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.

Advertisements

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.

Chicken and Herbed Biscuit Potpie

Made another great recipe from Ree Drummond’s blog last night. The original recipe calls for beef, but I had chicken meat and stock from a Costco roasted chicken. To make it with beef, just use shredded or diced cooked beef for the chicken, and beef stock instead of chicken. I also added mushrooms. This makes a big casserole of food. If cooking for a smaller group – you could halve this.

Ingredients for Pot Pie Filling:

3 Tbsp butter
1/2 onion, diced
3 stalks of celery, thinly sliced (about 4 inches if you cut across the whole top of the stalk)
3 large carrots, scrubbed and thinly sliced
2-3 cups mushrooms, halved
3 cloves garlic, mashed
6 Tbsp flour
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (about 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper)
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 cups frozen peas
4 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces

Melt butter in a stock pot. Toss in onions, and saute for a couple of minutes. Then add celery, carrots and garlic and saute a couple of more minutes. Finally stir in mushrooms, cover pan and cook on medium low heat for about 10 minutes.

Add the flour, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for a few minutes. Stir in chicken stock and cook to thicken for a few minutes. Add the heavy whipping cream and bring just to a boil. Immediately add the parsley, peas and chicken meat and stir to coat everything. Turn off heat. Pour the filling into a 9×13 pan.

While filling is cooking make the Herbed Buttermilk Biscuits:

Ingedients:

2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp dried parsley
8 Tbsp cold butter, cut up (1 stick)
3/4 cup buttermilk

Add all dry ingredients to a food processor and pulse until they are well blended. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times until the butter and flour mixture is blended and a little crumbly. Add the buttermilk and pulse 10 times or so, until it clumps together on one side. It will be quite sticky.

Scoop out ice cream scoops of the biscuit and carefully arrange them on the filling. You just want to be sure that every serving has a nice biscuit on top of it.

Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven when the biscuits are starting to brown nicely, and brush the tops with butter.

Delish!!

Chicken Pilau Biryani

Everyone has a dish that is their knock out dish, and Pilau Biryani is mine.  I’ve made it for graduations, parties and most recently for a wedding.  (5 catering trays worth!)  It’s a fairly simple dish, but so ridiculously tasty.  I use a spice mix called Shan Pilau Biryani mix, which is available online or in Indian grocery stores.

This makes a really nice big batch, but leftovers never last at our house.  I do make the recipe a little differently than on the box, but it’s still pretty close.  If you decide to make a half box, try to make sure you get roughly half of the big spices as well. It is also traditional to leave big spices like cardamom, cloves, black peppers , pieces of cinnamon etc. in the dish that you simply pick out while you are eating.

1 box Shan Pilau Biryani Mix
2 lbs. of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb. of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 Tbsp crushed Garlic
1 1/2  Tbsp crushed fresh Ginger
1 – 2 small glasses of water
1/2 cup plain yogurt, stirred well plus more for serving
3 1/2 cups basmati rice
6 1/2  cups of water
1 Tbsp kosher salt
3-4 large onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil

In  large pot, mix the chicken, spice mix, garlic, ginger and water.  Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer until chicken is cooked and soft.  (Probably about an hour.)  You want to end up with about 2 cups of liquid gravy (in addition to the chicken of course) so if you end up with much more, just cook it a little longer.  If you have less, add more water during cooking.

Remove from heat.  (If you want to pour it into a catering tray and freeze it at this point, you can.)

Stir the yogurt well and pour it over the chicken mixture evenly.

Cook the rice with the 1 Tbsp salt until just about done, and layer it on top of the chicken and gravy. It is important to make sure the rice isn’t overcooked and too soft, since the moisture in the gravy will add moisture to the rice.

If you get a red powder packet in the biryani mix, sprinkle it on top of the rice for nice bits of yellow color. Sometimes it’s not in the box – which is a bummer, but not a fatal flaw.

Fry the thinly sliced onions in olive oil, stirring frequently until they are dark golden brown and caramelized. This does take quite a while. Keep the onions and the oil they were fried in – you will use it all in the dish.  (I often start the onions before I even start the chicken to save time.  You can also cook the onions and then freeze them, and heat them just before you assemble the dish.)  For the wedding this summer, I fried two big bags of onions from Costco.  I think you could smell onions frying from two blocks away!

