Monthly Archives: December 2010

Insane Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Ganache Cake

The actual name of this cake is sour-cream chocolate cake with peanut-butter cream cheese frosting and chocolate peanut butter glaze. It is a cake so sinfully decadent that it would make Nigella Lawson’s head explode. To give the cake its “just desserts,” I enrolled it in a chocolate-cake challenge against my gourmet chef-friend Tonya.

I found the recipe on Smitten Kitchen a few years ago, and was encouraged when my friend Ellie made it and said it nearly killed a party she took it to. It took a bit of work, as most layer cakes are wont to do, but it’s worth it. Here’s why: three layers of dark and moist sour-cream chocolate cake covered in a cream-cheese and peanut butter frosting, then slathered with the most ridiculous amount of thick peanut butter chocolate ganache. I just drooled writing that.

The cake has an interesting addition of vinegar – I still haven’t figured out what that does, but I think I like it. All together, it tastes like a wonderful Reece’s candy – but way better. The ganache is like a truffle layer over the creamy frosting. As Tonya pointed out, the cake isn’t TOO chocolatey, so it doesn’t compete with the peanut butter frosting and ganache. Here’s the recipe, if you dare:

Insane Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache Cake

Ingredients for cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cakepans (I used 9-inch and it was fine). Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and baking soda into a large bowl. Whisk in salt to combine. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans. I did this all by hand, but feel free to use an electric mixer.

3. Bake for 30 min., or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. When cool, cover in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 min, which will make them much easier to frost. (Make the frosting recipe below while you wait)

4. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate (I put squares of parchment paper under it, to keep my new cake plate clean – remove before serving). Spread 2/3 cup cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.

Once frosted, chill the cake for another 30 minutes, which will help the ganache drip all over it (and make the ganache recipe below while you wait!).

5. To decorate with the ganache, pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving.

Ingredients for Frosting:

  • 10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2/3 cup smooth peanut butter – I used Skippy’s

1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Ingredients for ganache:

  • 8 ounces seimsweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half (admission: I didn’t have this, so used milk. My bad!)

1. In a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny.

2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm. Because I didn’t have the half-and-half, mine was too viscous, but it still tastes wonderful and set up nicely.

Isn’t that pretty? Tonya brought what she called a chocolate “Black-Out Cake” because during the war, people would make it whenever there was a blackout. It is a rich and moist cake with chocolate pudding between the layers, and a crumbled layer of cake all over the top. Brilliant!

Our judges declared a draw because the cakes were so different. Mine was called “most unique” and “most American,” while Tonya’s was “best classic cake” and “most European.” And then they all fell into sugar comas.

Seriously, this much sugar and chocolate gave me a headache like I’d been drinking a 20-oz quadruple espresso drink.

And here are the chefs!

Until the next foodie fight, enjoy, friends! xoxo


Seared scallops with Christmas risotto

For Christmas Eve dinner, my sister and I prepared a meal perfect for the night before Christmas because it won’t compete with the rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. Scallops seared to a caramel brown sit atop a creamy risotto made with bacon, basil, jalapeno and bright red tomatoes – creating a red and green festive plate.

I’ve made this risotto a couple times before, after seeing it here on We Are Not Martha. However, I’ve had to change a few things. For example, adding the tomatoes at the very-very end to prevent them from dissolving into the risotto. Also, I used more chicken stock than it called for, to add extra creaminess. The only fat you’ll need comes from the smoky bacon, which will blow your family away with the addition of garlic and white wine.

Truly, there’s little to dislike about this dish. The following offers small portions for 4 people, but plenty for 2-3.

Seared scallops with Christmas risotto


  • 1 pound large sea scallops, rinsed, patted dry, salt and peppered
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T EVOO
  • 3 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, minced (or 1/2 of large jalapeno) – approx 2 tsp
  • 3/4 c. arborio rice
  • 1/2 c. dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
  • 3 c. chicken stock, low-sodium
  • 2-3 tomatoes, seeded and diced (roughly 1 c.)
  • Handful fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 c. Parmesano Reggiano, grated, plus more for serving

Heat chicken stock in medium saucepan over medium heat on back burner. Keep simmering.

