A Tale of Two Trifles: Strawberry Vanilla and Chocolate Raspberry, for a Graduation Party

Warning: this is a pretty long post, but includes some of my favorite tricks, so hopefully it will be worth it. Maybe get a fresh cup of coffee before you sit down to read it!

My daughter Maya, who is an excellent baker, decided that she couldn’t bear to have just a cake for her high school graduation party. Nope – what she really wanted is what we traditionally serve for birthdays around here: Strawberry Trifle.  It’s cool & creamy with soft custard and whipped cream, but not overly sweet.  We all love it.

I’ve shared my trifle recipe before (see link above) and it is pretty easy to make.  But honestly the thought of a giant trough of trifle is just too unappetizing to even consider. Trifle is lovely in a clear dish – until the first spoonful is removed and then it’s a sloppy mess. Delicious – but basically dessert carnage.

Fortunately, I’ve made individual trifles before and it’s a neat and lovely way to serve them. Making 100 individual servings is a little more serious endeavor, but I thought – we can do this! To add to the fun, we added Chocolate Raspberry Trifle.

Here’s how we did it:

The day before the party, we made 2 1/2 gallons of vanilla custard, and 1 1/4 gallons of chocolate custard. In hindsight I’d do the opposite, since the chocolate was a huge hit.

A triple batch of my regular recipe yields just a little more than a gallon, and my biggest pot just held a triple batch without disaster.

First trick: when making party-size quantities, reuse containers that the original ingredients came in.

After we’d made the custard, Taylor (who was helping me, God bless her!) poured the slightly cooled custard into a pitcher, put the lid on, and then poured the custard back into the empty gallon milk jugs. I also mixed up the frozen strawberries, sugar and sherry in a bowl and returned them to the frozen strawberry bag, which then just zipped shut. (Didn’t thaw or sweeten the raspberries or add anything else to them – I like the tartness they bring.)  Both milk jug and zipper bag were way easier to store in the fridge.

Second trick: buy an unfrosted chocolate cake and angel food cakes. The bakers at Costco thought we were nuts, but it worked beautifully.

Third and most important trick: We used shiny, clear plastic drinking glasses (the shorter, wider ones) and got 7 empty strawberry “tray” cartons from Costco to hold them. Each tray held 15 cups, and let us stack them neatly.

Fourth trick: on the morning of the party, we cut the cakes into 2″ pieces and put them in the bottom of each cup. Half the cups were chocolate and half were angel food. Then we covered them all with plastic wrap (just a couple of big sheets over each layer) and stacked them.

So to recap, the day before, we made the custards and sweetened the strawberries, which we stored in the refrigerator. We also had 6 cans of whipped cream and the mini-chocolate chips ready to go.

Morning of: we prepped the cups with cake.

Just before serving we dropped a nice spoonful of  fruit onto the cake, and poured about 1/3 cup custard directly out of the milk jugs onto the cake, and topped that with a spritz  of whipped cream (and sprinkled mini chocolate chips on the chocolate ones.)

Because it was a very warm day, we served the trifle cups in aluminum catering trays, nestled on top of a second tray with ice. A couple of wooden spoons in the ice kept the tray from sinking too far down, but kept the trifles nice and cool.

We were lucky enough to have two lovely young ladies helping during the party and they assembled the trifles and refilled the trays all evening.  The trifles were a hit and I know many people couldn’t resist seconds!

So for the record, here are the layers:

Chocolate Raspberry Trifle:

First layer: chocolate cake
Second layer: frozen raspberries
Third layer: chocolate custard
Fourth layer: whipped Cream
Topping: Sprinkle of Mini chocolate chips

Strawberry Trifle:

First layer: angel food cake
Second layer: strawberries, slightly sweetened and with a splash of sherry
Third layer: vanilla custard
Fourth layer: whipped Cream

We did end up with an extra 1/2 gallon of Vanilla custard, but what with one thing and another, that  has already mysteriously disappeared! (We do love our custard.)

So if you’re hosting a party and want a really “wow” dessert, try making individual trifles.

Tex-Mex Black Bean, Roasted Pepper and Rice Supper

A great vegetarian skillet supper that was simple, delicious and hearty. I didn’t really have anything much in mind for supper tonight and threw something together from what I had in the pantry and fridge. Maya loved it and I’d definitely make it again.

Ingredients

1 onion, chopped
1-2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp crushed Garlic
1 bag frozen fajita peppers from Trader Joe’s, or 2 fresh peppers cored and sliced into 1/4″ strips
2 Tbsp taco seasoning mix  (I used McCormicks.)
1 can black beans, drained but not rinsed
1/4 cup salsa
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 cups cooked rice
1 cup Mexican or cheddar cheese

Heat oil in a skillet and saute onions until softened. Add garlic and saute for a few minutes. Add frozen fajita peppers and taco seasoning mix and saute until the liquid from the frozen peppers is mostly gone. Add the black beans, salt and pepper and the salsa. (You can add a little water if anything is sticking to the bottom of the skillet.) Cook for another 5-6 minutes stirring occasionally until the black beans are warmed through. Dump in the rice and fold the bean mixture and rice together, cooking for a few minutes until the rice is warmed. Sprinkle the cheese on top, remove from the heat and cover for a couple of minutes.