Ladle the fried onions and the oil on top of the rice, and cover with foil.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  (If you start with a frozen base, you’ll need to either cook it longer or you’ll want to thaw the base for a couple of hours.)

Remove from the oven and gently mix up the chicken and rice portion with a big spoon or saucer , and serve on a big platter. Serve with plain yogurt or a simple raita (spiced yogurt and vegetables.)

For a vegan version, substitute 3 cans of washed garbanzo beans, one cup of shelled pistachios, and 1 cup of frozen peas for the meat.  Add the peas until the very last minute or they get mushy.  (I sometimes just put the peas on top of the mixture in the tray since it all gets mixed up anyway.  That way they stay nice and green, but still absorb plenty of flavor.)

 

Chicken Fried Rice for a Crowd

Maya and the gals were all at our house a year or so ago, and so were Sammy and Taylor when I suddenly realized it was supper time! Maya’s friend Madeline loves stir-fried rice and often makes it, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Once you understand the mechanics of it: use cold rice, cook meat, then veggies, then sauce, then add everything back together again, you can use whatever you have on hand. I like it with lots of veggies and meat so I add a lot. It’s pretty easy and it’s delicious – anyway, the gals and our family demolished it!

3 cups rice
5 7/8 cup water
2 tsp salt

Make rice and spread out on a tray or any dish that will fit in your freezer. The rice needs to be cooled down.

olive oil
3 eggs

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces (thighs and/or breast)
6 Tbsp soy sauce, divided
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1 1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp Sambal Oelek (a great hot sauce – or you could use Sriracha, or Tabasco)
8 cloves of garlic, crushed, or 1 tsp garlic powder

1 cup diced carrots
1 1/2 cup peas
1 1/2 cup diced onion
1 cup bell pepper

Heat a Tbsp of oil in a wok or large, wide skillet. Scramble eggs with a few drops of soy sauce. Remove and cut into chunks.

Mix chicken with 1 Tbsp of the soy sauce, and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Fry the meat, stirring frequently until it looks cooked. Remove from the heat.

Add another Tbsp oil to the pan. Dump in carrots and onions and saute for a few minutes. Add peas and bell peppers and saute for a minute more. Push veggies to the outer edges.

Mix garlic, soy sauce, brown sugar, chicken broth and Sambal Oelek in a bowl and pour into the middle of the veggies. Cook for a few minutes.

Add eggs and chicken back in. Stir veggies, sauce and meat together until everything is nice and saucy.

Add rice back in and cook,stirring to toss the rice with the meat and veggies. Check seasonings, and add red pepper and soy sauce as needed.

Louisa’s Wassail

I have to give thanks to my friend Louisa, who always has a pot of this amazing hot drink simmering on her stove on holidays, especially the Winter Solstice. She shared her recipe and I’ve made this for family get-togethers, Halloween parties, a very chilly block party one year, and of course for Christmas. (Our block party was on such a cold day one year that my neighbor Rachel saved the day by bringing out hot homemade chicken noodle soup in cups on a tray!)

2 bottles dry red wine (Trader Joe’s Three Buck Chuck is fine.)
10 cups fresh apple cider
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp whole cloves
2 tsp whole allspice
2 cinnamon sticks, broken up
2 oranges, sliced thickly and studded around the edge with whole cloves

Add wine, cider and sugar to a large pot or crockpot. Tie the spices in a sachet of cheesecloth, or a coffee filter loosely tied with a rubber band. Add to the pot along with the orange slices.

Bring to a low boil in the pot. Let simmer for 20 minutes and turn heat down. You can remove the spice bundle if you like, but I often just leave it in. Ladle into mugs.

Cowboy Coffee

blue coffee potIf there’s one thing I really appreciate,  it’s big old coffee pots – the kind you use on a campfire.

I’ve got a couple of my grandparents old coffee pots, and one of my mother’s and they’re a very quick and easy way to make good coffee for a crowd!

My note on the recipe says:  Full TTT group  – use big pot.  We drink a lot of coffee!

1 gallon water
1 1/2 cups fresh ground coffee
1 egg shell
1/2 cup ice water

Bring water to the boil in the coffee pot. Add coffee and eggshell, and bring back to full boil. Take off heat, cover and let sit for 2-3 minutes.  Stir coffee gently once to get the thickest grounds off the sides. Add 1/2 cup ice water and serve. (The eggshells help take away any bitterness, and the cold water pulls the grounds to the bottom of the pot.)