Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chicken, Shrimp, & Chorizo Paella & A Giveaway!

Two years ago, my mother and I went to Madrid, Spain. Once there, I was tempted to try paella, but the presence of seafood prevented me from doing so. You see, the only types of unfried seafood I like are very small shrimp (like in fried rice), baked salmon, and tuna fish in a can. The only types of fried seafood I like are fish (like in fish and chips) and shrimp. That's it. I don't like crab, lobster, mussels, crawfish, or anything else that resembles how it looked when it was alive haha. I don't like slimy food either, so yeah, I had to stay away from the paella. I did, however, try to taste just the rice portion of the paella one day, but I had to quickly wash out my palate (not "palette!") because I could still taste the seafood or clam juice in the rice. From that day on, I had decided that the only way I would be able to have paella would be to make it myself, but at that time of my life, I wasn't a cook at all. So, I just gave up on that dream until a few days ago!

After corresponding with Sarah Jay (read how she started the company!), the founder of Paella Pans, which is a small, family-run business,  I received a pan imported from Valencia, Spain in only a matter of days. 
I found a recipe for Chicken Paella on her website and examined it anxiously every day as I waited for the pan. I almost had it memorized. My yellow-cake friend, Lydia, was with me when the pan arrived, and we were both impressed with how the pan looked and how big it was. I was beyond excited to try it out and felt like the luckiest person in the world.
A couple of days later, I made the yummiest paella I had ever had (out of two paellas total haha!). Lydia said that it looked incredible, and my neighbor said it looked like the real thing even without the big prawns and mussels, and they both used to live in Spain. 
The pan from various angles: I stuck the tag back on this pan so you could see from whence (hehe) this pan came.

So, first let me talk to you about this company and this pan that was graciously given to me for me for review. It is a 14" pan made of carbon steel, which is considered the most popular and most used in Spanish households. The company, also sells pans made with enameled steel, stainless steel (so shiny!), pata negra (literally means "black foot/paw (of an animal)"), and flat-bottom pans. Not only do they have pans on their site, but they also sell authentic ingredients for paella, such as bomba rice, chorizo, pimentón (with an accent on the "o"!) dulce or sweet paprika, and saffron or azafrán of various sizes. They also have recipes and tips on making a successful and authentic paella. Okay, enough links for now! I'm just really excited about this company, its products, and especially the founder. She is such a lovely lady with whom I've interacted via email for quite some time now.
The bottom of the pan and its handle: look at the bubbles or dimples at the bottom of the pan; they are there to promote even heating.

As an instructor of college-level Spanish, it is refreshing to see how her excitement for the Spanish language and culture encouraged her to start a business for importing paella-related products directly. Now, that's what I call ambition and drive. I hope some of my students get that excited about learning Spanish and various cultures different from their own.  

Anyway, back to the paella. Because I wanted to make this paella asap, I did not get to try out the ingredients on the Paella Pans  website, but I did use similar products. 

For instance, I used bomba rice that I obtained from Williams-Sonoma...
 That's the most classiest-looking rice container I've ever seen. 

I also used Spanish chorizo...

...pimentón dulce (purchased in bulk for only .39 cents!), and saffron. 
 You can see the packaging of the chorizo in the top right corner.

The chicken as pictured was not fully done, so I had to cook that some more when I returned home from my friend's house (I don't have a photo of that because it was devoured quickly by my neighbor and me for dinner). Lydia, her husband, and I gobbled up the shrimp and chorizo, though, while pushing the lemon slices aside haha. 

As Sarah writes in the recipe, don't pull out any plates for this dish; eat the paella directly from the pan itself. YUM! I want to make this again very soon. 
 ¡Buen provecho!

 After some serious damage, I still had plenty of leftovers. I still need to work on making the socarrat or the crusty, crispy layer formed under the rice, but look at that garlic!

I made only two additions to this recipe - the chorizo and shrimp. I cooked the deveined and peeled shrimp in a separate pan, but you could cook up all the meats together since the pan is so large or one at a time and then place them in a separate plate to rest. Don't cook the shrimp up too much because it will go back in the pan along with the rice later on. Just cook them until they turn a slight peach-looking color. Make sure the chicken is cooked pretty well, though. I had to cook the chicken for about 30 minutes, and that still wasn't long enough, so cook it longer than that. The chorizo is already dried and cured, so you don't need to cook it for very long. For the full recipe, go to the site

For your entertainment, I have some process photos below and a special announcement you don't want to miss!!

