 box Chocolate-Covered Mini Tootsie Rolls

1. Heat the oven to 350*F. Butter and flour a 9"x13" pan or whatever kind of cake pan you wish. Sift flour with the cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a bowl.

2. Cream the butter in an electric mixer, beat in the sugar, and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one by one, and then the vanilla, and continue beating 1 to 2 minutes. Sift a third of the flour over the butter mixture and fold them together, using a spoon. Fold in a third of the juice. Add the remaining flour and juice alternately in two batches.

3. Spread batter in the prepared pans and bake in the oven until the cakes start to shrink from the sides of the pan, 30 to 35 minutes; a metal skewer inserted in the center should come out clean. Let the cakes cool 10 minutes in the pans, then turn them out on a rack to cool completely.

4. Completely line a new kitty pan or dishpan with a turkey-sized oven roasting bag. Tape to exterior, if needed to secure.

5. Prepare 3 or more boxes (you'll have to do this part by eye) of instant vanilla pudding with milk for pudding directions according to box. Put in refrigerator to set up. Cut cooled cake into chunks to transfer to prepared kitty pan. I like 2" chunks, but you could do this any way you like, as long as it ends up being easy to serve with a scoop or spoon.

6. Top cake with a layer of sliced strawberries (optional). Then spread with pudding. Sprinkle with crushed/crumbly vanilla wafer cookies to resemble kitty litter. I used coarse and fine crumbs for texture. Dust with a scant amount of dry pistachio pudding mix for slight greenish color.

7. Pour Chocolate-Covered Mini Tootsie Rolls onto a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high in 20-second increments until soft but not completely melted. With gloved hands, shape into desired shapes and decorate the top of your cake, draping one or two over sides of pan, just like a naughty kitty.

8. Chill until ready to serve with a new, unused kitty scooper.

Note: Not for the faint of heart! Oh... and you may want to keep pets away from this dessert.

Edited post-script: I got the idea for the design of this cake from a poster on the Martha Stewart Food Boards.

See the round-up and voting here, and the winner here. I tied for 2nd place--not too shabby! Er... maybe I shouldn't be bragging about that...

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