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Weird or Secret Ingredients?

I need to bring a dish to a potluck. The theme is "Secrets" so the dish has to contain something unlikely, or weird or whatever, that no one would think was in it.

I thought about making Coca-cola cake, but there will be several Southerners there, so I am guessing that someone else will make it. I am open to any suggestions, but have limited access to ingredients--I have almost no access to processed foods, so recipes that include a lot of box mixes are not going to work.


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  1. Beef stroganoff using sliced chicken hearts. Tastes like really tender beef. Don't over cook.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      Yo Sam,
      I really like your suggestion about the use of chicken hearts. Problem here is that most markets do not carry them as a meat dept. item. I have a difficult enough time just finding chicken livers for chopped chicken liver spread. When I lived in Berwyn, IL back in the '50s, it was inhabited by a large Czech population and such chicken parts were always available. BTW, have you tried the same recipe using chicken gizzards instead of hearts?

      1. re: ChiliDude

        Have tried gizzards stronganoff. Its better because of their better/deeper flavor. The cost is the work trimming, ponding (with meat tenderizer mallet), and slicing.

        The stronganoff hearts takes me about 10 minutes to prepare. Last time I served to a guy from Oz and his Colombian girlfriend. Both were convinced that it was pricey steak.

        Are chicken hearts generally not available in the US?

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          They're available at my grocery store in Olathe, KS

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            At my store I can usually get them but they're mixed in with gizzards and there's maybe 5 hearts in a package of 20 gizzards. I can get chicken liver in tubs, though. Love that!

        2. re: Sam Fujisaka

          I am surprised you didn't suggest Wild Boar Anus a la Namibia

          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            Yes, yes, heart is weird and strange and scary.

            Thanks for the valuable input.

            (More anticuchos for me)

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              Sorry, I use my WBA for sisig--that is, both ends of the boar can be used for the dish.

            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

              Hmmm... my meat store has chicken hearts... any special cleaning or cooking tips? Recipe?


              1. re: ldkelley

                Trim the fat at the top and the often protruding aortic arch followed by cutting lengthwise. Quick and easy.

            3. There are a lot of cakes and pies with unlikely vegetables in them - chocolate beet cake is a common one. My mother made a great spice cake with parsnips in it - none of us could guess what it was.

              5 Replies
              1. re: lupaglupa

                I saw a recipe for a parsnip cake in a Jane Grigson's book and have meant to try it.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  We all loved it - it was moist and had a great but undefineable taste. It helps that we all like parsnips anyway.

                  1. re: lupaglupa

                    I served a chocolate sauerkraut cake once and it was both delicious and completely undetected as made with pickled cabbage.

                    1. re: MobyRichard

                      Provided you remember to chop up the sauerkraut or else it is detectable as "worms". My BAD.

                  2. The fudge recipe made with velvetta

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: jlp8

                      I have a cousin that made fudge with tofu. I would have never guessed tofu was in it. I'm sure there is a recipe on the net.

                      1. re: scubadoo97

                        I've made a chocolate mousse with tofu and it is always wonderful. You use firm tofu, some sugar, very good bittersweet chocolate and grated orange peel. Whip it up in the food processor, put in a mold or individual ramekins and chill. It's truly delicious.

                        There are probably recipes for this online.

                        1. re: oakjoan

                          The chocolate mousse sounds great for summer and for a no-milk dessert. I looked online and some recipes used firm tofu and some silken tofu. As someone who doesn't often make tofu desserts, I wonder what you think might be an advantage of either?

                      2. re: jlp8

                        That's hilarious. My first thought exactly :-D.

                      3. If you can get hold of a box of Ritz crackers find the recipe for mock apple pie. I had it once and ifi hadn't been told there were no apples in it I would never have guessed

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: eimac

                          And apples cost less than a box of Ritz crackers.

                        2. The Cook's Illustrated pie crust made with vodka might be a good candidate. They also had a recipe for "Rustic Apple Tart" and the crust used Wondra flour. Not as intriguing, though, as some other secret ingredients. Mock Apple Pie made from Ritz crackers could fit the bill too.