 Boil chicken broth; toast and crush saffron, and add to boiled broth.
Cook the peppers and garlic; cook the meats and veggies and set them aside; peel the covered, hot bell peppers
 Make the compote comprised of grated tomatoes and onions.
 Add the Spanish or short/medium-grained rice before adding the broth and the rest of the ingredients that have been set aside while keeping the whole garlic in the middle of the pan.

Okay, now for the exciting news! Paella Pans has graciously allowed me to sponsor a giveaway for one of their 14" carbon steel pans - just like the one I now have - to one of you all!! 
MINIMUM QUALIFICATION: Because this is a small company, this giveaway is open to residents of the contiguous United States only. 
TO ENTER THE PAELLA PAN GIVEAWAY: All you have to do is go to their site and tell me what you would like to either make or buy there if you could.  
DEADLINE: Monday, July 5th, 2010. ¡BUENA SUERTE! GOOD LUCK!


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Pavlovas, Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse, and Crème Anglaise

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

I did it! Even in the midst of the yellow cake experiment, two upcoming giveaways (yes, you read right!), and a frustrating, DB experience last month, I was able to pop out this lovely dessert for the DB Challenge! Woohoo! Go me!
Okay, with the exception of my favorite white cake, I abhor, detest, can't stand, don't like anything made of primarily egg whites.That includes macarons, meringues on top of pies, angel cake, and ...pavlovas. Needless to say, I didn't make that part of the dessert, but I did make everything else, including the mascarpone.
 This mascarpone was so smooth. Can you tell?

Unlike last month's challenge, everything progressed quite smoothly for this challenge. I made the mascarpone last night, and then I made all of the other components today. The only things that went wrong were the piping of the mousse and whipping of the heavy cream for the crème anglaise mixture.
For some reason, the mousse would not come out completely out of my (new) #1M piping tip. It kept clogging up the nozzle. So, I just spooned out the mousses into the goblets. In regard to the heavy cream, it wouldn't whip up completely for some reason. I've never had that problem before so I ended up making three batches of the stuff until it finally whipped up right.
 Egg Yolks and Sugar: The Beginning of the Crème Anglaise
Clockwise: Mascarpone added to crème; whipped together; whipped cream added; done...I guess.
ADJUSTMENTS TO THE RECIPE: I never post the recipe to DB challenges on here because they are so long, and are available everywhere by this time of the month haha. I only post adjustments or additional recipes I used not included on the challenge. Anyway, I added some powdered sugar to the whipped cream that was added to the crème anglaise. Also, after seeing what Barbara did to her mousse, I added some mint extract to my mousse, but I accidentally added too much, which leads me to my impressions of this dessert...
Clockwise: cream, milk and lemon zest; chopped chocolate courtesy of Guittard; chocolate added to milk mixture; chocolate base done
TASTE: This dessert is EXTREMELY rich as you would expect with all the heavy cream in it. I completely understand why this is more of a topping for pavlovas - to contrast with the lightness of it. I think it still tastes good the way I did it; I just won't be able to eat all of one goblet in one sitting, though. I'm not typically a fan of chocolate with fruit, so I just put the blueberries on top for decoration and moved the fruit aside hehe. 
Folding process of the mousse

Thanks for a great challenge, Dawn. To see what the others have done and the recipe, go here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Search for the Perfect Yellow Cake: Part 5

This cake was my favorite so far, but it still has a long way to go. It comes from Martha Stewart. I baked it in my oven, so it wasn't fully done in the middle, but it still had the prettiest, external color out of the five cakes we've made :(.

I picked this recipe because it had oil in it just like what is required in cake-mix cakes. The batter came out so runny that I added a little more flour to make it thicker. It was still not very thick, but I didn't want to change the recipe too much so that I could have a fair judgment of the cake. I forged on with this batter because it reminded me of the batter of my favorite chocolate cake recipe, which is also very runny.

For the frosting, I made the cheap variety like I did in the second cake; however, I also added some leftover frosting I made for another cake (I will blog about this later). So, the texture of the frosting was gritty but tasty.

Let's proceed to the ratings, shall we?

THE GOOD: I liked how moist it was. I liked the flavor. It didn't taste "eggy" like the second one did, and it was pretty yellow for not having dye. Lydia liked it and said it would be a good rum cake. I just took her word for it because I don't drink :).

