Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!!!!!!!

 Halloween is truly one of my favorite holidays.  I have so many great childhood memories associated with Halloween.  Every year my grandmother, who was the type of woman who always looked for a reason for a celebration, would have an over-the-top Halloween party in her basement.  I remember going to her house days prior to decorate and prepare.   We would tie strings from the ceiling pipes in preparation of the doughnut eating contest.  We’d tape black cat and witch cardboard cutout decorations to the walls and the mirror behind the bar.  We’d fill a bucket of water so that we could bob for apples.  (Those were the days when bobbing for apples was fun and not fearful–no one seemed to worry about transmitting viruses like they would today!)  We’d even create a haunted house in the unfinished portion of the cellar!  After my grandmother died my mom continued the tradition by having Halloween parties and always keeping the holiday fun and festive.  What’s funny is we don’t really have any traditional family foods or recipes associated with Halloween.  It’s more about using it as a good reason to have some fun.

I always look for a reason to bake sweet treats and there is certainly not a shortage of Halloween-centric desserts!  From the moment I saw this cake on Smitten Kitchen I couldn’t let it go.  The chocolate ganache seemed like the perfect canvas for a spider web and the chocolate peanut butter combo speaks for itself. I would say this is the perfect dinner party dessert.  It has that wow factor and the richness means a small slice goes a long way.  You will not be sorry you made this cake!

Notes:

  • I only have two round cake pans so I made a double rather than a triple layer.  (I used the leftover batter and frosting for cupcakes!)
  • Deb stresses the fact that these cakes are really soft and somewhat difficult to work with. I highly suggest you follow her advice and wrap the cakes in plastic wrap and freeze prior to frosting with a crumb coat.  Return the assembled and crumb-coated cake to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before frosting with your final layer of frosting.  Refrigerate again before topping with the warm ganache.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake:

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

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. 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.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a 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.

 To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 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.

To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze, put the cake plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips.  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.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter

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.

Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces seimsweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used the Scharffen Berger Chocolate I received in the swag bag from BlogHer Food)
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

In the top of d double boiler or 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.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

Adapted from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

Mini Pumpkin Cupcakes

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My friend hosted a costume Halloween Party and I couldn’t have been more excited!  I love getting dressed up and it is so much fun to see how creative others can be with their costumes.  I wanted to bring a little treat so I made Mini Pumpkin Cupcakes.  Each one was like a bite of perfectly moist pumpkin bread!  (Don’t forget to keep an eye on mini cupcakes while they are in the oven–even just one little minute too long and they can end up dry.  They bake much faster than full-sized cupcakes.) 

I decide to top them with chocolate frosting, but I think that many types of frosting would pair well:

My friend went above and beyond and served the cutest most creative cupcakes at her party.  I just have to share photos with you:b2

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How cute are they?! You can tell she is an artist!

Mini Pumpkin Cupcakes:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Use a mixer to cream together butter and sugars in a large bowl until fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after adding each.

In another bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.  Use a wooden spoon to combine.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternating with the milk. Mix until combined.  Stir in the pumpkin and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Line cupcake tin with papers and fill three quarters of the way to the top with batter.  Bake 10-14 minutes.  Cool in pan for 5 minutes then finish cooling on rack.  When cupcakes are completely cool, top with your frosting of choice.

Adapted from Crazy About Cupcakes by Krystina Castella.

Pumpkin Seed Pesto and Squash Sauce over Fresh Pasta

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My colleague takes part in a community garden in Jamaica Plain where she grows all sorts of herbs and vegetables.  I believe we are closing in on the basil season here in the northeast because yesterday she very generously offered to give me a gigantic amount of basil from her garden.  And I mean a gigantic amount–I think she gave me nearly an entire bush!  I have been wanting to make pesto for a while now, but I don’t have my own basil plant and I would have to buy about 25 of those plastic snap containers (you know how basil is sold in grocery stores?) to get a half cup of pesto.  A free bush of basil is almost exciting as dark chocolate Reese’s peanut butter cups! I couldn’t wait to make pesto! 