Serve hot with a simple arugula salad. Yum!

Leave off the cheese for a vegan version.

Roasted Chicken and Fennel with Garlic, Lemon, Capers, Rosemary and Thyme

I first made this recipe in 2014, and wrote “Yum-Oh!!!” on the side. (Yes, I was in a Rachael Ray phase for a while.) The original recipe is from Eden Grinshpan from Everyday Food. I made a version of it for supper a couple of nights ago, doubling the marinade and adding veggies that were at the use ’em or lose ’em stage. The marinade is super flavorful and very easy. It made a great supper with Corn Pudding, but roasting potatoes with the chicken and veggies would be good, too.

Ingredients

4 Tbsp of crushed garlic*
2 Tbsp capers, drained
1 Tbsp of dried Thyme
1 tsp of dried Rosemary leaves
1 whole lemon with peel, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup of lemon juice

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs 3-4 cut into thinner cutlets
2 fennel bulbs, each cut into 8 wedges  (easier to eat that way), plus any greens growing out of the top.
4 stalks of asparagus, cut into bite-sized segments
4 carrots, scrubbed, but not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces

Mix all marinade ingredients. Pour a little into a 10×13 baking dish, and lay chicken down. Add fennel and asparagus, and drizzle all well with the marinade.  Toss lightly in the marinade.  It would probably be smart to let it sit for a bit, but I just popped everything  into a preheated 375 degree oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes. It’s delicious and the whole lemon slices are ridiculously tasty!

I think you could use just about any sturdy vegetable you have on hand. The original recipe also called for 1/2 cup Kalamata Olives, which I didn’t have, but which would probably be pretty good.

*I buy a bag of peeled garlic from Costco and puree them in the food processor with just a little olive oil. Scoop the puree into gallon ziplock bags, and smooth it into thin flat layers before putting them in the freezer. Then just break off chunks whenever you need garlic.  Be careful not to make the layers too thick or they won’t break easily!

Corn Pudding

Ree Drummond’s recipe for Corn Pudding is amazingly good.  I made it for supper the other night and we couldn’t leave it alone!  I did make some very slight changes, but mostly it is pure Ree.

Ingredients

4 strips bacon or turkey bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced (Ree used sweet onion)
1 cup flour
3/4 cup yellow corn meal
3/4 sugar
1.5 Tbsp Baking Powder
1.5 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
5 eggs
1.5 cups half & half
1/2 cup melted butter
2.5 cups fresh or frozen corn (I used a bag of Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Saute bacon in a large, oven-proof skillet. (I used my cast iron skillet.) Once bacon is soft, add onions and saute until onions are soft. You can remove any extra bacon drippings, but it does add wonderful flavor and I left it in.  Once cooked, remove from heat and let cool slightly. Add the corn in and mix gently.

In a mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients. In another mixing bowl, mix the eggs, half & half and butter. Gently blend the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring just until blended and there are no large dry lumps. Pour the mix into the skillet, and fold the onion, bacon and corn into the mix.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the center is just set. If you’re making it in a cast iron skillet, you will probably need the longer cook time. The roasted corn has a wonderful flavor but looks pretty awful when you cook it. If you are making this dish and need it to look pretty – just use regular frozen corn.

Sauteed Cabbage

I have never really loved cabbage.  It’s okay – but I can’t tell you how much cabbage I’ve thrown away over the years.  You need 2 cups for a salad, and then what?

But I’ve changed my tune after making sauteed cabbage.  Just like roasting brings out the mind-blowing deliciousness of so many vegetables, sauteing turns cabbage into sheer nirvana.  It gets a sweetness yet retains a nice bite.  And it’s ridiculously easy.

Ingredients:

1 cabbage, cut into 1″ squares (They will all fall apart so no need to be precise.)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 fresh ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the butter and as soon as it is mostly melted (happens quick – watch carefully) dump in all the cabbage and start stirring. If it won’t all fit in the pan, that’s okay.  You can add it in stages.

Sautee for several minutes until the cabbage is reduced and edges are starting to brown very slightly. Add the salt and pepper and stir well. Taste and check seasonings.

Serve. Devour. Yum.

That’s it. The simplest ingredients and method turn a plain Jane vegetable into a star. Leave out the butter for a vegan version.

Over the Top Sweet & Savory Waffle Bar

For our family potluck Easter brunch this year, we did a Waffle Bar – and I may have gotten a bit carried away.  But it was so much fun! People brought amazing salads, veggie sides and a wonderful egg casserole, and we made waffles.

Ali and Caitlin had visited Waffle Up! in Denver and loved their waffles, so I gleaned some ideas from their online menu and we added a few of our own.

I found a great Belgian waffle recipe from Taste of Home that I modified a little, and tried a vegan waffle recipe that I wasn’t too thrilled with.  Will continue to work on that and post it if I find a good one.  If you are making a gluten-free batter be careful to only use one waffle iron for it to avoid cross contamination.

