Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Ganache

I have a confession to make. I don’t usually like cake. Cookies, yes; brownies, absolutely; ice cream, of course. But cake? Cake is usually dry and bland and the only part that’s worth anything is the frosting. Assuming of course that it’s not the typical bakery frosting which tastes of plastic and leaves that nasty greasy slick on the roof of my mouth.

So, cake. Not my favorite. Why then would I want to participate in a new event Layers of Cake?

Because I WANT to like cake. Cake is what you fix to celebrate something – cake is what gets WOWS of admiration – cake can and should be delicious. This event would be motivation to try new cakes and find the cakes of my dreams!

And get some practice frosting them so they don’t look like they were done by 5-year-olds. Or decorators featured on Cake Wrecks.

August is not my favorite time to bake – it’s so hot and humid that turning on my oven seems criminal, but I wasn’t going to skirt the rules by trying to substitute an ice cream cake or something equally cheating-like. It was to be cake, so cake it would be.

After much internal debate, I decided on a chocolate cake with a peanut butter-cream cheese frosting, topped with a layer of chocolate-peanut butter ganache. Ages ago I saw a picture of a cake that had those frostings and it looked so amazing that I wanted to replicate it. Well, I don’t know that the peanut butter frosting was a cream cheese one or that there was peanut butter in the ganache. I just remember the picture and went from there.

For the cake, I used the Moist Chocolate Cake recipe from Reiman Publications, chosen because it fits into an 8-inch baking dish. I could use my toaster oven that way and avoid turning on the big oven!

The cake was super simple to mix, and didn’t even require softening butter as it uses vegetable oil instead. After cooking, I lifted it from the pan by the parchement paper sling I’d fashioned, and let it cool completely. After cooling, I sliced it in half horizontally in order to get some layers to make it a layer cake.

Trouble. I couldn’t figure out how to get the top layer to come up without the bottom layer as well – I know this is done regularly with round cakes, but what’s the secret???

I ended up having to cut the cake in half (making each layer into an 8×4 rectangle), which was then easy enough to handle. Because of my poor halving job initially, I stacked the two bottom halves on top of each other and called them a layer.

The peanut butter-cream cheese frosting was simply creamy peanut butter (Jif) added to a basic cream cheese frosting, tasting until it tasted peanutty-enough. Oh, and I always add some vanilla to my cream cheese frostings.

Bottom layer of cake + layer of frosting + one of the top halves (upside down) + layer of frosting + other top half (right side up) + a thin crumb coat. Then into the fridge to chill and hopefully make it easier to get a pretty coat of frosting.

While the cake chilled, I made up the peanut butter ganache. Again, I just added some creamy peanut butter to my basic ganache recipe, tasting until it was peanutty-enough.

Here’s the cake after the final coat of frosting. Yes, it’s a log. Yes, my frosting skills are still lacking.

Frosted with peanut butter cream cheese frosting

After frosting, I topped it with the ganache layer, but it had apparently set up too much and didn’t really pour over the top like I’d envisioned. I shouldn’t have taken such a long break in between making the ganache and pouring it. What can I say, it was a good book.

It kind of looks like a big eclaire to me. And that’s not a bad thing.

Bittersweet chocolate peanut butter ganache layer added

After slicing, the layers are clearly visible and while it’s not the prettiest cake in the world, I’m kind of pleased with myself. Both for managing to layer it (somewhat) and for adapting some recipes (not my strong-suit).

First slice shows off the delicious layers

And the taste?

I now have a chocolate cake recipe I love. Ok, maybe it’s not the cake so much as the double frostings but still. IT IS FABULOUS. I think I need to hide it from all my usual taste-testers so I can keep it for myself. I do not want to share.

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Chicken with Mushroom Balsamic Cream Sauce

No, that’s not quite the original title, but it’s close.

I’ve now made this chicken dish three times and haven’t remembered to photograph it once yet. So, apologies for the missing picture although there is one on the Food Network site where I found the recipe. Yes, it’s a RR one.

In case I haven’t mentioned it, Rob is not really a fan of chicken. I’ve figured out how to maximize the chances that he’ll like a chicken dish however; make sure there’s lots of sauce, and that the chicken is chopped into bite-sized pieces. Definitely no bones allowed.

Rachael’s dish satisfies both requirements. And to my satisfaction, it has lots of mushrooms and I’m really starting to believe that anything with balsamic vinegar will be delicious.

I do vary the preparation slightly; I almost never have scallions and don’t want to trouble with buying them specially for this meal, so I just saute some regular onions (white or yellow) and then continue on with the preparation. I also cut the chicken into pieces before sauteeing it after discovering that Rob prefers that (I like it better cooking first and getting a nice sear, and then slicing it, but he’s pickier so I just go with what he likes).

Fresh herbs only when I’ve had them on hand, otherwise dried have worked just fine. And for mushrooms I’ve always gone with what I can find easily and inexpensively, which has been white button and portobello.

I’ve had it over orzo, mashed potatoes, and cavatappi. All were good, although I do think we liked the orzo the best.

I think what I like best about it is that it’s been a good meal to fix for company; it’s easy enough and tasty enough to please everyone I’ve served it to. Even some guests who aren’t crazy about mushrooms have liked it, although they did pick around the mushrooms. I really should do a better job about remembering that there are strange folks who don’t like them and ask before assuming everyone is a huge fan like me.

Date Nut Bread

Thanks to coworkers who had a surplus of Egyptian dates (and when I say Egyptian, I really truly mean, from Egypt), I have a supply to use while trying some new recipes.