Meanwhile, add bacon to large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, reducing heat to medium-low, until bacon is crispy. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then pour off all but 1 T of the bacon fat.

Return pan to medium-low heat and add garlic and jalapeno (you could also substitute a pinch of red pepper flakes here). Cook for a minute, until foaming.

Stir in rice and cook until translucent around the edges; 1-2 min.

Add wine, scraping up the bacon bits from the bottom. When wine is absorbed, add 1 ladle (1/2 c.) chicken stock. Stir until absorbed, repeating until all the stock is used or the risotto is creamy with just the smallest bite to it. You don’t want it to be grainy in the middle – but slightly al dente. Check for seasonings (I’ve never had to add extra salt and pepper).

While the rice is cooking, heat a large saute pan over medium heat with butter and EVOO. When butter is melted and foaming, add scallops and sear until a nice brown crust forms on each side. Reserve to a plate.

When risotto is done, stir in the cheese until melted, then add the basil, tomatoes and reserved bacon.

To serve, spoon risotto onto plates, then top with scallops. Serve with extra cheese to dust on top.

I can’t tell you how delicious this is. Served with more white wine and a salad, my family was sighing with happiness. Please try this – special enough for a holiday, but perfect for any ol’ day. Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

Chocolate, cinnamon and ground chipotle chiles give these cookies a smoky-spicy aftertaste that transform a regular ol’ chocolate cookie into something that could keep up with your festive spiked punch.

As only Martha Stewart could make it, these cookies contain cream of tartar, giving them the chewiness of a snickerdoodle. In fact, combined with the slight saltiness, I’ve dubbed these cookies chocolate snickerdoodles rolled in smoked chiles. It’s a description that will entice or deter.

Like traditional snickerdoodles, they are indeed rolled in a sugary spice mixture, then baked until the tops crack and become shiny.

My dad declared that he loves them, which is high praise for someone who hates one new thing each week. [This week it’s Facebook (womp womp).]

I find these to be a welcome addition to all the light-colored cookies we see in wintertime. A bit of deviled chocolate.

Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies


  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (could also use cayenne or ancho chile powder)
  • Directions: 

    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down side of bowl. Add eggs and beat to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat until combined.
    2. In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and chile powder. Using heaping tablespoons, form balls of dough and roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place, about 3 inches apart, on two parchment-lined baking sheets (I recommend cushionaire). They will spread quite a bit! Bake until cookies are set in center and begin to crack, about 10 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cookies cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. (Store in an airtight container, up to 1 week.)

    Hope you are enjoying your holidays, friends! xoxo

    Clementine Meltaways

    Happy first day of winter, everyone! I will be celebrating with a wintery walk around Spokane Falls, then a lovely dinner at Wild Sage and a brass-quintet Christmas concert in St. John’s cathedral. And in between will be even more holiday baking.

    I don’t know what army my mother and I expect to feed, but we sure are prepared. One batch of cookies are those that I baked for a recent dinner party at my friend Tonya’s house. Called a lime meltaway and featured on Closet Cooking, it is a simple shortbread juiced up with lots of lime zest and juice. Tossed in powdered sugar, the cookies really do melt in your mouth – little chewing required.

    My own twist is the substitution of clementines. If you can’t find this citrus, regular oranges will work. I tried with satsuma tangerines, but the rind was too soft to get a good zest out of it. The citrus is such a wonderful addition to the buttery shortbread – these are perfect with tea or as a light dessert after a heavy meal (like Tonya’s lamb chops with mashed potatoes, spinach and roasted tomatoes).

