“Naked” Chocolate Peanut Butter Birthday Cake

We all knew this would happen.

After giving up sweets for forty days--albeit failing miserably by eating chocolate muffins for breakfast and justifying copious consumption of funfetti cake dip--you knew I was going to break my sugar fast with the most ridiculous, indulgent, calorie-laden dessert ever.

Not only was today Easter, and thus the celebratory-end-of-lent splurge, it was also the weekend we were celebrating the birthdays of my chocoholic mother and sweet-toothed husband.  Excessive chocolate and peanut butter was necessary.

I've had the recipe picked out for several weeks after watching an episode of Barefoot Contessa.  It was Ina and Jeffery's anniversary, so Ina was going all out, per usual, including this fabulous tiered chocolate buttercream cake, which is actually a small wedding cake.

The original recipe calls for nine sticks of butter. NINE.

Yet when I pulled up the recipe, I was surprised to see it said 8-10 servings. One stick of butter per person?  Yikes!

To get our chocolate fix without giving everyone diabetes and/or heart disease, I decided to halve the chocolate buttercream icing and alternate the layers with peanut butter frosting from Joy the Baker's cookbook.  To show off those different layers and cut a few extra calories, I did not ice the sides, inspired by this post on naked wedding cakes on Snippet and Ink.

The end result was seven sticks of butter, along with a substitution of of fat-free Greek yogurt for the sour cream, but I am adamant about the fact that this cake serves at least sixteen people. I might even recommend halving the cake recipe if you're not cooking for a crowd.

This cake is a labor of love.  I had to bake it in two batches, as the batter filled up four of my eight-inch cake pans.  Making two different types of icing is a little bit insane, and I'm glad my sister was in the kitchen to help me assemble everything.

That being said, this is a fantastic weekend celebration cake and totally worth making for someone you love.

Also, have you noticed how ridiculously cute Ina and Jeffery are?  They have been married forty-five years!  At one point on the show while making this cake she said, "I can't wait to see Jeffery's face when he sees this....although I always get excited to see his face." I want to be them when I grow up.

Happy Easter, friends!

“Naked” Chocolate Peanut Butter Birthday Cake


3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups good cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups light brown sugar, packed
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 cup plain greek yogurt, at room temperature
1/4 cup brewed coffee
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, recipe follows

Peanut Butter Frosting:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 (7oz) container marshmallow crème
½ cup smooth, all natural peanut butter
 pinch of salt
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:
½  pound bittersweet chocolate
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 egg whites at room temperature
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 pounds unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½  teaspoons instant espresso powder, dissolved in 1 teaspoons water
1 ½  tablespoons dark rum


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter two (or four if you have them!) eight inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper and butter the sides well. 

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars on high speed for about 5 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. 

In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. With the mixer on low speed, add a third of the buttermilk mixture, then a third of the flour mixture, alternating until everything is just combined. 

Divide the batter into four eight-inch round cake pans. (I only have two cake pans, so I made this in two batches).  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes each on a cooling rack, carefully remove from the pans and allow to finish cooling.

Peanut Butter Frosting:
Beat together butter, marshmallow crème and peanut butter.  Beat until smooth and no lumps remain. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:
Chop the chocolates and place them in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan simmering water. Stir until melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

Mix the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. (Or a large bowl for a hand-held mixer) Place the bowl of egg whites over the pan of simmering water and heat the egg whites until they are warm to the touch, about 5 minutes. Return the bowl to the electric mixer and whisk on high speed for 5 minutes, or until the meringue is cool and holds a stiff peak.

Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, while beating on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl, add the melted chocolate, vanilla, espresso, and rum, and mix for 1 minute or until the chocolate is completely blended in.

After the cakes have cooled completely, use a flat bread knife to even out the top surface. Place first cake on cake plate and frost with an even layer of peanut butter frosting.  Continue layering on cakes and icing, ending with chocolate buttercream on top. I used all of the peanut butter frosting but had a fair amount of chocolate buttercream left over. I’m sure you can find a use for it…

Bridal Shower Bites

Why have funfetti cake when you can have funfetti dip?  Strawberries, animal crackers, each and every one of your fingers--all of these are infinitely improved by the addition of spreadable funfetti goodness. 

This weekend we threw a bridal shower for my friend Anna, and I was in charge of the food. I've been scheming over recipes for a while now. She's always been a huge fan of funfetti cake, so when I saw this recipe, I knew I needed to recreate it.  It's one box of funfetti cake mix, one cup of Lite Cool Whip, and two cups of plain non-fat yogurt. It's healthy, but it tastes like icing!

Throughout this process, I have also formed a newfound obsession with animal crackers. They're so cute!