However, basil is so summery to me. I wanted to put an autumn spin on our dinner.  It immediately clicked on how I could do it: Use PUMPKIN SEEDS instead of PINE NUTS!  Perfect.  I also wanted to incorporate some squash and fresh pasta.  Using these ideas and ingredients I sequestered myself in the kitchen and I pretended to be on Top Chef.  (I am really enjoying that show lately–I love all of the discussion about  “notes” and “building flavor.”) 

The result was awesome.  This was one of those meals that while I was eating it I got super excited and giddy!  It was so delicious.   Not just delicious but so much more delicious than I ever expected.  (Don’t you love when that happens?)   And it was easy and didn’t take very long to make.  My favorite part was the contrast of the mild creamy squash sauce with the sharp garlicky saltiness of the pesto.  They really worked well together. The fresh chewy pasta was a major asset as well–it really jived with the creamy squash sauce.  The risk of using all of these ingredients, which could have been overkill, really paid off.  And this made for a pretty fall plate.  The green of the spinach pasta with the orange sauce on top was very cool.

Although I tried to keep track of my methods and ingredients, I didn’t measure everything.  If you want to try to replicate this feel free to email me.  That said,  it was pretty easy and I don’t think you could go wrong with such a delicious cast of flavor characters.

Pumpkin Seed Pesto and Squash over Fresh Pasta:

 

  • 1 pound fresh spinach pasta (If you are feeling ambitious, make your own!  I bought some from Whole Foods for $4.99)

Pumpkin Seed Pesto

  • several bunches of fresh basil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ~3/4 cup fresh shredded parmesan reggiano cheese
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
  • ~ 3/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Squash Sauce

  • 2 cups squash (you can use canned or fresh)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth (use vegetable broth instead and this dish is vegetarian)
  • 1.5 teaspoons nutmeg
  • a handful of fresh shredded parmesan reggiano cheese

Boil water for pasta.  Be sure to add salt to the water.

Make the pesto

Toast pumpkin seeds in a large pan over medium heat.

In a food processor chop basil, garlic, cheese, and all but two tablespoons of the pumpkin seeds.  While food processor is running, pour olive oil into food processor in a steady stream.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Make squash sauce

In the same pan in which you toasted the pumpkin seeds, cook squash, milk, and chicken broth and stir together until smooth and creamy.  Add nutmeg and cheese.  Continue to stir until heated through and cheese has melted.

Add pasta to boiling water.  Cook until done and drain.  Immediately add pasta to pan containing squash sauce and toss to coat pasta.

Portion pasta into individual bowls.  Scoop about two tablespoons of pesto on top of each serving.  Garnish with reserved pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.

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Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

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Did you know Reese’s now makes dark chocolate peanut butter cups?  I know! So exciting!!! When I first spotted the bags of orange and black foiled cups in my grocery store, I assumed it was just a Halloween gimmick (which actually would have been okay with me–I love holiday-colored candies).  However, when I looked closer I discovered it wasn’t a gimmick.  The orange are milk chocolate and the black are dark chocolate–how thrilling!  I decided to buy a bag and immediately make the cookies I had noticed in October’s issue of Real Simple magazine.   

The result? DELICIOUS.  Deadly delicious. 

Isn’t there just something so satisfying about a big thick chewy cookie chock full of melty peanut butter, milk and dark chocolate chunks?  Add a tall cold glass of milk for dunking and you have yourself a little piece of heaven.  Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies:

  •  1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temp
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 12-ounce package small peanut butter cups, roughly chopped (Obviously I used a mix of milk and dark chocolate peanut  butter cups!)

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat.

In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt.

Use an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.  (About 5 minutes.)

Add the egg and vanilla and beat to combine.

Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet mixture until just incorporated.  (Do not over beat.)

Use a rubber spatula to fold in the peanut butter cups.