Date nut bread seemed the obvious first choice, both because it’s the first think I thinks of for dates, and because of Rob’s everlasting love for all quick-breads.

First task was pitting and chopping the dates, and that took awhile. The dates my mom buys from the store are a little more ready-to-use, but hopefully the taste of these will make up for the inconvenience of pitting them.

Since I didn’t have any internet recipe that was calling to me, I went to King Arthur Flour’s cookbook (the all-purpose one I believe, though it might have been the whole wheat version) and gave that one a try.

The recipe was simple, and the bread came together easily; other than dealing with the dates the bread was very easy.

It baked up beautifully, and was incredibly moist.

Unfortunately, and unbelievably, the quick-bread lover was not a fan; the date flavor was overpowering and he didn’t care for it at all. Perhaps the Egyptian dates are more intensely flavored than the sort KAF expected me to use and I should have backed off on the quantity a bit? Or did I mismeasure? The measurement called for chopped dates (not dates, chopped), so maybe I chopped them too small and it skewed the quantity. This is why I like recipes with weights, not volumes.

So, a pretty loaf, but an unpopular one at home. I shared at work and it received a warmer welcome from Jennifer, so she got the rest of it, and at least it didn’t go to waste.

I still have lots of dates to use, and no firm idea of what to make with them, but I’m taking suggestions.

Cucumber Salad

In my recent post about mujadarrah, I mentioned that I love it with cucumber salad, but never mentioned how I make my cucumber salad, so it’s time to rectify that.

My version is virtually identical to one I got from a Light and Tasty magazine ages ago (back when it was still called Light and Tasty). The big change I make is that often I seed the cucumbers first, and I omit the raw onion, because raw onion does not like me. Sometimes I’ll add some dried minced onion, but not always. And I also up the amount of dill a tad – I adore dill so I like a stronger flavor. I also chill it for at least 4 hours because Rob likes it better that way.

1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and sliced

In a bowl, combine the sour cream, vinegar, sugar, garlic powder, dill and salt. Add cucumbers; toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Black Bean Burritos

We have black bean quesadillas frequently, but rarely branch out to other variations, so I finally decided to be adventurous and try something slightly different.

Using our same quesadilla filling (sauteed onion, diced tomato, black beans) I filled the tortilla and added some cheese (Mexican blend and a little sharp cheddar was what I found as I excavated the fridge). Rolled up, doused with a can of enchilada sauce I found buried in the pantry, and sprinkled with the last of the cheddar cheese, they went into the oven briefly.

Served with salsa and sour cream, these ended up being pretty tasty, though I doubt they’ll take the place of quesadillas for us – those are just such a quick meal and don’t require heating up the oven or cleaning the extra dish. Neither of us were crazy about the green enchilada sauce – it tasted tinny, though I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the brand or the fact that it had been in my pantry for a looooong time.

These would be easier to do for a crowd than the quesadillas though, which we end up fixing one at a time; not a big deal when there are only two people, but not exactly convenient if you’ve got a bunch of hungry people waiting for a meal.

Sautéed Strawberries

A visit to Oh Yumm opened my eyes to how delicious sautéed strawberries could be, and I knew I’d have to try and recreate the dish at home.

I found a recipe from Terra Restaurant, and used it with slight modifications. Specifically, the wine – I’ve never like Cabernet (too oaky) and so I used some spicy Zinfandel I had unopened. I’m actually not much of a red wine drinker but I usually have a bottle or two around for cooking.

I combined the wine, sugar, and vanilla bean in a saucepan and let it simmer for awhile before adding the pepper. The smell was amazing!

Once the sauce was simmering, I sautéed the strawberries in a little butter briefly then added the sauce and brought everything to a boil.

Served over ice cream, it was very tasty, though it didn’t have anywhere near the depth of flavor of Oh Yumm’s version.

Mujadarrah (Lentils and Rice with Fried Onions)

I am just about addicted to trying new recipes, and that often involves checking cookbooks out from the library and seeing what catches my eye. I’ll pretty much never buy a cookbook without having tested a recipe or two first, but if I find a book with several winners it quickly finds its way onto my Amazon wish list (which really is just my own shopping list when I come into birthday money).

It’s easy to see why Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone was an award winner – it’s massive and has so much information and so many recipes it’s almost overwhelming. Though I’m not a vegetarian, I do try to cook meat-free several times a week, both for health and budgetary reasons, so I regularly dip into vegetarian and even vegan cookbooks.

I followed Madison’s version exactly the first time, but since then usually triple the amount of onions.
Here’s how I do it:
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 – 3 huge onions, frenched.
1 1/4 cups lentils (I’ve always had brown on hand, but I’m curious to try it with green)
salt
freshly ground black peper
3/4 cup long-grain rice (I’ve used both white and brown).

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it’s caramelized (stir frequently).

While the onion is caramelizing, bring the lentils to a boil in salted water, then reduce heat to a simmer. After simmering, add the rice, and LOTS of pepper. Add additional water if needed to cover. Cover, reduce heat to low, and continue cooking until the lentils and rice are cooked. For timing this, read package directions to figure out when to add the rice based on how long it will take and how long the lentils will take. I usually simmer the lentils alone for 10 minutes, then add the rice and cook both for another 20.

Once the lentils and rice are done, stir in about a quarter to a third of the cooked onions, cover, and let stand off the heat for a few minutes.

Serve the lentil and rice mixture topped with additional onions. This is fantastic served with a simple cucumber salad.

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