Anyway, I was still unsure about a main course when I remembered Anna's fondness for biscuits and gravy and these two posts. So, I created a biscuit bar. 

I also made these mac and cheese bites, which were a HUGE hit. 

Anna and I lived with two other friends, Catherine and Katrina, our junior and senior year of college.  The four of us became one unit and started referring to ourselves as PACK (Patricia, Anna, Catherine and Katrina) They are some of my favorite people in the whole world. Each of our separate friendships is important, but there's something magical that happens when all four of us our together. Kind of like this book.    

Anna's wedding is in two months, and both Catherine and Katrina got engaged recently too, so we have a LOT of wedding festivities to look forward to.  All of this excitement has led me to reflect on my own experience. I enjoyed being engaged. I enjoyed all the parties/excuses to see my far-away best friends, the creativity of wedding planning and the committed-to-each-other-forever-but-without-responsibility part of my and Adam's relationship.

But after all the fun and fuss of wedding stuff is over, I can honestly say I enjoy being married more.  And not because it's perfect or pretty or planned, but because it's real.

Last week I came home from work and I was exhausted. Ex  haus  ted. (Let me preface this by also saying that I am needy and cuddly like a small child.)  I had planned to go to the gym and check my email, and do some work. Instead, I laid next to Adam on the couch and found the small groove on his chest where my head fits. Within about two minutes, I fell asleep. He let me sleep there for a long time.  Past the time when his arm and leg fell asleep. Past the time when my drool had soaked a large spot on his shirt.  Past the time when I looked in any way cute or attractive.  Friends, this is not romance, but it is love. I'm so blessed to have it, and so happy for my friends to have it too.

Bridal Shower Bites

Biscuit Bar with strawberry & peach jam, honey, and sausage gravy
Funfetti cake dip with animal crackers
Veggie Tray
Strawberries & Blueberries

Regular Mimosas (orange juice + champagne)
Peach Bellini's (frozen peaches + sugar + lemon juice + champagne)

I didn't make any major alterations to these recipes, so I just posted the links.

For the funfetti dip, the recipe recommends letting it chill for 4 hours. I would recommend at least 8.  In the first few hours, there is a lingering acidic aftertaste, but that dissipates with added time in the fridge.

For the mac and cheese bites, I used whole wheat pasta and whole wheat Ritz crackers.


Edamame Avocado Hummus

I am continually aspiring to have more raw carrots in my life.  I’ve gone through a carrot transformation in my time on earth thus far. When I was little, I loved carrots dipped in ranch. Lots and lots of ranch.  I still do, honestly, though my mind won’t allow the same consumption of ranch as before.  

Then I went through a phase where I just ate them plain. I remember munching on carrots while studying for an ECON 101 test in college and afterwards being convinced that I had to eat carrots before every other ECON test.

Sometimes, I’ll still revert back to that plain-carrot-eating mood and contentedly crunch on those sweet little orange sticks for LONG time, but for the most part, that phase of my life is over.

Enter new phase: Carrots and hummus.

Hummus and I have not always been this close. For a while, it was one of those healthy foods and I knew I should like, but never did.  Then I discovered edamame hummus and things have never been the same.

I dip carrots in it.  I dip crackers in it.  I dip pita bread in it, and tortilla chips, and pretzels, and pretty much any other carbohydrate in my general area.  Chicken nuggets dipped in hummus doesn’t sound bad either. 

My two favorite kinds are the Eatwell and the Trader’s Joe's brand, though the Trader Joe’s version is just as good and about half the price.  

I’ve been snacking on it so consistently that Adam finally broke down and ate some. He enjoyed it, though he will never admit it, and I’d wager his professed love of said hummus will only go so far given that sometimes I try to kiss him after eating it and he’s like “Whoa garlicky edamame hummus breath!” Oh well.

Anyway, sometimes when you really love something, you want to try to recreate it for yourself.  There’s always a little bit of pressure in these situations because you’re afraid of it falling short of the original.  To the remedy this, I changed up the recipe.  In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, and my two favorite green foods, I decided to create edamame avocado hummus, which I figured would either be a horrible disaster or a raging success.

I’m pleased to say this is leaning more toward the success side.

The avocado adds a wonderful creaminess, and the fresh lemon juice adds bright kick of flavor.  (Make sure you measure out the lemon juice. I got a little squeeze happy with my lemon and added too much.)

Also, if you happen to have tahini, you should definitely use it here. I am intimidated by those huge $10 jars of tahini at the grocery store, so I used sesame seeds, which are cheaper and more likely to fit into my regular recipe rotation.

I was home for the weekend, and our town has only a Wal-Mart and a Food Lion, neither of which carries shelled edamame.  Thus, I spent about 30 minutes shelling edamame by hand.  