Pinch a tablespoon and a half of batter and quickly roll into a ball using your palms to make each cookie.  Place on parchment paper or silpat-lined baking sheets at least 2 inches apart.

Bake until light brown, about 12-16 minutes.  Use a metal spatula to transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

This recipe made about 16-18  large cookies.  (I can’t remember exactly!)

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Look at the beautiful peanut butter cups!  Yum, yum, yum…

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Recipe adapted from October issue of Real Simple magazine.

Game Day Loaded Quesadillas

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The New England Patriots are a big deal in our household.  Autumn Sundays revolve around the game and I love that it gives me a reason to cook hearty and delicious food.  My husband made a request for some quesadillas yesterday (I love when he makes specific requests!) and I was excited to deliver.

Quesadillas are simple and versatile.  They are an easy go-to and they are an especially great way to use up leftovers.  Do you have some grilled veggies you want to reincarnate? Toss them in a quesadilla.  Leftover roasted chicken?  Do the same.  You can create a last minute masterpiece of a dinner by simply digging through your fridge.  My philosophy about quesadillas is similar to that of tarts.  The options are endless! 

Game Day Loaded Quesadillas:

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 4-6 thinly sliced chicken breasts*
  • 4 wheat wraps or tortillas
  • 1-2 cups shredded Mexican cheese (about 1/2 cup per quesadilla)
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons canned or fresh chopped chiles
  • 1 cup salsa (make your own or doctor up jarred salsa by adding fresh cilantro, black beans, and/or corn kernels)
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
  • dollops of sour cream or non-fat Greek yogurt

Combine first three ingredients.

Rinse and pat dry chicken.  Rub both sides of each piece of chicken with cumin/salt/pepper mixture. Grill each piece of chicken until done.  Remove from heat and cut into thin strips. Set aside.

In a non-stick pan place one tortilla.  Top with some cheese then chicken strips, avocado chunks, chiles, a few tablespoons of salsa (not too much or your quesadilla will be soggy), fresh scallions and then more cheese.  Place another tortilla on top.  Press down along edges of tortilla to seal it.  Serve with dollops of non-fat Greek yogurt (or sour cream) and salsa.  Garnish with scallions.

*I purchase fresh chicken that is labeled “thinly sliced breasts.”  I find they cook very quickly and save me the time of pounding or slicing full sized breasts myself.  

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Maple Pumpkin Muffins

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Saturday was a baking day.  There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  It was rainy and dark and I knew I needed to fill our kitchen with scents of the season.  This summer my in-laws visited Canada and brought back some delicious Canadian maple syrup.  I decided to bake something maple flavored so when I stumbled upon this recipe for Maple Pumpkin Muffins I was very pleased! 

A couple of notes:

  • The original recipe suggested baking at 400 F, and though it struck me as odd, rather than follow my gut I followed the recipe.  Unfortunately the oven was way too hot and a few of my muffin bottoms burned.  These should be baked at either 350 F or 375 F.
  • Rather than top these muffins with pecans, I added a crumbly streusel-like topping.
  • As you know I am a lover of chunks, so I almost added some chocolate chips but I feared it would overpower the maple flavor so I refrained.  These were more “breakfast” without chocolate chips.  Adding chocolate would make them more “dessert.”  🙂

Maple Pumpkin Muffins:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin or squash
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 tablespoons maple syrup, divided
  • 1 package cream cheese, softened
  • Topping:

  • 3/4 cup oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4  teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line muffin tins with papers.

    Prepare topping by combining first five topping ingredients in a small bowl.  Cut butter into this mixture and use your finger tips or a fork to crumble the ingredients together.  The texture should be like that of coarse sand/pebbles.  Set aside.

    In a large bowl, combine the flour, 3/4 cup brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt.

    In another bowl whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, milk, oil and 3 tablespoons maple syrup.  Slowly add dry ingredients to this mixture and stir just until moistened.  

    In a small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and two tablespoons brown sugar and 2 tablespoons syrup until smooth. Gently stir into batter until mixture appears swirled.