    Clementine Meltaways


    • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temperature)
    • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
    • Zest of two clementines (roughly 3 T)
    • 2 tablespoons clementine juice (1-1 1/2 clementines)
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    • 1 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
    • 2 tablespoons corn starch
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 2/3 cup powdered sugar

    Cream the butter with the powdered sugar. Beat in the zest, juice and vanilla.
    Mix the flour, cornstarch and salt in a large bowl.
    Beat the dry ingredients into the wet.
    Roll the dough out into a 1 1/4 inch log. Wrap in parchment, wax or plastic and let chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
    Slice the dough into 1/4 in thick slices and place them on a baking sheet, 1 inch apart from each other. Bake in a preheated 350F oven until just lightly golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.
    Let cool on a wire rack for 4 minutes, then dredge cookies in powdered sugar to coat. The powdered sugar will melt a little bit when it hits the steam of the cookie, creating a sticky sheath that will dry into a wonderful glaze.
    Enjoy, friends! xoxo

    Home for the holidays

    What does the holiday look like in your family house? I’m always interested in how different Christmas/Solstice looks inside each family’s home – between freezers full of baked goods to eggnog waiting for brandy to dogs and cats dressed in hand-made Christmas sweaters, we all have our own “A Christmas Story.” (Note: I have that same pink bunny costume!)

    I have to give props to my mother, who has spent the past week turning out dozens of beautiful cookies, even when very ill.

    Some highlights include her butter mints and these candies pictured below, which are simply a pretzel topped with a Rolo candy and one pecan, then slightly broiled to melt.

    Little ginger-cookies she found in the New York Times, called Piparkakut. They also are spiced with cloves, cardamom and black pepper.

    Sweet sausage-looking things, which are actually a light dough capturing a lemon-walnut mixture. The cookies are called lemon-walnut packets.

    Pinwheels of ginger and lemon:

    And, of course, her almond-scented cream cheese cookies. She had to outdo me by adding lemon essence and prettier sanding sugar (and royal icing!).

    Hope your holdiays are going splendidly – I’m excited to have a white Christmas this year! xoxo

    Chipotle-rosemary spiced nuts

    Whenever I’m in one of those “meet the parents” or “meet the best friends” or “meet the co-workers” situations, I avoid cooking at all costs. Unfortunately, someone usually has mentioned that I have a food blog at said situations, so it’s expected that I wow the crowd.

    A girl can’t handle that kind of pressure!

    See, this is the same reason I avoid cooking for guys on the first couple dates – I don’t know what their tastes are and I worry that I’d be too nervous to pull it off. And nothing would be more hurtful to my ego than a date disliking something I’ve prepared. It’s become my “thing.” What’s my hobby? Cooking. But not on the first date (except on one occasion that I’ll describe soon).

    One way I’ve been able to avoid this nervousness, especially during the holidays, is to make some really simple finger food. Extra points if it is simple AND unique. Just like Ina Garten’s chipotle and rosemary spiced nuts.

    My dad first made this as a snack over Thanksgiving, and I knew I wanted to make it for one of the Christmas parties I was attending this holiday.

    First of all, what is better than roasted pecans? Nothing. Add cashews, walnuts and almonds sweetened with maple syrup and spiced up with ground chipotle peppers and piney rosemary, and you have my attention. This smoky-salty dish has been a huge hit wherever it’s appeared and I know it will become a holiday staple.

    Chipotle-Rosemary Spiced Nuts


    • Vegetable oil
    • 3 cups whole roasted unsalted cashews (14 ounces)
    • 2 cups whole walnut halves (7 ounces)
    • 2 cups whole pecan halves (7 ounces)
    • 1/2 cup whole almonds (3 ounces)
    • 1⁄3 cup pure maple syrup
    • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
    • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
    • 2 teaspoons ground chipotle powder
    • 4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves, divided
    • Kosher salt

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

    Brush a sheet pan generously with vegetable oil. In a large bowl, toss the cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, the maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, and chipotle powder. Add 2 tablespoons of the rosemary and 2 teaspoons of salt and toss again.