THE BAD: It was also too moist. Some oil even sort of leaked out of the cake as my fork sank through a piece. That could be because it was not fully done, but I really think there's too much liquid in the batter. My neighbor said this cake was spongy. I think that is a good quality, but he felt it was a bad one, and its spongy state contributed to his lower rating.

Memoria: 7.5/10 (C1: 6.5/C2: 5/C3: 0/Cake-Mix(C4): 8)
Lydia: 7.5/10 (C1: 5/C2: 5/C3: 0/Cake-Mix(C4): 9.5)
Lydia's Husband: 7/10 (C1: 8.5/C2: 9/C3: 4/Cake-Mix(C4): 9)
The Neighbor: 7.5/10 (C1: 8.5/C2: 9/C3: N/A/Cake-Mix(C4): 9)

As you can see, Lydia and I feel more differently about most of these cakes than the two other raters with the exception of this one and the Duncan Hines cake. Case in point, this cake received the highest rating Lydia and I have given one of the from-scratch cakes and the lowest rating from one of the other two judges. I hope that when we find THE cake, we will all be in consensus or at least close enough.

Because Lydia and I think highly of this cake, we plan to work on this recipe to reach the quintessential cake. I will post only the final result. In the meantime, I will have something special for you all on Monday that has absolutely NADA to do with yellow cake.

Martha Stewart's Basic Yellow Cake
slightly adapted and found on Slice of Feist

4 1/4 cups flour (I added an extra 1/4 cup, so I used 4 1/2. I also used half cake flour & AP flour.)
3 1/3 cups sugar
3 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1 3/4 cups warm water (warm up cold water for 1 minute)
2 cups buttermilk
3/4 cups vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 360 degrees, and prepare cake pans.

In a mixing bowl, sift all dry ingredients together.
I use the whisk to sieve the dry ingredients.

Slowly beat in all of your other ingredients.
I think the the eggs and vanilla should be mixed in a bit before adding the other liquids to avoid small, drier clumps of batter. I also think the amount of liquids should be reduced.

Bake cake at 360 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until slightly brown on top and firm to the touch.
You would think the cake was done at this point, right?

[It was hard to strictly follow these steps above. I really think you should add the wet ingredients in more moderation than is described here. When I revamp this recipe, I will give more detailed instructions.]

The Search for the Perfect Yellow Cake: Part 3 "and 4"

The "diet" cake
Okay, so on Friday Lydia and I decided to make one cake each. She made a "diet" version of a yellow cake from her grandmother that ironically called for a pint of heavy cream but no butter. I don't really know what is "diet" about that cake, but that is what the grandmother called it haha.
The "Cake-Mix" Cake 
(*sigh* my photos are getting worse and worse. I don't know why.)

Along with making that cake, Lydia decided to make a cake mix version of the yellow cake to make a fair comparison of the best from scratch cake. We never planned on doing that, so I was pleasantly surprised she did it. Meanwhile, I made a Martha Stewart recipe that I will blog about next.

So, I drove over to Lydia's house with my cake, and she cut two slices (one for me and one for my neighbor) from each cake she made. After tasting my cake and her two cakes, I became so sick of yellow cake hahaha. We are now both so tired of this stuff! So, after I post about cake 4, you won't be hearing about more cakes until next week (Is that okay, Ingrid? haha). I would take a longer break, but I know that Esi's and Lydia's birthdays are coming up.

Anyway, let's proceed to the good, bad, and the ugly aka the ratings for the "diet" cake...

THE GOOD: I don't think there was anything good about this cake. So, let's proceed to the bad...

THE BAD: Everything. The texture, taste, and look were terrible! It tasted so badly that I had to spit out my first bite.

Memoria: 0/10
Lydia: 0/10 (she's disappointed at her grandmother even more now hahaha!)
Lydia's Husband: He probably won't be tasting this since she threw it in the dumpster already haha.
The Neighbor: I didn't bother giving him a slice. That would be mean haha.

I think it would be mean for me to share the recipe of the "diet" cake, so I'll just talk about the cake mix cake. Again, my friend made this cake in order to gain a fair comparison of the scratch cakes to this one. She used the Duncan Hines cake mix. Also, she used store-bought frosting because she messed up her homemade frosting by using granulated sugar LOL! She's too cute. That's something my mother would do. Anyway, here's what we thought:

THE GOOD: The color was great. The texture was even and nice. The taste was just what it was supposed to taste like. What more can I say? haha

THE BAD: They use DYE to make the color great. Here we were working hard to make the cake yellow with eggs, only to find out that we will never reach that level of yellow without dye haha. While the cake was moist, I thought it could stand to be a bit more moist. It lacked in vanilla flavor.