                          Just make sure the secret ingredient isn't too wild - somebody might have a dietary restriction or allergy.

                          1. There's a great Filipino recipe (quiet Sam!) for beef stew that is thickened not with flour, but with chicken liver.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: JungMann

                              Kare Kare? (Thickened with liver and cheese!)

                              1. re: fmed

                                Kare-kare is thickened with toasted rice flour. Caldereta is the beef stew thickened with liver -- no cheese though!

                                1. re: JungMann

                                  Right! I had my dishes interchanged. I know of one version (it could be a personal recipe) that uses grated sharp cheddar along with canned liver.

                                1. re: chef chicklet

                                  I was in a hurry, I was thinking of Wacky Cake, that real fudgey cake made with vinegar, with the nice top that doesn't need frosting... loved that!

                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                    Oh, ok, that makes sense now. I think I've had Wacky Cake before at the Google cafeteria.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Crazy Cake (same thing, but what we call it in my family) is the only chocolate cake I'll make. Nothing's better, nothing's easier. I only recently figured out that if you don't add the cocoa powder, it doesn't have to be chocolate. Doh. Vanilla cake, strawberry cake, pumpkin cake, caramel cake... I've been going nuts.

                                      1. re: modthyrth

                                        This is the recipe I've been using lately and everyone has been loving it.

                                        Its made me a great cup cake base as well.

                                        1. re: adventuresinbaking

                                          adventuresinbaking, do you mean you've been using the epicurious recipe for vinegar pie that ipsedixit posted? or is there another link you forgot to include? (i'm just asking because you said it makes good cupcakes, and vinegar pie doesn't sounds like it would do that--but both types are sounding quite tempting....)

                                          1. re: porceluna

                                            adventuresinbaking was referring to the chocolate wacky cake/crazy cake referenced in chef chicklet and modthyrth's posts. Always handy because it uses pantry staples and nothing refrigerated - no eggs or milk, just dry ingredients, vinegar, veg oil, water. Also, ergo, vegan and suitable for those with dairy and/or egg allergy.

                                            See a recipe: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Wacky-Ca...

                                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                              Thanks for the recipe post! It looks really yummy--I might just have a new choice for an upcoming potluck!

                              1. Not a secret to many serious cooks but something that might horrify many civilians: adding a few salt-preserved anchovies to tomato sauce really kicks up the flavor without making it taste at all fishy. Chop them up before you put them in and they'll dissolve into the sauce and add a wonderful extra level of umami deliciousness. You could do an innocent-looking spaghetti and meatballs and reveal the secret after it's been eaten.

                                Just remember not to add extra salt until after they've cooked in and you taste it for saltiness.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: BobB

                                  Yes, I also do it with broccoli rabe and cauliflower. Doesn't taste fishy at all, just more complex.

                                  1. re: BobB

                                    Yeahe, there's a recipe for an ancient Roman pork stew in an apple cook book (I think the authors were Browning and Silva) that calls for anchovies and Thai fish sauce in place of the ancient Roman garum (fermented fish guts). The stew is marvelous.

                                    1. re: BobB

                                      Damn, you beat me to this anchovy idea. Here's another: Marscapone with Anchovies makes a great spread for bread or crackers and your guests wont figure out either ingredient since it tastes neither like anchovies or marscapone.

                                      This is popular in Friulli region of italy; Google around for the recipe, but its a simple mix of marscapone, mashed anchovy filets, mustard and spices.

                                    2. How about this zippy dip made with ground-up White Castle burgers? It's really good - no one would guess your secret ingredient.


                                      But this would only work if you have access to a White Castle restaurant. (If not, lucky you!)


                                      [EDITED TO ADD]
                                      Oops - just noticed that you said "no access to processed foods." Sloppy me. A cake with vegetables is a great idea - if you can't get parsnips, how about a Chocolate Beet cake?


                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: AnneInMpls

                                        Have you actually tried to make this? If it gets your seal of approval I might have to make it for a party with my college buddies!