    Fill paper-lined muffin tins about three-fourths full.

    Sprinkle about a tablespoon of topping over each muffin cup.

    Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. 

    Adapted from Made by Melissa.

    Butternut Squash with Goat Cheese

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    It has been a difficult week in the land of Kitchenbelle.  While enjoying the weekend at BlogHer Food ’09 in beautiful San Francisco (at the fabulous cocktail party hosted by The Mushroom Channel, to be exact) I learned of the unexpected death of a dear friend of ours.  He was a regular visitor to this blog and each time we were together he inquired about it.  Also, he was quite the prankster and his silly comments on this blog (one claimed “I made this meal [tuna noodle casserole] the other night and it was wonderful.  Me and my cat await your next masterpiece.  Meow!”) will be sorely missed.  He will be sorely missed and my words here will not do him  justice. 

    Though I try to keep Kitchenbelle.com a place of cheer, happiness, and inspiration I couldn’t not mention this loss.  I am sure you would have sensed it anyway.  For me food is something I can control and something I can look forward to.  So I guess it is natural that in times of despair, I find myself baking and cooking more often.  The methods and rhythms soothe me.  The smells provide comfort.  Sitting across the table from my husband over a warm home-cooked and nutritious meal, on a dark cool night, especially during my favorite season of the year, ground me.  They give me hope and encourage me to be thankful.

    My husband has had an especially difficult few days prompting me to want to do nothing more than to take care of him.  The best way I know how to do that is to shower him with love and dinner.  It is a feeble attempt at easing the pain, but it is what I know. 

    Our friend was buried yesterday, one of the first beautiful breezy sunny autumn days in the northeast.  I found myself thinking of those verses from Ecclesiastes (I remember being struck by them while studying the Old Testament during ninth grade humanities class) that the Yardbirds spun into that popular song:  “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance…a time to get, a time to lose…”  Autumn is already a nostalgic season. 

    After all was said and done we took a ride to a pumpkin stand and purchased some gourds and a pumpkin for our stoop.  In hopes of capturing the season as well as offering some respite from a heartbreaking day, I decided to make squash for dinner.  I adjusted this recipe quite a bit and I have noted those changes below. 

    Changes and Notes:

    *Original recipe called for sage.  My grocery store was out of sage so I used chives.  Sage with squash is a more traditional flavor combination, however, the chives were just fine.

    *Original recipe called for blue cheese.  I don’t eat blue cheese so I substituted goat cheese.  Delicious.  I love goat cheese.

    *Original recipe was vegetarian. I wanted to add some bulk so I added grilled chicken breasts.

    *This is a simple and nutritious (also low calorie, I think) weeknight dinner that could be easily un-healthified (as in, bumped up a notch for company) with the addition of some heavy cream and cheddar.  Email me if you would like to discuss how this could be achieved.

    Butternut Squash with Goat Cheese:

    • 5  cups  (3/4-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
    • 1  (1 1/2-ounce) bread
    • 4  teaspoons  olive oil, divided
    • 2  cups onion, finely chopped
    • 4  tablespoon  chopped fresh chives or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
    • 3 chicken breasts, grilled and torn into pieces
    • 1/2 cup chicken broth
    • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
    • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
    • Cooking spray
    • 1  cup crumbled goats cheese (or 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese)

    Preheat oven to 400 F.

    Steam squash until tender, about 10 minutes.

    Place bread in a food processor, and pulse until coarse crumbs measure 1/2 cup. Transfer to a small bowl and add 2 teaspoons oil, and toss with a fork to combine.

    Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; saute 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Transfer the onion mixture to a large bowl. Add butternut squash, chicken (if using), chicken broth, chopped herb, salt, and black pepper to bowl, and toss gently to combine.  Spoon squash mixture into an 11 x 7–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Sprinkle crumbled cheese evenly over squash mixture, and sprinkle evenly with breadcrumb mixture. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and crumbs are golden brown.

    Adapted from MyRecipes.com.