Memoria: 8/10 (This may be because I'm so sick of yellow cake, though)
Lydia: 9.5/10
Lydia's Husband: 9/10
The Neighbor: 9/10 (he said it was pretty close to the taste of the second cake; he also said it was moist)

Stay tuned for the next cake! I will post it in a few hours.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Search for the Perfect Yellow Cake: Part 2

Okay, here is the second attempt. Click here for the first cake we made.
I didn't get any good photos of this cake because it kept sliding. Someone impatient forced me to ice the cake after waiting 40 minutes for the cake to cool. Needless to say, it was still warm.

This time around, we tried the long-awaited recipe of my partner-in-crime, Lydia. The difference with this recipe was that it wasn't based on making a mix, so I didn't have to use my disastrous powdered milk. Another difference was that this cake required four eggs instead of the two in the previous cake. A plus about this recipe was the amount of vanilla required - 2 1/2 TABLESPOONS!

Surprisingly, this cake didn't come out as yellow as the first one even with two extra eggs. However, even though it was cooked better since we used her oven, it didn't taste better than the first. Because we made the cake at her house, we had to make some modifications. First, we used a hand mixer that caused flour to fly everywhere at the beginning of the process hahaha (everytime I use a hand mixer, I am once again thankful I have not one, but two stand mixers (thanks, mom and Pioneer Woman!). Also, I forgot to bring my cake pans, and she didn't have any (gasp!), so we used a 9x13 pan. The cake thus didn't look as prototypical as the first cake, but I knew that wouldn't affect the flavor and our judgment of the cake. Her husband had to go to the store to get baking powder because I forgot to bring that too, and I had to make a flour/butter base to the pan like back in the old days instead of using my beloved Baker's Joy (such an appropriate name for this spray).

The frosting looks different on this one because I made a simple, cheaper frosting that required only cocoa powder, powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and milk. So, there was no melted chocolate and 3 sticks of butter this time around. I also made a cheaper type of frosting so that the testers would focus more on the cake than the frosting because they did the opposite on the first cake haha. Once we find THE cake, we will try it again with the good frosting.

THE GOOD: Lydia loved the salient taste of vanilla in this cake and plans to modify future cake recipes with this amount of vanilla. The texture was much softer and "spongier" than the first. Even with the hand mixer, this cake was easier to put together than the first because the intention of the cake was not to make a dry mix but to make a cake. With a better oven, this cake baked much more evenly. Most importantly, this cake didn't taste like sweet cornbread.

THE BAD: When I took my first bite, I tasted the eggs. I didn't like that issue at all. Also, even with two more eggs than the first, the cake was much lighter in color. This cake didn't knock my socks off at all. I thought the first cake even with its problems was better than this one.

THE UGLY AKA RATINGS (rating of previous cake in parentheses):
Memoria: 5/10 (Mel's Cake 6.5/10)
Lydia: 5/10 (Mel's cake: 5/10)
Lydia's Husband: 9/10 (Mel's cake: 8.5/10) He preferred this cake over the other.
The Neighbor: 9/10 (8.5/10) He's the preferred this cake over the other.

My friend was greatly disappointed and became very sad and despondent after this cake test because this recipe was supposed to be her grandmother's tried-and-true recipe. She stated that she thinks that it wasn't because she remembered it being as yellow as the ones you see on the cake mix boxes. Then, she was forced to suspect that her grandmother had always made those cakes from a mix instead of from scratch. I then told her about my story of finding out that my stepmother, a reported baker of many wedding cakes and such, just doctored up cake mixes. Lydia was really affected by this cake test. I told her that it was okay because we are looking for THE ONE, and that we will find it.

On that note, I think that all these tests will cause us to just create THE recipe at the end of it all. We are taking note of what we like in our attempts and will be adapting upcoming recipes with our preferences. So far we plan to use some egg yolks and more vanilla in our future recipes. I have found quite a few recipes, and we plan to try them all. I hope you're still onboard. I need to hurry up for Esi's birthday, so I hope I can find one soon hahaha.

Here is the recipe, if you're curious.

Lydia's Grandmother's Yellow Cake

1/2 cup of whole milk, room temperature
4 eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup of cake flour
1 1/2 cup of sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cool

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour your 8-inch cake pans or a 9x13 pan, or use Baker's Joy or the like.