                                        1. re: JungMann

                                          No, but I had the White Castle Dip at a party. My brother-in-law made it but didn't tell people what was in it. After I ate about half the bowl, I begged him for the recipe. He laughed so hard that he fell on the floor (for some strange reason, I have a reputation for being the food snob in the family).

                                          Dang, now I'm craving this dip. I may have to break down and make my own batch.


                                          1. re: AnneInMpls

                                            Would frozen White Castle burgers work? That's all that's available in So. Cal. This sounds just odd enough to want to try it.

                                            1. re: Neta

                                              I'm guessing that frozen White Castle burgers would be fine in this recipe. Go for it - and report back on how it turned out!


                                      2. There is that classic tomato soup cake.

                                        It's a sweet spice cake with a can of tomato soup in it. No one ever knows. You say no processed foods, but I figure if you can get your hands on a bottle of Coke, you can get a can of Campbells Tomato soup ; )

                                        Emeril even has a recipe:

                                        1. Potato chip cookies would work.

                                          1. I slipped up one time and added cinnamon instead of cumin to a batch of chile verde. When I figured it out, I just added the cumin. It was pretty tasty, and yes I was drinking.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: chileheadmike

                                              LMAO, chileheadmike...just how much cinnamon did you add? When I use cumin, it's a hefty amount. I can't imagine using that much cinnamon instead of cumin.

                                              1. re: ChiliDude

                                                It was a good teaspoon. I caught it before it got out of control. It actually worked out pretty well.

                                                1. re: chileheadmike

                                                  Actually some of these spices are not all that uncommon in verde sauces. I make one that has allspice, mexican cinnamon and cloves (I believe)- it is a pipian verde. It is very good...

                                              2. re: chileheadmike

                                                Actually, cinnamon is often paired with beef in Greek recipes, which is the origin of the Cincinnati Chili JungMann mentions below. It was invented by Greeks. And chocolate shows up in many great Mexican dishes, especially Mole Poblano. I think cinnamon is also an ingredient in Mock Turtle Soup. No, I was disapointed to learn as a kid, Alice in Wonderland's Mock Turtle didn't make it into the soup pot.

                                              3. Another thought I just had is Cincinnati Chili which contains cinnamon, allspice and chocolate. Chili is the perfect potluck food, and those secret ingredients won't threaten anyone.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: JungMann

                                                  I love chili with 1 - 2 ounces of dark chocolate! I always throw that into my chili. I've also done chili with bourbon (instead of chocolate, I haven't done them together, don't know how that would be).

                                                  A roommate of mine used to make "potato candy," which was boiled peeled potatoes (smashed), mixed with a whole box of powdered sugar and a cup of peanut butter. Extremely rich.

                                                  1. re: starbucksbrew

                                                    wow, what does the potato candy taste like?
                                                    do you eat it on sweet bread or cookies?

                                                2. I made the saltine toffee- people at work were flipping out that the base was crackers. I didn't find it unusual, but everyone else did. It's gooooooooood in a trashy/simple/sweet-n-salty kinda way. Just crackers, stick o butter, cup of brown sugar and semi-sweet choc chips - if u need exacts poke around on google or let me know.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                                    Speaking of toffee, I found a bacon toffee recipe last night if you're gutsy enough to attempt bacon candy! I haven't tried it yet, so I can't vouch for the taste though.

                                                    1. re: Reene902

                                                      I've had bacon toffee in a restaurant. It's good, but needs something like vanilla ice cream to cut it. I found bacon toffee on its own a bit unpleasant.

                                                  2. Hints from Heloise has a chocolate sauerkraut cake:


                                                    You could frost with chocolate sour cream frosting for sour cream in frosting, sometimes unexpected.

                                                    1. Something with Marmite, perhaps?

                                                      Lots of recipes around - here are a few:


                                                      1. Cooking Light has a recipe for steak sandwiches. The marinade for the flank steak includes coca cola. Not terribly original, but delish. It's served with an arugula mayo.

                                                        Epi's beet, chickpea, and almond dip. Basically hot-pink hummus.