Worth it. 

Edamame Avocado Hummus

1 ½ cups frozen shelled edamame
1 small hass avocado, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, smashed
3/4 teaspooon kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 ½  tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp sesame seeds


Cook frozen edamame in the microwave for 3-4 minutes.

Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.  Add another drizzle of water and olive oil if the mixture is still too chunky. 

Recipe adapted from The Food Network.

Honey Oat Irish Soda Bread

My heritage is equal parts Irish and Italian.

I have always identified more with the Italian side, (I have olive skin,  studied abroad in Italy, and cook and eat pasta like it's my job) while my sister always identified more with the Irish side (She has fair skin, studied abroad in Ireland, and is in love with a red-headed man)

Though Irish food is not necessarily my favorite, their tradition does have one staple I am a fan of: Irish soda bread.

Named for the baking soda used as the leavening agent, this delicious bread can be whipped up in under two hours. (The same cannot be said for yeast breads, though I do love them too.)

For this particular version, I used a combination of oat and all-purpose flour. The oat flour is easy to make with the help of a food processor.  The only other ingredient you might have to make a special trip for is the buttermilk. I found having some extra buttermilk laying around to be a great excuse to make buttermilk pancakes, but if you aren't so inclined, you can make your own buttermilk easily.

The oats give this bread a satisfying chewy texture.  This is the kind of bread you smear with jam and eat with a side of fruit for breakfast.  Or slather with peanut butter and eat for lunch.  Or top with butter and cheese and eat with a hearty stew for dinner. It's perfect at all times of the day.

On a side note, for those of you lucky enough to indulge in some chocolate on St. Patty’s day, I would recommend this chocolate stout cake made with Guiness. I made it a couple years ago and it was fantastic. These Bailey's mint chocolate whoopie pies look good too. 

Given my lenten sacrifice of sweets, I haven't been able to enjoy all the St. Patrick's day goodies abounding, but a slice of this bread with apple butter is almost just as good. 

Honey Oat Irish Soda Bread

2 cups rolled oats, plus a handful for sprinkling
2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
1 ¾ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 ¾ cup buttermilk, plus 1 tablespoon
3 tablespoons melted butter, divided
3 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 400.

Butter a 5 by 9 in loaf pan and line with parchment paper.

To make oat flour, pour 2 cups oats into food processor. Pulse 3-4 times until a fine powder forms.

Whisk together oat flour, all purpose flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, mix buttermilk, 2 tablespoons melted butter and honey.

Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the buttermilk mixture. Stir until wet dough forms.  Roll out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed 6-7 times.

Place dough in loaf pan. Sprinkle a handful of oats over the top. Mix together 1 tablespoon melted butter and one tablespoon buttermilk and brush over bread.

Bake for 30 minutes in the center rack of the oven. Remove bread and raise rack to the upper part of the oven.  Bake for 20-25 more minuets until bread is golden brown.

Recipe adapted from 101 Cookbooks.


Superfood Salad with Quinoa, Chickpeas, Feta, Avocado & Almonds

These days, I am never particularly excited about preparing my lunch for the week.  It’s the last thing I want to do at night when I’m relaxing on the couch, and I certainly don’t want to be stumbling through the kitchen cabinets at 6:00 in the morning. (I took these pictures around 6:30am, which is why they are blurry!)

Anyway, I've been in need of a lunch to get excited about, and this week I found one.  After seeing this inspiration for a grain/chickpea/feta salad on Orangette, I was determined to make a filling, healthy lunch.

First, let me clear any misconceptions that I am a salad-everyday-for-lunch-kind-of-girl.  I know lots of those girls, and have at times aspired to be one myself.  I do enjoy salad and eat it on a pretty regular basis, but usually it does not make up the entirety of my meal. 

For one thing, teaching is a physically demanding job.  I am on my feet all morning long—walking around, directing students in a loud voice (or yelling, depending on the day).  Usually, lunch is the first moment I’ve had to sit down since arriving at work 5 hours earlier.  I am always famished, and a lean salad is not generally the desired choice to power me through 4 more hours of teaching.

This salad is an exception.  Packed with major protein, (quinoa & chickpeas) healthy fats, (avocados, almonds & feta cheese) and vegetables, (romaine & carrots), this salad has major staying power.  It’s the kind of lunch you will crave AND feel totally good about after eating. 

All the flavors and textures going on--the creamy avocado, crunchy almonds, crisp lettuce, savory chickpeas/quinoa--made me forget I was eating a salad, and I was full for the rest of the day.  That never happens. 

Enjoy, friends!

Easy Superfood Salad

*This is more a list of ingredients than a recipe.