Blend milk, eggs, and vanilla together in a liquid measuring cup. Blend flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in the mixing bowl. Cut the butter into tablespoons, and add the butter to the dry mixture. Mix the mixture well until you form small to medium chunks of butter deeply encased in the dry mixture.
Upon seeing this photo of my friend's hand on my computer, I instantly realized that these moments of making yellow cake will forever be in my memory and thoughts. Even though this photo is blurry, it is so comforting to see her hand caressing my silver bowl. *sniff* haha

Next, mix in ONE CUP of the liquid ingredients. Once mixed, add the rest of the liquid ingredients. Do not overmix!

Pour the mixture into the pans, and bake for 20-25 minutes if using cake pans and 30-35 minutes for 9x13 pan.

"Cheaper" & "Simpler", Yet Still Tasty Chocolate Buttercream

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3-4 cups powdered sugar, to taste
3/4-1 cup cocoa powder, to taste
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4-5 Tbsp milk, to desired consistency

Blend the butter on high for about 1-2 minutes. On LOW, add the powdered sugar one cup at a time. Add the cocoa powder. Once mixed well, add the vanilla extract and milk until desired consistency.

BBQ Chicken and Macaroni & Cheese

I was craving barbecue. I was sifting through one of my now favorite blogs, Deep South Dish. I found a recipe for BBQ chicken on it. I looked for a recipe for a copycat of my favorite BBQ sauce at my FAVORITE BBQ restaurant, Rudy's BBQ (the "sauSe"). I ran to the kitchen and made BBQ chicken, macaroni and cheese, and green beans. I took photos. I prayed for my meal. I ate the meal heartily. I thanked God again for the ability to make such a wonderful meal. The End.

I hope you make this meal soon. It would be even better on the grill, but if you don't feel like using it like me, then make it in the oven. Just be sure to line your jelly roll pan with foil for easy cleanup!

BBQ Chicken
adapted from Deep South Dish

Brine for a moist, flavorful chicken:
2 lbs drumsticks (about 6), with or without skin based on your preferences
2 Tbsp of kosher salt
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Fill a large pot or container with enough water to cover the chicken well. Whisk the salt into the water until dissolved; whisk in the vinegar. Add the chicken, and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.

Dry Rub Marinade for added flavor, spice and a kick!:
2 Tbsp paprika
1 tsp freshly-cracked pepper
1 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp celery seed (didn't have)
2 tsp of Cajun seasoning, or to taste
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Remove the chicken from the brine, and drain well. Discard the brine. Pat the chicken pieces dry, laying out on a platter or baking sheet that will fit in the fridge. Combine the dry rub ingredients and rub the chicken well with the dry rub, cover loosely, and refrigerate one to several hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the rubbed chicken pieces on a rack on a foil-lined large baking sheet. Bake for approximately 45-60 minutes. [Use your tongs for this!] Turn the chicken over after 25-30 minutes. After 40-50 minutes, add the BBQ sauce on both sides with a brush or via a squeeze bottle. If you're a sauce lover like me, add more sauce once they are done.

For instructions on how to grill the chicken, go to the source.

Copycat Recipe of Rudy's BBQ Sause (with an "s")

from Beth's Favorite Recipes who adapted it from Chaos in the Kitchen

1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice (2 lemons)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1/4 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Simmer until slightly reduced.Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Quick Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

1/2 lb macaroni shells
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp regular flour
2 cups WARM milk
2 tsp mustard or dry mustard
kosher salt to taste
pepper to taste
1-2 cups of cheese that melts, to taste (I used regular American cheese because that was all I had)

Cook pasta according to instructions (al dente). Make a roux by melting the butter in a separate saucepan and then adding the flour. Cook the roux for about 3 minutes, and stir frequently. Add the WARM milk 1/4 of a cup at a time at the beginning. Stir between each addition. Once you can no longer see the bottoom of the saucepan, add more milk in generous portions until you use it all. Add the mustard, salt, and pepper. Stir in the cheese until it tastes cheesy enough for your tastes. Turn off the heat.

Immediately, add in the al dente pasta, and then stir well. Once pasta is well-coated, you're done.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Search for the Perfect Yellow Cake: Part 1

My friend and I have decided to search for the perfect yellow cake. The idea for this search started when my friend told me that she was craving a yellow cake with chocolate frosting - the prototypical cake in my mind. She asked me if I knew of a good recipe, and I told her that I didn't. Thus, the search began.