                                                        On the sweets front:
                                                        --Worldpeace cookies (bittersweet chocolate and sea salt)
                                                        --Dave Lieberman's chocolate-guiness cupcakes
                                                        --Chocolate-mayonnaise cupcakes
                                                        --Chocolate-whiskey bundt cake

                                                        Those combos don't seem too crazy to me, but my friends are always suprised by them. (Maybe I just love anything with chocolate....)

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: porceluna

                                                          A while back, Cooking light also had an article about sake. If I recall correctly, there were some desserts that included it. I don't remember the specifics but you could just search for "sake" on their website.

                                                          1. re: porceluna

                                                            Gotta love that chocolate in mole poblano.

                                                            1. re: janeh

                                                              I put peanut butter in mine too. Not traditional but tastes great!

                                                          2. Pfeffernuse cookies (German spice cookies) contain as the "secret" ingredient, black pepper. I always double the amount called for and also increase the other spices, too. I like 'em very spicy and flavorful. I make my cookies about 1/3" in diameter (raw) so they come out about the size of your thumbnail. They're wonderful when you can pop them into your mouth by the handful. I generally like mine plain and crisp, but have also made batches that I tossed (warm) in confectioner's sugar. They're not just a Christmas cookie around my house. <smile>

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: kodothedrum

                                                              Cumin in well-spiced oatmeal raisin cookies is wonderful, and people don't often put their finger on it. I add a smidge of cayenne as well.

                                                            2. grape jelly in my tomato gravy.....sweetness and grapes...great substitute for wine...

                                                              1. Green apple sorbet made with rendered guanciale (or bacon) fat. I did it for an Iron Chef Bacon competition, and it turned out shockingly well. I minced the guanciale very finely, crisped it up, used the drained and cooled fat along with pureed green apples and simple syrup to make the sorbet, then mixed in some of the crisped bits for texture. It'd be more obvious with bacon, but with guanciale, it was a fairly subtle flavor change but it imparted a wonderful richness and creamy texture that was difficult to put a finger on. Using the crisped bits would, of course, make it much more obvious.

                                                                Alternatively, do a candy cap cheesecake. Candy caps are mushrooms that, when dried, take on an intense maple aroma and flavor. It's a little more earthy and spicy, but remarkably similar. If you season a cheesecake with nothing but ground candy caps, people will swear up and down you made it with maple syrup. When I do this, I use three parts cream cheese to one part chevre for the cake. I think that little goaty tang plays well against the spicy tones of the candy caps.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: Dmnkly

                                                                  That cheese cake sounds oh so good! Sadly, when I said I had no access to processed foods, I should have clarified that I have no access to any sort of "gourmet" food either. No specialty stores, no deli, no nothing.
                                                                  'll have to keep it in mind when I get back to the States though.

                                                                  1. re: lulubelle

                                                                    Well, I don't know what kind of timeframe you're working with, but I mail-order my candy caps from a place called Millard Family Mushrooms (easily searchable). I don't know what the cost or time is involved in shipping something from the US to Bangladesh, but the mushrooms themselves are cheap.

                                                                    1. re: Dmnkly

                                                                      This is a third world country (or "developing nation" as we like to call them now-a-days, getting any kind of mail, particularly packages, is a hit or miss proposition. I'll check them out when I am back in the States though, they sound cool.

                                                                2. WOW! Thanks for all the great ideas! I made that Ritz cracker pie in high school once and forgot all about it. I could get my hands on a box of Ritz crackers here, but they would probably cost about 8 bucks. (I live in Bangladesh and imported foods are really expensive.) I think one of the veggie cakes might be my best bet, although I am interested in the vinegar pie and have some locally made pineapple vinegar that might prove interesting.

                                                                  I would kill for White Castle, in any form, even dip, but the closest White Castle is probably an 18 hour plane trip.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: lulubelle

                                                                    And how about the mustard and coffee in Maida Heater's Lumberjack gingerbread from Maine?

                                                                  2. I make stuffed cabbage using a recipe from Mimi Sheraton's book that has ginger snap cookies in it for sweetness and to thicken.

                                                                    1. How about Tofu cheesecake or buttermilk pie?

                                                                      1. What about mock Skor bars made with soda crackers/saltines? I've had them a few times before and they are insanely good! No one would ever guess there are crackers in there.