    Spread the nuts in one layer on the sheet pan. Roast the nuts for 25 minutes, stirring twice with a large spatula, until the nuts are glazed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with 2 more teaspoons of salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons of rosemary.

    Toss well and set aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking as they cool. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm or cool completely and store in airtight containers at room temperature.

    I put mine in a nice decorative bowl, covered it with Saran wrap and put a bow on top. The perfect hostess gift.

    Enjoy, friends! xoxo

    Almond-scented cream cheese sugar cookies

    I don’t know anybody who doesn’t crave a certain nostalgic sweet this time of year. My mom always turns Martha Stewart during the holidays, but of all her confections, these festive cookies remain my favorite, year after year.

    I never knew why I liked them so much until I grew up and realized that it was the addition of cream cheese in the dough. Then I got even older, and wanted to keep the tradition alive thousands of miles from home, finding that almond extract plus vanilla extract provides the unique flavor.

    And there was one other thing: margarine. And no salt. When questioned, my mother said she found that butter makes the cookies too crumbly for the cut-outs, and margarine and cream cheese have all the salt you’ll need. So, okay, I trusted her.

    The result was a soft and creamy dough that produced perfect cookie cut-outs, ready for a little sugar-crystal sparkle. This is a truly unique and wonderful twist on the classic Christmas sugar cookie. I dare you to dislike it!

    Almond-scented cream cheese sugar cookies


    • 3.5 c. all-purpose flour
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1 c. margarine, softened
    • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
    • 2 c. sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/4 tsp almond extract

    In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

    In a large bowl or your mixer, beat margarine and cream cheese until combined. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and almond extracts; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well after each addition. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight (or make ahead and freeze).

    Preheat oven to 375. On a floured work surface, roll out the dough to as thin as you like. Maybe a quarter inch? Thicker will be chewier. Use cookie cutters to cut shapes and place on a nongreased cookie sheet. These won’t spread much, so you can really fit a bunch. Chill the dough in between batches, so it doesn’t get too soft.

    Sprinkle the cookies with colored sugar, or any decorations you like (or use frosting when baked and cooled!).

    Bake for 6-8 minutes until just lightly browned at the edges – they will still be quite white. Let cool on pan for 2 minutes, then remove to cooling rack to finish.

    Go on, create your own Christmas cookie tradition with the loved ones in your life. I know I’ve been making all sorts of new traditions this year!

    Enjoy, friends! xoxo

    Christmastime is Here

    We didn’t have any chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but we did have this warm and cozy scene in which to sit with cozy socks and a bottle of pinot noir. I felt straight out of a Martha Stewart Living holiday edition – all we needed was a little more snow on the frozen ground outside.

    The mantle holds vintage wax Santas, nutcrackers and instead of a nativity scene…a “Rudolph” scene!

    As Grant fussed around the tree, I made a batch of mom’s festive cookies for a party on Friday. I’m calling them almond-scented cream cheese sugar cookies (recipe to come). The dough was so creamy and supple, sprinkled with sugar crystals and absolutely delicious.

    It’s silent nights like these, where you’re with the ones who love you, that remind me why I shamelessly love Christmastime. Because it makes it okay for me to be a sentimentalist who is happy on a comfy couch with a brightly lit tree and old Christmas tunes in the background. Because it’s okay to wax poetic about children’s cartoon characters. Because it’s okay to be OCD about the tree standing straight or the ornaments being hung evenly.

    Hope you all are having a peaceful holiday so far … I’ll be back with more recipes from the various parties I know we all will be overdosed on.


    Hot capicola and arugula sandwich

    I’ve been trying to make my lunch instead of eating out every day. You’d think this would save money, but I end up just buying the most expensive ingredients and it’s all a wash.

    Some of my favorites lately have been hoagie rolls stuffed with Provolone cheese, fresh baby arugula and either hot capicola or prosciutto.

    I heat the sandwich up at work without the arugula, which I add afterwards for a cool bite. This is so salty and wonderful with that peppery arugula….drool.

    Happy lunching, friends! xoxo