We then planned to meet each other once a week and try out a recipe. On the first week, we were hoping to try out the recipe from her grandmother because she says that it was her favorite growing up. After weeks and weeks of begging for the recipe, she was never able to get it from her grandmother until today! We will be trying out that recipe tomorrow, so I will keep you posted.
As you can see, I didn't bother with fancy decorations. The point was to test the cake.

On this post, I present to your our first attempt. At the end of the post, I will give you the rating we and two other people gave on this cake. This first recipe comes from one of my most reliable food blog for good recipes - Mel's Kitchen. I love her recipes and get excited about just about any recipe that pops up.

When she blogged about a homemade yellow cake mix recipe, I was so excited. I was even more excited that I had all the ingredients in my apartment already, including the powdered milk....ahhh, the powdered milk (from hereon, we will call this ingredient PM). After making the batter, we tasted it and were surprisingly disappointed. The PM was the most salient taste; it really tasted off. Nevertheless, we forged ahead, baked, and frosted the cake with my favorite chocolate frosting.

My beloved, overheated oven caused the cake to burn around the edges while the center was still not done. I continued to bake the cake and then cut off the burnt, crusty tips. After frosting the cake, I cut into it in order to take photos. The knife struggled through the burnt, overly-done edges of the cake and then I pulled out the piece only to reveal an underdone cake! I cut another piece that looked a bit better and took photos of it instead.

We tasted the cake reluctantly and were disappointed. My friend was more disappointed than I. I think the problem primarily came from the powdered milk and the oven. I should have used a newer box of PM and maybe I could have ground it up a bit before adding it to the cake mixture because the granules were quite large. Also, I need to request the apartment owner to install a new oven for me hahaha. I hope I have luck with that. Anyway, everyone who tasted the cake loved the chocolate frosting, but that had nothing to do with the yellow cake in itself.
I finally used one of the blocks of chocolate given to me by Guittard in the frosting. 
I love the design on it.

Here are the ratings:

Memoria: 6.5/10
Lydia: 5/10
Lydia's husband: 8.5/10
My Neighbor: 8.5/10

So, the non-picky people gave the cake a much higher rating. I think if I were to fix the two problems mentioned above, the cake would dramatically improve. So, with that said, I wouldn't totally dismiss this recipe at all. I plan to try it again under better circumstances. Despite the negatives, this cake was moist and buttery. All the homemade yellow cakes I've made prior to this one tasted like sweet cornbread for some reason. This one tasted like a cake even with the problems it had.

For the next cake, we will be using my friend's oven, and this recipe doesn't require PM :). Stay tuned!

Homemade Yellow Cake Mix
*Makes enough for two 9-inch layer cakes (bake according to recipe), or one 9X13-inch cake (bake for 30 to 35 minutes), or one 12-cup bundt pan (bake for 40 to 45 minutes), or 24 cupcakes (bake for 18 to 20 minutes)

2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour (or 1 1/4 cups plus 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour and 3 Tbsp cornstarch) 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons butter (2 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Process sugar, flours (or flour and cornstarch if making the substitution for the cake flour), milk powder, baking powder, and salt in a food processor for 15 seconds to combine. Add butter and vanilla and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal (you want this much finer than, say, a pie crust). Freeze the dry mixture in a zipper-lock bag for up to 2 months or use immediately.

To make the cake, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour your pan of choice (I used Baker's Joy).

1 1/4 c warm water
2 large eggs, room temperature

With an electric or stand mixer, beat the prepared cake mix, warm water and eggs until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes.

Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan(s) and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-27 minutes for two 9-inch layer cakes. See the note above the recipe for alternate cooking times with other baking pans. Cool the cake(s) in pan(s) for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Cool completely.

Chocolate Buttercream
from the Daring Baker's Dobos Torte. Recipe copied from PastryPal

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Guittard semi-sweet chocolate)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, Dutch-processed
1 1/4 cups (125 g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Fill a pot with water, bring to a boil, and place a larger bowl filled with the chocolate over it. It will melt gently. Let the chocolate cool to lukewarm on the side.

Meanwhile, beat the butter until completely smooth. Add cocoa powder and beat in. Sift the powdered sugar directly over the bowl and beat that in.

In the top photo, you can see the Cocoa Rouge Powder. I love the dark red hue in this powder.
Next, in goes the vanilla and the melted chocolate.
Mix together, and place a crumb coating on the cake. Refrigerate or freeze the cake for 30 mins-1 hour. Then, add another coat of frosting.

*If you want to do a lot of decorating with his frosting, I suggest making another half portion of this frosting or doubling it.