                                                                        Recipe: http://www.recipezaar.com/129762

                                                                        1. I've never tried it, but there is a recipe for Chocolate Fudge that uses Velveeta as a base.

                                                                          1. Well, I've found a lot of people are surprised by black pepper in gingerbread, even though it's completely traditional. My grandmother used to put tea in her chocolate cake, and of course there are Guinness-based chocolate and ginger cakes that are very good.

                                                                            There are recipes available online for candied tomatoes - it's the usual involved candy-making process, but the end result (after using spiced syrup, etc.) is supposed to be both delicious and mystifying. No one can tell the base is tomato.

                                                                            13 Replies
                                                                            1. re: curiousbaker

                                                                              Curiousbaker, do you have a recipe for your grandmother's chocolate cake with tea? It sounds like tea would add a great aromatic note, and "vintage" recipes are often way better than the new-fangled ones!

                                                                              1. re: porceluna

                                                                                I have the recipe for her chocolate cake somewhere at home - I'll try to find it (I moved two months ago, and though I'm pretty much out of boxes, things are still hard to find). But it's a funny story about the tea. My grandmother always made this very simple chocolate cake that she would serve plain or just sprinkled with powdered sugar. It was very good, and when I got older I used the recipe sometimes. It never came out particularly good, though. I figured my memory had played tricks on me. Then one day I was reading an article to my mother about unusual pairings with chocolate, tea among them (I think the article mentioned an chocolate candy filled with Earl Grey cream.) And my mother said, oh yes, your grandmother used to dump the end of her pot of tea into the chocolate cake batter before she put it in the oven. What?? Of course, it makes sense: hot liquids help cocoa to "bloom", opening up the flavors, and tea complements chocolate. But that's a pretty major change in a recipe, and with no guidance, I'm not sure whether I've got it right. But I've made it now twice adding about a cup of hot tea, and it does come out well. A little tinkering may still be needed.

                                                                              2. re: curiousbaker

                                                                                In Norwegian, pepperkake (literal translation: pepper cake) is the word for gingerbread, and as far as I know, most recipes for gingerbread here include a pinch to a teaspoon of black pepper.

                                                                                1. re: hangrygirl

                                                                                  As well they should - pepper greatly improves the flavor of gingerbread.

                                                                                  1. re: curiousbaker

                                                                                    i use mustard powder and espresso powder in my molasses-gingerbread muffins [in addition to to the other traditional spices, of course], and they're always a huge hit. no one can ever figure out what's in there :)

                                                                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                                      Oh, my goodness. please post a recipe for this- I've made the recipe for my favorite chocolate molasses spice cookies so much that I'm desperate for anything else to use up the molasses in....

                                                                                      1. re: chocolatstiletto

                                                                                        my recipe is gluten-free and sweetened with agave nectar, so i doubt you want me to post the one i use. but i think sally schneider had a gingerbread recipe that used similar spices in her book "a new way to cook." give me a little time to look it up in the book & type it up, and i'll post it for you...

                                                                                        update: turns out it's already posted online - saves me some work!


                                                                                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                                          actually, my mother is allergic to wheat so yes, I would like your version if possible!

                                                                                          1. re: chocolatstiletto

                                                                                            is she just allergic to wheat, gluten-intolerant, or celiac?

                                                                                              1. re: chocolatstiletto

                                                                                                she's lucky. and simply substituting for wheat is much easier than making a completely GF recipe. mine contains a complicated GF flour blend plus guar gum - it's not necessary for your mom. go ahead and use the recipe i posted, with the following modification: use 1- 3/8 cups barley flour, and 1/2 cup oat flour.

                                                                                        2. re: chocolatstiletto

                                                                                          Head over to www.epicurious.com and just type in molasses.

                                                                                          You'll find a ton of ideas.

                                                                                          1. re: Jennalynn

                                                                                            I used Julia Child's spice cookie recipe this year. It was wonderful and I substituted white flour for rye in the recipe. I'm sure it would be super great made with rye.