Make ahead:
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup quinoa
2/3 cup chicken broth

Salad Assembly:
Romaine Lettuce
Crumbled Feta cheese
Sliced carrots
Chopped or slivered almonds
cubed avocado

Red wine vinaigrette dressing (I used bottled, but there’s a good homemade version here)

Bring chicken broth and quinoa to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes until all liquid is absorbed. Refrigerate for at least one hour before mixing with salad. (I like to make mine the night before and assemble the salad the next morning.)

When you're ready to make it, just toss together about a third of the chickpea/quinoa mixture with your salad ingredients and dressing.


Greek Veggie Melts

Friends, this weekend I did something completely terrifying.

I told the story of one of my lowest, most difficult experiences to a group of 25 strangers.

I was part of the leadership team that put on a young adult retreat at my church, and in a moment of clarity/insanity, I signed up to give the first talk.

I spoke about a time when fear took control of my life, and the process through which I let go of all the negative voices vying for space in my head and found some peace.

Three weeks ago, I gave a practice version of the talk to the retreat leadership team of six people, and it was terrible. The talk was still in its rough, early stages. I was awkward and nervous, and even though everyone was generally encouraging and supportive, I left with the sense of regret and deep shame that can only follow opening yourself up to real vulnerability. 

Part of me considered calling the whole thing off. Six people had already judged me and most likely considered me a little crazy. Should I really increase that number?

Another part of me knew that this was just part of the process, and if I was truly was going to let go of the fear, I had to share my experience.  

Me being afraid to talk about my experience with fear=letting fear win.

So I did it.  The worries I’d had all week dissipated Friday night as I talked with many kind people at dinner, (the glass of red wine didn’t hurt either!) and when I went up to the podium to speak, I felt ready.  Maybe even a little excited.

The amazing thing was that this time after speaking, I felt no shame or regret. In fact, I felt joyful and relieved.  Over the rest of the retreat, I received a lot of positive feedback from people who had been through similar experiences or just connected with my story in some way.   

Me sharing my experience with fear=me kicking fear in the ass=peace.

I’ve been on a high from it all weekend.

To make things even better, this morning my sister came over and gave me this!!!

Deb Perelman is my idol. If you have not read Smitten Kitchen, you are missing out on life.

Anyway, then we made these:

These look like mini pizzas, but I am calling them Greek veggie melts, because that is what they are. They’re inspired by an incredible Greek restaurant called Santorini’s that my mom and I went to last weekend in Florida.

Essentially, it’s a piece of pita bread piled high with a combination of fresh and frozen veggies, plenty of garlic and feta cheese, and then covered with mozzarella and baked to oozing cheesy perfection.  Using a frozen broccoli, cauliflower and carrot mixture saves a ton of food prep time, and roasting them beforehand is the key as it prevents the rubbery texture that frozen vegetables can sometimes have.

I was convinced nothing could come close to the veggie melts we had last weekend, but I’m proud to say these are just as good, if not better. (brushes shoulder off)  

I kind of want to eat this everyday.

I take that back. I want to eat at this table everyday.

Friends, thank you for reading my rants on life and food. I hope you have a peace-filled week!

Greek Veggie Melts

4 pieces whole-wheat pita bread.
2 12 ounce packages frozen broccoli, carrots, & cauliflower (I used Birdseye Steamfresh)
1 package baby portabella mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 small onion, diced.
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 ½ tbsp olive oil, divided
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1 tsp parsley
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425.

Thaw the 2 packages of frozen broccoli, carrots & cauliflower, either by leaving them on the counter for 30 minutes or zapping in the microwave for a minute. You don’t want to cook them—just thaw them out!

Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread out the broccoli, carrots & cauliflower, along with 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 ½  tablespoon olive oil, and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. (I like to cut the bigger pieces of broccoli and cauliflower in half) Roast for 20-25 minutes, giving the veggies a flip about halfway through. When you take the veggies out, reduce the oven temperature to 375.

Meanwhile, sauté the onions, mushrooms, and oregano/basil/parsley in 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes, or until onions are beginning to caramelize.  Add in the can of crushed tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes more until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Remove from heat.  Stir in the roasted veggies and feta cheese.

Remove the aluminum foil from the baking sheet and lay out the pita bread. Load your pita up with the veggie feta mixture.  (You will probably need 2 baking sheets, or you could cook these in shifts) Top with mozzarella cheese and bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes or until cheese is gloriously melted.

“Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture. To acquire happiness you don't have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired…..we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? …Because you've got to drop something. You've got to drop illusions. You don't have to add anything in order to be happy; you've got to drop something. Life is easy, life is delightful. It's only hard on your illusions, your ambitions, your greed, your cravings. Do you know where these things come from? From having identified with all kinds of labels!”

Anthony de Mello, Awareness