Warning – this is a long post – as we offered a lot of toppings!

Here’s my waffle recipe:

4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 generous Tbsp baking powder
3 cups whole milk
1 cup butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix milk, sugar, vanilla and melted butter in a large pitcher. In a separate bowl, mix flour and baking powder. Dump flour mix on top of the liquid mix and blend gently, until you have no large lumps. Don’t overmix the batter. It’s way easier to pour the batter from a pitcher.

Heat waffle irons and either spray with a vegetable spray, or use a small cooking brush to brush oil on the irons between waffles. Pour enough batter onto each section of the waffle iron to about half fill it. It will expand and nearly fill the whole section during cooking.

Keep waffles warm in a 200 degree oven with a sheet pan flipped over them.

Prep the toppings (can do many of them in advance) and keep them in small bowls with a little tag that identifies them. Print out and display your recommended “toppings recipes”. We also suggested that people cut waffles up and make waffle “bites” so they could try lots of different toppings.

Savory topping Supplies:

1 lb. Bacon or turkey Bacon, baked or fried and diced
1/2 cup fresh Basil, rolled and cut into thin strips
Brie
*Cinnamon Apple Butter (Add a little cinnamon to regular apple butter)
*Fig Jam
2 cups crumbled goat cheese
6-7 slices of prosciutto, diced
3-5 Green Onions, sliced into 1/4″ rings
Maple Syrup

Spicy Sausage gravy
1 lb. spicy breakfast sausage
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
3 cups of hot milk (Can add more if gravy is too thick.)
1/2 tsp Lawry’s seasoned Salt

Cook sausage in frying pan. Add flour and stir for a few minutes, until the flour is just starting to brown. Add the salt, pepper and Lawry’s and continue stirring. Slowly add the milk whisking to combine. Cook for another 10 minutes or so – stirring often – until it thickens. Check seasoning.

With these toppings, you can make:

Bacon, Basil & Brie with Cinnamon Apple Butter on the side
Brie and Apple Butter
Bacon with Maple Syrup
Fig Jam, Goat Cheese, Prosciutto with a garnish of Basil
Spicy Sausage Gravy with a garnish of green onions

Sweet toppings:

Fresh strawberries, washed, and sliced into 1/2 slices
Fresh raspberries, blackberries and blueberries (we used frozen organic blueberries and they worked great.)
5 Bananas, cut into disks
*Nutella
Sweetened Whipped Cream

*Vanilla Mascarpone Cheese
1 container Mascarpone
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp brown sugar

Blend together. Could probably use Cream Cheese as well. Add more brown sugar if you like it more sweet.

Honey Nutmeg Sauce
1/2 cup honey
1/2 stick butter
1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg

In a microwave safe bowl, heat everything together for 1-2 minutes in the microwave.
Stir well and serve in a pitcher.

Caramel Apple Pecan Mix:
4 apples, peeled and sliced
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Saute apples in butter until they start to soften. Add brown sugar and cinnamon, and cook stirring constantly until sugar is nice and melted – about 3-4 minutes. Add pecans and stir to blend.

Bananas Foster Topping
1/4 cup butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons rum
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Melt butter, add brown sugar and cinnamon and cook for a few minutes until they’re nicely blended. Add rum and cook a few more minutes until you can no longer smell alcohol when you smell the steam. Add vanilla extract and remove from heat.

With these sweet toppings you can make:

Fresh Berries (any kind) with whipped cream
Fresh fruit (Strawberries and/or bananas) with a drizzle of Nutella and whipped cream
Strawberries with Vanilla Mascarpone Cheese
Bananas with Honey Nutmeg Sauce
Caramel Apple Pecan Topping
Bananas with Bananas Foster Topping

*These toppings work best in a ziploc bag, with the filling squeezed down towards a lower corner, and the the top of the squeezy part secured with a rubber band. Then just cut a little corner of the bag off, and store the bag in a bowl. You’ll need to cut a slightly bigger opening for the Mascarpone cheese and the fig jam as they’re pretty thick.

Arrange all the toppings in pretty little bowls, and the waffles on a big platter.  Make sure to display the suggested toppings combinations.  Our favorites were the Fig Jam, Prosciutto, Goat Cheese and Basil, and the Vanilla Mascarpone with Strawberries.  But really all of them were good and fun to try.

Boursin-Style Cheese Dip

I used the Boursin Cheese recipe from Food.com, and added a few more ingredients to make a slightly softer cheese spread.  This is great with crackers, flat bread or fresh veggies.

Ingredients:

8 oz butter, at room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 Tbsp plain yogurt (unsweetened, full-fat)
3 Tbsp grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried dill weed
1⁄2 tsp dried marjoram
1⁄2 tsp basil
1⁄2 tsp chives
1⁄2 tsp black pepper
1⁄2 tsp dried thyme, crumbled
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley or 1 heaping Tbsp dried parsley
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Instructions:

Blend the butter, cream cheese, mayo, yogurt and parmesan cheese until smooth. Dump in all spices and mix well.

Can use immediately, but tastes better if it sits for a half hour or so.