                                                                                            My sister also one time accidently made peanut butter cookies with rye flour. My other sister's husband thought they were the best cookies ever.

                                                                                2. I made this creamy broccoli soup from Everyday Food recently. It uses oatmeal to thicken it. I omitted the nutmeg, added a little cayenne and 2 cloves of minced garlic with the onions, plus a splash of white wine. It was pretty good and nobody guessed what the secret ingredient was.


                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Candice

                                                                                    Leftover tea or coffee (unsweetened) makes the best gravy base when used to deglaze a roasting pan - adds a lot of richness and flavour but no one would ever guess either was used.

                                                                                    1. re: Bigtigger

                                                                                      Classic southern red-eye gravy is made with coffee. Good stuff...with a nice slab or Smithfield or country ham.

                                                                                  2. How about chili made with ostrich? :)

                                                                                    1. I don't necessarily think of it as weird, but everyone always says "eww!" until they taste it... sour cream chocolate cake. It's been my family's go-to chocolate cake since before I was born.

                                                                                      2 sticks butter
                                                                                      1 cup water
                                                                                      4 T. cocoa
                                                                                      2 cups sugar
                                                                                      2 cups flour
                                                                                      1 t. baking soda
                                                                                      ¼ t. salt
                                                                                      1 t. vanilla
                                                                                      ½ cup sour cream
                                                                                      2 eggs

                                                                                      In saucepan, melt butter and add water and cocoa. Sift sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt and add to chocolate mixture. Beat to combine, and add sour cream, vanilla, and eggs. Mix thoroughly. Bake in a 12x9 pan, 2 9” round pans, or cupcake tins for 30 to 35 minutes at 375.

                                                                                      10 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: Katie Nell

                                                                                        Katie, people you know must have an extremely low "eew!" point. Your recipe immediately sounded delicious; and I'm going to make it tomorrow!

                                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                          Seriously - what could be wrong with anything made with sour cream? Have these people never heard of sour cream coffee cake?

                                                                                          1. re: curiousbaker

                                                                                            Yeah, well, don't even get me started on people who use "eww!" at all... let's just say I have to dumb down a lot of my baking for the people I work with! Thank goodness my family is not like that!

                                                                                            1. re: curiousbaker

                                                                                              I remember when jarred Mayo in a chocolate cake recipe elicited and "eww" from me...wait it still does ;)

                                                                                              1. re: fmed

                                                                                                You could make homemade mayo just to make a cake, but I'd rather put it on a sandwich, myself.

                                                                                                1. re: fmed

                                                                                                  And yet, I presume you'd never think twice about a cake recipe that included egg yolks, vegetable oil and lemon juice, eh? :-)

                                                                                                  1. re: Dmnkly

                                                                                                    Yep! I'm hypocritical that way.

                                                                                                    1. re: fmed

                                                                                                      Whatever you do, do NOT mix the eggs and oil before adding to the batter!

                                                                                                      Add them first. Then mix them. :-)

                                                                                            2. re: Katie Nell

                                                                                              Katie Nell, that's our go-to chocolate cake too. We substitute buttermilk for the sour cream and add 1 tsp. of cinnamon. Everybodies favorite.

                                                                                              1. re: Katie Nell

                                                                                                The most popular muffins and pound cakes sold at the delis here on Long Island are made with yogurt. You're right, at first people would say "eww" but now they won't buy anything else, and they ask for them specifically. Me, I love yogurt, so I was always into the idea and now make most of my baked goods with it if possible.

                                                                                              2. My best friend in high school's mom used to make Mounds Bar Candy that used instant mashed potatos and they tasted JUST like the candy bar. I just Googled "Mounds Bar Instant Potatos" and found several recipes.

                                                                                                1. Chocolate mayonnaise cake? There's a dip in the center of the baked cakes, which you can hide with frosting. I do think the crumb will tell another baker this isn't a butter cake, but the more pronounced chocolate flavor will easily distract them from that difference. Chocolate seems to be a great vehicle for secret ingredients. No surprises that's the case.

                                                                                                  1. how about tomato cake? I've made that and it is good.

                                                                                                    1. Jalapeño chocolate cake...